Archive for November, 2007

Got a Brilliant Business Idea? Get it Voted up and Win $10,000 Start-up Money

Posted on November 29, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

A 21-year-old single mother recently voiced the idea to create a secure webcam facility inside daycare centers for kiddies. She listed her idea on a crowdsourced platform, and now PeekYourBoo.com is a runner-up for winning $10,000 (USD) in start-up funds.

Guess what; you can do it too! The place? www.ideablob.com, a site backed by Advanta. The time? Deadline for the current competition is December 1. After that, a fresh competition starts.

Current finalists include the top two winners from each of the first three weeks of November, as well as two contestants who received the most votes overall during the first three weeks of the month.

Kemper is a 26-year-old multimedia designer and developer. His idea, Urban Harvesting, is to collect and distribute local foods to local markets, thereby eliminating wasted fruit that local homeowners cannot collect, store or distribute.

Susan is an independent filmmaker. Her idea is to expand and grow the Broad Humor Film Festival, which celebrates comedies written and directed by women.

Sherrie is the managing editor of a new politics and culture magazine. Her idea is to develop news webcasts that allow the audience to become active participants.

Collin is an 18-year-old student, internet marketer and entrepreneur. His idea is to develop rssHugger.com, which helps bloggers promote their blogs and helps visitors discover new blogs about subjects they are interested in.

Geoffrey is a 30-year-old marine biologist and co-founder of a non-profit organization for kids. His idea is to develop an online community where people can post their dreams, develop a game plan for accomplishing them, and receive feedback from other dreamers.

Marci, 39, is the founder of a non-profit organization that provides excursions for young adult cancer patients. Her idea is to purchase a home near Orlando, FL that can be used by cancer patients and bring joy to families in turmoil.

Vaughan is a 32-year-old educator. His idea is to develop PLACE, a non-profit organization that will assist American Indians in gaining power over their lands.

Beginning on December 1, 2007, the ideablob.com contest will begin again with all new ideas. November entrants may re-submit ideas for December and subsequent months. The eight finalists who will compete for December’s $10,000 (USD) contest prize will be named approximately one month from now.

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Ten Years On From First Monetary Valuation Of Mother Earth, Economists Are Growing Up

Posted on November 25, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

It’s been ten years since the US ecologic economics expert Robert Constanza, shocked the world by slapping a monetary value on the earth’s natural resources. Now, a decade later, has the science come of age?

When Constanza estimated air, minerals, water and soil at a combined value of USD33 trillion in 1997, he triggered a few simultaneous reactions; both mainstream economists and environmental specialists doubted that his number was valid, but Constanza had also laid the cornerstone for a numbers based environmental approach.

Ecologists naturally shy away from economics and economists are taught a totally different game in universities, so progress has been slow. Its only in the last two years that ecological economics has made significant inroads.

In established academia; the University of Vermont now offers courses in ecological economics. Plus it´s only been since last year that the first academic textbooks saw the limelight.

By now, ecological economics relies on improved calculations and the number of reliable indicators is growing. They include measurements of the value of natural resources from melting ice to bicycle production. A calculation indicating the annual depletion of the earth’s resources is summed up in a robust mathematical formula: [ world biocapacity, measured in global hectares / world Ecological Footprint, also measured in global hectares ] x 365 = Ecological Debt Day.

Some valuable ideas have been established as to how natural goods, assumed ‘free’ by mainstream economists, can make it into regular economics.

The glossary by Ecofoot.net is quite indicative of the level of sophistication that has been reached. For instance, the Ecological Debt Day´s inclusion of the global hectare is explained as
A productivity weighted area used to report both the biocapacity of the earth, and the demand on biocapacity (the Ecological Footprint). The global hectare is normalized to the area-weighted average productivity of biologically productive land and water in a given year. Because different land types have different productivity, a global hectare of, for example, cropland, would occupy a smaller physical area than the much less biologically productive pasture land, as more pasture would be needed to provide the same biocapacity as one hectare of cropland. Because world bioproductivity varies slightly from year to year, the value of a gha may change slightly from year to year.

In short, ecologic economics values resources (or lack/damage thereof) at physical or monetary levels and it subjects human well-being to the well being of the planet.

Mainstream economics fails to provide means to analyze these issues and therefore the ecologists take this from social and natural sciences. This does imply that ecological economics discards the central tenet of mainstream economics; Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of wealth.

More in-depth information about ecologic economics can be found on the website of the International Society for Ecological Economics (ISEE), an organization headed up by Robert Constanza. Which welcomes readers with a description of its raison d’etre; “Ecological economics exists because a hundred years of disciplinary specialization in scientific inquiry has left us unable to understand or to manage the interactions between the human and environmental components of our world.”

That is a logical continuation from where the neoclassical theorists are camped out. When in 1776, Adam Smith invented free-market economics, the world’s total population was less than 700 million. As opposed to 6 billion and more today. Smith set out his theories, believing that natural resources were infinite, so he simply left them out of the equasion. We know better about the limitations of nature now, but economics generally doesn’t account for this. A related misconception by mainstream economists is that natural capital is interchangeable with human capital (labor and technology). This is contested by ecological economics.

Aside from Constanza, two other prominent proponents of ecological economics were described by Grist magazine in an article which also points out that there is little enthusiasm in official policymaking circles for these people, simply because their teachings are so different from what’s taught in schools and universities.

The prophets include Joshua Farley, a researcher at the Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics. A staunch crusader for the new paradigm, Farley prized a doctorate in economics from the clutches of a committee of old-guard economists in 1996. He’s working together with Herman Daly, another figurehead in the ecological economics area. They’ve co-authored a textbook that was published early last year.

Herman Daly is considered the founding father and reigning guru of ecological economics. He’s a former insider at the World Bank who also flipped. Borrowing ideas from John Stuart Mill who propounded the steady-state economy that is inline with ecology, Daly publicly advised his former employer to “stop counting the consumption of natural capital as income; tax labor and income less, and resource extraction more; maximize the productivity of natural capital in the short run and invest in increasing its supply in the long run; and most contentiously, abandon the ideology of global economic integration through free trade, free capital mobility, and export-led growth”, according to a report on Adbusters’ website True Cost Economics.

True Cost Economics targets students to work change, which is pretty much the stage where the discipline as a whole is; an entire generation of new economists needs to be educated formally before their impact on policy can be felt.

An extensive interview with Joshua Farley, published last year on Worldchanging.com confirms this. Farley details how students react to ecological economics. “In my experience, students react very favourably to ecological economics, especially those students who have some background in the natural sciences or in environmental studies. I find [some] resistance to the methods I use to teach ecological economics. When I learned neoclassical economics, it was taught as revealed wisdom, with no historical context, and with no discussion of the obvious shortcomings of the discipline. I always tell students that I don’t know all the answers, and no economist does. Other professors teach neoclassical economics, and both approaches can’t be entirely correct.”

In addition, Farley says that he has his students work with a community partner on a real life problem. “If the theory helps them understand the problem they are working on and provide solid solutions, they learn the material better, and have some empirical support for the theory. If instead what they learn from a real life problem contradicts the theory, then they learn the theories are inadequate and must be improved – and it’s their job to improve them. That’s the scientific method.”

Ecological economics specialists that are/have been close to policy making include Lester Brown who heads up the Earth Policy Institute. He´s the author of a book, Plan B, which provides a compelling argument for measuring the value of water at true cost in order to preempt looming crises. In his book, Plan B, he points out that water productivity of especially Third World countries needs to be raised to prevent nations like China from substituting its imports of (irrigation) water by imported grain. This is an issue that generally goes by unspotted by economists, yet that is threatening to have a big impact on the world’s poor, Brown contends. Earth policy maintains twelve economic indicators that measure progress in building an eco-economy, including global world production growth, production of bicycles and the rate at which ice caps are melting around the globe.

Mathis Wackernagel, who’s the co-inventor of the Ecological Debt Day formula, is currently working with the business specialists of the city of London to reduce the city´s footprint. He runs the Global Footprint Network (www.ecofoot.net).

Prominent policy makers include the new head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Achim Steiner. When he was installed last year, he said that it is about time we quit thinking about economics and environment as rival teams; “We need to make these two sides of the development coin team players, players on the same side. We then have a chance to achieve the fundamental shift of values and reach a new understanding of what really makes the world go round”, Steiner said.

UNEP last week published details of new energy projects worth over $100 million, including a sugar project which will reach an estimated 10 million sugar farmers in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda and Tanzania. It is a reproduction from a Mauritius project, which provides as much as 40% of that country’s electricity needs.

Direct European legislators? Hard to find. The agenda of the European Commission lists among 2008 priorities a sustainable Europe. It’s being discussed this week, along with topics including putting citizens first and making sure Europe at large also comes first as a world partner. That might leave some leeway for ecological thinking, but you’d expect clearer goals from a Portuguese-presided EU that’s supposedly committed to biodiversity.

Got any good ideas for nominations of ecological economics specialists? Submit your nomination at ISEE before January 2008. Winner of the First Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen Prize earns US $25,000.

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Book Review – Wikinomics Explains How New Forms of Collaboration Change Everything

Posted on November 23, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

You know it and everybody you know knows it; wiki based collaboration is revolutionary. We were all waiting for the official research that underscores this very fact. Guess what; the wait is over. A book about the issue has just been published.

Just like its subject matter, the book’s title is hardly surprising; Wikinomics. How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. In a publicity stunt, its authors, Don Tapscott, who runs a think tank called New Paradigm and Anthony D.Williams, a specialist in trends in technology and society, invited people to suggest subtitles online. Within 24 hours they had received floods of replies.

Entries included ‘Chennai: We the people’, ‘Business, the remix’, ‘The dividends of collective genius’, ‘The power of us’, ‘Peer producing the future’, ‘Please register to participate’, ‘Your input needed here’, ‘Profiting from collective anarchy’, ‘Harnessing the power of your peers’, ‘The new world of collaborative production.’

If anything, these descriptions are indicative of the enthusiasm that the writers no doubt inspire. Wikinomics might not reveal information that is all that earthshattering for anyone that is slightly with the times, but it confirms undeniably that people simply are upbeat about being connected to others.

The book deals with wealth creation by the billions of ‘connected individuals’ who are actively participating in innovation and social development. What their own very valuable contribution is to this issue is their description of the new ways in which this takes place.

Which they describe as ways that we once only dreamed of. “In the last few years, traditional collaboration—in a meeting room, a conference call, even a convention center—has been superceded by collaborations on an astronomical scale”, the writers say. “Today, encyclopedias, jetliners, operating systems, mutual funds, and many other items are being created by teams numbering in the thousands or even millions. While some leaders fear the heaving growth of these massive online communities, Wikinomics explains how to prosper in a world where new communications technologies are democratizing the creation of value” , the writers tell people. It is a salient message.

So what about the term Wikinomics itself? The authors define it as the ‘new art and science of collaboration’. Wikinomics has almost magical aspects to it, if you believe them. It is more than open source, social networking, so-called crowdsourcing, smart mobs, or crowd wisdom.

Wikinomics is about ‘deep changes in the structure and modus operandi’ of the corporation and the economy, “based on new competitive principles such as openness, peering, sharing, and acting globally”.

The last chapter of the book, Wikinomics Playbook, is going to be an ongoing affair; it is written by readers. You can read current contributions here.

Too positive? Listen to an NPR broadcast about the book. The BBC has also reviewed the book.

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What You Can Do To Protect Your Online Privacy

Posted on November 16, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

The controversies over Facebooks’ advertising strategy time and again underline the dangers eerily sharp; seemingly safe sites don’t blink an eyelid at invading your privacy. The reason? Hyper targeted advertising one day will rake in serious cash. The more data companies accumulate, the more valuable.

The battle for customer clicks resulting in buying action has only just gone underway in earnest. The ground rules might have been spelt out five years ago by Google’s adSense perhaps, but the lack of significant competition has meant that ad blocking apps have been slow to take off.

Other than being hyper aware of what you share on social networks and chat boxes, you should install an effective cooky erasor to prevent your personal search engine details being accumulated. Hopefully increasing competition for Google-type advertising will raise the spectre on regulation and lead to a surge in companies that create the equivalence of data blockers.

Thus far, Ask.com is in the market with a nifty little feature called AskEraser. It is one of the few tools out there dedicated solely to the privacy issue. When the Facebook Beacon drama broke out last month, there was virtually no reference to Ask.com’s device.

Neither have other companies been quick to copy it. That is a shame, but it may take time. Regulators are slow to take a stand on privacy protection issues, and that simply means that a market for cookie erasors is not stimulated. I haven’t checked, but who knows, a crowdsourcing platform might be busy constructing similar apps.

If Ask.com’s market is ill defined as yet, perhaps it could play into people’s sympathy and trust. Its device erases all your tracks on the internet. This way, advertisers will not get hold of them. It deletes your IP address, User ID and Session ID cookies, as well as the complete text of your search query. Catch is that this only occurs if you’re on Ask.com territory. But I will have yet to see if there’s something that is repulsive about that.

Once you have installed the erasor, the device operates over various Ask.com verticals including images, news, blogs, video, and maps & directions. It is certainly worthwhile installing for the time being, whilst awaiting what measures regulators are taking to protect social networks users.

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Beer is Healthier Than Water After Sports Workout

Posted on November 13, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Scientists say research has proven it’s healthier to drink beer rather than water after a workout. A glass of beer is far healthier for rehydrating the body than water after exercise, they say.

A UNI report cites the scientists’ research which has found that sugar, salt and bubbles in a pint of beer are all helping a person to absorb the fluids very fast and very efficiently.

The research, carried out by a Granada University professor, Manuel Garzon, concluded that rehydration levels beer drinkers were higher than those of water drinkers among the test group, some 25 students of the same university.

The volunteers were asked to run on a treadmill at temperatures of over 40 degrees Celsius. They ran until they were close to exhaustion and were then subjected to tests into not only their hydration levels but also their ability to concentrate. Their motoric skills were also tested.

After their strenuous effort, half the students that volunteered for the test were given two half pints of Spanish lager to drink and the other half was given water. The beer drinkers’ test results were slightly more impressive than the water drinkers’ achievements, says Professor Garzon. He attributes it to the carbon dioxide in the beer. This helps quench your thirst quickly. At the same time, beer’s carbohydrates replace calories that one loses when working out.

Recommendations for beer use after sports? Don’t overdo it. The researchers recommend you drink no more than 500ml when you are a man and 250ml for women. That is in accordance with maintaining a healthy athlete diet.

Every hour that a person spends exercising should be compensated with around one liter of water. Other studies into beer drinking have suggested that one or two units of beer a day can reduce the risk of heart disease, dementia, diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

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What Will You Do For This Year’s Buy Nothing Day?

Posted on November 8, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Are you joining in on the next BUY NOTHING DAY at the end of this month? Environmentalists, social activists and concerned citizens in as many as 65 countries are planning to hit the streets to celebrate their self imposed 24-hour spending moratorium.

The upcoming Buy Nothing Day (BND) will be held on November 23 in the US and Canada, and on November 24 internationally. It will be the 15th consecutive BND. By now, the event is a global cultural phenomenon of some import.

Its organizers, the Adbusters Media Foundation, have in recent years been making it to the news headlines in the mainstream press. It’s is a big victory for its message. Which centers on making people aware of the impact of their spending on the climate.

One result is that average people are increasingly becoming actively involved in clammoring around for green ways to live as an alternative to unrestrained consumption.

The timing of the day is quite cunning because organizers have picked a day that’s predicted as one of the busiest shopping days on the US retail calendar. The day also coincides with the unofficial start of the international holiday-shopping season. BND is celebrated in many ways ranging from relaxed family outings, to free, non-commercial street parties, to politically charged public protests.

Anyone can take part provided they spend a day without spending. If you participate, one thing is for sure; you´ll get away with a feeling that it is very possible to escape the marketing mind games and frantic consumerism that have come to characterize modern life. But that´s pretty easy anyway. Currently, the organizers are challenging particpants to focus their energies on reducing spending as a cornerstone of the new political mood involved with climate change.

“So much emphasis,” says one organizer, “has been placed on buying carbon offsets and compact fluorescent lightbulbs and hybrid cars that we are losing sight of the core cause of our environmental problems: we consume far too much.”

He hopes the BND kicks off people´s commitment to starting a lasting change in lifestyle.

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Black Gold – Film About The Global Coffee Trade

Posted on November 6, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Ever heard of the film Black Gold? If you haven’t, chances are that you’ll think of oil. But Black Gold is a much acclaimed film, not about oil – it´s about coffee. If you have a chance, you should go and see it.

The reasons? For starters, you’ll get an input for a perspective on globalization. The film shows that the coffee industry employs millions of people around the world. It documents the lives of those involved in coffee growth, processing and trade.

Ever wondered if the rise of the trendy coffee places in your town has any impact on the coffee farmers the the farthest corners of the world? This film will give you a well researched answer to the question if the increasing popularity of the Caffe Latte is actually making an ounce of difference to your average Joe in the world of coffee bean growers.

The coffee trade might be vital to the politics, survival and economies of many developing nations, but the things that really matter, the industry’s pricing and futures, are decided in conference rooms and on stock exchange floors in some of the world’s wealthiest cities.

Coffee might easily become the cornerstone of your opionions in the globalization debate. The numbers only are compelling.

Multinational coffee companies now rule US shopping malls, supermarkets. The coffee industry´s worth over $80 billion, making coffee the most valuable trading commodity in the world next to oil.

But while we continue to pay for our lattes and cappuccinos, the price paid to coffee farmers remains so low that many have been forced to abandon their coffee fields.

Boring? Not when you´re a coffee grower! What´s more, the paradox indicates some of the more important unsolvable issues between East and West.

In the film – a documentary- Tadesse Meskela, an Ethiopian man, who is struggling to keep his 74,000 coffee farmers from bankruptcy, is travelling the world over, as his farmers strive to harvest some of the highest quality coffee beans on the international market. Tadesse travels wide distances to find buyers willing to pay a fair price.

The film highlights the the enormous power of the multinational players that dominate the world’s coffee trade.

New York commodity traders, the international coffee exchanges, and the double dealings of trade ministers at the World Trade Organisation reveal the many challenges Tadesse faces in his quest for a long term solution for his farmers.

For screenings, check out its website.

If you’re living near Bradford in the UK, consider going to see it because Saturday 17 November, as part of the Islam Awareness week 2007, the film’s makers, Mark and Nick Francis, as well as some well known academics, are attending the screening organised by Women Working Towards Excellence and the Islamic Society of Britain. Tickets are Tickets: £2.00

These are some of the reviews;

EXCELLENT – angry, good-humoured and essential.” OBSERVER
(Philip French)
“Hauntingly human by exploring the plight of Ethiopian coffee farmers whose appalling poverty is laid at the door of a few multinationals and us uninformed consumers” THE MAIL ON SUNDAY
(Angie Errigo)
“Black Gold is galvanising audiences wherever it plays” OBSERVER
(David Smith)
“everyone should see it” DAILY MIRROR
“STIMULATING – Black Gold has roused sufficient outrage to frighten some of the biggest coffee corporations into justifying their buying practices” SUNDAY HERALD
(Adam Forrest)
“Riveting and jaw-dropping..” LA TIMES
(Carina Chocano)
“Remarkable – A moving but scandalous story. Black Gold has extraordinary power” DAILY TELEGRAPH
(David Gritten)
“Visually ravishing… The Francises are aces behind the camera” VARIETY
(Robert Koehler)
“provocative and well made” SIGHT AND SOUND
(Geoffrey Macnab)

For more information, check out this site

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UK Might Soon Add Folic Acid to Bread

Posted on November 2, 2007. Filed under: Uncategorized |

It’s been common knowledge for long that folic acid a type of vitamin that is indispensable for everyone’s health, but in the UK, scientists are beginning to lobby for fortifying flour with folic acid.

Scientists of the Institute of Food Research (IFR) in the UK recently made a decision to support this move following new evidence of the benefits of folic acid’s absorption into the body.

In accordance with the IFR, the UK’s Food Standards Agency’s Board says that ‘mandatory fortification’ with folic acid should start as soon as possible, to make sure that babies born with neural tube defects is reduced. This means that folic acid will be added bread and/or flour throughout the UK in the foreseeable future.

Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate, found in a wide variety of foods including liver and green leafy vegetables. Folates are metabolised in the gut, and folic acid is metabolised in the liver. That is what scientists write in a paper to be published in the British Journal of Nutrition. The scientists suggest that the liver entails an easily saturated system. Fortification could lead to significant unmetabolised folic acid entering the blood stream, with the potential to cause a number of health problems, they contend.

“Fortifying UK flour with folic acid would reduce the incidence of neural tube defects”, said Dr Siân Astley of the Institute of Food Research. “However, with doses of half the amount being proposed for fortification in the UK, the liver becomes saturated and unmetabolised folic acid floats around the blood stream.

“This can cause problems for people being treated for leukaemia and arthritis, women being treated for ectopic pregnancies, men with a family history of bowel cancer, people with blocked arteries being treated with a stent and elderly people with poor vitamin B status. For women undergoing in-vitro fertilisation, it can also increase the likelihood of conceiving multiple embryos, with all the associated risks for the mother and babies.

“It could take 20 years for any potential harmful effects of unmetabolised folic acid to become apparent”.

It has already been shown that folic acid forticifation can exhibit Jekyll and Hyde characteristics, providing protection in some people while causing harm to others. For example, studies have confirmed that unmetabolised folic acid accelerates cognitive decline in the elderly with low vitamin B12 status, while those with normal vitamin B12 status may be protected against cognitive impairment. Most over 65s in the UK have low B12 status.

Similarly, dietary folates have a protective effect against cancer, but folic acid supplementation may increase the incidence of bowel cancer. It may also increase the incidence of breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

Since the 1980s a consensus formed that that folic acid is metabolised in the small intestine in a similar way to naturally-occuring folates. This consensus was used to assess the safety of folic acid fortification.

“We challenge the underlying scientific premise behind this consensus”, said Dr Astley. This has important implications for the use of folic acid in fortification, Astley adds. Even at low doses it could lead to over consumption of folic acid with inherent risks.

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