new look, and your help

March 30, 2009

I’ve started playing around with WordPress themes and settings.  The whole look of this blog might change dramatically several times over the next few weeks while I get things worked out.  One thing that many themes let users do is put in a custom header – with a stock one in waiting until an appropriate custom one is found.  You can see my stock one at the top of this page, various cafes in the midst of a city.

This post, while partially a warning about potential changes in the works, is also to ask for your help, elusive reader.  I need a good header, something appropriate for a blog about… whatever this is about.  Filling time, writing about things that interest me.  Often media, but mostly whatever grabs my attention.  If you have a suitable picture, or know of a Creative Commons one somewhere in the depths of the internet, please let me know by comment or Facebook, if you’ve got me.



Urban scavenging

March 30, 2009

(CC Licensed photo from AlwaysHallways‘ Flickr stream)

Two months ago I titled this blog based on my own unemployed status (as well as some imagined other associations of the word – media to disemploy you of your time – a bit of a stretch).  And, y’know, was taken.  And never updated, as is most often the case.

I still, in fact, don’t have a job.  Over two months in.  Naturally, I’m starting to feel a little worried – is all the dire economic news really true for Vancouver, despite the supposed lasting power of the pre-Olympic boom?  Much of the news media I consume is American based, and therefore often much direr than Canadian news in terms of economic forecasts.  Regardless of how this might actually influence my own life, I’m left with a fairly bleak outlook for my short term monetary future.

Which, by way of a long-winded segue, brings me to my point.  Feeling pessimistic about money leaves me searching for different, slightly ‘off the grid’ ways of making a living.  In this spirit, I noticed the Boing Boing post about a Salon article about a new book (oh, the wonderous and convoluted internets), Scavenger’s ManifestoThe book is by a pair of Berkley, CA residents who manage to live very cheaply through various forms of scavenging, from coupon clipping to snatching up curbside furniture to occasional (and only clean-) dumpster diving, while in the Salon article Katharine Mieszkowski joins the authors for a typical scavenging day.

Through these various sources, plus the comments following the Boing Boing article, I’ve become very curious about the world of scavenging.  The authors of Scavenger’s Manifesto argue that our society unfairly labels those who pick through trash as dirty – although this trash is often perfectly good, useful stuff that has outlived its usefullness for the original owners.  Inspired by my morning’s reading, I now plan to hit up some alleyways – see if I can find anything interesting, useful, or potential Craigslist sales to make a few dollars.

The only issue with this in Vancouver is the prevalence of full time scavengers.  With our mild climate, horrible governmental policies towards mental health and addiction issues, and a multitude of other factors, Vancouver has a huge population of homeless and very low income folks.  Some of these people scrape out a living by collecting bottles and whatever else appears in back alleys.  To scavenge I would have to compete, both making scavenging more challenging and making me acutely aware that I need these things far less than most.

However – people throw out so much, and particularly around this time of the month (moving day), that I’m sure there is enough to go around.  It’s certainly worth a try.  A recommended resource for free things is, which allows users to post goods they don’t want, or a request for something they do want, all in the spirit of reusing rather than throwing away.  The Craigslist free section, more established in some cities (such as Vancouver), is also an excellent source of free things.  And, finally, a general resource site for scavenging of all types: Trashwiki.

consume me: this american life

March 29, 2009

My first foray into the wondrous world of American public radio took place shortly after the purchase of my iPod and the beginnings of my  iTunes podcast subscriptions.  I knew nothing about this world, save for an imagined similarity to the CBC and an assumption that it was about as boring as the majority of PBS’ televised programing.  You know, not necessarily boring topics, but made in a very standard, old-people-friendly sort of way.  I wasn’t hugely interested in this, but I decided to check out one show that I had heard of a few times anyways.

That show, of course, was This American Life.  It gripped me immediately.  The show’s format is an hour long collection of stories, generally three or four with an occasional episode consumed entirely by a single tale.  These are usually non-fiction, but told in such a way as to create a real narrative arc complete with strong characters and an engaging voice.  Some are highly produced field pieces, where the producers go spend time with a group of people and edit the tapes into a complete story.  Others, such as David Sedaris’ (the author of Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, and his most recent When You Are Engulfed in Flames) semi-regular pieces, are simply a story read aloud, often with some scoring to heighten the emotional impact.  Similarly to The Moth, these can be touching, funny, or simply interesting, although they’re put together much more tightly than The Moth’s ‘live and without notes’ tales.

The stories are grouped by themes, with each episode exploring a central idea.  Some recent episodes explored a worst case parenting situation (Didn’t Ask to Be Born)‘human’ resources, or what happens when we switch to our secondary plan in life (Plan B).

It comes out once a week, and is definitely worth listening to.  They also have the entire archives of the show on their website, with an excellent favourites page giving a strong introduction (and a direct iTunes link).

Oh, and it has won awards.  Because that is all that matters.

Next: Radio Lab

Previously: The Moth, Search Engine, Podcasting

London leaves Vancouver in the dust

March 24, 2009

Okay, I take it back.  Just when I post that Vancouver is catching up to London in terms of absurd surveillance and the whole attitude towards ‘reporting the suspicious,’ London takes a huge leap and widens the gap near-infinitely.  The Metropolitan Police have just started a new campaign instructing Londoners: “Don’t rely on others. If you supect it report it. Londoners are being asked to trust their instincts and report suspicious behaviour to help combat terrorist activity.”

This is bad enough, telling people not to rely on their communities or the people they know – just report everything.  But to make it worse, the message is accompanied by two awful posters.

Thanks, London, for making me seem like a presumptious jackass.

(via Boing Boing)

Report the suspicious – Vancouver’s steady slide towards London-like surveillance

March 20, 2009

Suspicious behaviour I saw this interesting ad on the bus today, following on the heels of the semi-recent announcement of the new 2010 Olympic security budget of $900 million (up from the original $175 million – you can read a fairly negative take on that in Maureen Bader’s Georgia Straight article “Olympic security budget will create a big brother legacy”).

What I really like about this ad is how they pay the slightest of lip service to avoiding overbearing, Big Brother-esque citizen surveillance.  This isn’t as bad as many of the London ads I’ve seen bandied around on the internet, but it’s most certainly a step in the wrong direction.  And, it doesn’t really make any sense.  The hastily shot photo, captured as I was getting off the bus with my awful cellphone camera, misses the text over the Bugs Bunny imprint, which read: “Call a cartoon channel.”  What is that even supposed to mean?  This very wishy-washy, ambiguous ‘strange vs. suspicious’ dichotomy wherein cartoon rabbits are the benchmark of strange leaves very little room for anything else in that category.  Thus everything becomes suspicious – a homeless guy sleeping in the back row, for example (which is a relatively common sight in Vancouver, what with our huge homeless population and very wet weather).

I imagine we’ll be seeing more and more of this as the Olympics approach, what with the huge security budget mentioned above and the endless vieing of real estate developers to fully sterilize Vancouver in making it the ‘perfect city.’

consume me: the moth

March 18, 2009

So I completely failed at the whole week of podcast reviews thing.  Alas, life tripped me up and left me sufficiently distracted to ignore my blog.

But now I’m back!  With a review of another of my favourite podcasts: The Moth.

There isn’t much more I can say to describe The Moth than their own brief description at the beginning of every podcast: “true stories told live without notes.”  These stories are selected entries from their storytelling evenings held in New York, LA, and occasional touring shows across the States.

Most are stories of regular life, the kind of stand-out moments we all repeat over and over again in our favourite personal anecdotes.  Some of these are told by celebrities or successful writers, some by random folks who’ve clearly never stood on a stage before.  The Moth is extremely hit or miss, with the occasional overly trite attempt at a tearjerker or the more common semi-successful comedic writer trying too hard to be funny.  These misses are usually just boring – but at a maximum of 15 minutes I never feel too put out.  However, when The Moth hits, it does so very hard.  Episodes like Jack Hitt’s recent “Slumlord” story, a story which slowly and intricately builds to a hilariously satisfying conclusion, make it all worthwhile.

While The Moth isn’t always great, it has enough excellent moments in its weekly updates (one 10-15 minute story a week) to make it a definite keeper on my podcast list.  If you subscribe, be sure to delve into the archives (which unfortunately only go back a few months) and download the aforementioned “Slumlord” story.  This alone, I’m fairly certain, will convince you to stick with The Moth.

The Moth (and a direct iTunes link)

Next: This American Life

Previously: Search Engine, Podcasting

consume me: search engine

March 10, 2009

CBC’s Search Engine was the very first show I started listening to, way back before I had an iPod or had even discovered the magic of subscribing to podcasts on iTunes.

Search Engine is a look at how society, politics and culture are informed and influenced by technology.  For example, host Jesse Brown was instrumental in spreading awareness of Bill C-61, which would have overwhelmingly bowed to US industry pressure (while simultaneously ignoring Canadian consumer/creator interests) to cripple our capabilities to consume and create media how we want.  Recently he has taken up the issue of the privacy issues of the RFID chips being implanted in Driver’s Licenses across Canada.

Originally Search Engine was a full CBC show – half an hour every week, produced by a team of people, each episode covering a few different issues with varying correspondents (though Jesse was still at the helm).  It was cancelled in June 2008, after less than a year on the air.  An overwhelming response on Facebook and a letter writing campaign to the CBC convinced the powers that be to bring it back, although without a space on the radio.  Search Engine is now just a podcast, and is put together solely by Jesse.  Episodes vary from 10-20 minutes on average, and generally just features one story or interview.  Jesse also travels throughout the world of CBC Radio, doing features on the intersection of technology, politics and culture for a host of other shows.

Jesse takes on these subjects – subjects that I find fascinating, but I fully realize many don’t – with his own unique tone.  He approaches them in a light hearted, humorous way that makes often drearily boring subjects (such as copyright legislation) interesting to the everyday Canadian.  He also constantly calls out to his listeners for story ideas or information, and skillfully creates the feeling of a community through his weekly podcast.

A great introduction to Search Engine is his mini radio essay on the absurd internet phenomenon that was Zeitgeist: The Movie (link leads to the Search Engine show, not the silly movie.  I wouldn’t link to that).  Also fun is his interview with Jim Prentice, formerly the industry minister, where Jesse gets hung up on a few minutes in after a series of non-answers from Prentice.

The show is an excellent way to keep up with current technology related issues in Canada, and although the scope and production value has fallen significantly since its transition to the current podcast-only format, it remains one of my favourite weekly shows.  Check it out (direct iTunes link here).

Next: The Moth.

Yesterday: Podcasting!

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