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June 2005

Misadventures at Charles Darwin's grave

This morning, after a spin on the London Eye (which, in my opinion, wasn't really worth the time or money), we strolled past Parliament and into Westminster Abbey.  For me, the primary draw of this historic cathedral in central London was the grave of Charles Darwin.  How surprising it was that he, someone who's discoveries have become such a threat to Christian belief, is buried among the likes of 13th century Kings.

I've been inside a few major European Cathedrals, but the grandiose nature of Westminster Abbey takes it into an entirely different realm.  It may be surprising to know that I'm actually turned off by individual self-importance and vanity...perhaps because I often see these tendencies in myself.  Still, in my opinion, the plaques and statues of Westminster Abbey are nothing more than monuments to the cathedral-sized ego of their subjects.  In this sense, I found my visit fascinating...the absurd lengths to which the rich and powerful go to immortalize their importance.

So as I made my way through this spectacle, my mind never wandered far from the idea of paying my respects to Charles Darwin.  I've come to believe that his discoveries about the nature of life are the only universal truth.  There are ideologies, there are theories, but the laws of evolution are fact.  These laws govern everything life is and life does.

So as we passed through the "Temple of Faith" section of the cathedral, amidst a mass in progress, I spotted the blue gate near which I knew to look for Darwin.  And there it was.  A simple white block on the floor that simply read:   “CHARLES ROBERT DARWIN BORN 12 FEBRUARY 1809. DIED 19 APRIL 1882”.

Absolutely no photography was allowed, and this rule appeared to be strictly enforced.  But, come on, how difficult can it be to snap a photo of the floor.  I couldn't resist.  I reached into my pocket for my digital camera, switched it on, looked around to make sure nobody was watching, angled the camera toward the grave marker, and...FLASH. 

Oh shit!  I just took a picture with flash...and it was directed squarely toward the somber Christian mass in progress.  Eva and I snuck past the blue gate and attempted to blend into the crowd.  But in just seconds, a vicar or whatever peaked into the corner in which we were hiding.  Shit.  He saw us. 

"Did you just take a picture!!!?" he asked forcefully.

"Sorry!"

"Absolutely no photography is allowed!"  he sternly reminded us.

It isn't often that a grown man feels like a schoolboy, but after a stern scolding by a vicar or whatever in Westminster Abbey, I felt about 2 inches tall to be honest.  I tried to shrug it off and laugh.  But, in fact, my mind was so preoccupied that I stupidly stepped right on top of Charles Darwin's grave!  "Don't walk on it!" my wife correctly reminded me, knowing how much this was supposed to mean to me.

"Oh yeah, sorry Charles...and thanks for everything you did for humanity," I thought to myself.

But the vicar or whatever wasn't finished with us.  We still had to pass bye him to exit the building and escape to freedom, but he stood squarely in the way.  It was already 3 or 4 minutes after the incident, but he couldn't let it go.  "Did you take a picture?" he still wanted to confirm.  I was certain that he was about to confiscate my expensive camera!  I was seconds away from a sprint to the door, and hopefully Eva was prepared to follow!

I said the first thing that came to mind.  "I'm sorry, I was holding my camera and it mistakenly went off."

He pretended to believe my lie and said, "Well, any pictures you've taken must be deleted immediately!"

I agreed and we walked briskly to the door and out into the rainy afternoon.  So I just lied to a vicar or whatever in a British national treasure.  Great.  If I were a religious man, I'd be bothered.  At any rate, I'm glad I was able to pay my respects to Charles.

Posted by Mark Manney (mark.manney@infobeing.com).

Communicating more wisely

So, as of Monday, I'm one of those annoying people with a super-cool mobile phone with which I can do everything.  I got an Orange SPV C500, and this tiny phone has a camera / camcorder and runs on Windows Mobile.  I set up all my email accounts, I can log on to MSN and Yahoo! IM, and the web-browsing experience is actually not bad.  The only pain in the ass for me is typing with the numeric keypad.  At least for a few hours at a time, I can actually fool my boss into thinking I'm at work even when I'm out for a walk or something.

And when I was out for a walk yesterday, I got to thinking about how tens of millions of people around the world are using such incredibly sophisticated technology...but we aren't necessarily  using it very wisely.  We communicate with people we already know in new ways, but the technology doesn't always enhance our lives.  In fact, my last two days have been spent learning how to use this little gadget, and I could even argue that it has reduced my quality of life.

We need to become more consciously aware of how we communicate and why we are communicating.  Isn't this networked world supposed to be about connecting people in never-before-thought-possible ways to do never-before-thought-possible things?  Isn't communications technology supposed to open the door to new opportunities?

Much is being made of Social Networking sites like Ryze, Linked In, and Friendster.  Social Software like this is a step in the right direction, but in my opinion it still isn't any easier than the slow and sometimes painful process of working the room at a party.  And you're supposed to get introduced before you can talk to someone?  Forget it.  Seems like more of a barrier to communication that a facilitator.

I've been working for a few years on my own Social Software -- Infobeing.net.  The site is fully-functional and I believe it solves the problem of Social Networking in large-scale communities.  We start by asking the user what they want to do and about what.  Once that information has been captured, the user begins receiving relevant messages from other users and from blogs, news sites, and discussion forums around the web.  So on the flip side, when you have something to say to the world (searching for a job, organizing an event, publishing news, whatever), its a little like shouting from a stage into a room of people...with the knowledge that all the right people, and only the right people, will hear you.  The cool thing is the same communications model effectively routes messages about anything.

We only have about 1,000 users right now.  We've yet to do much advertising because we've yet to figure out a revenue model.  At this time I'm approaching other web communities to see if they'd like to use our service as an underlying message-routing / social networking layer to what they are already doing.  It isn't about the money, but I'm finding it very difficult to make this thing work without any revenue...and I'm determined to change that.

If Infobeing.net isn't the answer, I sincerely hope somebody figures out a way to use all this expensive and sophisticated technology to communicate more wisely.

Posted by Mark Manney (mark.manney@infobeing.com).