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A view to the future November 18, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, creativity, learn, life, technology.
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6 comments

picwomencameraCameras capture time. Whether film or digital, still or movie, they are recording the profound or insignificant moments of our lives.

As I recognize how much I feel at home behind the viewfinder, and begin to gain a sense of the stillness at the centre of each photo, I am also seeing how — even as I watch — the way I think of photography is slipping into the stream of time. Photography, like the printing industry it is still mostly dependent on, is becoming outdated and antiquated.

There have been so many changes in the history of photography, from calotypes and Daguerreotype to magic lanterns, from the first mass-produced box cameras to the sophisticated computers with glass and mirrors we are used to seeing today. Now it is commonplace for people to take photos with their cellphones, and shoot videos with their digital cameras.

Of course, these days you can also buy a miniature camera no bigger than a thumbnail if you’re in the spy business, or if you want to snap the martians at play and don’t want to spend two years and a few million getting to Mars, you might be able to afford a monster-sized 1700 mm (5-1/2 foot) lens for your camera instead.

But I’m trying to simplify my life. I’m fascinated by convergence, by the iphone approach which incorporates music, phone, camera, organizers, becoming an electronic catch-all for the stuff you used to keep at the bottom of your purse or wallet or desk drawer. My cellphone can take photos (I’ve used it twice) and play music (I haven’t tried that function at all) as well as store task lists, phone numbers, and I’m sure it has many other bells and whistles I haven’t bothered to explore. But the fact is, I want to use it as a phone. Period.

browniecameraI have the same relationship with my camera. I use it to take pictures. I’m glad it’s digital, so I can see the images right away, and don’t have to pay for film and processing. But many cameras now are designed to do so much more than take pictures. Even the new high-end cameras are beginning to feature high-definition video capability, along with all the other must-have doohickeys. How many functions does your camera have? How many do you use?

I don’t want to be a luddite about this, but I’m afraid that what I see as the point of photography is getting lost in the race for bigger and better equipment, in the competition for the electronic-savvy consumers who want a camera that’s fully-loaded, whether or not they possess the will and skill to master it.

I’m not a camera purist. I don’t think that you have to use a square-format view camera and shoot in black-and-white (and process it in your own darkroom) in order to be considered a serious photographer. But I do want to draw a line between photography and videography, between single eloquent images and multi-frame movies. For me, photography is about stopping and seeing, about observing and contemplating a moment in time. I’m talking about still photography, plain old-fashioned pictures. Come to think of it, I prefer plain potato chips, too.doo-lough-ireland

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Related links:
Geist Magazine: “My Father’s Hands”
New York Magazine: “You must be streaming”
Jacki Schklar: “Video vs Still Images”
Technology Review: “Crossover Camera”

Just browsing: on books & the internet April 10, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in books, communication, consumer, internet, language, learn, life, technology.
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5 comments

booklover's dream

My visit to a bookstore yesterday has me questioning one of my assumptions about myself: that I love books.

Well, I do genuinely love the idea of books, the musty smell of a three-story used bookstore, the crisp riffle of freshly printed pages, the way that soft-shelled penguin paperback opens at random when you drape it over your hand… One of my fantasy rooms is a library with tall windows, a comfy chair, and walls lined with books on every subject (I’m undecided as to whether there should be a butler carrying in a glass of sherry in the mid-afternoon).

I’ve read quite a few books — besides the required school textbooks, I’ve read lots of science fiction, mysteries, biographies, short stories and Canadiana, along with classics such as Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Homer’s The Odyssey. But, increasingly, I tend to pick up books that look intriguing, but then I don’t get around reading them, or I start and don’t finish (with the exception of mysteries, where sometimes I’ll skip the middle part and rush through to the end so I can get to sleep before 2 a.m.).

So there I was yesterday, leafing through a sale copy of John Ralston Saul’s The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World — and thinking, oh, how interesting — when suddenly I stopped and said sternly to myself, “Myself, you are not going to read that book. You are going to leaf through it, dip into a few chapters, then put it aside until you have more time, which will likely be never.”

Alas, another fantasy smashed on the cold tile floor in the kitchen of logic. I felt a sense of loss, then wondered if the internet is to blame.

Because I do read more than ever if you count the internet. I read constantly online, or perhaps I should say I mostly “scan”, because I only stop to read more than a few words when I find something that truly catches my imagination. And, all too often, I even put off that reading to “another time”, bookmarking the page for more leisurely digestion when I can give it my full attention.

Except it appears that I have no, uh… what was I saying? Oh yes, no attention span; it seems to have evaporated. Yet can I legitimately blame the internet for its ability to provide instant information and make me too impatient to bother reading a book?

The surveyors of society are currently claiming that the reading of books is increasing, not decreasing, notwithstanding the naysayers and Steve Jobs’ recent comment (“the fact is that people don’t read anymore”). I would say that about half the people I see riding the subway or in waiting rooms are reading.

So what do you think: are you reading less? Or are you just reading differently?

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Related Links:
Newsweek: “The Future of Reading”
Guardian UK: “Dawn of the Digital Natives”
New York Times: “Book Lust”

Earth Hour: a drop or a sea change? March 28, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, communication, energy, environment, language, nature, technology, world.
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8 comments

Lights around the world - image from Inhabitat

Lights out for Earth Hour. That’s the message circling around the globe as we speak, as the clock ticks down to the action hour: 8 p.m. on March 29. Organizers are hoping that millions of people around the world will participate, turning off lights and other electrical appliances not in use.

This worldwide light-switch flipping won’t be as dramatic as it sounds — even from the vantage of the International Space Station — since 8 p.m. arrives at a different time in each time zone. (And in case you were wondering about the image above that I gleaned from Inhabitat, it’s obviously not a satellite image, because only half the world should be in darkness at one time. But I digress…)

Earth Hour logoParticipating cities will include: Bangkok, Brisbane, Buenos Aires, Christchurch, Copenhagen, Dubai, Dublin, Fiji, Halifax, Manila, Montreal, San Juan, Scott Base (Antarctica), Sydney, Tel Aviv, and Toronto. With a couple of exceptions, these cities ring the centre of the planet, representing the most densely populated and richest countries.

There are two key objectives for Earth Hour. The first is to engage as many households, communities and business to turn off their lights for one hour on March 29. The second objective is to measure the change in our greenhouse gas emissions over the following 12 months, aiming for a reduction in the year following Earth Hour. The website estimates that if the greenhouse reduction achieved in the Sydney during that hour was sustained for a year, it would be equivalent to taking 48,616 cars off the road for a year.

Earth Hour is turning out to be a major public-relations coup for the organizers — it’s backed by the World Wildlife Fund — and provides a positive outlet for society’s current need to “do something” about the environment. What could be simpler than turning off your lights for an hour, on a weekend, in early evening?

I support this idea in principle, but I can’t help asking questions:

  • Will this action make a difference? In terms of the actual effect of turning off lights, the net environmental benefit will be a drop in the bucket compared to overall power usage. Still, when Earth Hour got its start (with participation of an estimated 2 million people plus businesses) last year in Sydney, Australia, power consumption dropped about 10 percent over the course of the hour. That may be small change in terms of power consumption, but that’s big change in terms of participation.
  • Are participants pawns in a play for government funding? The fact is, climate change affects everyone, but it is too big for us to act alone; we need governments as well as people to commit themselves to change. A collective action can be stronger than a vote, especially if a higher percentage of people participate in Earth Hour than voted in the last federal election. That should help move environmental issues to the top of the political agenda.
  • Why should I bother when my arrogant neighbours will be acting selfishly by [fill in the blank]? If you’ve ever had the experience of picking up trash only to find someone littering behind you, you will probably have asked yourself this question. Everyone has a different answer. All I can say is, any small thankless task that you do that makes the world — even momentarily — a better place inspires me to act for the greater good as well.
  • What will make this tiny drop in the ocean — environmentally speaking — into a sea change of behavioural difference? The act of turning off a light is largely symbolic, especially if people spend their Earth Hour by watching TV in the dark. But awareness is only the first step; Earth Hour participants are encouraged to take part in longer-term changes, and pledge to take actions to reduce their daily energy consumption. With all the eco-friendly information available now, there’s an action for everyone, no matter what your interests.

When I stop to think about it, there are lots of ways I can support the Earth Hour campaign. It will be a great time to take an extended walk with the dog, and if the city lights are dimmer, maybe we’ll see some stars.

In the end, Earth Hour is an opportunity for each of us to act, to educate ourselves, and to remember that we are not alone — that our consumer choices and energy spendthrift ways will eventually affect someone else, somewhere else. And for me, that’s the most compelling reason to take part.

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Related Links:
Earthhour homepage
Toronto Star: Earth Hour special section

Time: “Earth Hour ’08: Will it matter?”

Biofuel powers world record attempt March 26, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in energy, explore, technology, world.
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2 comments

Earthrace (Florida, Jim Burkett)

A world tour with a difference will kick off this Saturday, March 29, as the Earthrace team tries to make the fastest world circumnavigation ever in a boat entirely fueled by biodiesel.

The team, led by New Zealander Pete Bethune, will begin their journey of more than 24,000 nautical miles in Valencia, Spain.

Earthrace will sail westward, stopping in the Azores and Puerto Rico before going through the Panama Canal and on to Manzanillo, Mexico and San Diego. From there it will hopscotch across the Pacific, stopping in Hawaii, the Marshall Islands and Palou before stopping in Singapore. The final leg will take the crew from Conchin, India to Oman and through the Suez Canal to Valencia.

This is the second world record attempt by the Earthrace team, following a failed attempt last year. After a tragic collision with a Guatemalan fishing boat in March 2007 that resulted in the loss of one fisherman and left the boat in need of repair, Earthrace finally had to abandon the race while crossing the Mediterranean Sea in May, following the third storm in three weeks that left a 2-metre crack in the hull floor.

Since then, Earthrace conducted a public relations tour of European ports, and has just completed a major refit in Spain. The team has tried to make it as environmentally friendly as possible, installing filters for bilgewater, eating organic foods, and using a non-toxic antifouling coating (to keep off the barnacles).

The B100 biodiesel fuel (that’s 100% pure bio, no diesel) powering Earthrace includes a unique additive: human fat. Bethune and two other crew members underwent liposuction, stripping fat from their bodies to make into seven litres of biofuel, enough to power the boat for about 15 kilometres.

Another unique aspect of this race is the boat itself, designed more like a racecar than a yacht. Craig Loomes Design designed the trimaran around a needle-like wave piercing hull that allows Earthrace to slice through waves — it can be submerged under 21 feet of water while doing so — rather than sailing over them. Its twin “skis” enable it to surf down any that hit it from behind as well. It can travel faster in rough seas than any other vessel.Construction took 14 months and the vessel was launched on Feb. 26, 2006. It has a top speed of 46 mph and carries 3,000 gallons of fuel, giving it a range of about 2,800 miles. It was designed to withstand 50-foot waves and has been tested in 40-feet seas against 90 mph winds.

Of course, with a boat this fast and light comes a different kind of pollution: noise. It averages around 85 decibels at cruising speed, which means the crew has to wear earplugs continually. And then there’s the axe… if the boat capsizes, it won’t sink, but the only way out is to use an axe attached to the hull to chop their way out.

The crew plans to sail almost continually for 65 days at between 23 to 29 mph. The current record for circumnavigating the globe is 74 days and 20 hours and 58 minutes, set in 1998 by the British vessel Cable and Wireless Adventurer.

[EDIT: The Earthrace set out a month later than planned; it didn’t leave port until April 27, 2008.]

Earthrace route

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Related Links:
Earthrace homepage
Wired: “Around the world in a boat fueled by human fat”
UK Guardian: “Racing around the world on biofuel”
UK Telegraph: “Earthrace: the green machine”