Riding The Cloud To Victory; or, I Got My Laptop Stolen (Part 1)

Typical disclaimer about how I don’t update anymore, blah blah blah. Life is great and full of wonder, or, the night is dark and full of terrors. Either way, I’m busy and trying to enjoy every minute of the short life I have. You should too!

I recently had my laptop stolen. Yes, it sucked. It’s not a pleasant experience, imaging someone going through your personal affects (it was in a messenger bag), looking at my decor and organizational strategies and sneering with delight. Of course, I have no idea what they’re doing – they could have smashed it on the side of the road, or it could be halfway to China by now with a new MAC address. Of the three apps I used to try and track it, none of them: Find my Mac, Prey, or Tile, turned up anything the day after it was stolen out of my car (a smash and grab job), a few feet away from where I was quietly sitting in a cafe. This, of course, is not surprising: in order for the apps to work, they would need a constant internet connection. Since there was already a secure password set on my computer, the thieves probably spent little time cracking it and immediately opted to reformat the hard drive, which would delete the tracking software I had installed. The Tile locator, which works via Bluetooth, had a slightly better chance, attempting to ping off other Tile users in the area, but the app’s popularity doesn’t really warrant much success in this area. The locator was also attached to the laptop case which was easily removable.

This also begs the question: where the thieves intelligent, or dumb? Their behavior can tell a victim or law enforcement a lot about where to look. Unfortunately, I’ll probably never know what happened, and there is little recourse for a situation like this. However, some precautionary measures like a better car alarm, putting valuables in the trunk, and increased vigilance, would make quite a bit of difference.

Another potential issue with WiFi based trackers like Prey or Find my Mac (via iCloud) are they require a user to have the computer open and connected to WiFi. If you have a password set for your user account, as I did, this won’t work. However, if you leave your account password un-protected, you’re in business; here’s a success story using Prey for this method. As the comments bear out: this is not a tenable option for me – if I leave my laptop without a password, a thief would have access to all my files, cloud back-ups, and Google Chrome with hundreds of passwords saved. An alternative solution would be a guest account with no password (called a “honeypot” for this use) that Prey still runs on in the background. I plan to employ this solution when my new laptop (this time with some sort of insurance) arrives.

Setting a firmware password would block the hard drive reformatting, which could by you some extra time as a thief becomes frustrated and may try to guess your password again (obviously secure passwords are a must!) An alternative is LoJack, which claims to be embeddable in the firmware of the device itself, thus surviving reboots, reformats, and I would imagine even hardware modification. They claim to “work with law enforcement” to give your device back, which may or may not be a good thing. I’m interested in this, though it seems to bring up privacy concerns by the number of “remove LoJack” videos that exist on YouTube. A low-tech, alternative solution is an anti-theft sticker that becomes nearly impossible to remove, betraying the item’s true nature (and making it less attractive to steal, from, say, a coffee shop).

Clearly, I’ve thought a bit about this in the last few days. In Part 2 I’ll detail why the disaster wasn’t so great after – almost all my data was backed up to either the cloud, or a local Time Machine disk. Cloud back-ups can be nebulous, so I plan to discuss my history with it and offer some of what I feel are the best solutions currently.

Note: it should be said that while Find my Mac/iPhone/iPad comes free with iCloud and OS X/iOS, and while Prey offers a free version. LoJack does require an annual license for its premium software. Use at your own risk!

Note 2: an alternative solution would also be so low-tech I didn’t even think of it in the first place: don’t own an expensive laptop, don’t travel with it, or at the very least, keep it on your person if it’s so damn valuable. I’m constantly reminded of how incredible it is; the worth that we apply to pieces of metal and mineral with a fruit logo on them.

Update 1/17/15: As there is no BIOS in Macbook Pros; a firmware based installation of LoJack seems impossible. Strange, as Apple often tries to bundle the software as an add on.

Capturing Ghosts: Interview with Jo-Anne McArthur

Jo at Farm Sanctuary with Julia

I was fortunate enough to see a screener of the powerful new film, The Ghosts in Our Machine, as it gets ready for its United States debut this year. The film tells the story of our relationship to animals and how invisible that often is. Through the lens (literally) of a photojournalist, we see the struggle with how to live in a world that exploits animals at every turn. I reached out to the protagonist, Jo-Anne MacArthur, to discuss her role in the movie, and how she copes with seeing atrocity after atrocity.

Sam/TNTSU: I was first exposed to The Ghosts in Our Machine at AR2013 – there was a screening, but I missed it – so the whole premise took me by surprise. I thought it was going to be like  Earthlings, exposing the hidden animals in our world with a deep-voiced narrator telling us in gory details about the plight of these animals. Much to my surprise, and delight, as I began to watch the story of a young photojournalist. How was the idea pitched to you originally?

Jo-Anne McArthur: “Young photojournalist”. I am 36 years young :) Liz Marshall had been a good friend of mine for years. She’s a seasoned film maker and brings a lot of diverse skills and experience to all of her projects. After her film Water on the Table, she wanted to make a film that would tackle the animal question in such a way that would be reflexive and not directive for the audience. We are similar in that regard: we don’t want to tell people what to do, we want to present them with information, ideas and alternatives. So we we’re a good fit to work together. We also both wanted to produce work that would be visible and embraced by the main stream, rather than preaching to the choir about animal rights. She asked me if I would be the central human character in her next film. And the rest, as they say….

You’re often the one behind the lens, trying to artistically capture the sorrow and joy of the animals that we so often get to see. How did it feel to be on the other end of that relationship, having your actions front and center, and knowing that quite a few people are going to be watching them (in HD!)?

Haha! Well, it was a learning curve, but a short one I think (ask Liz, I suppose!). Actually Liz made it very easy because she works with cinematographers and sound technicians who are extremely unobtrusive. For the most part, I got used to it and eventually more or less forgot that they were there.

You mention in the film you have PTSD, and I believe many activists could empathize with the struggle we all feel; seeing, hearing, or knowing of countless animals who die every day for no good reason. How have you coped with the animal exploitation of the world since the filming? Have things gotten better for you?

I think that feeling traumatized by all we see and know about animal abuse is actually the correct response, not a strange one. But living with trauma every day isn’t sustainable and so we need to find ways to cope with that trauma. For many people, a great way to cope with the problems of systemic animal abuse is to become a part of the solution in a way that us sustainable for them.

The Ghosts film helps with coping, as you’ve suggested, by virtue of it being out there in the world, by it being seen and knowing that it’s making people think about animal abuse. We Animals has been getting positive feedback for years as well, which inspires me to keep pushing with the work. There are lots of heartfelt emails and positive messages each day about how the project or even just a single image has moved and changed someone.

Things are better now, yes. I had to work at it, and I had help as well. Peace came from taking better care of myself than I did in the past. It came as a surprise to me when I discovered that I don’t actually have any superpowers! I, too, was susceptible to becoming depressed in the face of so much suffering. I had to go back to some very healthy basics, like eating well, working a bit less, sleeping more, spending time with loved one and, most importantly, celebrating change and being thankful for all the hope and change I see in this world. I also read an illuminating book which should be required reading for all activists, called “Aftershock: Confronting Trauma in a Violent World, A Guide for Activist and Their Allies” by pattrice jones.

Pigs at a slaughterhouse in Canada. Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Pigs at a slaughterhouse in Canada. Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Has there been progress in the area of pitching these ideas to large magazines or news outlets since the filming? Have you been able to secure, as you mention in the film, an assignment-based position that makes the best use of your talents?

I wish I had a great answer for you. We Animals is more visible than ever, through campaigns and through the Ghosts film. I haven’t been assigned any great shoots from mainstream media, but I’m doing more than ever for animal organizations and images from We Animals are shared worldwide on social media. At least they are getting out there more and more. One of the issues is that I don’t make time to get images out into magazines. I’m kept hugely busy with working with organizations, the Ghosts film, the upcoming We Animals book. When I *do* make the time to do outreach to mainstream media outlets, there is some success. There have been a few 8- to 10-page spreads in magazines of the We Animals work. And I have some help now in getting the work visible. Redux Pictures represent me as a contributing photographer but I don’t think my business model – giving away all images for free to anyone helping animals – works in their favour! But I do this because I am an animal activist first, and a photographer second. Mind you it would really be nice to not have to fund We Animals through shooting weddings and events. Someday soon it will be self-sustaining. It’s on its way to becoming that.

Since I often discuss technology issues on the blog, can you talk a bit about what’s in your camera bag? We saw Lightroom used in the film (on Windows, no less!) and I’m sure you employ an arsenal of lenses, bodies, and so forth. How has your rig changed over the years?

No arsenal, that’s for sure. Nice and simple. And yes, PC, not Mac. I really dislike Mac. Gasp! I used both PC and Mac for years and really can’t stand Mac systems, or their monopoly on gadgets these days, or their unwillingness to make their products compatible with other tools. ANYWAY. Lightroom is the greatest product Adobe’s ever made. Love the filing and the all-in-one suite that it has become.
I always have on me 2 bodies, 3 lenses, a flash and a whatsitcalled… the thing you see me holding in the fur farm, the light. It’s called LitePro or LitePanel or something. The bodies are Nikon (gasp!), the D800 is my love, the D700 is my ex-love but still really useful. The lenses are also Nikon, sharp and fast. Wide: 17-35mm f2/8. Mid: 50mm f1/8 (swoon!). Long: 135mmf2 (swoon again!). I sometimes bring the “boom stick”, which is my very long lens: 100-400mm f4-5.6, like when I was in the Antarctic with Sea Shepherd, for example, or when I’m shooting chimps running around outdoors at a sanctuary. Generally though I use the 50mm the most, and get nice and close to the animals I’m photographing.

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Hens from an open rescue by Igualidad Animal. Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Your photo policy on We Animals reflects a Creative Common license, allowing photo use for organizations wishing to promote an animal rights message. How does this policy intersect with your professional goals and pitches to major news outlets? Do you spend much time monitoring copyright usage of your photos?

I covered some of this in the last question, not realizing this one was waiting for me. It’s a different financial model for sure! Some photographers don’t like it – it puts not just my career in jeopardy but theirs as well; we are so often expected to give all of our hard work away for a pittance, or for free, for “the chance to be published”. It’s awful. However, my work is to help animals, and I will do that in any way that I can. I’m happy with this route for We Animals, most of the time. I used to avoid watermarking because it just ruins the integrity of the image, and yet, people can’t be trusted to give a photo credit, though almost all the organizations I work with now are being great about that. Photo credit is in part what allows the We Animals work to thrive, become more well known, and helps the project grow. I monitor usage but can’t at all keep up with it, so I am sort of resigned to knowing that often the photo is being used without credit but at least it’s being seen. As you saw on the We Animals site, this gesture of free usage is granted to those helping animals, not to for-profits. I have started asking organizations who use We Animals images heavily to make a donation to the project if they are able, to help me continue the work, and they often do. There is a lot of good will and willingness to help the project thrive.

In the film, the idea of telling a story versus using statistics comes up. Have you found that in terms of effective activism, using these personal connections is better than the macro-approach of “we have to save the world because of X, Y, and Z?”

I think there are many forms of effective activism and story-telling happens to be mine. It’s what I’m good at. Some people make changes based on stats, health, direct cause and effect, etc. Others will eschew all animal products in a heartbeat when they hear my stories about Julia the pig or Miracle the moon bear.

Toronto Pig Save was kind enough to send our local group some “Why Love One and Eat The Other” signs for a demonstration we did at a local slaughterhouse. Their challenging message makes people confront the issue, and I’d like to use that as a springboard for a discussion of how “aggressive” you think vegan outreach should be:

Speaking only for me, I try to be gentle and non-directive in my animal rights work. It’s just how I roll, it’s what I’m comfortable with, and I find that it allows people to open up to me and ask questions without fear of being judged. Some people are great at being more assertive and remaining positive. I think that aggressiveness, in general, scares and alienates people. Not just with vegan outreach but as a general life thing! It’s a huge topic. I will leave it at that.

As the film begins to debut around the country, what are you most looking forward to?

Now feels like the time that we (the Ghosts team and I) get to reap some of the rewards for all the work we’ve put into making this film coming to life. We’re touring with the film, meeting amazing people, having great conversations and seeing people be moved by our efforts. It’s encouraging to know that people are eating fewer, or no, animals, because of the film. They tell us this daily, it’s just so wonderful. People ask us “What can we do to help improve this situation?” By them asking, the film has done its job.

The film also gives much more visibility to my work and so far it’s been an opportunity to expand the We Animals Humane Education Programs and it was also the push I needed to get the first We Animals book finished, which will be in hand in North America by the first week of December.

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Bullfighting in Spain. “This is a photograph of the bulls last breath. His head then sank and his eyes closed.” Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals

Thank you for your time, and for everything that do you for the animals. Anything else you’d like to add:

The We Animals book that you see me writing in the Ghosts film has now been beautifully designed by Paul Shoebridge of The Goggles fame (think Adbusters magazine), edited and published by Martin Rowe of Lantern Books. It’s a 208-page, hard cover book with over 100 images and stories about the animals I’ve met over the last decade or so, and the predicaments the find themselves in because of humans. There are also stories of mercy and hope, and the book ends with “Notes From the Field”, a section which details, through a small collection of journal entries, what it’s like to do investigative animal work. The book can be pre-ordered at amazon.com.

People can read more about the book here: www.weanimals.org/book, or reach me for information about the Humane Ed programs here: info@humaneeducation.ca.
I’d like to thank Jo-Anne for doing this interview, and encourage all of you to find a way to see The Ghosts in Our Machine! It’s screening in NYC and LA in a couple weeks, and should be hitting theaters around the country by the end of the year. Local screenings (through local veg groups, etc.) will start up in 2014. Check out their extensive website, too!

Photo (top): Anita Krajnc

Powering Your Devices Without Power

What do you do when there’s no power?


Fast Co. recently highlighted this pretty awesome hand-crank cell phone charger called the “BoostTurbine.” While hand-crank devices have been around for some time, this one actually looks slick, and has both USB and micro USB ports (presumably to charger the charger?). In the wake of Sandy and no power, this could come in quite handy in a disaster.

Fast and efficient, in one minute the hand  turbine power generator can produce enough  power for a 30-second call or a few critical  texts. When fully charged, BoostTurbine2000 fully charges most smartphones.

Imagine if you’re sitting around bored, watching things float by, and crank this thing for a few hours! Why, you’d have enough juice to power a whole game of Words With Friends. Of course, solar chargers are pretty swell too (when the sun comes back out), but they’re plagued by inefficiency. Consider the Revovle XeMini Plus, which can take up to 13 hours for a full charge! As the review points out, hot sun is bad for any phone, so you have to find a way to get direct sunlight, for a long time, without heat. Those Alaskans could benefit…

So what’s a disaster-prone, eco-conscious citizen to do? Well, if you’re willing to shell out $200 you can build up a charge just by doing, that is, walking, running, biking, or just moving around. The nPower PEG (Personal Energy Generator) claims to build up battery life by just hanging out in your backpack and converting the small kinetic energy shifts that occur from every day life into straight-up cell phone juice.

The nPower PEG. (From Fast Co.)


This YouTube review claims that after three days of heavy walking and bumping around in the car, the PEG could only deliver about 40% of the juice for a full iPhone battery. Wired echoed these sentiments in their review. Not very impressive. But, what if you took it jogging? Or cycling (in the jersey pocket)? Or attached it to the bottom of a drum head? Washing machine, outside of a blender, trampoline antics…the possibilities are endless! We waste energy constantly, and if you were able to salvage some of it for free, that’d be nice. With a $200 price tag (not to mention the adapter for your specific phone), I’m not sure it’s worth it, but I’d love to hear some stories from users.

We Who Are Not As Others

Great piece by Sam Harris a few weeks ago on his blog where he interviews researcher Bruce Hood about his new book, “The Self Illusion: How the Brain Creates Social Identity.” Hood argues, as the hypnotic Sepultura song quoted in the title does, that we may not be who “we” think we are:

There is conscious awareness of the present moment that he called the “I,” but there is also a self that reflects upon who we are in terms of our history, our current activities and our future plans. James called this aspect of the self, “me” which most of us would recognize as our personal identity—who we think we are. However, I think that both the “I” and the “me” are actually ever-changing narratives generated by our brain to provide a coherent framework to organize the output of all the factors that contribute to our thoughts and behaviors.

Hood goes on to summarize that while this realization may not be as fun as coming to term with Achor’s happiness philosophies, it’s necessary: “[b]y rejecting the notion of a core self and considering how we are a multitude of competing urges and impulses, I think it is easier to understand why we suddenly go off the rails.” This leads into some deep thought quickly: who are “we?” who am “I?” Are we a mirror of our five closest friends, as some have suggested, or merely “competing urges and impulses?”

Moreover, Hood has some interesting ideas about social networks and their capacity to form us. Naively, I believe that Facebook, Twitter, and the like allow us to become exposed to new ideas and spread interesting ones. While I don’t always seek out opposing views, they’re still present, albeit sometimes “hidden.” Hood argues we subconsciously associate and group our ideas conservatively, with extremity being the result:

There is evidence of homophily – the grouping together of individuals who share a common perspective, which is not too surprising. More interesting is evidence of polarization. Rather than opening up and exposing us to different perspectives, social networking on the Internet can foster more radicalization as we seek out others who share our positions. The more others validate our opinions, the more extreme we become.

My partner and I like to joke, “validation?” whenever one of us says something remotely emotional. But this isn’t a joke on the Internet – with every like and re-tweet we receive, we are both consciously and subconsciously being validated about our beliefs, whether those beliefs are good, bad, or somewhere in between. Again, this is a lot of meta-talk about a status update, but I found Hood’s point intriguing. In the admirable quest of activism, with its heavy online component, are merely becoming more militant, and exclusive? I like to think not. What’s your take?

Photo: Marcus Vegas

5 Things You Should Post More Of On Facebook

Given that the average user spends upwards of 15 hours on Facebook per month, and that negative reinforcement doesn’t really work, what if we tried to post more good stuff on Facebook, instead of less bad stuff? I figured somebody would have taken this route already, so I searched for “things to post on Facebook” or “top 10 things to post on Facebook” and Google immediately inserted “top 10 things not to post…” etc. Apparently everyone wants to know what not to post, but is there a guide to what one should? No? Well, allow me:

Note: the examples are obviously going to be a bit skewed as they relate to my (vegan-centric) life and my friends, but they are real examples. Extrapolate and come up with your own ideas!

1) Positive affirmations about your life: did a friend do a favor for you? Are you excited about moving into a new home? Post it! Keeping things positive not only reinforces your good mood, but effects others. If someone thinks you’re bragging, they probably just wish they were as genuinely happy. Example:

I’ve had two cups of yogi tea today, both with similar messages: Feel good, be good, and do good AND Feel great, act great, and approve of yourself. The message is clear.

2) Causes you care about, with a little tact. Fact: a lot of people think I’m a preachy, militant vegan, and while I disagree, as a fellow user of Facebook I can see where they get the idea. It’s so easy to go overboard from “hey, check this out” to “HEY, CHECK THIS OUT, NOW!” Even as one who fully believes in the rightness of a multitude of progressive causes, there’s a better and worse way to promote them. The better way can lead to people reading, liking, sharing, and messaging you to learn more; the worse way can lead to them posting crazy shit on their wall about how much they “hate” the cause. Lead by example:

As some of you already know, I am particularly fond of donkeys (not sure why) so this really pulls at my heart strings. Please take a moment to sign the petition. Thank you so much!

Join my cause: Help us stop the Villanueva (Spain) horror /Aiutateci fermare l’orrore di Villanueva/Spagna

3) Sincere reminders of your friends’ awesomeness: It’s one thing to shower everyone with “i luv u!!!” and pokes, but it’s another to thank someone, publicly, for doing something nice. It makes them feel good, but more over, it shows you have the confidence, and self-love, to thank someone else, to be grateful, and to be compassionate. This is also about not taking life, and your friends, for granted. If the post makes the receiver feel weird (or embarrassed!) then they need to learn how to take a compliment. Expressing your joy of someone else’s existence is enriching for you, them, and the mutual friends you two may have. Example:

These people are awesome!! Thanks for traveling and rocking animal costumes to speak up for animals. :) — with Joseph Trubey and 2 others.

4) Events by you, with a focus on fun: Do you get overwhelmed by event invites like I do? I have about 20 right now that are “pending” – I haven’t bothered to click yes or no because I just don’t care. But whenever I get an event invite from a friend, with a title of something like “Board game night!!!” or “Let’s do something awesome!” – I’m there. If a friend takes time out of their life to plan something fun, and invites their friends, what could be better? We get bombarded with shows, art exhibits, and retreats – not that there’s anything inherently wrong with those – but after awhile you start to go numb. Create an event that showcases what you like: an ultimate frisbee game, kickball, board games, or even just hanging at a coffee shop. We all use Facebook to plan our lives anyway, so why not plan something that helps foster our friendship? Here’s an example of an invite:

I’m coming to town, and I’ve got a penchant for adventure. I haven’t booked my flight yet, but I’m planning on visiting within the last couple weeks of May. A couple years ago, several of us went to The Beach water park and had an awesome time. I’d love to do something like that again. The Beach is closing this summer, but I’d love to run around and get rowdy at somewhere like King’s Island or Holiday World.

5) Make Facebook a positive extension of the real world, not a replacement: Despite all the bullshit that occurs on that site, Facebook can serve a legitimate purpose. It can connect us, empower us to act by exposing us to things we might not hear about, and gives us data to use in the real world. The non-profits that use Facebook find it invaluable, as do I to keep up with former class mates, friends, and even some family. These are good things, but they shouldn’t replace real life. Research Sherry Turkle calls this “life-mix,” and it’s a strange, new way of living in the 21st century.

How does one apply this? Well, that’s up to you (“an exercise left to the reader” as my old math books used to say). Post things on Facebook that you want your circles (or entire friend group) to see, and engage with you about in the real world. A friend of mine is particularly fond of posting random facts about his daily goings-on on Facebook, and when I see him, I’ll strike up a conversation about those. He’ll laugh, but engage me right back. This brings us closer, even though the catalyst was a virtual world, a “fake” interaction online. Use Facebook, like the examples above, to coordinate, plan, and anticipate future events with you friends, but don’t rely on it for the sole interaction.

We choose these endless techno gadgets – Facebook, Twitter, smartphones – to make our lives easier, right? Or, because they’re fun. The moment they cause stress and anxiety, the only people winning are the advertisers (unless you have AdBlock!). Social networks and all their facets are great, and let’s use them for good by strengthening relationships, empowering individuals, and planning the next “big thing” in our lives.

This post was inspired by an article I saw linked from CNN a couple months ago, namely “10 tacky things to avoid posting on Facebook.

Photo: Scott Beale