Archive for October, 2010

Depressed? There’s an app for that

October 29, 2010 2 comments

For those of us in the northern hemisphere, winter is just around the corner. Aside from freezing our butts off and inevitably having to dig our cars out from under mounds of snow, that also means a serious lack of sunshine and a resultant dip in our general friendliness. In more serious cases, we’re into the beginning of Seasonal Affective Disorder season.

Fortunately, there’s the U.S. military. The National Center for Telehealth and Technology (T2), which researches and deploys new technologies for psychological health on behalf of the Department of Defense, has a new app for Android phones designed to help.

The T2 Mood Tracker is “a mobile application that allows users to self-monitor, track and reference their emotional experience over a period of days, weeks and months using a visual analogue rating scale.” The app can monitor six areas of brain and psychological issues: brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, stress, depression and general well being. It’s intended for troops who have returned from combat and may be suffering brain injury or PTSD, but it’s also available to the general public for free.

The app allows users to keep a sort of diary of their moods by logging general feelings through a graphical interface. The record can then be shared with a doctor or therapist to provide an accurate graph of the user’s mood over a prescribed period of time. As the website states:

Doctors and therapists frequently begin an appointment by asking, ‘So how have things been going since I saw you last?’ With this app it’s easy to answer that question by sharing graphs of emotional experience since the previous appointment. No need to try to remember how you were feeling last week. It’s all there, and the data were collected in real time. In addition, some research suggests that self-monitoring in and of itself has a therapeutic value by keeping people focused on the issue they are monitoring.

It’s a nifty app, but I think there’s a more effective one currently out there. It’s called Kayak, and it helps you book trips to warm, sunny places like the Dominican Republic!

Categories: army, Google, mobile, war

Porn comes to Apple’s Facetime

October 28, 2010 1 comment

I’m not sure why, but I get a certain joy in pointing out Steve Jobs’ hypocrisy. If you’re a regular reader, you know I’ve taken the Apple CEO to task a number of times for taking a moral high road in claiming that his company’s products are “free from porn,” when in fact they are the best friends the adult industry could ask for.

The iPhone, of course, freed the mobile phone from the evil clutches of cell companies, bringing the entire existing web - with its multitude of porn sites - to the palm of every user. True, Apple’s app store remains largely closed to adult entertainment companies, but they’re finding ways around it. Many have jumped right into HTML5, the multimedia alternative to Adobe’s Flash that is used by many mainstream websites and which doesn’t work on Apple’s mobile products.

Same goes for the iPad. While there was some early trepidation among porn producers, they got on board the iPad quickly and barreled even further into converting from Flash to HTML5.

Now, it’s Facetime. Apple last week announced it was extending its video calling service, found initially on the iPhone 4 and newest iPods, to Mac computers. That means Mac users can now video call iPhone and iPod users. So far, iPhone and iPod owners can only use Facetime if they’re on a Wi-Fi, but there’s little reason to expect the iPhone won’t soon be able to use its 3G cellular access to connect as well. The last piece of the puzzle is the iPad, which doesn’t yet have a camera and is therefore incapable of doing Facetime. It’s a poorly kept secret that the next iteration of the device will indeed have at least one camera, so it too will get the video-calling feature.

Naturally, the porn guys are getting in the game. A company called IP4Play is billing itself as the first to make commercial use of Facetime, not to mention video calling on Skype. Essentially, users sign up, pay a fee, and they get to video chat with nude models. Here’s the site with some funny PG and X-rated commercials for the service (the page itself is safe to view at work).

The Cult of Mac website has a short interview with Travis Falstad, managing director of IP4Play, and he sums up the Apple situation nicely. When asked whether Jobs can keep Apple devices porn free, he says:

We certainly respect Steve Jobs’ decision to keep porn out of the app store but it would be a stretch to make Apple devices “porn free” unless he wanted to obstruct their access to porn on the internet. Millions of Mac users view porn daily on their Macs and we only think that number grows with the addition of FaceTime on the Mac in conjunction with the iP4Play experience.

Categories: apple, sex

Would you like fries with that wedding?

October 27, 2010 Comments off

Hey, remember that report this summer put out by McDonald’s that found the chain’s restaurants were a popular date location? Well, it gets better. Much better.

Three McDonald’s outlets in Hong Kong are now offering “McWeddings,” or the chance to get married under the Golden Arches. According to a local McDonald’s executive quoted by Reuters: “Traditional weddings use cherries for the newlyweds to eat together and kiss. We will have French fries for them to kiss… People said they’d dated here (McDonald’s restaurants), or met here, and wanted to get married here … We see this as a business chance.”

Well, I guess that’s not too surprising, aside from the fact that some people apparently met at McDonald’s. How weird would that be? “Hey baby, come here often?” “Why yes I do, I just love what the chef does with the chicken nuggets.”

Then again, given that people are willing to have Star Wars and Lord of the Rings weddings, it’s sort of inevitable that somebody would want to get hitched at McDonald’s. The only question is: how long till KFC and the rest follow? Marriage is supposed to be the ultimate symbolization of two becoming one, which sounds very much like the thinking behind a recently introduced product. Let’s cut to the chase: hey KFC, about a Double Down wedding?

The McWeddings also remind me of the restaurant here in Toronto that flirted with the idea of promoting sex in its bathrooms as a way to draw patrons in for Valentine’s Day.

All of this is proof that food, sex and love are all very intimately intertwined.

Categories: Uncategorized

The case against labeling GMOs

October 26, 2010 1 comment

I’ve been boning back up on the world of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) lately, in preparation for my journey into the figurative belly of the beast next week. I did an interview with Venue magazine in Bristol last week regarding Sex, Bombs and Burgers, and we had a hearty chat about GMOs. I had actually forgotten that the UK is the seat of GMO opposition, what with Prince Charles leading the charge against them and all.

In that vein, I’ve been talking to some people involved with GMO production over the past couple of weeks. My chat with Dr. Adrian Dubock, one of the scientists overseeing the Golden Rice Project, went up on CBC about a week ago while my conversation with John Buchanan, director of R&D for AquaBounty - the company that’s behind the genetically modified salmon currently under review by the FDA - was posted yesterday.

Both stories drew a good portion of ignorant comments from Luddites and dummies alike, but they also got some intelligent questions and discussions going, particularly the salmon story. In yesterday’s Q&A, a number of readers said they had no issue with genetically modified fish, but felt they should be labelled as such so that “the market” could decide their fate.

On the surface of it, that’s not a terrible suggestion. After all, if there really is nothing wrong with such fish, they should be able to stand on their own merits. Letting consumers vote with their wallets is ultimately the fundamental underpinning of living in a free-market, democratic country.

But realistically, there are significant problems with the idea, largely because people are easily manipulated and misled. Allowing the market to decide GMOs’ fate is exactly what happened in Europe. Such foods there had to be labelled as such, and they sold poorly - not because there was anything wrong with them, but because people like Prince Charles raised hell about them. With no science backing him up, Charles actually had the audacity to proclaim that GMOs were a giant environmental disaster waiting to happen. The media, of course, lapped it up.

How is science supposed to fight that? Once your technology is tarred like that, there’s no coming back, which is why GMO makers are so opposed to labeling their foods. Doing so puts an easy target on them for critics to fear-monger over.

The deeper problem though, really comes down to one question: why should producers be forced to label foods as containing GMOs? That’s a completely arbitrary and unrealistic line to draw, especially if health authorities rule them to be safe. If GMOs are to be labelled, why not standard crops that are similarly created with the aid of technology? Almost all of the crops we’ve been eating for decades have been formulated by cross-germinating different strains and seeds - should bread be labelled for using alien strains of wheat? Should fruit be labelled for the ethylene gas used in the ripening process? The point is, it’s hard to single out one single type of food technology for identification without looking awfully hypocritical.

But wait: isn’t there something special about genetic engineering, and shouldn’t it warrant special attention? Well, not really. I’m no scientist but Frankenstein fears aside, there really isn’t much to worry about if you really step back and think about it from a logical perspective. As one reader of the salmon Q&A smartly asked:

Since splicing genes is only a matter of replacing proteins in one order with the same proteins in another, my question is, therefore: If you already know the chemical outcomes of both genetic sequences (and both are not regarded as harmful) where can the health problems come from?

In other words: if eating Fish A isn’t harmful and eating Fish B isn’t harmful, how can putting them together be harmful? Or, wouldn’t eating a genetically modified fish be about as harmful as eating Fish A, then Fish B - or rather, not dangerous at all?

Just as with my gripes over Wi-Fi the other day, this is another situation that really gets my goat. GMOs are another technology where the fears have way overshadowed the potential benefits.

Categories: food, GMO, uk

A brand new website

October 25, 2010 Comments off

It seems like an eternity ago that I started my Sex, Bombs and Burgers blog, even though it’s only been about a year and a half. My intention at first was to have an online presence where I could promote the book in advance of its launch by posting items related to it on a daily basis. I didn’t know what to expect, but suspected I might eventually shut the blog down once the book had run its course. After all, how long can one continue posting daily without any real compensation, especially on such a specific topic? It’s a lot of work.

But these things rarely turn out as you expect them to. In the first case, traffic to the blog has been growing strongly and steadily. In my first month, March 2009, I had about 500 visitors - now I’m averaging about 5,000 a month. That’s not astounding traffic compared to bigger sites, but it’s also not too shabby for a relatively new, independent blog. On the basis of that momentum alone, I have enough justification to keep it going.

Also, there’s really no such thing as a book “running its course,” like a movie or music album might. Sex, Bombs and Burgers saw its release in Canada, Australia and New Zealand back in March, and it’s coming out next week in the United Kingdom and at some point soon in South Korea. The big U.S. release is still to come next year, plus there’s the Canadian paperback version in March. Obviously, I have lots of reasons to keep writing about war, porn and fast food.

Moreover, though, I also have my upcoming freelance career to think about - only one week to go at the CBC! In this day and age, it seems pretty foolish to me for anyone who works for themselves to not have an online presence.

In that vein, although Google’s Blogger service has served me well for a year and a half, I thought I would move onto something a little more robust. After weighing some options, I decided on WordPress, which is similarly free and relatively easy to use, but also offers significantly more features than Blogger.

I’ve set up a brand new website,, which is live right now. The site has quite a bit more information on me, including a portfolio section with some of my previous work, as well as links to television and radio appearances. It’s not meant to be an ego shrine, but rather a full repository of stuff I can point editors to as I inevitably beg them for work. (I’ve freelanced before… it’s not always glamourous!)

I’ll be blogging as usual, and concurrently, on both the new site and until at least the beginning of December, at which point I’ll be redirecting all traffic from the old site to the new. There shouldn’t be any hiccups, but if you’ve got the old site bookmarked you may want to update to the new. It looks like all my archived posts imported okay to the new site, with the exception of some messed-up video links (which I’ll be fixing).

And, as I mentioned before, I’ll still be blogging about war, porn and fast food, but I’ll be expanding my newfound freedom to writing about other stuff too. I hope to see you on the new site, and thanks for reading!

Categories: books, cbc, internet