The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – Why I’m loving it, Why we did it

I’m a walking contradiction. I’m cynical, really cynical. I’m also, somehow, an eternal optimist. My first instinct with the whole Ice Bucket challenge would have been to be cynical about it.

The optimist in me really believes in doing right by others. I give money to charities regularly, but the cynic in me tells me not to tell anyone about it, I believe that it would render it pointless – it would just make it an act of vanity.

The cynic in me would be pissed off at the ALS challenge for various reasons:

  • It’s a vanity contest
  • It wastes precious water
  • It detracts from the main issue here – ALS.

The campaign, however, is brilliant because it does not try to induce pity or try to guilt-trip people into giving money. Most people did not really get that they had to either donate money or have an ice bucket poured over them – but if they enjoyed the ice bucket bit and then donated money anyway, well – no harm in that. I’d say the campaign pivoted, just like any successful startup would have, and changed its purpose by allowing people to get water poured on them and donate.

People are loving that they have an excuse to put a video of themselves up on Facebook, so most are pouring ice and donating whenever they’re nominated.

But why do I love it?

Well, as I posted on Twitter recently, this is a really terrible time in the world.

ISIS, Gaza, Libya, Ukraine, the Ebola virus – there is violence and death all around us. For once I’m loving the fact that social media (and news sources) have something which is essentially harmless fun with a good end result showing up.

Yes, people are using it as an excuse to put themselves up on Facebook – but isn’t anything we do an excuse for that nowadays? Better this than someone’s grilled chicken salad (the cynic is creeping back out).

Another reason I liked the challenge is because it managed to make giving fun. Even though I have a habit of giving to charity without telling anyone about it, then I’m also reducing the pressure on others to give too. This way people were giving money to charities and enjoying themselves in the process. Charity, gone viral.

Why did we (Switch Digital) do it?

At the office we obviously took a slightly different take on it. We did not only pour icy water over our heads, but we decided to bring it home. Malta’s population is approximately 400,000 people. 6 people per 100,000 are affected by ALS. 24 of us took the challenge, the approximate number (statistically) of people who suffer of ALS in Malta.

Given that we’re environmentally friendly, we also avoided wasting water and used sea water for our challenge. Our donation went to the Hospice Movement, which is the organisation that helps people who suffer from ALS locally.

And in the end…

So let’s keep the silliness going. For once, lets all be optimists without a shred of cynicism and see the good things that are coming out of this latest fad. I know there have been far worse ones in the past.

Notes on mobile phone photography

It's me, I'm Cathy
It’s me, I’m Cathy

I’ve always been somewhat of a purist where photography is concerned. I’m not a fan of heavy editing, and I’m particularly wary of applying any automated changes made by some random algorithm to my carefully planned out shots.

Call it pride, call it being a dinosaur, hell call it stupidity, or combine all three – but as a result I never really shot anything on my phone other than “memory” photos.

Most phone cameras are incredibly limiting. Even when you get something with an above-average sensor, the lens is so basic that you can hardly control any aspect of your photography. There are exceptions, granted, but they’re usually compromises, either in terms of size or in terms of software. I’m not prepared to lunge around a camera with a phone stuck to its back on a daily basis, and I’m not quite ready to go back to Symbian OS.

And so I was left with a decision. I could either just ignore mobile phone photography and diss it or I could try my hand at it. And, given the old adage in photography is that the best camera in the world is the one you have with you at the time, I decided to bite the bullet and try my hand at being more creative with my phone’s camera.

Based on the recommendation of a friend, I started off where everybody else seems to dip their toes in: Instagram. Now whereas I was slightly wary of mobile photography, I was actively anti-Instagram for quite a few reasons.

First of all it took ages to come over to Android, and when it did iPhone users felt betrayed. Seriously? Next there was the issue of Facebook buying them out at a time when Facebook was trying to claim it owned the rights to all your life and, finally Instagram itself was claiming it owns the rights to your photos (and thoughts). Thankfully this was sorted out and I was finally ripe for the picking.

I started looking for a few instagrammers, first the ones I already knew and followed on other social media (including my biggest inspiration in mobile photography, Michelle Robinson). Then I tried looking through the most popular photos as suggested by Instagram itself and was pretty disappointed. Most of the popular instagrammers are either famous people who use it to document their lives and are therefore stalked my many (I even chose to stalk a few myself) or hot chicks who take suggestive self-shots in the mirror (erm, I followed a couple of these too).

But the point is that very few people on Instagram are there for the photography. The ones who are more interested in aesthetic qualities of photography are few and far between, and finding them usually proves to be quite a challenge.

As with everything else, I guess it all boils down to whatever floats your boat. If you’re after proper mobile photography then you’ll outgrow Instagram’s severe limitations pretty quickly. There is only so much you can do to fix a photo with a retro filter. And applying funky filters will never help you out with the basics of photography such as lighting and composition.

If you do have the basics right and are ready to accept the limitations of the medium, then I think there is a lot of scope for mobile phone photography. Until we get proper lenses and decent sensors I think we shall have to base most of our skills on post-processing, but till then I believe that there is a lot of fun to be had and beautiful photos to be taken.

I might have joined the party late, but I intend to make the best of it now.

P.S. I post all my mobile phone photography on Instagram, even though you can catch a few on Facebook from time to time.

These shoes
These shoes
Foggy morning
Foggy morning

Sunday morning

Forget about the evidence. Live your life.

I love photography. I am never far from a camera, and never quit looking for pictures. Sometimes I realize that whenever I’m out and about I automatically look for photos, no matter whether I am out shooting or not.

However recently I have been taking my camera out with me less in everyday life, and reserving my photography to specific times when I leave the house specifically to take photos.

Social media has most of us living in fear of losing the moment. We feel compelled to document our life in snapshots. In slices of reality that can decorate our Facebook Timeline.

In the ’60s Ray Davies (of the Kinks) sang that “people take pictures of the Summer, just to prove that it really existed”, but what would he sing now? Even if you don’t take your camera out with you, someone is always likely to have a smartphone which incorporates a camera good enough to produce magazine-quality prints. And they take it out. And we all need to stop until they get the right shot.

There is nothing wrong in wanting to keep photographic evidence of an event, but if we obsess over it too much, we give too much care and attention to the photo rather than actually living the experience.

I go about it by reaching a compromise of sorts. First of all I have set up specific times to go out shooting. When I’m traveling I will spend some quality time shooting exclusively, but then I will also leave the hotel without my camera (OK, I take my baby camera just in case) to simply absorb the place. Looking for a photo has its advantages, but in the process of looking for the perfect picture you lose touch of what’s going on around you.

At the end of the day it boils down to a simple choice. Do you want to spend the precious time we’re given living your life for yourself or do you intend to document it minutely to share with the rest of the world? If you’re playing with your kids in the park – what is more important, having 200 photos of them playing or actually playing with them? If you’re out drinking with friends, what do you want – memories of yourself enjoying it or spending the next morning ruing that you don’t have enough to come up with a Facebook album of the night out?

So what would I have you do? Ditch the camera, stop taking photos of what goes on in your life? Nope, that would hardly be practical. Set time aside for photos. The last time I went to a concert I shot a couple of frames of the artist, shot some video footage for posterity and then enjoyed the concert in its entirety. If I want more good photos or a full video I can always find some by rummaging around on the Internet. If I want to take good music photography I won’t do it at the concert of a band I loved.

Try it – spend less time thinking about how you’re going to preserve and share the memory and spend the rest of your time living your life as if you did not need evidence of the fun you had. As if you did not have to prove that the Summer really existed. I might be a bit extreme in this belief – I did not even want a photographer at my wedding.

And if you want to convince your friends you can have a good time on a night out, then take them out with you the next time you hit town. And when you’re standing in front of a stunning sunset, take your hands off the camera and use them to hold your better half’s hand. Breathe in and savour the moment through your own eyes, not through a lens.

Sorry Plato, democracy sucks

When joining the company I work at I was interviewed. I was assessed for my competence and then hired based on my performance and experience. I signed a contract which states that for me to remain at the company I should, well, you guessed it: work. I should do things in a manner that is expected of me. I should consistently perform well. If I drop my standards or stop delivering I expect to be fired. I wouldn’t want it to be any other way, I’m being paid to deliver.

If I went to a car showroom and ordered a brand new car, I stipulate what I want from it and what I expect it to include. If, when the vehicle is delivered, it fails to meet my expectations, then I would, quite naturally refuse to pay for it.

What I can’t understand is why politics does not work in exactly the same way. Why do we go out and vote based on a set of promises when politicians are never held accountable for their actions? True, sometimes a politician loses a job, but that’s when they try to steal 60 million, not when they fail to deliver on an electoral promise.

At the moment I’m finding the whole pre-unannounced-elections advertising campaigns hilarious. Labour have hit the nail on the head with their billboards (the only local medium I follow is outdoor advertising – I don’t watch TV or listen to the radio and I don’t read local print media). They are consistently quick to the mark, have brilliant locations and are always witty. Very witty. Their rebuttals of PN’s adverts are always hilarious, and PN’s attempts have paled in comparison.

However it means absolutely nothing. If I wanted entertainment I’d head to tumblr and browse my stream. This election is not about an amusing billboard or ten, it’s about our country.

Labour might be much more amusing than the nationalists, however they’re still a set of pricks in suits who think they can smile their way to power. No sir, you won’t be conning this guy again. I want a sign of commitment.

Fuck your political promises.
Fuck your phoney smiles and €1000 suits.
Fuck your coffee mornings.
Fuck the people who vote for you because their family says so.
Fuck idiots idolising politicians.

I want measurable electoral promises. And then I want a contract. Sign a legally binding contract that you will be personally liable if you do not deliver on your promises and you will get my vote (if your promises make sense to me).

Fix the fucking roads, give us a university that works, get rid of all the bums who abuse the system, clean the place up and make it possible for us to make the country something we can be proud of.

We have let 60-odd dorks ru(i)n the country for long enough. Why should we look up to them? It is them who should be licking our feet for doing the real work. For providing the country with the manpower it needs to run. For being absolutely amazing at our jobs and consistently out-performing our international counterparts in so many fields that are not sexy enough for the idiots running our media to cover.

I’m sorry, Plato. Politics might have been a good idea in the time when people needed a brain to vote, however now it is just an easy way to mask corruption and to promote incompetence.

We can’t trust politicians because their word holds no value. This is the time for specifics. For things to be laid out in black on white. For politicians to be held accountable if they want to earn my vote.

A storm on a pizza, or The death of journalism in Malta

Most people love their country. Most people feel duty-bound to defend it at all times, no matter whether it’s right or wrong. I am personally more patriotic than I care to admit, because when push comes to shove I will always back my country in matters of importance (if I think we’re right).

I also believe, however, that we can’t only see things through rosy glasses, and that for us to ever improve someone needs to point out problems and issues and offer constructive criticism wherever possible.

So recently Malta played against Italy in a World Cup qualifier. So, we lost by two-goals to nil. So an Italian guy living in Malta commented about the match and taunted us about it on Facebook.

Lesson number 1: Social Media Marketing

From a social media marketing point of view it was a dumb thing to do. It was not dumb because he posted the comment, everyone is entitled to an opinion, and he who never taunted anyone else can throw the first stone. It was dumb that he posted the comment from his restaurant’s page. Social media is a double edged sword. If you intend using it to market your business, then take it seriously. Plan each and every post well. Time them, test their success and improve upon them constantly. Do not post random comments from your business’ page, that’s what personal profiles are for.

Lesson number 2: The official death of Malta’s national newspaper

The Times is officially being driven by click-hunters. They have stopped caring about good journalism and have fallen for sensationalism. Yes, I know, it is a cliche, but they have truly became what they despised. How can a spat on Facebook be national news? Where is the sense of responsibility, of owing it to the nation to filter the good from the bad, to only cover subjects that matter, intelligently.

Poor Mabel. If only she could see what her legacy would become I’m pretty sure she’d be the first one standing outside its doors with a flaming torch in hand.

It is a pity. I loved the paper and I still love the institution that gave me my first job and taught me so much. I just can’t tell what’s going on through their heads at the moment. Hopefully someone will wake up and realise what’s happening some time soon.

Lesson number 3: The line between nationalism and xenophobia is a fine one

And the Maltese tread along it very precariously. The reaction something gets when it involves a foreigner doing something to Malta or someone Maltese is as ridiculous as it is scary. Guys, build a bridge and get over it, the world is not only made up of Maltese people. So please judge people on their own merit, not by the cover on their passport or their accent. If someone taunts you, you can taunt back in a friendly manner, not get up in arms about it. And, yes, I know Ruzar Briffa’s poem too, thank you very much, but for heaven’s sake – learn the difference between an insult and oppression.

Micro-lesson: Facebook groups

Anyone who adds me to a Facebook group like the one that was created for this will be immediately unfriended and reported to Facebook as being “annoying”. Just sayin’.

And finally…

I’m off to have a pizza at this pretty little place in Xemxija, not sure if you’ve heard about it.

The Charitable Web

Some people love working out while some others enjoy dedicating their time to helping others. By choosing to cycle 250km for charity, Nicole Grima aims to kill two birds with one stone. Richard Muscat Azzopardi caught up with her to find out how she aims to use the Internet to collect the amount she is targeting. 


Nicole is taking part in the annual “Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer charity bike ride, which is a two-pronged challenge as you have to cycle 250 kms over the course of 2 days, and raise a minimum of $2,500 for charity to participate. The charitable organization (sponsored by Enbridge) actually organizes a two-day cycling event in four different provinces in Canada; British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.

Read the rest on Media Tapper.

(#67 of 366 X 2012 project)