Fact: This morning’s press release from CERN: “Geneva, 10 September 2008. The first beam in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN was successfully steered around the full 27 kilometres of the world’s most powerful particle accelerator at 10h28 this morning. This historic event marks a key moment in the transition from over two decades of preparation to a new era of scientific discovery.” (LHC background here.)
Analysis: Early this morning, Twitter alerted me that the Earth was still spinning. Below I explain how.
Remember the old DEW Line? The Distant Early Warning system stretched across Canada, and to Iceland in the east and Sarah Palin-country in the west, during the Cold War to trigger an alert if Soviet bombers tiptoed over the Pole heading for the U.S. border. If you grew up in the grand old days of the Cold War you kept wondering what was going on up at the DEW Line, or at least I did as a kid with an inquiring (if jittery) mind.
When Google first made available its “Google Alerts” feature, allowing search results off news and web queries to be delivered in near-real-time by email, I went a little hog-wild and set up several hundred. The ones which a lot of people set up, I did as well – alerts on the names of professional colleagues who get quoted frequently, old girlfriends who are sometimes in the news on the West Coast, stealthy startups that friends are establishing, international topics and crisis-points which may periodically flare up. Having a little background in Boolean logic and query structure helps, to filter out crap and duplicative hits.
One of the odder alerts I set up, late one night while goofing off, is a slightly complex one about the Rapture, yes from Christian eschatology, designed to let me know ASAP that someone has posted somewhere on the Internet that they believe it has just occurred. If and when it happens, I’ll either be zooming skywards myself (doubtful but nice to contemplate) or sitting in a diner wondering why I can’t find my pleasant waitress. It would be nice to know why, at that point, and finding out via my mobile device buzzing is as likely and efficient a way as any.
Last year I began experimenting with Microsoft’s Live News Search, which appears to have more contributing news sources than Google News, and I can RSS feed those for endless delivery options of breaking news into other pages and services.
Lately I’ve added email and SMS alerts for Twitter searches, and several other alert-generating services using Twitter’s open API, as a helpful means of generating real-time alerts of breaking news and important events. The lifeblood of information coursing through the web’s veins on Twitter, in real time from the crowd, seems destined to outperform CNN or Fox News, and certainly traditional wire services when it comes to delivering news first. “Wire services” – how musty and quaint a term that’s becoming.
Early this morning I had a great opportunity with LHC (or, in News Search RSS parlance, LHC).
Waiting for News of the Black Hole
While waiting for the End Times myself, I’ve noted other periodic threats to The Earth and All We Hold Dear, like the LHC firing up. As Wikipedia puts it, quite neutrally but with links to outrageous scare-mongering, “Although some individuals, including some scientists, have questioned the safety of the planned experiments in the media and through the courts, the consensus in the scientific community is that there is no basis for any conceivable threat from the LHC particle collisions.”
Yet as one news story noted yesterday in the frenzied run-up to the first experiment, “the collider has been the subject of intense fear among the public. Public-relations staffers at the LHC are receiving a flood of worried and angry phone calls and e-mails, reported James Gillies, head of PR for the collider. Nobel prize winner Frank Wilczek of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has even received death threats, according to the BBC.”
“They phone me and say: “I am seriously worried. Please tell me that my children are safe,” Gillies told the BBC. “There are a number who say: ‘You are evil and dangerous and you are going to destroy the world.” – James Gillies, LHC Director of Public Relations
So here’s how I used Twitter to keep track, just in case, starting with the official CERN Twitter feed at http://twitter.com/cern; they posted rarely but authoritatively. I also follow several news organizations on Twitter, like CNN, AP, the New York Times, and a few local news sites, but those were unhelpful with LHC. A Twitter-specific breaking-news service, “BreakingNewsOn,” is a great one to follow, though lately they’ve injected several appeals for donations into their excellent newsfeed. They provide a kind of serious DrudgeReport newsfeed (which I also have – love their use of the siren-light as their Twitter icon) but without the Paris Hilton or dingo-ate-my-baby stories, and they actually set up a subset of LHC news, at http://twitter.com/LHCLatest.
Many of the twitterers I follow regularly were also interested in LHC, and so late last night and early this morning I noticed others tweeting their observations, like Robert Scoble pointing to a nice online tour of CERN here.
Finally, if you like your news crowd-sourced, you could follow the Twitterverse’s observations and contributions at http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23LHC, which takes advantage of the popular “hash-tag” feature and aggregates all tweets with the tag #LHC. That helped a lot, although there was quite a bit of frivolous (okay, funny) stuff going on there 🙂
So, the sun is now rising on the East Coast, signaling LHC’s failure to destroy our planet. I’m already monitoring several new candidates as the next one-fell-swoop threat to human life. Let me know if you have better or more interesting ways of accomplishing this – I’d like to be the first to know….
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