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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consume me: podcasting

March 9, 2009

Most of what I do with my time, in case anyone who reads this either a. doesn’t know me or b. can’t discern this out of what I write, is consume various media.  Recently I’ve cut back  on TV (after a horrible few weeks of feverish adolescent lust for the absurdly addictive Heroes I felt it necessary for my sanity), I’m not reading many novels at the moment, and I haven’t put much time into games (save for a few, which I’ll write about later this week).  I’ve also – shockingly – almost entirely cut back on reading my various sites in an attempt to spend less time sitting in front of a computer.

So with all of these things playing a minimal role in my life, where does my near-boundless appetite for consumption sate itself?  Radio.  In the form of podcasts, of course.

This all started with my first iPod several months back, the transition from an old 30 gb Creative Zen to my current 16 gb iPod touch requiring some downsizing of my bored-and-boring music collection.  I cut 25 gb out, got some new music, and still found myself needing something new.  So I started clicking on podcasts in iTunes, downloading whatever looked interesting and deleting most after a few listens.  Some of the ones I liked led me to others, and those to others, most of which in turn got culled in short order.

But some stuck, and I now have an excellent collection of podcasts large enough to fill almost all of the moments left empty by the absence of other media.  Throughout the next week I’ll be writing about these shows; the ones that really capture my attention and keep me coming back to listen.  Check back here for links, reviews, suggestions, and downright evangelical plugs for my favourite podcasts.

Tomorrow: Search Engine.

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Tilt Shift Dollhouse

February 26, 2009

(CC Licensed photo from Suviko’s Flickr stream)

The introduction to Joss Whedon’s (of Buffy fame, duh) new show Dollhouse features interesting camera/editing work that makes all the characters look like, well, dolls.  The video shows several scenes from above and on an angle, showing cars rushing past, a busy intersection, the ‘actives’ training in the dollhouse, and finally a chase on a dirt path.  These are interspersed among other shots that are generally close-ups of Eliza Dushku, the show’s star.

The technique employed in these scenes is called tilt-shift photography (specifically tilt-shift miniature making, according to Wikipedia).  Wikipedia describes the technique as such: “By distorting the focus of the photo, the artist simulates the shallow depth of field normally encountered with macro lenses making the scene seem much smaller than it actually is.”

This technique has been somewhat of a meme on Boing Boing, which anyone who spends any time around me will already know as the source of everything I know.  Skilled photographers and digital editors can make scenes shot from the proper angles appear to be miniature – thus the Dollhouse reference, obviously using tilt-shift to imply that these living people are just dolls.  Oooh.

One cool tilt-shift photographer is this guy, who I of course found on an old Boing Boing post.  There is also this fun site, which turns your regular photos into tiltedly-shifted ones, and a cool monster truck rally video that also employs the same kind of pseudo-stop motion editing to make it appear even more miniaturized and fake.

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Geekily Great Game

February 18, 2009

(Creative Commons Licensed image from brookscl’s Flickr stream)

Since Christmas my friends and I have spend an inordinate amount of time playing a wonderful little card based space ‘board’ game.  Race for the Galaxy involves building your little corner of space out of a series of cards that represent planets and social or scientific technologies.  It has a wonderful mechanic that allows players to choose which of five actions (exploring for more cards, developing a technology, settling a planet, and so on) they want to enact that turn, without any knowledge of what the other players are going to choose.

Unlike most other games we play (Settlers of Catan, Alhambra, the terrifyingly complex and wonderful Twilight Imperium), Race for the Galaxy takes a maximum of 45 minutes and can be played with two players. The number of players matters very little because, unlike most other games, RftG is essentially played alone.  Each player settles their section of the galaxy without any interaction with the other players, excepting the selection of actions.  This might appear, on the surface, to make for a fairly lonely game.  But somehow, by the brilliance of Tom Lehmann, it doesn’t feel lonely.

To link back to the title of this post, it might be because of the wonderfully geeky artwork and galactic ‘story.’  The game features a number of different types of worlds, technologies, and other miscellaneously storied cards (such as the Galactic Trendsetters, who appear to be the stereotypical parent’s-basement-geek’s idea of super-hot clubbers, featured in the bottom middle of the six cards linked above) that allow for some semblance of narrative to develop.  In our more boisterous games (generally the first in a series of three or four back-to-back games), we all tell stories of our empires and how they came to be.  And here I’ll stop, as I’ve just revealed the true extent of my geekiness for the whole of the internet to see.

Anyhoo, ignoring the previous paragraph, I highly recommend checking out Race for the Galaxy.  If you can either a. get into the geeky art and world it creates or b. ignore it, it’s a wonderfully put together game that is actually remarkably simple, once you get through the seemingly complicated mechanic of production and consumption, and learn all the cards.

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EVE’s Legends in the Making

February 13, 2009

(CC Licenced image from Psycho Al’s Flickr stream)

The last few days the internet has been all abuzz with news of the big Band of Brothers upset in EVE Online.  I love this kind of thing far more than tales of an elaborate raid in World of Warcraft (even those that inspire some sort of not-so-game related story, such as the famous Leeroy Jenkins incident).

A super brief summary, from my fifth-hand knowledge perspective: huge alliance of players that controls some of the most profitable space in EVE is disbanded by the hand of a single player, and said disbanded alliance now scrabbles for the upper hand as all of their (numerous) enemies rush in to rip them apart.  This is the stuff of legends, in a way that the horribly clichéd fantasy storylines of WoW never could be.  Seriously, grassroots storytelling at its best.

This is why EVE looks awesome, despite my having little to no knowledge of its actual gameplay.

The best writeup of this whole event is over at BoingBoing affiliate Offworld with Jim Rossignol’s latest Ragdoll Metaphysics column: Good Grief, the Victory of Eve’s Space Goons.  Highly worth reading.

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