Wednesday, September 18, 2013

181 Years of... Fox Calls?

Dear #,

Today's letter is something completely different, and driven by a music video. Watch it before continuing on (Mom, this is a pretty PG music video, there's no sex or nudity or violence. That being said, it probably isn't safe for work, because your coworkers will eventually decide to murder you. It is that catchy/irritating).

But here's the interesting thing. This came out 12 days ago, during which time it has been watched more than 32 million times. With an average duration of 2:55, that adds up to:
181 years, 1 month, 12 days, 4 hours, 49 minutes, and 10 seconds.

Just for verification of these stats, I took a quick screenshot:

What a waste of time!  181 years! Imagine what we could do if we harnessed that power for good. But first, let's answer his question. After wandering google for a while listening to fox sounds, my favorite piece is from Wired. No wonder we don't have a standard "noise" foxes make... they are pretty spooky. And the Vixen's scream, which wasn't in this article but you can found, sounds like a tween getting murder-tickled. I have to wonder how many haunted house stories were just a fox running around inside. No wonder kitsune play so dominantly in Japanese myths and horror.

Anyway, my point is this: I understand that most of that time spent is a ton of people each playing it two or three times. But the sheer quantity of it all is incredible, and made me think about a few little projects which use a very small portion of a single users time, often no more than a few minutes here and there, and result in net positive gains (and not just wapowpowpowpowpow stuck in your head).

Here are a few that I'm aware of, have participated in, or just think are amazing. I'm quite sure there are more, so if you know of any, send them my way?

1. Science - This is a big topic, and has a ton of different stuff going on. Some of my favorites are here, though, and gamified crowdsourcing is becoming more and more popular in science.
  •  Zooniverse has a wide variety of projects, including two of my personal favorites, Snapshot Serengeti and Old Weather. Snapshot gives you images from motion sensor cameras in the Serengeti, which you look at and identify the animals in the picture. Fun to learn the different animals, and gives them a much better idea of what the animals are doing, what their patterns are, etc. Some of these shots are really boring, others are amazing. Old Weather is a little less visually exciting, but I enjoy looking through the ships logs and knowing that it gives us a better idea of historic climate. 
  • Foldit is a commonly cited example, and it looks a lot different than when I last played, so maybe I'll pick it up again. They were featured in Wired, which writes: "There are more ways to fold a protein than there are atoms in the universe. It's like a combination lock with 1,000 dials. Yet proteins fold themselves into shape in a fraction of a second. No one knows how." This game is helping computers more accurately simulate protein folding, which helps scientists.
  • NASA's Be a Martian program allows users to identify and tag images sent from the Mars Rover, contributing to our overall knowledge base about Mars in a significant way. 
2. Language. - I wasn't aware of anything going on in this realm until quite recently, when my brother-in-law showed it to me on his phone. Duolingo has language courses in Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian and English. It is completely free. It is translating real-world documents and web sites (which is how it makes money). And, better still, they claim it is more effective for learning a language than University level courses, even for Adults.

3. Volunteering - Many nonprofits utilize virtual volunteers to help with a wide variety of tasks, including writing, website design, graphics, and so forth. While this requires a match, and a commitment, Volunteer Match has over 4000 positions that need virtual assistance. Go check it out!

4. Earn Money - I haven't actually done this one, although I'm pretty tempted to try it. Amazon has a program called Mechanical Turk that allows you to complete a variety of small, minor tasks and earn real money. While it probably doesn't add up to a rational hourly wage, I bet it pays more than most of us make while randomly surfing the web or playing video games. In addition, since it is backed by Amazon, I imagine you don't have to worry quite as much about it being a scam.

5. Get Fit! There are a lot of exercise programs out there, but most of them aren't fun. Fitocracy changes that with their RPG-like aspects of the training regimen. It is fun, and I'm using it starting... tomorrow.

Because right now I just want to keep singing.