05 March 2015

radio daze :: a #tbt surprise

EDIT! apparently, this photo is not just something recovered from the vault of time [although it is that, too] it's a photo that's currently on display as part of the khyber arts centre's what's left on the dial: a ckdu retrospective, an exhibit put together to honour the thirtieth anniversary of the station going on air. [so the "glassed in" effect is due to the fact that the picture is framed.] i remember being there for the tenth anniversary, so i'm just going to go drink bleach now, but if you're in halifax, you should totally catch the show this weekend.

i don't do these often, but today someone posted a photo in a facebook group that surprised me. it surprised me because it was me and i have no memory whatsoever of this being taken. let me explain: back in olden tymes(tm), taking photos was a less casual thing. you had to have a camera. you had to have film. you had to take care of film, making sure it didn't get to hot, that it didn't ever get exposed to any kind of light. and then you had to get film developed into pictures, which could get fairly costly. and you didn't know until you paid up whether any of your photos were really good. difficult times, obviously. so having one's picture taken surreptitiously was not a common occurrence, unless you were a celebrity, which i have absolutely never been. [looking at it, i'm guessing that the picture was actually taken from an adjoining room, separated by a pane of glass, which is casting odd reflections and making it look like i might be a floating torso. based on the hair i'm sporting, i'm guessing that this was taken in 1994 or 95.]

nonetheless, someone apparently overcame the odds and snapped this picture of me with a friend in the production studio booth of ckdu-fm. i was a volunteer and an employee there for about five years, although since i was young at the time, it seems like it was much longer. ckdu was [and still is!] a campus/ community radio station in halifax, but it's also a place that had a profound and positive effect on my life. even before i joined as a member, the station had already exposed me to some of the bands who spurred my interest in off-kilter music. and since radio always seemed sort of magical to me, in a "transmissions from nowhere" sort of way, becoming a part of it was beyond exciting.

of course, i'm someone who can't be "moderately involved" in anything, which meant that, while i was doing my undergraduate degree and for a couple of years afterward, i was practically living at the station for large stretches of time. i credit my time there with a few things that have since become important to my sense of who i am: i met a variety of different people, from different backgrounds, different places and with very different tastes, none of which were particularly "mainstream" [although some were closer than others]. i always liked to think of myself as open-minded, but that was the time when i discovered what that meant: being able to learn from everyone around you, especially those who don't share your perspective.

of course, i also got exposed to a lot of different types of music, both from hearing what others at the station were playing and by exploring the extensive and thrilling record library. my current tastes, not just in music, but in art and culture in general, remain indelibly marked by my discoveries at that time. [one of those discoveries was the band seefeel, whose track "more like space" i co-opted for the name of the radio show i did there, and more things since.]

so thank you to the person who discovered this photo and posted it on facebook, for giving me a moment of happy nostalgia, looking back at the little blonde person emerging from her chrysalis who would eventually turn into me. 

04 March 2015

world wide wednesdays :: trouble in paradise

when i was quite young, my parents got me a globe as a christmas present. you wouldn't think that would be exciting for a child, but i had great fun spinning the thing and then stopped it, seeing what exotic country i'd caught under my finger. i liked to imagine visiting these places, or living there when i was an old woman in my twenties. [ok, i didn't actually think one was old in their twenties, but it still seemed like a long way off.] somehow, during one of these games of "find a place and imagine being there", i came up with the idea that i was going to move to papua new guinea. i'm not sure what i thought i was going to do there. i had this idea that fortune just showered gifts upon you and allowed you to do pretty much what you want, which i suppose means that i intended to be some kind of royalty. i did not fulfill my early dream of becoming some kind of benevolent ruler surrounded by all the animals i could imagine there and i have never visited anywhere even on the same continent. but for some time, i was fascinated by the tropical wonderland on the far side of the world. [note :: this was before i grew up and became fascinated by greenland. greenland is the new new guinea.]

since i grew up in an era before the internet, i wasn't able to learn a lot about the country. in fact, when my magical globe was made, chances are that it was one of the first to feature papua new guinea, because it only became an independent country in 1975 [although it officially adopted the name three years earlier]. i knew that it was tropical and i imagined it being covered in jungle, which large parts of it are. i pictured coastline, which there is aplenty, and i also pictured volcanoes [volcanoes being central to my understanding of the tropics], of which there are several. the nation sits on the pacific ring of fire, which is more of an arch than a ring, that runs all the way around the east, north and west borders of the pacific ocean and contains most of the world's volcanoes. the volcanoes are really just a side effect, though, because the real issue is that the ring of fire demarcates the edges of tectonic plates, which means that earthquakes and tsunamis are frequent concerns. [side note :: when i was a child, i made the mistake, or "kind of" mistake of looking at the country i saw on my globe and thinking that the large island was partitioned into the papua half and the new guinea half. i only had designs on the part i thought was called new guinea. the truth is that the eastern half of the island forms the nation of papua new guinea, while the western half of the island is part of indonesia- the provinces of papua and west papua. so there was reason for me to think that the western half was the papua half. to make things more confusing, the entire island is known as new guinea, but only half of it is in the country of new guinea, which is only half of the country's name. if they'd put me in charge, i totally would have made that simpler.]

what i didn't realise was that the tropical part, which seemed so enchanting to me because i'd never seen real tropics [even now, the furthest south i've been is the mexican baja peninsula and that's a desert], is one of the less remarkable things about papua new guinea. for instance, despite its hot, humid climate year-round, the tectonic activity that formed the himalayas and lifted the islands of indonesia above the ocean formed a mountain range in png that has real honest to god glaciers. a country with an average annual temperature of 27 celsius [about 80 fahrenheit] that's about two-thirds the size of texas also has permanent ice sheets. it's also known to get snow in the highlands, one of the only equatorial regions where that can happen.

png also remains one of the world's remaining mysteries. even in an age of satellites and digital mapping, the interior of the country is relatively unexplored. there may be hundreds or more species of plants nestled, undiscovered there and animals as well. [png is estimated to contain 5% of the world's biodiversity.] the incredible range of animal life  on the mainland bears a lot of resemblance to its southern neighbour, australia and the two were connected for some time after they broke away from the antarctic land mass. both have marsupials, for instance, and large flightless birds that are found nowhere else on earth. both contain flora that was originally present in antarctic flora, the remnants of plant life that existed in the southern part of earth's original supercontinent. [side note :: the links with australia only apply to the "mainland", meaning the eastern half of new guinea island. there are a number of outlying islands that are included in the territory of the nation of papua new guinea that have their own unique flora and fauna, which are different than those found on the mainland. taken as a whole, png is exceptional because its flora and fauna are drawn form the southern antarctic strain and from southern asian strains, a combination found nowhere else on earth.]

what might come as a surprise is that papua new guinea is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, a function of its considerable natural resources. of course, that also raises considerable concerns about sustainability. at current deforestation rates, the country's rainforests will have fallen by half as of 2021. pollution of all sorts is an increasing concern and deforestation has made mudslides a very real danger in many parts of the country. the nation's largest industries- mining, logging and palm oil above all- are environmental nightmares for all life forms there. although there are provisions in the country's constitution to protect and preserve natural diversity, they have proved difficult to enforce due in part to corruption and in part to the country's complex system of land ownership that gives the central government little power to enforce its own laws in many cases.

perhaps most fascinating, however, is the fact that png is the most culturally diverse area on the planet. how diverse, you ask? the country is home to fully 12% of the world's spoken languages. over 800 distinct languages, most with only a few hundred speakers, less than half of which are even related to one another. that still means hundreds of isolate languages with virtually no written history, many on the verge of extinction. it's difficult to wrap one's head around that kind of diversity, but as an example, the number of languages spoken in papua new guinea is roughly equivalent to all of the languages spoken in north, central and south america. [side note :: before you ask, no, there are not more than eight hundred official languages. there are three. hiri motu is an austronesian language that is by far the oldest of the three. english is an official language, but this is mainly a holdover from when the country was controlled by the british and australians. less than 2% of papua new guineans speak it. the third official language is tok pisin, a complex hybrid of a number of other languages- local and european- that serves as a common tongue among the country's different cultural groups. "tok" is a derivative of the english word "talk", although its meaning is closer to that of "speech" or "language". "pisin" comes from the word "pidgin", usually a term that denotes a creole-type language, hammered together to allow basic communication. the word "pidgin" is actually thought to come from the word "business", indicating that such tongues were originally used for trade purposes. whatever its origin, tok pisin is now a fully fledged written language and is increasingly being adopted as a first language across the country.]


03 March 2015

why i otter

apparently, there is a controversy afoot. the folks who publish the oxford english dictionary and all its variations have decided to remove a number of words from their junior edition in order to make room for new ones and a number of people have, unsurprisingly, taken umbrage with their editorial decision. i'm not here to take umbrage. [a word that means offense or annoyance, but which used to refer to a shadow, or the shade cast by trees and which, in fact, comes to us from the latin word for shadow: umbra.] i'm here to be perplexed.

now, the oxford junior dictionary is not the same as the regular o.e.d. it's intended for children ages seven to nine and it contains about four thousand words- supposedly the ones that seven to nine year olds are most likely to look up. that means that the vast majority of english words aren't going to make it into "my first oxford" and therefore decisions do have to be made. in theory, those decisions come from an analysis of what words are being used [yes, there are metrics for such things] and what definitions are being sought. but i have to say that i'm inclined to ask for some backup regarding what's been removed and what's been included.

a group of well-known writers wrote a letter of complaint to oxford university press, on the basis that the words removed [a process that took place over a period of years, from 2007 to 2012] were almost exclusively to do with nature, while most of the words added had to do with technology. their argument is that, by limiting the access that children have to words about the outdoors, o.u.p. is contributing to the problems of overly-insulated, under-active children being raised around the western world. the counter-argument, of course, is that all o.u.p. is doing is reflecting the realities of how language is used by youngsters in their target demographic. it's not their job to fix the ills of society, not even a little bit. it's a chicken and egg sort of argument: if children aren't interested in knowing certain words, there's no point in including them, but if children don't have the words to describe or discuss what they see, then the topic will become frustrating for them. [i know that it's jejune to act like the only place kids can turn to for language references is the o.e.d., but i still think that the larger point is valid. when you take away words, you take away people's ability to describe certain things, ideas and experiences.]

some of the words trimmed from the book include "acorn", "buttercup", "lobster", "mussel" and "oyster", "almond", "fern", "moss", "cauliflower", "newt" and, as you might have guessed from the title of this post, "otter". my first reaction is to wonder why today's children hate seafood so much, but then i thought that maybe the deletion is a way of actually forcing them to eat it: they can't say they don't like certain foods if they don't know what they're called. doesn't bode well for kids with almond allergies, though.

the exclusion of other words does imply that children are experiencing less variety in nature than they were years ago. growing up in a small-ish city, i remember seeing buttercups everywhere in the spring, but i don't recall seeing them a lot in my travels around montreal. [given the weather conditions outside at the moment, i'm guessing it'll probably be a few months before i can confirm that.] the desire for uniformity in suburban north america is such that plants like ferns, moss and buttercups are likely to be ripped out as an affront to grass. so maybe kids don't have much use for those words. [the removal of "budgerigar" and "hamster" says more to me about pets that parents don't want to have to buy than it does about the interests of children. "you want a pet like melanie has, suzette? what kind of animal is it? well if you can't tell me, i can't get it for you, can i?"]

on the other hand, some of the new inclusions seem a little bizarre. sure you have "blog" and "mp3 player" and "attachment" [um, do people realise this word has meanings that have nothing to do with email? because calling it a technology-specific word kind of implies they don't], but you also have "block-graph", "chatroom" and "broadband". i'm not a parent, but i have to wonder, what exactly are these children up to? are block-graphs really being assigned to seven year-olds? because this is how wikipedia defines a block graph:

In graph theory, a branch of combinatorial mathematics, a block graph or clique tree[1] is a type of undirected graph in which every biconnected component (block) is a clique.
Block graphs are sometimes erroneously called Husimi trees (after Kôdi Husimi),[2] but that name more properly refers to cactus graphs, graphs in which every nontrivial biconnected component is a cycle.[3]
Block graphs may be characterized as the intersection graphs of the blocks of arbitrary undirected graphs.

grade two math has gotten complicated.

actually, what "block-graph" is referring to in this sense is what wikipedia would call a bar graph. one of those things where you show results or comparisons with little coloured rectangles. i have no idea why the block-graph should warrant its own entry, as opposed to just being dealt with in the general definition of graphs. perhaps "graph" isn't in the junior dictionary? so block-graphs are being favoured now? screw you, hard to read line graphs and pie charts that leave us feeling hungry. go blocks or go home!

even allowing for the blatant anti-pie prejudice that's evident in their selection, i do think that it's perfectly reasonable that children could require a block-graph for an assignment. [i guess they wouldn't have a choice, since they couldn't describe any other form of graph.]

i'm a little leery of the inclusion of "chatroom", but i can get it. "a chatroom is a place where you can go and discuss topics of interest until someone with the user name nambla69 ruins it for everyone". i guess that you want to be prepared for that eventuality.

but i have to admit that i'm puzzled what use kids of that age would have for "broadband". i know that children are way more technologically sophisticated than i was [not difficult], but are they really at the stage of setting up their own networks now? are the political issues associated with broadband connectivity and control of the internet a big topic at eighth birthday parties? [do kids still have birthday parties? or do they just do a google hangout?]

one exclusion did amuse me a little, which is "blackberry". oh research in motion, how you have fallen. your name, once synonymous with smart phone devices, now refers only to a tart fruit that's of no interest to children, because they probably never hear of it.

on the other hand, that does raise an interesting possibility: if people want to get those words back in the dictionary, why don't they just start using them to refer to something tech-related? cauliflower phones. lobster game controllers. otter bluetooth devices! because if these words have to be included for their modern usages, then the archaic, natural definitions would need to be included as well.

sometimes i'm just so clever.

in the meantime, if you want to have some sadistic fun, print up the photos i've used here and post them around the house for your child, or any visiting children to see. when they ask what these adorable creatures are, tell them they should go look up "otter" in their oxford junior dictionary. pour yourself a glass of wine and take comfort in the fact that we all have to be a little villainous some times.

02 March 2015

mental health mondays :: a.d.d. it up

so, it turns out that many of you are probably not going to be able to focus on what is written here for long enough to make it to the end of this sentence.

for those of you who are still with me, congratulations. i mention the difficulty focusing because it turns out that many, many more of us seem to be getting diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. once considered a code term for an obstreperous child who probably needed to get out more, the disorder has become better understood over the last twenty years or so and is identified more in adults these days. [while adults still account for a minority- 44%- of diagnoses, the number of diagnosed adults is increasing rapidly, while cases among children have been at a plateau for several years.] that should be both a relief- people who need treatment will get it- and a concern, because along with increased diagnoses, there will be increased prescriptions and the medications for add/ adhd can be a little scary.

the most common medications for the disorder are all derivatives of methamphetamine. drugs like ritalin, concerta and adderall are all amphetamines [plus of course there is desoxyn, which is chemically identical to methamphetamine, but used as a prescription] and more adults are getting them all the time. given that the conditions for being diagnosed with add are still a little open-ended and that, despite the increased awareness, researchers still can't really tell what causes it [which makes it difficult to cure], the handing out of high-quality meth that seems to work on the symptoms [researchers aren't sure about exactly how they work or why they help either] seems like it could become a little problematic.

in total, medications for adhd are expected to increase by about 13% this year. that's massive. most corporations set even optimistic growth targets at half that and year over year differences in pharmaceutical or over the counter drug sales are often much less [even when they're considered successful]. part of that difference is accounted for by the fact that the affordable care act in the united states has included psychiatric medications among those that must be covered by insurers, which means that people who get prescriptions are more likely to fill them. but the the growth in sales is not exclusive american phenomenon.

in fact, the growth in the add "market" is growing much faster in other parts of the world. parts of asia where there is a greater emphasis on high productivity, longer working hours and less job security are showing especially high growth rates, which seems to back theories that link adhd to anxiety. [people diagnosed with adhd also have an above average rate of anxiety disorders and depression.] there also seems to be an underlying message that by putting such emphasis on productivity and workplace gains that we are potentially aggravating a health condition, but we've already talked about that.

[now would be as good a time as any to mention that adult adhd and child adhd are not different conditions. in fact, to be diagnosed as an adult, there needs to be some evidence that symptoms of the disorder emerged between the ages of six and twelve. add is believed to begin manifesting at this age for everyone and those who are diagnosed as adults simply weren't identified at a younger age.]

psychiatric professionals are clear that drugs are not a cure for adhd or any mental disorder. they blunt the symptoms in order to make daily life easier, but it's generally through therapy that patients are able to find ways to "correct" their mind and come to terms with the roadblocks it has put up for them. think of it in the same way you would a debilitating physical injury: drugs will calm inflammation and fight infection, but it's through physiotherapy and related practices that you learn to get your limbs to work properly again. but with the wait time to see psychologists running in the months and the cost [because while the drugs may be covered, the therapy to complement it generally isn't] prohibitive to many, treatment remains an incomplete process.

if we are going to seriously address the issue of adhd and seek to reduce its cultural and economic cost, we should be looking at how to treat the entire problem. it is a first step to make sure that drugs are covered, so that they are accessible to those who need them. but we also need to make sure that drugs, especially ones as powerful and contentious as those used for adhd, are not used as a long-term solution. that means making sure that people have access to therapy at little to no cost [as is done for people who have physical conditions like multiple sclerosis, the one with which i am most familiar] and we need to look at other factors like unnecessarily stressful working conditions that might be making the condition worse. otherwise, we're just lining the pockets of drug companies to make ourselves feel better. 

01 March 2015

making faces :: spring splendour

this is not the blog post you should be reading. i wrote a much better one that tied together five thousand years of history, my thoughts on surviving the isolation of a long and consistently frigid winter, the beauty of nars and the annual reawakening of hope in our hearts with the turning of our tiny blue marble back towards the sun.

unfortunately, my pulitzer-worthy opus turned out to be useless, because it was, at its core, a review of nars' new eye shadow duo from their spring collection and the whole thing hinged on it being called "dolomites". but it's not called "dolomites", because that was the name of the beautiful duo they released with their fall 2014 collection. the one i'm reviewing right now is called "st. paul de vence".

like a lot of nars products, it's inspired by a beautiful locale in the south of france, not far from nice. it's a tiny village of only about three thousand inhabitants, but it's been around since medieval times and some of its inhabitants have been pretty high profile. for instance, marc chagall lived there, and was inspired to paint the piece you see above, entitled "sun over saint-paul de vence".

the eye shadow palette that takes its name actually shares some tones with the chagall painting, being a combination of shimmery peach and orange-brown, like his sun-drenched sky. i think that part of my confusion with "dolomites" came from the fact that they are, in some ways, fairly similar. the colours are different, but the textures and finishes of the shades is similar. it's like "st. paul de vence" is "dolomites'" lighter, cheerier cousin.

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