Meal Box Madness! (an original Green College UBC video)

The unassuming meal box has become somewhat of a cultural artifact here at Green College (my grad residence). Yes, the meal box is a simple container, but it holds one of the most valuable things for us residents: good food we didn’t have to make.

Here’s the skinny: when we know we’re going to miss the sit-down dinner, we sign up for one of these specially designed sterile containers.

The trouble is: there are far more of us than there are of them.

You can see why a hungry greenie could get more than a little frustrated when others don’t return their boxes right away. When communal resources get scarce, people get crazy.

For this video (which was created for our end of year gala) I thought it’d be fun to imagine what exactly happens to the communal boxes while in the possession of others.

(Plus, I heard rumours that the things are indestructible … and who wouldn’t want to test that?)

Special thanks to Lewis Kelly, who did the final round of edits!
(Hence the horrible picture of me at the end.)


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

Climate change science more certain than ever

By Anthony L. Westerling
Assistant Professor, UC Merced
POSTED  April 9, 2010 11:39 p.m. in the Turlock Journal
Reprinted with permission of the author


Photo by Flickr user Billie Hara

Numerous polls have shown a decline in U.S. public concern about climate change over the last two years. For example, a Gallup poll released last month found that a large and increasing number of Americans believe that the seriousness of climate change has been exaggerated, that it will not pose a serious threat within their lifetimes, and that it is not caused by humans.

Ironically, this shift in public perceptions comes during a time when the science of climate change is becoming more certain — and its implications more serious — than ever. A recent report, “The Copenhagen Diagnosis: Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science,” documents how, over the past two years, many uncertainties regarding climate change have been resolved, observed trends in climate have continued unabated, and the basis for attributing them to human causes has only strengthened.

Indeed, according to the Copenhagen Diagnosis, a general pattern has emerged since the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was released in 2007: “Uncertainties … once resolved, point to a more rapidly changing and sensitive climate than we previously believed.”
Some of the findings of the Copenhagen Diagnosis:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions have been increasing at rates at or above the worst-case scenarios policy makers use as guides.
  • Global temperatures continue to rise unabated. The rate of increase has accelerated in recent decades, and temperatures over the most recent 10 years on record exceed the preceding 10 years.
  • Ice sheets, glaciers and ice caps are melting at an accelerating rate.
  • Arctic summer sea-ice cover is declining far more rapidly than anticipated.
  • Sea levels are increasing much faster — about 80 percent above previous predictions. Projections for future sea level rise have doubled.
  • Natural factors, such as variations in energy from the sun, would have produced a decrease in temperatures, were it not for the warming caused by human actions. The conclusion that the observed warming can only be explained by human causes has only strengthened with time. Continue reading

Heat, but no light: What to do with incendiary articles?

by Flickr user kate.gardiner

I’ve had this dilemma before.

When someone has a viewpoint very different from my own, I don’t instinctively put up my dukes. For the most part, I want to engage. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt and try to see where they’re coming from.

And it’s not because I want to be on some kind of moral high ground–I’m opinionated and I get pissed off sometimes–but rather, it just doesn’t make much sense for me to waste energy sparring for the sake of sparring.

So here’s an example. In one of my comment threads, I had to make the following statement

“Before I go any further, however, I have to insist that you stop clouding this discussion with

1) Ad hominem attacks, like calling me pathetic.
2) Crude instructions to do things like “check my head”
3) Assumption-based “questions,” like “you don’t care about that, do you?”
4) Arrogant statements like “I’m schooling people on other blogs.”

Anyway, after giving the commenter ample opportunity to engage without the condescension and vitriol, I discontinued the dialogue (if, indeed, that’s what it was).

But that was a personal example, and now I’m embarking on media research that includes points of view that, to me, seem outrageously mean-spirited.

Basically, I’m writing a paper about the meta-conversation on climate change–discussing the discussion, if you will–and if you’ve been following the news on this topic, I’m sure you’ve heard some yelling and name-calling. Continue reading

‘Healing garden’ nourishes Aboriginal Vancouverites

Original story, including multimedia, available here
By Fabiola Carletti and Lewis Kelly

Skulsh remembers growing his first cauliflower in 2005.

Growing a cauliflower can bring childlike joy to a grown man’s face. At least, it did for John Skulsh, who still talks about the first vegetable he’d ever grown.

“I lifted it up,” said Skulsh, who hails from the Gitxsan Nation. “What a feeling that was! You know, the only time I’d picked up cauliflower was from Safeway, wrapped in cellophane.”

Skulsh is among the many residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside who steward the Urban Aboriginal Community Kitchen Garden, a half-acre of fertile land at the UBC farm. The project aims to shrink the distance between the garden and the grocery store, while celebrating Aboriginal traditions around food in the context of the city.

For many involved, this means cultivating a more direct relationship with what they eat—a process that can begin at any age.

“Even some of the seniors didn’t know how things like radish grew,” said Cathy Goupil, a seasoned gardener from the L’il’wat Nation, “They’d never seen one without a rubber band.”

Goupil is one of the garden’s founding matriarchs, affectionately called the grannies, who have worked with the project from its beginning in 2005.

Since then, roughly 500 people have spent time at the garden. Some actively work on small projects while others visit for large celebratory feasts, like the Blessing of the Land.

Waking up indigenous knowledge

On a Monday afternoon, many local goods were scattered around the farm’s indoor kitchen table, where a small group of community members talked, laughed and worked together to prepare a meal.

Granny Goupil explained the healing benefits of XwU’sum (pronounced “hoshum”). It is a traditional berry-based drink that strengthens the immune system and cleanses the body.

Louis Joseph, a Native Elder from the Tlowitsis Nation, had handpicked the blackberries in the salad dressing. Rob Morgan, a Gitxsan Downtown Eastside resident, had carried in a bucket of freshly harvested herbs from the nearby garden.

“We wake up old traditions and indigenous knowledge systems,” said Project Coordinator Mary Holmes, “and we find a place for them both at the university and within the larger community.”

Aboriginal culture in the city

The garden plot belongs to the Musqueam Nation, who shares the space with other Aboriginal people in Vancouver.

“Access to land is a huge issue for First Nations folk living in the city,” said Holmes.

Nearly half of all Aboriginal Canadians now live in urban centers, according to new study by the Environics Institute. Its research shows that many indigenous city dwellers see the city as “a venue for creative development of Aboriginal culture” and roughly 60 per cent feel they can maintain cultural ties in an urban setting.

Volunteer chefs prepare all the food in the kitchen.

The study highlights Vancouver as a city in which “residents are both more aware of Aboriginal cultural activities in their city and participate in them more frequently.”

Community members at the garden learn about each other’s traditions. They sit down and talk about what to plant, what to eat, and how to cook the meal itself.

“There are very different ways to prepare clam chowder,” said volunteer and UBC student Jocelyn Greer. “Trying to find a happy medium is very interesting to watch, but it always turns out delicious in the end.”

Seeds of change

Community members bring all kinds of skills and struggles to the table.

Residential school survivors, the mentally ill, and troubled youth, for instance, find out about the program through its parent organization, the Vancouver Native Health Society, and its community partners.

Skulsh came to program through the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users. To him, the garden is a sanctuary.

“All you see is trees surrounding you,” he said, “You don’t see the hustle and bustle of the Downtown Eastside…No drugs, no alcohol.”

In this space, many people plant the seeds of change.

“It is a healing garden,” said Skulsh, “Being out there clears your mind, makes you energized, makes you happy.”

Get inside the kitchen

Recipe for organic bannock, courtesy of Mary Holmes

Watch the kitchen in action, narrated by John Skulsh

The Urban Aboriginal Community Kitchen Garden Project

A lot of people depend on the garden 52 weeks of the year–because even if we’re not growing anything, they come out to get a piece of nature, see the eagles, listen to the coyotes howl, have lunch, get connected with themselves and go back home–Mary Holmes, Program Coordinator.

I’m currently working on a multi-media package about this half-acre of fertile land at the UBC farm. The project aims to shrink the distance between the garden and the grocery store, placing special emphasis on celebrating aboriginal traditions around food within an urban community.

I thought I’d post up this short overview by Lemongrass media, as I think it does a great (and gorgeous!) job of representing the project.

By the end of the week, Lewis and I will be adding to the conversation with a text story, a slideshow, a video and a special secret menu.

How to think about Climate change: discussing the discussion

It’s no surprise to hear all-encompassing statements about the press, as if it were a monolithic blob of “media.” One such claim is as follows: when it comes to climate change, journalists “aren’t doing anything to / are doing a poor job of” making sense of this contentious conversation.

So, is this true? Are meta-conversations about our very understanding of climate change actually absent or useless? To explore the situation, I’ve been collecting headlines since mid-March. Below, you’ll find recent attempts by many reporters, from publications big and small, to frame the discussion.

An important caveat: I have not read the stories at the bottom of this post, nor I am not actively endorsing all the stories I have read. I’m collecting these stories for a project I’m currently working on, and I just thought it’d be useful to bring a sample to the fore for the rest of you.

As I make my way down this growing list, I’ll try to provide the gist of, or  interesting points from, each media text.

Climate Change in the Headlines

Photo by Flickr user Rusty Stewart

“If the things we report and the way we report them serve only to confuse people or frighten them or anger them, we diminish their understanding of the great issues of the day.”--Michael Enright, CBC journalist

How well have journalists covered climate change? (TVO, The Agenda with Steve Paikin)

Gist: I watched this hour-long panel and I think it does provide a decent enough pan of the landscape.  Its strength is that it brings together academically-anchored as well as practicing journalists, a blogger, a scientist, a foreign policy advisor, etc, so it’s not navel-gazing. Its limitation is that it’s typical of many televised discussions. They are, by format, somewhat stilted and privileging of  breadth over depth. Still, host Steve Paikin does raise some interesting questions, and this is a good starting off point for further conversation.

Nearly half of Americans believe climate change threat is exaggerated (

[article] Excerpt: “He said the scientists who worked on the IPCC report were woefully outmanoeuvred in PR by business groups which have the funds to employ legions of lobbyists and communications experts. “It’s not a fair fight,” he said. “The IPCC is just a tiny secretariat next to this giant denier machine.”

Climate change science more certain than ever (The Turlock Journal)

[Short article] Gist: Anthony L. Westerling, an associate professor of environmental engineering and geography at UC, contrasts the decrease in American concern over climate change with the increase in certainty within the scientific community. The centerpiece of his text is the recently released report, “The Copenhagen Diagnosis: Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science.” He concludes with a bulleted list of the report’s findings.

Scientists take another run at climate change (USA Today)

[News brief] Excerpt: “Eight Nobel-prize winning economists and scientists have joined more than 2,000 others in signing a letter today that urges the Senate to take swift action on climate change…”

Political ads: new weapon in US climate change war? (Reuters)

[Article] Excerpt: “Big business is now free to blitz the airwaves to attack politicians who support action against climate change, which could smother messages from environmentalists…”

“Environmental groups used to be able to get free media coverage by pitching stories to reporters. Now many journalists who wrote about those issues are gone, and the space available for coverage of the environment is shrinking…”

What’s the Proper Role of Individuals and Institutions in Addressing Climate (Huffington Post)

[article] Excerpt: “…despite the fact that these decisions are made by firms and individuals, government action is clearly key, because climate change is an externality, and it is rarely, if ever, in the self-interest of firms or individuals to take unilateral actions. That’s why the climate problem exists, in the first place. Voluntary initiatives — no matter how well-intended — will not only be insufficient, but insignificant relative to the magnitude of the problem…Whether conventional standards or market-based instruments are used, meaningful government regulation will be required.”

Continue reading