No Sane, No Gain

These are some of the signs being voted “most sane” in the lead-up to Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity (an effort to “take it down a notch” for America). I had a good laugh browsing the gallery today.

The top-voted sanest signs

Here’s one I quite like:

It’s funny ’cause it’s true.

In fact, many of the most popular signs are reassuringly reasonable…like the classic:
“I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.”

Check out the full gallery at

(For the record, there’s a typo in sign #4. Seems the sane also misspell things from time to time.)

Spinning Climate Change

How does evidence of climate change come to matter for different social groups?

I’ve posted this video as a follow-up to an earlier post.
It’s the end result of filming and editing a lecture delivered by my thesis supervisor.

Video synopsis

UBC  journalism professor Candis Callison delivers her lecture “Spinning climate change, vernaculars and emergent forms of life.”
The original event took place on Oct. 7th, 2010 at the Green College coach house on UBC campus.

In her talk, Prof. Callison complicates the notion that scientific information will straightforwardly inspire action to counter environmental problems. Her research provides insight into how Americans within five distinct social and professional groups are translating, transforming, and re-articulating climate change for a diverse citizenry and wider publics.

“More information is not the point. You’ve got to find ways to link [climate change] to what people already care about.”

Speaker: Prof. Candis Callison, UBC School of Journalism
Venue: Green College, UBC
Date: Oct. 7th, 2010
Filming and Editing: Fabiola Carletti, Journalism grad student and Green College Resident

Measuring my life in tomatoes

"My tomato timer" by Flickr user Melly ♥ Kay

Let’s see if I can get this blog post done in the span of one tomato.

(It’ll make sense soon . . . stay with me on this one.)

Quick background: I’m part of a small cohort of people at Green College who pledged to keep track of their daily activities in order to answer a simple question: “Where does the time go?”

About 20 of us signed up — probably to boost our productivity — while other residents dismissed it as a masochistic little experiment.

We started last week . . . and by the end I had to admit to my brethren that I had epically failed. But it wasn’t because I wasn’t keeping track of my time. Actually, I failed because I’d kept a ridiculously detailed log, and it slowly degenerated into excuse-making on my own behalf. (I’ll be honest: it got weird.)

By the end, it was impossible to sort the minutiae into the standardized hour-long blocks, as the group had set out to do. So, on Sunday, I started using a different system.

A friend suggested I try the pomodoro technique (“pomodoro” is the Italian name for tomato), which I’m finding really effective for keeping track of work that is untainted by what the Green College experiment calls “low work.” (That is, pretending you’re working while checking Facebook or going down a YouTube wormhole.)

The Pomodoro technique was named after the inventor’s kitchen timer, which was in the shape of a tomato. The official website explains the time management strategy in five simple steps:

  1. Choose a task to be accomplished
  2. Set the Pomodoro (tomato timer) to 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings, then write down what you accomplished
  4. Take a short break (5 minutes is the standard)
  5. Every 4 Pomodoros take a longer break (30 minutes is the standard)

That’s it.

I know, it sounds so unimpressive that you may wonder why I’m bothering to blog about it. Here’s the thing: it works.

Example: I usually slack off something serious on Sundays…but I got addicted to collecting these tomatoes and ended up being reasonably productive (remember, I’m only counting periods of totally focused work):

sunday 19 Sep. 8 finished tomatoes

  • 23:06 – 23:31 Read class notes and 14 more pages of Schudson
  • 18:00 – 18:25 Read 20 more pages of Schudson
  • 17:12 – 17:37 Read 18 pages of Schudson
  • 16:13 – 16:44 Read 10 more pages of Dewey
  • 14:20 – 14:45 Read 12 pages of Dewey
  • 13:47 – 14:12 Watched Al Jazeera Listening Post on Wikileaks and took notes
  • 13:13 – 13:38 Finished the Quebec reading.
  • 12:39 – 13:04 Finished the multiculturalism reading.

This list made itself when I used this free online timer designed in Pomodoro style. (I should mention that you can pay for the official timer and booklet and what-not, but you can also find ways to be a broke student and still take advantage of this simple work rhythm.)

Apparently there’s also an app for this.

Obviously, people at the college were skeptical at first . . . but many have since come up to me and told me that there’s really something about 25 minutes that just, well, works.

Anyway, there’s no harm in getting a taste for it.  Personally, I’m kind of addicted to this friendly little vegetable, not to mention the joy of accomplishing something in under 30 minutes.

Speaking of which, I’ve finished this post AND my timer says…


Quest toward a new kind of university

"Squamish Chief" by Flickr user BigA888

I’m not going to lie, I originally signed up for an autumn weekend in Squamish, B.C. because, well … have you ever seen  pictures of Squamish, B.C.? It’s I-must-be-hallucinating stunning out there.

But scenery aside, the real point is that a small group of Green College residents (myself included) will venture up to Squamish on October 1st to meet Quest University‘s first graduating class.

In case your eyebrow just shot up, no worries, I had never heard of Quest University before today. More importantly, I’d never heard of a Canadian post-secondary school like Quest either.

Turns out it’s Canada’s very first independent, not-for-profit, nonsectarian university of the liberal arts and sciences.

It offers only one degree, a Bachelors of Arts and Sciences, and has been specifically designed to challenge the mass model (or diploma factory) style that many universities employ. (And the only kind I’ve ever attended, by the by.)

Quest undergrad students have had 20 person classes for their entire post-secondary career. I didn’t have classes that small in my fourth year seminars at York University. They also focus on one topic area at a time instead of balancing five different courses every semester.

We’re going to talk to Quest students about “interdisciplinary pathways inside and outside the academy,” as Green College principal Mark Vessey so eloquently put it. We’re also going to eat, hike and hang with them. I kind of wonder what the catch is, seriously.

“Quest U is a radical experiment in post-secondary education, not without affinities with Green College,” Vessey explained in an email invite. It was founded in 2002 by former University of British Columbia president Dr. David Strangway, who was also one of the founders of Green College.

As a member of the mass-educated crew, I’m excited to spend some time with students who have never made “just a number” jokes or devoted expletive-laden Facebook groups to hating their school.

Are they mountain-top flower children or trail-blazing academics? Stay tuned…

Check out the comments below for a bit of nuance!

The danger of a single story

Chimamanda Adichie makes several important points in this talk, but here are a few excerpts that really struck me:

  • “So that is how to create a single story, show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.”
  • “Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story, and to start with, “secondly.” Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have and entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state,and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story.”
  • “All of these stories make me who I am. But to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience, and to overlook the many other stories that formed me. The single story creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

I think this is a conversation we need to have, as many times as it takes, until it becomes more than a thoughtful sentiment. As a journalist, I find it frustrating to know that people and places will always be more complex than my representations of them … but if I can someday become skilled enough to represent nuance itself, then at least I complicate the single story.

As for the speaker herself, it’s worth highlighting that Chimamanda is a well-spoken, humble and brilliant women who has the unique gift of capturing so much in so few words. In many ways, I consider her a kindred spirit (if I may be so bold) when it comes to her worldview. One of my favourite examples is her answer to the question, “how would you like to be remembered?”

She answered: “As a person who tried to be honest and who tried to be kind—and who often realized the difficulty of being both at the same time.”

Know Your Digital Rights, Photographers

You want your shots seen and used. But Creative Commons and copyright have you confused. Read on.

Lewis Kelly sat in front of his computer drumming his fingers on the desk. The university student wanted to change the copyright settings on his Flickr pictures, but the transition wasn’t as straightforward as he’d hoped.

“Why is this so confusing?” muttered Kelly, who goes by the username oncethiswas on Flickr. “The interface is so counter-intuitive.”

Kelly had started by clicking on the help button, but the drop menu didn’t mention copyright settings or how to change them. Next, he went to the FAQ page, where he was confronted by 33 different categories of questions. Eventually, he found something that looked promising: “How can I copyright my photos?”

He read that in most parts of the world, including Canada, creators are automatically granted copyrights to their photos, all rights reserved. But Kelly, who has a nascent interest in contributing to the intellectual commons, did not want all his rights. He wanted something other than the familiar circled C beneath his pictures, and Flickr — a powerhouse of photo sharing — seemed an appropriate place to waive some of his rights for the benefit of others.

In Canada, Flickr is the most popular website that is expressly dedicated to storing photos in image galleries (The Tyee has its own ‘Flickr pool’ of readers’ photos of B.C.). More generally, the site is just shy of the top 20 most visited websites in Canada, ranking 25th in terms of overall traffic. Unlike other photo repositories like Facebook, where many indiscriminately upload photos to share within closed networks of friends, Flickr has more of a reputation for attracting both professionals and talented amateurs with more artistic intentions.

Sharing on your own terms

Since 2004, Flickr has allowed users like Kelly to waive some of their rights through a non-profit organization called the Creative Commons, which aims to expand the collection of creative work available for the general public to build upon and share.

Currently, the Creative Commons offers six different licenses made up of four core elements (please see the side bar). All of the alternatives are more permissive than Flickr’s default setting of full copyright. The licenses compartmentalize ownership rights so creators can be specific in the ways they wish to share their rights—but knowing which license to select requires some deliberation.

“I’m not sure which license to pick. There’s six of them,” said Kelly as he read through the paragraph descriptions of each license. Ultimately, he settled on an Attribution (BY) license, which allows others to copy, distribute, transmit and adapt his photos for both commercial and non-commercial purposes so long as they attribute the work to him in a way to which he consents. It’s the most permissive option.

“I’ve used the Creative Commons and breached copyright so often, the least I could do is remove the threat of litigation for other people who want to use my work,” explained Kelly, who admits his dinosaur avatar on Flickr is probably copyrighted.

By making his Flickr pictures more accessible, Kelly has added to a growing resource. There tens of thousands of photos available under Attribution licenses like Kelly’s, and hundreds of thousands licensed under all six alternatives.

“We’re really happy to finally be able to provide Creative Commons licenses,” reads the Flickr blog dated June 29, 2004. “As individuals and as a company we wholeheartedly support and endorse the Creative Commons’ mission and hope to help contribute to the preservation and enhancement of creative freedom and personal expression.”

full story here

The science behind a climate headline

In 4 minutes, atmospheric chemist Rachel Pike provides a glimpse of the massive scientific effort behind the bold headlines on climate change, with her team — one of thousands who contributed — taking a risky flight over the rainforest in pursuit of data on a key molecule.

So, I’m starting a project for one of my courses–namely, Climate Change in the 21st century with Stewart Cohen–and I’m really interested in how media representations of climate change inform (or misinform) the public conversation. This is obviously an overly broad topic at this moment, however, my preliminary research is already turning up some fascinating stuff.

Pike’s brief talk has given me a glimpse at how much work can go into a very specific scientific pursuit. How do you fairly represent this kind of work  in a daily news story? How do you make it interesting and accessible in a feature?

Anyway, as a non-scientist, such a massive concerted effort was beyond the purview of my imagination. This clip helped me put things in perspective. It’s worth a watch.

The Pain of Attention in a “googleable” World

Two long-suffering students, Prateek and Adriana.

Thus people habituate themselves to let things pass through their minds, as one may speak, rather than to think of them. Thus by use they become satisfied merely
with seeing what is said, without going any further. Re-view and attention, and even forming a judgment, becomes fatigue; and to lay any thing before them that requires it, is putting them quite out of their way. –Joseph Butler

Ten minutes ago, I googled “the pain of attention” + “philosopher” because I wanted to craft an eloquent response to “The New School of Google,” an opinion piece published by The Tyee. (I’ll marinate in my own irony later.)

In the article, Nick Smith asks “Why make students memorize facts easily found on the Net?” and then argues that we must change how we teach children in the age of search engines and instantaneous answers. Critical thinking skills, he proposes, will be much more valuable to a generation that will ask questions for which we do not yet have corresponding answers and quick facts.

Reader, I hardly expect you to read the original article. So, instead, I’ll do the following:

Continue reading

Call off the Pap Rally?

After years of needlessly conducting countless Pap tests and subsequent follow-up exams on low-risk women, North American health organizations are finally moving to replace antiquated cervical cancer screening policies.

Wait a minute…what? Antiquated? You mean women don’t have to make annual appointments for those awkward and uncomfortable tests? Can we get a cheer going?

Don’t gimme a P! (P)
Don’t gimme an A! (A)
Don’t gimme a P! (P)

(Well, not as often anyway.)

According to an article in today’s Globe and Mail– “Cancer experts call for reduction in Pap tests” –Carly Weeks puts forth the notion that we may be booking more paps than we actually need.

North American women are often advised to get their first screening at the age of 18, and to do a test every year after that. But apparently, more screenings don’t necessarily result in lower disease rates.

Even though Weeks highlighted some guidelines for screening, her article made it apparent that there are still some inconsistencies that may confuse women. Check ‘um out:

Continue reading