Seeing the Climate Change Signal in Big Problems

We’ve been seeing correlations between climate change and localized biological events for many years. Now we’ve begun to see research linking climate change to regional and even global outcomes. In the last few months there’s been seperate studies suggesting a global warming driver behind extreme rainfall events, flooding, and now international food prices.

These are all interesting and alarming findings on their own. It’s also interesting that some combination of increasing magnitude of climate change and increasing intrepidness of research methodology is facilitating continent-scale climate outcome analysis. It’s one thing to identify a general trend of change in the climate. It’s another thing to move on from averages to spotting trends in extreme moments and changes in frequencies of outlier events. It’s another thing again to credibly link those trends and variances to specific outcomes big enough for people to care. Continental weather patterns are complicated systems with multi-step chains of causality. That’s hard to see through. Especially when you’re stacking a layer of economics on top of geo-physical systems, as in the case of food prices. But that doesn’t mean that climate won’t have serious outcomes at the local, regional and global level, and that means we very much need to try to spot those as soon as we can.

It’s also interesting to consider what effect these kinds of studies might have on opinion and policy, if science and media can get along well enough to effectively articulate them to the public and to governments. The likelihood of climate change hasn’t been enough to motivate us to prevent it. Maybe the identifiable presence of the consequences of climate change in our everyday life will be. That’s not just a science problem, although its surely that. Its also very much a communications problem. But I’m glad the science is being done.

Youtube: the Audio Library for Congolese and Other Music

“Trawling through Vincent’s collection we pulled out 10 contemporary and classic grooves straight from the streets of Kinshasa. Many of these records are released as limited pressings and finding them can be an arduous task. Our best advice is to try the specialist African music outlet Stern’s.”

Congo, where rumba meets r’n’b — Josh Surtees, The Guardian

The article goes on to describe the ten tracks, each with a Youtube link discreetly included for those who don’t have time to scour Stern’s.

I would never have predicted that a video site would become something like a rough-and-ready universal library of audio.

Here’s Wendo Kolosoy, described in the article as the grandfather of Congolese rhumba, performing Marie Louise:

When I was DJ-ing at WCBN there was some disagreement over the probity of playing Youtube clips over the airwaves. The Program Director felt, reasonably enough, that DJs should strive for highest audio quality and to showcase the extraordinary, vinyl-anchored WCBN music library. I’m not sure exactly how that discussion resolved itself, but I don’t doubt that people will still fire up Youtube when they catch a tricky request or just can’t find a special track in the stacks. Because they can.

How Does Avatar Play in the Amazon?

‘Avatar’ in the AmazonPublic Radio International

Somebody set up an event where indigenous leaders from the Ecuadorean Amazon were bussed in to Quito to watch Avatar. My first instinct, in imagining that scenario, is to feel a little uncomfortable. I found Avatar to be a grab bag ethically. It’s by no means an intentionally complex story — it’s all pretty black and white in Jim Cameron’s fantasy world — but responding to the narrative might require some mildly tricky ethical parsing on the viewer’s part. This has been pointed out many times now, but to review:

  • on the one hand, the basic plot of the indigenous resisting the colonialist paramilitary forces of the white environmental exploiters is obviously benign, if a little pat. American forces getting whacked by the righteous, in an American film!
  • on the other hand, I can’t imagine a more full-bodied instance of the noble savage myth. I mean, these guys are thoroughly in perfect harmony with their environment, thanks to their untouched uncomplexity, and not having eaten the apple.
  • and most significantly, and as has been pointed out many times, the indigenous are powerless to save themselves until a white leader organizes them.

The good news is that all of these elements are presented in such a heavy handed manner that you can pretty safely ignore them and get on with the business of watching what is, absolutely, an extraordinary 3d spectacle. The writing is too stupid to be insidious.

But what about if it was being shown to some folks from up river in the Oriente? The article points out that some of them had apparently never even been in a movie theatre before. I’ll bet some of them had, especially if they were local political leaders. Then again, a local Hourani headman once asked me if he could try my CD Walkman, and when I let him, he sat in my hammock and listened to Johnny Cash and Willy Nelson’s Story Tellers Live from beginning right through to the end, clapping whenever the audience clapped, and giving the strong impression of never having listened to music on headphones before. Or maybe he just really liked Johnny Cash and Willy Nelson (who wouldn’t?).

I digress. Point is, I wouldn’t know beforehand exactly how a room full of Ecuadorean indigenous leaders would respond to Avatar. In 3d no less. According to whomever prepared the article/audio/video, apparently pretty well:

“Honestly, this is the first time I’m seeing this movie, and it’s reality, what’s happening now just in another dimension.”

Others say there was at least one thing in the movie that veered from their reality. Achuar leader Luis Vargas says it’s where the white guy sweeps in to the rescue. But he says that’s to be expected.

“This is a Hollywood movie, so it’s practically a given that a mestizo comes to the defense and leads [the people] to triumph in the end.”

Still, he liked the film, and his fellow Achuar leader Ernesto Vargas says he hopes another group will get a chance to see it.

“Think of how much better it would be if we showed this film to people who actually want to exploit petroleum. I think it would serve them very well, even more than us.”

Also very interesting:

As for Ecuador’s President Correa, he saw the movie with his children the day after it premiered in Ecuador. No word yet on what he thought of it.

Correa is a smart guy, it’s going to be pretty clear to him that Ecuador and the petroleum and mining struggles there are an obvious surrogate for Pandora in the western mind. Many, many western minds have now imbibed Avatar. Western perception, and Correa’s perception of western perception, counts highly in the outcomes of those struggles.

As well as the full text at the link, there’s audio:


and this video:


Forgive me for saying so, but I know a thing or two about enhancing photographs. I’ve put some time in as a satellite and aerial imagery analyst, and as a hobby photographer I make no apologies about Photoshop. I grok histogram response curves, level shifting,  global  and local contrast, interpolation, headroom, falloff, edge detection, hue isolation and saturation expansion. I know you almost always zoom out (!) to see a pattern, but if you want to get into pixel-peeping, I know a little about decomposing a pixel into constituent spectral signatures, k-means clustering and machine-learning classification, and all the lovely supervised and unsupervised pixel binning techniques. If I give myself an hour to study up, I can even keep the Minimum Noise Transformation straight in my head for 15 minutes. And the N-Dimensional Visualizer speaks for itself.

There is an enormous amount you can do to make a shape or pattern or shade of interest stand out in a image, by tweaking the colour or contrast response, or exploiting extra parts of the light spectrum to help the computer find hidden colours. You can fuzz together noisy patterns to see the shapes behind them, or bin together multiple pixels to lighten up the darkness. Just about the only thing you can’t do is create detail where there wasn’t any to begin with.

So I get grumpy every time I watch a movie with an image analysis scene, and the one and only thing they always always do is the one damn thing you can’t.

dunk3d made a montage:

Two they left out:

Bladerunner (the original?)

and of course Super Troopers

…(although it’s true that imagery analysts wear state trooper uniforms to operate their computer terminals.)

Tyee Internship Application


The Tyee is a fabulous online newspaper doing regional investigative journalism in British Columbia. They’ve only been around for a few years, but while the crisis has come on to local news reporting The Tyee has managed to go from strength to strength, racking up readership and heavy-duty awards. I’ve been a subscriber since 2006, and I’ve discovered that they’re looking to hire a crop of interns for the fall.

In addition to top-flight news writing, they also have an on-again off-again podcast series that I’ve enjoyed whilst cooking dinner in various places in Canada and the US. It seems to me that they should acquire an intern to build on that wonderful experiment, and it seems to me that intern should be me.

Hence I am today submitting my application package, including the audio above, which is composed of two segments:

1: Tamara Herman on the Cerro de San Pedro mine 12 minutes

View larger map.
Tamara Herman is a Victoria-based researcher and activist who has spent months in Mexico investigating social conflict around a mine currently operated by Canadian company NewGold.

I interviewed Tamara for the purposes of this application, and the interview forms a follow-on to an opinion piece about Canadian mining and the Honduran coup which recently appeared in The Tyee.

A different version of this interview will also probably be broadcast on It’s Hot in Here sometime soon (I’m really really going to make good on my promise of becoming the official Canada Correspondent for the show). Thanks to Randy, Rachelle and Emma at CFUV for ultra-friendly recording support for this piece.

2: Howard French on Chinese Development in Africa 8 minutes

Howard French is author of A Continent for the Taking, a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism, and former Senior Writer for the New York Times.

This is an edit of an It’s Hot in Here interview from November of 2008, which I conducted when Howard was in Ann Arbor to lecture based on his book. We talked about the state of African infrastructure and institutions, the accelerating trajectory of Chinese industrial development on the continent, and what good and what bad might come of it.

Search Engine: Too Good for the CBC

Search Engine, possibly the best show on the CBC, is not on the CBC any more. It’s on TV Ontario.

First Search Engine became hugely popular on the CBC radio. Then somebody decided that was a bad idea, so they cut back it’s resources and switched it to a weekly podcast and occasional contribution to some other shows. So it became hugely popular as a podcast, in fact the single most popular CBC podcast, also ranking highly on itune’s list of all news podcasts. So somebody decided that was a bad idea, so they cut it entirely. As of today.

In his final podcast installment Jesse Brown was as diplomatic as usual, suggesting that the loss of the show was symptomatic of the overall loss of programming resources going on at the CBC. He sounded sincere. That’s nice, but the notion that the CBC doesn’t have the resources to keep up a forward-thinking weekly podcast when they keep powering out daily multi-host time filler across the national radio tower network is ridiculous. Search Engine was an example of what the CBC could be, timely and engaged with it’s audience, both reflective and assertive in it’s reporting, and forthright in taking on topics that were actually important, not just those that fit within well-worn journalistic categories. It was also doing it on a budget which I imagine was next-to-nothing and generating huge listener response. That response was presumably particularly strong in the potential next generation of CBC core audience. From a value-for-taxes perspective, it could hardly have much competition among existing CBC programming. With respect to Mr. Brown, that fact that Search Engine was cut suggests that someone at the CBC either doesn’t get it or does and doesn’t like it.

But! TV Ontario, the public station I grew up watching, has picked it up! Bi-weekly podcasts starting within a couple of weeks (at this url, update your podcatcher), going to weekly in September. Nice to know that someone in public journalism does, in fact, get it. Nice to know that Jesse will continue to help me get it.

Good Times or Bad for Local Radio?

I’m still subscribed to the internal email list at WCBN despite no longer being an Ann Arborite. The CBN dj’s have a lot to say to each other about music and such. (I also still listen to the station regularly–there’s a lot of killer community radio out there, especially in Canada, but WCBN really is one of the greats.)

A news story was posted to the list regarding enormous cutbacks at the Clear Channel corporate media empire. That article posits that commercial radio may get even more homogenous, as local content gets further replaced by centrally manufactured generic noise. Clear Channel pioneered the remote dj, and if they need to, they could probably supply every town in America with something like music using an .mp3 playlist tied to the Billboard Top 20, and a text-to-speech program plugged into an ID3 tag parser and a feed of the weather service. More homogenization? Shudder.

But Jesse Walker, Reason Magazine editor and current WCBN dj suggested this alternate gloss on the news:

“There’s another way to look at this: Corporate radio empires are tottering as their consolidation binge proves less sustainable than expected. In addition to these cutbacks, Clear Channel has been trying to offload hundreds of stations for the last few years, as have several other chains.

It’s a bad time for experimentation right now — ask the former fans of Indie 103 FM (RIP) in LA — but that could change if those companies get more desperate to sell off their excess outlets and station prices start coming way down. By that time, granted, most of the creative people who in past years might have wanted to buy the licenses may have given up on radio and migrated to the Web.”

I sure hope so. Anyone want to buy a commercial radio station with me? The time is ripe. Becomes

I posted earlier regarding, the well-executed online video distribution service from the National Film Board. I subsequently emailed them with some feature requests, and I’ve received an email in reply, in which Matt (“Social Media Manager”) confirmed that the new version of their video player does everything I had hoped it would, and that furthermore they have recently gone into full release mode. The new site is thus simply, just as it should be. If you’re a public film institution, your principal online presence should be about getting film into the eyes of the public. Love it.

I’m hoping their next improvement is to implement a suggestion from Paul Coyle, who commented on my first post:

“My only criticism would be that it appears that they’re streaming the videos through Flash Media Server which is slightly restrictive in that it uses Adobe’s proprietary FLV format. I would love to see them post up some MPEG4 versions of the videos for direct download.”


Update — Matt Responds:

I totally agree. The problem with downloads is another rights issue. We were able to acquire the rights to the films (from music, actors unions, etc) for streaming but not downloads.

We’ll be offering paid downloads through iTunes soon and hopefully through the site in phase 2.

Cheers and please keep in touch,

AWOP Radio on Innovation

Gifford Pinchot the III is a innovation guru who helps businesses understand how they can be both environmentally and financially successful. Most business gurus of that ilk make me want to gouge out both the profit and environmental centers of my brain and run screaming to a mountain top commune. However, this A World of Possibilities interview with him is quite charming. I don’t know if I learned much, but I had a good time, gouged nothing, and ran nowhere.

“If we double the horsepower of all the cars in our society, there wouldn’t be any more women.”

A World of Possibilities is doing a series on innovation (I wonder if Thom Princen knows all the interviewees). This episode is excellent too, particularly the first half with David Korten, and I think I learned some things.

Sometime in July the National Film Board opened up a test site for playing videos from their archives. There’s a lot of content, and much of it is feature length. It was all paid for by taxpayers back when it was made, so distributing it freely is exactly the right plan. There’s new stuff and old.

Video quality is excellent (multiple levels are available) and it’s embeddable, as above.

Publicly funded media is perpendicular to all worries about ownership and licensing and remixing and making sure there’s a profit transaction every time somebody look at it, and so on. The NFB and the CBC should be leveraging hell out of their archives, throwing it up on the web, getting it out of the vaults, giving people a chance to filter and tag and redistribute and build on it. This is a huge advantage that these public organizations have over their for-profit neighbours, and if they’re worried about their utility in some new information saturated age they should be exploiting it. Looks like the NFB is on it. CBC?

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