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Illegal Dumping of Municipal Solid Waste Continues at Pondicherry’s Truck Terminal

August 22, 2014

My reports about illegal dumping of municipal solid waste and biomedical waste at Pondicherry’s truck terminal have received considerable attention. Photographs first published on this blog have been used in Health Care Without Harm’s report Medical Waste and Human Rights for the UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur, and on the website of Occupy for Animals. My reports have been viewed thousands of times on this blog, and helped to inform Kunal Vohra ‘s excellent documentary, The Plastic Cow, which has been viewed over 40,000 times. 

Given such coverage of the problem, I was curious to revisit Pondy’s truck terminal to see the situation now, three years after my first report. I visited the terminal yesterday and discovered that the area is still being used for illegal dumping of mixed municipal solid waste and biomedical waste, and cows are still foraging in the waste.

This is a public health problem because, as I explained in my first post on this topic, cows that forage in burnt plastic waste are likely to consume dioxin and then pass that dioxin to humans through milk. Such dioxin is passed to infants by nursing mothers. Permitting cows to forage in municipal solid waste endangers the life of cows because plastic bags accumulate in their rumen and can eventually cause cows to die. As this footage shows, cows continue to forage in illegally dumped municipal refuse and biomedical waste in Pondicherry’s truck terminal.

If you consume dairy products in India, the chance is very high that the milk came from a cow that eats hazardous municipal solid waste.

Here are a few images of cows foraging at Pondicherry’s truck terminal:

Cow foraging in municipal and biomedical waste in Pondicherry, India

Cow foraging in municipal and biomedical waste in Pondicherry, India

Cow and crow in municipal solid waste in Pondicherry, India

Cow and crow in municipal solid waste in Pondicherry, India




Cow and dog foraging in municipal solid waste and medical waste in Pondicherry, India

Cow and dog foraging in municipal solid waste and medical waste in Pondicherry, India

Processing Lumix GH3 and Nokia 808 Video for YouTube: The Search for the Best Settings

August 15, 2014

I’m writing this post to share my experience editing and processing video clips shot with a Lumix GH3 or with a Nokia 808. My primary purpose for editing and processing video has been for uploading videos to YouTube, so I’m trying to find the best combination of compression and image quality. I invite you to share your video processing experience and advice in the comments section.

In this post, I’m going to use the words “format”, “codec”, and “container” as they are explained in this YouTube video from

I use PowerDirector 10 for editing and processing. I’ve found it very easy to use, and it worked well until I noticed odd blotches of color in videos that I exported from PowerDirector in MPEG-4 format. Here’s a screenshot that shows orange blotches on my arms in a frame of video that was processed by PowerDirector:

Orange blotches

The full video can be seen here.

I also found that when uploading .mp4 videos to YouTube, YouTube would display a message saying that my videos would process faster if they were in a format that is suitable for YouTube. I understood this to mean that my MPEG-4 videos were not in the best format for YouTube.

I wasn’t sure what was causing the blotches in my videos. The blotches did not exist in the original files from the camera. The blotches occurred only after the files were edited and exported from PowerDirector 10. I wondered if the blotches could be avoided if I shot the video in a different format, or if I exported the edited files from PowerDirector 10 with a different codec.

So, instead of shooting in the GH3’s high-bitrate MOV format and exporting from PowerDirector in MPEG-4, I tried shooting some video in AVCHD 1080p, 24fps at 24 Mbps bitrate and exporting the edited clip from PowerDirector in H.264 AVC 1080p, 23.976fps at 13 Mbps.

PD screen shot with h264 circledI found that videos shot in AVCHD (with an .mts extension) and exported from PowerDirector in H.264 AVC (with an .m2ts extension) have not had any color blotches. Here’s a 55-second sample of such video. Its bitrate was 13 Mbps, and the file size is 91 MB.

In a thread on the Cyberlink forum, a forum member named Carl said that he exports videos from PowerDirector in Windows Media Video (WMV) 9 HD standard.

PD screen shot with WMV circled

I tried that and found that the video clip that I showed above became just 40 MB in WMV (at a data rate of 6 Mbps). I thought that the WMV version still looked acceptable. Here it is on YouTube:

I’ve also found that the MOV video that acquired color blotches when I converted it to MPEG-4 in PowerDirector did not acquire color blotches when I converted from MOV to AVCHD in PowerDirector.

So, I’m concluding from this experience that MPEG-4 is causing the color blotches in my videos.

I’ve also observed that when uploading .m2ts files to YouTube, I do not get a message from YouTube saying that the video will process faster if I use a format that is suitable for YouTube. I understand this to mean that the H.246 codec is suitable for YouTube, which is something that I’ve heard on several YouTube videos.

I’ll keep experimenting and will share what I learn. I’ll be very interested to read about your experiences. Please share your experiences and suggestions in the comments section of this post.

The Lowepro Magnum 200 AW — First Impression

August 9, 2014

I just received the Lowepro Magnum 200 AW. I loved the Lowepro Inverse 100 AW, but my gear collection outgrew the bag, so I needed something a little bit larger.

Here’s a video of my first impression of the bag, compared to the Lowepro Inverse 100 AW and the Case Logic SLRC 203.

A Photo I Shot Is Featured on the Cover of a Book about Urban Planning in India

August 6, 2014

Copal Publishing has featured a photo that I shot of municipal solid waste management on the cover of a soon-to-be-released book about urban planning in India, India’s Urban Confusion: Challenges and Strategies.

India's Urban Confusion

Images taken while documenting the Gates Foundation’s Ananya program in Bihar, India

June 23, 2014

I spent six days in Begusarai and Khagaria Districts of Bihar, India, last month to document efforts of World Health Partners, Project Concern International, and CARE to improve maternal and infant health and survival. Here are photos of some of the mothers I interviewed:










11 Effective Writing Tips

June 22, 2014

My workload this past year gave me very little time for other things, as is evident from my total neglect of this blog. A sample of what I’ve written this year can be seen here.  I’m now taking four weeks off to spend with family. During this break, I want to consolidate and share a few writing lessons that people who are starting in the fields of documentation, report writing, or communication might find helpful.

I’ve learned a few things from my experiences i) helping Karnataka Health Promotion Trust evaluate candidates and select a finalist for a position of documentation officer for KHPT’s India Learning Network, ii) lecturing on effective writing and mentoring participants in the Population Council’s scientific writing courses for grantees of the Gates Foundation’s Avahan program, and iii) working with the foundation’s grantees to document the Ananya program in Bihar. Through this exposure to many people’s writing, I observed some common issues that I now guard against in my own work.

I’m inspired to write this by Daniel Odio, who encourages the readers of his blog to use the Internet to share what they know, as he does. In his posts about his quest to learn to take great photos, Daniel invited readers to contribute their suggestions and experiences, which resulted in some enlightening contributions and exchanges. In the hope of doing something similar, I urge readers of this post to share thoughts, links, and advice on documentation and effective writing. I’ll be very grateful to learn from you.

Another person who has influenced me is John Griggs, whose blog posts are always enjoyable, informative, and inspiring. I appreciate John’s work because he shares not only tips about techniques and tools that work well but also accounts of mishaps in the field. In his posts about documenting a hot air balloon festival and a night-time football game, John revisits some instructive bloopers and challenges that he encountered. I find such candid disclosures extremely valuable because they are rare and because I’m extremely prone to make such errors myself.

Here’s my list of recommendations for effective writing:

1. Write with Clear Purpose

Start each piece—be it an essay, article, report, or story—by composing a clear and concise purpose and message of the piece. Writers should be clear in their own mind about their central or primary purpose and message before they begin writing. This purpose and message should be written down before starting and then reread occasionally while composing and revising the story to make sure that the story is achieving its purpose and communicating its central message.

It’s helpful for readers if the story’s purpose and message are presented in the opening.

I know this sounds obvious, but I suggest this because I’ve seen too many pieces in which it was evident that writer had either given little thought to or forgotten their story’s purpose or message. Such stories were not just ineffective: in some cases such ill-conceived essays actually conveyed the opposite message of what was needed—instead of showcasing progress and improvement, they illustrated dysfunction, which did little to inspire confidence in the program being documented.

2. Know Your Audience

It is additionally helpful if writers are clear about their primary audience. If you are writing for a specific audience, then you should clearly understand what you want the audience to learn from your piece. Also, if you are writing to inspire your readers to take a particular action, then you should clearly and explicitly describe that action to the readers.

If you wish to influence a specific audience, I recommend explicitly stating in the opening of your article who you are writing for, so that readers will easily recognize whether your article is relevant or intended for them.

3. Never Mystify Your Readers

Rather than writing uninformative or vague things, such as “etc.,” “and other things,” “certain essentials,” “all the facilities,” or “many benefits,” writers should specify what they are referring to. Vague claims and terms are deadweight and should be replaced with precise details during revision.

4. Avoid Jargon

David Meerman Scott and Tony Proscio have written excellent essays on the sin of using jargon. Communication is most effective when words are plain and common. Tony Proscio’s essays are essential reading.

5. Use Linear Sentences

Another bit of advice from Tony Proscio is to always clearly explain who did what to whom. In this advice we see linear sentence structure of subject, verb, and object. Linear sentence structure is the easiest to comprehend.

6. Discriminate When Choosing Words

The English language is full of synonyms, but synonyms don’t necessarily have identical meaning. Use a dictionary and a thesaurus to choose words very deliberately so that your writing says precisely what you mean.

7. Be Concise

It is easier to comprehend short sentences than long sentences. As a thumb rule, I try to keep sentences under 25 words. Many people don’t have the mental stamina to comprehend two 50-word sentences in a row. I also suggest limiting each sentence to a single point, rather than trying to make multiple points in a single sentence.

8. Inform Readers

Try to tell readers something that they didn’t know. Do research to find evidence from scientific studies that puts your story in context and demonstrates the significance, scale, and urgency of your topic. Much of the world’s research is at our fingertips, thanks to the Internet. Although some scholarly articles are published in journals that are behind paywalls, many articles and research reports are available for free.

9. Bring Your Story to Life with Quotes

Rather than merely telling readers what happened, it is often better to include direct quotes from people who play a role in the story that you are writing. Verbatim quotes or testimony serve to increase the credibility of your claims or assertions, just as you’ll be more likely to believe that a restaurant is good if you hear this from a customer than from the owner.

10. Include Relevant Details

Details make stories informative, interesting, and rewarding for readers, as Cila Warncke points out in a great blog post. Provide details about who, what, where, when, why, and how. Irrelevant details, however, should be omitted. I recently reworked an article about a public health extension worker who improved her knowledge and skills by completing a training course. The article mentioned that she was a native of the same district as a notorious politician. This distracting detail had absolutely nothing to do with the story, and was therefore the first thing that I removed. Details such as this only bloat an article.

11. Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite

The biggest piece of advice that I have for writers is to revise their work. I recommend giving the draft of your story to a colleague for comments.








Review: The EOSHD Panasonic GH3 Shooter’s Guide (first edition)

December 25, 2013

On December 19, Andrew Reid, the creator of, released The EOSHD Panasonic GH3 Shooter’s Guide. Andrew is a British filmmaker who lives in Berlin. He contributed to the GH3 review on, and he has also published a GH3 review on

The EOSHD Panasonic GH3 Shooter's Guide

The EOSHD Panasonic GH3 Shooter’s Guide

I purchased the guide three days ago and have gone through it. People have been posting questions on forums, asking for more information about the guide, so I’ve decided to share my thoughts to help others decide if the guide is right for them.

Andrew says he produced the Shooter’s Guide to save people the time and trouble of having to search  on many forums for information and advice.  This is why I bought it. Although I had the Panasonic GH3 Owner’s Manual, I still needed an experienced coach to advise me on which of the camera’s many settings to select.

The Shooter’s Guide contains many recommendations on choosing settings, shooting video, selecting lenses, editing video,and recording audio. 90 of the guide’s 250 pages are devoted to recommendations and illustrations about lenses and lens adapters. Those pages were not so useful to me because I already chose lenses based on information from Ming Thein’s blog, John Griggs’s blog, and zoom and prime lens test reports from DXOMark.

The guide is heavily video-centric, which is what I needed. For example, although Reid provides images of the pages of the Motion Picture menu, the Custom menu, the Setup menu, and the Playback menu, he doesn’t provide an image of the Rec menu pages, which are largely for photography settings.

I find the guide’s images of menu pages very helpful because they serve as a reference map for quickly finding settings that Andrew recommends. Here’s the guide’s image of the Custom menu pages:

EOSHD Panasonic GH3 Shooter's Guide Custom Menu pages image

EOSHD Panasonic GH3 Shooter’s Guide Custom Menu pages image

For comparison, here’s the Custom menu settings information provided in the Panasonic GH3 Owner’s Manual:

Panasonic GH3 Owner's Manual Custom Menu settings

Panasonic GH3 Owner’s Manual Custom Menu settings

Andrew says he spent a year working on the Shooter’s Guide. In my opinion, he should have spent a few more days. The guide wasn’t proofread, which makes it annoying to read. For example, on page 42, he writes, “Exposure meter shows how brightly exposed the image is on a meter which swings from a centre-point to the right if under exposed or to the right if over exposed.” On page 51, he mentions “Hollywood Settings” that he says he provided at the start of the chapter, but no Hollywood settings were mentioned at the start of the chapter. While page numbers are mentioned for recommended Custom menu settings on page 41, no page numbers are given for recommended Setup menu settings on page 44. Andrew uses affect and effect incorrectly and inconsistently throughout the guide.  The guide also reads in places like a rough draft, which is disappointing for something that costs $19.99 in softcopy.

I hope that Andrew will proofread all future Shooter’s Guides before selling them. I’d be happy to do it for him.

While the EOSHD Panasonic GH3 Shooter’s Guide is not as well written or comprehensive as Sonja Schenk and Ben Long’s Digital Filmmaking Handbook, the guide is a very good companion to the GH3 Owner’s Manual, and it does reduce the steepness of the GH3’s learning curve for people who are new to video, like myself.

If you print the guide, I recommend printing two pages on a single page. This makes it easier to view photos that Andrew uses to compare the effect of different features. Andrew tends to place one photo per page, so to compare photos you have to turn the page. I find it easier to compare photos if they’re on the same page. So I printed the guide like this:

Shooter's Guide cover and first page of Table of Contents

Shooter’s Guide cover and first page of Table of Contents


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