This Way Up for Saturday 7 May 2016
Is social media ruining outdoor adventuring? Keeping birds at bay using sound and a touch tour for blind music lovers.
Today's outdoor veterans are competing for sponsors with a new breed of tech-savvy adventurers who can offer carefully curated online identities, with snappily edited videos and beautifully filtered photos offered to legions of devoted fans and followers. It's a compelling mix for the outdoor gear brands who want to make as big a splash as possible for their products. But are outdoor survival skills effectively being sacrificed for social media smarts?
"Authenticity and ambition used to go hand in hand on professional expeditions. Now, some wonder whether authenticity has been usurped by accessibility—the need to invite the world aboard, or risk being left at home" - Devon O'Neill.
An incident in Iceland just before Christmas highlighted the tensions. Four friends from the UK set off to cross Iceland on lightweight alpine-touring skis, with a film crew in tow but without any other support. A series of storms and misadventures followed, and they had to be airlifted to safety. General condemnation followed. They got slated in the local Icelandic and international press and even received death threats for what was seen as their irresponsible attitude. "Grand ambition is no substitute for common sense," sniffed one editorial in the Times.
Devon O'Neill has been exploring some of the tensions in the outdoor community between old school adventurers and this new breed of explorer for Outside magazine.
Enjoying a music concert involves our sense of hearing, but we also experience it in many other ways too... What do the instruments look like? How do the performers interact? What is the venue like and how is it lit?
Small details, but they all contribute to the total experience...
Les Talens Lyriques are a French orchestra who play baroque, classical and pre romantic music on period instruments. At a recent concert of theirs in Wellington, Chamber Music New Zealand hosted a so-called Touch Tour.
It's an opportunity for audience members who are blind or have low vision to get close to these unusual instruments; to touch them, hear them, and learn about them in the company of an audio describer.
Participants wore small earpieces, and resident describer Nicola Owen was able to talk during breaks in the concert and describe what was happening on stage.
Even if you love birds, they can sometimes be a bit of a nuisance. They eat crops, defecate everywhere, and hang around at the end of airport runways just waiting to get sucked into the engine of passing planes. Birdstrike is meant to cost airlines over US$1 billion in repairs and delays in the US alone.
So we humans have devised a whole range of tactics to keep them at bay; from trained hawks, to spikes, to loud bangs, to less humane methods like electrocution. But the problem just seems to keep coming back!
Now an ornithologist called Dr John Swaddle has developed a system of carefully targeted noises to disrupt birds' communications, making them feel like they're always in danger.
Further Future festival, tech (Dick Smith rebirth, cyber security and VR harassment) and formaldehyde.
For the second year running, the tech elite have gathered to network and party at Further Future – an exclusive festival in the Nevada desert that has been called the 'Burning Man for the one percent'.
"In the Wellness Tent, there's a fitness class with people jumping up and down in unison. Nearby, one woman advertises psychological services as 'tools and technology broken down for busy professionals'. Another advertises 'smudging aura cleansing'" – Nellie Bowles.
Further Future also boasts luxurious camping, DJ sets, wellness clinics, juice bars for Africa, and what looks from the photos like a lot of people wearing very small swimsuits dancing in the sand. Alphabet (formerly Google) boss Eric Schmidt was spotted wearing a top hat and a waistcoat covered in mirrors – very steampunk!
Technology reporter Nellie Bowles headed into the Nevada desert to check out this year's festival. She tells Simon Morton about the experience:
Technology correspondent Peter Griffin on the rebirth of the Dick Smith brand online (spoiler alert: you still can't use those vouchers!). Also New Zealand reveals a $22 million plan to beef up the country's cybersecurity presence, and fears that virtual reality will offer a host of new and more intrusive opportunities for online harassment.
Despite its nasty reputation as a carcinogen, formaldehyde is still widely used – around 9 million tonnes are produced globally every year.
Toxicologist Ian Shaw has been weighing up the latest evidence about the dangers of formaldehyde and how to minimise exposure.
Simon Morton asks him where we might encounter formaldehyde in daily life: