Apr, 2019 back to Feb, 2010: (nothing)
Deep in the lush, disorienting Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, a silverback mountain gorilla and his wives patiently munch berries. Nine human beings watch, immobile. Every morning a ranger uncovers broken branches and excreted berries to find the nomadic group's newest camp. The eight awed white tourists in his tow quietly snap as many photographs as their cameras will allow, careful not to disturb the creatures. Only 650 of the animals exist in the world.
In the forest of the Impenetrable Internet, technology companies analyze queries and clicks in their own journeys to piece together migratory patterns and learn more about the elusive human race. There are half a million times more Internet users than mountain gorillas in the world, so you'd think it would be hard to single out any one person from the masses. But Internet users forget: every step they take is through these companies' territories.
The companies set up security cameras. They can watch all the human beings they like.
They probably know you're reading this.
Wonderful chitchat sprouted from my family visits this holiday season. In one pleasant gab, a thought struck me so hard I almost said something about it.
Conversations tend to orbit around age-old topics: news, weather and health. At Christmas in Quebec, we had plenty of all three. In the process I realized that banter about health proceeds differently in Canada than it does in the United States.
In Canada, we'll talk about cancer, infections, colds, flu and other forms of malaise the way my journalism professors tell me I should write news stories: on-topic, answering obvious questions. For the flu, obvious questions are "was that H1N1?" and "how many sick days did you take?" and for cancer, "will she be all right?" and "did the doctors tell us the odds it'll recur?"
In the United States, however, talk time is squandered on two off-topic questions: "how much will it cost?" and "how are you going to pay for that?"
The law of averages is, on average, misused.
Here's my first crack at scientific writing: I'll explain the Law of Large Numbers, the official law of averages, for which the renowned mathematician Jacob Bernoulli published his proof in 1713. Citing Wikipedia:
where X1, X2, ... is an infinite sequence of independent and identically-distributed random variables with finite expected value E(X1) = E(X2) = ... = µ < ∞.
There's a lot going on here, which probably convinced laypeople to make up their own definitions. My goal is to set the record straight.
Sometimes stories aren't news, and sometimes we don't write them.
For a recent story, I spent time in an H1N1 vaccination clinic in Ottawa. Prior to opening hour, the nurses' supervisor gave a pep talk “off the record.” (In this case, I can write that the meeting took place but not what was said. This sort of ethical agreement is important to journalists and their sources.)
I assure you: nothing damning happened. There was no talk of covered-up vaccine-related deaths and they didn't discuss plans to gain mind control over visitors by injecting surreptitious serums. It was mere procedure: a few tips to make nurses' jobs easier.
Why the secrecy? Because the media (and, by extension, citizens who listen) are deemed uppity: they assault the slightest mishap—an allergic reaction, for instance—at reality's expense.
Hot on the heels of Graph Newsmagazine, we green Carleton journalism students have launched two new sites in a class project: Hartwells and Ottawa Off-Centre. I am a part of the Hartwells team; our two sites are not competitive. Both websites are updated frequently on Tuesdays.
Hartwells is different from Graph News: while Graph News is run by students who aim to maintain it over the entirety of our two-year program, Hartwells will probably only last until the end of this semester. Its transience should by no means imply that it is not of the highest quality: already Hartwells showcases some fantastic journalism.
As journalism students at Carleton, we have the enviable yet sometimes frustrating duty of tracking down sources in networks we barely comprehend, so that our stories can be better-informed and more lively.
The task is often rewarding: I have talked with fascinating people, both in person and on the telephone, whom I never would have imagined meeting were it not for my choice of Masters program. As sources teach me every day, Canada is replete with fascinating, enlightening, and endearing people.
Sometimes, though, journalism students hit a wall. By conducting interviews, we interfere in people's daily lives. Our interruptions are sometimes welcome, but many potential sources are dismayed that we are mere students: they would prefer to give their messages to journalists who will disseminate them in "a real publication."
Enter The Graph News Magazine. Our class of 19 students has decided to put some coursework online.
Last night I ran my final run in Central Park. Toward the end, I was struck by a sudden urge to sprint to the northern tip of the reservoir and revel in the midtown skyline.
I have stared at the skyline many times before, of course, but final occasions afford some unexpected ruminations. I peered at the skyline, the reflection of the skyline, and my memories of my last big departure: Dar es Salaam.
I had declared the city of Dar es Salaam—the city itself—somewhat unpleasant: flat, hot, dirty, stressful, and sometimes dangerous. My departure last year was painful exclusively because of the people I was leaving: it had nothing to do with the city itself.
Full disclaimer: I am a man.
And that, many assume, makes me better at computing than if I were a woman.
To me, such reasoning is, on the surface, patently absurd. What possible difference should testosterone or estrogen make in typing or programming skills? Yet here I work, sifting through resumes and interviewing candidates during my last few days of software engineering, and nary a woman has sat across from me. All my engineer coworkers, past and present, are men. Even at school, lecture halls infusing 200 students with computer knowledge would never seat 10 women. I can only conclude that there is a huge absence of women in computing.
And so, runs the thinking, it must be women's choice.
I am about to leave my Software Engineering career in New York to study Journalism at Carleton University (in Ottawa). I am constantly asked to explain such insanity; so I am reviving an old essay I wrote (after returning from Uganda but before volunteering in Tanzania) which might help explain why I am more interested in journalism at this stage of my life.
Would you like to hear about my most shameful moment?
I was about eleven years old. I had been left alone with satellite television: quite a novelty for my pre-teen self, who grew up with no television whatsoever. I was new to the concept of channel-surfing, and as such I was quite inefficient in my quest to uncover the needle of cartoons in the haystack of hundreds of channels of Sunday-morning programming.
At my level of channel-flipping street sense, it is understandable that I got stuck on an infomercial for a minute or so. I was knowledgeable enough to never consider buying whatever was for sale; I was also well-informed about how infomercial-viewing is a faux-pas. But alone with the remote control, I allowed myself one minute of guilty curiosity: I watched a paid advertisement.
Aug, 2009 back to Jun, 2009: (nothing)
Late last year, I was meandering around the Upper West Side of Manhattan, absorbing my new neighbourhood. As on most beautiful weekends, a street was closed and festivities were afoot. Gravitating towards the action, I was pleased to witness elated racers conquering the New York City Marathon.
I had to smile and cheer at every runner trickling in. The finishing times were likely quite bad by the time I started watching, but these heroes had nonetheless managed to slay Goliath.
And I thought to myself, “that must feel amazing.”