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.


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!

Costa Rica and Earth University, LaFlor: Day 3/Part 1

12 01 2010

Jan. 09, 2010

Guanacasted National Park/Buena Vista Resort

Pura Vida from Costa Rica!  It’s 5:30 A.M. and I’m waiting to hear from the howlers but we must have beat them to awaking.  I think we are their alarm clock today as they start howling during breakfast.

For breakfast we are enjoying eggs, rice, beans, fresh cheese, papaya, pineapple, watermelon and probably the best orange juice and coffee I’ve ever tasted in my life.

After breakfast we are off to Guanacaste National Park to do some hiking and sightseeing with our guide for the day, Luis.  Also joining us is Ali, who arrived last night, who is a geologist from east Africa helping LaFlor look for locations on the property to create natural reservoirs to store water from the local watershed to use for the irrigation of LaFlor’s crops.

We are on the bus and beginning our 45 minute journey to the mountains.  Fifteen minutes into the drive Luis has us pull over on this dirt road to explain how the vegetation is changing a we begin our ascent towards the range.

This change in vegetation what is referred to as succession is a result of the of the change in temperature and water availability as you move higher up the mountain.  The rainforest in the part of Costa Rica we are in is slightly different than what most people would consider a rain forest.  Costa Rica is divided centrally by a mountain range that runs from the north to south through the majority of the country.  As the weather moves from the east, the heavy, water-filled clouds need to release their moisture in the form of  rain in order to ascend and cross over the mountains.  As a result there is less precipitation on the west side of the range, resulting in what is called a “dry” rainforest.

About twenty minutes from our destination and Luis has the bus pull over again and we get out next to the Colorado River which passes through LaFlor.  This is the source of LaFlor’s water used in irrigation and this particular location is where a lot of there water sample are collected to test for quality.  He follow Luis down a path and withing seconds we are standing atop a 40 foot gorge carved out by the river and complete with ancient petroglyphs.

After our quick stop at the river we have reached our destination at Guanacaste National Park and I am pumped and ready to attack this climb, full army pack and all.  We begin the ascent, then descent, then ascent again working our way through the trail and are amazed at the various flora found in the pre-mountainous level of the the volcano.

I have to admit, it’s very hard to watch where you are going and your footing while constantly being tempted to look around and the splendor of the forest.  Ahead I heard the scream of Emily and as I approach I see everyone tending to Linda who slipped on a rock while crossing the river and busting her lip and scraping her knee.  I have to tell you Linda is tiny in stature but HUGE in heart and adventure.  Not a single complaint or expression comes out of her mouth or from her face.  That is one tough girl.

After a few minutes of making sure she is okay, we continue on and quickly reach the next level of succession which included flora that would be more familiar in a temperate region of the world such as North America.

Our LaFlor host Luis guiding us through the trail

After a few minutes we reached the next level of succession resembling grasslands.  This point in two and a half hours into our hike and we take a break to enjoy the amazing view and take out my first aid kit to clean up Linda’s scratches  (and people mocked me for hiking with all my gear).  I have to be honest, the view from up hear was so stunning that I got a little emotional as goosebumps covered my body.

After our quick break we and on the move and heading down a descent to our final destination, a stunning 120 foot waterfall.  I’m the last one arriving at the waterfall as I am constantly talking pictures, and am almost knocked over as I came around the corner of the trail and see one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen in my life.  It took me less than a minute to get changed into my swim suit and get into the cold yet invigorating water below the fall.  I’m even daring enough to swim my camera out the fall to get some pictures from directly below.

After an hour or so of swimming and lunch we are off the head back to the bus.  I’m not sure how this is possible but we are doing more climbing up as we head back down the mountain.  I am exhausted as we reach the end of the trip back and my legs feel like Jello.  About 45 minutes from the base camp I come across a tree I noticed when we first entered the forest that rose about 60 or 70 feet in the air and bent almost horizontally towards the top.  On the way in I thought to myself that would be a awesome tree to climb as it was covered in thick vines.  As I return to it, I remind myself that I may never have this opportunity again, so I begin to climb up with camera in tow.  This is so cool…I’m climbing a tree in a Costa Rican rainforest, Bear Grylls style.  Without any fear what so ever, only exhilaration, I reach the top and am greeted by a colony of army ants that aren’t as excited about my accomplishment as I am.  With little regard for the red buggers with giant mandibles that are ripping into my flesh I proceed to take pictures of the top of the canopy and Phillip and Emily below.

I am so amped that I climbed that tree.  I am sure living this trip to the fullest as I had hoped I would.  Pura Vida!  Well, I’ve caught up to the rest of the group and I’m ready to get off my feet and get some water.  This has been one of the best days of my life and can’t imagine what is to come in the following week.  Stay tuned for more, I have a feeling there is a lot of it. 

Costa Rica and Earth University-Day 2

9 01 2010


Liberia, Costa Rica

I awoke on day two of our trip to Costa Rica, at 6:30 A.M. to the sound of the nearby trolley blaring it’s horn as it delivered people to their jobs or adventures for the day.  At first I was annoyed, but began to chuckle as I realized it was probably the city’s alarm clock.

I climbed out of be and showered as my classmates slept in and roamed around the Costa Rica Backpackers hostel taking pictures of the beautiful flora located on the site.

Once the rest of my classmates woke up (minus Professor Motley who managed to sleep in despite the train) and showered, we headed off to find some breakfast and an ATM to get some colones (some more than they wanted due to the conversion rate…lol).  We walked a couple of blocks downtown and found a local grocer where I purchased mochachino and a large croissant, which was absolutely delicious.  I swear pastries are so much better in countries other than the United States.   We need to work on that…honestly.

After breakfast our bus and it’s driver Benicio arrived to pick us up to continue our journey in Costa Rica.  Today we were off to Liberia to spend the week with Earth University at their LaFlor campus.  It’s a five hour drive across the country traversing multiple fog covered mountain peaks and views of the ocean and volcanoes.

Three hours into the drive we made a pit stop to use the facilities, play with a couple of Boxer puppies, and take a group photo.

Shortly after our pit stop, Benicio suddenly stopped the bus on the side of the road.  Little did we know, our bus driver had a keen eye, and spotted Howler monkeys in a tree right next to the road.

Howler monkeys in a roadside tree

Shortly there after we stopped by a little place on the side of the road to stretch our legs and take a look at some Scarlet Macaws that were known to hang out at this little restaurant.  I’m not sure they were too please with the group of people gawking at them as they would not stop squawking at us.  Although, knowing Macaws as I do, they might have just been putting on a show as they spied down on us from above.

An hour after being laughed at by the Macaws we arrived at our destination, Earth University’s LaFlor campus.  The facility is a beautiful plot of land that was donated to Earth by Costa Rica’s former president prior to his death.  This place is absolutely incredible.  I’ve been getting chills all day as I continue to discover it’s endless beauty and wildlife.

We were greeted by Luis and Carlos and treated to an amazing lunch consisting of salad, rice, beans, and chicken cordon bleu made from ingredients grown right here at LaFlor.  That might have been the best salad I’ve ever had considering the vegetables from picked right from the garden.

After lunch Carlos explained a little bit about Earth University and what they do before he had to leave for Nicaragua for a few days.  Upon his departure, Lius stepped in and continued by explaining what they do here at LaFlor.  Earth University is a school that offers scholarships to students from Central and South America, about 100 per year, and teaches them sustainable agriculture and conservation in hopes that they take what they learn and become stewards in their own countries by educating their neighbors how to keep their beautiful ecosystems intact and thriving.

LaFlor, however has a different mission.  They host organizations and schools and educate them about biodiversity and ecosystems and how to sustainably live on their own land and save it for generations to come.  Their mission is to not only make people understand how they are connected and reliant on Earth and it’s ecology, but also how to live what Costa Rican’s call “pura vida“.  After only a few hours here, I can assure you it is something we all will want and should do.  The world would be a much better place because of it.

Well, I’m off to bed.  Stay tuned to the next installment coming soon.  Buenas noches!

Me and Interactive Technology Thus Far

5 11 2009

I just got done banging out a website mock-up in Photoshop and sending 3 emails with attachments.  Well, I banged them out in 2 hrs.  That’s right.  Now I’ve been sitting here and thinking about all the things I’ve accomplished in the last three months at school.

Last Monday I was talking to a friend on the phone and she told me she had finally got the Internet.  I know, kind of weird, but I can completely relate. Just three months ago, the only thing I was doing with a computer was looking for a job and loading songs onto my PSP.  I avoided email like it was the plague (well, I still do), I used the Internet occasionally, and I only used Photoshop to crop and color pictures.  Monday, I’m sitting in front of my laptop video chatting with a friend I hadn’t seen in months.

I’m doing these things and a lot more on a daily basis.  Last week I finished creating an animated short film in Flash, then embedded it into a website that I designed and built, and this week I’ll be filming and editing a 30 second public service announcement.  All this in three months.

It’s pretty cool.  I’ve learned a lot and I’m starting to enjoy most of the projects we’ve been working on.  However, it’s also been very challenging and frustrating at time.  Things are good right now but that could quickly change tomorrow in the fast paced world of interactive media.

For someone like myself who has a degree in Biology, it’s a little more of challenge to grasp the communications concepts, but I’ve been able to rely on my education in psychology and sociology to stay on top of it.  Also, I cannot put into words how slow and laborious working with Photoshop, Flash, or Final Cut Pro.  Yet at the same time, I can’t put into words how much satisfaction and pride I have when I complete one of these projects.  It’s an incredible sense of gratification and I can see why people would enjoy doing it for a living.

After all the work I’ve put into these projects, I now have a whole hell of a lot more respect for interactive animators and designers.  So next time you see one of those banner ads  on a website, remember that someone spent hours creating that 5-10 second piece.

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.