Entries in Technology (5)


Biodiversity Academy

Two of my favorite academies—California Academy of Sciences and Khan Academy—have partnered to produce an online series that investigates the amazing diversity of life on this planet. In the short, informative videos, viewers learn what biodiversity is, why it is important, where it is found, how it comes into existence, how you study it, why it is threatened, and how it can be protected.

Why is Biodiversity Important?
Discover why a high diversity of species sustains ecosystems, which in turn provide important services to humans.


  • Biodiversity and ecosystem services
  • Ecological interactions
  • Ecological levels: from individuals to ecosystems
  • Ecosystem services
  • Ecosystems and ecological networks
  • Healthy ecosystems

Where is Biodiversity Found?
Explore how life is found almost everywhere on Earth, but is not distributed evenly. And learn why the clumped distributions of species are the result of a wide variety of both natural and human-driven factors.


  • Biodiversity distribution patterns
  • Biodiversity Hotspots
  • Extreme life
  • How biodiversity is distributed globally
  • Tolerance ranges of species
  • Why biodiversity is distributed unevenly

How is Biodiversity Studied?
Delve into the history of humanity’s passion to document and display specimens from the natural world and learn how biodiversity expeditions are conducted today.


  • Biodiversity analyses and uncertainties
  • Biodiversity analyses and unknowns exploration questions
  • Biodiversity Expeditions Past and Present
  • Biodiversity fieldwork
  • Field Methods for Documenting Biodiversity
  • How much biodiversity do we really know?
  • Studying biodiversity in the lab

The tutorial videos are narrated by Dr. Rich Mooi, Curator of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology, and the series includes a variety of supplementary educational materials, such as activities, case studies, community questions, glossaries, and quizzes.

According to the welcome site:

“We chose biodiversity as the focus of our first course with Khan Academy not only because it is so relevant to our institutional mission, but also because biodiversity is literally the stuff of life. It is the diversity of all the species on this planet, the genetic diversity represented by all the individuals, the ecosystem diversity, and the evolutionary lineages represented by all species, living and fossil. Biodiversity is all around us. It is crucial to the quality of our lives and the lives of all other living organisms, but we actually know very little about who all the players are in this pageantry of life, much less the roles they play and the benefits they can and do provide. We do know, however, that we are losing biodiversity at an alarming and unprecedented rate, driven by our own actions that result in habitat loss, pollution, climate change, overfishing and overhunting, to name a few. But it is not all bad news. We are learning more about biodiversity every day, and tremendous advances have been made in protecting and restoring biodiversity in many areas of the world. This course is designed to tell these exciting, amazing, crucial, and at times troubling stories of the diversity of life.

The course is designed for many audiences, including teachers, students, families, youth leaders, policy makers, and anyone interested in learning more about the diversity of life on our planet. We hope that you will not only learn things from the course, but will also be moved to become even more active stewards of the environment and its precious biodiversity.”

All of the video tutorials are wonderful and I especially enjoy the California Case Study, featuring Dr. Rebecca Johnson, my colleague and mentor who trained me as a Rocky Shore Naturalist.

Check it out!


Citizen Science at the Academy

The California Academy of Sciences is partnering with iNaturalist to enlist an army of citizen scientists working toward conservation efforts. This Science Today video features several of the Academy's citizen science programs, a few of which I've been able to join. 

Citizen science (also known as crowd science, crowd-sourced science, civic science, or networked science) is scientific research conducted, in whole or in part, by amateur or nonprofessional scientists, often by crowdsourcing crowdfunding. Formally, citizen science has been defined as "the systematic collection and analysis of data; development of technology; testing of natural phenomena; and the dissemination of these activities by researchers on a primarily avocational basis."[1] Citizen science is sometimes called "public participation in scientific research."[2]

I'm particularly delighted to see my Rocky Shore Naturalist, iNaturalist, and Naturalist Center colleagues profiled prominently in the video.

Keep up the good work!


Nonprofit Tech Companies

This weekend I hosted a party and one of my guests recently started working at Twitter. We had a nice conversation about social media and technology, and how in light of recent high-profile public offerings (Facebook, Groupon, LinkedIn, Pandora, Yelp, Zynga, etc.), little has been known about how these technology companies are turning a profit, like the recent 60 Minutes profile of Groupon.

I live two blocks away from the Zynga headquarters and walk past the Twitter's new building on my way to work each morning, so technology is a community interest for me, in some ways.

And for those tech companies that offer information or tools, it's fascinating to see some great examples of non-profit tech companies that serve a social mission, making the internet more of a nonprofit space, where ads and marketing aren't influencing the user experience.

I've been thinking more and more about this conversation and so I decided to explore the mission statements of my top 10 favorite nonprofit tech companies.

They are (in alphabetical order):

1. Bay Area Video Coalition (San Francisco, CA)
Mission: The Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) inspires social change by enabling the sharing of diverse stories through art, education and technology.

2. Craigslist Foundation (RIP, San Francisco, CA)
Mission: to empower people to strengthen their communities by connecting them to the resources they need to effectively engage in community building.

3. Creative Commons (Mountain View, CA)
Mission: Creative Commons develops, supports, and stewards legal and technical infrastructure that maximizes digital creativity, sharing, and innovation.

4. Electronic Frontier Foundation (San Francisco, CA)
Mission: The Corporation was formed for the purpose of understanding and fostering the opportunities of digital communication in a free and open society.

5. Internet Archive (San Francisco, CA)
Mission: to offer permanent access for researchers, historians, scholars, people with disabilities, and the general public to historical collections that exist in digital format.

6. Kahn Academy (Mountain View, CA)
Mission: to provide a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.

Note: Kahn Academy was recently featured on 60 Minutes.

7. Mozilla Foundation (Mountain View, CA)
Mission: to promote openness, innovation and opportunity on the web,

8. TechSoup Global (San Francisco, CA)
Mission: TechSoup Global is working toward a time when every nonprofit and NGO on the planet has the technology resources and knowledge they need to operation at their full potential.

9. Tehnology, Entertainment, Design (New York, NY)
Mission: Spreading ideas.

10. Wikimedia Foundation (San Francisco, CA)
Mission: to encourage the growth, development, and distribution of free, multilingual content, and to provide the full content of these wiki-based projects to the public free of charge.

Please share your favorite nonprofit tech companies with me! I can be reached at


Philanthropy, Technology, and Resolutions

After seeing a recent article in The New York Times posted a number of times on Facebook in Twitter, I decided to give it a look. “Be It Resolved” by John Tierney offers a brief literature review on research related to the success of keeping a New Year’s resolution, or many resolutions, as the case may be, though willpower.

To my surprise, there were some interesting nuggets of philanthropy and technology noted in the article that implicated motivation in ways that I never would have considered.

Late in the article after a somewhat awkward story about the ability of a wealthy hedge fund manager to meet his fitness goals (read: a strange point - unrelated to research - that the ultra-wealthy can hire people to manage their willpower for them), Tierney mentioned a website,, which allows you to set a goal and put money behind it. Basically, if you fail to keep your resolution or meet your goal, they money will be sent to “a friend, a charity, or an anti-charity.”  The example of an anti-charity given in the article was that donation from “a Democrat could be the George W. Bush library. (The Clinton library is available for Republicans.)”

I presume that if you meet the goal in your resolution, you keep you money.  It’s not clear if you can still donate it to charity – or anti-charity – when you’re successful. If you can donate it to a charity if you're successful (or if they just give the money back to you directly to donate on your own), then this could be a wonderful way to fundraise through activity goals, with practical use beyond just resolutions, like one-time races.

This is the first time I’ve really thought about an “anti-charity” concept, much less as a motivational tactic to pursue goals and resolutions. Of course, most of us prefer to give to “good” charities based on good intentions. I guess it might provide a new level of motivation to think that “bad” charities would benefit by our failures.  But I could also see that it makes the whole goal-setting/resolution process more painful (“D’oh! I failed and my anti-charity succeeds at my expense!”).

The other philanthropy-related site listed in the article is, but this one is focused primarily on losing weight. The site is an exercise monitor that makes donation to charity based on how active you are.  The site says:

“At Striiv, we believe helping others is core to improving yourself. That’s why we’ve created a walkathon in every Striiv device that counts your steps and gives based on your movement. At no cost to you, Striiv and corporate partners donate on your behalf. Just walk, earn, and plug into your PC to donate. Its (sic) that simple. You have the choice of 3 charities - providing clean water to families in South America, polio vaccines, and help save the rainforest. The more you walk the more you give.”

I’ve run a few marathons and swam the Alcatraz Channel for various charities, so I can certainly support the idea of coupling philanthropic activism with physical activity. But I’m a little concerned that the charitable beneficiaries are not well explained online – it seems that you can’t even find their names or learn about how and where they give (beyond general parameters like “Bolivia, Tanzania, and India”).

It’s also a bit of a bump in the road to see that in order to participate in their approach, you have to buy a $99 device that tracks your activity. That’s not exactly cheap, considering most pedometers and phone applications cost much less. The software seems to be a large part of the sell, but it seems there is also an essential online component.

Also, it looks like you don’t actually donate your own money directly, since “At no cost to you, Striiv and corporate partners donate on your behalf.” But how much do they donate?  The site seems like an interesting concept, but there are lots of questions I have about the effectiveness of their approach, based on activity and philanthropy.

Let me know if you find any sites that offer the same “walk/run/bike-a-thon” concept online through setting and achieving goals, with easy, secure, linked ways to donate the money.  All the better if you can select the charity of your choice, as it would be quite convenient to document my activity activism and philanthropy over time. There needs to be a philanthropy diary online - anyone?

As for my resolutions? “Give more” is not one of them – I already made my philanthropic budget in 2011 and most of the beneficiaries are to places where I serve on the board of directors. So I don’t plan to turn to either of these sites for direction or motivation. But it’s great to see that charities, anti-charities, and technologies are using philanthropy to advance resolutions, or maybe it’s the other way around; using resolutions to advance philanthropy.

Good luck on those resolutions, friends!


Carbon Consciousness & Carefree Clicking

Believe it or not, websites like this one actually contribute to climate change and carry a carbon footprint. Thankfully, there's a nonprofit organization that can help!

The mission of the Carbon Fund is to lead the fight against global warming, making it easy and affordable for any individual, business or organization to reduce & offset their climate impact and hasten the transition to a clean energy future.

Their trademark is effectively straightforward: Reduce What You Can, Offset What You Can’t™ — and they encourage everyone to continually strive to reduce their carbon footprint through sensible energy reductions, combined with cost-effective carbon offsets. Their offsets support third-party validated renewable energyenergy efficiency and reforestation projects globally that reduce carbon dioxide emissions and the threat of climate change.

Carbon-Free Commitment 

According to their delightfully informative website,, all websites have a carbon footprint. This footprint is created by many factors including operation of web servers, networks, and the computers visitors use. For example, the average small personal blog creates nearly a tonne of CO2 per year! Furthermore, the Internet is responsible for about as much CO2 as air travel, or about two percent of total global emissions!

I've decided to go carbon neutral in support of the Carbon Fund's  projects, thanks in large part because they are a nonprofit organization,  meaning their priority is fighting climate change, not profiting from it. Some for-profits charge more than twice as much, including for offsets that come from the same projects with the same certifications. 

Additionally, my contribution is tax-deductible, making it even more cost-effective to reduce the carbon footprint of this here website. Sounds great to me!

I also appreciate how their website provides much more than carbon offsets — they offer practical knowledge and resourceful online tools that educate people about how carbon offsets work, how carbon calculation are figured, and other ways to reduce your carbon footprint with energy efficiency and conservation. 

 And yes, there's an app for that!  It's available for Iphone and Android — cool!