Happy New Birthday, Emru!

September 20, 2008

On September 16th, after a very long journey to find a matching donor, Emru Townsend got a transplant of stem cells. Here he is, showing the precious cells and a very contagious smile.

It was Emru’s Day Zero, but by far not the end of the fight. It will take two-to-three weeks for the new marrow to engraft with his body, a hundred days of very close follow-ups, and an entire year for most (all?) side effects to vanish.

Happy new birthday, Emru! May the force be with you, and with the many others that have not yet found a match.

Google’s Knol is now open to everyone, causing turmoil in the blogosphere, particularly among those interested in the old battle of Turning Information into Knowledge.

An old battle that is! Leonardo’s famous notebooks were a way of organizing information into knowledge. Today, Google claims that it’s not easy enough for people to share their knowledge. Enters Knol.

Knol is seen by many as a direct competitor and threat to Wikipedia. Google’s official message underlines a key difference: the idea behind the Knol project is to highlight authors. Each article (dubbed Knol) is expected to be authoritative about specific topics. Unlike Wikipedia, Knols are driven by authorship. “Moderated collaboration” is also available, allowing authors to work together — yet, as far as I’ve seen, most articles are written by a single author and are set for “Closed collaboration”.

The blogosphere is currently boiling with posts on how Knol will fail and never defeat Wikipedia. I am personally not interested in that soup. I am more interested in the social implications of a platform like Knol. So I decided to plunge, choose a topic, and compare Wikipedia’s and Knol’s articles on that very same topic. The topic I chose is something I’ve been increasingly interested about: Bone Marrow Transplantation. Here are the articles.

After carefully reading both articles in a learning mood, here are some of my impressions:

  • Displaying the author’s name and portrait makes little difference to me as a reader. Both articles are quite extensive and contain probably more information than I was looking for.
  • I “trust” both articles’ content equally.
  • The single author vs. community of experts debate seems to make little difference to me, at least at first sight. The content is exhaustive on both platforms. I expect this to be the case on most topics, as experts in any fields are already influenced by the collective knowledge (learning in Universities, working in teams, collaborating in research projects, reading other experts’ articles, etc.). The exception to this could be very recent topics, news or discoveries, in which case the community has (in theory) a higher chance of updating the online information faster. But collaboration is already taking place, even if it’s not within Wikipedia.
  • Knol’s rating system is a way of tapping collective intelligence. The Common Internaut is already used to rating information online, from restaurants and movies to articles on online newspapers.
  • If I’m serious about acquiring knowledge on a specific topic, I would without a doubt read both Wikipedia, Knol, then keep on searching other sources of information. I would even take a walk to the local library and browse physical books.

One clear difference between both platforms, as far as I see it today, is that Knol appears to make it easier to anybody to write articles. Why? Simply put, a Knol resembles more a blog post than a Wiki page. Whether we (tech geeks) like it or not, Wikis are a bit scary to the Common Internaut (I can hear the screams of blasphemy already). In a sense, Knol lowers the barrier to entry for writters.

Continuing with the blog comparison, take a look at Knol’s article on Bone Marrow Transplantation and scroll down to the comments area. Read the first comment — it looks and sounds like a blog comment, doesn’t it? This particular comment is not related to the article, but to the author and his team. It discusses a story, a life and death situation — something definitely important, at least to the comment’s author and her family. This is something that would rarely take place in Wikipedia, or would it? Is that useful? Is that noise? Is that information? Is that knowledge? Should a collective panel of experts decide?

Will the quality of Knols be tainted by the commercial interests of the platform? Only time will tell. In the meantime, at least to my eyes, there is no single authoritative platform deriving knowledge from information. Knol and Wikipedia will certainly coexist for many years.

To regain the love of my fellow wiki-loving friends, here’s a geeky ending for this post:

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

— T.S. Elliot, The Rock

Where is the information we have lost in data? And where is the data we have lost in noise!

— Gale Moore

Paris — Gargoyles

July 2, 2008

Emru beats odds!

June 5, 2008

Just got fantastic news from Tamu: A match was found for Emru!

From the press release:

“Despite lack of knowledge among the general public and a shortage of potential bone marrow donors from diverse ethnic groups, a Montreal father of African Caribbean descent has found a match. Animation and technology writer and blogger Emru Townsend, 39, diagnosed with leukemia in mid-December, is married and the father of an eight-year-old son. He is appealing to Montreal’s 188 000 black community members and the greater Toronto area’s 345 000 black community members to learn more about being a bone marrow and stem cell donor to help patients of African and African Caribbean descent in Canada and around the world.”

While these are great news, it’s just a first step: Emru must get into remission, stay in remission, be prepared for surgery, have the surgery, resist or fight off infection, risk the donation attacking his body, his body attacking the donation, and get through the first 100 days.

Furthermore, many other people are still waiting for a matching donor. As Tamu puts it:

“There are still massive shortages in the donor pool, and this will not change unless we continue to care about it. What we do will only be known at the end of March next year. What do we want to see when we get those numbers? That 100 more people have registered or 1000? 10000?”

Let’s not forget: we can choose to help saving lives by simply:

  1. Registering to our local donor registry — today.
  2. Spreading the word: most people don’t know about bone marrow donations, and many still think a transplant is a risk to their own health and very painful — that’s over-dramatization.

Here is the official press release:

Emru Press Release – June 5th 2008

For a while now I’ve been trying to focus on things that really matter. That is highly subjective, of course, and not an easy task. But with so much knowledge and resources on our hands, focusing on projects that target only an exit strategy is no longer appealing to me. While life takes us on a quest for success and external happiness, we can choose to stop for a second to realize that the really important things are in front of our very eyes.

As I often say it, the future is already here, it’s just all broken. That is a negative statement, I am aware of it. But I strongly believe that technology professionals have the moral obligation of fixing their mess, not just substantially contribute to entropy while focusing on financial growth.

While Google advocates not being evil, a new trend is rising: not being evil isn’t cool anymore, being good is the new black. I’m not fully convinced that this falls in the things-that-really-matter bucket. Yet it’s definitely something that keeps start-up folks motivated. Still, isn’t it just a fashionable facade in front of our crave for growth?

There are many things to fix — the list is long. I’ve been recently investigating one of them: Education; more specifically, the North American education system. I had the chance to meet a few American and Canadian Educators that think outside the box, yet (with a couple of exceptions) these forward looking people still appear to me as living in the past. A little research shows a few ongoing efforts to improve the Educational System, but I believe that what is required is not just a bit of dusting but a major re-thinking of what Education is all about, a true revolution.

While doing a bit of research, I bumped into this video that presents the Education system as we know it, as we lived it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Flowering Gardens

April 27, 2008

Butterflies

April 27, 2008

kicking the chrysalis

Visit healemru.com and register to your local registry today!

Last week, I was invited to a meeting with Bill Buxton at Montreal’s Society for Arts and Technology. During that meeting, we informally discussed collaborative experience design. One of the questions raised was: why aren’t today’s content creation tools truly collaborative. One of the main reasons seems to be that modern society is built on Pillars of Ego. I’m still thinking about this, but the main point is: we all want to be heros.

Now, here’s a very tangible way for all of us to truly become super heros. And it’s really easy: fill up a form, and you could save a life.

Here’s a poor man’s screencast showing how to register to the local stem cell donor registry in Quebec, Canada. It’s so easy that you can even do it from your iPhone. For a slightly better encoding quality, visit http://blip.tv/file/786438 .

Emru is still looking for a matching donor. So are many other patients. Please visit healemru.com, visit your local registry’s web site, fill up the consent form and register, today. It’s really that easy.

Heal Emru

March 12, 2008

Life is full of surprises — of all kinds.

Geeks and people passionate about technology sometimes choose to forget that there’s a real life out there, and prefer escaping reality by taking The Blue Pill. Choosing bliss over awareness. Yet, some surprises are particularly difficult to ignore.

Emru Townsend is well known in the Montreal animation and technology community. Emru is not only a fantastic writer and blogger, he’s an amazing brother and father. Along with his super-sister, Tamu, Emru has over the years organized several online charity auctions supporting non-for-profit organizations such as the Cancer Research Society. In case you don’t know it yet: Emru and Tamu’s generosity is not easily surpassed!

Last December, Emru was diagnosed with leukemia. He has gone through a couple of chemotherapy sessions, but leukemia keeps coming back because of a condition called monosomy 7. Emru needs help. Emru needs our help. My help. Your help. Now.

Emru needs a bone marrow transplant, very soon. But first, Emru needs to find a matching donor. The chances of finding a matching donor are very low. So here is what you and I have to do:

  1. Register to our Country’s bone marrow registry. It’s easy: fill up a form to be added to the registry, then provide a mouth swab or blood sample. That’s it. Log out of your facebook for a few minutes and do it.
  2. Spread the word: the international database of bone marrow donors isn’t diverse enough! Emru is the son of two African Carribean parents and blacks are underrepresented in bone marrow registries!

Anyone, anywhere can be a potential matching donor. I wish there was a coloured pill Emru could take to heal. But such pill doesn’t exist yet. It’s up to us to take The Red Pill and act, today.

Let’s Heal Emru.

Emru Townsend