A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for December 2009

[PHOTO] Bell ExpressVu @ home

Bell ExpressVu @ home
Originally uploaded by rfmcdpei

Written by Randy McDonald

December 30, 2009 at 2:07 am

Posted in Assorted

[LINK] “Network effects”

Doug Saunders at Twitter linked to this article from the Economist examining the impact of the telegraph on journalism in the mid-19th century. The newspaper survived, amazingly enough.

CHANGE is in the air. A new communications technology threatens a dramatic upheaval in America’s newspaper industry, overturning the status quo and disrupting the business model that has served the industry for years. This “great revolution”, warns one editor, will mean that some publications “must submit to destiny, and go out of existence.” With many American papers declaring bankruptcy in the past few months, their readers and advertisers lured away by cheaper alternatives on the internet, this doom-laden prediction sounds familiar. But it was in fact made in May 1845, when the revolutionary technology of the day was not the internet—but the electric telegraph.

It was only a year earlier, in May 1844, that Samuel Morse had connected Washington, DC, and Baltimore by wire and sent the first official message, in dots and dashes: “WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT”. The second message sent down Morse’s line was of more practical value, however: “HAVE YOU ANY NEWS”. (There was no question-mark in Morse’s original alphabet.) As a network of wires spread across the country, referred to as “the great highway of thought” by one contemporary observer, it was obvious that this new technology was going to have a huge impact on the newspaper industry. But would the telegraph be friend or foe?

James Gordon Bennett, the editor of the New York Herald and author of the gloomy prediction of May 1845, concluded that the telegraph would put many newspapers out of business. “In regard to the newspaper press, it will experience to a degree, that must in a vast number of cases be fatal, the effects of the new mode of circulating intelligence,” he wrote. He returned to his theme in another editorial in July. “All those papers which serve merely as vehicles of intelligence will be destroyed,” he declared. “The scissors-and-paste journalism of the country will be annihilated.”

The newspaper did survive, since it served as a convenient distribution method for the news, adapting quickly enough to the timely arrival of news from all points. “The telegraph was first seen as a threat to papers, but was then co-opted and turned to their advantage.”

Today, papers are doing their best to co-opt the internet. They have launched online editions, set up blogs and encouraged dialogue with readers. Like the telegraph, the internet has changed the style of reporting and forced papers to be more timely and accurate, and politicians to be more consistent. Again there is talk of news being commoditised and of the need to focus on analysis and opinion, or on a narrow subject area. And again there are predictions of the death of the newspaper, with hand-wringing about the implications for democracy if fewer publications exist to challenge those in authority or expose wrongdoing.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 29, 2009 at 9:26 pm

[LINK] “Canadian recession a ‘Made in the U.S.A.’ phenomenon; report”

According to the the Canadian Press, Canada’s recession is the United States’ fault.

Dale Orr Economic Insight says the Canadian domestic economy largely stood still during the 2008-2009 slump that shaved $100 billion from where economic output would have been.

That is precisely the loss in the value of exports from where they would have been had the economy continued to chug along at a stable 2.7-per-cent rate of growth that preceded the downturn.

Economist Dale Orr says since most of those exports would have been bound for the U.S., the recession was mostly a “Made in the U.S.A.” phenomenon.

Although Orr says all provinces fell into recession, the downturn impacted Ontario and Newfoundland the most.

The hit to Canada’s most populous province was so severe that it elevated Saskatchewan into second place in terms of standard of living, past Ontario and behind Alberta.

Orr says the standard of living of residents of Saskatchewan, as measured in terms of per capital gross domestic product, rose to 104 per cent of the Canadian average, past Ontario, which fell to 103 per cent of the national average.

The report in question is here. In it, he makes the interesting point that the recession has been least severe in Québec, partly because of an industrial structure less vulnerable to the American recession (aerospace, not autos), perhaps also–when talking about GDP per capita–because of the province’s relatively lower rate of population growth.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 29, 2009 at 9:18 pm

[LINK] “NFB downloads a hit outside Canada”

I’m sure that people my age remember National Film Board of Canada short animations like the “Log-Driver’s Waltz.”

The Globe and Mail reports that the National Film Board is apparently becoming a bit of an international success.

The National Film Board of Canada’s new iPhone application has proven to be a hit beyond this country’s borders, with 40 per cent more people downloading NFB content from abroad than in Canada.

Since its launch on Oct. 21, there have been nearly 80,000 downloads internationally and just over 56,000 in Canada from people seeking out the NFB’s documentaries and animation. Among the top five plays on the iPhone are The Cat Came Back, Canada Vignettes: Log Driver’s Waltz and HA-Aki.

The iPhone app is just one of the international successes recorded in the 70th anniversary year of the NFB, the national producer and distributor of films, documentaries, animation and shorts.

Besides looking back at its fabled past, chair Tom Perlmutter said the NFB continued its efforts to position itself solidly in the future by exploring new markets.

[. . .]

“The National Film Board, especially with their online offerings, is a really easy and accessible way to tell our stories not only to Canadians but internationally as well,” said Stephanie Rea, a spokeswoman for Heritage Minister James Moore.

NFB.ca, the board’s retooled Web site, has had almost three million views since it launched a year ago. About 1,700 of the NFB’s 13,000 productions are online and more are constantly being added.

Ms. Rea said Mr. Moore often praised the board and considered it “a great way to show off Canadian talent and Canadian content around the world.”

Norm Bolen, the president of the Canadian Film and Television Production Association, said Canadians don’t really appreciate how highly regarded the NFB is abroad and how much it is regarded as “a real player in the international marketplace and (as) a model for other countries.”

I ask my international readers, is Canada’s model of government production and distribution of Canadian filmic works a model for other countries?

Written by Randy McDonald

December 29, 2009 at 11:03 am

Posted in Assorted

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[META] Blogroll Addition

I’ve added Mark Graham’s Zero Geography to the blogroll. Zero Geography has a lot of interesting posts on the ways in which human geography interaqcts with electronic geography, for instance in noting how the Czech- and Portuguese-language versions of Wikipedia concentrate very heavily on Czech and Lusophone content (the English and German Wikipedias, by his estimation, are the only ones which transcend language boundaries).

Written by Randy McDonald

December 29, 2009 at 10:42 am

[LINK] Some Tuesday links

For obvious reasons, I wasn’t doing an extended links post on Christmas Day.

  • Andrew Barton suggests that human genetic engineering might start off by offering parents the chance to increase their progeny’s height.
  • Laura Agustin writes about how some male sex workers in Kenya want, need, HIV education but are afraid of getting it openly for fear that they might be found out by homophobic neighbours.
  • Daniel Drezner work on Iran. Targeted sanctions could send the message that the West would still want to deal with the government, general sanctions could help trigger regime change but aren’t likely too given how Iran’s major trading partners aren’t likely to join in, and who knows who things will go?
  • The Global Sociology blog is unimpressed by the Facebook campaign that saw rage Against the Machine take the #1 position on the UK’s Christmas music charts. “A virtual flash mob does not a social movement make.”
  • Language Log’s Mark Liberman writes about how users of standard English (whatever the standard may be) have made fun of speakers of non-standard English, from the 17th century through Dickens up to Sarah Palin.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer wonders whether Rwanda, in the course of its years-long occupation of large swathes of the Democratic Republic of Congo, did profit from looting the territory after all.
  • Scott Peterson at Wasatch Economics suggests that New Zealand might follow the United States in making very significant deep-water finds of oil and natural gas.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 29, 2009 at 10:37 am

[PHOTO] Front yard trellis

Front yard trellis
Originally uploaded by rfmcdpei

I snapped a picture of this trellis at the beginning of the month. I’ve seen these trellises before in my neighbourhood, but these skeletons for vines–grape vines usually–have usually been hiding in back yards, not on the street.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 29, 2009 at 10:14 am

Posted in Assorted

[DM] “On how migrants from Sichuan will help complicate China’s economic growth”

I’ve a post up at Demography Matters taking a look at how the rapid aging of the Chinese population as a whole will be complicated by the migration of millions from the interior to the coasts, at once helping the rich coast sustain its economic model while making things all the more dire in the interior.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 28, 2009 at 10:26 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] On the mainstreaming of gay politicians in Canada

John Lorinc’s Globe and Mail article on the emergence of out politicians in Canada is worth reading in full. Unfortunately, most of it is behind the paper’s subscription firewall.

When Toronto mayoral candidate George Smitherman kissed his spouse, Christopher Peloso, before a bank of cameras this week, he announced his campaign with a public display of affection normally reserved for heterosexual candidates and their spouses.

The gesture may have appeared casual, but it signalled two things to Canadians: that same-sex marriage is becoming an acceptable part of the country’s social and political geography and that being openly gay is no longer a liability for politicians. As David Rayside, a University of Toronto professor of political science and sexual diversity, notes, “Visibility counts.”

Mr. Smitherman will be getting a whole lot more visibility during the next year as he seeks to become the first gay mayor of Canada’s largest city. And he may not be the only candidate reaching for that goal: He will probably be challenged by another openly gay politician, Glen Murray. The two-term former mayor of Winnipeg has not yet formally announced his candidacy, but he has acknowledged that he is considering joining the race.

Their opponent, in turn, will almost certainly be businessman and radio host John Tory, a socially progressive conservative who once lost a hard-fought provincial riding race to another openly gay candidate, Kathleen Wynne.

As a one-time health minister, Mr. Smitherman, 44, will certainly face far more questions about his role in the eHealth Ontario scandal than about his sexual orientation. That’s as it should be. Few Torontonians – or Vancouverites or Montrealers – would be surprised to learn that lifestyle is no longer an issue in local politics. But are Canadians outside large urban centres – especially those in small towns or rural areas – prepared to elect openly gay politicians to top leadership roles, such as premier or prime minister?

Pollster Michael Adams, who tracks social values in Canada, says sexual orientation isn’t an issue. “We’re at the point where we’re past it,” he says. “There are groups whose cultural differences are more controversial than being gay.”

The previously mentioned Scott Brison, out since 2002, made bids for the Progressive Conservative party leadership in 2003 and for the Liberal Party leadership in 2006. In both campaigns, his sexual orientation wasn’t an issue, at least not openly. Television coemdian Rick Mercer suggests in his 2003 interview of Brison that his Nova Scotianness was the problem.

Lorinc does conclude by noting that some of the more prominent gay politicians, like Liberal George Smitherman in Ontario and John Baird for the Conservatives in Ottawa, have become prominent through their aggressiveness: the two men were loud enforcers for their governments, known for being aggressive and constantly on the offensive. Might there be parallels with the way that the first crop of female national leaders–Indira Gandhi and Margaret Thatcher, say–were notable for their hard-headedness and aggressiveness? If gay politicians now, like female politicians a couple of decades ago, have to be aggressive in order to be taken seriously, contrary to Lorinc’s assertion there’s still a way to go.

“What are things like in your countries,” I ask my readers.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 28, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Posted in Assorted

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[LINK] Three space science links

  • The first link from Centauri Dreams describes how astronomers have found fairly Earth-like planets orbiting fairly close Sun-like stars, 61 Virginis (Wikipedia, Sol Station) and HD 1461, and what might be a Sun-like planetary system at 23 Librae. It’s only a matter of time until a truly Earth-like world is found, and it may be found from the ground or from space.
  • The second Centauri Dreams link considers whether or not astronomers could detect Earth-like moons of gas giants. The answer, unsurprisingly, is that they can, and that it would be easier to detect these moons orbiting gas giants in the habitable zones of dim red dwarf stars.
  • Finally, Will Baird links to reports that astronomers have located two brown dwarfs–objects caught in the gap between Jupiter-like worlds and very dim stars orbiting a very young and massive star nearing the end of its life. If planets can form in the relatively short time that a large star will remain stable, they may be able to form anywhere.

I’m amazed by the speed with which astronomers are building up a detailed map of our interstellar neighbourhood. To think that, once upon a time, science-fiction writers imagined that starships would have to venture to nearby stars to see what worlds could be found there. It now looks like, if anything, any such starships would just be doing follow-up work, filling in the details.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 28, 2009 at 6:06 pm