This was just too good not to share :P
Of course, remember to go check out the original for the always-excellent mouseover sotto voce!
Today is, apparently, the tenth annual World Octopus Day.
So, I figured you’d all enjoy this fun infographic, courtesy of the National Aquarium. And what better time to go and read this stunning article about these stunning creatures (my favourite form of the plural), and, if you live in Wellington, make a date to go meet the octopodes at the Island Bay Marine Education Centre!
How innovative would you say New Zealand is, comparatively? Well, we have an answer, according to the Global Innovation Index 2013 – produced (since 2007) by economists from Cornell University, INSEAD and WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organization.
This year, the report looks at 142 countries from Zimbabwe to Switzerland. Together, these countries represent almost 95% of the world’s population, and over 98% of its GDP. From Scientific American:
This year’s big-picture findings: R&D spending has rebounded around the world after suffering in the wake of the global financial crisis. The same high-income usual suspects—the wealthiest European countries in particular—dominate the top of the list. The BRIC nations—Brazil, the Russian Federation, India and China—all slipped in this year’s rankings. R&D spending is growing more quickly in emerging markets than in rich countries. And unexpected players such as Costa Rica, Uganda and Moldova are doing impressively well with comparatively little.
The diagram below shows how each of the 142 countries ranks according to GDP per capita and the Global Innovation Index score. If you’re looking for NZ, we’re in the blue bubble (underneath ‘leaders’), but disappointingly (if not surprisingly), we’re ‘Inefficient Innovators’, with an innovation ratio below the median. Not that we’re in bad company, of course :)
But that’s not the full story. We also rank 17th overall in the index (and third in our region), with a score of 54.46.
So, I guess the question is: is that good enough? Should we do be doing better? If so, CAN we? And if then…how? What do we need to do in the next 5 and 10 years to become more efficient innovators, and to move up those rankings? One useful pointer, perhaps, comes not only from the writings of people like Shaun Hendy*, but also the report itself: connectivity.
In every aspect of these endeavours there is an underlying theme: connectivity. Connectivity lays the groundwork for empowerment and the framework for innovation.
- Osman Sultan
Myself? I think we can and should do better. Hell, we’re ranked first in ease of starting a business, and our small size gives us, to my mind, a number of advantages in terms of ease of access to people and talent, networks and so forth. Also, we have excellent beer and coffee, and that helps EVERYTHING :P
Yes, there are numerous disadvantages too, but I think the weightless economy would, if we focused on it the way we do our primary sector, allow us to leapfrog many or most of those.
Anyhoo, have a read and feel free to comment below! The full report is available online and as a download here.
Sidenote: I found this interesting (if depressing) statistic in the report:
One disturbing reality that our research has turned up is a major fault line at the front end of innovation. Booz & Company’s most recent Global Innovation 1000 study revealed that just 43% of senior innovation executives and chief technology officers at nearly 700 companies believe their organizations are highly effective at generating new ideas, and only 36% believe they are highly effective at converting ideas to product development projects. Still fewer—one-quarter of respondents— indicate that their organizations are highly effective at both.
- Cesare R. Mainardi
On the other hand, what an opportunity! There’s got to be some lovely ripe low-hanging fruit in there, right?
* Be nice to Shaun, Auckland. Otherwise those of us who’re sad he left Wellington will have to come up and Have A Chat With You, Mkay?
Our family just keeps growing and growing. In addition to me and Partner, there’s Beefcake, Monster and (very recently) Hank, the motorbikes.
And of course Derek, the car. Leviathan, my bicycle, is on long term loan, but we haven’t forgotten it, heh.
And now? I’d like to introduce you to Tim, Hippolyta, Mary-Sue and Pip (short for Pipsqueak, because it’s much littler than the others).
They’re the shrimpies which live in the Ecosphere that Partner had shipped over from the States. We’re extremely impressed with whomever did the shipping (we intend to find out) as the little glass habitat got to us completely intact.
So, what’s an Ecosphere? Well, they’re entirely closed systems contained in glass shapes. Mine contains the 4 shrimpies*, some algae and bacteria, filtered sea water, lightweight ‘gravel’ and shells, and a sea fan. Like the gravel and shells, the sea fan isn’t alive – these elements are all there to serve as attachment media for the algae. Also, the shrimpies really like hanging out in/on the sea fan :)
How does it survive? The only external thing it needs is light. As with any closed system, the waste from every component must be consumed – in this case the algae use light, as well as carbon dioxide and waste (broken down by bacteria) from the shrimpies, to grow. In turn, the shrimpies eat the algae (and their own exoskeletons, too), and breathe the oxygen produced by the algae.
These are more than just idle curiosities, though – Ecospheres were invented by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (the JPL) as a means of researching self-contained communities: a subject of great interest to space exploration. According to the Ecosphere website:
NASA had two programs that benefited from the discovery: Mission to Planet Earth, aimed at studying Earth’s environment, and the Space Program. If NASA could figure out how to sustain life in a closed environment, perhaps they could build space stations that would help in exploring our solar system… and perhaps one day, help us live somewhere other than Earth.
While my shrimpies are unlikely to reproduce, apparently the bacteria and algae will continue to over time, and I should even see a change from green to blue algae! With a bit of luck, my Ecosphere will last a good 2-3 years (and perhaps longer).
We realised last night, when we brought the Ecosphere home, that, well, the shrimpies respond to the sound of Partner playing the Kazoo. General kazooing as well as songs such as ‘The Final Countdown’.
At least two of the shrimpies went from still to swimming around the Ecosphere at quite a clip, and for minutes after Partner stopped playing.
So, this weekend, I think we’re going to need to do some sound-based experiments :) Are these heavy metal or lounge jazz shrimpies? Or does it have to be some sort of vaudeville/bluegrass thing?
* I’m seeing whether people at work can identify them, for funsies.
UPDATE: I took it to the resident expert at work. It’s a bit difficult for him to identify them without a microscope (they’re only a mm or two long), but he reckons they’re definitely not mysids. We’re going to try take some hardcore macro shots of them this weekend, though, and said expert is willing to have another crack at it using those.
The weekend just passed saw the annual NZ Skeptics Conference 2013, held in my home town of Wellington. The theme was around science communication, and speakers featured such stars as Pamela Gay and Kylie Sturgess, as well as local speakers such as Martin Manning and fellow Scibloggers Siouxise Wiles and Elf Eldridge.
For some unfathomable reason, I was asked to speak too. I was told it was because of experience in and around community stuff with nerds (both science and other), and so my talk focussed on that.
Here, then, areand, below, the transcript of my talk. I’m releasing both under a CC-BY 3.0 license – I hope they’re useful or interesting to someone out there :) Get in touch if you’d like the transcript in some other format! If you prefer, I have it as a powerpoint file with embedded notes…
[*Which I can't seem to embed into this deployment of WordPress, sorry, but which you can see over on the original post. Also, I'm sorry it's not better. Time crunch with full time jobs, startups, learning Ruby on Rails, nerd nite and such.]
NERDS, NERDS EVERYWHERE
Hi everyone :) I’m aimee.
I hope you’ve had a great time so far! Some fascinating people here this weekend :) It’s a great community, this one!
Forming communities around interests and beliefs is pretty common behaviour amongst people.
Nerds/geeks/whatever you want to call them are no different, and in fact tend to do so very enthusiastically :)
Before we go further, though, I should probably explain what I mean by nerd.
WHAT IS A NERD?
Why do I want to do this? Because if there’s one thing many nerds (of which I am proudly one) particularly don’t like, it’s confusion and lack of clarity :P
Over the years I’ve heard and been part of a number of hilarious debates about the differences between nerd, geek and dork. I’ve had my own pet theories, and vociferously defended them.
But all that’s changed – these days, it’s easy. I put them all together, and change which word I use depending on the crowd I’m with :)
How do I define nerds/geeks/dorks?
Simply this – passion.
These are people who are hugely passionate about a particular subject, be it Star Trek’s linguistics, the fundamental basics behind how our universe works, or what the perfect piece of yarn to use is. People who make things – whether it’s knowledge or something more physical.
And one of the things they most like to make is communities. Sometimes these communities are physical, and sometimes they’re virtual. More often than not, they’re a mixture of both.
NERD COMMUNITIES, THEIR EFFECTS AND HOW TO BUILD YOUR OWN
Today, I thought I’d point out a few of the communities out there, and then choose a couple with a strong science communication focus to talk about a little more.
Finally, I figured I’d share some pointers, based on personal experience, on things to think about when setting up a nerd community of your very own.
NERD COMMUNITIES (first slide)
I’ve had a look for data about this, and, well, it’s not really there. But I do know that nerds and nerd communities are EVERYWHERE, and the internet has been an enormously powerful and positive force in bringing people together – people who might otherwise have believed they were alone.
Whatever you’re interested in, I can guarantee you could have a bit of a google and find at least one community devoted to that thing. Compost, perhaps. Or trains :P Or knitting! Or specific films and TV series – Star Trek and Firefly spring to mind.
Here are a few (only a very few!!) of my favourite :)
NERD COMMUNITIES (second slide)
NERD COMMUNITIES (third slide)
I could list awesome communities to go check out for ever :) But now I’ll dive in a little deeper. And I’m going to look at nerd communities which focus, in particular, on science communication.
EFFECTS (second slide, with quotation)
Firstly, though, why is science communication important? I’ll quote from ScienceBlogs here :
“ Science is driving our conversation unlike ever before.
“From climate change to intelligent design, HIV/AIDS to stem cells, science education to space exploration, science is figuring prominently in our discussions of politics, religion, philosophy, business and the arts. We believe that science literacy is a pre-condition for progress in the 21st century. At a time when public interest in science is high but public understanding of science remains weak, we have set out to … improve science literacy and to advance global science culture.”
A public that better understands science and its implications is better placed to ensure its governments and representatives, as well as itself, make the best decisions possible about the so-called ‘wicked problems’ which are facing us and our planet.
Thankfully, we have nerds!
A lot of nerds end up in areas like science and technology and now, more and more are realising the importance of educating the public about science, its value and how it works. To great effect :)
So, let’s begin.
As I mentioned earlier, Nerd Nite is a global speaking event. It was started in 2003 in Boston. Chris Balakrishnan, a doctoral fellow at Harvard, had been spending so much time at his local bar talking about his work researching the parasitic finches of Cameroon that the bartenders asked him to give a presentation on it for his friends, in the hopes he’d stop going on about it .
Now, it’s everywhere. It’s spread to over 60 cities all over the world .
You’ll notice NZ has two dots – I’m proud to say that Nerd Nite Wellington, which I founded and host (and to which about 100 people come each time), was the first Nerd Nite chapter in the Southern Hemisphere. NZ now also has an Auckland chapter!
The only thing required to be a speaker is passion about a subject – we’ve had talks on everything from zapping brains with electricity to geoengineering, and a tonne besides. And the only thing required from the audience is open ears and the willingness to learn about new things.
The first ever Nerd Nite Global Fest has also just taken place, and by all accounts it was a smashing, smashing success :)
I’ve spoken to Nerd Nite bosses around the world about the effects of Nerd Nite on the greater community, and here’s some of what they said about what Nerd Nite achieves.
“It’s incredible working with speakers with little to no public education outreach experience, and seeing them going on to bigger and bigger events, reaching more and more people”
“I hope that the next generation’s Neil deGrasse Tyson or Bill Nye or whoever has been on a Nerd Nite stage somewhere, sometime.”
When I asked why people went along to their events, I got this great response:
“Because it’s fun, because being a nerdy is cool, Because my city is inundated with rootless newcomers coming to our universities or joining the tech industry and think “Hey, maybe this is where I can find my people”. And they do, and they talk, and go out on dates, and connect.”
Several couples have even met and got married because of Nerd Nite!
Here in New Zealand, I’ve noticed that it ties together a hugely diverse group of people…I’ve organized 18 events, with about 100 people coming along to them each time, over more than three years. The Nerd Nite Wellington audience includes people who’re in their teens, right up to people who retired some time ago. It includes scientists, devs, technologists, writers, artists and more. And, I’m proud to say, our last Nerd Nite Wellington event, in August, reached gender parity – we had as many women in the audience as men, which is pretty unusual in science-related things of this sort!
Next, Sciblogs. It’s an online community dedicated to the communication of science in NZ.
It was started in 2009 by the Science Media Centre (of which I was at the time a part) as a means of communicating science to the public and journalists, providing expert commentary on science-related subjects of interest, and grooming scientists to become the sorts of writers who could end up with columns and articles in the main stream media.
It has 33 blogs  covering everything from microbiology to economics, nutrition to sleep science, and it gets well over 30,000 visits a month .
Bloggers have ended up with columns and writing gigs for major NZ publications such as Stuff. They also regularly feature on radio shows (including Kim Hill’s!) providing expert analysis on topics of all sorts
And, some of them end up doing very direct science communication – for example, Siouxsie Wiles, who’s on next!
How has Sciblogs had an effect, though?
It’s helped improve public discourse and helped members of the public gain a stronger grasp of the facts, and how science works.
It’s helped to demystify scientists and their work, making them more accessible and approachable (which is good for everyone).
It’s provided a place for people like Shaun Hendy, who just published a book he co-wrote with Sir Paul Callaghan , a place to begin their musings.
It’s helping the public understand our own wildlife better – for example, David Winter’s awesome blog about the sequencing of the Tuatara genome.
And it’s been a successful model demonstrating to science organisations and scientists throughout the country that fronting up to the public can be far more powerful than hiding from it.
Another community dedicated to the communication of science, ScienceOnline is focused on an annual conference – now with over 400 hundred attendees! – that looks at the role of the internet in science and science communication.
It brings together a diverse, and growing, group of researchers, science writers, artists, coders and educators – all of whom are people who conduct or communicate science online – for meaningful, face-to-face conversations about the issues.
The community is a global one, and all with the goal of better science communication within the science community, with the public, and with policymakers.
In the seven years it’s been running, the conference has energised thousands of people to communicate their science online.
Commentary from an attendee this year, which I loved:
“I’m not sure exactly how, but somewhere between the lemurs, the books, the dinners, and the ridiculously short sleep sessions that I encountered at ScienceOnline, I managed to learn quite a bit from many of those science writers to whose level of awesomeness I aspire.” 
You can find more reviews and thoughts about its impact at http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/a-blog-around-the-clock/tag/scio12interviews/, and you can follow the event at #sciox :)
Citizen science may be a new term, but it’s an old practice. In fact, it was only in the mid 20th century that scientific research came to be dominated by professional scientists, with a lot of attendant criticism. As a result, citizen science has been referred to as ‘the democritisation of science’.
As I mentioned, there are oodles of these projects around, involving hundreds of thousands of people. They include CosmoQuest, of course, and projects like FoldIt (protein folding), EyeWire (mapping the 3D structure of neurons) and Field:Expedition Mongolia (in which people help identify possible sites for the lost tomb of Chinggis Khan for National Geographic by tagging satellite photos).
I won’t talk about CosmoQuest here – Pamela is the person best qualified to do that :) So I thought I’d mention a couple of others, and their impacts.
First, we have FoldIt. This is probably one of the most famous examples. It’s an online puzzle game which gets people – over 100,000 of them so far! – to fold selected proteins to the best of their ability, and rated these efforts. The best solutions are then looked at by researchers to see whether they had real-world solutions. Many did.
Next, I’ll mention the International Space Apps Challenge, led by NASA and over 400 other organisations. This is one of my favourite new Citizen science initiatives. Started in 2012, and with over 9,000 people from more than 80 countries participating in 2013, it describes itself as ‘a technology development event during which citizens from around the world work together to solve challenges relevant to improving life on Earth and life in space‘ .
Participants – anyone can sign up –are given a number of challenges to tackle over the weekend. This year, they included Detecting Near Earth Objects (or: how I learned to stop worrying and find the asteroid), telling the story of space to the world better and a tonne more.
Some of the very real solutions developed included creating data visualisations to improve air traffic control, integrating wind, solar and geothermal energy data, improving local agriculture efforts, making lego rovers, pairing high school girls with NASA mentors, and developing cubesats for upcoming mission .
An effective community, no?
I think that’s enough of that for now, though :)
If you’re curious about the Citizen Science movement, I’d really recommend Michal Nielsen’s book ‘Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science’.
THE POWER OF COMMUNITY
The power of these, and all the other, communities, is enormous when added together They give people a safe space to begin their journey. They give them a sense of community and support. A place to belong.
They help people to get their message out there into the huge blue yonder. And they help those messages, be listened to.
BUILDING YOUR OWN
I firmly believe you cannot have too many communities. And maybe you’ve been thinking about setting one up yourself! I’ve helped set up a couple, and been involved in more, so I figured I could give some rough pointers – things to think about when setting up your own :)
BUILDING YOUR OWN (second slide)
Decide what your community is about
Is it about a specific topic of interest, such as regional differences in Vulcan hairstyles?
Or is it about a more general topic, such as ‘nerdery!’
More specific topics will likely have smaller groups, but it’s possible passion levels could be higher, and it might be easier to foster engagement
On the other hand, more general topics will be more accessible and inclusive, for larger numbers of people
Know your community
Nerds are very, proudly, individualistic. Forming a community which doesn’t take into account the behaviour and characteristics of the people you want to knit together, will result in failure and a heap of disdain.
Have a web presence
These days, your web presence is how people get to find out about you,and tell their friends. You don’t need to make it yourself (although doing so is incredibly useful experience, I can promise).
Depending on the type of community you’re building, you will need different features – forums or chat, or straight blog posts and comments. Maybe just simple event detail postings.
Think about using something like WordPress.com (which is free, and very simple to use). There are a number of other free options out there too, though, and each with its own pros and cons – just don’t drop 30 grand on a website for a fledgling community!
As to social media? Don’t worry about FB and twitter and Instagram and Vine and blh blah blah. At least not initially. And, regarding Facebook, it’s worth bearing in mind that a growing number of people are very unhappy with FB, and choosing to house your community there could loose you possible members.
The alternative to a website is setting up a Google+ community. Now, before you all groan at me, I’ll say it’s a very active place (for people who’re interested in science and tech, at least). But most of the people active on it are in the US, which may not be qhat you’re looking for….
Whatever you choose, though, remember to keep it as simple as possible. You don’t need bells and whistles, and they can get in the way in a bunch of, well, ways.
People are shy, sure. BUT people also like getting to know each other in person. If your community is a local one, think about setting regular meetups. If they’re distributed, set up meetings anyway! You can let the community choose when and where and how, of course, but think about being an enthusiastic fan of such things :)
Maybe even, once you’ve got going, organize some sort of big annual thing! Like, oh I dunno, the Skeptics Conference :P It doesn’t have to be flashy – you just need to get people together into the same room. You can go with a classic conference style (speeches), or something more barcamp (unstructured conferences where participants choose what the sessions will be about – more conversational). I always say that beer helps, but that’s really up to you :)
BUILDING YOUR OWN (third slide)
Things to remember:
You’re building a community, not a cult, so don’t expect to be the community’s leader, or even have people particularly notice or appreciate your efforts – this can be a thankless task!
Basically – it’s not about you, it’s about the community :)
It will need your love and encouragement, especially in the beginning, to survive. And your patience.
Be firm – set expectations about behaviour from the very start. No bullying etc. Or you’ll have a very toxic place on your hands.
Protect your community from those who might want to hurt it, but don’t exclude new people. You never who might turn out to be a fantastic addition, or really needs friends :)
And get help. No, I don’t mean psychiatric help, although you may end up needing it! Don’t be afraid to ask for it. People love helping out – it makes them feel valuable and useful – and it will make the burdens and responsibilities and work behind the scenes an awful lot less stressful.
In conclusion, then…
Nerds are everywhere – they’re designing our tech and writing our TV shows.
They’re making our movies – look at the huge success of the star trek films
They’re running our companies, and figuring out the solutions to the wicked problems we and our planet face.
They’re everywhere, including in this very room.
And they’re awesome :)
BOOM, THAT’S IT.
Thank you, everyone.
[Followed by discussion about whether first colour is a true grey, based on the joke in the final slide…]
The next nerd nite Wellington, featuring Shaun Hendy, Linc Gasking and Nicola Gaston, is on 16 September! See wellingon.nerdnite.com for details.
 Personal knowledge (as one of the bloggers)
 Nerd nite lore, e.g. http://artery.wbur.org/2013/03/25/nerd-nite
 Nerdnite.com, map at https://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF&msa=0&msid=215658434634001054449.0004cd11c644eca2afacb&dg=feature
 Personal knowledge as a blogger for Sciblogs
Before moving to New Zealand I had never heard the term ‘weather bomb’ before. Since then, though, I’ve heard it used aplenty.
The media are particularly fond of it – it’s such a dynamic term – and, well, I had thought it was fun, fuzzy phrasing for sudden, very inclement weather.
Imagine my surprise and delight, then, when a colleague pointed out that it has a proper, technical definition. One which excludes the bad weather here in Wellington yesterday and Wednesday.
A weather bomb is a “rapidly deepening extratropical cyclonic low-pressure area” in which atmospheric pressure drops by 24 hPa or more in 24 hours. The terminology itself has been around for a while (since the ’40s/’50s, according to Wikipedia), and alternate (awesome) terms include ‘explosive cyclogenesis’ and ‘bombogenesis’.
So, now you know. Next time you hear someone throw the term ‘weather bomb’ around inaccurately, you can be constructive with your criticism (Steve) :P
I had a bash at describing my day job using this. This is what I ended up with :)
People who want to understand the world, can be hard to understand. I help normal people understand those people, and the work they do.
What would yours be?
If sometimes you wonder whether everything possible hasn’t already been written about startups, business, software startups, software businesses and so on (ad nauseum), you wouldn’t be alone.
Certainly, the industry which examines this seems pretty healthily active. Books, lectures, blawgs, twits, you name it, the space is pretty full.
And so it might seem strange that I’m about to recommend a book on this very subject.
But I am, wholeheartedly. I’m endorsing this, yo :)
[Review after the image]
Scott Berkun’s fifth and latest book, The Year Without Pants, is fantastic. In it, he chronicles the year-plus he spent as a team leader at Automattic, the company behind WordPress and WordPress.com. He was something of an experiment when was brought on by founder Matt Mullenweg: up until he arrived, the approximately fifty-strong team organised themselves loosely around whatever lines seemed best. However, it seemed like it might be the time to try an experiment and set up smaller, more discrete teams within the organisation as it began a phase of rapid expansion.
Berkun’s role was to lead one of these, and also to lend his expertise, experience and observational skills to what would happen next.
Which he did, and the results are all there in this wonderfully readable little book.
Well, little in page count – it still took me a while to get through it (in one sitting, mind you!), as I wanted to be sure to take in all of the rather large amount of information it nevertheless contains.
And I took a bunch of notes, of course, which I now have to figure out how to give to people in the most constructive way possible. Heh.
The book brims with anecdotes – because, as business are wont to forget, it really is all about the people – as well as advice and learnings. Some of these came from Berkun’s time at Automattic, others he had already learned, or was testing.
All are extremely useful – although he points out, wisely, that none of it should be taken for gospel (something too many other people forget) – both for larger and smaller organisations. No, we can’t all be an Automattic, or work at one. Many of us don’t want to. But we can learn some great lessons not only about software, but about how to manage teams, how to manage businesses, and how to manage ourselves. And, of course, how maybe, just maybe, ‘work’ doesn’t have to be soul-crushing :)
I found the Automattic creed particularly inspiring (it mirrors almost exactly many of my personal goals, ethics and beliefs). Other great advice includes ‘build the user interface first’ and, well…bah. I’m not going to say anything more, actually.
Go out, get the book, and read it. It’s too delightful not to. And then leave it on the desks and dining room tables of your bosses, juniors, friends, families and enemies.
And while you’re at it, read ‘The Myths of Innovation‘, another Berkun book. Simply brilliant stuff :)
Sidenote: how I initially described this? ‘Simultaneously inspiring and depressing’. Inspiring to see what can be done, and depressing because of how seldom it is. Sigh.
After some agonising, I’ve decided to go with the easy route.
Confused? See Pt 1 for an explanation of what this is all about :)
So, here’s the full thing, in two formats:
1) Future Timeline – visual (a webpage, sorry about some of the mashed formatting. Time mutter grumble grumpy grumble)
2) A PDF (see below)
Remember, in both versions EACH ENTRY is hyperlinked back to the fuller explanation for it :)
I’m not going to have the time this weekend to try other ways of doing it, but if anyone would like to chat with me about turning it into something a bit more Web, get in touch!