Saturday, July 31, 2010

Biking Perks

There aren't a lot of biking perks beyond the intrinsic benefits - the exercise, the fresh air, seeing more because you're going slower, being able to easily stop and say hi to friends and strangers, and knowing you're saving gas and not polluting, to name a few.  There are nice bike trails through the woods and more bike racks here and there, but mostly bikes are an afterthought and cars are the first thought.  For instance, there's construction on 36th and this sign for car drivers is put right in the middle of the sidewalk in the way of any cyclist trying to keep out of cars' way by staying out of the street.  Pedestrians and cyclists really don't matter to these folks.  Not only do are they blocking the road - necessarily I'm assuming to do the work - but they are blocking the sidewalk clearly unnecessarily because they just don't consider people on the sidewalks. 

But there are perks.  As I rode to the courthouse on Friday, a group of people were near the path waving for me to stop.  I assumed there must be a moose on the path, but no, the Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage were serving free coffee and muffins to people commuting to work by bike. 

Friday, July 30, 2010

Euphemism Alert!! What the hell is "Lack of Situational Awareness"?

An AP story by Becky Bohrer in Thursday's ADN on an internal Alyeska Pipeline report repeatedly featured the term 'situational awareness.' This was not a term I'd heard before.

Merriam Webster's online dictionary defines a euphemism as:
the substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant.
So what was the unpleasant or offensive term they were avoiding?  Let's see if we can tell from the context.     
The operator of the 800-mile trans-Alaska pipeline system said Wednesday that an internal company review found that power failure and lack of "situational awareness" contributed to a contained oil spill in May. . .

At least Bohrer had the good sense to put quotes around the term if only this first time.  So, an oil spill was caused by
  1. a power outage and 
  2. lack of situational awareness. 
Hmmm, it sounds innocuous enough, except that they blame it in part for the spill. And they're using this euphemism because the true words wouldn't sound too good. 

[Michelle] Egan [a spokeswoman for Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.] said that lessons learned, including a need for greater situational awareness, are being put into practice during scheduled maintenance shutdowns of the line this summer.
But how can you have more of it if you don't know what it is?  And shouldn't they be doing this all the time, not just for scheduled maintenance shutdowns?

But she said another big issue was that workers were so focused on restoring power, they "didn't have the situational awareness to anticipate the tank filling and overflowing."
So, they should have anticipated - thought ahead, been prepared, paid attention, planned. I'd guess this can be interpreted as, "while everyone was trying to get the power on, no one was paying attention to what else was happening." Or possibly even, "Everyone was running around like chickens with their heads cut off."

I know that in emergency planning you're supposed to anticipate all the things that can go wrong and at the very least, have a plan for what each member of the response team is going to be responsible for.  Doesn't sound like any of that happened.   

Then there were a couple of uses of the word 'aware' by itself.
The company has taken steps to avoid a repeat in the future, she said, making workers aware of the need to be cognizant of their surroundings -- and possible, or likely, situations that may arise -- and having plans for specific training. The lessons are already being put into practice, she said.
Wikipedia defines cognizant as, (are you ready?) 'aware.'  So basically this says,  "making workers aware of the need to be aware." (To be fair, Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines it as "knowledgeable of something especially through personal experience; mindful"  BUT they give the synonym as 'aware.')

So, is she saying that Alyeska now has plans for specific training, but didn't in the past?  All these years and they didn't have training for things like this?  Gives you a lot of confidence in the private sector doesn't it?  We really need to shrink government so the private sector can do its thing. (Sorry, couldn't help myself there.)
During the first scheduled maintenance shutdown of the summer season, she said, there was an extra person in the control room whose sole purpose was to monitor the entire system -- staying out of the maintenance work at hand to be aware of what else might be going on.
So, are they saying here that when the spill happened no one was in charge?  No one was keeping track of the bigger picture?

At What Do I Know? we strive to always be situationally aware, though we've never described it as such.  Basically we've talked about paying attention or looking at the bigger picture.   When I was a Boy Scout it was being prepared.

And, of course, I wouldn't be doing my job here if I didn't check out whether others have used this term.  Wikipedia assures us that they have.
Situation awareness, or SA, is the perception of environmental elements within a volume of time and space, the comprehension of their meaning, and the projection of their status in the near future. It is also a field of study concerned with perception of the environment critical to decision-makers in complex, dynamic areas from aviation, air traffic control, power plant operations, military command and control, and emergency services such as fire fighting and policing; to more ordinary but nevertheless complex tasks such as driving an automobile or motorcycle.              [I added the emphasis at the end because most people couldn't possibly make it through the whole quote awake.]
One way that consultants make money is by creating new names for old practices.  That way they can call themselves, say, "Situational Awareness" experts and charge a lot of money for something that people should already know and be doing.

After all,  did you have situational awareness training before you got your driver's license? (Yes, go back and look at the end of the last quote if this doesn't make sense.) Actually, if you had decent drivers training  and read the drivers manual, you had the equivalent of what they are calling situational awareness training. (Drivers ed was a required class when I was in high school and there was an additional two week class where we actually drove around on the streets, including on the freeway.)

The Wikipedia definition hasn't been checked for neutrality and some of the comments on the Wikipedia talk site on SA echo my comments about this being old wine in a new bottle:
Situational awareness has been a preoccupation of performance improvement mthodologies [sic] for more than 2000 years (that we know of). It has been viewed as the core and basis of full and effective functioning.
 One of the deepest logical critiques of "SA" is that it is unnecessary. The philosopher Daniel Dennett might call it "folk psychology," meaning that it is a repackaging of existing concepts under a new name, one that just happens to resonate with "the folk" within a given domain (e.g., the military). To Dennett, this is fine, as long as "the folk" clearly understand that a given term is being used as a proxy for a preexisting set of understandings. . .
A second, equally weighty critique states that "SA" can never truly be objectively defined. In the terminology of MacCorquodale and Meehl, it is a hypothetical construct" that is being inappropriately elevated to the status of an "intervening variable". An example of an intervening variable is voltage, which can be directly measured by a voltmeter. No such "SA meter" exists, or is likely to ever exist. Yet, SA is widely touted as being objectively measurable, e.g., by paper-and-pencil testing. Of course, the same argument can be made of other concepts (e.g., IQ). The difference would be the extent of research which has gone into the latter, versus the former.PrairieOjibway (talk) 01:20, 23 March 2009 (UTC) - what appears to be a consulting firm that specializes in SA for international affairs - discusses SA.  Included is this piece which gives us a clue to what lack of SA might be and why Alyeska might want to find a euphemism:
An important element of this mindset is first coming to the realization that a threat exists. Ignorance or denial of a threat — or completely tuning out to one’s surroundings while in a public place — makes a person’s chances of quickly recognizing the threat and avoiding it slim to none. This is why apathy, denial and complacency are so deadly. [emphasis added]

So, essentially, Alyeska's "lack of situational awareness" means that through apathy, denial, complacency, lack of planning, and lack of leadership they totally screwed up.  It was important enough that they mentioned it in their not-for-public-consumption review of the spill, but they needed a much more genteel way of saying  "we fucked up." 

Note for my readers who expect this blog to use only family friendly language.  Sometimes there is no other word that conveys the meaning intended.  Then, and only then, do I use it.  If anyone has a better term, let me know.

Weyhrauch Hearing Vacates September Trial Date

U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska
Court Calendar for Friday, July 30, 2010
8:00 AM 3:07-cr-00056-02-JWS Judge Sedwick ANCHORAGE COURTROOM 3
(Karen Loeffler) (Douglas Pope)
(Kevin Feldis) (Ray R. Brown)
(James M. Trusty)
(Kevin R. Gingras)
(M. Kendall Day
(Marc Elliot Levin)

(Peter M. Koski)

8:02 am 


Judge Sedwick:  Has SC mandate been issued?  When due?  What do you think 9th circuit to rule?

Kendall Day (Prosecutor):  [Began explaining the issues and was interrupted by Judge
Sedwick, "I just asked if you knew when, not the issues.  And Day said he didn't know.]

Douglas Pope (Weyhrauch's attorney):  A couple of months, minimum.  Who knows but 2 months minimum and then there could be a petition for rehearing.

Sedwick:  I think minimum of 6 weeks, plus. . .  I don't know that we can meet in September.  Not worth meeting until 9th Circuit rules.

Day:  The court will be  able to proceed more expeditiously if some of the ancillary issues are resolved before.

Sedwick:  I'm sure you can work things out beforehand.  My order for this morning is Sept. 13th date is vacated and will set a date as soon as possible.

The courtroom was pretty much empty.  There were three other media folks, Rick Smith's attorney (or so I was told but I didn't recognize him), and then a man and a woman who turned out to be FBI agents who sat with the Prosecutor.  I was trying to match the names on the court list - I knew Karen Loefler wasn't there - with the people at the Prosecutor's table and couldn't.  So after I went up to the man and woman who'd been sitting with the prosecutor and introduced myself as a blogger and asked who they each were.  The man responded with mild derision in his voice, "I'm not telling a blogger who I am.  Ask the attorney."

I introduced myself to the attorney who identified himself, very politely, as Kendall Day and the other two as FBI agents.  I normally wouldn't put this sort of trivia down. On the surface, it wasn't a big deal, but it seems to me that FBI agents should treat people politely, as individuals not as members of a class, until they have justification to act otherwise.

Maybe we should create a new term here:  media profiling. 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Interesting Google Searches

I haven't done a post on interesting (strange?) google searches for a while. I got too busy with other things to keep up with them. But once in a while a saw one I felt the need to capture for posterity. So, here they are.

skype sex during deployment - - went to a post on a legislative committee talking about child custody during deployment which mentioned skype as a way deployed military could talk to their kids.

can you buy prostitutes at the ch2m man camp in north slope alaska - This man (I know, I'm assuming again) got to a post about CH2M Hill Corruption in Ohio.  Probably he meant a different kind of prostitute.

what do americans call rape seed -

This one was a perfect bull's eye. It went to a post called, are you ready, "What Do Americans call rapeseed?" 

outer space tables fastende to the grround I'm afraid I didn't note where this one ended up. Anyone want to take a shot at what he was after?

what to do in a day to be an interesting person - this got to a post called Interesting People and Events at UAA. I hope it was helpful, but don't know it was what this person from New Zealand was looking for.

black and tan flesh eating beetles- Last time I did a Search post like this I had along list of different ways people got to the post Tiny Black Bugs -  Fruit Flies or Fungus Gnats?  But none were as colorful as this one.  I also have lots of hits that go to  Brown Bug. It would seem a lot of people are experiencing the natural world in the form of bugs.

what can i send in the mail to my husband in alaska 2010 - This one just got to the blog, no special post. Don't think she found what she was looking for.

steven nannas arms guns manufacture
- I think Google is trying too hard to have hits. What Do I Know? comes up #1 out of 45,000 hits, with this:

What Do I Know?
Apr 15, 2010 ... I apologize Steve. I was lost in the moment and am trying to get a grip on myself as .... NANA/TECK Contract Lobbyist; annual fee $20000.00 ... - 9 hours ago - Similar
This is pretty slim pickins. Why even bother?

how much money do you get for setting up residency in alaska
- This New Zealand based surfer got to a post on this year's PFD application deadline.  Others have asked the same question. 

parkinson's disease billboard omaha -  This went to a picture from a post about a fire prevention billboard in Thailand.  Not exactly what the searcher was looking for.  So why did this post show up? Because I have a link to a Parkinsons blog and some posts about Omaha. So I had all the words somewhere on the blog.  Just not in one post.  But this was an image search, so the person must have clicked to enlarge the photo.  Probably because it was too small to read and he thought it might be about Parkinsons and in Omaha.  By the way, google's new image search results are a huge improvement over the old way. 

who is the old bald guy with black glasses that soes sis flags commercils? - This person got to a post on Jehovah's Witnesses.  

what does 38 one hundredths look like How about 38/100?  But instead they got Claude Lévi-Strauss One Hundredth Anniversary. 

For the record, I had the  first visitor that I've noticed the other day from Bhutan.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sorry, I'm Thinking Rather than Blogging

It seems I could post something of interest here at least daily.  But I'm having trouble posting.  I've decided it's because I have other projects which require the sort of thinking that normally goes into blogging.  Which made me realize how much thinking time I put into blogging.  It became obvious when I started posts, but don't finish them because they need more work but I need that time for other things I've committed to do.

For example,  I'm reviewing a manuscript for a journal.  I've got other personal housekeeping issues that need attention.  (I'm not talking about things like the howling pipes we've been hearing in the house at strange times.  The plumber came this morning and wasn't sure - he never got to hear it - but there was a faucet that wasn't supposed to be closed down and so maybe that was the cause.  We'll see.)  And some volunteer work to organize that isn't too difficult, but does require some concentrated thinking time.

How much time do you spend really thinking?  Not reading the product of someone else's  thinking, but pushing past your habitual stories about how the world works until you see patterns or meaning that eluded you before?  That change how you understand something, and perhaps even how you will behave? 

You simply can't do that when you are interrupted every few minutes by messages, calls, children, the radio talking, etc.  It requires finding a space where you are cut off from the rest of the world and just sit and concentrate and work through things.  What hideouts do you have where you can think? 

When I go for a run, my brain gets freed to sort through all the junk that's accumulated.  Unplugging my computer and finding another spot to write is another way I can block out normal interruptions.  It helps if there is no wifi available, but just being unplugged and somewhere different is good enough.  Knowing that the battery is running down so I have to stay on task is helpful. 

So, back to the manuscript.  My comments are due today, though I did tell them I needed a little more time when I accepted the assignment. 

Shut off your computer and think.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dreaming Through Inception

I'd overheard a bit of Dicaprio talking about Inception - something about knowing what is real and what isn't.  Then a friend strongly recommended the movie, especially considering that this blog sometimes addresses the question What is Real?  

We saw it last night and I didn't think I'd post about it since its treatment of what is real seemed pretty superficial.  This was not the Matrix by any stretch.  But today there are a couple of NY Times articles on nightmares. (Guiding Your Sleep While You’re Awake
and Following a Script to Change a Nightmare).  The movie Inception mostly takes place in people's dreams and  both pre-dream guiding goes on and in dream script following occurs.

The movie is NOT a must see I'm afraid.  It carried on its conceits far longer than I needed and managed to slip in various cliche Hollywood action such as car chases and explosions.  The main idea was slim and lots of suspension of disbelief is required.  There's also a fair amount of head scratching.

That said, it did engage me to the extent that when we walked for dinner afterward we did continue discussing the movie and its various feints and sleights, and  made lame jokes about what level of dreaming we were currently in. But ultimately none of us felt we'd gotten any great insights and we agreed it went on far too long.

The two New York Times articles linked above are much more worth one's time if you want to know something about dreaming and they both also reference the movie Inception. 

If you got this far, you'll notice I gave virtually nothing away, nor did the movie inspire me to pursue some theme or idea raised.  Despite the hype, this is Hollywood entertainment, not the kind of movie that raises important issues.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Anchorage Garden Club Annual Tour Glimpse

Today was the Anchorage Garden Club's tour of gardens.  This is always a chance to get new ideas, but most importantly a not so gentle reminder to get working in the garden.  There's always at least one garden that makes it all worthwhile.  This time there were a number of gardens that I enjoyed. 

I think this first one was my favorite because of an overall combination of things:  probably the widest variety of plants; a number of spectacular individual flowers; while only about three years old, it looked fairly established;  names of many of the plants.

Look at how amazing the flowers are.  The first two are both red bee balm.

I think the bright red splashes in this second picture come out of those little buds in the previous picture.  This second plant is a further along. 


Dinner Plate Dahlia

Dinner Plate Dahlia Bud Opening

This is Jean Simmons, the gardener responsible for all the flowers above.

Jean's house was the lone South Anchorage location on the tour.  Then we went to see the cluster of four gardens in and around Bootlegger's Cove.

We were told this one is a bristlecone pine. That got our attention. From blueplanetbiomes:
If you could imagine a living tree as old as the pyramids of Egypt, what do you think it would look like? It would look like a bristlecone pine, Pinus longaeva,the oldest known tree species in the world.

The bristlecone pine only lives in scattered, arid mountain regions of six western states of America, but the oldest are found in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains of California. There the pines exist in an exposed, windswept, harsh environment, free of competition from other plants and the ravages of insects and disease. The oldest bristlecones usually grow at elevations of 10,000 to 11,000 feet.

The oldest known tree is "Methuselah", which is 4,789 years old. . .
 As you can see, it is thriving in Anchorage, and it could have another 4,000 years to live.

I'm a sucker for birch bark and this tree was special.  I should have asked, because I couldn't get a definitive answer online.  Wikipedia lists some 15 North American birch species and 18 European and Asian species.

The bristlecone is the tree in the middle of the photo below, its top reaching the bottom of the big window.  The birch is on the right, and the tall skinny tree on the left is a poplar, I believe she said it was Scandanavian.

The newspaper clearly said to leave dogs and strollers at home.  That makes sense.  But the friend we went with was dog sitting and had the dog in the car.  But there were four houses nearby and we decided to walk around the neighborhood;  we'd just keep the dog out on the sidewalk.  When we got to the house on the left, the owner insisted we could take the Daisy around.   (She had her own dog with her in the driveway.)

As luck would have it, the President of the Garden Club happened to be visiting this garden and saw the dog in the back and let us know dogs and children were not supposed to be there.  (The paper only said strollers, not children.)  We assured her that was our intention, but that the owner insisted we take her rather than have one of us wait with her in front.  The owner didn't even know the President was there.  It was all worked out amiably.  Life is full of little surprises.

Trailer Park Foreclosure Sale Update

[Update July 26:  Mark Romick at Alaska Housing called this morning and says there has been discussion of doing this sort of thing.  He checked it out with google street view as we talked and promised to call Northrim Bank.  Obviously, there are lots of obstacles, but it's not impossible.]

About ten days ago I posted that Northrim Bank was selling a whole trailer park it had foreclosed on.  I mused about finding a way to work out funding for the residents to be able to buy it and make it into a trailer condo park.  One commenter said this had been done on Bainbridge Island, Washington where there is very little affordable housing.

So I called Northrim Bank after the sale to find out who bought it, for how much, and what they planned to do with it.  Turns out it wasn't sold and they will have another sale July 29.  And if my calculations in the original post were correct, the current tenants would probably pay less in mortgage payments than they pay now in rent. 

I've called the Alaska Housing Authority and Cook Inlet Housing Authority but neither has returned my call.  Anyone got $850,000 they want to invest in what ought to be a reasonable return and a good cause?

Film Workshop Fun

I went to a film workshop Saturday.  I thought it might be useful to sit in with a real filmmaker and possibly learn something or be reminded of something I'd forgotten that would help with my photos and video for the blog. 

Local filmmaker Bob Curtis-Johnson led the eight hour workshop and there were two things that were particularly helpful.  First was the section on lighting where we got to do some experimenting with different lighting - natural and artificial. 

That's Bob in the middle.  Because I'm basically lazy and cheap, I have embraced a philosophy of natural lighting, not flash, except in extreme circumstances.  And a lot of flash simply lights up the subject, but destroys the natural sense of the scene.

But more sophisticated lighting like these lamps and reflecting boards can dramatically improve the lighting. 

So we spent time trying out different things to see how it affected the images.

The other thing I particularly liked was the mix of people in the group.  We went from high school students to a local sound engineer to a retired guy.  Each was doing different things with film and brought up issues that were of interest. 

We also spent a fair amount of time looking at short videos and then taking them apart to see how different effects were achieved - through lighting, sound, cuts, etc. 

I originally met Bob when my daughter got involved in his Throwdowns, known as Bobs Shorts- challenges to make a film in specific time period, like three weeks.  One is being planned in the near future, but the date hasn't been established. 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Happy Birthday Monica, Alex, and Ropi

I know three others who have birthdays today and I want to wish them a great day.

Does this last birthday card translate across cultures?  In the US we can make a wish on a dandelion and then if you blow all the seeds off, the wish is supposed to come true.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Vegies and Good Neighbors

Yesterday I picked up our box of vegies and fruits from full circle farm.  It's a combination of a little bit of many different things, including things we don't usually get.  So yesterday I was online looking up turnip recipes.  We ended up with one called Red Kidney Beans with Turnips.

 We're going to have to talk to them about recycling the boxes though. 

Also that day, our neighbor came by with a jar of pickled green beans he made.  He uses them for martinis, but I've been eating them straight out of the jar.

The Human Toll From Our National Obsession and Ignorance about Sexuality

What is it about our inability as a nation to deal with sex in an adult way?  Despite the excessive use of sex in marketing of nearly every product, many US citizens aren't able to talk frankly, with knowledge, and without embarrassment about sexuality.

One side effect is politicians (we'll leave other professions for another day)  disgraced by the public disclosure of their sexual conduct.  Because of our cultural obsession with publicly denying real human sexuality in favor of  happily ever after fairy tales, these politicians  resort to twisted lies (from Clinton's "I didn't have sex with that woman" to South Carolina's Gov. Sanford's Appalachian trail story) rather than tell the truth.   In most cases, the deception becomes more problematic than the behavior.  

Here's an example from,  until recently, closeted gay California Republican state senator Roy Ashburn, who, apparently to cover his own sexuality, has voted his whole career against the rights of GLBT citizens. 
The following is a guest commentary by Sen. Roy Ashburn

Startled by the blurry reality of a red light glaring in my rear-view mirror at 2 am on the morning of March, 4, 2010, I knew my life was about to change.  The California Highway Patrol stopped me as I was driving drunk after leaving a gay club in Sacramento, California’s capital.   With my arrest and the media inquiry that followed, my deeply-held secret was no longer my own business.  My private life as a closeted gay man was now the public’s business, and I had a lot of explaining to do. [You can read the rest of the commentary by this 26 year Republican politician at GayPolitics which I found through BentAlaska.]
While his apology (you have to click on the link to get the whole thing) is welcomed by all who believe in equal rights, it only came after he was outed.  

The internet has made knowledge about sexuality and all its myriad variations (sort of like all the different flowers and birds and bugs in nature) much more accessible, and possibly more of our population has a more realistic picture of human sexuality than my generation grew up with.  But on the one hand,  the many misogynist lyrics and movies suggest  a lot of people may know more mechanics of sex than about the art of relationships.  On the other hand the denial of the many faces of human sexuality, most often by religious zealots,  suggests ignorance is thriving too.  Somewhere in the middle there must be a healthy mental and physical balance.

Fortunately, people like Dan Savage offer accessible and frank (and sometimes over the top) discussions of sexuality and relationships that were completely  unimaginable 26 years ago when Sen. Ashburn was first elected.  If he could have read columns like Savage's as a young man how different and more honest his life might have been.

UFO's In My Garden - More Flowers and Bugs

Here's an Unidentified Flying Object and I've got somewhat Unidentified Flowering Objects below.

The macro on my little Canon Powerpoint  gets me pretty good closeups that can be enlarged to see things normally invisible with the naked eye.

Pictures of flowers were going to be an easy post I thought.  Until I started trying to figure out what I was looking at.  I've spent way too long trying to figure out these flower parts.  These are things I normally can't even see.  

I'm hoping I can get hold of a biologist friend who can help me with the identification of these flower parts.

The illustration at the right, from, might suggest that the green nub is the stigma and the little star shaped flower at the top could be (help!) also part of the stigma or polllen grain, or ???  See also the picture of the pollen grains on the lily stigma below flower functions at science-fair-projects-encyclopedia.  [Based on the diagram below from countrysideinfo I'm going to say that the green is probably the ovary, the star the stigma, but since the same parts of different flowers come in such different guises, unless you have someone who really knows, it's hard to tell from the diagrams.  So don't assume anything here is definitive.]

You can see an impatiens pod on this website, which I'm pretty sure is a later stage of the green part of the pink impatience flower in my picture above.  At the top this link has a discussion of getting seeds from impatiens and the pictures are at the bottom. 

To the right above you can see that impatiens flower from a little further back.  It also has a thrips on it. 

I had an image of that word in my head yesterday, but couldn't get the letters in the right order, but Jeff Lowenfels discussed them in his garden column today and then I looked them up online.  I'm pretty certain that's what it is.  Here it is a little closer, but they are really tiny. 

OK, now that you know your flower parts (that was a joke), let's look at this campanula.

The diagram at right/below and the text below come from countrysideinfo, a UK site, which I think clears things up much more.  
The female parts of a flower consist of an ovary, which contains one or more ovules, a style and the stigma. The ovary is at the base of the flower.
From the ovary, extends a tubular structure called the style and on the top of the style is a surface receptive to pollen called the stigma.
The stigma can take many different forms, most of them designed to help trap pollen. There are many variations on this basic structural theme.

The curly things have to be the stigma and suggests the star shaped thing on the impatiens is also the stigma.  And yes, more thrips on the campanula.  And the parts that look like they've collapsed are probably the stamens, or male parts.

OK, one more to check out.  A pansy up close.  So, what is the white hairy stuff?  Another form of stigma?  Surely the green seed pod is growing right inside there.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What's a Film Festival?

This is Part 2 of a three part post.
Part 1 was What is a scam?
Part 3 will evaluate the authenticity of the Anchorage International Film Festival and the Alaska International Film Festival.

What's a Film Festival?

I've gone through about 15 on-line definitions after googling variations of "What is a Film Festival?" I've posted eight below representing an array of perspectives:  the non-film related Wikipedia, several film festivals, a screenwriters' website, a state film commission, a major British newspaper's film blog, and a book on European Cinema. 

I'll pull out the basic characteristics that are represented in these definitions.  The actual definitions I used are
 below. You can skip down to see them.   But here I'm going to try to summarize the key points that seem to make up a film festival. 


1.  A film festival is a festival.  This seems pretty obvious, but nearly all the definitions stress it is a  gathering of people coming together - film makers, the public, industry professionals, producers, distributors, actors, various other film talents such as makeup, camera, lighting, etc., critics.


2.  To show films.  Again, they all emphasize the key focus is "an organized, extended presentation of films" (1 below); "films are screened" (2); "short or feature length films are shown" (3);  "Film festivals show films" (4);  "chance to see the latest movies" (5);  "a cinematic festival that features films"(7);  "filmmakers get their movies in front of a real live audience"(8)) 

2a.  Exposure for films ("to gain exposure and critical buzz and, in many cases, distribution."(3); "allowing their films to get some exposure"(5))

2b.  Market films ("To market completed film projects and scripts to distributors"(7);"get valuable press attention and exposure to prospective agents and buyers" (8))

2c.  Feedback/Networking ("audience making contact with filmmakers"(4);  "opportunity to schmooze producers, distributors and critics" (5); "an opportunity to network with filmmakers, directors, producers, writers, actors, investors, comedians, musicians, entertainers, politicians, and others who share an interest in the arts"(7); "have their films reviewed by professional critics."(8))

2d.  Education/Training ("sometimes panels or workshops related to film and the industry"(2); "Before or after each film there will be someone who will talk about the making of the movie."(4);"To learn new industry technology and to educate professionals and non-professionals"(7))

2e.  Prizes.  Awards were only mentioned in one of the definitions:  "sometimes sizeable cash award if they win" (8)  I found Christopher Holland's book Film Festival Secrets just as I was finishing this.  He covers pretty much these same why's (filmmaker goals) of film festivals but adds parties and travel.  He has a succinct overview of prizes:
It’s common for festivals to offer cash prizes for the best work of the season. . . Other festivals get sponsors to kick in prize packages worth more than the cash prizes . . . Even if there’s no cash involved, festival awards are a nice way to draw attention to your film.  More media coverage is given to award winners and you can draw future festival audiences to your film with some laurel wreaths on your poster. (pp. 8-9) 
2f.  To market the filmmaking possibilities of the festival location (" To provide funding for The Southwest Georgia Film Commission Office whose primary function is economic development by using the film and television industry as the vehicle. "(7))  This issue also comes up in a doctoral dissertation on a Korean film festival mentioned under "Some other longer discussions" below.)


3.  Film people, money people, and the public. ("audience making contact with the filmmakers behind the movies . . . producers, distributors, and actors as well as film directors"(4); "producers, distributors and critics" (5); "the physical presence of large numbers of people"(6); "gathering of show business industry professionals and non-professionals. . . an opportunity to network with filmmakers, directors, producers, writers, actors, investors, comedians, musicians, entertainers, politicians, and others who share an interest in the arts." (7))


4a.  Duration from a day to two weeks. ("in one or more movie theaters or screening venues, usually in a single locality."(1); 
4b.  Frequency usually annually. ("Film festivals are typically annual events."(1))


5.  Usually in several venues in one city.


6.  A wide variety of types of films.  Different festivals have different focuses.  ("The films may be of recent date and, depending upon the focus of the individual festival, can include international releases as well as films produced by the organisers' domestic film industry. Sometimes there is a focus on a specific film-maker or genre (e.g., film noir) or subject matter (e.g., gay and lesbian film festivals). A number of film festivals specialise in short films, each with its defined maximum length."(1))

Summary:  A film festival is a gathering of people to show and watch films in a single location (city) using one or more venues.  The main purposes are to get an audience for filmmakers and to let the public and critics see a wide variety of new films (and some older), particularly genres that normally aren't theatrically released.  There are opportunities for the participants to meet, discuss the films, filmmaking, and distribution of the films.  It also is a networking opportunity that can lead to connections for future work.  Festivals have awards for the best films in different categories.

I also noticed that there is some concern that some festivals have become too commercial or too elite.  For short films and experimental films, festivals seem to be a key way to get people to see their films.

Online Festivals

But another venue mentioned by one of the animated filmmakers at last year's Anchorage International Film Festival was online.  He mentioned he had over a million hits for his films at YouTube which he would never get at festivals.

So what about online film festivals where people don't come together in a single place and mingle with others to watch films?   This is a relatively new phenomenon.  Babelgum Online Film Festival states its purpose:
The Babelgum Online Film Festival was created to celebrate and reward the very best in international independent short filmmaking by providing exposure and cash awards for emerging talent. With its non-restrictive submission guidelines and international visibility, the festival supports and encourages talent and continues to provide a unique venue for filmmakers to showcase their craft.
CologneOff started as an online festival, but became a physical festival with an online component.

Shortsnonstop is a Canadian online festival.

These and others clearly state their online nature and post films for anyone to watch online.

What these online festival provide is exposure for film makers - perhaps a little more focused than simply putting one's film up on YouTube or on one's own website - and a chance to win a prize, though depending on how many submissions there are, this might be pretty remote.  They do not provide the face time one could get at a film festival and live audience reaction or the chance to meet producers and publishers and other film makers.  Though presumably they could see the films on line and contact the filmmaker via email.

So that's my relative novice overview of film festivals.  Below are the definitions I found online and are the references for the quotes above.

1.  Wikipedia:
A film festival is an organised, extended presentation of films in one or more movie theaters or screening venues, usually in a single locality. The films may be of recent date and, depending upon the focus of the individual festival, can include international releases as well as films produced by the organisers' domestic film industry. Sometimes there is a focus on a specific film-maker or genre (e.g., film noir) or subject matter (e.g., gay and lesbian film festivals). A number of film festivals specialise in short films, each with its defined maximum length. Film festivals are typically annual events.
2.  From the Revolve Film Festival in North Carolina:
Q: What is a Film Festival exactly?
A: It’s an event where films are screened over the space of a few days. Usually there are visiting celebrities, parties, and sometimes panels or workshops related to film and the industry. Each festival cultivates its own personality, reflected by its size and programming.
3.   From Screenwriting's glossary
Film Festival
A festival of short and/or feature-length films shown over the course of between a few days to a few weeks. Festivals are places for films and filmmakers – particularly in the case of independent films – to gain exposure and critical buzz and, in many cases, distribution. Perhaps the two best-known festivals in the world are Sundance and Cannes.

4.  From New Jersey State Film Festival's Film Festival 101

  1. What is a film festival and what makes it different from going to see the latest blockbuster?
    Surprise: a film festival is not just about seeing films (although there are over 50 films showing between Thursday and Sunday). It is about the audience making contact with the filmmakers behind the movies.We have two “sidebars”—which are special film programs brought to the festival from other festivals. This year there are a host of famous producers, distributors, and actors as well as film directors. Before or after each film there will be someone who will talk about the making of the movie. You will come away with the kind of insider information you can’t get in the lobby of a megaplex.
  2. Film festivals show films that you may never get a chance to see anywhere else.
    For example, on Saturday from 10 AM to 5 PM at the Beach Four you can watch dozens of short films—animation, documentaries, experimental, and short fiction—all for just $10. That’s 7 hours of wild, beautiful, funny, moving, crazy, and sometimes just plain weird independent films made by over 100 New Jersey film artists. You won’t like all of them, but you will remember many of them because they will make you think, see different images, and open up parts of your imagination you didn’t know existed.

5.  From The Guardian's Film Blog:
As a regular film festival-goer, I often find myself asking: "What is a film festival for?" The replies vary depending on whether one is a film-maker, critic or member of the public. Film-makers may answer that it gives them an opportunity to schmooze producers, distributors and critics, while allowing their films to get some exposure. Critics and film-goers may say it gives them the chance to see the latest movies before anyone else in their country. Alas, the biggest draws at a festival are usually films that will most likely be shown sooner or later at the local multiplex.

6.   From Thomas Elsaesser's book European Cinema  (p. 94)
What is a (film) festival?  As annual gatherings, for the purpose of reflection and renewal, film festivals partake in the general function of festivals.  Festivals are the moments of self-celebration of a community:  they may inaugurate the New year, honor a successful harvest, mark the end of fasting, or observe the return of a special date.  Festivals require an occasion, a place and the physical presence of large numbers of people.  the same is true of film festivals.  Yet in their iterative aspect, their many covert and overt hierarchies and special codes, film festivals are also comparable to rituals and ceremonies. . .
7.   From the South West Georgia Film Commission:
What is a Film Festival? 
A film festival is a cinematic festival that features films.  It is a gathering of show business industry professionals and non-professionals.  The JOKARA Family Film/Video Festival will provide its attendees with an opportunity to network with filmmakers, directors, producers, writers, actors, investors, comedians, musicians, entertainers, politicians, and others who share an interest in the arts.
 The Purpose of a Film Festival
Each town in Southwest Georgia is uniquely different and has much to offer to the film and television industry in terms of locations.  In addition to the beautiful topography and possible location sites, the state of Georgia has great tax incentives and offers extra incentives to those who will shoot their projects in the Southwest Georgia region.    
 According to the Southwest Georgia Film Commission Director, Ralph Wilcox, who is also the festival’s director and a 30 year veteran actor in Hollywood and on the New York Broadway stage,  this festival is multi-purposed:
 §          To market completed film projects and scripts to distributors, whether major studios (i.e. Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, Sony, Paramount) or independent distributors (i.e. Wal-Mart, Blockbusters)
§          To learn new industry technology and to educate professionals and non-professionals in the areas of acting, cameras, lights, sound, scriptwriting, hair and makeup, and wardrobe 
§          To provide marketing and exposure opportunities, whether one is a writer, director, actor, editor, etc… 
§          To provide funding for The Southwest Georgia Film Commission Office whose primary function is economic development by using the film and television industry as the vehicle. 
8.   Entertainment.howthingswork explains film festivals this way:
What are Film Festivals?
Film festivals are events staged by universities, private organizations, local governments, arts associations and/or film societies. They provide an opportunity for unknown filmmakers to get their movies in front of a real live audience and to have their films reviewed by professional critics. Filmmakers whose movies get accepted into a festival also get valuable press attention and exposure to prospective agents and buyers, not to mention a sometimes sizeable cash award if they win.

Some other, longer discussions:

1.  Shorts filmmaker Kyle Gilman discussing festivals and short films and the potential online market for short films.

2.  A Korean film industry veteran, SooJeong AHN's, doctoral dissertation (pdf) for the University of Nottingham on the Pusan International Film Festival and the role of non-Western film festivals in national identity, marketing of regional films to the West, and other somewhat different perspectives of film festivals.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Protesters Invite BP to Join Oil Addicts Anonymous

As I was riding home - fortunately, just before it started to rain hard - I came to this scene at New Seward Highway and Benson in front of BP Alaska's  headquarters in Anchorage. 

Since I was on my bike, it was easy to stop and ask what was going on.  They pointed to Josh as their spokesperson.

[Viddler was having trouble so I uploaded to YouTube today.]

HA! Brave New World: It Looks Like Being Too Clean Can Hurt You

Despite my flip title, this piece from Nature [this comes from the Nature News section and is not from the actual scientific report in Nature by Alejandro Reyes, Matthew Haynes Nicole Hanson, Florent E. Angly, Andrew C. Heath, Forest Rohwer, & Jeffrey I. Gordon] says there's a world of bacteria and viruses living inside us that do work for us we couldn't live without. 

These findings, preliminary as they might be, demonstrate that despite all we do know about how the human body functions, there is still so very much more to know. 
More than 10 trillion bacteria normally inhabit the gastrointestinal tract, where they synthesize essential amino acids and vitamins, produce anti-inflammatory factors and help break down starches, sugars and proteins that people could not otherwise digest. Within and among these bacteria live bacterial viruses, or bacteriophages, which affect bacterial numbers and behaviour as they either prey on bacteria or co-exist with them, shuttling genes from one bacterium to another.
This microscopic dynamic ecosystem affects our lives in ways we still do not fully understand. Indeed, the rise in the incidence of food allergies in Western societies has led to hypotheses that extreme hygiene disrupts the ability of microbes to colonize human guts, resulting in a lack of tolerance to usually harmless foods. 

. . ."This human ecosystem is quite important because it determines what we can do and what we can eat," says [Edward] DeLong [at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.] "That's why we should care about this." 

A brief NY Times editorial alerted me to this article.   Though the original Nature News article isn't that long or technical itself.  The actual scientific article requires payment if you aren't a subscriber to get more than the abstract.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Kate Gale Leaves Gnawed Bones for Peggy Shumaker

Last Thursday we walked over to the Arts Building at UAA to hear poetry.  Kate Gale, who created and runs, as I understood it, Red Hen Press, read red hot poetry.  Her poems are in your face and challenge the listener on themes not usually rendered so directly in poetry or elsewhere.   (I found the Red Hen website to be visually interesting - the icon of the hen is white, though the words are red - and incredibly slow to open.)

She read in one about luring someone out of the prison of his high rise office, to fly out the window to freedom.  It was a powerful poem.  She did preface it by explaining that she wrote it when she was trying to convince her husband to leave his secure job with a good salary.  Just leave it and join her in pursuing poetry and making the Red Hen Press work.  In a poetry reading you can get such context from the poet that you normally wouldn't get in a book of poetry.  But without the preface, a reader has more freedom to interpret the poem more personally.

It wasn't like one imagines a poetry reading.  Rather it felt as though she was exposing her heart with just the thinnest veil of words between herself and the audience.

Then Peggy Shumaker came to the podium.  We'd all been given copies of her book Gnawed Bones at the beginning of the reading and she told us now, that they were only on loan so we could read along.  She asked audience members to pick a poem for her to read.  Someone would call out a title, then she'd ask what page, and read.  By the third of fourth poem people were calling out page numbers, which is a lot less poetic, but it moved things along faster.  I liked the idea of this - involving the audience more - but somehow it was less intimate. It was like the audience members were fetching a ball and then dropping it at her feet waiting to be petted.

And each time, Peggy would go to the page, see the poem, and smile as she recognized it.  Then she read it.

I'd read one of the poems in the book before things started.  It was about visiting a sick relative in the hospital.  Since a good friend is sick in the hospital, it particularly hit home.  But I didn't ask her to read it.

Shumaker's reading was much more like I used to imagine poetry readings.  I don't have her poems in front of me so it's hard to say exactly what it was about them, but the poems and the delivery sounded very much like 'poetry' in the sense of something distinct from real life.  She read everything in a voice and rhythm that one associates with teachers reading poetry.   

It was unfortunate that Shumaker didn't proceed Gale.  I think that would have worked much better.  As it was, it really felt that after Gale, all that was left for Shumaker, was gnawed bones.

But don't take my word for it.  You can listen to podcasts of Thursday evening and many of the other presentations this week. Note:  the link goes directly to the podcast for Gale and Shumaker.  For the others look for July 2010 podcasts.   There is one more reading Tuesday night July 20, 2010. 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

What's a Scam?

This is the first of what I think will be a three part series looking at
  1. what's a scam?
  2. what's a film festival?
  3. A comparison of the authenticity of the ANCHORAGE International Film Festival to the ALASKA International Film Festival.

So, what is a scam?

[Note:  I am not an attorney and what I write here represents the facts I have been able to gather and my interpretation/opinion of those facts.]

The answer seems to boil down to deception.  A scam is an activity in which one party deceives another party to gain some advantage.  Another factor seems to be that this tends to be more elaborate than a simple lie.  There is a scheme of sorts in which a person is seduced through misleading representations into an agreement.

One issue that comes up is whether an activity has to be illegal to be a scam.   From what I can tell, the answer is no.

It is like the relationship between unethical and illegal.  Something can be unethical (seen as morally wrong by most people) without being illegal (in violation of the law) and the same seems to be true of a scam.

A 1987 Appeals Court Decision (McCabe v. Rattiner) said:

". . .we observe that the word "scam" does not have a precise meaning. As the district judge said in his bench ruling, "it means different things to different people ... and there is not a single usage in common phraseology." While some connotations of the word may encompass criminal behavior, others do not.2 The lack of precision makes the assertion "X is a scam" incapable of being proven true or false. Cf. Buckley v. Littel, 539 F.2d 882, 895 (2d Cir.1976), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1062, 97 S.Ct. 786, 50 L.Ed.2d 777 (1977) ("[t]he issue of what constitutes an 'openly fascist' journal is as much a matter of opinion or idea as is the question what constitutes 'fascism' or the 'radical right' ").

Scam versus Fraud

In common usage the words tend to overlap, but fraud is the term defined in the law.   From, a site aimed at residents of Washington and Oregon:
 Most people think of fraud as a [sic] evil practice.  But “fraud” as used in law means simply action or lack of action that is punishable by law.  Fraud is defined by the legislature and the courts.  It includes outright deception, and sometimes almost “accidental” misrepresentation.  In some circumstances (like investments) fraud includes failure to disclose or to tell the whole truth.  Sometimes the law makes people like officers and directors and those who assist in furthering the fraud liable even if they did not know about the fraud. 
The discussion goes on to distinguish levels of fraud based on intent:
1) Fraudulent Misrepresentation (Deceit);
2) Concealment and Non Disclosure;
3) Negligent Misrepresentation; and
4) Innocent Misrepresentation. 
It goes on to list:
The 9 elements of Oregon fraud are:
1)  A representation; [I'm assuming this means what was represented to the hearer?]
2) Its falsity;
3) Its materiality; [Again, I'm assuming this is whether a point in the representation is relevant or important to the action taken.]
4) The speaker's knowledge of the representation's falsity or ignorance of its truth;
5) Intent that the representation be acted on in a manner reasonably contemplated;
6) The hearer's ignorance of the falsity of the representation;
7) The hearer's reliance on its truth;
8) The hearer's right to rely on the representation; and
9) Damage caused by the representation.
Musgrave v. Lucas, 193 Or 401, 410, 238 P2d 780 (1951); Webb v Clark, 274 Or 387, 391, 546 P2d 1078 (1976).

On the website GeorgeSMayScam, the writer offers a long example where something can be legal, but still a scam.  He claims to be a former employee who left in good standing:
The George S. May International scam is elaborate [sic] scheme focused on small to medium sized businesses that have some difficulty making a profit or enough profit among other issues.  The most important thing that GSM wants to know is how much money is in the client’s checking account.  If there is not enough money in the checking account, the question is how much does the client have in securities or other quick to liquid assets.  They then tailor a plan to take ALL of the client’s available money.
Everything is done legally and is therefore protected by law.  The forms are long, detailed, and lawyer proof.  The signatures are all in place before services are rendered or one cent is collected.
So, you may ask, “What is your problem?  If it is all legal, why are you calling it a scam?”
The definition of the word scam, according to Webster’s dictionary, is a "deceptive act".  See  This is how the term is used here.  If a company has a practice of getting clients to sign a contract without completely informing and explaining verbally all of the zingers in the contract, it is deceptive. 
 He then goes on to detail the many ways the legal contract was designed so that the customers couldn't get out of the requirement to pay George S May.  I can't vouch for the person who wrote this post or the facts about the George S May company (though I was directed to the site by a friend whose company hired May and says the description is accurate in his case, though he thinks in some cases a business might benefit from such an audit, though probably not from the way they are charged), but the mechanics he describes help show how a legal scam might work.

There are a lot of types of fraud (Wikipedia has a list of about 22).  Personally, I would argue that it's a scam when

  • a customer is asked to sign a lengthy contract 
  • that has lots of 'gotchas' hidden in the small print 
  • that the seller knows 
  • the client would likely not sign if he understood them all
I would include in this hidden fees and penalties etc. in credit card contracts, cell phone contracts, and car and home loan agreements.

Wikipedia also distinguishes another related term:
A hoax also involves deception, but without the intention of gain, or of damaging or depriving the victim; the intention is often humorous.

What is the buyer's responsibility?

Surely,  buyers have a responsibility to pay attention to the agreements they sign.  But in this day and age we know less about the people with whom we do business.  Many aren't local.  Some products are hard to live without (credit cards are often required say to rent a car or buy airline tickets online where they are cheaper) but they come with long complicated legal contracts.  I guess I would just ask readers,

"Before you signed or clicked 'agree' did you read all the fine print in your...
  1. credit card contracts? 
  2. bank accounts contracts?
  3. the agreements that come with software downloads?
To what extent do our schools teach people to be savvy consumers?  US college students' literacy has declined rapidly.  The Washington Post reported in 2005 that in a test that
measures how well adults comprehend basic instructions and tasks through reading -- such as computing costs per ounce of food items, comparing viewpoints on two editorials and reading prescription labels. . .  Only 41 percent of graduate students tested in 2003 could be classified as "proficient" in prose -- reading and understanding information in short texts -- down 10 percentage points since 1992. Of college graduates, only 31 percent were classified as proficient -- compared with 40 percent in 1992.
One might argue that if most college graduates (not to mention non-college grads) aren't  proficient in reading, how can their signatures on such contracts be considered informed consent?  And changes in laws regarding credit card agreements and lending practices suggest that Congress agrees that conditions in these contracts are unreasonable.

However, at some level, consumers do have to take some responsibility to be informed when they make decisions.

So, next comes Part 2:  What is a film festival?

[UPDATE Sept 2, 2019 - Here's a link to 2017 DasKurzFilmMagazin post on film festival scams.  It links to this post which is how I found out about it.]