Xinhuanet, like most news agencies, routinely carries lovely photo galleries from around the world. Today it’s a collection of shots from the University of Geneva, with a game of giant-pieces chess.
Buried in the depths of the press releases that stream across journalists’ computer screens every day was this one, about archiving today’s digitally stored information.
Sounds like dull stuff until you read the all-important questions:
- Can data generated yesterday be searchable and displayable by hardware and software today and in future?
- Will digital content created today be accessible and presentable throughout its lifecycle (that is, also tomorrow)?
- How to deal with the large number and quite different incompatible multimedia archives?
Consider this: people under 25 think CDs are antiques. They download their music and wonder why their parents keep all those disks.
EPFL’s Multimedia Signal Processing Group in Lausanne and ECMA, based in Geneva, at the end of April held the first International Workshop on Standards and Technologies in Multimedia Archives and Records to raise these and other questions. ECMA is an industry organization that sets standards for technology developers, vendors and users.
No one expects the answers tomorrow: SNIA (Storage Networking Industry Association) has a 100-year task force set up to work on this stuff. Forward thinkers!
People who work in and around international organizations too often find themselves bogged down in internal politics, dragged down by the slow speed at which many NGOs move. How refreshing then to trip over this frankly inspired student’s article from the Dutch Harbor Fisherman, a community newspaper in Anchorage, Alaska in the US.
The author is a college student following a public health course, an intern at the World Health Organization (WHO). She visited watched a videoconference of a WHO board meeting in the next room, led by Margaret Chan, director general.
“I like to think of the WHO as a massive amoeba’s power house that is capable of accomplishing anything, given enough time. Once again, I realize this is the young, hope-filled idealist speaking again, but so much has already been done and so much is being done,” writes Monica Southworth. Three cheers for Monica’s hopeful outlook and another three cheers for the WHO, which has done the world some good. And another three cheers for internships, which give people an opportunity to stretch and see the world in new ways.
In October the World Food Program made a major appeal for funds to help feed Zimbabwe, which only 20 years ago was feeding itself, before Robert Mugabe’s government began to let is citizens starve. The WFP said that five million people in Zimbabwe were facing severe food shortages and the 2008 crops in this once promising African nation had failed yet again, in part because the infrastructure to keep farming alive and well is not working.
This week, 11 November, the BBC carried a sad report that the WFP is cutting back UN food supplies to Zimbabwe due to lack of funds. The public did not reply to the October WFP appeal. I think I understand why: it’s too disheartening to send money to what looks like a hopeless cause.
My first visit to Zimbabwe was in 1986, to see my new family there, shortly after I married. The country was beautiful and we visited several farms, large and small, some belonging to white families, others to blacks. Corn and tobacco seemed to grow everywhere they were planted. Yes, there was poverty and there were clearly social and political problems, but Robert Mugabe, then in power for five years, seemed to offer hope to the country, one of the few in Africa where black-white relations were often good to very good.
Five years later my mother-in-law gave me a t-shirt from a Zimbabwe women writers’ conference. I loved its message and its cautious reminder, that without girls and women getting educations and writing of their experiences, the country would continue to fight rather than achieve peace. Unfortunately, the message was not strong enough to offset political machinations, and Zimbabwe in the space of 20 years has slipped from being one of Africa’s jewels and a beacon of hope to other African countries to a poverty-stricken nation in dire straits.
Wednesday I cleaned our cupboards, part of the annual pruning of too small and too old clothing.
I did what I have done every November for at least five years: I pulled out the most worn-out t-shirt I have ever owned and decided I can’t bear to throw it out yet. It has holes, the color is faded gray rather than black, and the message is hard to read now.
I think of the women who wrote this message and put it on a t-shirt more than 20 years ago and I refuse to part with that last thread of hope for them.
Here’s what it says, and since I’m unable to reach the author, I hope she is happy for me to share it:
It is still the same -
Exactly the same.
Take up arms and wage war.
Let our spear be education
Let your shield be knowledge
Let “truth at all times” be your motto
Let your will be the determination to work hard
For sisters illiterate still abound.
Fight it to enlighten them
Fight it by solidarity of purpose
The nation cannot develop
Without your participation
Grandma fought it
Mama fought it
I still fight it
You have to fight it
Your daughter will have to fight it
- Barbara Makhalisa, 1990
In the world of journalists, press conferences are all too frequent and time-consuming, so there is a tendency to rush in late and rush out early, rude as that may be. The group of journalists is rarely large, even if the story is a locally important one.
So imagine my surprise Tuesday when I went to EPFL in Lausanne to hear about the new centre for neuroprostheses and found a crowd of photographers, who had clearly made a point of getting there on time. This is indeed an important story, but one that requires a journalist who can write. Photos? Okay, there was Ernesto Bertarelli, he of Alinghi fame, not to mention that he’s classed by Fortune and Forbes magazines as Switzerland’s richest man. And Daniel Borel of Logitech, another multimillionaire. Jeffrey Hubbell, American professor, talked about the new centre, Patrick Aebischer, president of EPFL spoke and then Bertarelli.
And then, oohlala, the lean and long-legged, blond-haired and immaculately dressed (not to mention rich) Dona Bertarelli Spaeth, sister of the mega-rich former head of Serono, took the podium to talk about the family foundation. The clicking and flashing of the photographers who suddenly bolted to the front of the group drowned out most of what she said.
So much for the appeal of neuroscience. Here’s what at least one of them got.
The news is zooming around the Internet that two spammers have been ordered to pay $230 million for illegally sending messages to MySpace users. Spammers who do this just for the fun of the chaos it creates are a thing of the past: today’s hackers and spammers do it for money. And they make money for one reason, which is that people make it easy for them to do so.
TSR’s leading story about the huge award is coupled with some very sensible bits of advice (Fre). Here are some sources of guidelines in English: don’t be so foolish as to think you don’t need them! Do you belong to any social networks? Have you signed up online lately for prize drawings or seen your name on a group e-mail where there are names you don’t know, sent by a friend or colleague?
- "Lack of security in social networking and wifi," Best Security Tips, UK
- series of tips for home users (parents, adult users) from Stay Safe Online, US
- most universities now have student guidelines; here are the ones from the University of Santa Cruz in California, a good reminder for all of us of the basics.
The problem is not just at the international level, nor is so blatant as someone asking for your bank account number. If you are asked to supply a personal email address by someone you don’t know (use Hotmail or similar instead), the name of your employer, your nationality or other information that could be part of a database, STOP. Don’t give it. In the past two months, while editing our Events pages and some news stories, I’ve noticed that events organizers, social networks and small groups sometimes ask for information they should not. They might not have plans to misuse it, but the public doesn’t know this – and the data you supply might not stop with them, with or without their knowledge.
If you’re a company, an organization, a school group or just a small club DO NOT ask people to send you their e-mail addresses with other personal information. Do your bit to keep the Internet safe.
Related: "Geneva Security Forum, beyond James Bond and science fiction," 24 June 2007, GenevaLunch
A few weeks ago I wrote that Nicholas Negroponte told the American International Club that his long-awaited one laptop per child programme would be putting the little green computers on the commercial market soon. The probable scenario, he told the group, would be to sell two computers for $400, with the buyer keeping on e and the other going to a child in a developing country where the programme is established.
It’s now about to happen, with the computers going on sale for a brief two weeks in November, says the New York Times. The paper today carries a review of the computer after a test run, and gives it a warm stamp of approval. Expect to see healthy sales.
Funny how you notice a company or topic in the news and suddenly they seem to be everywhere in the news that day. I ran a short international news entry on GL about Lenovo’s PC auction linked to the 2008 Olympics and was intrigued by the company’s corporate social responsibility page. I read it through and liked what I read, so I visited the Lenovo blogs and read Bill Stevenson’s, which I liked even better. The topic for the day is a vote on what corporate social responsibility should be, and the clear thinking there should make good reading for other corporate do-gooders. A Swiss-link surprise: Stevenson spent some time in Switzerland, getting an international marketing certificate from St Gall, one of the best business schools in the country.
Then I read, first in Le Temps (Fre), then in Bloomberg (slightly more recent), that Lenovo, which swallowed IBM’s PC business in 2005, is looking at Packard Bell in The Netherlands to get a better footing in Europe.
China on the mind, I read Le Temps’s lead story about how China is having trouble un-polluting Beijing and with the Olympics there only a year away, that is a worry for athletes. At least by then the dust from the mapcap construction linked to the Olympics will have died down.
I’m tempted to say it’s all breathtaking stuff, but it’s not quite that. Maybe it’s just that the rate of change in China continues to take my breath away, as it has done since I first visited in 1985, author’s little book plug here .
Bernard Rappaz on his TSR blog pointed to a great feature that EPFL in Lausanne has developed: a series of podcasts on robotics that even someone not strongly interested in the subject (me) found it was interesting to tune it. From a media perspective I wonder if this is not in the long tradition of university radio stations, but because it is labelled a podcast it falls into another category. A little more of this kind of reporting could give Swiss journalism the competitive push it needs, a subject I wrote about in my previous post.
I didn’t realize until I spotted a photo on Flickr of one of the posters for the new Swiss campaign to fight Aids that there are two sets of posters, the hetero and the gay ones. Next time you pass a billboard with one, remind yourself that there is another view. Thanks, Lido, for the tip and explanation, in English. The gay one will shock conservatives who would prefer to have some things remain in the closet, but no society can afford this. The federal government message is pretty explicit. May it save some lives.