East Van is for Local Photographers (Maybe)

Eric Fischer used the locations of geotagged photos on Flickr to make a series of city maps he calls The Geotaggers’s World Atlas. Then he got even cleverer and figured out which of the photos came from locals and which came from tourists, based on the time lag in between photographs. The result is a new set of maps called Locals and Tourists.

Here’s Vancouver:

Red dots are photos from tourists, blue dots are from locals, and yellow are cases where Eric’s algorithm wasn’t able to conclusively differentiate. I notice two things.

  1. Vancouver is the 9th city on the list of 96. And according to Eric, he ordered them “by the number of pictures taken by locals”. So Vancouverites like to take photos of their city. (Although I suppose it depends on how big the other cities in the project were). Compare for instance with Las Vegas.
  2. Everything east of downtown belongs to the locals. Clark, Commercial, East Hastings, 2nd and for some reason Heatley are thick bands of solid blue.


Except that I don’t entirely trust point #2. It just doesn’t make sense that Heatley would outshine Broadway as a go-to destination for photographers. Here’s what I think is happening: there aren’t actually that many people who go on blanket photo missions, then do the geeky work of linking their imagery output to GPS tracks and uploading them in bulk to flickr. Those few photomatic enthusiasts are driving the apparent patterns. That theory is anecdotally supported by this comment from Roland.

It’s a striking differential nonetheless. Next time I find myself visiting a new city, an interesting project would be to track down the places that the locals think are worthy of camera action, but don’t usually get much interest from foreign photogs.

Treeplanting Video Past & Present

I don’t know how I didn’t know about Do It With Joy, a 1976 documentary about one of the first treeplanting crews working out of a hand-hewn camp up the Nass Valley, organized by Dirk Brinkman in a giant beard, and featuring some kick-ass mattock and blues:

The film was made by Nicholas and Simon Kendall, among others. It’s a gold mine of imagery from the foundational era of treeplanting, and beautifully bearded.

“Everytime I meet someone who’s really messed up in their head, I often think wow, what that person needs is to go treeplanting, that would be a really nice gift for them.”

Pauline Kendall
(who I think hauled a load of compost from our overstock pile a while back)

correction: Glada McIntyre (thanks Carole)

An updated version, with where-are-they-now interviews (and hopefully better quality) might be available from Orca Productions. If it is, we’ll be holding a viewing at the house sometime soon.

Here’s a 1987 CBC report, which catches up with Dirk Brinkman, who has swapped his beard for Bill Gates glasses and is tapping away at an Apple IIe, trying to figure out how to increase treeplanting production to meet the growing late 80’s demand. If he only knew I would arrive 13 years later, he wouldn’t be so stressed. It also features this haircut:

“Back in British Columbia, in the hills southwest of Vanderhouf, blackflies and mutiny fill the air”

And 35 years after we started, here’s a prime example of the recent surge in digital-facilitated planter-made clearcut reportage: Faces and Hands, a series of short vids by Millefiore Clarkes being distributed by Peppermill Records. The episodes will show up weekly on the Peppermill site. Here’s episode one:

Back from Treeplanting

My treeplanting contract, being just a very small one, has ended. I am back in Vancouver and happy to be here.

Our planting crew, being just a very small one, is pictured below. Thanks to Mike Cawley for the picture. Absent from the photo are Mike and our rookie Drew.

Cypress Consulting treeplanting crew photo, May 2010.
Deva, Peter, Marie-Christine, Me (below), Rich (above), Andrew, shovel.

That’s me modeling a pilsner, energy drink of choice in the Northlands.

As anticipated, it was indeed as close to coastal planting as I’ve come. Most of the crew were coastal vets, according to them the cutblocks weren’t much different from what could be found around, say, Bute Inlet. Although they also pointed out that the extremes of slope and slash size weren’t as extreme as true coastal extremities, and that the rain was coming in from above rather than from sideways. Which is fine. Close to coastal style planting is as close as I ever want to come.

The buddhists say that self-awareness allows you to suffer and yet not truly suffer. That occurred to me once or twice when I was working through the worst of what was indeed pretty bad land, and finding myself mentally in reasonably good shape. I guess there is some benefit to being a planting vet, namely that you can get through more treeplanting with equanimity intact. I wish I could say the same of my shins.

Tree prices were high, crew and company were good, and camping out on the Dinwoodie homestead was fun. My back feels a little funny, but I’ve got some more jingle in my pocket and I’m home in the city. And I get to swagger around here pretending to be a treeplanter back from a contract. Two weeks of slash climbing is a reasonable price to pay for these privileges.

A Few Treeplanting Photos

I’ve posted a few photos from my current little treeplanting contract. One more shift to go.

forgive the cliche

They’re Pretty Quick As A Matter of Fact

I’m pleased to see that a second member of the 60’s rock outfit The Chob has now commented on my post celebrating the lyrics of their song We’re Pretty Quick.

“Amazing to keep finding posts about We’re pretty Quick after all these years. Funny that none of them has gotten the lyrics exactly right yet.”

Okay, so maybe I was celebrating the wrong lyrics. I still like them.

Once More Unto the Bush, Dear Friends, Once More

Every year, at the end of the treeplanting season, I tell everyone I might be coming back again next year. And every year I know in my heart that no, that really was my last contract.

Maybe I’ll feel the same way at the end of this season, because off I go again.

The last couple of years were short seasons for me, but this year it’s going to be really short. 2 to 3 shifts, as part of a six-planter contract working out the back of somebody’s house in Rosswood, north of Terrace. Nothing like the 90 day, multi-company seasons of yore.

View Larger Map

This will be the the closest I’ve come to coastal planting, which I foreswore many years ago as a pass-time for crazies. But I’m told the land isn’t too bad, the blocks aren’t too steep, the views are good and it’s 28 cents for straight plant. I’ll find out soon enough, for better or worse. Two summers ago my knees started to go, and last year I got tendinitis for the first time. What fresh wonders of terrain and physical decay are in store for me this year? Surely nothing can go too badly in two shifts. I could stand on my head for two shifts if I had too.

And then I’ll be back! And looking for summer-time fun and grownup work in the grand old city of Vancouver.

British Columbia, where the blocks are as steep as the prices


Massive Risk Management

Governor Schwarzenegger made an announcement on Monday. He’s withdrawing support for a planned offshore oil project in California state waters. He was very clear: this decision was made specifically because of the Gulf oil leaks.

“I think that we all go through the endless amount of studies and research and everything, and before you make a decision like that, you are convinced that this will be safe,” the governor added. “But then again, you know, you see that, you turn on television and see this enormous disaster and you say to yourself, why would we want to take that risk?”

We have a hard time planning around risks that have low probability but potentially massive impact. Most risk assessment is done intuitively, and our intuition gets fickle around long-tail events. Our gut instincts differ person-to-person, and also perhaps within ourselves. Somehow I can never be bothered to wear a helmet when I get on a bicycle, but when riding a motorcycle in states without a helmet requirement, the idea of taking mine off strikes me as absolutely insane.

Formal cost-benefit analyses can be used to mathematize planning around uncertain outcomes, and they often are. But CBA can lead to especially extreme cases of garbage-in/garbage-out, and usually does. What number do you assign to the “cost” of a species loss, for example. And how would an equation help if you didn’t know what the probability of a species loss was anyway? Laplaces’s insufficient reason criterion can be used to hold together these shaky formalizations, but that criterion states that if you can’t guess the outcome, insert a 50/50 chance of it happening. Which makes intuitive sense I guess, but here we are at intuition again.

Intuition is sensitive to recent circumstances. And so, because of the timing of the “pictures on TV”, California won’t have offshore drilling. I’m sympathetic to the governor; I’m sure he was shown credible evidence that safety standards in oil rigging have been much improved. But how much safety is enough? It depends what’s on TV at the moment.

We seem to collectively deal with a lot of these low-probability/high-impact decisions. I think they’re some of the most important choices societies make (whatever that means). For example, the question “how to deal with the threat of terrorism?”, is premised, often invisibly, on the question “how much of a threat is terrorism?”. Is the attempted Times Square bombing proof that Americans are living under threat? Or is it a reminder that American citizens are remarkably safe from home front terrorism? When the potential consequences are so important, declaring something irrelevant because it’s out-of-the-ordinary doesn’t seem right somehow. And yet, and yet.

Or how about that crazy climate change? Critics suggest that because we have uncertainty in the outcomes — which we absolutely do — we shouldn’t be pouring resources into combatting an unknown. Which isn’t so crazy, if you consider the opportunity costs: the money and time and political capital we spend keeping carbon out of the atmosphere could be going to plenty of other deserving projects. But my intuition tells me that the uncertainty associated with climate change is precisely the reason we should fear it. I worry that we’re going to learn too late the value of a predictable climate. Each specific climate-linked tragedy may be unlikely to the point of absolute unknowability, but somehow that collection of unknowable tragedies sounds like the worst thing in the world to me.

I have a hard time articulating that threat to myself or to others, but the precautionary principle speaks to it. According to wikipedia, the principle states that

“if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those who advocate taking the action.”

Environmental systems are weird. They often seem to be complex in the academic sense, behaving in aggregate in ways which can be either resistant to perturbation or suddenly highly sensistive to it. Formal complex systems theory usually isn’t very good at predicting outcomes in environmental systems (although I think it’s fabulous at helping us to understand why we can’t make those predictions). Ecologies are weird and unknowable, but they are also crucial to our lives, both in big ways and small ways. We will all die if the ecosystem services we rely on are thrown out of wack, but we will all be miserable and grumpy long before those services completely collapse. That combination of complexity and cruciality makes predictions around unlikely but potentially significant environmental dangers especially perplexing.

I’m not usually a small-c conservative, I tend to value experimentation and liberal politics. But because of the particularly fraught nature of environmental choices, I’m a big believer in that precautionary principle.

A Vegetation Map of the Antarctic

The actual title is “A Vegetation Map of the Southern Hemisphere”. For sale here. Nice palette, but not the projection I would have chosen.

Google Maps With ‘Earth View’ Still Has ‘Terrain View’

Google has just integrated the 3-D fly-through technology of Google Earth into their standard Google Maps website. How do they pack the tech of a 70mb program into a utility that runs in a browser? I do not know, although it appears they may have just (“just”) made the Google Earth plugin for web browsers into an automatic download and install.

Vancouver in its 3-dimensional glory

I was concerned that the arrival of Earth view had replaced the ‘terrain’ view option. Among other things, the hillshaded terrain view is handy for grabbing lat/long locations of natural features for quick input into GIS, particularly when used in conjunction with the LatLng marker option.

But all is well. ‘Terrain’ view is still there, it’s just been moved into the ‘More’ dropdown menu.

decent terrain, too

Carry Your Papers When You’re In Arizona

Two summers ago I did field research in Arizona and New Mexico. At the time I knew I liked New Mexico, what I didn’t know was that I was going to love Arizona. Arizona is a out-sized biogeographical fantasia. It upholds those aspects of American culture that I enjoy: friendly, indwelling small towns; discount liquor in the corner store; cheap motels; intelligent progressive cities; a darkly glistening spider’s web of two-lane blacktop to take you anywhere you want to go. At the same time, it violates magnificently one of my least favourite aspects of American culture, that being an obsession with private property. In Arizona (and the Southwest generally), the unofficial rule is that if you can camp anywhere that doesn’t say “no trespassing”, and there aren’t many “no trespassing” signs in Arizona. The coda to that rule is, if you have to open a gate, close it behind you.

Sunset At Dead Car Campsite
another random camp site in Arizona

It took me a little while to get used to the idea that I could pull my rental car onto any dirt track road I could find, drive until I found a nice view, and spend the night. But I got used to it.

how about here?

Nor were there a lot of police to enforce any private property rules that might exist. I don’t actually recall seeing a single cruisier in my time there. Although when I was down around the border I did see a whole lot of green and white border patrol vehicles.

respect for the rules

So it’s sad to me that Arizona passed legislation giving police the power to stop anyone for whom they have “reasonable suspicion” of being an illegal immigrant, and arrest them on the spot if they aren’t carrying proof of their immigration status with them. I like an Arizona that represents freedom. Arizona as symbol of creeping fasicm I like less.

I know that my little gripe is just a little one. This law isn’t really about me. This law will be about brown immigrants and anybody who looks like a brown immigrant. It will be a new tool for Joe Arpaio and his gang to wield in their vendetta against the town of Phoenix. It will give the the Tuscon Police Department something to selectively enforce against residents of the Old Town, and a new way to dodge search-and-seizure regulations when they’re on fishing trips in the war on the drugs. And it will also be used against the “bad guy” illegal Mexican immigrants.

I doubt if any straight white Canadian males camping out on the high plateau will actually get shaken down for proof that they aren’t illegal Mexicans, whether they cave in and keep it in their pocket or not. But that feeling of freedom was mostly a dream anyway, and I’m sorry to feel that particular corner of the American dream slip away from me a little.

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