When the Twerms Came: Arthur C Clarke’s easy guide for aliens to invade Earth?

Why waste all that energy when there are smarter ways? Image courtesy movie 'Independence Day'

It’s time to come clean: I have a fascination with alien invasions of our planet.

As a kid, I was an avid listener of radio (my only electronic medium, as I grew up in a land without television, and in a time before the Internet) — and expected the regular transmissions to be interrupted any moment to break the news of an alien invasion underway. The spoilsports shattered my childhood dreams everyday.

Now slightly older, I keep looking for the perfect moments for that history-shattering event. A widely reproduced op ed essay I wrote in July 2010 opened with these words:

“If you’re an alien planning to invade the Earth, choose July 11. Chances are that our planet will offer little or no resistance. Today, most members of the Earth’s dominant species – the nearly 7 billion humans – will be preoccupied with 22 able-bodied men chasing a little hollow sphere. It’s only a game, really, but what a game: the whole world holds its breath as the ‘titans of kick’ clash in the FIFA World Cup Final…”

The careless aliens didn’t heed my advice, but I live in hope. I keep looking for the strategic moments and smart ways to take over the planet — with as little violence as possible. After all, I’m a peace-loving person (even if I’m unhappy with the planet’s current management).

I’m not alone in this noble quest. Science fiction writers have been at it for decades, and future Earth invaders are well advised to first study these useful instructions masquerading as popular literature. In an op ed essay published today, I highlight one such story by Sir Arthur C Clarke.

Click on this ONLY if you're a prude...

I wrote WikiLeaks, Swiss Banks and Alien invasions with my tongue in my cheek about half the time (go figure!). I’ve been following the WikiLeaks cablegate saga for several weeks, and was intrigued to read that other critically sensitive secrets — that have nothing to do with garrulous American diplomats — were also reaching this online platform for assorted whistle-blowers.

One such story, appearing in the London Observer on 16 January 2011, reported how the Swiss whistleblower Rudolf Elmer plans to hand over offshore banking secrets of the rich and famous to WikiLeaks. That reminded me of an obscure short story that Arthur C Clarke had written more than 40 years ago, which is not as widely known as it should be. This short essay is an attempt to revive interest in it.

I describe how PLAYBOY Magazine used the story as a basis for a psychedelic comic strip illustrated by the American underground cartoonist Skip Williamson. That appeared in their issue for May 1972 — and I’m still trying to locate that story. All in the interests of pop culture, of course.

Read WikiLeaks, Swiss Banks and Alien invasions on Groundviews.org


Wiz Quiz: Announcing the launch of a new weekly Quiz

By Saul Steinberg (1914-1999), American cartoonist and illustrator

Question: Who said: “All the world is a quiz, and all the men and women merely players”?
Answer: The late Magnús Magnússon, iconic host of BBC television’s long-running quiz Mastermind.

I am fond of quoting these words, which sum up what quizzing is all about. I’ve been involved in quizzing most of my life, now for over 30 years. I was an avid ‘quiz kid’ in my time and later became a quiz compiler and quizmaster – I’ve been hosting long-running quizzes on radio and television in both in English and Sinhala.

The latest venture in that quiz career was launched today, with a new weekly quiz column in Daily News, Sri Lanka. It’s called Wiz Quiz. The first installment is found here, a quick look at 2011.

Every week, we will present a new set of 15 questions, and publish the answers to the previous week’s questions. The newspaper is arranging for prizes for those who get all the answers right.

I am partnering on this with my friend and long-standing quiz enthusiast (and film buff) Vindana Ariyawansa. Vindana too started quizzing as a school boy aged 13, and was later a member of University of Kentucky quiz team for three years. In 2008, he published a Quiz Book in English containing 1,000 questions and answers on general knowledge.

As we say in today’s intro: “We don’t want to ask questions that elicit esoteric answers that nobody knows. Instead of such trivial pursuits, we want to keep this quiz focused on interesting insights and factoids related to our island and the wider world outside.”

And while on the subject, here’s a great new quizzing website I’ve just discovered: Quizzing.in

Statistics made simple: Global Village of 100 = World of 7 billion

The Earth is one, but the world is not...

As I wrote the other day, during 2011, human numbers will add up to 7 billion. That is 7,000,000,000 living and breathing people.

But how many of us can grasp such a large number? I can size up a gathering of a few hundred people, or at the most, a couple of thousand. After that, I lose count…and I’m not alone.

That’s why the idea of a Global Village of 100 is so very useful. It’s based on a simple yet profound premise: if we could reduce the world’s population to a village of precisely 100 people, with all existing human ratios remaining the same, what would it look like?

The idea was the brainchild of Donella Meadows, a pioneering American environmental scientist, teacher and writer. She is best known as lead author of the influential book The Limits to Growth (1972).

It was first published in May 1990 with the title “State of the Village Report”, and Meadows originally envisaged a village of one thousand people. This approach to showing the global disparities was so refreshing and accessible that it soon spread among educators, journalists and activists — in today’s Internet terms, we would call that ‘going viral’.

David Copeland, a surveyor and environmental activist, revised the report to reflect a village of 100 and single-handedly distributed 50,000 copies of a Value Earth poster at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero.
What happened after that is recounted in this brief history by Carolyn Jones, adapted by Bob Abramms.

The analogy has been revised every few years to reflect the changing demographics and global development trends. The practice is now sustained by the Miniature Earth Project, whose latest animated video version for 2010 runs as this:

There is also the 100 People Foundation (www.100people.org) which is “committed to simplifying and humanizing complex global statistics by looking at the world as a community of 100 people”. They provide media and educational tools to teachers around the world to help them teach a global view, and inspire their students to learn more about their global neighbors. Here’s their own video:

100 People: A World Portrait Trailer

Here’s another variation on the theme, set to John Lenon’s ‘Imagine’:

If the world were a village of 100 people…
This cartoon animation uses the same approach, but with emphasis on linguistic and cultural diversity.

2011: The Year We Hit 7 Billion…Are we ready?

Coming soon to a planet near you: 7 Billion...and counting

Sometime during 2011, human numbers will add up to 7 billion.

That is 7,000,000,000 living and breathing people — all of who will need to be fed, clothed, sheltered and cared for in many other ways.

During this year, National Geographic magazine will publish a 7-part series examining specific challenges and solutions to the issues we face. The magazine introduces the series with its January cover story “7 Billion,” offering a broad overview of demographic trends that got us to today and will impact us all tomorrow. The first in-depth story will appear in the March issue, focusing on humans’ impact on the planet’s geology. Other stories will follow throughout 2011.

This clever video accompanies the coverage:

Correction added by NatGeo editors: in 2050, 70% of the population will be living in “urban areas,” not “megacities” as stated in an earlier version of this video.

A world party of 7 Billion?
In another short video on National Geographic website, Nigel Holmes imagines how much space we would need to host a world party for 7 billion people in 2011.

I don’t like the word population: it sounds cold, clinical and detached. Zoologists can talk about ant populations or elephant populations, but when demographers (and others, including journalists) refer to our the counting of species as human population, I somehow feel it’s too impersonal. Aren’t we more than mere numbers?

So in my own writing and TV scripts, I use the phrase human numbers.

Can you visualise 7 billion?

Semantics apart, our rising numbers are indeed a cause for concern. We didn’t quite see the ‘population bomb’ go off the way we were warned about – thank the secular Force – but we still face formidable challenges.

In 1987 — the year I entered journalism — human numbers passed five billion. A dozen years later, in 1999, the six billion was reached. By then, I too had added my contribution of one co-produced human being. Soon in 2011, we will be seven billion.

Our planet’s natural systems are over-stretched not only by our sheer numbers, but also by our technologies and consumption. The many signs of planetary stress include accelerated loss of species, fast spreading deserts, and declining air and water quality. To cap it all, scientists now confirm that human activity is changing our climate.

On the New York Times Dot Earth blog, science writer Andrew C. Revkin regularly examines efforts to balance human affairs with the planet’s limits.

Moving Images Blog: 2010 numbers summary from WordPress

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 210,000 times in 2010. If it were an exhibit at The Louvre Museum, it would take 9 days for that many people to see it.

In 2010, there were 91 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 575 posts. There were 284 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 22mb. That’s about 5 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was September 22nd with 1,089 views. The most popular post that day was Communicating Disasters: Lessons From Titanic to Asian Tsunami by Arthur C Clarke.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were dragtotop.com, mahalo.com, en.wordpress.com, search.conduit.com, and facebook.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for titanic, nelson mandela, girl video, strange creatures, and pay it forward.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Communicating Disasters: Lessons From Titanic to Asian Tsunami by Arthur C Clarke December 2007


Obama Girl: Can this little video change history? November 2008


Asian Tsunami of December 2004: A moving moment frozen in time December 2007


Why do we still go to the movies in the 21st Century? January 2010


Michael Jackson (1958 – 2009): Mixed celebrity, entertainment and good causes June 2009

New Year 2011 is here: The Future isn’t what it used to be!

2011 is here! We’re not ones to be easily affected by a mere landmark in our particular system of chronology, but as watchers of popular culture, we go along with the mood of the moment — if only to blend in with the planet’s natives…

As for our own mind (which is large and contains multitudes), Bill Watterson – the inimitable creator of Calvin and Hobbes – has once again captured my thoughts so well…and so colourfully.

The future isn't what it used to be!

As for resolutions, the only one I have is that I get to write more, and get read more widely. What more can a wordsmith ask for?

Besides, I tend to agree with Calvin when he says here…

Change? Why change?