Friday, February 26, 2010

Can text messaging change the world?

As technology evolves, it can often seem like the digital divide is growing larger. As estimated 51% of American households have a PC while in some poorer or developing nations that statistic drops to sometimes lower than 2%. With such a chasm between us, one might be tempted to think that the developing world has been all but left out of the digital age, but a visit to most of those places would reveal something that has leveled the playing field and, some would argue, even saved lives: everyone has a mobile phone.

In our tech savvy world, it's easy to think that most people use the Internet. In reality, and according to a recent survey by the United Nations, only about a quarter of the worlds 6.1 billion people are wired to the net. But the same UN report estimates that over 4 billion people have mobile phones. That puts nearly the entire planet, from the poorest of farmers in Ethiopia to the wealthiest Shah in Iran, on a level playing field with the information they want and need right at their fingertips.

Text messaging is playing a major role in enabling the non-net-connected among us to get the information they need and allowing businesses and social organizations of all kinds to better reach and service populations that might otherwise be invisible. Health initiatives in Malawi allow anyone with a mobile phone to easily connect with a medical professional and ask a question or get help, banking programs in Kenya are enabling person to person lending, and personal banking and payment to be done with nothing more than a mobile phone. Social organizations are quicky realizing that, to better serve, they have to adopt text messaging.

While it's tempting to believe that certain services can only be delivered by the Internet, the truth is that with a little creativity and work, nearly any useful service can be delivered by text messaging. Using nothing more than an inexpensive netbook, a mobile phone or GSM modem, and software like FrontLineSMS, anyone wanting to deploy a community initiative can do so easily and inexpensively. There's no need to expensive shortcodes, large grants, or even highly skilled (and costly) IT staff; even the most technically challenged person who's willing to take time to learn can deploy a text based system to serve their community.

Can text messaging change the world? Absolutely. Those with a passion and dedication to making the world a better place now have all the tools they need to effect social change. And that tool for change is right in the pockets of over 4 billion people.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Write your Congressman and demand they revoke the national emergency declaration today!

On September 14th, 2001, only days after the horrific attacks on our country, then President George W. Bush signed a national emergency declaration that activated over 500 special provisions within the law to be used by the President in the defense of a country under the eminent threat of attack. On September 10th, 2009, a full eight years after the attacks, President Barack Obama signed a continuance to that declaration declaring, in effect, that we were still under the threat of eminent attack.

Obviously, this is not true. While our enemies continue to look for ways to attack our country, the security situation, combined with a more active intelligence community, has largely mitigated the need for a national state of emergency. Still, while we have no need for a state of emergency, our country remains under such a declaration and the 500 special powers given to the President during such times remain in effect.

According to 50 U.S.C. 1601-1651, the Congress is required to meet every six months during a state of emergency to evaluate the need to continue under the powers or to rescind the declaration in full. Not only has our congress not rescinded this needless declaration, they have violated the law by not meeting as dictated to discuss the continued need.

I'm writing this to encourage each of you to write your Representative and your Senators and urge them to do the people's business and revoke this emergency declaration immediately. There is no need for it and it needlessly grants the government powers they do not require or need over the lives of ordinary Americans.

Below is a copy of the letter I sent our Representative. Please feel free to copy it in full or modify it to fit your particular need. Do what you will but, whatever you do, let your Congressmen know where you stand on this issue.

Thanks!
Anthony

--- LETTER TEMPLATE ---

Dear Representative Boren,

I'm writing to you today as a concerned constituent. On September 14, 2001 - only days after the horrific terrorist attacks on our country, President Bush signed a directive declaring a national state of emergency. Doing so activated over 500 special provisions which the President could use in the defense of our country and the prevention of additional attacks.

Eight years later, on September 10, 2009, President Barack Obama extended that state of emergency saying that 'The terrorist threat that led to the declaration on September 14, 2001, of a national emergency continues' which went into effect on September 14, 2009.

Mr. Boren, I think it's obvious to most Americans and certainly to the Congress, that the need for the declaration has passed. The President no longer requires the same provisions to be active in order to adequately protect us from the terrorist threat and it's time that such the declaration be rescinded - immediately.

As dictated by by 50 U.S.C. 1601-1651, Congress is mandated to meet every six months to reconsider the need for the declaration and either rescind it or continue it as needed. I believe the Congress has unanimously FAILED the American people in its duty in this matter and I urge you to move quickly and decisively to fix this situation.

As a constituent, I respectfully request that you work with your colleagues in the Congress and seriously re-evaluate the need for a national state of emergency. Please do your duty to the American people and move to RESCIND this declaration as soon as possible.

Thank you for your time and all the work you do for us.

Respectfully,
Anthony Papillion

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Is Adobe Flash on its way out?

There's been a lot of movement lately on the HTML 5 front. Google has begun to roll out HTML 5 based video players on their wildly popular YouTube site, Microsoft has finally joined the SVG, and more and more browsers and slowly but surely adopting HTML 5 as a standard. This all begs the question "Is Flash on the way out?"

Adobe Flash has been, over the years, a technology we all love to hate. It's a resource hog, prone to crashes, and often doesn't play nice with other plug ins, but it also allows us to do things like play web games, have cool animations, and, until recently, watch video and audio on the web. Sure, there were a few other technologies that allowed many of those things, but with a 98% install base, nothing even came close to touching Flash.

Along the way, there have been problems though. Apple refused to support Flash content on any of its mobile devices aside from laptops, and users of slightly aged hardware often found their Flash experience much more annoying than engaging. Companies like Microsoft tried to fix some of what was wrong with Flash by releasing competing technologies like Silverlight but, still, the problems remained simply because the userbase remained. Adobe held us captive and enjoyed a good long run while doing so.

That might all be changing soon as more browser makers adopt HTML 5 as a standard. Using HTML 5, developers can do things like play audio and video content, create really compelling graphics and animations, and do nearly everything they could do in Flash but without all the weight.

HTML 5 promises to bring a new era for developers who've long been frustrated by the necessary evil of developing Flash content, knowing their users could have a horrible experience, but not having a better technology with which to work. Already, Google Chrome, Firefox, and Safari all support HTML 5 to some degree and it's expected that Microsoft Internet Explorer will begin adopting the standard in the very near future though, to what degree, is still uncertain. Does all of this spell the coming demise of the lion that is Flash?

Let's be clear: Flash has served us well. Even though it's been frustrating, it's allowed us to do some amazing things. I don't think Flash necessarily has to die a horrible death if Adobe is willing to get its head out of the sand and quit pretending everything is alright. Users not having a choice except to use your technology is not the same as user loyalty. Flash users have already proven they're willing to jump ship to something better and HTML 5 might just be the something better many developers need.

Will Adobe put in the effort required to fix their ailing technology? That remains to be seen. There are rumblings that Adobe itself is looking to replace Flash with something better but what that may be is unknown. One thing is sure: Flash will probably be with us for a few years to come. After that, who knows? Maybe the answer isn't HTML 5 and maybe Flash's replacement doesn't yet exist. But make no mistake: Flash, as it is now, is dead in the water. People hate it and want to replace it. It's just a question of what to replace it with.

What are your thoughts about Flash's death? Overrated? Coming soon? And what do you think Flash's replacement will be?