Human ingenuity knows no bounds…

Thursday, 26 November 2009, 22:13 | Category : Musings, Technology, Uncategorized
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This Chinese farmer is a robotics enthusiast in his spare time…He uses spare parts and leftovers…

Thoughts on Thoughts: The Mind Under Extreme Duress

Wednesday, 25 November 2009, 19:18 | Category : Health, Psychology, Uncategorized
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So two stories I came across recently made me think about the brain’s ability to cope under extreme stress.

The first is the story of the recently-freed Iranian-Canadian Journalist, Maziar Bahari, who was held captive for 118 days following election protests in Iran.

He was arrested and held under suspicion of being a spy. During this period, Bahari was tortured by his captors – one in particular, who threatened his life daily. What interests me most is what Bahari did to get by during this time. While on more than one occasion he contemplated taking his life, he argued with himself – in other words, engaged in self-talk – on why he shouldn’t. Reason one: “Don’t be stupid. Don’t do their job for them.” Makes sense.

When he felt that the walls of his tiny cell were closing in (literally), Bahari even went as far to create an alternate universe in his mind (to disassociate from the present one). As one example, when his skin was burning, Bahari apparently mentally transported himself to a beach in South Africa, where he previously acquired severe sunburn. This alternate universe “was guarded by Mr. Leonard Cohen.”

What’s more, “it was just ridiculous to me that this old Jewish [man], and one of the most cynical poet songwriters in the world, managed to save me in the heart of the Islamic Republic,” he told the BBC. Clearly, the man had enough presence of mind under these extreme circumstances to call out irony when he saw it. If there’s a way to be a captive, I’d say that’s it.

The other story (it came out on the same day), involved a different kind of harrowing experience, but also one that deals with confinement, and in the most extreme sense. It involves a man who was thought to be comatose…for 23 years…and falsely so. It turns out Rob Houben was not in a vegetative state, but paralyzed and conscious throughout the entire ordeal. I mean, this is the kind of stuff nightmares are made of: “I screamed, but there was nothing to hear,” Daily Mail quoted Houben as saying (though now there’s debate whether or not he actually said those words).

In 2006, a scan revealed that the man’s brain was functioning almost entirely. (As a side note, and perhaps even more shockingly, the man who detailed the case says that about 40 per cent of such patients go misdiagnosed). As in the first story, Houben also created an alternate universe; he “dreamt the time away” as the years passed. “All that time I just literally dreamed of a better life. Frustration is too small a word to describe what I felt.”

Arguably, a person’s ability to endure such extremely stressful situations comes down to the extent and severity of the situations (and obviously their duration). Coping strategies too play a role. But so does biology.

Studies suggest that an individual’s capacity to be resilient under conditions of extreme stress, such as those regularly experienced by soldiers, police, and firefighters, also involve hormones.

Dehydroepiandrosterone, or “DHEA”, to be exact. This is a hormone that is secreted by the adrenal gland (above your pancreas) in response to stress. Although scientists have known for over a decade that DHEA provides beneficial, anti-stress effects in animals, they did not know until recently whether this was also true for humans.

A recent study that looked at soldiers’ ability to tolerate stress found indication that compounds like DHEA might be used in the future to protect military personnel from the negative impact of operational stress.

How would say a DHEA pill impact on interrogators and the interrogated? (I mean, the very point of an interrogation the way I understand it is to stress the individual out to the point that it illicit a perceived confession.) Would it just raise the stakes? Would it be beneficial for individuals who knowingly go into high-risk and high-stress situations (i.e. war correspondents, police officers, etc.)? Could it be administered post trauma to lessen its effects? Not sure about any of these, but these are just some of the questions I’m left asking. And I hope insight comes by way of public discourse.

Boom de ah dah’s made it into ’09

Tuesday, 24 November 2009, 21:30 | Category : DiscoChan, Musings
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The first version resonated so strongly with so many people, below is Part II…I hear a Canadian version’s in the works as well. The original’s taken on a life of its own. I still meet people who talk to me about the song…even sing a verse or two (and yes, I do join in).

Between You and I on Mediated Experiences

Friday, 20 November 2009, 19:54 | Category : Uncategorized
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Earlier this September the Canadian Film Centre held a great little media lab / Nuit Blanche sneak-peak dubbed Between You and I.

Between You and I we create connections, pathways, rabbit holes, traces and leads. We tell each other stories that lead us together, tear us apart, recreate and retell our histories. It is how we find out who we were, who we are and, most importantly, who we will be. Through a variety of technologies, twelve remarkable storytellers, producers, creators and technological wizards weave together the lines that are constantly emerging between You and I.

The event punctuated the ways evolving tech is forcing us to change our very ways of being – from a virtual reality tour of a soldier’s PTSD-ridden return “home” to a new way to use the old payphone (I know…they still exist). The artists did a great job explaining their works, and immersing you in their constructed experience.

My favourite piece was Pause – perhaps because it speaks to my own internal struggle to master the balance as a BlackBerry-strapped, multimedia sci-tech producer with Luddite-esque, tree-hugging, sunshine-seeking, slow-food-loving tendencies.

Here then is a bit about the piece:

 

CREATED BY
Jarrod Barker
Pause is an interactive media machine based on intense, urban “hustle & bustle”. It invites the interactant to experience two opposing states through audio and video. Each state- one intense and quick paced and the other calm and slow- can be directly influenced by the viewer with the intent of providing a place of contemplation and awareness of our own pace in and amongst the hectic city. Pause leads to contemplation by showcasing the beauty and emotional connectedness between lovers, friends, and even a sleeping man on a quiet park bench.

No, the world will not end…not yet anyway

Thursday, 19 November 2009, 19:13 | Category : Anthropology
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I’ve grown pretty tired of the whole the sky will fall in 2012 thing, in part because I’ve been fascinated by Mesoamerican cultures for as long as I remember, and nowhere did I come across semi-convincing arguments that the world – will in fact – end. Call me optimistic.

Not that the prospect isn’t exciting – it’s just ridiculously misguided. In any case, one of the few up sides to this whole anthropological muddle is that people seem to be a lot more interested in all-things Mayan, and there’s some pretty neat content out there on the web – loads of it worth checking out.

Example? The New York Times Long Count interactive feature.

Planet in Focus 2009: Toward a 20/20 Vision

Wednesday, 18 November 2009, 19:38 | Category : Movie Reviews, Musings, Uncategorized
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The end of October brought me to the tenth annual Planet in Focus environmental film and video festival held here in Toronto.

I can’t say enough good things about this yet-untapped gem. While undoubtedly bigger this year, it still hasn’t reached the proportions of some of the other better-known, and longer-running local film fests. That’s fine by me – fewer lineups and opportunities to catch fantastic and lesser-known international docs.

This year, to commemorate the tenth milestone, the theme was: “Fast Forward Toward a 20/20 Vision”.  

Couldn’t help but notice a common thread running through my top picks; the films all revolved around kids (appropriate, considering they’re setting the tone for our collective tomorrow).  These picks are:

Campesinos… We Will Inherit the Earth

 Delectable things grow in Central America: nuts, coffee, chocolate – and the articulate words of the children who help harvest them. Jernier howls with howler monkeys as he harvests coffee in Nicaragua, Duly demonstrates how children break open macadamia nuts on each other heads in Guatemala, and Paul explains how to grow bananas and cacao organically in Costa Rica. Balancing school with the crop cycles of their families, these children do no only inherit the earth, but the sustainable farming methods of the cooperatives their families belong to. Fair Trade at your local store takes on a new meaning when harvesting is an activity that draws these families together. Farmers live and die by the weather and these children are smart enough to know the impact of climate change on their crops. Duly, Paul and Jernier are mirrors of their community and show how sustainable cooperative farming can improve their quality of life.

  School on the Move

The Evenk are the nomadic aboriginal guardians of the Taiga, located in eastern Siberia. They traverse this terrain with their beloved reindeer herds. School on the Move documents the attempt of these unique people to preserve their cultural traditions with the support of anthropologist Alexandra Lavriller. Shot on the move, the film wistfully portrays the Evenk as they retain their language and age old habits amidst encroaching contemporary demands.

 Marina of the Zabbaleen

The Zabbaleen are a culture of Coptic Christians living in Egypt, who make a living through garbage collection and recycling. With a fluid, impressionistic style worthy of Kiarostami, this film gives a close-up look at the daily life of one Zabbaleen family, at the center of which is Marina, a young girl with luminous eyes, who hopes to one day become a doctor. Deeply empathic, rich in symbolism and filled with unforgettable scenes – a wrenching confrontation with a cruel landlady, a visit to a massive church carved out of the side of a mountain – Marina of the Zabbaleen is a haunting film that unwinds with the rhythms of a religious ritual. It is both a document of social stratification in Egypt, and an artwork of transcendent beauty.

Missed this year’s fest? No need to wait around until next year. Planet in Focus also puts on Mixed Greens Monthly Screenings, among other initiatives. You might just see me there…

 

Using user-generated sites for creative contests

I LOVE the idea of using use-gen sites to run creative contests. Define the limits, and people come up with the most fascinating ways to interpret them.

This is an example of the latest Cannes initiative (they’ve run some very successful contests in the past).

The idea is that at midnight on May 15 all those interested received a brief for an ad for a charity (in this case Oxfam). Entrants had to conceive and shoot the ad in less than 48 hours, upload it to YouTube and submit it to the YouTube Cannes Young Lions 48 Hour Ad Contest.

The next step is to spread the word: Try to get as many people to view your ad, as often as possible in 14 days (the first phase of the contest wraps June 1).

The above is the ad Spencer Black, my dear friend (and talented Art Director for ad agency, zig) made. This blog post is one way entrants (and their supporters) can get the word out. While views play a major part in determining the winner, so does creativity. The winners get an all-expenses paid trip to Cannes, to represent YouTube in the Young Lions contest. This is where the second phase of the contest begins.

The two winners will be teamed up to rep Team YouTube and compete against 37 other teams from around the world in the Young Lions Film Competition.

Discovery’s run a similar competition for the Planet in Focus Film Festival last October, named Film Snacks. Our emphasis was on 2-minute environmental shorts.

We’ll likely be doing it again this year, and we have a more robust platform via our newest addition to the site, Planet You.

These and other contests are a fantastic way to tap into emerging talent.

Beautifully Shot

Monday, 18 May 2009, 14:43 | Category : Uncategorized
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With SprintCam V3 HD:

I-Movix SprintCam v3 NAB 2009 showreel from David Coiffier on Vimeo.

The cam allows the user to capture from 500 to 1,000 frames per second and to replay them without delay.

This new technology has applications in live sports and other live TV productions, but also in the production of commercials, documentaries, and movies.

Makes me think of Discovery’s Time Warp.

Discovery Channel’s Ain’t Nothing Wrong With That

Friday, 8 May 2009, 16:47 | Category : DiscoChan, Uncategorized
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It’s hard to follow the Boom De Ah Dah phenom, but this might do it.

Hand-shaped nebula reaches for the stars

Friday, 10 April 2009, 13:37 | Category : Uncategorized
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hand-shaped-nebula NASA’s Chandra X-ray observatory recently snapped the image of this unusual hand-shaped nebula.

The by-product of a star gone supernova, its energetic particles span 150 light-years.

This is big considering their source (a pulsar) spans a mere 19.3 km. The particles have had such wide reach because the pulsar spins incredibly fast: seven complete rotations every second.

The particles that form the fingers appear to be transferring energy to a nearby gas cloud (the part that glows orange and red on the image).

Dubbed B1509, the pulsar is believed to be 1,700 years old. It’s about 17,000 light-years from Earth.