Archive for the ‘Confusion’ Category

Flight of the Orange Juice Perspective

September 22, 2012 Leave a comment

The past few months have been intellectually decadent, to say the least. I spent a lot of time “working” according to my time sheets. In that time I’ve had the opportunity to be involved with a lot of different people, from many different areas of life. Some were students I was mentoring, others were scientists, ranchers, performing artists, hunters, educators and, well, the list is just too dang exhaustive to type.

In the spring I was on a short flight heading back home from a meeting, I honestly can’t remember if it was early morning or late late evening. Either way I was tired. And then the stewardess delivered a much appreciated cup of orange juice. Who doesn’t love a cup o’ juice when tired & travelling, slagging away at work stuff whenever you get a spare moment?

As I sat there working away with the OJ on the tray beside me, a thought developed. The curious cup of OJ At a glance towards my liquid delight, my first thought within seconds was: we’re rolling slightly and vibrating at a set frequency. No duh. It’s a plane. This was promptly followed by: why the deuce did I think that? Post hoc explanation within the next minute was that I watched how the juice oscillated and moved around, thinking of how it was transmitting the movement of the plane and that not only was there vibration at a certain frequency causing a repeatable pattern of rings moving in the horizontal plane, but we were also likely tipping side to side a bit based on the shifting of the surface of the juice relative levels of juice at each side of the cup. Both of which were discernible to me because of the reflection of the light on the surface of the juice changing with motion of the juice relative to the incidence of the light.

Yup. Nerded that up.

I debated sharing the deconstruction of that thought process, largely because when I did most people just laughed and said it was because I was working too hard or just a big geek. Neither remark really bothered me, but I just felt that a bigger concept was at play. Perspective.

Although the discussions these past months have been over a wide variety of topics, I couldn’t help but circle back to my flying OJ experience when the topic arose of conflict. Especially when discussing the progression of “ag-vocacy” and inevitably with the arrival of the fall hunting season. Conflict is present in many things, but agriculture and hunting are two that I’m currently exposed to a lot. I recently went hiking with a hunter, encountered a “small” bear while I was on my own. Personally, the bear seemed damn huge at 10 ft away, but of all things what struck me was the curiosity in the face and gestures. Thankfully the encounter wasn’t detrimental for either the bear or I. After the hike, the hunter (a former guide from the north) gave me a book I just finished, Grizzly Heart. The book is about using a difference perspective for sharing the world with “dangerous” animals.

In the book Charlie Russel and Maureen Enns (an Alberta rancher and an artist) use a different perspective on bears, one that encompasses actually trying to understand the bears’ perspective on space, resources etc., to make sharing space with them possible not only for them in their remote cabin, but also for villages in the surrounding area. The book reminded me of my view of the flying OJ, and how it is just a different perspective on something. People’s responses just didn’t encompass that perspective.

I keep taking the OJ and the grizzlies back to ag-vocacy and the brewing discomfort that I have been developing with it. Sometimes it seems like a large amount of support for agriculture and attempts to “educate” about agriculture don’t encompass that other perspectives are seeing things in a whole different way. A lot of people may recognize that there are other perspectives on agricultural production. But I often am left wondering if people take the time to really try and see the world through the other eyes, how those eyes see the conflict and what we, as humans, might have to re-learn if we are going to peacefully share the world.


What Ag Innovation is going to FAIL

April 20, 2012 4 comments

oooooh, dooom!  glooom! AAAAAAAAH FAILURE!

Stick with me here. I’m going to share a though on why Ag Innovation is doomed to fail, and what twitter and other social media have to do with it.

There’s a lot of talk about the need to invest in innovation in Agriculture in recent months. Just google “Agriculture Innovation”. It was one of the questions when I was a CYL candidate, and it was brought up again for this year’s group.

But here’s the thing: Innovation, of any kind, is going to fail.

Now, I don’t fancy my self a true innovator. Or at least not yet. So maybe I should just keep my yap shut until I actually do something. But you see, I’m in the process of it. I think. As a student, I’m in the process of creating an innovative brand for myself that, hopefully, will land me a sweet job when/if I graduate (yes, some days I do wonder if I’ll ever get there, but that’s another story). And I don’t see enough of the conversation about innovation being realistic about the process. We’re sick with destination fever. So worried about where we’re going we’re forgetting about how we get there.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles @

School teaches us that there’s something horrid about being wrong. But in being innovative you’re not going to get it right on the first, second, third or maybe even 30th, try. And innovation requires that you try (fail) try (fail) try again. At least that’s what history’s and today’s innovators say. So I’m thinking they might know.

If we’re truly going to foster innovation in Ag, we need to give failing an big ol’ bear hug and get used to it. Yes, I’m saying accept failure. But never, ever ever ever, accept failure as “good enough” or as the end point and just leave it with “well, I tried”. That, my friend, would, ummmmm, well I can’t even think of how to describe that. It would just be bad, ok?

Part of failure is being ashamed of it. And shame is this really cool, interesting, curious thing. So get shame in that big ol’ bear hug too! Maybe that’s were social media comes in. It is a connection tool that’s rather instantaneous and worldwide. Putting out a tweet about how frustrating some failure is, and you get tweets back of understand and support. Maybe some connection will further your idea, help your innovation become more than an idea. Maybe social media is one of the ways we’ll get Ag Innovation from a hot topic into a wildfire. Or maybe it’s something the innovators out there might want to consider.

Clues to a Great Story: Making sense of animal welfare with science

March 7, 2012 1 comment

Ever get that feeling like you’re just about to figure out a whole bunch of questions you’ve been wrestling? Like the epic anticipation before your favorite character figures out the whole key to the story?

Well, I just encountered a fantastic presentation. I’m still digesting it, but it’s got be up outta bed and roaring with ideas like a kid with a empty box. It connects design, agriculture, marketing, world trade, agvocating, food, cities, farming….all human pursuits. But right now I’m going to focus on its relation to the debate on humane food animal production.

The presentation is by the fellow who helped develop the strong stories of Pixar movies (Wall-E, Toy Story, Finding Nemo etc). They reach out to so many people, to so many people who eat food, and engage. The presentation is called “The Clue to a Great Story“, and the fella is Andrew Stanton.

In the presentation, he reminds us that humans are problem solvers. We’re compelled to do it. I totally agree, our brains are wired for it because it’s essential for survival. You’re being chased by a hungry bear, but you still want to live. Solve the problem. Our activities are evidence that we love to solve problems and create (hello science, design, architecture, games and so much more). But what’s key, is that “the absence of information that draws us in”. Totally the climax in the movie, book, story from a stranger. Or the opening of these stories that draws us in.

But what’s more, is the suggestion that the absence of information is why we are intrigued by animals and babies. There’s such a lack of information there. They can’t tell us their thoughts and that draws us into their story. The lack of information is what makes us care about their story. We just love to finish animal’s thoughts and “solve the problem” of what’s going to happen next by filling in the missing information.

Think about it, animal metaphors are ubiquitous for describing human attributes. In those, we’re filling in the missing information on emotions/motivations etc. with human experiences that we understand. For example, “sly like a fox”….we are attributing slyness to foxes, but how are we to truly know that the inner thoughts (if they have them) of a fox are cunning and deceitful? We’ve merely filled in missing information on the thoughts/behaviors/motivations of a fox. Google “lolcats” and you’ll totally see what I mean (and likely have a giggle).

The challenge with filling in the information is that we all fill it in according to our personal perspectives. For example, some feel that the way animals behave within a system, such as confined production systems (CAFOs for example), is de facto natural behavior or the animal “being themselves”. But other people have a different opinion on what the missing information is. These groups feel that animals have, well, something more going on. They ascribe animals the same rights humans have, because they fill in the missing information with human experiences (e.g. HSUS, PETA).

Both are different perspectives on the same story. Since I tend to cook with a heavy dash of ethical relativism at the moment, it gets really hard to discern between the two. Both have a right to their opinion and to have their own values. But we’re involving a third party that, as I mentioned before, can’t fill in the missing information in their story. Or can they……..

Enter science. (Well hello my perplexing and wondrous friend! grab a drink and relax! the party just starts when you walk in!) Science has helped fill in the missing information on lots of perplexing issues and undoubtedly improved our lives. And it’s application to the current problem of filling in the information on animal’s story brings back a quote that has stuck with me since undergrad (no, I’m not saying how many eons ago that was). Dr. Ian Duncan told me once, “we need to let the animals speak for themselves, and science can help them do that”.

HOLD THE BOAT! Science is getting crazy in here! Was he saying we need to talk with the animals? Ummm, moo? Despite friends’ jest, that’s not exactly what I’m getting at. To me Duncan’s statement means that there is a way to let the animal’s fill in their own information. They get to tell us their story. Sure science has its challenges and is only as good as the people conducting it. It can be biased by scientist’s personal beliefs, perspectives and politics. But that’s why scientists collaborate and go to conferences and have peer review. The potential issues can be overcome and the benefit is worth it. Science offers us a way to figure out how to listen to the animal’s story, letting us problem solve and letting the animal’s fill in their own details instead of us using ours for them.

Behaviour, physiology, neurobiology and so much more comes into play in figuring out how to listen and what their story is. I’m in awe of the layers of problem solving we get to do to figure this one out. And the animal character has an epic spine driving their story (and humans as well): survival.

We already care, we’re drawn into the story. For any of us, just think of your favorite animal. The cow, the puppy. You care, you’re drawn into the story and can’t help but want to complete it.

Now try gently restricting your perspective on filling in the missing information about them and removing your perspective on what they are content with (sorry for saying purple elephant and asking you not to think of a purple elephant, ya you so just did). Now, think of all the discoveries in science and the wonder they create. The insight these discoveries and methods give. The improvements they make into your everyday life (helloooo heating and air conditioning, refrigeration, computers!). Now apply all that awesome to completing the animal’s story.

**I have to give big thanks to a lot of people, but the ones that spurred this thought and haven’t already been mentioned are Jesse Bussard for her song of tweets that always leads to some informative articles, Jeff Fowle for sharing my respect for communicating about agriculture and Jess Keating for her ever intriguing debates on the philosophy of animals and ability to incorporate Calvin and Hobbs into scientific posters.

Everybody’s on the net…why we blog

January 27, 2012 Leave a comment

As I was listening to CBC Radio 2 Drive and rushing to clean my apt before having some friends over, I heard the lovely Rich Terfry chatting about his discussion with Sarah Slean about the meaning of her song “Everybody’s on TV”. Specifically a line in it that goes “cause a life unexamined, well it’s certainly not worth living“.

The gist of what I caught is how it’s a twist on the Socrate’s quote “the unexamined life is not worth living” (scroll down, it’s there). Although I’m always intrigued by how humans suppose we know exactly what our ancestors were meaning, the point is that we should examine our lives and question things. Slean (and I love the literary wit here) was maybe, according to Mr. Terfry, pointing out how in the modern day we all want to be on TV or in the lime light.

This got me thinking about why I started this blog. To be out there, or in here, where my thoughts are. Logically it must be some form of out there, because why else would I post my thoughts on a ridiculously public and uncontrollable medium. Or maybe it’s more to converse on virtue of things, with myself through the ability to re-read and re-ponder.

I’m hoping it becomes a more-than-me conversing. And starting to wonder if blogging is a modern contribution to examining our individual and collective lives.

Categories: Confusion, media
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