Archive by Author

An Artist’s Mission to Conserve Species

2 May

In her junior year at Yale,  Lin’s design was selected for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

“We start with what we are missing and it begins with accounting of what we are losing before our very eyes…” – Maya Lin

Maya Lin struck me again – just as I was getting tired of explaining to my guests visiting Washington, D.C. about how Lin’s design for the National Vietnam Veterans Memorial broke artistic and sociological grounds.

In 2003, with a mission to create awareness about mass extinction of species, artist Maya Lin founded  What is Missing? Foundation – her fifth and last memorial project.  The foundation collaborates with scientists, researchers and top conservation organizations to create science-based artwork that communicate the cause and consequences of habitat degradation and loss across the world. Its projects also educate viewers on what they can do to reduce and reverse species extinction.


Interactive website

The web offers us a media that is between moving image, book or map and most importantly, it will allow us to layer the information so that we can sift through time and place. Using sound and interactive motion graphics, the website builds a connective map highlighting memory, action and hope. is a dot-based map of the world in which each dot represents a species, place or natural phenomenon that has disappeared or is degrading at a significant rate.


Unchopping a Tree made its debut at the COP 15 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) in Copenhagen, Denmark to draw attention to deforestation. What is Missing? partnered with the Clinton Global Initiative to support forest-based carbon financing mechanisms in the much debated UN REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation) program.

What is Missing? video played in the MTV billboard at Time Square, New York on 2009 Earth Day (April 22).


 The Empty Room (debuted Sept. 25, 2009)

As the viewer walks into a pitch dark empty room, he/she is met by flickering lights coming from a clear screen that projects an image and sound of a species. I haven’t personally seen The Empty Room, but the concept I assume is that when viewers are able to see, hear and touch the projected species and have a personal connection with it. But when they leave the room, all they have is a memory- an intangible absence; similar to extinction. Hope that made sense  :)

The Listening Cone (2009, San Francisco)

The Listening Cone takes the form of a bronze funnel – reclining like an antique gramaphone horn- that is  lined with reclaimed redwood. At the end of the funnel/tunnel is a screen that plays different 20-minute videos in no particular order. The reason these videos run on a 20-minute cycle is based on the scientific knowledge that some form of species is threatened with extinct on average of every 20 minutes. 

Check out more installations and projects in the What is Missing? website.


Inbound Marketing 101: Why and How to Expand Digital Media Engagement

15 Apr

Gone are the days of outbound marketing where you “beg, borrow and bug” to your audience  through press releases, expensive paid advertisements, press releases, fliers, telemarketing and cold-calling.

The  new word on the street these days in inbound marketing which is about earning the attention of your audience by:

  1. Making yourself easy to be found (digital media)
  2. Drawing customers to your website
  3. Producing good content including articles, blogs, videos, newsletters etc.

Growing Market Size

As the social media industry size is growing in leaps and bounds, there is more potential for inbound marketing.  (Image from a infographic)

How to Improve Inbound Marketing 


Facebook Ad 101: Don’t Sell

1 Apr
Cheap Ad Space for Facebook, 2012

(Copy Right Sumayal Shrestha, 2012. Please email for permission to use)

As a social media enthusiast I have watched a small blog use a limited number of Facebook ads to improve brand engagement, increase website traffic and expand audience worldwide by leaps and bounds. At the same time I have witnessed well-endowed organizations burn the bountiful Facebook ads using the traditional approach to mass marketing.

If you have some background in business, you probably know the importance of marketing. You maybe working for the most noble cause. Your product maybe the next best thing after sliced bread (or have we started saying Facebook yet). But it has little value, if no one has heard about it.  As a marketing tool, mass advertising was very expensive and difficult to measure until Google and Facebook offered affordable, accurate and super flexible options.

Today,  if an environmental nonprofit wants to share their wonderful resources about energy efficient lighting, they don’t have to print 10,000 brochures to distribute at 50 events or scrap up a million dollars for TV/radio commercial. They can simply create a webpage and promote it through a Facebook Ad campaign which will allow them to identify the most popular ad copies, identify and target the appropriate audience, and measure the success of the ads for future reference.

5 Facebook Ads Dos and Don’ts

Here are some key strategies I have found effective from my experience using Facebook Ads:

  1. Identify key audience by looking at Facebook Insights, then target and customize ads accordingly. If your biggest audience is female between age 12 to 19. Think about what are they more likely to respond to – image of Brad Pitt (Justin Bieber, Twilight guy etc.) with a caulk gun, or image of a Senator announcing the new caulking bill from a podium ?
  2. According to Facebook Insights,  women between 35 to 44 are more likely to share and spread the word. Most active Pinterest users also belong to this audience group. So, if this group is not the biggest audience, then perhaps you should consider customizing your ad content and reach to target this group.
  3. Always have a trial and error phase (about 1 week) to see which ads are people more responsive too.
  4. Use iconic and active imagery like the Charlie’s Angels holding caulk guns or a hand caulking a window, instead of just a caulk gun or a window.
  5. Try not to sell a product or a project to your followers, instead talk to them and share a story. DC-based food writer, Monica Bhide talks about how invoking an emotion is more effective than selling a product.


Check out these excellent tips about creating and meeting your campaign’s through Facebook Ads:

UN World Water Day: The Cause and the Cash

24 Mar

On March 22, 2012, I woke up to headlines that honked and blasted to make sure that I knew it was UN World Water Day. As the rest of my day was flooded with images, numbers and quotes that related water to climate change, world hunger, wars etc., it seemed like UN World Water day, the perfect branding opportunity for businesses, media,  nonprofits & development agencies to somehow connect their work to water and use images of children in the developing world to raise money for their plush head quarters,  5-star employee salaries and benefits and of course a little percent to their cause.

So, I snooped around a bit to get a glimpse of what the world’s top water related-nonprofits, development agencies and news outlets were publishing in their websites.

True to my hypothesis, most of them were in deed using images of women and children from developing countries use the media hype of 2012 UN World Water Day to the importance of their own work. This got me thinking if the role of communication is to bring cash to the cause or communicate the cause?

Development Agencies, Nonprofits etc.

United Nations

A personal message to the UN: Dude, you don’t pay taxes and have the  dough to send most of your staff’s children to top notch schools. Why don’t you buy some 21st century images and invest in a good web design.

United Nations Water

World Bank

Water Aid America

World Water Day as Portrayed by the Media

 The New York Times:

“A girl watches as water trickles down into a bucket from a pipe connected to a stream, in Guwahati, Assam, on the eve of World Water Day.” Photo by Anupam Nath/ Associated Press

New York Times covers 2012 UN World Water Day

The Washington Post:

15 out of 19 images in The Washington Post’s gallery marking 2012 UN World Water Day were based on issues related water quality and quantity in developing countries.  In contrast, Images from developed countries touched on  conventional first world  topics such as national security, public protest,  scientific research and water fountains. While I appreciate that the gallery identifies the broader role of water in world security and science, it undermines the fact that water quality and quantity is still a problem that touches sociological topics in the developed world as well.

2012 UN World Water Day_ Washington Post

Good Maps Should Speak to Everyone, Not Just “Specialists”

20 Mar

Example of a Bad Map: EU Daily Soil Moisture Anomaly

Example of a Bad Map: EU Daily Soil Moisture Anomaly. Source JRC-Mars. Published in on March 13, 2012

One of the benefits of being a jack of all trades, I have found, is that you are always an outsider.  So, when making policy decisions, creating maps or drafting up a marketing literature, you tend to put yourself in your audience’s shoes and improve your product to fit their needs as much as possible.

How do I know that, you ask? If you don’t know my story; I grew up an artist in a country not of my origin, then ventured out another continent to pursue an education in economics, and recently went to graduate school where I did some heavy lifting with science, statistics and the jargon of U.S. environmental policies.  I also took GIS classes where I found that a few of my cohorts who were excellent scientists and researchers were pathetic map makers! It was not because their maps were not aesthetically balanced, instead their maps did not effectively communicate their creative research question and their very interesting findings.

For instance,  the map by JRC-Mars (above) published in BBC reveals interesting pattern in European soil moisture, which could be an effective way to get attention to water inefficiencies in Europe. For a lay-person who reads this BBC article, it is  easy to understand that the red patches clearly show where the driest regions are and the green shows moisture-rich areas. Unfortunately, the white space is a confusing mix of the Atlantic Ocean, surrounding seas, major river(s) flowing through Europe and areas of “no data” as represented by the legend.

Bottom line

Just like a picture, one map can say a thousand words without the jargon of time-and-space-consuming words.  It can be an important communication tool that can effectively push for an international water policy or encourage consumers to take action about making their own public water system more efficient. So, when you make or use a map about water problems, do not club water bodies with areas with “no data”!

Other important elements this map is lacking is a North arrow sign and mentioning somewhere that it is showing information for Europe, duh!

Does Daylight Saving Time and Energy-Efficiency

10 Mar

On Sunday, March 11, 2012, all the clocks will skip an hour as Daylight Saving Time (DST)  kicks in. As much as I hate to lose an hour of sleep at the beginning of the week, I secretly feel compensated for never being able to time travel in Dr. Who’s blue box. Don’t care about time-travel? No problemo. Let’s talk about something that really matters; money and energy.  Here’s some quick facts about it DST and energy-efficiency.

Daylight Saving Time: Why we do it?

The CA Energy Commission says:

“One of the biggest reasons we change our clocks to Daylight Saving Time (DST) is that it reportedly saves electricity. Newer studies, however, are challenging long-held reason.

In general, energy use and the demand for electricity for lighting our homes is directly connected to when we go to bed and when we get up. Bedtime for most of us is late evening through the year. When we go to bed, we turn off the lights and TV. In the average home, 25 percent of all the electricity we use is for lighting and small appliances, such as TVs, VCRs and stereos. A good percentage of energy consumed by lighting and appliances occurs in the evening when families are home. By moving the clock ahead one hour, we can cut the amount of electricity we consume each day.”

When did it start?

Scientific American says: Benjamin Franklin is credited with conceiving the idea of daylight saving in 1784 to conserve candles, but the U.S. did not institute it until World War I as a way to preserve resources for the war effort. The first comprehensive study of its effectiveness occurred during the oil crisis of the 1970s, when the U.S. Department of Transportation found that daylight saving trimmed national electricity usage by roughly 1 percent compared with standard time.

Does it really save energy?

Researchers have found conflicting results:

Yes: A report submitted to Congress in 2008 says

  • Saved 1.3 terawatt hours of electricity (in 2007 I think)
  • Reduction of 17 Trillion Btu (TBtu) over the spring and fall Extended Daylight Saving Time periods (national scale)
  • Reduces annual U.S. electricity consumption by 0.03 percent and overall energy consumption by 0.02 percent. While those percentages seem small, they could represent significant savings because of the nation’s enormous total energy use.

No: “…daylight savings’ energy gains in the U.S. largely depend on your location in relation to the Mason-Dixon Line… The researchers found that the practice reduced lighting and electricity consumption in the evening but increased energy use in the now dark morningswiping out the evening gains.”

Image: Jackie


Bipartisan Energy-Efficiency Art at the Most Unexpected Place

2 Feb

Bipartisan Energy-Efficiency Art at the Most Unexpected Place

I live and breathe art and environmental issues. Since I started working at a nonprofit that advocates for bipartisan energy efficiency, I find myself searching for well, bipartisan energy efficiency in everything I come across even outside work.

So, here’s something I found marries both my interests in art and energy efficiency.

Remembering of my favorite quote from Ratatouille. “Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere”.. Well, in this case I found great art outside a parking lot at 20 and L St. in Washington, DC.

“A Melting Truth” – Al Gore Next Award-Winning Project?

22 Jan

Whether you live in a country like Maldives close to oceans  or up in the mountains 8000 meters above sea-level, climate change will get you soon. While the vulnerability of low-lying island countries such as Maldives, Tuvalu and Bangladesh have long been used to bring attention to the negative impacts of climate change and adaptation, COP 17 and various scientific findings in 2011 shed some light into  flooding of glacial lakes in due to rising global temperature. E&E publication’s Climate Wire did a series called the “Third Pole” where Deputy Editor Lisa Friedman shared her experience with an expedition of scientists to the Himalayas in Nepal.  Al  Gore keeps the momentum, by cruising to Antarctica next week with a party of 1000 people, including celebrities (I bet Leonardo DiCaprio and/or Robert Redford), celebrity-scientist scientists (NASA’s James Hansen etc.) and international political officials.  The trip is organized by Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project.

Enjoy my poster (just a joke, okay- Not an Academy award and Nobel Prize winning blockbuster production ). Read the full news article in this subscription-free ClimateWire article.

Images made by Sumayal with source photos from Wikipedia ( An Inconvenient Truth poster), and Treehugger (glacier) 

5 Efficient Ways to Cling on to Incandescent Light Bulbs

12 Jan

In 2011 people mass-purchased inefficient incandescents. Instead of hoarding, view these old light bulbs in fresh creative light. Image: Wikipedia

You probably know by now that Hostess, manufacturer of Twinkies has filed for bankruptcy. NPR’s food blog The Salt made a comic twist on 10 Things to Do With Twinkies before they go extinct.

Speaking of products we that we won’t be seeing anymore, inefficient 100-watt incandescent light bulbs are being phased out, as per the Energy and Independence Security Act (EISA). As you switch to more efficient lighting, here’s some projects from that you can do to recycle your old incandescents – of course not as comical as NPR’s Twinkies but creative and practical nevertheless.

Instead of Hoarding…Here’s 5 Ways to Treasure Your Incandescent Light Bulbs:

Light Bulb Green House

Light Bulb Green House. Click to see how to make

Light Bulb Vase. Click to See How to Make

Light Bulb Vase. Click to see how to make

Light Bulb Aquarium

Light Bulb Aquarium. Click to see how to make

Salt and Pepper Shakers Made From Light Bulbs

Salt and Pepper Shakers. Click to see how to make

..see more creative ideas collected by


 Light Bulb Lamp by Bulbs United

Light Bulb Lamp by Bulbs United

Mapping NYC Pizza? Use Cartography…Not Just Colors!

9 Dec

Here is a simple map posted by New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) that attempts to illustrate the geography of pizza joints in New York City. While, I love that the map almost looks like a pizza and the concept is interesting (but not uncommon), here’s how the map in weak in so many ways:

2011_New York Pizza Map


The basic purpose of maps is to tell where something is . While we know from the title that the map depicts New York City, it would be helpful to add more information:

  • Direction: Add North arrow. Dude, this is Map 101!
  • Boroughs: Label the thick green line that represents borough boundaries, and of course, label the boroughs!


A picture is worth 1000 images.  Remember that famous saying? Well this map does exactly the opposite:

  • Off the top of my head: What does 0-5 mean? The obvious response is that it is the number of the places that sell pizza, but you have go digging into the map description to confirm it.
  • Thinking it through: A huge technical flaw in this map is that the number of pizza places is not adjusted to the population or the area of each zip code.

So, a large zip code in Staten Island with 16 pizza places among 1000 people is represented in the same dark orange as the bustling uptown zip code in Manhattan with 16 pizza places for 60 places! It’s comparable to coloring the population of Russia in the same category as Bangladesh’s population based without accounting for density1. Do notice that the authors address this issue by saying, “land area and residential population play a big role Land area and residential population play a big role in the number of pizza places in a particular zip.


  • Off the top of my head: Besides the postal services, who really uses zip codes? Would propose a happy hour in 10003 or East Village?
  • Thinking it through:  In addition to zip codes being impractical for the human context, from my sleepless night with vector-based projects, I know that map with zip codes are a GIS faux pas that is best avoided.  It is very unusual to find GIS data such as population, housing structure, median income etc., in zip code level. These data are mostly available at block group or county levels. Here is the problem- zip code boundaries do not completely overlay with block group or county boundaries. For example, both Sparta and Ravenscroft counties in Tennessee lie in zip code 38583. So it possible for one zip code to have that 2/3 of its population from one county, and 1/3 from another. In this case, you have to interpolate the data from two separate counties before you can do further analysis. If you have ArcGIS 10, you can add the Areal Interpolation tool, but keep in mind; this is a very time-consuming process.


  • Too much white space in the background. Additional information and labels mentions above ( in the “Where?” section) would help manage the while background better.
  • It would be a great idea to add images of some popular pizza places from the Red zip codes  (i.e. the highest numbers of pizza joints).


  1. Direction: Never ever forget, the compass or north arrow
  2. Design: Manage your labels well to give the viewer enough information to 2 key questions: Where is this place in your map? What does your map represents (units)?
  3. Also, keep in mind that ancillary information such as source, coordinate system and projection are also very important elements of a professional map that can be less visible, but present.Avoid, I repeat, AVOID using data at the zip code level. Most urban data (in the U.S.) is available at the county or block group level, not zip code level. So you would have to buy ArcGIS 10 and/or install the Areal Interpolation tool and go through an time-consuming ordeal of interpolating data from county to zip code or vice versa.

1. Based on information available through a quick Google search on world population ranking on Dec. 9, 2011 – the population of Russia is 142,914,136 and Bangladesh follows close at 142,319,000.

Image Courtesy of NYCEDC, Turbo Squid ( for North arrow)


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