Grandma & Grandpa's Farm

Sunday, August 31, 2008

...and I have a dream...

...of when we will no longer hear that someone is the first of their distinct group to overcome a hurdle

Please do not misunderstand, I think it is great that a "black man" is running to be American President -- Barack Obama & Joe Biden. (image to left -- image from CBS News) I think that it is great that a woman has been chosen to be the "running mate" to his opponent. (image to right -- image from post-gazette NOW) It is great that these firsts are happening. I just dream of the day when it will no longer be news that someone is "the first woman to run for an office" or "the first native American to climb Mount Everest."

I look forward to the time when the barriers to people have dropped so much that it will not be out of the ordinary for anyone to take on any job that they are suited for.

When I was young it was odd to be in a Taxi Cab that had a woman driver. When I was a young teen it felt nearly naughty to have a woman barber cutting my hair. Things have changed. Although they attained their position when their party leaders left office, I have lived in a country that had a Woman for Prime Minister -- The Right Honourable Kim Campbell (image to left -- image from The House of Commons Heritage Collection) -- and a province that had a Woman for Premier -- Rita Johnston (image to right -- image from Ministry of Community Services, Province of BC).

I do know there is discrimination still, and more in some places and in some people than others. It is also more in some times and circumstance than others. But I dream when it diminishes more and more.

I think there might always be fear of the unknown. Unknown cultures and unknown religions can bring fear, especially if that fear is fostered by those who wish people to fear newcomers or people who are a little different. But I think this will diminish eventually.

Until then we will still hear of these firsts.

~ Darrell


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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Undisabling -- Maintaining Accessability

Getting Rid of Unnecessary Barriers

Their are probably many barriers that people simply do not think about and would not until they are faced by them. Perhaps they note them as being a nuisance if they are able bodied and grumble a bit, but they don't consider how much of a barrier they might be to someone who is not able bodied.

Disabled need not mean a person is in a wheelchair either -- it need not even be something that is long term -- except perhaps for the determination of some benefits from government bodies or insurance companies. Some things are pretty obvious: a set of stairs with no reasonable alternate route to access some facility or place; a narrow doorway or passage; an exceptionally rough patch of rocky path or walkway; and others that you can probably add to this list yourself. There are some people who do sports in wheelchairs for sure, and can nearly climb stairs in them -- they can climb simple curbs, I have seen.

But getting on to the less obvious things. the wheelchair symbol to the right of the rather imposing doors... (image to right - image from Image*After)

I know someone who has problems getting around. She uses a mobility scooter for anything outside the apartment. The building has an elevator and the rear door exits to the parking area under the building. The parking is open on one side and there is easy, fairly open access to the lane behind the building. Luckily there is a shopping centre that is fairly well lit there so that it isn't too much like going into a scary dungeon at night and onto a dark alley.

I was surprised to hear that my friend didn't use the bus stop that is just across the street from that shopping centre. Metro Vancouver is pretty progressive and has been replacing nearly 100% of its fleet with low floor buses that can kneel. (image to left - image from buses world news) But why did my friend travel 1 km to the next stop? At the stop close to her building she told me; there was no room between the curb and a steep drop-off into a parking lot adjacent the stop for her to manoeuvre her scooter onto the ramp into the bus! Perhaps a chair with a near zero turning radius could do the manoeuvre simply, or maybe a smaller scooter. But this my friend could not use a smaller scooter.

When they set up the stops for Translink's buses there were no considerations for wheel chair ramps. They placed the stop well up the hill from the controlled intersection to avoid the driveways, and this placed the stop adjacent to a sharp drop-off into a parking lot. I told my friend that she should make sure to talk to the drivers about the problem and perhaps email or telephone the transit company to tell them the situation. The 1km distance might sound excessive, but it is an express bus with limited stops. I took it upon myself to write to Translink as they are open to such things and have people whose job is to listen to such problems and try find solutions. Since then, I have heard that the solution is that the bus merely pulls up about 4 feet further along the street where there is more room for someone to manoeuvre onto the extended ramp.

Recently I was invited to an open house for the development of a new shopping centre. I asked -- with regards to their landscaping on the sidewalk and boulevard -- if they had taken into account such things as room for people to manoeuvre scooters and wheelchairs in and out of the buses that would be stopping outside their centre. This was important to them actually because the anchor for the shopping centre was a major pharmacy chain. They wanted to draw customers who would likely include many who would be using chairs, scooters, walkers and similar aids on the transit system.

(image of Translink bus to right from buses world news)

With all the new construction going on, it can be difficult for any pedestrian to get around. It seems that many concessions are made for getting motor vehicle traffic through the construction zones -- but little is done for the pedestrian and great hurdles might be set into place for anyone who is not able.

This can include simple issues such as doubling the distance someone has to walk on their travels. (image to left from Image*After) This can simply be the closing of a sidewalk on one side of the road blocking it for 9 metres (30 ft approx) so that a person has to backtrack to a crosswalk cross the street, travel a block or two to the next crosswalk and then walk back. With some longish blocks and streets that are just too busy to cross at uncontrolled intersections, this can add up substantially. Such a diversion would not mean very much for a driver, but heavy metal plates might be placed over excavations so that they could be driven over. I have also seen construction debris cover half of sidewalks making them impassible except for people who are light of foot.

Many people do not realize just how impeding ice and snow (or even rain soaked leaves) can be if they do not clean their walks. A narrow swept path can still be impassible for someone in a chair or scooter. Ice and snow might be far to dangerous for someone with brittle bones even if they do walk with only a walking stick. A person with balance problems or lack of feeling in the feet can have great problems on snow. Even if the sidewalks are clear, the city and province have this nasty habit of plowing snow up against the curb making a person have to climb over it to reach the street at intersections in order to cross.

A lot of these barriers could be dealt with simply, without having to change the infrastructure much. Simply being aware and actually clearing snow, planning a bit, and remembering that some people rely on wheels... even babies in carriages -- and you don't want to force them out into traffic or to have to travel a kilometre past the closest bus stop..

~ Darrell


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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Big Woof little woof

Will There Be Two Species of Dog?

Have you noticed that there seem to be nearly exclusively two sorts of dog owner? Those who want the wee lap dogs that would fit into a purse or nearly a pocket and those who want the nastiest fighting pit bull around.

I know some people want an Alsatian -- German Shepherd -- rather than a pit bull or pit bull cross and some want some other large breed dog... mastiff and greyhound come to mind ...but some of the intent is for a dog that can take care of itself in a fight and protect property and loved ones if not only just it's master. They still want a big sturdy dog.

The small dogs seem to be getting smaller. I know the "teacup" poodles have been around as a small sized toy poodle for a long while. It isn't an actual breed but the teacup poodles are the smallest of the toy litters bred with the smallest in order to get the smallest of poodles. People are discovering more and more of these toy breeds even though some like the Papillon have been around forever -- you can see them in medieval European paintings. I guess they are very popular because you get all the companionship of a dog in a small bundle you can take travelling with you or indoors even.

I can imagine the large strong dogs getting larger and stronger -- though perhaps more in the muscular range. My imagination does think to the monster of a black lab a friend has. It seems to have a bit of Great Dane in it, but it is pure bred Lab.

I can see the future, a lady riding out in the green belt and drawing her mount to a stream while holding a nearly hamster sized Cocker Spaniel in the crook of her arm. She'll slip off whispering a command in the large animal's ear as another lady approaches riding a fine chestnut mare holding her own teacup poodle. She gets off and allows her horse a drink.

"That's a fine dog you're riding. Staffordshire-Mastiff cross?"

"Why yes, they make great mounts."

Two small shapes dart out of the underbrush -- a dwarfed Tamworth pig and a Falabella pinto.

The woman with the large riding dog exclaims, "What wonderful animals!"

"Meet Donner and blitzen. They are great companions on a ride..."

Well I guess it is a bit far fetched that they'd breed dogs large enough to ride in any near future, but the pet pigs and horses -- small enough to have even in the house -- are here. Falabella are miniature horses.

Still I wonder if we will be left with the toy breeds and the large breeds and them become so separate as to become separate species? ... oh, and Jack Russell Terriers.

~ Darrell


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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Biting the Apple: A Byte of Apps

Some Application Software That Might Be of Interest

The Apple comes with some pretty neat software already included and there are demo versions of a number of useful pieces of software that you might purchase as well. There are other Gems that you might want to bite into. I figured I'd mention some here.

First I was reminded by this when looking for an upgrade to a plug-in for one of the "Apps" or applications I am going to mention here. I saw a list of such programs on a page of his. He wrote a plug-in for a program called Adium that will tell you the time it is for other people who you are communicating with. So perhaps I shall start there... First off I just want to mention "Words by Patrick" which is a blog by "Patrick". He has a list of "Apps for First Time Max Users" which is what inspired me to create this article. I'll talk about "Adium" in a little bit.

Adium X

Internet Chat - Messenger Program - Handles Many/Most different sorts of messengers

Free for Use - By Donation

When I first started chatting on the Internet I was using ICQ, then another friend was using Yahoo! Instant Messenger, then another MSN Instant Messenger, then another on Netscape Instant Messenger, another on AOL Instant Messenger... It got a bit cluttered keeping track and so on Windows 98 someone introduced me to a program called "Trillian" which was capable of combining all of those into a single program. It worked great and behaved really nice without popping up annoying things and using a fairly unified system for controlling stuff. Like I could say I was away to do dishes in Trillian and all the messengers would get the message and so all my assorted friends would know I was up to my elbows...

Of course Trillian wasn't available for the Apple so when I got my MacBook I had to look for something else and after one other experience... I found "Adium X"! That's a neat little program that handles the many messengers and more all with a cute little ducky icon. You don't have to keep the cute ducky, but I did.

I have really been finding Adium to be useful and I sometimes forget about my days useing Trillian. It is especially useful in situations where I have more than one account on a service. Mostly it keeps my desktop easier to manage. If there is one thing I would change about Adium it would be to incorporate the audio and video capabilities of the various chat programs. There is no direct way to do that -- though there are some indirect ways. Eventually I hope Adium will include those capabilities.

I guess with all those chat programs --even ones like MySpace IM and FaceBook -- things can get messy, so Adium helps you keep all your ducks in a row!


Computer-Computer -- Computer-Telephone -- Telephone-Computer Chat

Computer-Computer use Free -- Computer-Telephone & Telephone-Computer by usage fee or with paid membership.

While on the topic of messengers and chatting online, there is one system that I think is worthy of mentioning that works great on the Apple. Skype is a communication program that works excellently for talking to friends with our without video connections. I find that audio works well with even dial-up connections. With a dial-up connection on one end and a broadband connection on the other audio is great but video, while it works sometimes will disconnect. Of course you can normally quickly reconnect. It is still good for keeping in touch if you are a long distance away from a loved one. If you have broadband connections on both ends then video chatting is very good and dependent on things like how good your camera is. The built in iSight camea and microphone in the MacBook is excellent. I haven't tried calling someone's telephone yet, but I think that if the quality is the same as with the computer to computer connection, it would be worth paying for to use. You do have to pay on a regular basis to keep a phone number through Skype and I believe that you must select a City for that phone number to determine local calls coming into it.

Skype Plug-in for Adium

Skype API protocol plug-in for Adium

There is a plug-in that allows you to access Skype using Adium. Unlike the other chat and messenger programs that you use with Adium you do have to have Skype installed and running. The plug-in basically allows you to control everything from the Adium interface. This is one of the indirect ways that you can use audio and video with Adium. You can do your text chatting with Adium and if you wish, right click on the user's name and select Call to call them. This will open a call window from Skype for the call which you make using a Skype window for audio and video. Skype does have to be running to use the Skype plug-in with Adium -- but it sure is handy for an Adium user.

They just finished an upgrade for Adium today and the Skype Plug-in is in the process of being upgraded to match it so doesn't work at the moment. But I was assured by the developer it is comming.

I think that I will leave this list of Apple Applications here for now and continue in future columns.

~ Darrell


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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Surge's Up!

Look Ma! No Wires!

Something I have just come across on the technology news is something demonstrated by Intel -- a wireless power system!

Their demonstration involved a stand with a 60-Watt light bulb powered by their magnetic resonance technique. This technique uses a tuned coil to resonate with the same frequency as that of the oscillating magnetic field in the power source. (image to left -- image from Daily Tech¹)

Intel demonstrated the system August 22, 2008² with the 60-Watt bulb possibly because it "...uses more power than a typical laptop computer."² While transmitting power has been possible with different technologies since the times of Nikola Tesla -- back before power-lines crossed the countryside. ...Tesla came up with the technique of AC power.

Nikola Tesla was looking for ways to transmit power over long distances; thinking that nobody would be interested in laying grids of power lines across city and countryside. Of course we now now different with our cities and countrysides criss-crossed with networks of powerlines carrying Tesla's multi-phased AC current. Image to right of Nikola Tesla demostrating wireless power transmission. (image to right -- image from Serbia the Golden Apple³)

The Intel demonstration however was of shorter range and not intended for sending power across the city, rather its intent is to power devices within the home or office without wires. It might only mean not having to plug in your cell phone, but it charging whenever at home or in the office -- or perhaps being able to use your notebook computer anywhere in the house or office without draining the battery and without needing to plug in... ever.

Another area is peripherals for the computer. Consider wireless keyboard and mouse which will never need you to replace or recharge a battery. I have been writing about cell phones and computer stuff -- perhaps focusing on it because I am writing this article on a computer and that was what they talked about in the article. Perhaps this is also because Intel is aiming in this direction. There are likely many other applications that you and I can discover.

I wonder if there are medical possibilities for keeping artificial hearts and other devices charged and running? The main power-source kept outside transmitting power to the device - magnetically coupled to the source outside?

MIT team and their setup to power 60 Watt bulb. (image to left - image from MIT News Officeª)

The efficiency of the demonstration system with the light bulb was only 75% efficiency at around a metre distance so you might not want to think about tossing away every power-cord. On the other hand, you might be able to have power stations for certain tasks... like for instance your desk might have one and all the computer equipment and peripherals might be powered by a local station in the desk. That might include charging your PDA, cellphone, mp3 player, notebook computer, portable hard drive and similar equipment as well as powering the mouse, keyboard, and other equipment without any cords crisscrossing the desk.

Still I think you might have some resonant frequencies for the desk, kitchen, entertainment unit, and...

Of course... there are always the spectres of health issues. They say that the interaction at the frequencies used with biological materials is minimal... but how minimal is minimal and what effects might there be? People are starting to consider the growing background of microwave radiation we are being bathed with even if we don't use cellphones, cordless phones, or wireless networking. Perhaps those people who line their hats with tin foil might have a good idea.

~ Darrell


¹ "Intel Demos Bizarre Tesla-esque Wireless Power Transmission System" Jason Mick (blog) August 22, 2008 - Daily Tech.

² "Intel demos wireless power system" AFP August 22, 2008 -

³ "Genius From Smiljan" Serbia the Golden Apple - Nikola Tesla (Serbia).

ª "Goodbye Wires... - MIT News Office" MIT news.

Other links: "Travelling magnetic field for homogeneous wireless power transmission"; "Technology Review: TR10: Wireless Power".

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Everyone Wants Our Membership!

Of Course You Want to Make Up Another Account.

Have you ever noticed that no matter what you want to do on the Web someone is asking you to register? In the very least they want you to enter an email address.

Having created and managed Boards, Blogs, Forums, and Groups I can understand some of the necessities for this. I have a Board actually for general socializing and discussion called "The Gnome's Garden" which there is a link to in the Links area of this Blog and I actually had to change its URL -- Web Address -- because I had too many "Spambots" calling and trying to make accounts on it or post in areas that unregistered members might make posts. I ended up spending a half hour a day simply sorting through the Spam posts and Spammer accounts before taking any enjoyment from the board -- and there were less than a dozen actual members on that Family oriented board.

Anyway requiring registration and confirmation with a valid email address was the only thing that could be done at first... but that was not even enough as even with optical character recognition there were problems. So I created a screen door to screen out the spambots. It did work but the only members I attract are friends I directly attract.

Still... I am constantly searching out interesting topics on the web and that means finding places to comment in and things I just really want to comment on. I know some places just want an email address and never use it. I mean many Blogs looking for comment and many have it set so that the owner has to okay any comments before they are published.

But still, it seems every day there are one or two sites that want me to register. Probably 90% of those places I might never come back to and perhaps only want to ask a simple question of the person who made a post or comment. But it adds up to over 700 sites registered to a year... Those might be places wanting a password too and how many passwords might a person use. I guess a person might have "throw away" passwords just like they might have "throw away" email addresses.

I know that some of these places might actually be farms wanting to harvest lists of email addresses to sell... it makes me consider misspelling my name in different ways so that I can tell just who is selling my name to who. But my name is in enough places and in actuallity... I really do not get tonnes of spam... I think perhaps only 5%-10% of my email is Spam... that includes both what is caught by my spam filter and that which isn't.

I don't sign up nearly so often... I am tired and burned out a bit. Perhaps that is why I get less Spam? Can you wear out your Spamworthyness?

~ Darrell


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My Speech is Freer than Your Speech!

Does One Person's Right to Speak Supersede Another's Right to Hear?

I do believe in the right to free speech, though I am not American and my rights come from different roots than the American Constitution. Still I have started wondering at the expression of the right to be heard as used by some groups in our society.

I might disagree with some policies put forward by government or by crown corporations. I might dislike fare increases by public transit. On the other hand, I might agree with some of them. I do know that when I go to a public hearing to hear what the politicians and other groups have to say, I want to actually hear what they have to say and watch their presentation. I want to know what the various politicians have to say and what the assorted boards which are making policy are up to. I want to see their arguments to defend their positions.

But, now at civic meetings and such I see protesters coming in as organized hecklers -- shouting over the speakers and everyone else with every intent to disrupt the meeting it seems. It seems for the simple reason that they disagree and they want their message to be heard. They are asserting their right to free speech... but I think perhaps this is not what is meant by freedom of speech.

I think that the protesters have every right to speak out and every right to protest, but I somehow think there is something wrong with their preventing others from speaking out whether board member or simple citizen.

I am seeing more and more of this sort of thing. There are too many times when the protests are outshouting the presentation and I do not think the fault is that of the organizers for not providing louder sound systems. I am sure that protesting voices are heard even if at organized protests. We are allowed to do that here. There are other places where they don't have the freedom to organize a protest event.

I might not agree with what someone is saying at a presentation, but I do agree they have the right to say it -- say it and be heard.

~ Darrell


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Friday, August 22, 2008

Fun and Games -- Beach Volleyball?

That's Not Beach Ball Volleyball!

Beach Volleyball on the Olympics gives me a funny feeling. It is a very challenging sport and worthy of being in the Olympics I am sure, but there are aspects that bother me. I think perhaps it is the women's "uniform". (image to right - image from British Olympic Association) I do enjoy looking at beautiful healthy women, but it does seem an awful lot like they are playing in their underwear. That was especially played up with the finals being played in the rain and contrasted with the men's finals with the men's baggy, nearly knee length shorts and tank tops. I note that they have a picture of the women's team on the site and not the men's. But if they only have one team pictured it has to be one or the other... I guess at least the UK women's uniforms are not just white like the US.

Perhaps they want to keep to traditional actual beachwear for the uniforms. Perhaps then they should keep with a nice traditional beach ball for the ball? (image to left - image from Wikimedia Commons) Isn't this the actual traditional ball for playing games with on the beach? It might slow the game a bit, but that would only increase the strategy and tactics involved. There might be breaks needed to blow up the ball and any wind will really effect the game as well.

I think maybe they should play on a court that is half dry and half wet maybe or influenced by the tides so that a game that starts on a dry beach will end with 6" to a foot of water on the sand. Perhaps add in the occasional dog or child running through the court as a hazard and mandatory breaks whenever a hotdog or icecream vendor gets to the front of the stands?

Okay, perhaps that would be silly, but I do think that the women's uniforms are a bit embarrassing. .

~ Darrell


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Eco-Green -- Eco Blues 2

Too Good is Too Bad?

While Metro Vancouver is trying to travel a path for a "zero waste"¹ situation -- where nothing goes into a landfill to be "buried and forgotten" -- there are odd issues that come up en route.

En route, one hurdle is that not everything is simply recycled: Some items are contaminated and technology to reasonably decontaminate them to return them to the standard recycling stream do not exist. These can be things like paper that is contaminated with food waste. Some items are ones that there are no reasonable recycling stream for -- at the moment or very near future. Some items are made of complicated combinations of materials which would be difficult to separate to go into their individual recycling streams even while other seemingly difficult ones such as those tetra-brick packages already can be.

One solution to those problem materials is to use plasma-based technology to break the materials up into more elemental components. One municipality in Metro Vancouver -- the one I live in, Port Moody -- is seriously looking at some fairly new technology offered by a company called Plasco Energy Group². (image to left for illustration purpose only -- image from Zero Waste Vancouver)² Their solution uses the plasma-based technology to reduce the waste to its composite materials. It creates a number of byproducts including a bio-gas which is burned to fuel the plasma torch and generate "megawatts" of energy in the process. It does generate some carbon dioxide in the process, but reduces carbon emissions by two tonnes for every tonne of waste through the process with this energy production.

I can't say for sure how good the Plasco Energy Group process is, but if it is as good as they lead us to believe it introduces another rather obscure hurdle...

Will people -- if they know that anything not put into their recycling or compost bins but into their garbage bins will be plasma-torched -- stop sorting and simply toss things out into the general garbage and not other with the environmental "Three Rs" of "Reduce, Re-use, or Recycle"? (image to right from Chris Chen dot See Eh!)

I have heard one view that if we are able to generate net energy wouldn't we be better off to convert as much of our waste as possible to electrical energy and that smaller amount of "construction aggregate, salt, sulphur and clean water"² that the process produces in addition to the "synthetic fuel gas"²?

I would imagine it matters what goal you are looking at. If you look at a purpose of reducing waste of land you might see one thing. if you look at financial cost you might see another. Still others might look at ecological balance. I know of many who will not recycle because they have seen shows on TV which showed some recycling programs where much of the material sent to the program simply gets dumped into the landfill and they assume all recycling programs are the same. I know others who don't separate their recycling the way their municipality asks them to because somewhere else they did it different or they saw some show which showed it all getting mixed together anyway or they see how it all gets dumped into one truck. They don't realize the trucks have separate sections or that different municipalities might have different handling facilities or companies which do the sorting and recycling.

I must admit to be disappointed that the glass being recycled does not get recycled into new bottles and jars. I figured that would be a simple thing, just as recycling aluminum, steel, copper, or other metals to new metal products is. I do understand how each time paper is recycled it is degraded and how plastic might not be chemically reclaimable to be the same plastic... at least not easily.

Still they are for the most part made into useful products.

I guess energy is a useful product, especially if it reduces dependence on another source that might create greater cost and problem.

But the issue of one good program detracting from others is a new hurdle that I hadn't heard of before.

~ Darrell


¹Recycling 101: The Zero Waste Challenge in Metro Vancouver | Chris Chen dot See Eh!

² Zero Waste Vancouver -- About PlascoEnergy Group.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Walk the Walk -- A Dolphin Tail

Culture in Dolphins

It seems that like Humans and Apes; Dolphins share culture among themselves. Near Adelaide on the south coast of Australia is a group of dolphins is learning to "tail-walk". (image to right -- image from BBC NEWS) Tail-walking is not a typical behaviour found in dolphins in the wild but is one taught to them in captivity. A female dolphin in that group, Billie, had spent a short time in a dolphinarium 20 years ago¹.

Twenty years ago Billie had been trapped in a marina lock and was suffering from malnutrition and sickness so they put her in a local dolphinarium for a few weeks in the 1980's. She was never trained while their, but apparently she had seen other dolphins at the dolphinarium tail-walking. It is inferred that with other females in her group having picked up the behaviour of tail-walking that they have learned it from Billie.

Mike Bossley-Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society²

"It would seem that among the Port River dolphins we may have an incipient tail-walking culture."

Sharing cultural behaviour is something that is known in apes and it has been documented that dolphins off Western Australia are known to use sponges as an aid in gathering food and to teach their young how to use them². Tail-walking would be considered a "cultural behaviour"² like language which helps define a group. "we may have an incipient tail-walking culture."²

I know that many species of whales, dolphins, and their kin have differences in "language" between different populations that are different enough that the part of the world an individual is from can be told by the dialect/accent of their speech-song-voice even while they are physically the same species and I believe it has been shown that this is learned behaviour

It is interesting that a skill that probably was learned by one individual in a few weeks by observation by one dolphin has now been mastered and is being taught in her family group. I think it is very interesting how many things we think of as definingly "human" is within the scope of some animal we have studied. Of course dolphins are very intelligent creatures that are very social.

I even recall seeing that sometimes dolphins and whales might even cooperate with feeding... We should try be more like dolphins.

~ Darrell


¹ "Wild dolphins tail-walk on water" Richard Black 19 August 2008, BBC NEWS | Science/Nature.

² Dr Mike Bossley, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, scientist monitoring the group on the Port River estuary.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Live or Photoshop

Only the Photographer Knows for Sure

I have frustratingly discovered when surfing the web and finding interesting photographic images with places for comment that more and more frequently someone will make the comment, "It’s Photoshop!!!". They will do so showing conviction as if no more need be said and that by only saying so few words what they say will carry great weight.

There are a great many masterfully modified images on the world wide web. I know, I am versed in doing photo editing and modifications or "faking" as it is known in some circles. It can be as little as fixing the contrast and brightness on a photo to make up for bad exposure and lighting in the original. It can be as much as removing an offending telephone pole from an otherwise perfect picnic picture... or ex-boyfriend from a family photo. If you do it properly, nobody should know you did anything.

But, when people cry "It's Photoshop!!!" at the drop of a hat, it insults some great or very lucky photographers who have managed to catch something unusual enough that it is hard to believe or that someone doesn't want to believe... or that it isn't politcally appropriate to believe.

What brought me to bring this up was looking at this interesting photo on "". (image below -- image from

The image is a composition apparently from Beijing during the current 2008 Summer Olympic Games. The title of the image is "Beijing Olympics, One World, One Dream... This Is Sad [PIC]". There are a number of comments to the photo and I think perhaps I have seen it elsewhere. It was posted Saturday, August 9th 2008 -- a week ago.

Personally I do not think it is "Photoshopped". I could be wrong of course, but I think that it is just a good piece of photographic composition. I also think there is some sadness to it, but not necessarily the great sadness or travesty that some see -- at least not directly from the picture.

I watched some documentaries on Canadian News -- I believe on the CBC -- about preparations for the Olympics and the future. One of the things being done for the Olympics was the preparation of the routes to be taken by the long distance races -- the Marathons and Cycling events including Triathlon and the like. Businesses which were deemed unseemly were hidden behind screens which would hide them from view of cameras. In some places houses have been taken down and I recall that a buffer zone of freshly laid sod and shrubbery was laid down their on the now vacant lots with screening fencing behind to hide the now being renovated districts behind. I am assuming that this image was taken in one of those later districts. the grass on the left being some of that fresh turf and the bricks on the right left over from some of the demolition.

Part of the issues involved had to do with how fair the settlements were with the people being evicted. They were paid for their property -- or were supposed to. According to the news report there were some issues of corruption which made it difficult for some of the people to protest to low a settlement. The people were being relocated to apartments on the other side of the city. Often they felt they were being spread too far from their friends and extended families.

The image though is one that could be taken in very many cities in very many countries where older neighbourhoods are being demolished to put up higher density housing -- which is worth more and probably costs more to live in. East or West; First World or Third World -- facades are put up to hide what is deemed unseemly. How many scrapyards do you know without a 2 - 4 metre tall white fence surrounding it. True it is for security, but it is also a facade that hides the mess. It is done in other places too. I know that often for construction they put peepholes in for people to have a peep into the site to see what is going up... but the fencing around a major construction site also hides the mess.

Cities also put fences like this around things when there are major events... it isn't just some place like Beijing.

But that photo... it is just the words on the sign and the worlds apart it seems between the Olympic ideal clean road and the messy slightly run down look of the poor neighbourhood right beside.

Is the image "Photoshopped"? Click on it to go to to see the original and decide for yourself. I think that if it was "Photoshopped" it was only to perhaps brighten the colours or something of that nature and adjust the size. I think it is just an example of a good photographer capturing the moment.

~ Darrell


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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Button Button

Click On This, Drag That

While navigating my browser a moment ago I realized how used to pushing buttons on my computer I had gotten. It is bad enough with the mouse and with the track pad on my MacBook I feel even more like I am just moving my finger on the screen. I fully realize there are tablet PCs, iPhones, Ipod touch, PDA, and other devices with touch screens which are even more directly tactile for pressing and moving things in a virtual environment. I am not even going to get into the VR Visors, helmets, gloves, globes¹, touch tables, and performance art touch screens or the projected interaction advertising systems where you can touch an image projected on floor or wall... or the projected keyboards and screens experimented with that project keyboard and screen on any actual desk surface or tabletop. ...or did I just get into them?

The thing is we have gotten very used to manipulating virtual items. We are used to on-screen controls for things like the VCR and DVD or the Cable-box or... Even the monitors we use most often have on-screen controls even if not touch screen.

Have you ever wanted to use your remote control like a mouse on your TV screen to move things around, like to move a TV logo out of the way so you could read the important subtitle it is blocking? Perhaps you can do it right now and if not you might be able to in future. I am just making an observation about how some of the more technologically comfortable of us might be getting very comfortable with the idea of pushing virtual buttons on a web page or other piece of software. I really look forward to having an electronic desk top... not a desktop on my monitor, but a monitor surface as my desk's desk top. Of course there will be the issue of having real objects placed on top of the virtual objects and I would imagine coasters with felt bottoms would be a must. ...or coffee Verboten! Personally I think any tabletop surface intended for touchscreen monitor use, other than something for the drafts man or equivalent should be designed to cope with things like beverage or spaghetti spills.

...hmm I would imagine that a really good touch screen desk would work around things put on it. Can you imagine your information doing a word wrap around the coffee cup sitting on the desk at the moment so that none of the words end up under the cup? Well, maybe not, but the desktop software would avoid place documents under lamps or stacks of paper if possible... I can imagine the warning message:

*** Warning Desktop Is Dangerously Covered Some Documents Might Be Hidden Please Clean Desk ***

I am sure they could use one of the trademark "you done something naughty" Windows sounds for it.

~ Darrell


¹ I wrote about a virtual reality globe the Virtusphere July 20 2008.

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6 Rings and the Americas

Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, and "The Americas" -- The Five Competing Continents in the Modern Olympics

Sometimes you hear something and it goes past you -- like "The five rings of the symbol for the 'Modern Olympic Games' representing the '5' competing continents: Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, and the Americas". (image to left *-- image from Wikipedia)

I pondered 5 continents before of course -- most recently during the current games at times like during the hoisting of the Olympic Flag at the Opening Ceremonies for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games -- wondering at first that Antarctica wouldn't be included and then considering why they might exclude Australia... Then I thought, "Perhaps they were forward thinking and considered the 'Eurasian Continent'?" I often wondered when I heard the definition in school why Europe and Asia were considered to be separate continents geographically.

I never realized that North America and South America would be lumped in together as one continent.

North and South America are as separate from one another as Africa is from Europe and Asia. Something just doesn't seem right to me. Perhaps if I lived in Europe it would make sense to me -- after all we are "The Colonies". Though that doesn't explain why they don't just include Australia as a large Asian Island, larger than Japan or like Greenland is to North America or England to Europe.

Don't get me wrong (I hope I don't end up writing that too often.) I like the flag design and how it looks. I think that 6 rings might not be so bold and esthetically pleasing a design on a flag shape. A longer linear shape would be too wide and a more circular design wouldn't fill the space as nicely.

Are representing the competing continents the real reason for the five rings? Is it just sour grapes on my part -- because I live in North America -- that I think there is something wrong with North America and South America not getting separate statuses as continents... sort of like sitting at the "children's table" at a family get together instead of with the adults?

Isn't it time we get to sit at the Big People's Table and while not redesigning the Rings Design -- reconsider what they represent and not say they represent the competing continents. After all they do represent the coming together of people from around the world from varied cultures and walks of life to compete in unity.

~ Darrell



The Olympic symbol consists of five interlaced rings of equal dimensions, used alone, in one or in five different colours, which are, from left to right, blue, yellow, black, green and red. The Olympic symbol (the Olympic rings) expresses the activity of the Olympic Movement and represents the union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games.

But watch out! It is wrong, therefore, to say that each of the colours corresponds to a certain continent!


* Image of Olympic Rings used only for purpose of artistic review and does not represent any connection to the IOC or Olympics.

** International Olympic Committee - WWW.OLYMPIC.ORG - Official website of the Olympic Movement.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Function Creep - Set Tasers on Stun!

Good Ideas That Can Go Bad

When I first took martial arts -- traditional Kung-fu -- one of the earliest pieces of information I recall is that it is very difficult to try to incapacitate a person by hitting them and trying to "knock them out" without actually endangering their life. The discussion about this got on to things like gas grenades and shooting to wound as well. Even breaking limbs has dangers though there are pressure points that can render a person incapacitated in many situations. Grappling and binding is probably the best option... that is if negotiation and discussion fail of course.

It made sense to me. But something that seemed a bit irrational was hearing that while most police -- while they had mandatory fire arms re-testing and practised regularly on the firing range -- were not constantly practising and upgrading their hand-to-hand skills. Those are the skills that would allow them to subdue a felon without resorting to baton or gun or...

Well the Taser (image to right -- image from TASER International) had just come onto the scene -- or at least into the public eye -- with first the cattle-prod sort and then with the stun-gun sort which fires wires. It sounded like a great idea -- a way to incapacitate a violent and out of control subject in a way with little danger to the subject or the person trying to subdue them. There were some risks to the target, but less than being pummelled with a billy club or being kicked or punched and definitely less than being shot. (I guess they smile in fire arms catalogues and gun magazines too...)

The Tasers were only supposed to be used in special situations. At that time there were groups who said that gradually they would be used in more and more situations until they began to replace negotiation or hand-to-hand subduing of the subject. Because the Taser was "nonlethal force" law enforcement officers would be more likely to use it because no permanent damage would be done. (My own opinion) (image to the left from TASER InternationaLaw Enforcement Overview)

Still there are dangers and there are many circumstances where the targets have health issues that compromise them for being safely Tasered -- or at least I am lead to believe that chronic use of a number of drugs can lead to cardiac issues and a good jolt could be bad or fatal.

I wonder if I were to be hypoglycemic and irrational, whether I might be at risk? It would be one condition under which I might find myself facing law enforcement officers while not in my right mind. My own heart is strong, but many diabetics have heart conditions.

I can see that there are many areas that the Tasers are very usefully important. (image to the right US military version, the M-26 Taser - from Wikipedia) But I think that there needs to be constant diligence in training with them -- not just firing range sorts of point and shoot or "here is what it feels like to get hit". I think that there needs to be constant training and upgrading which includes hand-to-hand, Taser, and firearms along side negotiation. Also other new weapons that might come down the line.

I can well imagine the military having valid use for these sorts of "nonlethal" weapons.

There are other "nonlethal" weapons coming down the pipe. The Tera Hertz frequency Active Denial weapons are one of them which can create a burning sensation that leaves little or no mark on the target, but few if any can stand for more than a few seconds. Vehicle mounted ones are in operation (image to left - image from Wikipedia) and more portable ones are coming as new technology allows. (image to right - image from Wikipedia) This might be a very important tool -- but what happens if it might be used for something other than the "crowd control" and keeping terrorists away from sensitive areas? There is potential for using it as a torture device. This is not something I came up with but rather something that the same people who worried about abuse with the Taser came up with.

The safety of the ADS (Active Denial System) has been stated with regards to people not being able to stay within the active beam of the device for longer than a second or two. It only penetrates to 0.4 mm (1/64 of an inch) -- a depth at which nerve endings are located. This is because of the 95 GHz frequency chosen which is absorbed greatly by water and hence can't penetrate deeper. Little mention is of the effect on a subject who cannot flee the effect of the ADS or the effect of the 95 GHz radiation on the cornea or other thin tissues of the body.

I am sure in the case where the ADS is used as it is intended the argument can be made that the person should not be there and the ADS is less dangerous than other means. But, what if it starts to be used in broader ranges and scopes of purpose? What about dispersing crowds at sporting events? What if people do not disperse quite as quickly as Law Enforcement prefer from the scene of an accident or fire? Someone who is a bit of a radical mentions the scenario of police using them for raids where the ADS is used to chase the targets out of a residence to take them into custody. This would use other Tera Hertz tools to locate the targets in the building as well.

What of privacy...

There are THz scanners that essentially can see through anything other than flesh and metal. So that you would stand before them only covered by the zipper on your trousers and change in your pockets... and keys, jewellery, buckles.... but you would be bald er than the day you were born in the image and though in black and white, not looking like an X-ray photo. (image to left - image from BBC News) Now such scanning is optional to avoid longer hand pat downs... also invasive. (image to right - image from BBC News) But perhaps they might be required in more and more places and if you don't submit... well if you are law abiding, what do you have to hide? (image to left - image from Italy Magazine Forums)

I believe the two images are actually using X-ray back scatter technique and do not show quite as graphic detail as the actual T-ray units would show. I also believe that there has been a bit of airbrushing to reduce embarrassment. Somehow I wonder if there are reasons why it is harder to find images of the actual images from the T-ray units? I can only speculate.

Another technology is that of the tracking chip. People might know about the RFD tracking chips that have been implanted beneath the skin of pets for a number of years. They are also used for keeping track of wild animals like crocodiles in Florida or sharks or other animals. You catch an animal or get close to it and swipe a wand over it and record the number of its implanted chip via radio signal generated when the wand passes by and you can then look up information on that animal and record information such as where you swiped it.

The same would happen for people. It could be used as a form of ID. Your ID information would be encoded on the chip -- or at least a code number that could be accessed from a database on a network -- and read with an appropriate device. I believe there have been some trials with people using such implanted chips for Charge Cards and for security in their home and office.

RFD tracking chip from VeriChip. (image to right - image from BBC News)

It is an interesting idea, but... it might be used in more and more situations until people will nearly insist that you use it to use certain facilities. Consider how hard it can be to function without a credit card or a bank debit card. Consider that readers could be easily mounted at entrances to all banks, subway station entrances, airports, or anyplace sensitive. You could be tracked as easily as they can track where you make credit card purchases or cell phone calls... easier in fact.

What if someone has a scanner and gets your code? Can't they code a chip and simply have it on their person and then be treated as if they were you?

If you won't get a chip implanted... why not? Do you have something to hide?

I guess the same goes for surveillance cameras. How they are used and who gets access to them makes a big difference. How the regulation on who gets to change the rules on who gets to access them is just as important. I can understand the concept that the cameras are placed to look at places where you might be seen by a casual passerby. So what you do could be seen by a police officer who is not in uniform as well as that security camera. But it could get a bit creepy if access might be granted to folk you might not think should gain access.

I am not sure I would want a chip implanted... I don't mind the downtown video surveillance cameras or the ones in public places like malls and universities.... Tasers are okay if they actually start training the officers with them... I think there need to be some sort of safe guards before things like the ADS are used outside of war zones. I know of a few other "nonlethal" systems as well...

...what about the stuff we don't know about? Sometimes you have to worry about who they are using for watchdogs on the new technologies or what directions current technologies are taking.

Personally I am not against all of this technology, I am just pointing out the potential of sliding down some very slippery slopes with it.

~ Darrell


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