Archives for the month of: June, 2013

On the last Sunday of every month between May and October, the streets of Kensington market are closed to car traffic and fill up with food, music, and people.  This month alone there was a rock band, a reggae band, a latin band, and a jazz quartet.  Check out some pics:IMG_6644IMG_6645IMG_6649IMG_6688IMG_6701

When the freaks and geeks are out in force, it’s good for taking street photographs.  To see more of my street photos, click here.

I recently visited the ROM for my second viewing of GENESIS: Sebastiao Salgado’s ten-year project to capture parts of the planet earth where humans are either in equilibrium with their environments, or absent.  GENESIS is the beauty of the planet earth as god made it.  Philosophically, it’s a bit of a shaky theory since humans, like all animals, kill and destroy other species to improve the status of our own.  There is no such thing as equilibrium when you are a member of an evolving species on a cooling planet.  Despite this rather black and white view of life (nature vs. civilization) Salgado has captured some of the most heart-stopping frames I have ever seen.  He frames portraits of humanity in epic landscapes and shows the truly shocking diversity of life on earth.

IMG_6555IMG_6565IMG_6547Salgado’s work has been compared to another of my favourite photographers, Edward Burtynsky, who travels the world photographing manufactured landscapes.  Burtynsky and Salgado both photograph landscapes but with an interesting ethic: both hold specific environmental convictions and beliefs, but they keep them separate from their photographic work.  The pictures are meant to speak for themselves.  They approach photography as documentarians.  Everyone will take something different away from it.

IMG_6539What I took away from the exhibition was a strong feeling of kinship with the people of every continent as the only species that we know can begin to appreciate the planet we’ve got.  I also feel a deep regret at the time I’ve spent at home not exploring every corner of it.  I want to walk and meet the people in the pictures, learn how they live, share their experiences, and them move along.  Salgado’s images come close to capturing the depth and beauty of an epic landscape, perhaps closer than any photographer I’ve seen.  Close but no cigar.  The ROM took me as near to Patagonia, Antarctica, Africa, and Alaska as I could get without leaving Toronto, but what I really want to do is pack my bags and go.  Genesis is inspirational in the simplest sense.

Click here to see a TIME LightBox piece with many of the exhibition images.

Click here to see Edward Burtynsky’s website.  Take a tour through some of his works.  He captures the scale of man-made landscapes that most of us don’t get to see in our day-to-day lives.

I haven’t been writing here as much as I would like.  Like Bilbo at eleventy-one, my writing and shooting time is spread thin, like butter scraped over too much bread.  I want you to know that it’s not that I’ve lost my love of the written word, it’s just that my efforts are going elsewhere.  (I’ve met someone else, it’s not you it’s me, cliché, cliché, etc. ad absurdum) Thus in an effort to spread the writing love around, I want to share with you the two other blogs I’m writing right now.  I’ll include a summary so you can decide if it’s actually something you’d be keep to follow.  While I try to maintain the caliber of writing, the subject matter is a little less universal.

The Future of Nuclear News Blog

I’m working on a conference called the Future of Nuclear.  As part of the promotion of the conference, and with the help of others, I’m working on a blog to educate and inform readers on the latest news and information relating to nuclear power generation on a global scale.  The blog also contains news and updates about the conference itself.  If you want to check it out, visit http://futureofnuclear.com/news/

Mindfirst Inc. News Blog

In a similar vein, I’m writing and copyediting news briefs and posts for Mindfirst Inc’s company blog.  These are either related to Mindfirst’s energy seminar series, or news from the energy and sustainability industries.  To see that blog, visit http://mindfirst.com/news/.

If you’re not interested in the energy industry, global energy policy, sustainability, or nuclear power, just ignore this one.  However if you think that every time I slam two words together I’m making sublime poetry (hi mom) then check out my other projects.  They’re important topics for Canada and every other country.

As always, thanks for reading, liking and especially commenting.

In one of his best soap-box rants, David Mitchell very astutely pointed out that living in the moment is stupid.  I’ll illustrate why it’s stupid with his example modified for the Bluejays’ epic winning streak.  A baseball game where your team scores constantly and wins handily is pleasant while it’s happening because you avoid the uncertainty and discomfort of not knowing if your team will win, however that joy is short lived.  Conversely, a game that is neck-and-neck all the way to the finish and ends with a dramatic win will be a source of cheer for years to come.  Thus, living in the moment, or doing what makes you happy now, is a recipe for disaster.

Take a more extreme example: I once broke my arm very badly and the bones had to be set.  To do so required drugging me quite heavily but not putting me under.  I’m told I moaned with pain while my bones were wrenched apart and jammed back together.  And despite all that pain and suffering, I am not traumatized by the experience because I have no memory of it.  If I were living in the moment, my forearm would still be bend like a hockey stick.

You see, our experience right now is not informed by how happy we were during the past, it’s informed by how happy we are now about the past.  Therefore the key to happiness is not living in the moment, but rather strategically choosing activities, be they joyous or miserable, that will positively impact your future perceptions.

Lets talk about the weather.  Yesterday in Toronto, the temperature reached 32 degrees and the humidity made it feel like 40.  Normally I would hate this kind of weather.  You sweat and it doesn’t evaporate because of the humidity, your shirt collar gets sticky, and everyone stinks.  But that’s not what I was thinking about; I was thinking about Madrid.  The last time I felt such overpowering sunshine and warmth was exploring the streets of Madrid, walking through narrow alleyways, shopping at flea markets, and drinking sangria on the terraces.  Did I enjoy the heat in Madrid?  Heck no.  But I enjoy it now because it reminds me of Madrid.  That’s the incredible power of positive association.

Plaza Mayor

Me and Laura sweating like pigs at Plaza Mayor, Madrid

What about inclement weather: rain, sleet, hail, snow?  What about when the wind blows precipitation horizontal?  It may make you think about how cold and wet you are, but it reminds me of mountaineering.  It reminds me of waiting out a lightning and hail storm while climbing in the pyrenees.  Now I didn’t really enjoy the hail storm itself, but it is close enough to the utter bliss of pyrenean climbing that they are stuck together in my head.  Certain crummy weather conditions will forever cheer me up.

Our tent after the lighning and hail storm in Parque National Ordesa y Monte Perdido

Our tent after the lighning and hail storm in Parque National Ordesa y Monte Perdido

Positive association can turn miserable life events into wonderful, transformative memories, and you’ll have the memories a lot longer than you’ll ever have the life events.  And that’s why you should never live in the moment.

A while back I wrote a post called the humble dandelion and our war of attrition with the universe all about how plants will outlive us all.  Well today on the street I spotted the proudest, most resilient plant I think I’ve ever seen and I had to share it.  We hack its head off and it just keeps going like gangbusters.  Show me a person that tough!IMG_6172Doesn’t it just warm your pathetic, mortal, human heart?

Yesterday, the US supreme court ruled that companies cannot take out patents on segments of human DNA that have been identified.  Up until now, companies have held patents on gene segments that exist inside human beings.  My question is: how is this even up for debate?  I know our society has a  finders-keepers mentality, but does it really extend as far as things inside your body?  Did the man who discovered the spleen have intellectual property rights on your spleen?

Lets not get confused about what DNA is.  It’s a complex molecule inside each of your cells.  Some people like to say that DNA contains information, that DNA is a language.  In a sense that’s true, but only since we discovered it.  DNA is split, duplicated, and processed by tiny things inside your cells called organelles.  They respond to certain chemical stimuli.  They are not reading a code. They do not have brains or eyes.  Don’t get me wrong, the production and reproduction of DNA is an amazing process, one of the most astonishing things in nature, but it is not a language in the sense that written english or german are languages because it is not a symbolic representation.  Rather it is a purely chemical process.  DNA only contains information once there is a brain able to process that information.  Until then it contains as much information as any other molecule.

So basically, to patent a section of DNA is patenting something that is inside every human, occurred naturally, and has been there for many thousands of years: just like my spleen.  The supreme court definitely made the right call on this one.  The line has to be drawn somewhere and “things inside my body” seems to be a good place to stop ownership.

What do you think?  Should companies be allowed to own the rights gene segments stored inside your cells?

It’s been said that the true test of insanity is whether or not a person thinks they’re crazy.  If you think you’re crazy, you can’t be because crazy people don’t think they’re crazy.  If however you don’t think you’re crazy… I’ll let you work it out from here.  Well there is a similar dilemma when it comes to competency and intelligence.

There is a psychological phenomenon called the Dunning-Kruger Effect which states that there is “a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average.  In other words, people who are bad at things can’t tell how bad they because they’re not smart enough to identify what being bad is.  Of course if they knew what it was that made them so bad they would stop doing it.  Furthermore, the theory states that “Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding.”

And the concept applies to competency in anything: fishing, baseball, painting, writing, even thinking itself.  You may think you understand how logic and reason works but if you don’t you can’t know because if you didn’t you wouldn’t have the capacity to logically decide how well you understand logic.  You see the problem?

People who dress boldly but badly, people who think they’re sports prodigies but have no success, everyone who sings karaoke, and exactly half of all people who ever did a debate and went home feeling like they won: these people believe that they are good at what they do because they aren’t competent enough to know what bad is.

Everybody thinks they’re logical, everybody thinks what they think makes sense, everybody thinks they’re good at something, and most of those people are wrong.  Just think: half of the human race has a below-average IQ.  Do you think half of people think they are below average?

So how do you escape this trap?  How do you figure out how bad you are at what you do?  Well most of you won’t think too hard about it.  But for those who care, research is the answer.  If you want to know if you’re dumb, take an IQ test.  It’s not a perfect indicator by any means but it is the best and most convenient indicator we have.  If you want to know if you are logical, study formal logic.  The more time you spend studying any field, the more likely you are to know something about it.  If you want to know if you’re good at sports, trust the statistics.  The things you think have to be confirmed by others, and your mom doesn’t count: she’ll always think you’re great.  Many of those people will lie to you and tell you, “You were great when you sang karaoke up there!” but if they are bad too then how would they know?

I think there is a threshold beyond which people stop thinking they know stuff and start researching to learn stuff.  The more people cross that threshold the better off this world will be.

Picture this.  You’ve reached a rough spot in your life.  Things aren’t going the way you’d like them too.  Maybe there’s been a crisis.  Maybe someone close to you is in trouble.  In this time of need, you confide in a friend.  This friend listens to your problems and gives you a piece of advice: don’t do anything.  When life gives you lemons, leave those lemons alone.  The best way to solve a problem is to ignore it!  Now consider:

When I find myself in times of trouble

Mother Mary comes to me

Speaking words of wisdom:

“Let it be.”

What kind of wisdom is that?  Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  but Paul McCartney says “Nooooo.  The world is a tough place but just let it be.”  If you try to separate the idea from the pretty song and the soothing diction it’s pretty awful advice.  It’s the opposite of the Trooper’s didactic masterpiece Raise a Little Hell which teaches “If your don’t like what you’ve got why don’t you change it?  If your world is all screwed up rearrange it!”  Paul McCartney would say “If you don’t like what you’ve got let it be.  If your world is all screwed up let it be.”  You see Mother Mary’s wisdom starts to lose its value when you apply it to problems.

Be weary of music.  Pop music is complicated.  It’s a multimedia art combining sounds and poetry.  Just because the sounds are nice doesn’t mean the poetry is any good, and just because the poetry sounds pleasant doesn’t mean the message is good or true.

I usually see Toronto from below, looking up at the silver skyscrapers from the grimy streets below.  Well recently I had a chance to look down on the clamshell and the downtown core from 34 floors up, and I was lucky enough to have a camera in hand.  Here’s a few shots.IMG_5911IMG_5912 IMG_5921