Peter Nixon joins the web again, long live Peter Nixon

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My good friend Peter has just gotten off his arse and done his blog up all nice and proper, with content and all. Of course it took me ages to get the server sorted out, install the blog engine, and theme and some photos, but who’s counting? I humbly recommend reading him if you’re interested in SA, my opinion is that in 10 years he’ll be better known, but don’t wan to put any pressure on him… ;-)

_ About

Peter Nixon is a professional accountant who grew a conscience and has now dedicated his life to changing the world for the better. He was born in South Africa in 1976 and lived in England from 1988 to 1991 before returning to South Africa. Initially he studied to become an accountant, registering as a Chartered Accountant in 2003. However this did not fill him with a sense of purpose and fulfilment and he went back to study, completing an honours degree in International Relations in 2006. Africa is where his heart lies and he wants more than anything to see Africa succeed in the world.

In the guise of the Mercenary Chef he mercilessly invades kitchens in order to cook dinner, see his friends, meet new people and discuss weighty topics.

Anything he says on this website is his own partially informed opinion and you rely on what he says at your own peril. He also accepts no responsibility for plagiarism or stolen ideas – credit will be given where possible, but he reads a lot of stuff and it is difficult to keep track of everything. This is just what he is currently thinking about, and what he thinks about and believes is subject to change without notice.

Population size of the Earth now vs population size over history

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If you’re interested in population ecology or population dynamics or just sustainability, then you might find this interesting…

_ Population size of the Earth now vs population size over history

If you add up the total number of humans who have ever lived and compare that total to the number of people walking around on the planet today, you’ll find that there are more people alive now than the sum total of all humans who have ever lived in the entire history of humanity.

If you’re just a geek, you’re probably going to mention this at some stage anyways ;-)

Seriously though, this is not a nice or encouraging graph to look at (which are these days?), and totally makes you wonder how the hell we’re going to support such a large human population in years to come…. ;-(

Thanks to Jeff for pointing me to this.

G8 Reboot this year? Feedback would be great!

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Last year amidst the Live8 concert and the G8 Summit at Gleneagles, I set up G8Reboot with Damien, in an effort to raise the profile of the G8 Summit and it’s importance. Our position was that there are a lot of web sites, and there are a lot of web users, and probably a high percentage of them are either apathetic or simply don’t know enough about the G8. Also we’re African, and with the focus of last years Live 8 concert on poverty, and some of the G8 focus on Africa, it made sense…

So the idea was to get people to do a reboot of their web sites / blogs / home pages the day before the concert and the summit began, to highlight the issue to the people that visited their sites. During the time before that we asked site owners to add a button to their site, to get more people involved.

All in all we did about 12k hits to the site in the 10 days leading up to the Summit, with traffic coming from various sources, and about 60k hits up until I stopped counting late August last year.

So in my book the initiative was a success although there’s no way to really tell whether the message was gotten accross – we can only hope that the message of “Every single day, 30,000 children die, needlessly, of extreme poverty.” hit home with some people.

This year, I’ve wanted to get it up again in time for the G8 Summit in Russia, building on what we did last year, but I’ve just not had the time needed to dedicate to it and neither has Damien. So I feel kinda guilty and a little bit like a loser – I had hoped to get things moving by the start of June, which then moved to end June / start July, but client work has just had to be the priority (unfortunately keeping a roof over my head, food on the table and building a business has been more of a pressing priority).

My gut feel is that I should pick my battles, and do what I’ve got planned instead for the summit next year in Germany (In the summer of 2007, the annual G8 Summit comes to Germany. The meeting will take place in the Kempinski Grand Hotel in Heiligendamm in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, an exclusive health resort on the East Sea. Heiligendamm is about 20km west of Rostock, 200km from Berlin.), so that there is time to do it properly and to do it the justice that I would really like to.
There also hasn’t been much press about the 2006 Summit in the UK, but there does seem to be a lot more going on online about the Summit in 2007, for what reason I’m not entirely sure.

That said, my gut feel is based on my current situation and on no external input, so it’s not too late to do something, even if it’s something small, but I don’t have the time over the next two weeks to do it all on my own. We don’t live in a perfect world, so I’m happy to concede that something is better than nothing at all…

So, I’m asking you in earnest – what do you think? Should we do something? Would you help me by giving half an hour to an hour of your time to get the word out? Any comments or feedback would be much appreciated ;-)

Going to Web 2.0 for Good

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_ Web 2.0 for Good will explore how Web-based tools such as blogs, wikis, podcasting and social bookmarking can be used to promote social change and innovation. These new tools offer unprecedented potential for campaigning organisations, charities, public sector bodies, social entrepreneurs and CSR practitioners to extend their reach, prominence and impact.

I’ve always believed that the web should be an instrument of good, of change and of sustainability, so this event is refreshing. Looking forward to going to it.

Science, tagging and the future of web apps?

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Last night I was watching the national geographic channel with everyone at home, and I caught a glimpse of what the future of the web could hold.

Many years ago (like, mid-2003) I had this idea that the internet was actually a bit dysfunctional (imagine that) and that there were things that could be done to improve its usefulness.
For example:

  1. Google search results are not dated reverse chronologically, so that means that sometimes you get search results that are clearly old or not up to date – so that doesn’t help if you’re researching something online and you get many search results that still have to be sorted for recency
  2. Search engines as a general rule search for words in pages. Because they’re not human, they can’t do the horizontal matching and processing that humans can make. So for example, a page I create may be useful for botanists as well as biochemists… but my page may be created on a site for botanists and might have botany specific keywards. That may be because I’m writing a paper for a botany journal, but that doesn’t exclude the fact that my findings are not relevant to other researchers…

OK, so I’ve harped enough and I’m sure lots of people will tell me I’m wrong, but in my mind the fact remains that search engines are good, but not good enough, yet.

75 000 years ago there was a cataclysmic event on earth that had a devastating effect on life for at least 1,000 years. It was a supervolcano, and it’s eruption created a layer of sulphur in the atmosphere that blocked out sun, and created acid rain; the effect of which was a mini-ice age. Wikipedia | National Geographic

This in itself is not really related to this post, but what is related, is that it took 3 different scientists working in 3 different fields in 3 different parts of the world, to figure this out. I won’t go into the details (add a comment if you want me to mention it) of what they were researching ‘cos it will take long and I don’t have the time, but the bottom line is that all three scientists were working on the same problem without knowing about it – what happened on earth 75 000 years ago?

So, imagine being able create a page, and tag it with a date as well as descriptive words, in an application that allows researchers around the world to collaborate on the problems of our time.

This could be an end in itself, but it could also be indexed by other search engines too. In the instance above, the scientists could for example tag it with “75 000 years ago”; “supervolcano”; “cataclysmic event”; and anyone looking for help or already working on problems with keywords like that could find out who else on earth is working on similiar problems.

I cannot understand why in this day and age, researchers around the world still rely on journals to find out what other people are studying? (I am a bit out of it, so perhaps things have changed but I somehow don’t think so…)

So, the question is, why all the fuss about web apps and social networking, when we could be creating web apps that help to make the world a better place?

Anyone with thoughts / ideas / comments / criticisms?

Trees or Humans? – A Battle of Survival with Increasing CO2 Levels – Environment Blog

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_ Trees or Humans? – A Battle of Survival with Increasing CO2 Levels – Environment Blog

An interesting piece on CO2 levels and their effect on forests… “A new finding reveals that forest productivity may be significantly greater in an atmosphere enriched with carbon dioxide.

Changing perceptions of Africa, Life Changes Part 1

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I wrote recently about 3 events which I felt were significant in my life, and I’ve finally settled down to write about them. Knowing me this will be the first installment of three.

The Live8 concerts.
By now, if you’ve not heard of the Live8 concerts, then you’ve either been in the outer Mongolian reaches, or you’ve had your head in the sand. ;-)

Whether you’re a cynic or not, you can’t deny the effect that the concerts have had on the world. I’m not going to stand up and say that the concerts have changed the world forever, because they haven’t. That would be silly and I’d lose any credibility with you. Rather, I’m going to suggest that the concerts have created a tipping point, where the plight that they served to highlight has once again become part of the “global” consciousness, albeit with another perhaps more important theme.

And that theme is “Trade, Not Aid”
If you were at one of the original Live Aid concerts, or you managed to watch one of the many documentaries about them on TV before the Live8 events, then you’ll no doubt have seen some of the shocking imagery that Bob Geldof used to shock people into digging into their pockets to donate to the campaign. This might refresh your memory:
Live AidLive Aid 2

Why is this significant?
Because for a long time, I think people had this distorted unrealistic view of Africa, which was unfortunately partly perpetuated by Geldof and the Live Aid concerts. Remember the images of the baby trying to find the blanket? How could anyone forget?
I think these images created a negative, reliant, dependant image of what Africa is and was. All of a sudden, Africa was poverty stricken and in need of a collective bleeding heart – I don’t for a second believe that was the intention, but I think it did happen even though this in itself was probably not a bad thing at the time, because without a doubt, those people needed help, and Live Aid brought that help. Regardless of that, Geldof did raise awareness and did do massive good. That moment when Geldof brought the woman in white onto the stage at Live8, the one from the original Live Aid movie of the poverty where she was a starving baby, was awesome and intense for me. She is a beautiful women now, and it seemed to me at the time that everything that Geldof had stood for then, made sense. And for that I am grateful, because no-one else did or was doing anything meaningful to help.

As an African, I’m sometimes shocked by the images I see in the media.
Not because they’re wrong, or shocking, but rather because for all the massive poverty and starvation and disease and war and economic ruin, Africa is a land of proud people who smile at you with honest smiles, who work their land honestly, and who hold the same ideals with as much value as you probably do. In this instance if you’ve not yet been to Africa, then I’m going to have to ask you to trust me on this one.

Give any African the choice between pre-determination (as a result of an image in the press) or self-determination, and I think you’ll find most all Africans choosing self-determination. Yet, the sterotypes often in the press don’t really help that self-determination come to life. Rather, they reinforce the negative perceptions people have, and create a negative cycle which is really hard to get out of. But that is changing slowly.

And that is why Live8 was a life changing event.
For the first time, on the world stage, people were told that Africa needed Trade, not Aid. Trade is going to give Africa the foot up that it needs. Trade is going to incentivise Africa’s leaders to do the right thing when faced with difficult decisions. Trade is going to motivate and drive the entrepreneurs of tomorrow in the Africa of today. Trade is going to give communities the chance they need to grow and develop and support themselves. Trade will create sustainability, not the dependance of aid. Let me say that again, so that I state my position clearly:

Trade will create sustainability in Africa, not the dependance of foreign aid.

The Live8 concerts, and the stuff leading up to the G8 summit, all played their part in creating an awareness which I hope will continue to go beyond an initial zeal, and that makes me feel excited to be an African. We’re in a time when people seem to be accepting that Africa is more than just a place of poverty and war and starvation, but a place of beauty, opportunity and abundance.

And that is good.

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