Toronto’s Fan Expo Canada #Events

Went in for Patrick Stewart, Came Out Disappointed

With Sir Patrick Stewart attending Toronto’s Fan Expo Canada, it only made sense for a handful of us to head over and get our photos taken with the famous actor. We soon discovered this was impossible.

For the unitiated (honestly, who are you?), the Fan Expo is a place where nerds of every genre — from Dr. Who all the way to obscure comic books only the most hardcore will know — congregate to show off their costumes, meet their favourite actors and buy overly priced paraphernalia often found cheaper online. Not recognizing most of what I saw, I was actually quite surprised of just how out of touch with the fantasy world I am.

Among the merchants who lack customer service and are solely interested in selling as much of their ware as possible to the legion of unsuspecting nerds, there are gems: make-up artists, bona fide tattoo artists, and artisan experts that produce beautiful, one-of-a-kind art pieces.

To have a photo with Patrick Stewart, you first need to pay the $45 admission, followed by $91 to have your photo taken with him, an additional $81 to then line up and have it signed, with the optional $20 to have it framed. That’s $237, not counting taxes. Expensive? You should see how much coffee and water costs.

We soon discovered that photo opportunities with Sir Stewart had been sold out for days. According to one of the minions working there, all tickets had been bought days in advance. No mention on the website of course.

Feeling ripped off Disappointed, we walked around a bit, talked to the well-dressed fans, bought some original artwork from the artisans, took a few photos and although both Adam West and Bruce Campbell were in the line-up, we left.

Here are some of the photos from the event, showcasing costumes, artists, art, and the claustrophobic number of people present. Many thanks to all the people who awesomely posed!


Somebody: Half-App, Half-Human #Internet

Somebody is a messaging app that relies on strangers for the final delivery. It’s quirky, and very possibly unreliable, but I like the idea.

When you send your friend a message through Somebody, it goes — not to your friend — but to the Somebody user nearest your friend. This person (likely a stranger) delivers the message verbally, acting as your stand-in. The most high-tech part of Somebody is not in the phone, it’s in the users who dare to deliver a message to a stranger. Half-app / half-human, Somebody is a far-reaching public art project that incites performance and twists our love of avatars and outsourcing — every relationship becomes a three-way. The antithesis of the utilitarian efficiency that tech promises, here, finally, is an app that makes us nervous, giddy, and alert to the people around us.

Nerd Central Station.

The Psychological Impact on the Daily Exposure to Bad News Reported by the Media #Health

While a “steady diet of bad news” won’t give you “PTSD, anxiety, or depression,” being bombarded with sensational negativity from the media about the state of our world will give you a “burgeoning sense of helplessness.”

[…] The average San Antonian doesn’t know much about what’s going on in New York (and vice versa), let alone the Middle East, and therefore has to rely on shortcuts: What did I see on the news most recently? What’s the general impression I get when I turn on CNN? “As soon as you get out of your zone, most of your information’s from the news,” McNaughton-Cassill said, “and the news by definition covers the extreme things.”

For Back-to-School Teenagers, a New Phone Better Than New Clothes #Childhood

With “texting on a dated smartphone” considered worse than wearing last year’s clothes, many apparel retailers are feeling the pinch as back-to-school teenagers prefer having a new smartphone over new clothes.

“Clothes aren’t as important to me,” said Olivia D’Amico, a 16-year-old from New York, as she shopped at Hollister with her sister and a friend. “Half the time I don’t really buy any brands. I just bought a pair of fake Doc Martens because I don’t really care.”

She probably spends more on technology because she likes to “stay connected,” she said.

“It’s definitely more exciting for a lot of teenagers to have a new phone that can do lots of cool stuff than clothing,” said Nicole Myers, 19, a model in New York who emerged from an Apple store on Monday with a new iPhone that cost about $200. “A phone keeps you much more entertained. It’s a better distraction than clothing.”

Renouncing U.S. Citizenship Fees Quadrupled #Politics

Global News reports on a U.S. State Department decision to raise the cost of renouncing U.S. citizenship. While the hike — which saw an increase from $450 to $2,350 — is not meant as a deterrent, “the waiting list to renounce U.S. citizenship at the Toronto consulate stretched into late January of 2015.” The fee increase takes effect September 6th.

The backlog swelled after Ottawa signed a deal obliging Canadian banks to give the personal information of American clients to the IRS.

But the memo suggests the State Department expects applications to drop after the fee is implemented: to about 2,700 from the current 3,000 a year.

“We can’t speculate on the reasons potential renunciants choose to renounce citizenship,” a department spokesperson said in an email. “We can’t speculate on whether the backlog for renunciation appointments will ease” as a result of the fee increase.”

…acqua a catinelle.

Cielo a pecorelle…

"One thing sits at the heart of what many consider a surveillance state within the US today." #Privacy

Executive Order 12333 

Issued in 1981 under the Ronald Reagan administration, Executive Order 12333 allows intelligence agencies to have “incredible leeway” when “seeping up vast quantities of Americans’ data.” It is this order, argue whistleblowers, that is “the heart of the problem" of today’s surveillance state.

“This program was started at least back in 2001 and has expanded to between 80 and 100 tap points on the fiber optic lines in the lower 48 states,” he said by e-mail. “Most of these fiber optic tap points are not on the East or West coast. This means that the primary target of this collection is domestic… Most collection of US domestic communications and data is done under EO 12333, section 2.3 paragraph C in the Upstream program. They claim, near as I can tell, that all domestic collection is incidental. That’s, of course, the vast majority of data.”

Specifically, that subsection allows the intelligence community to “collect, retain, or disseminate information concerning United States persons” if that information is “obtained in the course of a lawful foreign intelligence, counterintelligence, international narcotics or international terrorism investigation.”’

Graph Illustrates the Typical American Workday #Data

NPR looks at the American Time Use Survey, an annual study by the U.S. government that tracks how people spend their days. The graphs show workers grouped by occupation and where they are at any given hour of the day.

The conventional workday remains pretty strong. The majority of people are at work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a small break in the middle of the day for lunch.

The graph shows that construction workers take the lunch hour the most seriously, with the largest drop in workers at noon (as measured from peak to midday trough).

Not surprisingly, servers and cooks have a schedule that’s essentially the opposite of all other occupations. Their hours peak during lunch and hold steady well into the evening.

Also, The Washington Post has every week of our life, in a chart, from birth to death.

It’s hard to believe it’s been that long already. Whenever you look back on the summer that has just ended, you find yourself wondering where the time went, even if a single week of sunshine can seem, in the moment, like an eternity in heaven. The fact is that there are only so many weeks in a summer, and only so many in a year, and only a few dozen years in a life, even if you’re fortunate enough to be born in the United States and not in Sierra Leone, where the life expectancy is less than 50 years.

Russians Want to Know if They Are at War #War

"Russian independent media this week reported on secret funerals held for several soldiers in northwestern Russia, citing mourners who said they were killed in Ukraine."

When a mother recognised her son as one of the Russian paratroopers captured in Ukraine, Russians have started asking where their soldiers are and if the country is at war.

One mother, Olga Pochtoyeva, says when she approached officials with photos on the social media site Vkontakte that appeared to show her son had been taken prisoner in Ukraine, her claims were dismissed as “provocations.”

“We showed them [these pictures] and they didn’t believe it,” she says. “It’s Photoshop, they told us. I’m sorry, I’d never mistake my son’s eyebrows for Photoshop.”

The paratroopers, who have been paraded in front of cameras by Ukrainian authorities at least three times, are only the most public face of Russian military involvement.

You Can’t Smell Your Own Home #Administrative

According to New York Magazine, we are unable to smell our own home, even when it smells like a “high school boys’ locker room,” due to “nose-blindness.” Reportedly, once our brain determines that the smell is non-threatening, “the receptors in your nose sort of switch off.”

Is there anything you can do to “refocus” your brain, so it does pick up those environmental odors?
This phenomenon is known as sensory adaptation, and it’s something we experience most intensely with smells. “That’s not as true for any other sensory experience,” Dalton said. The closest comparison, she says, is hearing. If you’re working near a construction site, for example, you can tune out the noise after a while. “But if I ask you, ‘Do you hear that?’ you can refocus that part of your brain. That’s not so true with odor,” Dalton said.

"Why fertilising the ocean with iron is not such a crazy idea." #Environment

Geoengineering climate change

On aeon, a fabulous article on marine biologist Victor Smetacek, who plans on reversing the effects of climate change by providing plankton cells with the nutrients they need so that they can proliferate. Here’s why:

[…] Much of the oxygen we breathe comes from just one species of cyanobacteria, Prochlorococcus. This species was not even discovered until the 1980s: it is so tiny that millions can fit into a single drop of water and no one had produced a sieve small enough to catch it. The oxygen made by these tiny marine plants dwarfs that produced by the Amazon rainforest and the rest of the world’s woodlands combined. By taking in CO2 and exhaling oxygen, these tiny creatures serve as the planet’s lungs, whose steady breathing is limited only by nutrition. Just as land plants need nitrogen, phosphorus and other elements to thrive, missing nutrients restrain planktons’ growth. Add enough of those missing elements – via dust blown off a continent or fertiliser run-off from farm fields – and the oceans will produce blooms that can be seen from space.

Many of these plankton pastures are held back by iron shortages, especially in places that are largely cut off from continental dust and dirt. With access to more iron, the plankton would proliferate and siphon more and more planet-heating CO2 from the atmosphere. […]

Google’s Drone Delivery Service #Google World Domination

Project Wing from Google X

The Atlantic reports that Google has spent the last two years developing drones which “can deliver products across a city in a minute or two.” From the style of the delivery, described below, it seems like “Google is getting serious about sending packages flying through the air on tiny drones.”

A man named Neil Parfitt is standing in a field on a cattle ranch outside Warwick, Australia. A white vehicle appears above the trees, a tiny plane a bit bigger than a seagull. It glides towards Parfitt, pitches upwards to a vertical position, and hovers near him, a couple hundred feet in the air. From its belly, a package comes tumbling downward, connected by a thin line to the vehicle itself. Right before the delivery hits the ground, it slows, hitting the earth with a tap. The delivery slows, almost imperceptibly, just before it hits the ground, hardly kicking up any dust. A small rectangular module on the end of the line detaches the payload, and ascends back up the vehicle, locking into place beneath the nose. As the wing returns to flying posture and zips back to its launch point half a mile away, Parfitt walks over to the package, opens it up, and extracts some treats for his dogs.