Hello! I’m Samantha Stocks.

I’m a writer based in Bristol, UK.

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Category Archive: Blogs

  1. 30 celebrity photographers who are actually celebrities

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    We can all name a few famous photographers, but what about famous people who happen to also be photographers? You might be surprised to learn that a startling number of celebrity photographers are indeed celebrities themselves.

    We’re about to blow your minds, as we’ve rounded up 30 of some of the top names from Hollywood and the music industry who count photography as their main hobby and give new meaning to the term ‘celebrity photographers’.

    Are they the world’s best photographers? Probably not, but some of them are indeed quite talented.

    1. Leonard Nimoy

    Style: Black and white and fine art nudes
    Most famous for: “Live long and prosper.” Donning pointy ears and eyebrows as Mr Spock in Star Trek.
    Although most people know him as the logical Mr Spock, Nimoy has also made a name for himself as a photographer. His first experience of photography was during his teenage years when the family bathroom in his family’s small Boston apartment was used as a makeshift darkroom.
    He then made the logical progression to study photography at UCLA under photographer Robert Heineken, after which he received an ‘artist in residence’ appointment at the American Academy in Rome. Since then his work has been exhibited in numerous museums around the US. His photographic books include The Full Body Project and Shekhina.
    From self-portraits, to fine art nudes, to eggs, Nimoy’s photography aims to go where no man has gone before.
    See Leonard Nimoy’s photos

    2. Bryan Adams

    Style: High-profile celebrity photography
    Most famous for:  ”Summer of ’69,” “Everything I do, I do it for you,” ‘That’ song from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves
    Canadian singer-songwriter Adams’ talents aren’t just limited to music; he is also an actor, producer, and photographer. He has had his photography featured in numerous magazines including British Vogue, L’uomo Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Esquire. He has an impressive string of advertising campaigns to add to his list of photographic commissions, including Guess Jeans, Sand, Converse, Montblanc, Fred Perr, and more.
    Along with having a massive string of impressive A-List musicians to add to his photographic portfolio, Adams was also invited to photograph Queen Elizabeth II for her Golden Jubilee. As if that wasn’t enough, he then had the honour of having one of the pictures from the shoot featured on a Canadian postage stamp in 2004 and 2005. One of the pictures is now also on display in London’s National Portrait Gallery.
    Needless to say, Adams is good. We could continue to list more of his photographic successes, but we think you get the idea!
    See Bryan Adam’s photos

    3. Jeff Bridges

    Camera: Widelux F8
    Style: Documentary-style, behind the movie scenes
    Most famous for:  “The Dude abides.” His role as The Dude in The Big Lebowski. See also Tron, The Fisher King and much, much more.
    With his successful career as an actor and an interest in photography that began during high school, Bridges has brought these two disciplines together by taking behind-the-scenes pictures on film sets since 1980, starting with John Carpenter’s Starman.
    Since then Bridges’ continued to shoot in between the scenes on the sets of the films he’s worked on and always with his Widelux F8 camera. In 2003 this collection of pictures was published in his book Pictures: Photographs by Jeff Bridges.
    Casual, impromptu, and honest, Bridges’ images show the ‘real’ people behind the movies.
    See Jeff Bridges’ photos

    4. Moby/Richard Melville Hall

    Style: Architecture
    Most famous for: His massively successful sample-based electronic album ‘Play’ released in 1999
    The musician’s interest in photography began when he was just ten years old and was given a Nikon F camera by his uncle who was a photographer for the New York Times.
    A predominantly black and white photographer who developed his own film in darkrooms, Moby was influenced by photographers such as Irving Penn, Dorothea Lange, and Andre Kertesz.
    This passion for the art has remained with him, and in 2011 he released his first photography book entitled ‘Destroyed’, featuring photographs that he has taken while touring with his music. He released an album by the same name in the same year.
    See Moby’s photos

    5. Henry Winkler

    Camera: Sony A100,Nikon D3100
    Style: Outdoor photography
    Most famous for: “Heeeeey!” The Fonz in American sitcom Happy Days
    Although a keen amateur photographer, Winkler admits that he doesn’t understand how to use manual settings on his camera and relies on it being automatic.
    However this lack of technical knowledge hasn’t held him back; in 2011 he released a book entitled I’ve Never Met An Idiot On The River: Reflections on Family, Fishing, and Photography, which – although predominantly about fly fishing – features Winkler’s outdoor photography.
    See Henry Winkler’s photos

    6. Stanley Kubrick

    Style: Photojournalism
    Most famous for: Learning to stop worrying and loving the bomb. Widely regarded as one of the greatest film directors of all time, Kubrick’s films include Dr. Strangelove, Clockwork Orange, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, and more.
    From an early age, photography has played a big role in Kubrick’s life. At thirteen he was given a Graflex camera by his father and became the official school photographer at his high school.
    He initially worked as a freelance photographer during and after graduation from college. He progressed his photographic career to become full-time staff photographer for Look magazine, becoming the youngest staff photographer in the history of the magazine.
    Perhaps his huge success in filmmaking is owed to his talents and experience as a photographer. Without this, would his films have been as visually appealing?
    See Stanley Kubrick’s photos

    7. Ben Folds

    Style: Documentary, traditional
    Most famous for: Singer-songwriter for band Ben Folds Five
    Although not well known for his photography, Folds has certainly taken some photographs to be proud of. Representing a story of Folds’ life on the road, his portfolio of black and white pictures capture small moments that encapsulate a certain romanticism.
    Pictures that he has taken of famous musicians and celebrities, and on stage in front of a huge audience, mingle with small moments in life and more ‘mundane’ scenes.
    Yet in spite of their contrasting differences – the ‘big’ with the ‘small’ – they retain a similar feel; that of a nostalgia that pervades throughout the images. Ben Folds’ photos were featured at the National Geographic Live Event, and will undoubtedly be seen in other exhibitions in the future.
    See Ben Folds’ photos

    8. Matthew Modine

    Camera: Large-format Rolleiflex
    Style: Documentary-style, behind the movie scenes
    Most famous for: His role of Private Joker in Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket; he was also pretty awesome in Transporter 2 (just sayin’)
    Inspired by Kubrick’s earlier career as a photographer for Look magazine, Modine brought along a large-format Rolleiflex camera while filming on the set of Full Metal Jacket. By the end of filming he had taken hundreds of photographs capturing real-life drama on set.
    Those photographs have since been collated into a book called Full Metal Jacket Diary which is also now available as an iPad app.
    See Matthew Modine’s photos

    9. Brendan Fraser

    Style: Lo-fi photojournalism
    Most famous for: His role as Rick O’Connell in The Mummy, as well as Crash, The Quiet American and, of course, Encino Man
    A fan of lo-fi photography, Fraser has often been known to appear on the set of Scrubs in his guest roles with Polaroids, a folding pack camera, and a Japanese-only Holga model; he even has a dedication in the book ‘Collector’s Guide to Instant Cameras’!
    His selection of his photography can be viewed on his website and features three separate sets: The Quiet American, People: Vietnam, and Places: Morocco.
    Some black and white photography and some sepia, his photos look as though they have come straight out of the early 20th century; perhaps he was influenced by his role in The Mummy?
    See Brendan Fraser’s photos

    10. Tyra Banks

    Style: Dramatic fashion and beauty photography
    Most famous for: Internationally renowned model and host of America’s Next Top Model
    Banks made a name for herself in the modelling industry as one of the world’s top models, but she is also comfortable behind the camera as well as in front of it.
    Dramatic and eye-catching, Banks’ photography uses light and shadows for impact. She has been known to use materials to cast interesting patterns of shadow on the faces of the models.
    Her years of experience working in front the camera as a model will have undoubtedly helped her learn the photographic trade, but as evident in her pictures, she clearly has a natural eye for lighting and composition.

    11. Kenny Rogers

    Camera: Large-format cameras
    Style: Landscape and portraiture
    Most famous for: Knowing when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em, when to walk away and when to run
    Rogers might be better known for his country music, but he is also an accomplished landscape photographer. Going further than simply picking up a digital camera and shooting, Rogers began his photographic hobby by developing his own film in his home-based darkroom when shooting photographs for his wife’s and wife’s friends modelling portfolios.
    He then went to study with photographer John Sexton, who was once assistant to none other than the great Ansel Adams. But our favourite fact about Kenny Rogers is that he was a judge for Digital Camera magazine’s Photographer of the Year 2011!
    See Kenny Rogers’ photos

    12. Gina Lollobrigida

    Style: Photojournalism
    Most famous for: Being an iconic sex symbol of the 1950s
    As well as being an internationally renowned actress, Lollobrigida became a respected photojournalist by the end of the 1970s.
    Salvador Dali, Henry Kissinger, David Cassidy, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn are but a few names she was able to add to her enviable photography portfolio.
    On the subject of photography, she has said, “Photography means discovering the world and oneself, filtering reality through your own feelings with creativity and a touch of imagination.”
    See Gina Lollobrigida’s photos

    13. Helena Christensen

    Style: Photojournalism and portraiture
    Most famous for: Being one of the world’s first supermodels
    Known worldwide as a supermodel, Christensen proves she is not just a pretty face by making a name for herself as a photographer.
    Her first solo exhibition, People and Portraits, was held at London’s Proud Central Gallery in 2003.
    Since she made the transition from model to photographer, Christensen has taken commissioned portraits of Bono, Marianne Faithful, and Michael Stipe to name a few.
    But apart from commissioned portraits of celebrities, Christensen has demonstrated an entirely different style of photography by way of photojournalistic shots depicting the impact of climate change in Peru; a far cry from the glamour of celebrity lifestyles. This series of photographs were exhibited in collaboration with humanitarian charity Oxfam.
    See more of Helena Christensen’s photos

    14. Michael Stipe

    Style: Black and white documentary style
    Most famous for: Losing his religion (er, and lead vocalist for rock band REM)
    Stipe began taking pictures aged 15 before graduating high school and studying photography along with painting at the University of Georgia.
    Although Stipe might be losing his religion, he certainly isn’t losing his passion for photography and continues to take pictures and frequently posts them to his Tumblr blog, Confessions of a Michael Stipe.
    In addition to this, Stipe also release a photography book entitled ‘Two Times Intro: On the Road with Patti Smith’, which is the result of his experience as a tour photographer for Smith in 1995. The black and white series of polaroids featured in the book represent an honest portrayal of Smith through Stipe’s eyes.
    Modestly, Stipe says of his photography, “Photography for me is like breathing. It’s really, really natural, and really simple. I take really great photographs without putting that much effort into it.”
    See Michael Stipe’s photos

    15. Dennis Hopper

    Camera: Nikon
    Style: Black and white documentary style
    Most famous for: His role in Rebel Without a Cause and directing and starring in Easy Rider
    Hopper first became interested in photography thanks to his friend James Dean, who was said to have encouraged him to pick up a camera. After Dean’s death, Hopper was infamously refused by Hollywood studios and so turned to photography.
    Hopper’s emotive photography portrayed scenes of a decadent society and he was soon acknowledged as an up-and-coming photographer. However his photographic career came to an abrupt end when in 1967 he turned his attention to directing movies.
    Hopper’s photographic book, Out of the Sixties – published in 1986 – featured his collection of work from between 1960 to 1967. In it he states, “I never made a cent from these photos. They cost me money but kept me alive … They were the only creative outlet I had for these years until Easy Rider. I never carried a camera again.”

    16. Viggo Mortensen

    Style: Spooky
    Most famous for: One ring to rule them all… His role of Aragorn in Lord of the Rings
    Actor, poet, musician, painter, and photographer, Mortensen seems to have conquered almost every available discipline within the arts.
    Having dabbled in photography since he was a teenager, he has brought out a string of photographic books including, Recent Forgeries, Un hueco en el sol, Signlangauge, Hole in the Sun, Coincidence of Memory, 45301, and Miyelo.
    Mortensen sets himself apart from the average photographer, often scratching or writing on his photographs. He ascertains that the moments he captures in his photography are based on lived experiences.
    See Viggo Mortensen’s photos

    17. Aaron Eckhart

    Style: Documentary
    Most famous for: His role as Harvey Dent in Batman: Dark Knight Returns
    Although Eckhart enjoys photography in his spare time, he takes his hobby seriously and has taken a series of pictures for humanitarian medical aid organisation, AmeriCares, for which he took pictures from a tour of medical facilities in the Dominican Republic.
    He says, “”Like honest acting, there’s nothing better than an honest picture. And everyone in these photos are all real people and real life—that’s why I cherish these images.
    “These images may look sad or grim to some people, but they’re not. When I was there, I saw happiness and hope. I think these images reflect the reality of people’s lives, but what’s captured is all beautiful to me.”
    See Aaron Eckhart’s photos

    18. Seal (Seal Henry Olusegun Olumide Adeola Samuel)

    Camera: Leica
    Style: Portraiture
    Most famous for: ‘We’re never going to survive unless we get a little crazy’. British soul and R&B singer-songwriter
    Yes, award winning musician Seal is another celebrity you didn’t know was a photographer. According to his website Seal is a Leica fanatic and has appeared in a video for the camera company about his photography.
    As a portrait photographer, one of his favourite subjects to shoot are his children. He believesthat both music and photography express and validate the human experience in complementary ways.
    See Seal’s photos

    19. Dizzee Rascal / Dylan Kwabena Mills

    Style: Documentary and abstract
    Most famous for: ‘Bonkers’. English rapper, songwriter, and record producer
    Dizzee’s passion for photography has produced a great series of pictures of Britain, from the places that inspired him growing up, to the places that inspire him today.
    He says, “Beauty doesn’t have to be about traditionally accepted perceptions; it can be anything from memories to ideas – beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It’s important for everyone to be inspired by what’s around them, so this is a great opportunity to visualise what you see as beautiful about Britain.”
    Of course his passion might have been helped to some extent by Microsoft when he was hired to help promote its search engine Bing.com by way of their ‘Your Britain’ campaign.
    See Dizzee Rascal’s photos

    20. Mick Fleetwood

    Style: Nature
    Most famous for: Drummer and namesake of rock band Fleetwood Mac
    Fleetwood has had an avid interest in photography for a number of years when he used to photograph his band Fleetwood Mac when they were on tour. The band’s bassist, John McVie, was also a photographer and became Fleetwood’s mentor in the art. The two shared a darkroom in the house they shared together.
    Fleetwood’s passion for photography developed and he has since been featured in American Photo magazine’s ‘Photography Rocks’ exhibition, and earlier this year had his photography exhibited at the Mouche Gallery in Beverly Hills.
    He says, “The world of nature is something I have always been passionate about and it has been a huge inspiration for my photographs. The camera lens is like a magic window that transports me into a secret world.”
    See Mick Fleetwood’s photos

    21. Michael Madsen

    Style: Gritty pictures of signs
    Most famous for: His roles in Reservoir Dogs, Kill Bill, Sin City, and… Free Willy
    Madsen has had his photography featured at exhibitions around the world and had his first photographic book, ‘Signs of Life’, published in 2006. His photography would look quite at home in a Quentin Tarantino film, featuring full-colour pictures of signs from small businesses, hotels, diners, and bars from across the US.
    See Michael Madsen’s photos

    22. Lenny Kravitz

    Style: Candid
    Most famous for: Award-winning singer-songwriter
    Better known for winning the Grammy Award for ‘Best Male Rock Vocal Performance’ four years on the run (1999 to 2002) Kravitz is less famous for his photography. However as an accomplished photographer, Kravitz has in fact had his work featured in Russian Vogue magazine. His portraits feel natural and candid and have a certain ‘fly-on-the-wall’ charm to them.
    See Lenny Kravitz’s photos

    23. Andy Summers

    Style: Black and white documentary
    Most famous for: English guitarist for rock band The Police
    Summers describes music and photography as being ‘kindred spirits’, and that ‘the photographs he creates are visual counterparts to the music that never leaves his head’.
    His three photography books (Desirer Walks The Streets, Throb, and I’ll Be Watching You: Inside The Police 1980-83) all feature his ‘behind-the-scenes’ black and white photography of The Police while they were on tour.
    Taken in true documentary style, Summers’ images range from the intimate to the mundane and can be bleak and sometimes even surprising; but they all touchingly ‘real’.
    See Andy Summers’ photos

    24. Brad Pitt

    Style: Lomo
    Most famous for: Hollywood Heartthrob
    Pitt’s retro photography made an impact as it featured a completely new angle of one of the world’s most photographed women; his then wife, Angelina Jolie.
    Commissioned to take the pictures by W magazine, he was reportedly determined to shoot with Kodak Tech Pan film, which hadn’t been produced for years. How did he get his hands on the film? Well, he’s Brad Pitt.
    W magazine’s Photo Editor Nadia Vellam tracked down the film on eBay, and later on from a source in Israel, and had it specially shipped and handed to Pitt in the south of France by a courier.
    The results were worth the effort, and feature wonderfully grainy shots that suggest an air of nostalgic romanticism; some are even a little eerie. Pitt clearly has a great eye for photography, and has worked with the natural light in his pictures.
    See Brad Pitt’s photos

    25. Kyle MacLachlan

    Camera: Sony Qualia
    Style: Snap-happy
    Most famous for: His role of Agent Cooper in David Lynch’s surreal TV series Twin Peaks and, er, Showgirls
    A keen amateur photographer, the subjects MacLachlan likes to shoot are varied and range from architecture, to travel, to golf, and to creative portrait photography of his pet dogs.
    See Kyle MacLachlan’s photos

    26. David Byrne

    Style: Documentary
    Most famous for: Co-founding American rock band Talking Heads
    Not to be confused with another David Byrne recently in the news, the David Byrne followed a successful career in pioneering rock band Talking Heads by pushing the boat out to work in other creative areas such as film, opera, and photography.
    Although he has had a keen interest in photography since college, he only became serious about the discipline in recent years, featuring his work in numerous photography magazines and books. His style might be described as documentary photography or abstract still life photography in instances like the image above, but are more about capturing the ‘mundane’ aspects of life and do not often feature people.
    See David Byrne’s photos

    27. Lou Reed

    Style: Landscape photography
    Most famous for: Guitarist and vocalist for The Velvet Underground
    The rock and roll lifestyle for which Reed is most famous seems strangely juxtaposed against the calm images he creates with his camera. ‘Romanticism’ is his third photographic book, which is a series of black and white landscapes.
    Inspiration for the title came from 19th Century Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. Not at all what you’d expect from a rock star!
    See Lou Reed’s photos

    28. Graham Nash

    Style: Black and white documentary
    Most famous for: English singer-songwriter and band member of Crosby, Stills & Nash
    As well as being a keen photographer since childhood, Nash is also a keen collector of photographs. He acquired more than 1000 prints in 1976 and hired Graham Howe to curate the collection, which then toured museums worldwide before being auctioned through Sothebys in 1990, breaking the world record for the highest grossing sale of a single private collection of photography.
    Nash’s black and white photography is lo-fi and sometimes experimental, ranging from candid shots to images that are even a little eerie.
    See Graham Nash’s photos

    29. Melissa Auf der Maur

    Style: Lomo, documentary
    Most famous for: Former bass player for American rock bands Hole and Smashing Pumpkins
    Auf de Maur is another musician turned behind-the-scenes band photographer. At the time she joined rock band Hole, she was a photography major at Concordia University specialising in self-portraiture. Since then, she has been widely published in magazines such as Nylon, Bust, and American Photo, and her work has been exhibited internationally.
    See Melissa Auf der Maur’s photos

    30. Linda McCartney

    Style: Candid
    Most famous for: Her vegetarian culinary skills and being married to Paul McCartney
    As well as being famous for marrying former Beatles star Paul McCartney and joining his subsequent bands Ram and Wings, McCartney was also known for her vegetarian cookbooks and for her photography.
    Her formal training in the art is certainly not extensive, as she only attended two night classes on the subject! Work by Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Edward Weston inspired her to become a photographer, and she turned professional in the mid-1960s.
    During her career she photographed many high profile bands and musicians including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, B.B. King, The Doors, The Beach Boys, The Who, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, and many more, as well as having her work exhibited worldwide.
    See Linda McCartney’s photos

  2. 25 design landmarks everyone should see before they die

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    If you’re looking for design inspiration, you might find that you’re often looking at other people’s websites, their illustrations, or their photography. But sometimes it’s good to mix things up a bit. Have you ever been hit with a bolt of creative inspiration just by walking down the street? Next time you’re out in town, look up, take a big step back (watching out for traffic of course) and look at the bigger picture; we’re talking architecture – design that’s all around us every day, and most of the time we don’t even notice it.

    In this post we pay tribute to 20 of the most beautiful, unique, weird and wonderful design-related landmarks around the world. Get ready to be inspired by bricks and mortar…

    Angel of the North

    You’ll understandably find the Angel of the North in the north. Of England to be exact, in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear. Designed by Antony Gormley, the steel statue is 20 metres (66 ft ) tall and from wing tip to wing tip measures 54 metres (177 ft). The Angel of the North is now considered to be a national landmark for the Northeast of England, which is something to be proud of. However, the statue is also known locally as the ‘Gateshead Flasher’, which is less admirable… or more, depending on how you look at it.

    Source: Wikipedia
    Location: Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, England
    Accessibility: By road (A167). You can park up and walk the path to get up close and personal with the Angel of the North
    Cost: Free!
    Visit the website.
    View on Google Maps.

    Sydney Opera House

    Sydney Opera House has become synonymous with Australia and is considered one of the best architectural achievements of the 20th century. The house was actually designed by a Dane called Jorn Utzon who won the competition to build the national opera house in 1957. Although some ascertain that the unusual shaped roof is designed to resemble the sails of a ship, others argue that the roof is designed to resemble an orange that has been carefully sliced open.

    Location: Sydney, Australia
    Accessibility: You can easily access Sydney Opera House via Circle Quay by a short 7 minute walk. You can get to Circle Quay via bus, train, or ferry.
    Cost: It depends what you do; a tour, watch a show, or go for dinner. A Sydney Opera House tour costs around AUS$35.
    Visit the website.
    View on Google Maps.

    Casa Batllo

    Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi has left his distinctive mark all over Barcelona and beyond with his groundbreaking architectural designs. One of his most famous achievements is Casa Batllo, Barcelona, which is a famous landmark in the city and among the most iconic symbols of the Art Nouveau movement. The unique design is not just external, however, and is just as extravagant inside. Locally the building’s name can be translated to ‘House of Bones’ owing to its organic, almost skeletal look.

    Location: Barcelona, Spain
    Accessibility: Easily accessible in the centre of Barcelona. Hop on any number of buses, or if you take the Metro, take the L2, L3 or L4 line.
    Cost: €18.50
    Visit the website.
    View on Google Maps:

    St Vitus Cathedral (Mucha’s window)

    Although St Vitus Cathedral in Prague, Czech Republic, is impressive enough in itself, it’s made much more impressive by the stained glass window designed by artist and designer Alphonse Mucha, who was at the forefront of the Art Nouveau movement. The stained glass window, which was added to the cathedral in 1931, is a perfect reflection (excuse the pun) of his other design work.

    Location: Prague, Czech Republic
    Accessibility: From the metro take line A, then take tram 22 to Prazsky Hrad or Pohorelec.
    Cost: Approximately €10
    Visit the website.
    View on Google Maps.

    Bauhaus

    Bauhaus might not be the most impressive or interesting of buildings to behold, but it has a history of making significant contributions to design. As a school, the building brought together many areas of design. The ‘Bauhaus style’, as it became known, is one of the most influential movements in modern design.

    Location: Klingelhoferstrasse 14, Berlin, Germany
    Accessibility: Hop on the U-Bahn Nollendorfplatz or
    Bus 100, M29, 187 und 106 Lützowplatz
    Cost: €3 – €7 depending on when you visit in the week
    Visit the website.
    View on Google Maps.

    41 Cooper Square

    Architect Thom Mayne is behind the funky looking building in New York, which is part of Cooper Union. Mayne went to some painstaking detail when designing the functionality of the building: in order to move between the sixth and seventh floors, you must use the fire stairs. This is a deliberate move, as Mayne designed it this way to increase meeting opportunities!

    Location: New York City
    Accessibility: Situated Third Avenue between 6th & 7th Streets
    Cost: Free, but cost varies if you want to see exhibitions.
    Visit the website.
    View on Google Maps.

    La Pyramide Inversee, The Louvre

    The Louvre museum’s most unique feature is the glass pyramid of ‘La Pyramide Inversee’ (meaning ‘The Inverted Pyramid). The Inverted Pyramid and the two smaller pyramids either side of it were designed by architect I. M. Pei in order to reinvigorate the Louvre Palace, and it seems they have done just that; by 2002, attendance had doubled.

    Location: Paris, France
    Accessibility: Dead easy to access via a number of buses, or Palais-Royal–Musée du Louvre station from the Metro.
    Cost: Between €10 and €14
    Visit the website.
    View on Google Maps.

    Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

    This museum is one of the most unique in the world. According to the website, the museum ‘continues to challenge assumptions about the connections between art, architecture, and collecting’. It was built by California-based Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry who was chosen via an architectural competition to design the building. It is now internationally renowned as one of the most admired works of contemporary architecture.

    Source: Wikipedia
    Location: Bilbao, Spain
    Accessibility: You can easily access the museum By metro hopping off at Moyúa station, or by tram at the Guggenheim stop, or by various different bus routes.
    Cost: Around €13
    Visit the website.
    View on Google Maps.

    Atomium, Brussels

    The Atomium is an iconic symbol of Brussels. But what is it, and why is it there? The Atomium represents an elementary iron crystal enlarged 165 billion times! It was actually built in 1958 for the World Fair of Brussels and was never intended to make it past 1959, but it soon became a key landmark of the city, and so it remained.

    Location: Brussels, Belgium
    Accessibility: The Atomium is located in the Northern part of the city of Brussels, a 5 minute walk from the Heysel / Heizel metro station (line 6)
    Cost: Entrance fee to visit is around €11
    Visit the website.
    View on Google Maps.

    Lotus Temple, India

    The Lotus Temple is a Bahá’í House of Worship and earned its name owing to its flower-like shape, which was designed as such because the lotus is a sacred flower for many Indian religions. This tied in nicely with the fact that the building had to be a nine-sided circular shape, which is a specified requirement for a house of worship according to Bahá’í scripture.

    Source: Cultureholidays.com and Wikipedia
    Location: New Delhi, India
    Visit the website.
    View on Google Maps.

    Apple Store Fifth Avenue

    The Apple store on Fifth Avenue is Apple’s flagship store and the most iconic. The Louvre-like structure was launched in 2006 and was hailed as a model for innovative design. But all it came at a cost; Apple recently renovated the glass cube for an estimated $6.6 million.

    Source: Mashable
    Location: New York City, New York, USA
    Accessibility: It’s New York City; just whistle your loudest and hop in the next yellow cab
    Cost: Free to enter, but potentially very expensive unless you can bare to leave without buying lots of Apple goodies
    Visit the website.
    View on Google Maps.

    The Burj al Arab Hotel, Dubai

    This luxury hotel, built on an artificial island, was designed to resemble the sail of a dhow. It was designed by architect Tom Wright, who says, “The client wanted a building that would become an iconic or symbolic statement for Dubai… It needed to be a building that would become synonymous with the name of the country.” And Wright was right, as the instantly recognisable, elegant shape of the building certainly does just that.

    Location: Dubai, United Arab Emirates
    Accessibility: Easy to visit from the outside; access to the higher society as a paying guest is a little more difficult
    Cost: Thinking of spending the night? You might need to sell your house first.
    Visit the website.
    View on Google Maps.

    La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

    Another of Gaudi’s quirky and creations. Gaudi sadly never saw this amazing church finished. He died in 1926 when less than a quarter of the project was complete. The building is in fact still not finished and currently has an estimated completion date of 2026. On the subject of the very long construction Gaudi is reported to have said, ‘My client is not in a hurry.’

    Source: Wikipedia
    Location: Barcelona, Spain
    Accessibility: Easily accessible in the centre of Barcelona
    Cost: Around €14
    Visit the website.
    View on Google Maps.

    Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, Chicago

    The Pavilion is one of the most unusually designed in the world. Designed by Frank Gehry to function as an outdoor performing arts venue for small events, it is classified by the city as a work of art rather than a building; this is a legal loophole to overcome the historic limitations on the height of the buildings in Grant Park.

    Source: Wikipedia
    Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
    Accessibility: Located in the heart of downtown Chicago, you can easily get the CTA or Metra, drive and park, or cycle to the park
    Cost: Free to visit, but prices different depending on the event hosted at the Pavilion
    Visit the website.
    View on Google Maps.

    Cloud Gate, Millennium Park, Chicago

    Cloud Gate is the centrepiece of the AT&T Plaza in Millennium Park and was designed by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor. The design of Cloud Gate was inspired by liquid mercury. The idea was that as visitors walked around the sculpture, its surface would act as a fun-house mirror and distort their reflections as well as that of the Chicago skyline. Computer modelling was essential in the engineering of its construction even though Kapoor does not draw with computers.

    Source: Wikipedia
    Location: Chicago, Illinois, USA
    Accessibility: Located in the heart of downtown Chicago, you can easily get the CTA or Metra, drive and park, or cycle to the park
    Cost: Free
    Visit the website.
    View on Google Maps.

    Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles

    Frank Gehry and his unusual architectural designs have popped up worldwide. In Los Angeles he is responsible for the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The building aims to be a sculpture and a work of art whilst also retaining all the functionality of a concert hall.

    Location: Los Angeles, California, USA
    Accessibility: Walt Disney Concert Hall is located closest to the Red Line Civic Center Metro stop at 101 S. Hill St. Alternatively you can drive and park, and there is even valet if you fancy treating yourself
    Cost: Cost varies on the show
    Visit the website.
    View on Google Maps.

    N Building Tokyo

    Situated in the middle of one of Tokyo’s shopping districts, the N Building is a commercial building that is adorned with a QR code as the facade. When scanned, the code leads to a site detailing information about the stores inside. When scanned with the iPhone, as well as browsing shop information, you can also make reservations and download coupons. The unusual exterior of the building makes a statement at the same time as being functional.

    Source: Gizmodo
    Video
    Location: Tokyo, Japan
    Accessibility: Located near Tachikawa station
    Cost: Free

    The Crooked House, Poland

    The ‘Krzywy Domek’ (Crooked House’ in Polish) is a rather wonky looking building, and therefore aptly named. The source of inspiration for its design was in the fairy tale illustrations and drawings by Polish illustrator Jan Marcin Szancer and Per Dahlberg.

    Source: Wikipedia
    Location: Sopot, Poland
    Accessibility: Enter via Monte Cassino Street or Morska Street.
    Cost: Free
    Visit the website.
    View on Google Maps.

    Experience Music Museum, Seattle or the EMP Museum

    This quirky museum dedicated to the history of popular music and science fiction was designed by Frank Gehry, although it definitely wasn’t his proudest moment. New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp described it as “something that crawled out of the sea, rolled over, and died.” He’s perhaps quite accurate in his description, and he’s not alone as Forbes magazine named it one of the world’s 10 ugliest buildings. It is also locally known as ‘The Hemorrhoids’.

    Source: Wikipedia
    Location: Seattle, Washington, USA
    Accessibility: There’s ample parking around the Hemorrhoids the EMP Museum, or alternatively the venue is served by many bus routes, the Monorail, or the Light Rail.
    Cost: Around $20
    Visit the website.
    View on Google Maps.

    Kunsthaus Graz

    Continuing along the theme of blobs, this landmark in Austria is dedicated to contemporary art. The facade of the museum comprises of an acrylic glass ‘skin’ on the eastern side of the building representing an oversized urban screen, which is intended to act as an instrument of art communication to the public.

    Source: Wikipedia
    Video
    Location: Graz, Austria
    Accessibility: Easily accessible by foot in the centre of Graz
    Cost: €8
    Visit the website.
    View on Google Maps.

  3. Thoughts on the future of magazines

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    The future of print is increasingly being questioned as the digital world all but takes over. Last week I covered an augmented reality app called Layar Vision, which combines print with digital using smartphone devices. In addition to this, there are a number of other promising ways to join printed magazines with digital – if indeed print does in fact need to be assimilated into the virtual.

    For the sake of argument, let’s say it does. What is currently out there that allows us to do this? A few of examples (not including tablet devices) include Flipboard, Paperlit and 3D Issue. These are applications that digitize print magazines.

    3D Issue

    3D Issue software creates a digital version of your publication in Flash and HTML5, which can then be viewed in on smartphones and tablet devices. An eBook option for devices such as the Kindle and Nook allow you to sell via the Kindle or iBook stores.

    You also have the option of creating digital magazines or newsletters from your blog or RSS feeds, content is searchable and zoomable and can be made media-rich, and digitizing your content in this way is beneficial for SEO.

    Aside from these points, what I think what is especially cool about 3D Issue is that it enables you to edit content even after digital publication. If there is a typo, or any other error, this can be amended afterward – never before possible in publishing!

    However, what I think is even cooler than that is the fact that the reader can add notes and bookmarks and can share individual stories from the magazine. This is definitely taking digital publication in the right direction.

    Paperlit

    Paperlit is a web and mobile publishing solution for newspapers, magazines, and catalogues. Using this solution you can publish to mobile and Facebook, create additional media-rich content, and additional advertising opportunities.

    It works using pdfs – so whatever print material you have must be converted to a pdf first. From there, Paperlit does all the work for you: converting your files to different screen resolutions, including for mobile and tablets.

    But perhaps what is most interesting of all is its integration with Facebook. Each publication using the service will have a Facebook app, and they can choose to give their publications away for free, or payment can be subscription-based, or issue-based. Content is searchable, can include photos and videos which can be opened in an overlay, which can then be ‘liked’ separately – a great way to gain further visibility.

    Using this service will tell you which articles specifically are taking off and going viral, plus articles that have been read will display on the individual’s timeline; free advertising, essentially. This is gold for advocacy – people often choose to read what they know their friends have read.

    This is could be a pivotal step for publishing. However it does seem that there are some limitations with design, and I can’t help but think that Facebook is becoming something of the virtual version of Starbucks or MacDonalds; soon you won’t be able to avoid it. Yet at the moment, it does seem to offer the best place to share content on the internet.

    Flipboard Pages

    Flipboard overcomes the design issue with Facebook, and in fact more than overcomes it but makes it an essential part of its strategy. Perhaps the app is the most on the money at the moment when it comes to digital publishing. The company has positioned itself as a leader in browsing content posted on social platforms. Designed for use on the iPad, when an article from any one of the publications whose content has enabled for use on Flipboard (including Lonely Planet, ABC News and The Washington Post Magazine) is shared on Twitter or Facebook, the reader using the app will be able to read the article in a beautifully designed magazine format when they click on the link or article excerpt. Flipboard explains that the design of the layout is more likely to increase publications’ viewership and cause more people to retweet, share, and ‘like’ the content, seamlessly and naturally combining the world of publishing with social media platforms.

    As it is one of the most popular apps available on the iPad, it certainly seems to be giving consumers the kind of reading experience that they enjoy using. Is there anything more valuable in the magazine industry?

    What can digital do for magazines?

    Until recently, it hasn’t been possible for people to interact with digital publications in the natural way that they would with print; and interacting with print is a very natural thing for people to do: my mother still sends me clips of articles in the post from time to time, and I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t scribbled down a note in a book, magazine or newspaper, or circled an address or advert. What of the personal nature of books; the personal touch of someone else’s notes in the margins if you buy a second hand book? Will we loose all of this by switching to reading digital versions of our favourite magazines and books?

    I would argue that it is important not to lose this; that we should incorporate all of the ways people naturally interact with print publications into the digital versions. This opens up whole worlds of possibility for engagement, analysis, sharing, and perhaps most importantly, allows people to embrace publications online in a way that they would not have been able to otherwise. It makes the reading experience personal.

    The ability to share articles, bookmark, and make notes (marginalia) is a very valuable way to spread ideas, make comments, and spark conversations. This is something that needs to evolve in digital publication. Although tablet devices enable marginalia to a certain extent, it doesn’t flow as naturally as it does on paper, and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t. Hopefully this is something that will be developed further in time.

    I began this post by saying that for the sake of argument, print does need to be assimilated into the virtual world. It is still a matter of much contention whether it does or does not; however the advantages are clear, and it is clear that as a society we are shifting our focus more and more to the online world in all aspects of our lives. Although there may always be a place for printed products (of that I have no doubt), it would be foolish for publications to bury their heads in the sand and hope that everything will continue as normal, because it’s likely that it won’t. It is time to keep a very close eye on changing consumer behaviour, yet also keep in mind the behaviour that has always stayed the same (the desire to share, for example). To move forward successfully, the two must go hand in hand.

    To sum up, I’d like to end with a quote from Craig Mod, designer at Flipboard, with a quote on the future of books:

    ‘To think about the future of the book is to think about the future of all content. So intertwined are our words and images and platforms, that to consider individual parts of the publishing process in isolation is to miss transformation connections.

    These connections shaping books and publishing live in emergent systems behind the words. Between the writing and the publishing, publishing and consuming, consuming and sharing.

    We have an opportunity now to shape these systems. And in doing so, to refine the relationships between authors, publishers, readers and texts. ‘

  4. Is augmented reality such as Layar Vision the future of print?

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    Last week I blogged about eBay’s QR code store opening in London in December. Certainly this seems like an excellent use of QR codes and one that may well have a strong future in retail, but is the future of QR codes as strong in print?

    The end of QR codes in magazine advertising?

    We’ve more frequently started to see these square codes in magazines as part of adverts, but can this can only go so far. You often don’t know exactly what site you will be visiting when you click on the QR code with your smartphone, and – even in spite of some lovely QR code designs – they don’t actually look that good, especially when they are surrounded by a particularly nicely designed magazine; they can often look out of place.

    Layar Vision could be pivotal for the future of print, helping to keep print strong while combining the medium with the ever omnipotent virtual world.

    The app allows readers to access further information from key parts of the magazine without the original design or layout requiring any changes or adaption. Layar functions by recognising real world objects and displaying digital experiences on top of them, increasing the reader’s access to information and enhancing their experience.

    The beauty of this app is that it adds value – both by way of experience for the reader, and financial value for the advertiser – without compromising on style or quality.

    Linda, a Dutch magazine, is the first magazine to use Layar Vision. To add value and enhance its content, Linda adds unique backstage video footage of the cover shoot, links to sites selling the fashion featured in the articles, and the option to book a test drive for the advertised cars.

    Linda magazine state, “Now with Layar it’s possible for the first time to make a real connection between print and digital without the ugly QR codes in your magazine. Layar adds an extra layer with groundbreaking opportunities for readers and advertisers bringing the magazine alive.”

    We’re looking forward to seeing more of this use of AR in other magazines in the near future.

  5. Should the world be following Havana’s example?

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    Havana is a different kind of smart city. This city does not define itself by being a digital or an intelligent city, yet it is a city that has proved to be leading the world in terms of sustainable agriculture and low impact living.

    Urban allotments in Havana

    What Cuba has achieved is remarkable, and what really sums this up well is this statistic from a study from the World Wildlife Fund: ‘…if the world followed Cuba’s example we’d only need the resources of one Earth to sustain us indefinitely. By contrast, if the world followed the example of Australia’s capitalist economy, we’d need about 3.7 Earth-like planets.’

    The only truly sustainable country

    According to a report by the World Wildlife Fund, Cuba is the only country in the world able to balance living standards with ecologically sustainable practices. Cuba was the first country to sign the Kyoto Protocol, and the first to move to energy efficient light bulbs.

    This revolutionary transformation in the way the city (and the country) function came about by chance and necessity.

    With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Cuba saw an end to subsidised oil, which meant that power, energy, and fuel were scarce. Cubans found that food and construction building materials became in short supply, as previously these industries had relied heavily on the transportation industry.

    The lack of fuel meant that food could not be transported from rural areas, which hit Havana hard. Cuba had to find the means to feed its population: its answer was to encourage the population to produce as much food as possible using very low impact methods. Urban allotments (called ‘organoponicos’) became the most common and valuable means of producing food in Havana. Residents of Havana began planting crops on porches, balconies, empty city lots, in their gardens, city parks, and where any space was available.

    Organic Consumers Association states, ‘Key ingredients in the new agricultural model are the urban organic movement; traditional farming techniques like composting and intercropping (growing two crops together that benefit each other by warding off particular pests); new nontoxic biopesticides and biofertilizers; worker-managed collectives; quotas for farmers to ensure adequate supply for the whole country; and opening farmers’ markets where excess food crops can be sold by farmers for profit.’

    Havana’s city government and the Cuban Ministry for Agriculture jointly formed an Urban Agriculture Department in 1994 focusing on securing land use rights and committing itself to providing free land to people wanting to grow food in the city.

    At its height, Cuba produced a massive 90 per cent of its own food, all of which was organic. Urban agriculture in Havana fed 80 per cent of the city.

    Today the city produces over half of its fresh produce.

    Agriculture was not the only industry to suffer in the fall of the Soviet Union; the construction materials industry also suffered. Building materials became scarce and new housing construction dramatically decreased. Maintenance and repair of current housing also became very limited. This was due to the end of long-distance transportation that had been relied on for transporting materials. Local production became a necessity.

    In response to this, materials are manufactured locally in small workshops using environmentally sustainable building materials. As they are produced and sold directly in the community, they have very low energy input and minor transportation costs. The project uses an alternative binder – CP-40 – which is one of the key materials used. It has significantly lower CO2 and SO2 emissions than Portland cement, and results in substantial energy savings.

    As the only truly sustainable city in the world, Havana truly is a model example of what a successful smart city can be. Cities across the world can and should be learning from Havana’s example.

    However, this green revolution may now be under threat from Cuba’s reintegration into the global economy. This will open the company to cheap oil and an industrialized food supply. Use of fertilizers has already increased thanks to oil exchange with Venezuela.

    The question is now whether the government will continue to support sustainable agriculture given the increased access to fuel.

  6. The Urban OS will enhance your life in the city

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    Imagine living in a city that runs itself. It can manage traffic flow, control water pressure, control the temperature of a room; it thinks for itself and is designed to constantly optimise energy, resources, environment, waste processing, and other convenience systems within a city.

    PlanIT’s Urban OS running PlaceApps

    This is the system currently being developed by Living PlanIT. Called the Urban OS (UOS), the system is essentially the same as an operating system used by a Mac or PC, but is instead designed to operate an entire city.

    The technology behind this has been developed by McLaren Electronic Systems, the same company who create sensors for F1 cars. Taking in information from sensors around the city, the software monitors data and events. Using a building fire as an example, sensors in the affected building will be able to detect the fire and act accordingly, such as directing people to the nearest exists via smart walls, panel screens, lights, or alarms. Further to this, the system can also unlock doors and windows, manage water pressure and traffic lights, aiding fire crew to get to the site in time and ensure they have a sufficient water supply.

    CTO of Living PlanIT John Stenlake explains, ‘By joining up a few simple things like this, you can literally save minutes, which ultimately save lives.’

    PlaceApps

    The UOS will run on a common platform running PlaceApps, a service that will operate in the way that apps run on a smartphone or tablet. PlaceApps will enable independent developers to be their own apps so services provided around the city can be increased and built upon. Steve Lewis, Head of Living PlantIT, describes that smartphone apps could eventually connect to the UOS to remotely control household appliances, energy systems, and safety equipment to monitor well-being.

    The system is currently being built for test purposes in Paredes, Portugal, at the cost of approximately €8-10bn, and will contain around one million sensors. The groundbreaking new city expects its first residents around the middle of next year.

    A safe, reliable system?

    Should it work, this could revolutionise the way we live in cities, creating a sustainable environment within the urban sprawl, and increasing efficiency in all areas of our lives. However, I’m sure I won’t be the only person to want to see proof in the reliability and security of its operation. Having one operating system to function as a motherboard for an entire city makes me feel a little nervous; it’s like putting all of your eggs in one basket. In the event of a system malfunction or an attack from hackers, would this bring the whole city to a halt?

    Lewis argues that the very fact of having one platform to manage the entire urban landscape of a city will aid quality and manageability, making significant cost savings and implementation consistency.

    Steve Lewis will be speaking at Smart Cities Conference in February next year – let’s hope he’ll be sharing more of the Urban OS’ latest developments!

  7. Can we archive our social history using location-based apps?

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    Location-based apps are really taking off in a big way. From check-ins to reminders, from tags to pictures to comments, it seems that people really enjoy having apps that allow them to interact with the world they live in.

    Foursquare

    Foursquare have reached a billion check-ins. ONE BILLION!

    They visually mapped their 1 billion check-ins for the week in the form of a video. As of June 2011, the company had 10 million registered users, with approximately 3 million check-ins per day. Foursquare is clearly onto a winner.

    There are a number of reasons for Foursquare’s phenomenal continued growth: the company has recently added a new privacy setting that allows users to keep their address hidden, tailoring itself to the needs and desires of its consumers; they released a self-service option that allows small business owners to make the most of promotional opportunities offered by Foursquare. With more business attracted to Foursquare, the service perpetuates itself further with more customers checking in.

    But the most obvious reason is that we are living in something of a smartphone revolution: this is becoming more and more of the standard phone to have, and with this advanced GPS technology becomes available to the masses. comScore reports that the US had in excess of 80 million smartphone users in July of this year, with nearly 20 per cent of smartphone owners using a check-in service on their phone.

    People are clearly happy to make the most of this technology. And why not? You may be rewarded for your purchases and for your loyalty to certain stores/restaurants/cafes if you check in frequently enough by getting a free coffee, for example. But ultimately perhaps it is so popular because people love to interact with their environment.

    Gowalla

    Gowalla have somewhat revamped their service and their website and shifted their focus. They are stepping away from check-ins and stepping toward travel and location-based stories. This could be because they don’t want to directly compete with Foursquare and have seen a gap in the market that they could fill, and fill well. In which case, their move to become a travel app could be a very good move indeed.

    Chief Executive of Gowalla, Josh Williams, had said that they will focus on creating more than 60 guides to cities worldwide. The app will enable people to record photos, make comments about the location, and tag other users, which will enable them to join the narrative.

    I really like this idea: an ongoing social narrative relating to experiences. Perhaps ultimately this is more important than simply ‘checking-in’ to a location?

    Mapalong

    Mapalong is an app set up with the purpose of ‘mapping’ your experiences. This has the potential to be a very useful app. I remember a trip I went on to Ljubljiana in Slovenia where I visited a lovely little teahouse; but I can’t remember the name of the teahouse, and I can’t remember the name of the street. How will I find it again? How will I describe where to find this cafe to my friend who is going to visit there?

    By saving a location of the place you visit, adding a picture linked to the location, or a note, link, or a tag, you can literally link your memories to a location via an app, and record the exact location. As well as being useful, this information can be saved for posterity. Imagine being able to check where your parents where and what they were doing 20 years ago. This could be possible for generations of people in the future.

    Apps are more than just tools you use

    Ultimately, checking-in, sharing location-based information – including photos and notes – serve to paint a fuller and more intricate picture of the social world we live in. We can now archive the history of our modern society in painstaking detail. Think of the recent hurricane in the US; we can search for information on this in any number of places. Twitter is especially useful for this: here we can see an overview of people’s comments and conversations (and even pictures) about the hurricane, including their personal experiences.

    As writer and speaker Craig Mod has written of the Sendai quake in Japan, ‘Twitter was overwhelmingly the go-to service for first-person reportage on what was happening during the quake. In fact, I used Twitter to go back in time and ‘relive’ the moment the quake hit for a number of my friends. I was able to experience the quake through their eyes and immediately perceive – on a tremendously intimate micro-scale – the gravity of events.’

    He suggests that Twitter needs a more efficient method of archiving tweets, especially if they are on a certain topic, be that a particular event or otherwise. Hashtags are indeed one way of keeping track of this, but Craig argues that this is not yet an efficient interface. He comments that in the case of reportage, ‘Twitter could provide smart meta-data groupings (geo, for example) to aid in surfacing and consolidating historically resonant narratives from the muck.’

    Could apps such as Gowalla an Mapalong be the future of this? Might they provide us with a more efficient means of archiving our personal lives, and consequently our social history?

  8. Interview: Daniel Turner of Born Free on zoo captivity

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    Daniel Turner, Senior Operations Officer at Born Free, speaks to Wildwatcher about his and Born Free’s view on wild animal captivity, an issue that has become increasingly topical since Knut the polar bear’s death on 19th March at Berlin Zoo.

    Prior to Knut’s death, behavioural problems were reported owing to his upbringing in captivity. Do you think there is a way to avoid behavioural problems in adult animals who have been brought up in a captive environment? Or do you think this is impossible in such circumstances?

    Daniel Turner: Abnormal behaviour, such as pacing, swaying, rocking and even self-mutilation (often observed in captive animals), usually results from a restrictive and artificial environment that lacks opportunities to encourage natural behaviour and mental stimulation. Initial boredom within the captive environment – which usually lacks the complexity of the natural habitat of a species – often manifests itself into abnormal and usually repetitive behaviour with no obvious function as the animal seeks to cope with the situation. Reversal to a natural state is sometimes possible with the inclusion of apparatus, feeding devices and other forms of environmental enrichment, which in effect will ‘occupy’ the animal and encourage exercise and natural behaviours. However, should an animal be exposed to such depleted and restrictive living conditions for such a period of time that the abnormal behaviour becomes neurotic, reversal becomes less likely.

    Born Free has talked about the establishment of a Polar Bear Rescue Centre in Northern Europe. Has there been any progress made with this?

    DT: There is currently no plan to establish a sanctuary for polar bears. The Born Free Foundation hopes to influence the policy of European countries, EAZA and the zoos themselves to agree to no longer keep this species. For those that survive in European zoos, the answer is to improve their conditions and perhaps, if deemed viable, to seek an alternative and appropriate, but already existing facility where animals could be rehomed until their demise.

    Between March and May 2011, four polar bears that were housed in European zoos (Lovech, Highlands Wild Animal Park, Berlin and Budapest) have died. Those few that remain are kept in completely inadequate conditions and many display abnormal behaviours, generally due to a lack of mental stimulation. Polar bears are clearly not suitable for zoos. Their current state is often depressing, their survival uncertain and despite the requirement on EU zoos to conserve threatened species, keeping polar bears in zoos is not the solution to their apparent decline in the wild.

    The Born Free Foundation has campaigned for years to phase-out the keeping of polar bears in captivity and thus far, this has mainly fallen on deaf ears. A sanctuary for this species may well be a possible, yet problematic approach, but whilst this species is kept and owned by zoos, there is little hope, other than the possibility that no more polar bears will be taken from the wild for zoos.

    Please tell us about the breeding problems you have discovered among polar bears in light of Born Free’s EU Zoo Inquiry 2011.

    DT: The EU Zoo Inquiry 2011 has included the assessment of a number of polar bear enclosures in different Member States of Europe. All were noted as completely inappropriate environments for the species. Not one zoo evaluated in the project exhibited young animals: a clear indication that this species does not breed well in captivity. In fact, of those births that have been publicised by European zoos, the majority have been marred by problems such as infanticide, mother rejecting offspring (and the hand-rearing of animals) and premature death.

    Are there any zoos that you hold in high regard in terms of their animal care and conservation efforts?

    DT: Inevitably, some zoos do better than others in relation to compliance with their legal obligations. All EU zoos are required to be licensed, regularly inspected by competent authorities and to meet the requirements as specified by national law, which should have incorporated requirements of the EC Directive 1999/22.

    The EU Zoo Inquiry 2011 has, however, identified that even these ‘better’ zoos are often not meeting all the legal requirements, and actions related to conservation of Threatened species, public education in species conservation and appropriate animal care, in particular, are often identified as minimal. A lot more needs to be done by associations such as the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), national governments and the European Commission to ensure zoos comply with national requirements and adopt the stipulated role of conservation centre. One answer is fewer zoos, higher standards and viable species conservation efforts. We are a long way from this being a reality.

    What do you think is the future for zoos?

    DT: Born Free Foundation and ENDCAP, a European coalition of NGOs of which Born Free is a member, would like to think that zoos could be phased-out with time, for government authorities and zoo operators to recognise that conservation attempts for the majority of species are not viable in captivity and to consolidate existing captive populations of animals whilst maintaining high standards in animal husbandry. However, whilst at this current time we are dealing with unknown numbers of zoos, many of which are unlicensed, and most of which do not comply with legal standards, as well as the fact that millions of animals would be displaced should zoos have to close, our current efforts, such as the EU Zoo Inquiry, have to focus on the short term. Born Free and others continue to strive to encourage the improvement of zoo regulation, by assisting competent authorities and influencing policy makers, and further, seeking to end the keeping of certain wild animals, like the polar bear, in captivity. This is the only way to ensure that the current chaos is resolved.

    Long-term, I would like to think European society will eventually recognise that the keeping of wild animals in zoos is not the answer to maintaining healthy wild populations of species and halting biodiversity decline. Common practice and experience has recognised that conservation efforts are better fought and won in the wild. Furthermore, that advances in science and technology can ‘recreate’ a virtual animal or natural world, replacing any educational benefit linked to exposing live wild animals to the public. This has to be the way forward if the human race truly does respect animals and their inherent needs, as well as the conservation of the world’s biodiversity.

  9. 3 Million People Living in Poverty Will Soon Have Access to Unique Mobile Phone Identities

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    Through a scheme supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), around three million people living in poverty in the developing world could gain access to mobile communications via the ‘cloud’.

    Cheap mobile phones have revolutionised lives in third world countries, connecting farmers to markets, helping people to make payments and search for jobs, and helping to improve their quality of life. But more often than not, people still need to share and borrow phones, often from neighbours or family members.

    Via a scheme by Business Call to Action (BCtA) – a global initiative supported by UNDP and thanks to commitment from technology firm Movirtu – people in the developing world will be able to receive a cloud phone identification number, which can be used on any mobile phone. All users need to do in order to send and receive calls, and access critical information and services, is log in with their unique access code.

    BCtA Acting Program Manager, Amanda Gardiner, says, ‘Evidence shows that access to mobile communications is a way of improving lives and expanding the earning potential of one billion people living on $1-2 a day.’ Movirtu customers save on average an estimated US$60 a year on phone charges incurred from shared phones. Ramona Liberoff, EVP of Marketing, Strategy and Planning at Movirtu, explains, ‘We give shared phone users their own mobile identity, opening up the world of mobile banking and payments… Our goal is to increase the earning potential of those on $1-2 a day by saving money and allowing them to access the economic benefits of a full mobile identity today.’

    The scheme aims to provide around 50 million impoverished people across Africa and South Asia access to low-cost mobile phone identities and mobile numbers, with a target of 3 million using the service regularly. As women are 21 per cent less likely to own a phone in rural parts of the developing world (according to GSMA), the scheme also targets to provide a mobile number to 2.4 million more women, mainly in rural communities of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

    The scheme is currently being piloted in Madagascar.

    The UN also supports mobile schemes working to benefit those living in poverty elsewhere in the world. The UN Capital Development Fund are currently working with Vodafone MPAiSA, Digicel Mobil eMoney Fiji, and the FinEd Fiji project on mobile money projects in order to introduce financial education to primary and secondary school curriculums.

    The UN has proposed that internet access should be a human right. Will they soon decide that access to a mobile phone and mobile communications should also be a human right?

  10. The wolf cookbook and other tales. Wolf hunting throughout history and wolves in mythology

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    A kerfuffle in Sweden

    Sweden has come under the spotlight this month from the European Commission for allowing the killing of 20 wolves. According to Environment Commissioner Janex Potocnik, this breaches EU environmental law. He has clearly expressed his disappointment in the situation and states that:

    “The actions of the Swedish authorities leave me with little choice other than to propose to the Commission that it begin formal proceedings against Sweden for breach of EU environmental law. I hope that the Swedish government’s promised effort to address the unfavourable conservation status of the wolf population in Sweden through translocation of wolves from other parts of Europe will be pursued without delay.”

    This is the first time that wolf hunting has been allowed in the country since 1964, and has clearly proved to be popular amongst hunting enthusiasts with 6,000 people signing up to kill just 20 wolves of the approximate 200 individuals currently in the wild in Sweden.

    All this fuss, but Sweden is by no means the only country to legalise wolf hunting.

    So where else is wolf hunting allowed?

    Scandinavia: As in Sweden, wolf culling has been allowed in Norway in recent years. In Finland wolf hunting is also allowed, although it is only permitted to kill around 22 individuals. However, throughout Scandinavia the dwindling population of wolves has raised concerns over the genetic health of the wolf populations.

    Ukraine: The wolf population remains relatively high here, and permit-holders can hunt throughout the year.

    Bulgaria: Hunters can receive the equivalent of two weeks pay on the average wage for producing a wolf.

    Belarus: 60 to 70 Euros are paid to hunters for each wolf they kill.

    Russia: Wolf hunting still continues in Russia, and is currently the only country where poison is used legally to kill wolves.

    Central Asia and Mongolia: In these regions where a large proportion of the human population are nomadic, wolves are seen as a pest as they prey on livestock on which people rely on for their income, way of life, and survival.

    China: Licenses to hunt wolves can legally be obtained.

    North America (Alaska and Canada): Aerial hunting is still legal practice. It has been estimated that approximately 15 percent of the wolf population in this region is culled each year. In the United States, where a wolf has attacked livestock, killing the suspected perpetrator is allowed.

    It seems to be that everywhere wolves exist, hunting them occurs to varying extents.

    Perhaps old habits die hard. Right back to the humble beginnings of humanity, humankind has hunted wolves.

    Wolf hunting through history (a brief overview!)

    UK: Wolves were hunted to extinction in the United Kingdom very early on, between 1485 to 1509, and it’s no wonder: in 950AD, King Athelstan ordered 300 wolf skins be given to Welsh King Hywel Dda each year. This tradition continued until the time of the Norman Conquest in around 1066. Even then, hunting continued. Kings employed wolf hunters who were able to live on certain lands in return for their services. William the Conqueror made Robert de Umfraville Lord of Riddesdale in Northumberland on the condition that he defended the land from wolves and human foes. King Edward (from 1272 to 1307) ordered that the wolf population in his kingdom be destroyed.

    Wolves were able to survive in Scotland until the late 18th century, largely owing to the country’s remoteness. They were wiped out in Ireland around the same time.

    France: The ‘Luparii’ – an organisation of wolf hunting officials – was founded by Charlemagne during the 9th century. This office is still in force today and is now known as the Wolfcatcher Royal, but now has a less exciting purpose serving as an administrative office with the purpose of regulating vermin and maintaining healthy wildlife populations throughout France.

    After the French revolution, wolf hunting – previously an activity that was restricted to members of the aristocracy – became open to anyone, and the equivalent of one month’s pay was offered for each wolf killed. From 1818 to 1829, a staggering 14,000 wolves were killed each year in France.
    The last wolf was reportedly killed in France in 1937, and it seems surprising that they lasted that long.

    Scandinavia: In Sweden, offering a bounty prize for wolves first occurred in 1647, and remained a practice for centuries after. In the 1960s the invention of snow mobiles put the wolf population under increased threat, to the extent that the last wolf was killed in 1966. Since this time wolves have been reintroduced here, although they are being hunted again! The argument for this is that the gene pool is currently too small to maintain a healthy population, and a number need to be exterminated to make way for fresh genes.

    In Norway the last wolf was killed in 1976 before they were reintroduced and placed under protection by the state.

    Russia: Although wolves have been hunted in Russia for hundreds of years and the practice still continues – and in spite of a massive culling (during the late 1970s and 1980s, the Soviet Union killed over 1,500,000 wolves) – the animal is still relatively prevalent across Russia, possibly owing to the country’s enormous size and the fact that is is largely rural, remote, and sparsely populated.

    India: In the late 19th century and early 20th century wolves were heavily hunted for a different reason other than for sport or because they were seen as a pest. It is reported that 721 people were attacked and killed by wolves in the Northwest of India in 1876. In response, 2,825 wolves were killed in the region.

    Further attacks on humans occurred in 1878, in which 624 people were killed. To counter this, 2,600 wolves were killed. During 1871 to 1916, it is estimated that a totally of approximately 100,000 wolves were killed in then British India.

    Japan: The last wolf was killed in Japan in 1905.

    Central Asia: Golden eagles have traditionally been used to hunt wolves. This is done by immobilising wolf cubs; the eagle places one foot to the back of the neck, and one at the flank near the heart and lungs. The coat of the wolf was often used as a vital material for clothing and for protection against the harsh weather for these nomadic peoples.

    Humankind has hunted wolves in every civilization where wolves existed throughout history. We have killed them to protect our homes and livestock, for clothing, for good fortune, a right of passage, and even for medicine.

    So now we’ve got all of these dead wolves, what are we going to do with them?

    The wolf cookbook

    People have generally avoided eating wolves; apparently the meat is not good. However, in certain Native American tribes, the meat of wolf cubs was considered a delicacy. Killing wolf cubs also served the purpose of maintaining the wolf population when numbers became too high. But generally, wolves were not eaten for pleasure. Most often their body parts were consumed as part of the ingredients of certain medicines across the ancient world. It seems that nearly all parts of the wolf was used for some kind of medicinal concoction in some form or another, and was even believed to give people certain supernatural powers.

    In Ancient Greece and Rome wolf meat was used in ointments to ward of evil, and was also thought to help treat epilepsy, plague, and gout. The liver, when turned into a powder and mixed with ingredients such as wine, flour, water, blood, and urine, was believed to cure and aid a range of ailments including; epilepsy, edema, tachycardia, syphilis, gangrene, vertigo, migraines, verrucas, and dysentery. The tongue of a wolf, when cooked with honey and flour, was administered to cure epilepsy and give the consumer good luck. It was believed that the eyes of a wolf could give the consumer partial invisibility (I wonder how long this belief ensued, as surely this was a myth that could easily be disproved: after the eyes were consumed and the spectators hopefully not blind drunk on mead, onlookers must have been able to testify that wolf eyes did not in fact render the eater partially invisible, unless he was hiding behind a plant). Eyes were also given to children to imbue them with courage. In powdered form, wolf bones were given to patients with chest and back pains, broken bones, and injured tendons. Wolf penis was administered to cure impotency. The blood of a wolf was used to cure gout, period pains, and deafness. Wolves’ heads were often hung outside houses to deter wolves, robbers, and evil spirits. In powdered form, it was thought wolf head could cure toothache and joint pains. The milk of a female wolf was believed to make people invincible (again, easily disproved, although people would possibly be less inclined to test this out). Wolf heart was believed to give warriors courage during battle, while the tail was used as a love charm (whoever said romance was dead was probably right).

    My personal favourite comes from traditional shamanic Mongolian medicine: while eating the intestines of a wolf was said to cure chronic indigestion, patients with haemorrhoids were prescribed food sprinkled with powdered wolf rectum.

    I doubt that the Swedish will be so resourceful with the 20 wolves they have killed in Sweden this month.

  11. Old traditions threaten the future of rhinos

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    Kruger National Park – one of South Africa’s most popular tourist destinations and safari hot spot – is known for its staggering beauty and rich biodiversity. Sadly, it also has a dark side.

    Rhino poaching in Kruger National Park has been rife in recent years, and concerns are rising. The park is home to a substantial number of the rhino population on the continent: nearly 90 percent Africa’s 23,000 rhino population live in South Africa. The country has between 9,000 to 12,000 white rhinos, and between 580 and 650 black rhinos. In recent years, rhino poaching has seen a shocking increase, with 83 rhinos killed in 2008, and 122 rhinos killed by poaching in 2009. A staggering 333 rhinos were killed in 2010 resulting in the highest number of rhino poaching ever experienced in South Africa. So far this year, a total of five rhinos have been killed in the country.

    On 12th January five rhino poachers were shot dead in South Africa, and seven others arrested in an attempt to quell the poaching surge. Three were killed in the park, and a further two were shot near the Mozambique border. It is important to note, state Kruger News, that as well as being home to the majority of rhinos in the country, a large proportion of the park borders Mozambique, making the park more desirable to poachers as they are able to escape into the neighbouring country.

    Trade in rhino horn is banned under CITES. However, the demand for rhino horn has made its trade a very lucrative business on the black market for international organised crime syndicates, with each horn fetching up to thousands of dollars. It is so lucrative, in fact, that they have been able to utilise very advanced technologies such as helicopters, tranquilisers, and night-vision equipment to aid in their poaching.

    African rhino coordinator, Joseph Okori, holds ‘well-organised syndicates’ who now use these high-tech devices responsible for the sharp increase in rhino poaching in Africa. “This is not normal poaching,” he says.

    Demand for rhino horn has been largely driven by markets in the Far East (China and Vietnam in particular) in their desire for use of the horn in traditional medicines.

    In traditional Chinese medicine, rhino horn is believed to cure a wide variety of ailments. According to Li Shih-chen’s 1597 materia medica Pen Ts’ao ao Kang Mu and quoted in a National Geographic blog post, rhino horn was prescribed for nearly everything: “To cure devil possession and keep away all evil spirits and nightmares. Continuous administration lightens the body and makes on very robust. For typhoid, headache and feverish colds. For carbuncles and boils full of pus. For intermittent fevers with delirium. To expel fear and anxiety, to calm the liver and clear the vision. It is a sedative to the viscera, a tonic, antipyretic. It dissolves phlegm. It is an antidote to the evil miasma of hill streams. For infantile convulsions and dysentery. Ashed and taken with water to treat violent vomiting, food poisoning, and overdosage of poisonous drugs. For arthritis, melancholia, loss of the voice.”

    A belief has emerged in Vietnam that the horn can be used to cure cancer.

    In fact, rhino horn has no medicinal value whatsoever. According to a 1983 study at Hoffmann-La-Roche, and an additional study in 2008 by the Zoological Society of London, results conclusively revealed that rhino horn contains no medical properties.

    There are measures in place to combat rhino poaching, including enlisting the help of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), who have sophisticated surveillance equipment, and work done by WWF with their African Rhino Pogramme, which provides technical and financial support to 12 rhino conservation projects across Africa. WWF also work with governments, NGOs, and local communities, and work to ensure that local communities benefit from rhino conservation schemes via wildlife tourism, in an attempt to reduce the incentive to poach.

    However, poaching will always continue as long as there is a demand for rhino horn. The only way to truly put an end to the poaching is to pull the problem out at the routes: by eliminating the demand for the horn, and with many Asian societies so steeped in old traditions and belief systems, it will be no easy feat.

    The solution lies in education: by sharing the knowledge of clinically tested and approved modern medicines in literature throughout Asia, and by informing medical students in Asia the dangers of hanging on to traditional Chinese medicines and its hand in the destruction of many species throughout the world. The unfounded traditions and beliefs of many traditional Chinese medicines that have been passed down from generation to generation over hundreds of years no longer have a place in the world.

    For further reading, rhinoconservation.org provides an insightful article on the subject of rhino horn demand and trafficking.

  12. A look at the reintroduction of predators into the wild

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    Reintroducing (or in some cases introducing for the first time) a predator into the wild is a very controversial subject, bringing with it heightened emotions.

    Wolves – previously extinct in Yellowstone National Park – have been reintroduced here, as have bears in the Alps, panthers in Florida, and eagles in Scotland. There has also been talk of reintroducing wolves to Scotland.

    Those against such reintroduction programmes argue about the animal’s impact on the human population in these areas, the affect this will have on farming businesses, and concerns of human predation. Surprisingly, non-profit organisation, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, also argue against reintroduction as they believe this will cause too much stress and harm to the animals involved. So why reintroduce predators back to the wild in light of such risks?

    Around the world, the absence of predators in certain areas has lead to an explosion of their natural prey, which has in turn lead to a damaging impact on their habitat owing to overgrazing. It seems logical then to restore the natural balance by reintroducing the animal’s natural predator, thereby controlling the population and restoring and protecting the wild environment. But does it really work, and do the benefits outweigh the risks?

    Yellowstone Wolves

    One of the best known examples of predator reintroduction is that of the Yellowstone wolves in Idaho, USA. After having been extinct from this area in 1926, grey wolves were brought back to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, nearly 30 years after discussions began in 1966. The idea that initiated this reintroduction was concern over the ever-growing elk population, which was increasingly becoming uncontrollable with no natural predators to maintain a stable population. This directly impacted upon the fauna of the national park: aspen and riparian cottonwood crashed due to overgrazing of the elk and other large prey animals.

    Introducing wolves here did have the desired effect of decreasing the elk population, however a counter argument to this is that it has decreased revenue for hunting outfitters, putting some people out of business completely. On the flipside, ‘wolf tourism’ is booming, bringing further revenue to the region. Their reintroduction also reportedly increased biodiversity in Yellowstone National Park: aspen and willow trees were able to make a recovery. Red fox and beaver populations – which previously decreased due to increased predation from coyotes – also recovered, as the wolves were also able to keep the coyote population under control.

    Wolves in Sweden

    In Sweden, wolves were previously thought to have become extinct in the wild during the 1960s. However a small pack was found in the early 1980s in southern Sweden. The pack consisted of only around 10 individuals, which made inbreeding a big concern. Owing to concerns over the pack’s small gene pool, there is currently debate over whether introducing wolves from Finland or Russia could help to promote intermixing and diversify the gene pool.

    Wolves in Scotland

    In 2002, one of Scotland’s wealthiest landowners, Paul van Vlissingen, suggested that wolves and wild lynx – previously native to Scotland – be reintroduced to manage an ever-growing population of red deer.

    The results of the study Vlissingen commissioned took place over three years, and found that deer culling, which is enforced to keep number of deer down, had a low long-term effect on the numbers of deer. The study also found that the numbers of deer prevented regrowth of vegetation. He believed that reintroduction of species such as lynx and wolves would boost tourism revenue. ‘There is enormous eco-tourism building in the world, and Scotland is losing out,’ he said.

    White-tailed Eagles in Scotland

    The third phase of the reintroduction of white-tailed eagle in Scotland is now underway in the east of Scotland.

    The white-tailed eagle (also known as sea-eagle) was reintroduced to the Isle of Rum in 1975 and has been a successful programme for this bird of prey. It is now being reintroduced to Ireland, but this has been met with negativity from local sheep farmers over concerns that the eagles would kill their lambs.

    Releasing this species into England was also being considered, but here again was met with concern from farmers that the eagles would harm their livestock, and there was difficulty meeting the financial burden.

    There is concern over the well-being of the eagles in eastern Scotland, where wind turbines are planned. Such an issue arose in Norway where, during the course of ten months, four white-tailed eagles were killed by wind turbines, bringing the total of eagle deaths to 13 since 2005.

    However, reintroducing the eagles to the west coats of Scotland has reaped benefits. Scottish environment minister, Michael Russell, commented, ‘The equivalent project on the west coast has proved to be extremely popular amongst visitors and contributes approximately £1.5 million annually to the economy on Mull. I look forward to the east coast reintroduction resulting in similar benefits and further enhancing the area’s biodiversity.’

    Mark Avery, RSPB’s Director of Conservation, has stated, ‘Our experience with reintroducing white-tailed eagles to Scotland shows how much their presence boosts the local economy through tourism opportunities worth millions of pounds a year.’

    Panthers in Florida

    The Florida Panther was introduced near the town of Naples, Florida, to control an otherwise unmanageable wild hog population. Here there are concerns from the local human population of Naples that encounters are becoming too common, as there are more than 100 Florida panthers now ranging free near the town of Naples. However, there have been no reported attacks on humans by Florida panthers. (BBC News.)

    Reasons Against Reintroduction of Predators

    People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have released a statement declaring that they do not support predator-reintroduction programmes.

    They cite a number of reasons for this, including the fact that reintroduction subjects animals to capture and handling, which is very stressful for them and can be damaging to their physical health. In the case of wolves, they explain that relocation can break up tightly bonded family units, which can cause further distress for the animal. They argue that the wolves reintroduced to the park have left their new packs as they have had difficulty adapting to the new area and new pack unit.

    Reintroduction of predatory species, they claim, is also traumatic for other animals already living in the habitat.

    Touching on the point of reintroduction programmes restoring the true balance of nature, they believe that it is not possible to artificially impose such a balance, and argue that ecosystems are in a constant state of change, which human expansion and development has sped up. However, they theorize that the ecosystem has ‘evolved and recovered to its current state’.

    Opponents to reintroduction programmes point out that media hype may spiral out of control with the presence of wild predatory animals in close proximity to human populations; sensational stories could be written, increasing negative feelings toward the animals, much in the same way as myths and fables have done through the ages about wolves, for example. This would lead to increased predation of these animals by human hunters.

    Reasons For Reintroduction of Predators

    Those who are pro reintroduction argue that doing so would restore the natural ecological balance, controlling the larger ungulate populations and benefiting the fauna.

    But many – especially farming communities – fear that predators living in the area would conflict with their own interests, with their livestock being prayed on.

    However, although these animals could bring financial loss to some, they have the potential to bring great financial gain to the region as a whole thanks to ecotourism, which is an industry rapidly growing in popularity and revenue.

    Ultimately, as the dominant species at the top of the food chain, it is natural human instinct to want to remain at the top. But the dynamics of the natural environment are changing due to our massive influence on the ecology and biodiversity of the planet. We may initially see predators living on our doorsteps as an inconvenience, and even a threat. But in spite of the inconveniences, the threat to someone’s livelihood in terms of their livestock, or the potential threat to human life in extreme cases, humankind needs to accept that we need these animals to maintain a balanced natural environment, and we need to accept that these animals are a part of our world, because we would struggle without them in it.

  13. Can Mobile Pave the Way for Education in the Developing World?

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    Children and mobile phones may sound like a bad combination, especially when used in school, but is there actually great potential in this technology to do a lot of good?

    The Nepalese government would argue that mobile phones have no place in schools and have banned their use on school premises following complaints from parents that the phones hindered the performance of students.

    But do phones, schools and learning necessarily have to be such a bad combination? Not according to organisations such as United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Commonwealth of Learning, US Aid, The Pearson Foundation, The International Youth Foundation (IYF), government bodies such as The Ministry of Education in Kenya, Department for International Development in Kenya, the Philippines National Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Development (NISMED), and mobile phone companies such as Nokia to name just a few.

    That’s an impressive list of organisations behind mobile phone use in education. Are they on to something?

    Mobile technology used in education (commonly known as ‘m-learning’) can, and is, being used to improve the quality of teaching, attitudes toward technology, and general education on subjects such as maths and science, and may even help to save lives!

    This method of teaching and learning is perhaps having the most impact in developing countries. In a practical sense, mobile phones are cheap and widely available compared to computers, which can be expensive and more difficult to obtain in certain parts of the world.

    I think one of the most important aspects of m-learning in third world countries is its potential to save lives: Commonwealth of Learning has a programme in India that uses mobile phones to teach people HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention by developing an interactive game via text messaging. Bridgeit  – a partnership consisting of Nokia, the Pearson Foundation, The International Youth Foundation, and UNDP – works in Tanzania and the Philippines to aid teaching by way of m-learning and includes the education of HIV/AIDS awareness, and other diseases common in the developing world such as cholera and malaria and their prevention.

    Following Bridgeit‘s success in the Philippines – where the project runs in 290 schools – it was launched in Tanzania, where it currently operates in 150 schools. Quite successful so far then! But what is so different about this method of teaching? What makes it special?

    Well it might not be anything so revolutionary in first world countries, but in countries where there is less access to modern technology, it seems to be making a difference. Teachers are able to choose from a choice of videos on maths, science, and other topics including HIV/AIDS and gender awareness, and download these to a mobile phone, which is in turn connected to a television in the classroom and shown to the students. This is really something different and revolutionary for more impoverished parts of the world, as it is the first time where children have really been able to learn using visual stimulation.

  14. Mobilising Riots: The Dark Side of BlackBerry Messenger

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    Uh oh, RIM… BlackBerry Messenger is being used to organise UK riots.

    I wholeheartedly agree with the use of mobile and social media in the support of causes (depending on what they are, of course). Take the riots in Egypt earlier this year, for example. Live tweets from people in Egypt spread news worldwide, kept the world as up-to-date as it could be on what was happening, and helped to mobilise protesters to overthrow a leader whom many saw as damaging to the country.

    But there is a dark side to mobile messaging.

    BlackBerry Messenger played an important role during the protests in Egypt, as those communicating via BBM had a private means of messaging one another without being tracked down by authorities. The BBMs are encrypted, making decrypting the messages or hacking the network a very difficult task. To shut down the BBM network would require access to a completely different set of servers than those used by other mobile devices.

    Following these protests, this method of being able to connect communities and urge them to action undetected have understandably unnerved India and Pakistan, and the two governments have requested for RIM to give them the ability to monitor and decrypt emails sent via the phones.

    They have good reason to be nervous as BBM also played an important role in the organized terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, in 2008. Now the devices are being used to help organize riots in the UK.

    BBM Connects Communities Together – Privately!

    Following the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan on of 4th August by police, his family arranged a peaceful protest to take place, but this descended into riots. Since then the situation has only worsened and has spread to other cities in the country.

    Via Twitter, police were able to pick up on the fact that people were attempting to target Hackney Carnival and were able to prevent attacks. However, it appears that BBM is behind many of the messages being sent between rioters to help organise attacks, which police are unable to trace.

    The Guardian reported that it was shown a BBM broadcast, which read, “Everyone from all sides of London meet up at the heart of London (central) OXFORD CIRCUS!!, Bare SHOPS are gonna get smashed up so come get some (free stuff!!!) f*** the feds we will send them back with OUR riot! >:O Dead the ends and colour war for now so if you see a brother… SALUT! if you see a fed… SHOOT!”

    Another message shown to the Guardian read, “Everyone in Edmonton enfield wood green everywhere in north link up at enfield town station at 4 o clock sharp!”

    For many, BBM has become the preferred method to connect to people. Ofcom’s Communication Market report said that 37 per cent of teenagers in the UK use BlackBerry handsets. The messaging service is free, part of a larger community than SMS has been able to provide, and is private.

    It is the privacy of the service that is the crux of the problem: authorities cannot trace or read messages sent via BBM, but RIM has agreed to help Scotland Yard in any way they can. They have stated, “We feel for those impacted by the riots in London. We have engaged with the authorities to assist in any way we can.”

    Who would have thought that providing people with a private messaging service could serve such a damaging means?

  15. Who Should Be in Control of Phone Networks?

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    Who should be in control of phone networks? Should it be governments? Should it be the network providers themselves? How can we ensure that these services work for the benefit of nations?

    We’ve seen governments using mobile network providers to benefit their own agendas in Egypt, Iran, and China amongst others. Well, it seems like a good idea: if there are a group of people creating trouble for your regime and you are trying to take control of a dangerous situation – where people are communicating and spreading messages designed to cause dissidence constituting a threat to national security – surely the logical thing to do would be to monitor the messages being spread to supporters and potentially block them altogether? Perhaps even send a few messages out there yourself?

    Vodafone in Egypt: A New Age of Propaganda?

    During the uprising in Egypt, Vodafone was one of a number of companies to shut down its mobile and internet networks as instructed by the Mubarak regime. The authorities then ordered them to switch the network back on so that the regime could send out messages. The messages were of a political nature and endorsed President Mubarak and his regime. Vodafone later described the messages as ‘unacceptable’. Is this one of the first examples we’ve seen of ‘mobile propaganda’?

    Nokia Siemens Networks in Iran: Does Lawful Interception Mean Trouble for Oppressed Citizens?

    In perhaps a more controversial case, Nokia Siemens Networks (NSN) supplied Irantelecom with a monitoring centre, which is a server that would enable ‘lawful intercept functionality’. This is a technical term that essentially means that law enforcement organisations would be able to tap phones, read emails and survey electronic data on communications networks. This could spell serious trouble for repressed citizens.

    Ben Roome from NSN has stated, ‘We provide these systems to be used under the applicable laws in their countries and make sure we are abiding by U.N. and [European Union] export regulations and code of conduct. We provided the monitoring centre to Irantelecom. We are not going to comment on the use of it. It is there to record lawful intercepts.’

    Lawful intercepts? What exactly does that mean? The term is described by Cisco Systems as:

    …the process by which law enforcement agencies conduct electronic surveillance of circuit and packet-mode communications as authorized by judicial or administrative order. Countries throughout the world have adopted legislatives and regulatory requirements for providers of public and private communication services (service providers) to design and implement their networks to support authorized electronic surveillance explicitly. International standards organizations have also developed standards to guide service providers and manufacturers in specific lawful intercept capabilities.

    This could help with the investigation and prevention of serious crimes, which can’t be a bad thing… But it also has the potential to be used as a tool, repressive in nature, for limiting personal freedoms and threatening freedom of speech as a human right, especially in countries such as Iran.

    Commenting on the monitoring centre supplied to Irantelecom by NSN, Hadi Ghaemi, spokesman for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, says, ‘This is an absolute threat to the privacy of all Iranian activists. It puts them in danger of being constantly monitored by the intelligence services, something that we know is already happening.’

    Apparently, similar actions are also taking place in China, with the case of Cisco Systems in China being another example. The company sold technology to the Chinese government to enable it to monitor its citizens via the web in something that has become referred to as ‘The Great Firewall of China’. The company itself came under fire for its actions in this country.

    National Security v.s. Freedom of Speech

    In the wake of the riots in the UK, David Cameron has warned Research in Motion (RIM) – creator of the mobile device BlackBerry – that they need to take more responsibility for content on their networks. He also spoke in favour of monitoring social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Some would agree with him, but others believe it constitutes a threat to free speech.

    Mike Conradi, a specialist technology and communications lawyer, is one such person, ‘Parliament would have to pass new legislation and I would warn against that. That gets the balance wrong in terms of free speech and security. It would certainly put the UK in a difficult position in terms of talking to authoritarian regimes and trying to convince them not to turn off their networks.’

    Shadow culture secretary Ivan Lewis responded on this view by arguing, ‘Free speech is central to our democracy but so is public safety and security.’

    Well, you can’t argue with him. He’s right. But it still seems like too much of a grey area to me.

    I’m of the opinion that where there constitutes a genuine threat to civilians, ‘lawful interception’ should take place. In the case of the recent UK riots, carefully monitoring social platforms such as Twitter would (and did) prevent coordinated attacks, and having further control over BlackBerry Messenger would also have greatly helped.

    But often it is the citizens themselves that may present a threat to the government or regime in power, in which case, you could argue that the citizens themselves constitute a threat to national security. But does further monitoring and control over networks threaten freedom of speech? Should we leave this up to the network providers to decide?