Tag Archives: Technology

Chain Reaction


Chicago reactor team. Enrico Fermi, first row, first on left.

For more than a year, physicist Enrico Fermi and his team had been building a pile of blocks under the racquet courts at the University of Chicago.

The pile was made of alternating bricks of uranium and graphite.

Inserted into the pile were cadmium coated rods that could be withdrawn.

This was the world’s first nuclear reactor and no one knew if it would work.

On December 2, 1942, Fermi and his team began to withdraw the cadmium rods.

Cadmium has the power to absorb neutrons.  The uranium, being radioactive, gave off neutrons. And each time a neutron from the deteriorating uranium hit another uranim atom, it caused a small reaction which gave off both heat and an addition three neutrons.  As neutron hit atom and each atom in turn went from U238 and U235, the newly formed atom of U235 in turn gave off an additional 3 neutrons.  One became 3 became 9. 3 to the third over and over and over, each giving off more and more energy and the reaction took off.  The pile went critical and the reaction was self sustaining for 28 minutes.

The world’s first chain reaction.

The successful experiment under the University of Chicago’s football stadium was the foundation of the Manhattan Project and the basis of the Atomic Bombs that the US would ultimately drop on both Hiroshima and Nagasaki three years later.

New technologies do not occur in a vacuum.

Once unleashed, they, like the pinging loose neutrons in Fermi’s pile, begin to set off a series of chain reactions impacting on other technologies and industries until those industries and technologies are also changed… or simply explode.

Take the Internet.

The Internet itself was the product of the US military’s desire to protect command and control from the power of nuclear weapons. As warheads grew ever larger in megatonnage, the military had initially responded by burying their command deeper and deeper in the earth.

It soon grew apparent that it was far easier to ratchet up the megatonage of the bombs than keep digging deeper into the earth.

So the military went to the Rand Corporation and asked them for a solution.  They came up with a rather novel one: networks.

If you build a network of nodes, they said, connecting the nodes together, then even if one or two or four nodes are destroyed, the others will continue to function.

The US Dept of Defense did just that. Under their  Advanced Research Projects Agency, ARPA, they built something called ARPAnet. A network of mainframe computers joined together by phone lines.  Think The Forbin Project.

This ARPAnet was to become the Internet.  Opened to the public, it’s network growing far beyond its initial 8 nodes to what we know today.

As each new node was added, as each new computer and user and server came online, as each new functionality was added, the national network of the web, formerly Arpanet, now grew, a bit like Fermi’s pile in Chicago. Each begetting more and more and each new line of code or added function or added computer adding more and more, larger and larger, until it hit critical masss itself.

Had you told the people building Arpanet for the Defense Department that their 8 mainframes and dial up telephone links would one day destroy the newspaper business, they would have thought you insane.

But it did.

Had you told them that it would destroy all the television networks in the country, they would have had you institutionalized as a raving lunatic.

But it will.

Had you told them that it would one day render Bell Telephone worthless because you could use VOIP protocols for free, they would not have had the vaguest idea what you were talking about.

But all of that was to come true.

It was the inevitable result of the chain reaction set off the day Bolt Beranek and Newman, the engineering firm hired to build Arpanet, turned it on.

As Andy Grove, the Chairman of Intel said, “listen to the technology. It will tell you where to go”.

Look at the confluence of technologies impacting now on the television and journalism business.  Cellphone with video cameras inside. A web that carries video content globally for free.  Listen to the technology.  Where is it taking us? It may not be where you want to go, but most assuredly, this is where we are headed.

And unlike Fermi’s reactor in Chicago, there is no way to turn it off or to slow down the reaction.  We are rapidly approaching critical mass.


Travel Channel Academy Results

Jeff Day had never touched a video camera or an edit system before he walked into the Travel Channel Academy course in DC on Thursday.

We put him through our extremely rigorous 4-day video bootcamp.

We emphasize excellence.

The video above is the first video Jeff Day has ever made.

Pretty impressive.

And Jeff Day is no kid. He’s in his 50s.

But not all that unusual for TCA students.

The technology has made it possible for millions of people who had never touched a video camera or an edit system to learn how to do this quickly and efficiently.  And the quality of the small, digital hand held cameras (we use SONYs), is just astonishing. You can see it for yourself.

The Travel Channel is committed to creating a global corps of 1,000 trained and certified content providers.

We’re partners in this very interesting venture.

Soon Travel Channel will have a vast cohort of content producers all over the world who can begin to create content for the channel to sell not just programs for the channel itself, but also content for Travel Channel Media’s vast demand for online and on phone (!) video content.

So great job Jeff.

Keep at it.

And congrats to all the grads from this week. And we’re looking forward to our New York session next week.

See what YOU can do.

Benjamin Franklin – Web Videographer


The first blogger

I am half way through Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson.

It is a teriffic biography of a fascinating and uniquely American character; seminal at a crucial moment in history.

Despite his long and deep record of life achievements, including statesman, scientist, scholar, diplomat, creator of volunteer fired departments, creator of public libraries, and author of the Declaration of Independence (among others), his self-written epitaph read Benjamin Franklin, printer.

Franklin was born into a relatively poor family of 17 children. His father was a soap maker, when soap was made from discarded animal fat.  Not a noble or well paid profession.  But Franklin quickly embraced the then-new technology of printing with a passion.  Printing in 18th Century America was the counterpart to the Internet in 1992, a new technology just getting started. Even though the printing press had been invented in 1452 by Johannes Gutenberg, the rate of technological change was a good deal slower.  Three hundred years later, the technology was really just gaining its legs.

At the age of 15 Franklin started The New England Courrant, the first newspaper in Boston.

A year later, after a dispute with his brother over the paper (which was not a newspaper as we would understand one today), Franklin left home and went to Philadelphia with no more than a few shillings, and took work as an apprentice to one of the only print shops in Philly.

Philadelphia in 1723 was the largest city in the Colonies, with a population of 23,000.  Remarkably, London at the time was the largest city in Europe, with a population of 750,000 and Bejing the largest in the world, with a population of 900,000.  Franklin soon set up his own printing shop, and that tool, the printing press, became his key to the rest of his life.

He went on to publish newspapers, newsletters, books, his yearly Poor Richard’s Almanac, and much more. Owning and print shop and having the knowledge of how to print (it is though that Franklin’s hand made metal type were the first made in the Americas), were the 18th Century equivalent of the web, and webcasting and blogging and vlogging today.

By being a printer, and by knowing the craft, Franklin put himself on the cutting edge of the communications technology of his day.  His deep seated belief in democracy (also an extremely radical idea in his time) was almost a direct outgrowth of the freedom of the press that he personally enjoyed and understood so personally.

Much that Franklin wrote and published would more properly be recognized as blogging by us today, rather than ‘newspaper’ or ‘journalism’.  Franklin was a journalist in the classic sense of the word – he penned and published ‘journals’, much of it driven by his own opinion.

Were Franklin alive today he would no doubt be blogging and vlogging.

He had a great love of cutting edge technologies of all kind. He was the classic 18th Century self-taught scientist; and his discovery of lightning as electricity, indeed much of his research into electricity is more than just the anecdotal kite with a key.  No less than JJ Thompson, the nobel prize winning scientist who discovered the electron credited Franklin with doing the seminal work on the nature of charges and electricty.

The key to much of Franklin’s success (and fascinating life) was the marriage of his intense creativity to the physical reality of being able to publish at will; both in science and in politics as well.  Had Franklin not had the printing press, had he not been a printer, it is unlikely that much of his native talent would have been able to flourish.  For this reason, he always referred to himself first as a printer.

Today printing presses are increasingly becoming museum pieces, relics of another era. But the power to print, the power to publish, has never been more open and more democratic. And now, as video moves rapidly to the web, the power to communicate ideas in video, that most powerful of media, is also rapidly becoming democratized as well.

I have no doubt that were Franklin alive today he would have not just embraced video and blogging, he would have had his own website and blog and vlog where he would daily post (as he did in parchment and ink) his opinions on a wide variety of ideas and concepts.

The more we can make people video literate, the more people we can make video literate, the greater our chances of creating more Franklins in the 21st Century, and so the richer and more intersting our culture and society will be.



Do you see the future?


He is Canadian filmmaker Rob Spence.

He lost an eye in an accident, but as a filmmaker, had it replaced with a small video camera.

This is not video diaries.

He uses the eyecam the way a filmmaker uses a camera. To shoot what he sees.

Rob Spence is going to be a speaker at DNA2009 in Brussels March 4-5th.

He’s got a fascinating story to tell. And fascinating video to look at.

What happens when technology and biology begin to intersect?  How do video and real life weave together?

It’s a glimpse into the future with a man quite literally on the cutting edge of a new digital world.

The Hamas Show


Is the caller there?

The juxtaposition of two seemingly very disparate articles in the newspaper this morning provide a window into where the whole TV news business is headed.

First, there is a massive controversy building in the UK today over The BBC’s refusal to air a charity appeal to help the stricken people of Gaza.

The Corporation’s Director General was on BBC radio this morning (which we can get via the web), to defend his rather isolate position.  ITV and Channel4 are both carrying the appeal progrm, which is being produced jointly by 13 British charities.  The BBC feels that carrying the show will taint their ability to cover news in the region objectively.

It’s a difficult position for the BBC’s DG Mark Thompson to take, but an understandable one.  The charity appeal will doubtless contain endless heart rending scenes of children maimed for life by the Israeli incursion.  The Guardian itself carries such a heart-rending article on pages 8-9 titles ‘Among Gaza’s Craters Lie Those Who Need That Aid”.

Objective? Well, that’s certainlyl arguable.

Shocking, riveting and revolting, absolutely.  Gaza is a terrible place, particularly now.

The curious juxtaposition is an article in The New York Times today, explaining that Obama is going to circumvent conventional news outlets and TV networks to use video to go directly to the people.  Instead of the traditional weekly radio broadcast, used by US Presidents since Roosevelt, Obama is going to blog and upload his videos to Youtube, as well as whitehouse.gov.

His first vlog apparently was seen by more than 1 million people, which I will venture to guess is a far greater number than those who have heard Bush on his weekly radio broadcasts.

There are also now close to 250,000 people following Obama on Twitter!

What does Obama on Twitter and Youtube have to do with Gaza?


The reason that The BBC, (and now SKY also, apparently, as of a few minutes ago) will not carry the Gaza Charity Appeal is that the images are just too disturbing. They will be a PR disaster for the Israelis, no matter how much the broadcast is couched in ‘charity’ clothing; no matter how valid that couching.

Obama has decided that he can now bypass the traditional media and use video and the web to go directly to the people.

Which he can.

And if Obama can bypass the traditional media, then so too can Hamas.

Or anyone else.

If the images from Gaza are so powerful that The BBC is afraid to show them, then good.

All the more reason that Hamas can and should bypass conventional media.

They have a powerful story to deliver, but they don’t need The BBC or Sky or CNN or anyone else to get it out to the world.

This is a sea-change in the relationship between subjects of stories and the old media.

For more than 20 years, to use Gaza as an example, the living conditions in Gaza have been just apalling. Terrible. Criminal.

Yet there has been virtually  no media coverage what day to day life is like in Gaza.

And having this terrible life inflicted on the inhabitants of Gaza makes them angry.  Very angry. So they strap explosives onto themselves and walk into Israeli cafes, or they lob rockets into Israel.

They don’t do this because they want to destroy Israelis cafes, nor do they do this because they believe that their rockets will bring Israel to its knees.

They don’t.

And they won’t.

But they do know that enough suicide bombers or lobbed rockets will bring in the crew from CNN or The BBC to do a news story.

They are ‘making’ the news.

But now, if they are smart, (and I have no indication that they are), Hamas can bypass the rockets and the suicide bombers and CNN and use video as a tool to make their case to the world. Directly.

Just like President Obama.

Gandhi didn’t organzie nonviolent resistance in India to protest the salt tax per se. He did it because he knew that the British police would beat the unarmed Indian protestors, and that the public knowledge of that unarmed beating would, in the end, shame the British into leaving.

Hamas, if they are smart (and again, I don’t think they are), could use video to shame the Israelis publicly.  But they won’t, even though Israel, like Britain, is a nation that is uniquely vulnerable to public shame.

Mao used to say that power flowed from the end of a rifle.

Today it flows from the end of a video camera.

If you know how to use it.

Outside The Box


Do you have CNN?

Henri IV, King of France was one of the seminal figures in French history.

Born in 1553 and a Protestant Huguenot, he became King of France in 1589 and founded the Bourbon Dynasty.

Henri is perhaps best known for his famous quote “Paris is worth a Mass” for his conversion from Calvinism to Catholicism upon his coronation.

What he is also perhaps less well known for is his illiteracy.

Though King of France and a very accomplished and powerful and successful ruler, Henri was functionally illiterate.

This was nothing unusual in 1589.  Many rich and powerful people in government were illiterate. If they needed documents written or letters read to them or drafted, they simply dicated and an army of clerics and scribes were always on hand to do the ‘technical’ stuff, like writing.

In fact, it was more the exception rather than the rule that anyone, even the richest and most powerful, would be anything other than.

Today, Barack Obama argues for the right to keep his blackberry. We don’t find it at all strange that his predecessors were most likely computer illiterate.  Clinton, in fact, famously sent only two emails during his entire 8 years in office, and one of them was to test the email system.

Now we are embarking on the world of video literacy.

I have no doubt that in the not too distant future, (for things happen far more quickly these days), people of another generation will be equally astonished that famous television journalists like Katie Couric were, effectively, video illiterate. That they hired professional ‘scribes’ to craft any video statements or pronouncements that they wanted to make, and that this was considered completely normal.

Next week we will make our first visit to a rather small but pleasant country that his hired us, not to make TV shows or even to do anything related to the news or television at all, but rather to make their entire government ‘video literate’.  Every ministry, every minister.

We think its a good idea.

In February, we will be going to Washington, invited to present the same concept to the new Obama administration.

We also think that this is a good idea.

Video is not TV anymore.

It’s a tool of basic communication of ideas.

It’s thinking outside the box.


My Own TV Show


Off for a year …..

David Besemer was a student at the Travel Channel Academy in Santa Barbara last year.

He produced one of the better videos, a profile of a small marina ferry and its captain.

I had no idea when he took the course that it was a dry run, so to speak, for an around the world cruise on his own boat with this wife and daughter.

They left last week.

They took rations, life jackets, epirb and a  video camera and laptop.

It’s the digital age.

Now they are going to document their extraordinary trip with their own website. Complete with interactive maps and video updates.  A true online at sea family adventure.


I am a great sailor and I have sailed all my life.

The notion of yachting itself is a relatively recent phenomenon.  Sailing across the oceans (or indeed across a bay for ‘fun’) was completely unknown until the very late 19th Century. Even in the early 20th Century, yachting was for the very very rich or the very very brave.

The first ‘yachtsman’ was Joshua Slocum, who started life as a sea captain and in 1895 set off on the world’s first circumnavigation by a yachtsman in his boat Spray.

This is little more than 100 years ago.

How times have changed.  Slocum’s life was always in danger.  It was hard, perilous work, with absolutely no certainty of success.

Three years later, Slocum returned to Newport, Rhode Island and a year after that published his book Sailing Alone Around the World.

Slocum’s achievement was considered so extraordinary that in 1900 he was invited to the Pan-American exhibition to speak alongside Mark Twain.  He became an American hero, along the lines of Charles Lindberg.

Today, technology has made circumnavigation as whole lot safer and more reliable.  It can still be pretty scary to be 1,000 miles offshore in bad weather, but at least you will know where you are, and you can be in constant contact with the rest of the world.

But now, we don’t have to wait years for the book to be written and published. We can follow the adventure in real time. And in video.