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April 26 2013

Glowing Plants

I just invested in BioCurious’ Glowing Plants project on Kickstarter. I don’t watch Kickstarter closely, but this is about as fast as I’ve ever seen a project get funded. It went live on Wednesday; in the afternoon, I was backer #170 (more or less), but could see the number of backers ticking upwards constantly as I watched. It was fully funded for $65,000 Thursday; and now sits at 1340 backers (more by the time you read this), with about $84,000 in funding. And there’s a new “stretch” goal: if they make $400,000, they will work on bigger plants, and attempt to create a glowing rose.

Glowing plants are a curiosity; I don’t take seriously the idea that trees will be an alternative to streetlights any time in the near future. But that’s not the point. What’s exciting is that an important and serious biology project can take place in a biohacking lab, rather than in a university or an industrial facility. It’s exciting that this project could potentially become a business; I’m sure there’s a boutique market for glowing roses and living nightlights, if not for biological street lighting. And it’s exciting that we can make new things out of biological parts.

In a conversation last year, Drew Endy said that he wanted synthetic biology to “stay weird,” and that if in ten years, all we had accomplished was create bacteria that made oil from cellulose, we will have failed. Glowing plants are weird. And beautiful. Take a look at their project, fund it, and be the first on your block to have a self-illuminating garden.

April 04 2011

Announcing the Newest Rising Voices Grantees

Written by Eduardo Avila

Rising Voices is pleased to announce the five newest members to join its global community of citizen media grantees. Each of the selected projects will receive microgrants to implement their proposed project to teach others how to use various citizen media tools. This latest competition round resulted in an impressive amount of interest from around the world. In all, Rising Voices received more than 750 applications from more than 90 countries, and it was a difficult decision narrowing down the selection to just five grantee projects. There were many deserving projects with great ideas that addressed specific needs in local underrepresented communities that we were unfortunately unable to fund. The five projects selected from Brazil, India, Greece, Mali, and Guinea-Bissau are diverse and represent four different continents. We think they will add much to our community, please join us in welcoming them. To read the full announcement, please visit the Rising Voices website.

January 11 2011

Why is IT governance so difficult to implement?

"Governance? Process? Yuck, nasty words!"

Those are the actual opening words I used in an introductory email to O'Reilly Media business leaders whom I was inviting to participate in an important new process. What I was introducing had the potential to become antagonistic bureaucracy and could seriously backfire. So I was treading carefully but knew I had to move forward to enable our desired IT transformation and sustainable on-going effective operations.

But let's step back and understand the origin of my motivation for this new process.

As an IT leader, do these statements sound familiar? Demand for IT capacity far exceeds the ability for the IT team to deliver. Everyone who makes a request considers theirs to be a priority and wants it done as soon as possible. There's considerable frustration from requesters that their work is not getting addressed or has been put on-hold to address other priorities. The IT team is highly stressed, lacks direction, and morale is low.

The good news is that IT remains a highly valuable and in-demand business resource. The bad news is that all too often these statements reflect the state of IT operations for many businesses. And while it can continue like this, the costs are all too well known. IT becomes the bottleneck to business growth (yikes!) and effective operations and nobody is happy: not the IT team and not the business.

If you want to transform IT and fix these all-too-common issues, a new approach must be adopted. The trouble is that by introducing the methods to fix these problems, in the short-term it can be tough to win buy-in. In effect, you have to introduce a modicum of bureaucracy which will often arouse aversion by business leaders. Getting past those first few months and demonstrating success will help you turn the corner and transform the way IT is delivered. It's not easy.

So what is this process?

What I'm describing here is IT governance. In simple terms, IT governance is a process that ensures that IT capacity is working on the right things at the right time to enable business goals. It's a set of controls that focuses on organizational success while managing associated risks. Sounds simple, right? The devil is in the details! While nobody could argue that any process that aligns IT to business goals is the right strategy, it's the change required and the compromises on the part of business leaders that can derail this most worthy of efforts.

Why is IT governance so difficult to implement?

Business leaders want to do the right thing. They want the business to succeed and they will work hard to make that happen. But all too often, they are motivated and rewarded by having their small part of the organization succeed. IT governance requires that the scarce resource of technology capacity be diligently distributed across the organization for overall business success. In other words, it requires that IT cannot be allocated on the basis of individual team needs but rather on collective, organizational goals. (Of course, we recognize that a small percentage of IT budget should be set aside for specific team needs and in many organizations each team gets a dedicated amount of cash for that very reason).

How does IT governance work?

IT governance works like this: all technology investment requests are brought to a central authority (at O'Reilly Media we call it our governance review board) and the merit of every request is debated and a decision is arrived upon. Membership of the board is made up of senior members of the organization that represent every function.

What is the core value that ensures IT governance will work? The ability to compromise.

If participants are focused on the success of the entire business, compromise becomes easier. Those not used to this type of approach will initially be frustrated, and that's why the first few months are essential. You have to demonstrate that this is a better way to manage your scarce IT resources. If it works well, it solves most of the issues described earlier in my post. Seriously!

I'm passionate about IT governance because I see the enormous value it has for every type of business. But more specifically, to me, this is the central activity that will ensure the success of O'Reilly Media's IT transformation. I've said it many times to my team and the business, if IT governance doesn't succeed, it will radically hinder our abilities to do the important things we want to achieve. That's no over-statement.

How is IT governance at O'Reilly Media working?

So far, so good. We now have a clear roadmap of IT projects that have been agreed and approved to move forward on. Business leaders are happier because they know what is being worked on and when solutions will be delivered. Some leaders have reservations, but they are remaining open-minded. The IT team knows what to work on and understands the role of the solution relative to other systems and goals. It is a win-win. But there is still important work to do and demonstrating the long-term value is still ahead of us.

Is IT governance optional?

There are many ways to implement IT governance, but the principles remain the same. While we can debate the method of implementation, I'll go to bat to suggest that we cannot debate the essential value of IT governance. Regardless of the size of your business, some form of IT governance must be part of your organizational processes.

Bureaucratic? Sure. Essential? Definitely.


December 01 2010

Venezuela: Comics Find Their Place on the Web 2.0

By Laura Vidal · Translated by Damien Moroney · View original post [es]

The comic in Venezuela is one of the genres that is generally underrated and ironically, treasured within the country's culture. The artists who associate themselves with the expression of the comic and its way of illustrating ideas quickly and amusingly work more on the net than among publishers. In fact, much of the author's struggle from the new fans of the comic in Venezuela is based on claiming a definite and visible place where they express numerous ideas of the world, particularly the urban world.

Groups like Cómics Mitos Urbanos (Urban Myths Comics) [es] and Blogzup [es] have places on the net in order to gather works and release them. Among the different followers, opinions, publications and impressions in this far-reaching world, a standard is common: the genre of the comic in Venezuela searches for and deserves attention, curiosity and appreciation.

Within the funny style and tradition which identifies itself easily with the Venezuelan personality, comic book artists like Jorge Blanco, Pedro Leon Zapata and his disciple Rayma are present, living through works of art which are extremely visible in Caracas and various publications.

The nostalgic collective blog Cuando era chamo (When I was a kid) [es] recalls Jorge Blanco's “El Naufrago” (”The Castaway”):

La Tira Cómica del Náufrago nos contaba en una sola imagen sin palabras la vida del solitario personaje por alargar su estancia en la abandonada isla. Su autor Jorge Blanco, nació en 1945 y ha desarrollado una exitosa carrera como diseñador, humorista, dibujante, ilustrador y escultor, recibiendo importantes reconocimientos en su país y en el exterior. Además de crear al Náufrago es el autor de los dibujos de la imagen corporativa del Museo de los Niños en Caracas.

The Castaway comic strip told us in a single image, without words, about the life of the solitary character through prolonging his stay on the deserted island. It's creator Jorge Blanco, born in 1945, has developed a successful career as a designer, humorist, cartoonist, illustrator ans sculptor, receiving significant recognition in his own country and internationally. As well as creating el Naufrago, he designed the corporate image of the Children's Museum in Caracas.

On Zapata, the blog El Venezolano es… (The Venezuelan is…) [es] says,

Como si no bastara su constante discurso artístico y su manera caprichosa de opinar a través de sus trazos y pinceladas, Pedro León Zapata es el autor de “Conductores de Venezuela”, gigantesco mural de cerámica de más de 1500 metros cuadrados de superficie, que ilumina parte del perímetro norte de la Universidad Central de Venezuela en la ciudad de Caracas.

As if his constant artistic discourse and his whimsical way of giving his opinion through his sketches and brushstrokes is not enough, Pedro Leon Zapata is the creator of “Conductores de Venezuela” (”Drivers of Venezuela”), a gigantic ceramic mural more than 1500 sq metres in size, which decorates part of the north perimeter of the Central University of Venezuela in the city of Caracas.

Mural "Drivers of Venezuela," Image by flickr user ruurmo, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license

However, these figures of bitter and humorous criticism find themselves at the start, and the continuation of a line of artists who disappear and appear in the Venezuelan newspapers. Those silent, but present veterans, emphasise the ideas of the people in the strips from Omar Cruz, popular for almost two decades through his comic strip “El Ranchito” (”The Little Hut”). This representation is the artist's most recognised work and it usually found itself in the weekly magazine El Camaleon (The Chameleon), together with other signs of biting criticism to the governments that preceeded Hugo Chavez.

According to the introductory words of the artist in his book:

El ranchito siempre necesita algo; acomodar la tubería, repasar el techo, levantar la pared… es en tiempos de campañas presidenciales que nos viene una esperanza… pero lo único que nos queda es nuestro rancho empapelado con los afiches y las promesas de los candidatos que más nunca volvieron por el cerro. A la voz que habla desde el ranchito la acompaña un personaje llamado mi negra; esa compañera que nos motiva a seguir luchando y que nos alienta diciéndonos: ‘no te preocupes, agún día nos mudaremos’.

El Ranchito always needs something, to fit in the pipes, to check the roof, put up a wall… it is in times of presidential campaigns that a hope comes to us… but the only thing that it leaves us is our hut papered with the posters and the promises of the candidates who never returned to the hill. A character called “Mi Negra” accompanies the voice that speaks from the little hut, that companion who motivates us to carry on fighting and who encourages us, saying to us: “Don't worry, some day we will change”.

Used with artist's permission

A video on Youtube shows Omar Cruz working on his character, on the basic ideals of one of his heroes: ethics, morals, strength, values, one's country, courage, loyalty.

On the opposite side of the story and across the internet, Planeta Venezuela Cómics [es] tries to see the vision “of the right side of the story.” In its provocative presentation, the author says:

Página con contenido altamente Derechista, lo cual puede resultar ofensivo para audiencias de izquierda. Se recomienda DISCRECIÓN AL LEERLA. Esto significa, que si eres de idiotología Izquierdista y no te gusta lo que sale publicado en mi página, puedes ejercer cualquiera de estos 2 derechos: Hacer como el Avestruz, es decir, pasar de mi página y buscarte una con contenido más acorde a tus intereses, y el otro; comentar y quedar como un idiota, lo cual ustedes ejercen BRILLANTEMENTE.

A page with highly right-wing content, which can be offensive to left-wing audiences. It recommends DISCRETION IN READING IT. This means that if you are of left-wing idiotology and you don't like that which is published on my page, you can exercise either of these two rights: To make like an ostrich, that is to say, to pass by my page and to find yourself one with content more appropriate to your interests, and the other, to comment and look like an idiot, which you exercise BRILLIANTLY.

Also under the political tone of the opposition, with touches of humour and about daily life, you can find Garabatos [es] from Henry Casanova, illustrator and graphic designer..

Another wave arrives pushed by new artists and their vision of the urban oral tradition. Comics Mitos Urbanos [es] is the sign of these phenomena through characters of importance, connected by the legendary and mythical fascination of the oral tradition of the region. On the blog that gathers all the work:

…Se plantea el estudio de personajes que se han catalogado como mitos o historias orales de gran potencial tanto imaginativo, como de indagación del contexto, con la finalidad de contribuir con el estudio del imaginario; e historias orales surgidas en Venezuela. Buscamos generar una conexión con la memoria y los personajes potenciales de nuestro propio contexto.

…One considers the study of characters who have been classified as myths or oral stories of great potential so imaginative, as from an investigation of the context, with the purpose of contributing with the study of the imaginary, and oral stories emerged in Venezuela. We are trying to create a connection with memory and potential characters of our own context.

The project considers the development of anti-heroic figures. ‘Machera', for example, is a miraculous soul of local spiritualism (linked to Santeria) and one of the figures who stands our the most on the blog. Also called the Saint Malando (a Venezuelan word for criminal) the cult of Machera is collected in the activities that they carry out around the development of the character in the world of comic strips. Blogzup [es] reviews the publication:

En general es una lectura bastante interesante, se trata de un personaje -mitad realidad y mitad leyenda- del que no sabía mucho y del que sólo había escuchado debido a esta publicación. Machera fue un criminal que tenía por costumbre ayudar a la gente de su barrio, se le recuerda por acciones como robar farmacias para regalar medicinas a los pobres. Tras una muerte violenta a mano de la justicia, su fama no hizo sino crecer hasta convertirse en leyenda, mucha gente pide favores y milagros a su espíritu.

In general it is interesting enough reading, its about a character, half reality and half legend, of which you don't know much and of which you have only heard because of this publication. Machera was a criminal who had a habit of helping people in his village, they remember him through actions such as robbing pharmacies in order to give medicine to the poor. After a violent death at the hands of the law, his fame wasn't over but growing until it turned into legend, many people ask his spirit for favours and miracles.

Another project on the mythological and the fantastical continues on the blog by Mr Rogger, under the name of Venezuela Fantástica [es]:

…Un macroproyecto que comprende las áreas de ilustración, animación gráfica, música e interactividad para la realización de un juego interactivo multimedia basado en los aspectos míticos e históricos del folklore venezolano. La finalidad de dicho juego es incorporar esta temática pedagógicamente al campo del entretenimiento.

A large-scale project which comprises the areas of illustration, graphic animation, music and interactivity for the realisation of a multimedia interactive game based on the historic and mythical aspects of Venezuelan folklore. The purpose of said game is to incorporate this pedagogicaly thematic subject matter in the field of entertainment.

The world of comic strips and pictures seeks to construct symbols for an identity that wants to see itself as its own and diverse. The new comic also combines itself with the new Venezuelan aesthetic wave which shows its racially mixed nature in works that point to recreating local knowledge and wit in different colours and in more dynamic ways. It remains however the great question about the vision of the past, ever changing, and like this the mystery of the human dimension of the heroes of Venezuela and the struggles through which the comic genre overcomes the limitations of the ingratitude of the Venezuelan publishing world.

July 31 2010

Nicaragua: 2.0 Meeting of Blogs and New Media in Managua

By Rodrigo Penalba · Translated by Silvia Viñas · View original post [es]

Flyer for Event 2.0 Meeting of Blogs and New Media

Experts in digital communities will come together for the 2.0 Meeting of Blogs and New Media (in Spanish, ”2.0 Encuentro de Blogs & Nuevos Medios”) which will take place on August 12 and 13 at the Central American University (UCA) in Managua, Nicaragua. The activity is a practical assessment of web tendencies and the power these alternative ways of communication have to influence public and private spheres.

The gathering [es] will include the participation of experts from Central America, Colombia and Venezuela, who will give lectures, workshops and more. The main subjects will be: New Media and Cultural Diversity and Development; Citizen Participation and Advocacy; Content Production for New Media; New Scenarios: mobile applications, new uses and methods, perspectives on the future.

“It is a culturally enriching experience, but it also involves a proposal to emphasize that web activity is not only a novelty, but also a learning method that generates real debate that may influence public opinion,” comments David Ruíz López-Prisuelos, Coordinator at Spain Cultural Center in Nicaragua (Centro Cultural de España en Nicaragua, CCEN).

To help visualize the lectures, the event will begin with a panel discussion about the use of these tools. The panel includes La Carpio Online Project (”Proyecto La Carpio en Línea”) [es]” from Costa Rica, Everything for the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua (”Todo por la Costa Caribe de Nicaragua”) [es] from Facebook and Another World is possible (”Otro mundo es posible”) [es]: Organization and action of Nicaraguan social movements on the web. An interesting element will be the use of an open microphone for bloggers to share their experiences.

“It is an activity to discuss the current state of mass media and the tendencies toward other formats that range from micro-blogging to podcasting, and how the media is adapting to various uses and needs that range from basic social organizing to its use in large companies,” says Rodrigo Peñalba [es], an author for Global Voices, a specialist in cultural production in new media and CCEN's special guest to help organize the event.

During the second day, journalist Cristian Cambronero [es] from Costa Rica, Global Voices author Renata Ávila from Guatemala and Yuliana Isabel Paniagua [es] from Global Voices' project “Hiperbarrio” in Colombia will present on experiences in citizen participation on the web. There will also be a teleconference from the BBC in London, workshops on content creation and a conversation with Nicaraguan bloggers Emila Persola [es]Freddy Quezada [es]Space for Alternative Communication and Sexual Diversity (Espacio de Comunicación Alternativa por la Diversidad Sexual [es]), and Fabio Buitrago [es], who will talk about video-blogging as a channel for environmental education and action.

The lecture series will conclude with a presentation about new tendencies on the increasingly common use of blogs and new media by business corporations,  and with case studies on the management of social networks in the world of advertising. The event will be open to the public until full capacity is reached, giving priority to those who register on the official blog where news and updates will be posted.  For more information visit El encuentro de blogs [es], and also the program [es] and list of Confirmed Presenters [es].

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