Vancouver rain

It certainly rains a lot in North America's Pacific Northwest. From a climatic perspective, starting in Northern California and moving up the coast of British Columbia to Alaska, the prevailing conditions are those of a temperate rainforest.  While the summer months are usually drier, most of the year the rains come steadily.  This results in luscious vegetation and tall tree cover. The forests are full of moss, and new saplings grow easily from the trunks of trees long dead. Things just seem to grow anywhere and everywhere and the earth is in a constant state of renewal.

While these growing conditions are perfect for plants, the constant precipitation can make humans rather gloomy. Regan D'Andrade, a Vancouver writer and teacher, wrote about this a few years ago. Her little essay was inscribed on a rock at Kits Point, overlooking English Bay.  Her words are worth sharing. The inscription reads:

"Vancouver is famous for its rain. It can rain here for weeks on end, but it does not usually bother me. However, several years ago I found myself coming close to being thoroughly disgusted with the rain.

"I walked home one evening in the pouring rain, mumbling under my breath the whole way that this weather was only suited for ducks. The building I lived in was large and square, and it surrounded a brick courtyard. I came around the corner into the courtyard and there, to my amazement, was a beautiful Peking duck, in a huge puddle in the middle of the courtyard, quacking and splashing with obvious delight. I had to smile, glad that such joy could be found in the grey wetness of such a day.

"I have often thought that we do not have nearly enough words for rain, especially as this was once a rainforest. There is booming rain, whispery rain, rain that lulls you to sleep, and rain on the leaves which sings you awake; there is soft rain, hard rain, sideways rain, rain that makes you instantly wet, and rain that leaves soft kisses on your cheek, like the kiss of a butterfly.

"Rain brings us all the shades of gray, but it also brings us the wonderful greenery that surrounds us and blesses us."

Related posts:

Venice in the rain
Ottawa rain and a storyteller from the past (Hemingway)
Toronto evening

Military drones

At the outbreak of the First World War,  Italian General Giulio Douhet wrote that when a force gains command of the air it has the ability to render an enemy harmless.  It became one of the pillars of aerial strategy. Through many conflicts past and present, that concept has continued to evolve.

We've all read accounts of the military use of drone aircraft in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Currently, the United States has approximately 300 of these unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) in operation. They have been so successful that they represent the fastest growing fleet of aircraft in the arsenal.

The Air Force is now testing a bigger, more advanced aircraft with the aim of establishing another first:  building an unmanned attack vehicle capable of landing and taking off from the crowded, pitching decks of aircraft carriers.

The Northrop Grumman X-47B is the sleek plane in question, and it has already flown from desert bases. It is now being prepared for testing on carriers.  You can see photos of the aircraft in this Smithsonian Air and Space magazine article.  Some pilots are not happy about this development, but others see the advantages.

Meanwhile the Predator and Reaper drones used by the military continue to record hours of covert video images. The material collected so far is so voluminous that the armed services cannot keep up with all the information.  The New York Times explained the situation last year in an article entitled Military Is Awash In Data From Drones.  With so much information, no one in the intelligence field is likely to be questioning the benefits of these flying robots anytime soon.

The desire to control the skies continues to push us into new territory.

Related post:
Two new planes on the frontiers of civil aviation

Innovative journalism in a digital world

One of the wonders of digital media is its potential to change the way we share information.  For journalists and educators, it's opening up a whole range of interesting possibilities.

A good example is The Guardian newspaper's interactive timeline of the Arab Spring uprisings. The Guardian's detailed graphic tracks events in seventeen North African and Middle Eastern countries, from Algeria to Yemen, along a timeline that began on January 9, 2011, with the first protests in Tunisia. Each country is listed on the bottom of the graph, with a a path moving forward toward the horizon. The "map" has roll-over icons of different colours representing different types of events: protests,  political moves, regime change, and international or external responses.  A  slider device allows you to move forward and backward in time by clicking on it and moving your mouse up or down. Links are supplied to newspaper articles. It's an ingenious, comprehensive tool that has attracted the attention of web surfers.  You can see it here:

Another innovative site is the online home of the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan group that uses the internet to push for government transparency. It does so by bringing together some impressive data-management tools.  One example is "Poligraft," which scours an article or a web site for information related to points of influence connecting key people featured in a story.  The article is presented on the left side of the page, while the data filter presents a report in a companion column to the right. It shows, for example, aggregated financial contributions by associations to a particular cause or their support for particular politicians.  I tested it by pasting the web address of a Globe and Mail newspaper article about two Toyota plants in Canada. In seconds the right hand column produced a report that highlighted references to General Motors and Chrysler and outlined their relative contributions to the American Democratic and Republican parties in pie chart form.

The Sunlight Foundation shows you how the tool works here:

Another innovator is Common Craft, a company founded by a Seattle-area couple.  Common Craft presents complex ideas in easy-to-understand cartoon videos.  Here's an example that explains how the U.S. presidential elections work:

Designer Jonathan Jarvis shows another fine use of internet video in explaining the U.S. credit crisis. It was part of his thesis for the Media Design Program at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California.

These innovators show us the great possibilities for digital media and global networks to provide a better understanding of complex issues and the easy dissemination of public information. What a wonderful time it is to be journalist or an educator...