Category: politics

Spectres of Shortwave Sneak Preview

This is a very short interview with a gal from Eastern Canada who is producing a film about the Radio Canada International transmitter site in Sackville, New Brunswick.

Spectres of Shortwave – An experimental documentary film about the RCI shortwave radio towers. Images captured on 35mm film accompanied by personal stories told by people who lived near the towers.

Listen to the Podcast |

Click here to play the audio in your browser -or click the link below to download this short interview…


Social media 101 mad as hell and what are you going to do about it

I heard a TED Talk not too long ago on CBC radio and I would like to track it down and listen again.

It was all about how social media (as good as it appears to be on a surface examination) has robbed us of creativity and productivity.

How our addiction or dependance on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like has separated us of from our true potential selves.

But how is that even possible? I think of myself as a smart person, an engaged person and a person who is making a contribution to society. But am I, as an avid user of social media, really making a difference or the best possible contribution that I possibly can?

Let’s talk about one contribution that I make to the World around me that I am kind of proud of.

It is the website that I have been writing content for, for over 20 years.
A site that has been suffering from a degree of neglect over the last few years. But can we say definitively that this is the actual issue? Perhaps I have said everything I need to say about coffee culture or that it is time for younger voices to be heard. Fact is, when I started writing about the culture of caffeine consumption 20 years ago, I was relatively alone in a very finite field of coffee writers. That has changed. But could I be doing more?

Well, here is my truthful observation. In an average day, I may dedicate 45 minutes to “social media” or the “internet”. You know, checking e-mail, posting a couple of tweets or photos and updating my “Facebook” status. In that 45 minutes I may flip over to one of my web projects, like this one, and have a quick look see to make sure everything is ship shape… a couple of seconds of my time.

The reality of social media is that we are now all working for “free” for giant media mining companies like Facebook and Twitter. Many of my friends post on twitter like it is their own personal blog, not realizing that every word they are writing is being “exploited” in some fashion or another. They share their lives, their birthdays, the very minutiae of their earthly existence. I am often astounded by the sheer richness, the overwhelming quantity of words and thoughts that people post to their Facebook space is if it was a private personal journal. They update their profile photo’s with every change of hairstyle or mood. Outwardly this would appear to be pretty darn harmless. But is it?

I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist. Most global conspiracies are merely that: the product of someones overly fertilized imagination. If there was a conspiracy of global domination driven by a handful of evil doers, I think word would get out. And yet, here we are, sharing our whereabouts, our birthdays, our holidays and our most intimate feelings to an online behemoth. Relationships germinate, develop and coalesce and often die miserable deaths on social media. We use social media, like Facebook, as if it was some tangential communications form as reliable and without strings attached as a casual conversation or a binding agreement between strangers.

We often worry about an overly nosy government or police forces that want more power to surveil, ostensibly to save us from ourselves or terror threats, also imagined and otherwise. And on one hand we fight excessive police powers while revealing our destination, location and desires every hour and minute of each and every day. What happened to the essence of our private selves?

I have had this conversation with many, many people about this phenomenon of “social networking” and how much we all “need” social media. Parents and grand parents insist that they would not be able to connect with their children and grand children if it was not for social media APPS like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Seriously? What did we go before electronic social media? We picked up the phone and put pen to letter.

I do not wish to be a luddite but I cannot help but look in the mirror occasionally and ask myself, what kind of contribution could I have made today if I wasn’t spending so much time naval gazing and looking for that perfect, funny, witty or perfunctory tweet that will, I assure myself, change the World.

My mother once told me two stories that have hung with me my entire life: after I spent an evening in front of the TV glued to a sitcom with my dad and sisters that the World could crumble around us if we did not occasionally “self assess” our devotion to pop culture (at the time television entertainment).

And while standing at a bus top in the early 70’s she overheard two young women talking about a TV celebrity as if they they knew the characters personally. And one of the girls said to the other one, “Hey, isn’t that you brother across the street sitting on that park bench?” And the girl squinted and said, “Yea, I think so… haven’t talked to him in years…”

Perhaps what life in the 21st Century should really be about is balance. It takes work to achieve balance and sometimes it’s just easy to go with the flow. And that’s what scares me.

Colin Newell is a Victoria resident and writer, often with a mug of coffee in hand – looking for the truth or something that passes as truth.

Rare Radio Canada Broadcast from December 24th, 1989

Click here for audio file if you cannot see flash player above.

The following is a 128kbps stream of a Radio Canada International broadcast originally aired on December 24th, 1989 – called a “Native Indian Christmas in Canada” – although a bit dated, it gives an interesting perspective and historic context of life in North America well before the European settlers arrived.

This article has a very, very limited life span and the file will be pulled on December 30th. Enjoy it while you can. This program originated from a 1/4” Reel-reel CBC Master tape. Sadly, much of the CBC archives have been trashed or disposed of due to cuts and restrictions on space. This little bit of history is now preserved for all time in the digital realm.

If you can read this, thank your teacher – chapter 1

Had coffee with some of my work buddies this AM – and so clueless about what the life of teachers is like…
Nothing like a totally one sided discussion to get ones java boiling in the mug!

Anyway, I felt like sending them back to Elementary school… maybe Grade 1 even.

During the various rants various myths emerged – with my factual responses attached…

MYTH a.) Teachers work 180 days a year and get paid for 365 days a year.
FACT: They get paid for the days worked and the time in – Yes, they get a pay cheque year around for days worked – and consequently, their pay packets are about equal to 10 months work or more.

MYTH b.) Teachers get every summer off.
FACT: Many teachers work part time through the summer getting ready for the coming year.

MYTH c.) Teachers DON’T need to work in the summer because they have one set of lesson plans that they can use for their entire career.
FACT: Lesson plans and curricula change year by year depending on the needs of the students and the evolution of education.

MYTH d.) Teachers are overpaid!
FACT: No, bankers are overpaid… and even that is a bit of a stretch. Bankers make investors money (like you and I) which we appreciate.

MYTH e.) You cannot fire incompetent teachers because of the Union.
FACT: Progressive discipline is in effect in most unions and professional organizations. Bad teachers that break the law or, at the other end of the extreme, don’t do their jobs simply don’t survive.

Hey, if you can read this post and understand it (you might not agree with it…) Thank your teachers.

Colin Newell is a writer, technical analyst and engineering technologist at a local University that often gets asked… “Hey. Colin. What do you do on your summers off from working at a University?

Philippine typhoon relief – help needed now

Typhoon Haiyan – locally known as Yolanda –is the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines in 2013 and arguably the most destructive storm to hit the region in anyone’s memory. The storm has caused widespread damage, including landslides and flooding. Tragically, among the people affected are those who were left homeless by an earthquake in mid-October.

So, I ask you… I beg of my readers:

Donate to the Typhoon Haiyan Fund

The Philippine Red Cross has been on the highest alert since the typhoon was sighted, pre-positioning supplies, helping with evacuation plans and warning communities. Today, they are working to meet the needs of individuals affected by the storm. It is a tough job – and how can we help? With money.

Canadians wishing to help individuals affected by this storm are encouraged to make a financial donation online, at their local Red Cross office or by calling 1-800-418-1111. Please earmark donations “Typhoon Haiyan”. Funds will be used to support Red Cross efforts in all countries affected by the storm.

Our American readers can pop over here to donate.

International readers click over here for the International office of the Red Cross.

Victoria Spring 2011 – Canadian Gas Prices

Gas prices in Victoria B.C. Canada - taking it up the wazooI have spoken on this issue in the past – about gas price fixing in Canadian markets.

Which I am now preparing to reject. No, not preparing… It’s done.
Let me clarify: I do not believe that the markets are fixed in Canada.

For Gas. Or Coffee. Or Chocolate. Or anything for that matter.

And you’re wondering… “Who are you? Who took our Colin away?”

Here is the thing – 1st year University economics at work. We live in a free market system. That means that the markets set themselves. There are no wage and price controls at work in Canada or the U.S.
As a result, the market moves around to suit the vendors, the suppliers, the executives, shareholders etc. It is the system we have embraced.
And we vote for governments that support the open market agenda.
Actually, all the governments that are available to be elected are all for open markets – there are no socialist parties or active communist parties in Canada (or America). And the ones that are professing to be socialist are dreaming – or digging for votes.

We live in an open market society. Everything is up for grabs. Everything is for sale. And this includes petrol, oil, gas, coffee, water, pork bellies, all manner of food stuffs – anything that can be bought and solid for a profit.

Our governments negotiate and sign trade agreements with other countries that are not as developed as our own – that gives manufacturers the upper hand in maximizing profit for executives, owners, shareholders, etc. It is in the best interest of the free market system to get products made as cheaply as possible to get the most payback for the vested interests.

Gas is no different. The raw materials come out of the ground and are processed and distributed for profit. Yes, I know the raw materials are free – it comes out of the ground after all. But there needs to be an infrastructure for it to end up in your tank as high octane gasoline. That costs money.
And sure, oil companies like banks make obscene amounts of profit – so what. It is a free market system. Is this profit wrong? No. It is a free market system. We live in this system, support it and vote for governments that have a pro-business agenda.
We totally get what we pay for folks.
Coffee (a subject that I know a little bit about) is one of those highly traded commodities.
Imagine every coffee bean produced in a year – Got that picture? Good.
Well, that mountain of coffee changes hands anywhere from 50 to 100 times a year. And most of those folks that profit from coffee, big time, have never even seen a coffee bean or a coffee farmer. Is this wrong? Technically no – I mean, coffee brokers are not in the business of knowing how Juan Valdez is doing with his family in Nicaragua – or whether he and his family have education or health care. Brokers and traders are in the business of flipping product for profit.

Back to gas. Any government that says they are going to “look into high gas prices” are being utterly cynical. This has been happening in the U.S. lately. Obama has stated that high fuel prices need to be looked into. Additionally, one of the most stupid men in America, Donald Trump, uttered some shallow platitudes about taking Saudi by the short and curly and giving them what-for. Actually, considering that Trump is playing a joke on all of us with his Presidential run, he is actually being more honest than Obama.

When we consider that the fuel that goes into our cars comes from a finite supply, and that it is considerably more expensive in Europe – it is likely that the price in Canada and the U.S. is too low. I know, I hate paying $50 to fill my Honda Civic with this stuff – but I am not alone. And if I was in Holland it would be twice that much.

Summary: We live in a free market system where anything goes. Our new Conservative government in Canada plans on throwing Foreign ownership rules to the wind (which I strongly disagree with – but who am I.) Which means that more Canadian stuff is going to be on the vending block – which will increase the cost of living to average Canadian.

And as much as I would love to live in socialist utopia where I did not have to worry about food security, the integrity and safety of my water supply and the roof over my head… I am now ready to face the facts… that this is the society in which we live: A society where everything is for sale and speculation. It is what the majority of Canadian’s appear to want – so we get the results.

Victoria Spring 2011 – Islandnet under attack

Islandnet denial of service attackMy ISP (client since 1995) has been under a cyber-attack since yesterday – taking down the entire operation several times over the last 24 hours – disrupting thousands of customers and hundreds of webpages.

For the time being all is calm. was contacted by the attackers who ordered that the web site in question be taken down. has capitulated. And in their words.

UPDATE 3:12pm: we have been contacted by a group claiming to be behind the attacks. They identify the target (a customer of ours) and demand that the site in question be shut down or the attacks will continue. As much as I hate to capitulate, we can’t afford to stand up for the rights of one customer at the expense of all the others, so the site has been shut down.”

Not sure how I feel about this.

So. It was not the website I thought it might be. For all intents and purposes, it could have been my blog – which regularly speaks out on some sensitive international issues – pleases me to no end that my opinion is not so valued somewhere that I would be attacked over it. That said, I am not sure how I would feel about my Canadian ISP giving me the boot over the whims of a foreign power.

2011 sights and sounds – disaster moment by moment

One can do little more than reflect quietly on their blessings as a people only a few thousands of miles away struggle silently and firmly against seemingly insurmountable odds…

Sound clip caught by one of our monitor stations in the Haida Gwaii as the events unfolded. First few seconds in Japanese followed by English announcements. 5 minutes later, the unthinkable…

If you cannot see the audio device below, click here for the mp3.


2011 Media report chapter 1 – the increasingly silent radio dial

The decline of reliable radio in British ColumbiaVictoria, British Columbia’s place on the coastal ring of fire almost guarantees that one day we are going to be struck with an Earth moving earthquake.
There will be challenges. We will need to survive on our own devices for upwards of a week before help arrives – but what will be absent are some of the reliable radio voices that we have depending on for news… for years.

Camosun colleges CKMO Radio Society station on 900khz has decided to change from classic AM radio broadcasts to a more “sustainable, future-oriented digital platform to deliver the popular campus radio programming.” Their words…

“We live in a world with so many new media channels and technology options,” says Andrew Bryce, Chair of Camosun’s Applied Communication program (ACP). “Traditional broadcasters are scrambling to find new ways to connect with their customers and communities in the digital world. Camosun’s radio station will be ahead of the game, and still deliver great programming.”

My problem with this – CKMO will opt to be carried on the internet – the first thing that will fail in the event of a natural disaster. There are few things more technologically vulnerable than an all-internet hosted medium. Eggs in one basket if you know what I mean. A stand alone AM radio station can kick in a diesel generator and be on the air in minutes helping with an emergency. On the internet, no such contingency.

Brad Edwards, CKMO Station Supervisor says, “The AM transmitter we now use is expensive and power-hungry. The station can save a lot of electricity by moving to online streaming, a great green option.”

Calling this green is an illusion. Radio stations around the World are using this fib.
Picture this: Turn off a 10kw transmitter that they are probably paying dollars an hour to run and off-load the “energy cycle” of this process to each user who is, in turn, using 50 to 300 Watts of power to flash their computer to hear the broadcast – And the end user is paying 25 to 50$ a month for the privilege of the internet connection.

“ Moving to online streaming will also enable savings to be redirected into areas that will more directly benefit the students and the station, including long-overdue updates to critical equipment like microphones, broadcast boards and hardware and software necessary in establishing a stronger online presence within Victoria and around the world.”

Not sure about the microphones they use but the ones I buy are a once in a lifetime investment. They do not wear out.

CKMO radio listeners will still be able to access the station they have come to love and, as further investment is made into streaming technology and a state-of-the-art production facility, the quality of the signal will also improve considerably.”

Signal? Quality of the signal? There is no signal if you switch off the transmitter.

Listen to Village 900 while you can. The old fashioned way. On good old radio. And while you are at it (after sunset) tune your old radio dial around for stations located in Vancouver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and beyond… for free.

And reliable as gravity. Earthquake or not…

Colin Newell is a Victoria resident, writer and federally certified Electronics Technologist.