Vancouver film school students use multimedia to teach biodiversity

23 08 2010

Click image to go to video

The term biodiversity can be somewhat daunting and difficult to understand considering it has a vast array of meaning in the study of ecology.  I could try to explain it here with the use of words and little more, but that would defeat the purpose of this blog post.

In the past one would have to go to the library to find books about the subject or attend classes in ecology and other biological sciences to determine exactly what biodiversity means and how it affects us all.

In the past few years one could easily find ample information on the topic on Wikipedia, but again it is mostly in the form of text with a few images scattered here and there.

But today, with it’s current technology and interactive media there are new and innovative ways of engaging and educating people about biological topics, such as biodiversity.

This animated film created by students from the Vancouver Film School’s Digital Design program is a perfect example of such tools that can gain the attention of the masses and highlighting the importance of environmental stewardship.

It is only the beginning of this movement but with talent and projects such as this, our planet and all of us will only benefit.

For more information about harnessing the power of interactive media and the Internet to educate others about ecology, conservation, and the environment keep and eye out for future posts on this blog and visit EcoActive on Facebook and EcoActiveSean on Twitter.


Altruistic Media

24 04 2010

The other day my classmate Paul gave a presentation about game theory and it’s role in interactive media.  Game theory attempts to mathematically capture behavior in strategic situations, in which an individual’s success in making choices depends on the choices of others.  He was enlightening us on how users in an interactive world feed off of each other and help one another regarding the creation and sharing of multimedia content and applications.

Game theory plays a large role in the field of ecology in that relationships with in a community revolve around this theory, which in the biological world is more commonly referred to as altruism.  Coincidentally, altruism has something I’ve been thinking about and relating to the Internet and interactive media throughout this past semester of graduate school.

Altruism is the enhancement of the fitness of an unrelated individual by acts that reduce the evolutionary fitness of the altruistic individual.  Examples of altruism include individuals of the same  species preening one another (removes parasites from another), hunting cooperatively (helps to provide food with no guarantee they will get food of their own) , or giving warning signals to each other in the presence of danger (one individual attracts the attention of the predator by warning others).  All this behavior benefits the species as a whole.

We all know that most of us are willing to lay down our lives to save the live of one of our relatives.  This is a basic form of altruism.  However, altruism plays a large role in communities of unrelated individuals.  For example, in olive baboon (Papio anubis) communities when a female comes into heat a male will form a consort relationship with her, following her around await an opportunity to mate with her.  Sometimes an unattached male will enlist the help of another male to fight with the consort male so that he may attempt to mate with the female.  This behavior would then be reciprocated in turn at a future time.

I’m not going to go into the more specific theories of altruism in that they can be rather complicated and mind blowing in understanding relationships within a society.  I only want to point out that this type of behavior is mimicked in interactive media.

Generally, if a user needs an add-on, plug-in, or application to accomplish a goal, they can easily find a free version online.  There are thousands of people out there that are creating these applications which they make openly available to society as a whole without gaining any benefit, in this case money.

Although, these individuals may be seen a parasitic to large media companies who are hell-bent on protecting their own – their own content and delivery of said content- they are helping society and the communities they exist in by providing free information and knowledge to the group.  They are essentially aiding the evolution of interactive media through generativity which is explained in Jonathan Zittrain‘s book, The Future of the Internet.

This behavior should be embraced by large media companies as they too may benefit from this generativity.  Just as in many species of ants in which sterile females exist only as workers who’s sole existence is to help the queen and the colony as a whole, those developing free applications and content, with no financial benefit may be the workers that create the newest technology that would aid media companies in creating better content and delivering that content to larger audiences or groups of consumers.

All this is just another example of digital media mimicking biology and proof that by doing so, interactive media will evolve into a greater entity that will make our communities and society as a whole stronger and more survivable.


23 03 2010

Over the past few years as I’ve been utilizing the Internet and related plug-ins and understanding their capabilities, I’ve come to admire the way the Internet resembles nature in form and function while seeming to follow laws, not unlike those of science.

As I’ve been reading the “The Future of the Internet:  And How to Stop It”, by Jonathan Zittrain I’ve again returned to the repeating realization that the Internet has become and will remain successful because it is us who control it.

The Internet is organic.  We, the users create and maintain the content that is displayed online while also developing the plug-ins and applications that make the online experience more entertaining and engaging.

Zittrain believes that the Internet has been so successful because of its generative characteristics.  Generative systems are those that have the ability to be reprogrammed and thus repurposed.

A lot of the content found online can be altered or interacted with by others and ultimately changed.  In addition, applications and programs can be created by almost anyone that improve browser capabilities, offer new sets of tools to users, and ultimately diversifying the content.

This is not unlike nature.  Much like natural selection, minor mutations or alterations in a system such as genetic code or the Internet, allow parts of the systems to adapt to change and survive.

In order for users to keep up with the changing online environment they must continually add plug-ins that are openly shared so they can continue to ingest the endless experience and knowledge than can be found on the World Wide Web.   For example one must continually download the latest version of Flash Player to be able to watch the ever-advancing online videos that are generated on a daily basis.

In nature, females, when searching for mates look for the strongest most attractive males with whom to procreate.  The fitness of the male shows the female that he possesses the latest and greatest genes (plug-ins) found in their species, increasing her and their offspring’s chance of survival.

I’ve come to realize that my belief that the Internet’s biomimicry is shared by others.  Recently at SXSW 2010, one of the keynote speakers was Valerie Casey of the consulting firm, Designers Accord.  Her address touched on the idea that interactive media will be at the heart of environmental change.

The Designers Accord believes that manufacturers in various industries would benefit by looking to nature and mimicking in the way it designs, constructs, and evolves in order to produce more ecologically friendly devices.  Nature comes up with ingenious ways of ensuring the survival of species and companies and new technology can do the same.

Casey also believes that multimedia is the pathway in which information and knowledge about the conservation and sustainable development of our planet will be shared with the masses.  Sharing this knowledge in more efficient ways increases the chance for change in how we all look at the environment.

I believe Zittrain would feel the same.  On page 43 of his book he says, “generative systems are built on the notion that they are never fully complete, they have many uses yet to be conceived of, and that the public can be trusted to invent and share good uses.”  Like nature these systems are constantly evolving and offering opportunity to their users.

I’m sure Zittrain’s fellow former Oxford University professor Stephen Hawking, would understand how the social and technological adaptation of the Internet is occurring in that it is entropy in full effect.

The Internet is merely controlled chaos.  Much like in the field of astrophysics, the Internet is like the universe in that it is randomness that is somewhat controlled and directed by puny forces such as gravity in a physics sense and norms in an online social sense.

We oversee and filter the use of the Internet of not only our own friends and family but that of all other users we encounter online.  As I’ve discussed in a prior blog regarding the Solove reading and online anonymity, users construct norms by deciding what gets heard or seen and what doesn’t.

A case that Zittrain brings up in his book to support this is the “verkeersbordvrij” experiment in the Dutch town of Drachten.  The town decided to remove all it traffic signals and signage with the result of less accidents and overall safer driving by its citizens.

One would think that this would be complete chaos with people doing what they will and a moving in all directions.  However, when the signs are taken away the only option drivers on the road has is to conform to societal norms regarding the way people drive.  Drivers or “users”, must rely on each other to follow these same norms in order to coexist and operate the vehicles in a safe and efficient manner.

Norms that are the formed by the online majority dictate what devices are used and which voices are heard online.  Like Harvard University’s Berkman Center and the Oxford Internet Institute’s StopBadware project, users pick out the bad content and either block it and redirect other users away or alter it to reuse it for good.

It is us, and our natural “instincts” that are transforming the way we interact online and what the Internet can provide us.  The Internet and its technology is ours, we keep it healthy and clean and as Valerie Casey has suggested, we can use this technology to keep out planet the same.

Costa Rica and Earth University, LaFlor: Day 4

17 01 2010

Jan. 10, 2010

Hotsprings and Zip Lines and La Mascota, Oh My.

I first awoke this morning around three o’clock to the howling wind.   I was waiting for the roof or our lodge to fly off.  The wind was probably blowing at 40-50 mph or 64-80 kmph to Costa Ricans.  It was surreal yet so beautiful.  The sound of the wind was both frightening and soothing at the same time.  It’s hard to explain.  I was almost compelled to go out at that moment and experience it.

As daylight broke, the wind was still howling and we were told by the staff that the wind is normal and that it happens about two weeks out of the year.  Will and I were a little late getting out of bed and rushed to breakfast only to miss the rest of the group.  We wolfed down a buffet of cereal, scramble eggs, plantains, baguette, and some sort of rice/meat filled turnover as well as the delicious orange juice found in this region.  I don’t know what it is about this juice, it is so light yet extremely full of flavor.  I love thick, pulpy orange juice, but I think I prefer the juice we are having in Guanacaste.

After breakfast Will and I caught up with the rest of the group as and the boys and Colleen got ready to head for the waterslide.  This slide meanders through the mountainside forest and looks as if it was supposed to be there.  The water that runs through the waterslide is from a river that is partially diverted into the slide and then is drained back into the river as it reaches a pool at the bottom of the run.

I am an avid waterslide fan.  I’ve done all types and I can honestly say this was one of the fastest and most exhilarating one I’ve ever ridden.  It’s so hairy that you have to wear a helmet, sit in an inner-tube, and women must wear a “diaper” so that, as Alex put it, their “uterus doesn’t fill with water”.  LOL!!!  There was a section of the slide that steepens and increases in speed to about 25 mph and enters a series of s-turns.  A couple of times as my legs started flying in all directions during this sections I thought how much it would suck if my leg caught a tree.  Of course that just made the ride that much more spine-tingling.

After splashing down in the pool on the final of my three runs (I know weak, but you have to understand you literally have to hike up to the top) the guys told me to hurry up and get out to check something out.  I got out and before me was a wild pig.  Alex was told it was called La Mascota, and to avoid it’s behind and not to touch it as they can spray a powerful musk.  We took pictures of the pig and with the pig as it seemed unbothered by our presence.

After our waterslide runs we decided to walk and find the hot springs.  We got about 500 meters and couldn’t figure out which way to go so we went back and got on a tractor that took us there.  Good thing too, cause it would have taken us well over an hour to walk there and my legs were in no condition to hike that far after yesterday’s journey.

We arrived at the hot springs and were greeted to a full spa hidden within the rainforest and split by a good-sized river.  I tell you this country has some of the most beautiful rivers I have ever seen.  Every river we come across seems to be more spectacular than that last.  This must be a water-water rafter’s Mecca.  I will have to find that out next trip down here.

We first sat in a sauna for about 10 minutes then proceeded to the mud bath where we covered ourselves in warm mud and stood around making fun of each other as it dried.  At one point I resembled some sort of Mayan warrior from Costa Rica’s past.

After rinsing off the mud we headed for the hot springs and dipped ourselves in the 101º water of one of three springs.  That was the most relaxing hour of my life and I now understand why women rant and rave about it.  That soaking was much need to sooth my aching muscles from yesterday’s hike.

After about two hours at the springs we needed to leave so we could get some lunch and do what we’ve all been looking forward to, the zip lines through the rainforest canopy.

We stopped off at the main lodge and had a wonderful buffet of salad, rice, beans, chicken, and cheese filled enchiladas that were amazing.

After lunch, Alex, Matt squared, Will, and myself went wandering around and decided to go look for La Mascota.  We got back to the waterslide area and didn’t see him.  I wistled for him and Will called out “La Mascota” and as soon as he did, wouldn’t you know it, La Mascota popped out from behind a shed.  Alex informed us that we have been calling the pig by the wrong name all day.  He found out that La Mascota means “pet” in Spanish.  The pig is actually a collared peccary, a type of wild mountain pig.  It was considered a pet by the staff, as I found out earlier from Estevan who is an engineer at Buena Vista.  We hung out with LaMascota and as we began to leave he decided to follow us.

He must have known we were cool and didn’t want us to leave as he followed us all the way back to the main office, being careful to avoid the pond with the caimanAfter lunch we checked out of our rooms and headed for the zip lines.  We got suited up in the harnesses and helmets and headed up to the first line.  And yes, I was taking my camera.  We got our instructions and rules of the zip lines and we were off, flying through the canopy.  As we zipped from tree to tree we saw coatimundi and monkeys and the beautiful flora that made up the rainforest.  Oddly enough I never sensed that we were hundreds of feet above the ground as a result of the canopy being so think it seemed liked you could walk on it.

Halfway through the course we were greeted by Maria and Linda in one of the trees.  This was a surprise as both Maria and Linda were afraid of height and told us they were going to the hot springs instead.  They took pictures of us and followed us from some of the canopy bridges that also run from tree to tree.

At the 11th and final zip line it was time to go inverted.  All of us manned up and hung upside down as we screamed through the rainforest.  After Matt and Matt finished they had their harnesses taken off and to my amazement were being put on both Maria and Linda.  And wouldn’t you know it, they both went down their first zip line, both with giant grins on their face as they did.  I was so proud of them for concurring their fear of heights.

After the zip lines it was time to get our things and head back to LaFlor about an hour, scenic filled drive away.

This stop at Buena Vista Lodge has been a perfect example of eco-tourism.  The rides are almost unnoticeable and do nothing to disrupt the ecosystem.  The water that drives the waterslide is borrowed from a river and then returned to it at that bottom, unaltered.  The zip lines are barely noticeable throughout the rainforest and don’t require any energy to operate.   The hot springs are natural as stated before however they do require the use of a motorized pump to bring the lava-warmed water to the surface.  It would be ideal if Buena Vista developed a more environmentally friendly type pumped or vacuum system that could accomplish the same task.  Besides that, Buena Vista is a wonderful way of touring this beautiful part of the country.  To be out in the ecosystem and observing the biodiversity first hand gives tourist more appreciation for the land and encourages them to leave it the way they found it.

We arrived back in Liberia and stopped off at a central plaza downtown as we waited for Luis to get into town.  We observed a church service and Alex skateboarded with a local kid.  It was really special to see Alex and the rest of interact with the local people the way we did.

After spending an hour at the plaza we continued to LaFlor and stopped at a beautiful, open restaurant on the side of the road just up the road from campus.  As we arrived we from the east we witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen.  I even climbed on the top of the bus to capture it.  Luis was there to great us and brought along his wife, Andreia for us to meet.  This was a simple, family run Costa Rican restaurant with traditional Costa Rican food.  However, there was an added flare to meals served here.  Presentation was apparently as important as the taste.

After dinner it was back to LaFlor after a fun-filled day and some time hanging out with the guys drinking some Imperials and Pilsens and reflecting on our experiences over the past two days.

Costa Rica and Earth University, LaFlor: Day 3/Part 2

17 01 2010

Jan. 09, 2010

Buena Vista Lodge

We are leaving beautiful Guanacaste National Park and on our way to Buena Vista Lodge in Rincon de La Vieja National Park.  We are traveling down a dirt road for about 25 minutes when we reach a fork in the road.  Bennicio stops between the fork and is not completely sure which way to go.  Naturally he takes the road not taken.  Robert Frost would be proud.

Unfortunately, the road not taken is not taken for a reason cause it was a dead end at some fenced encampment at the top of a peak.  Fortunately the employees there were nice enough to open the gate so we could turn around.

Thirty minutes later, after an steep climb up another peak and an amazing view were reached our destination.  We pull in to the ranch like entrance and meander up to the lodge.  We pull up to the office and are greeted with glasses of mango juice.  After checking in we head down to our rooms which are cabin like buildings make completely of high grade wood that resembles teak, a common wood found in rainforests.  After a quick shower and downloading of my photos to my hard drive, I am off to the Sunset Bar for some cocktails with my classmates.

Proffesor Motley mentioned to me as we were unpacking that he had a feeling that there was much more to this place that we could see.  He couldn’t have been more right.  I am heading up to the bar with camera in hand (of course) and am not enjoying the uphill trek to the bar which is off a ways behind the lodge.  Upon reaching the bar, I realized that it was worth the hike and pain in my feet.

I am presented with one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen in my life.  Sunset Bar sits atop a peak looking over a valley and other mountain peaks as the sun was setting.  My breath is completely taken away and my body covered with goosebumps.

View from the Sunset Bar at Buena Vista (Beautiful View) Lodge

Sitting here enjoying this amazing scene before me as I sip on a Tequilla Sunrise talking to Will and Emily about how incredible this trip has been already and how lucky we are to be in this beautiful country.

The sun is now setting behind the mountains in the distance and I’m on to round two, or is it three?  I can’t remember this sunset is so distracting.  Alex has introduced some of us to a drink the bartenders recommend to him that has been dubbed Hombre Fuerte.  This drink is like jet fuel and seems to change colors as you go through it.  The five of us who got one each have one at a different level and different color. Will, Matt squared, and Alex have decided to chug the last ¼ of their drinks and it didn’t go well.  You try and chug 3 oz. of jet fuel.  Not a good idea even though the guys tried to do it another three times out excitement of the day.

I invited Bennicio over from the bar to join us at the table to finish watching the sunset and enjoy each other’s company and conversation.  After an hour of conversing and laughing it’s time for dinner so we are off.

Dinner consists of a buffet of everything under the sun, rice, black beans, chicken, fish, yucca, Spanish meatballs, baby corn and leche for desert, not to mention the extraordinary Costa Rican coffee.

After more mind-blowing food and pleasant conversation around the dinner table we are heading back to Sunset Bar for some drinks, music, and dancing.  I have to say that the highlight of dancing for me has to be dancing with Silvia who was teaching me some Latin moves that I didn’t already know.  We are having such a great time dancing with each other and socializing with the bartenders who by the way are so friendly and fun.  It’s easy to tell they are genuine and not just mocking us, sometimes-pretentious American tourists.  They are helping to teach us Spanish, making jokes, making us laugh, making great drinks, and plain making this experience at Buena Vista that much better.

I can’t even express in words how nice the people of this country are.  They are so caring and inviting.  The want you to enjoy their country as much as possible and seem to understand how magical this place it to foreigners.  You can see they truly live the pura vida.

Well we are pretty consumed and off to bed to enjoy the activities Beuna Vista Lodge has to offer.  Hasta luego!

Darwin’s New Best Friend

18 11 2009

Charles Darwin could only imagine the vastness of information that now exists about species of plants, animals, and insects that have been compiled in the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL).

Homepage of the Encyclopedia of Life

The Encyclopedia of Life is a biological wiki that was launched in 2007.  It is a catalog of all the known and soon to be discovered organisms of Earth.  It was the idea of biologist E.O. Wilson when he presented the notion of harnessing the power of the Internet at a TED conference in March of 2007.

His vision was to create an endless record of the 1.8 million known species of plants, animals, and insects that can be used to serve students, scientists, and general public.

The TED conference was his platform to get the attention of the scientific community to help fund the project which is expected to cost $110.5 million.  Within two months of his appearance at the conference, 5 science foundations announced a $50 million initial grant to get the project rolling.

The website is a wiki-based platform who’s content is created by both experts in the fields of biology and ecology as well a amateur naturalists.  The wiki is overseen by a handful of scientists that examine the content for accuracy.  A wiki, for those of you who don’t know, is a website that allows easy creation and editing of content of any number of interlinked Web pages by anyone with access to the Internet.

The Encyclopedia of Life is not just a list of all the species known to man, each species is given its own page to allow for the maximum amount of information on that species to be provided.

The Twig Girdling Beetle page.

The site is a way of educating us on the importance of conservation and sustainability and how every organism on Earth has a direct or indirect affect on human life.  The need to understand the symbiosis between us and other creatures that share this world with us is so important for the survival of the human race.

The fact that the site is a wiki it allows the general public to participate in it’s creation giving them the power to influence and inform others.  It empowers people to care about the content the message being conveyed.  Because of this the public can educate themselves of the importance of conservation and encourage them to act in a responsible manner when it comes to saving this amazing planet we live on.

If we continue to be careless and abuse Mother Earth we could be destroying organisms that could provide medications that could possibly eradicate all known human diseases.  What a waste that would be.

I hope in Darwin’s honor, the first EOL page created was for Darwin’s Finches?

Jim and Pam’s Spreading

4 11 2009

Alright, I know this is a couple of weeks late, but I still feel compelled to talk about it.  You’re not going to believe this, but I saw a viral video get spread back to TV.

On a recent episode of The Office, Jim and Pam were getting married.  Big mistake.  This might be the beginning of the end for the show.  It’s less dynamic when their married.  But I digress.  Towards the end of the episode, I saw something that I know I had seen before.  The wedding party dancing down the isle.

Just a few months earlier, I had a friend send me an email with a wedding video attached…oh joy.  So, I hesitantly clicked play and watched as the entire wedding party, two-by-two danced (I guess you can call it dancing) down the isle.  The JK Wedding Dance was the most viewed viral video for weeks.  Everyone was sharing it through the Internet.  Heck, you’ve probably recieved it from over 100 people by now.   As of right now, it’s had 30, 964, 909 hits.  Wait…make that 30, 971,738, I refreshed the page.  Think about it, 1/10 of the U.S. population has peered into these people’s lives.  A little spooky, but that’s for a different blog.

Then two weeks later and I’m watching the Cleveland Show (meh) and all of sudden Cleveland is rapping in the middle of what seems to be a furniture store.  Incredibly I had just seen a viral video of this exact event in one of my classes not even a week before.  It’s called the Mini Mall Rap, and it’s pretty damn funny.  It’s a commercial for an Alabama flea market that features a middle-aged man in a gold suit groovin’ and rapping about the store.  I’m sure it wasn’t the most effective commercial in the traditional sense, but I’ll bet you the change in your couch that furniture store did better than alright after the video of that commercial went viral.

Typically, entertainment such as television shows, movies, and videos are fodder for users of the World Wide Web.  Instead, The Office and The Cleveland Show spoofed and spread these video back to TV.  I’ve been trying to think of an example of this full circle event happening in the past, and can’t .  Let me know if you do.

I find it so odd, yet extremely interesting that this is happening.  I wonder what it means and if it will lead to a new theory of communication that have taken over some of our lives.  I might even be the one to come with it.