Monday, January 31, 2011

The strength of Social Media

These past few weeks have seen social unrest at a level we haven't witnessed for many years.  What started in Tunisia has spread to Egypt.  President Zine El Albidine Ben Ali and his family have already fled Tunisia but President Mubarak is refusing to leave Egypt and has sent in the troops to quash the uprising.

Friday was a real pressure point in Egypt - the so called "Day of Rage".  Over 100,000 people were reported to be on the streets of Cairo and clashes with police and the military left many dead or wounded on both sides.  By the weekend, fighter jets were circling Cairo, often passing so close to the protesters that the noise set off the alarms in parked cars.  Regardless of the immediate outcome, the genie is out of the bottle and will not be easily stuffed back.

The most interesting thing for me, watching this all develop from the safety of  Atlantic Canada,  is the use of social media to organize these rallies.  Over 90,000 people answered the call to go to the streets in Tunis, all organized on Facebook.  In Egypt, in spite of Government attempts to control it, Twitter, Facebook and personal blogs helped the news media get the message to Egyptians and the world.  It was truly a revolt of the commoner, fed up with the corruption that has been identified with the long standing regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.

There are nearly 80 million people in Egypt and most live below the UN poverty line of $2 per day.  They're fed up with living with little hope for a better future while their leaders and their cronies live in luxury.  These last few weeks have shown them that there is strength in numbers.  My only concern is that there needs to be a leader.  Someone democratically elected to lead these countries to their full potential.  However, in the vacuum being created as we watch, who will come forward to do this?  I worry that what comes along might be worse.

Friday, January 28, 2011

25th Anniversary of Shuttle Explosion, e

It's hard to believe that the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after lift-off 25 years ago.  I had just started writing in my first journal at the time, so I dug out that journal, and found I had put some newspaper clippings in it as well.  That really took me back.

I was working as a land surveyor with Daigle Surveys at the time.  I was in the office doing computations when the story came on the news on the radio.  I remember thinking this is really going to set the space program back.  I was right because several years went by before the shuttles flew again.  I wrote in my journal, "It is a sad day for those of us who believe in the challenge of space and the value of exploration."  I still think that way.

I've been a space freak (or geek) since the early days of the Apollo missions.  I was 10 when Neil Armstrong took his one small step.  I guess that's why my writing has moved back and forth between Fantasy and SF.  I'm currently doing research for a series set on an much expanded ISS.  I'll work full time on that series after I finish the current book I'm working on.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Science Fiction needs good science

I bought the book "The Writer's Digest Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy" before Christmas.  I think it's a must have for new writers in this genre.  Orsen Scott Card does a complete section on how to write SF and Fantasy and he's a pretty good teacher!  One of the points he makes is that good SF writing requires strong science.  Readers of today's SF demand this or they won't read you twice.

I'm currently working on a novel about the International Space Station.  I plan on it being a series of 4 or 5 books.  I have been a SF fan since I was in Jr High and cut my teeth on Arthur C. Clarke and his contemporaries. I have always had an interest in science and the ISS has been a favorite subject of mine since I first read about it 30 years ago.  After all, haven't we all wanted to live in a space station?

I've been working on research on this novel, while finishing up another.  I came across an article in the Globe and Mail yesterday that I clipped and put in the ISS research file. It is too cool to believe, actually.  A company in Texas, Joule Unlimited, has patented a genetically modified E. Coli bacteria that can produce fuel on demand.  They claim to be able to use this bacteria, plus sunlight and water - it doesn't need to be fresh, potable or clean - to produce liquid hydrocarbons.  No foodstock is needed what so ever.  On a commercial scale, they think they can produce 800 barrels of oil per acre of production whereas you can only get about 350 barrels from an acre of corn. So, not only is this pretty cool technology to help us produce oil, it will be a great system to use on my ficticous ISS.  Good science tweeked to make a good story.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Social Media and Tunisia

I was listening to an interview with a young lady from Tunisia this morning who is an active social media user/contributor.  She lives in Tunis, the center of all the protests in that country.  Her blog and SM postings are heavily followed in Tunisia and she is credited for starting and maintaining the buzz about the protests in Tunis.  These protests ultimately caused the President - read Dictator - of Tunisia to flee the country.  Turns out he is an active follower of Twitter posts and obviously didn't like what he was reading!

Social media has become a powerful force in the world and this is just another example of it.  Much of the information we receive from countries in turmoil, or recovering from major natural disasters, comes to us via the internet in some manner.  It has become a very powerful tool for social change and a life line when conventional communications are down.

Businesses are seeing the good and bad of the social media world.  It's a great way to interact with your customers and it's a great way for the world to find out when you screw up badly in customer service or in product design.  There are dozens of books, blogs and websites dedicated to helping businesses handle social media.

I've been active in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogging for about two years.  As a writer, I enjoy putting words to real and virtual paper, but it can be very time consuming.  Writing is a passion of mine, but it doesn't always pay the bills, so I'm also a REALTOR.  This is a great job to combine with writing since the hours are flexible, I get to meet lots of people which provide character ideas, and I get to write about that industry as well.  So I have 2 real estate related blogs, this blog - which has been neglected lately - plus the social media sites.  It's hard to service them all!