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January 20, 2020 19:08 +0000  |  Anna Climate Change Environment Grandma Lidia Politics 0

My father once said to me: "Life has a way of getting away from you. One day you blink, and 30 years have passed." I think that I'm finally starting to understand what he meant. 2019 doesn't really feel like a year I lived through so much as a year that was done to me. People I thought integral to my life disappeared suddenly, and a whole new human was added to my immediate family, all this while the world is literally on fire. Everything is changing and for my part, it feels like my role is more that of a passenger than driver.

Personal

2019 was a bumpy year for me personally.

Anna & me on Siros

Anna

My daughter was born in the early days of the year. She's now already a full-year old and what they say really is true: they grow up so fast. When we met, she was roughly the size of a small pumpkin, now she's a walking, talking (well, babbling), screaming, grabby mobile monster.

Parenthood is a crazy process: you're constantly monitoring a tiny creature to make sure that she doesn't kill herself reaching for a pen or eating plastic. I mean, we watched her lick a bar of soap, make a face, then lick it again as if she hadn't learnt her lesson the first time. This process of constant vigilance is... exhausting. There's really no other word for it. It's a good thing she's cute.

There's also not a lot of sleep in my day-to-day anymore.

Grandma Lidia

Grandma

Around when Anna reached the 4-month mark, she lost her great grandmother -- my last remaining grandparent. To be honest, I'm still pretty broken up about it -- still processing. Unlike my other grandparents, I wasn't prepared to lose Grandma Lidia and it still hurts to think about. I miss her every day, and the thought of returning home to visit my family feels eerily wrong without her there.

Professional

I really feel like my Free Software career has taken a big hit this past year. Whereas in 2018 I was releasing Aletheia and speaking at PyCon about it while handing-off Paperless to the broader community, 2019 has seen very little Free stuff from me. There were a couple bits worth mentioning though:

A jumping pizza!

Pizzaplace

It's a very simple server that lets you spin up branch deploys automatically by plugging into GitLab's WebHooks system and linking that to a docker-compose. It made development of some of our stuff at Workfinder a lot simpler, and I'm hoping we can make more use of it in 2020.

Aletheia Server

I realised that Aletheia has a lot of dependencies to get going -- too many perhaps for most to make use of it in any reasonable architecture. So with that in mind, I decided to hack together a dockerised microservice that does the signing & verification for you. This way, you could theoretically deploy Aletheia to a project simply by adding it to your running services rather than trying to integrate a 3rd-party module and all of the dependencies that come with.

The Aletheia logo The project works, but as I built it using FastAPI, getting the tests to play nice is proving problematic for a Django nerd like me. I'm hoping to have the kinks worked out in early 2020.

Workfinder: Last Man Standing

Most of the code I wrote in 2019 was for my full-time employer, but the face of the dev team changed a lot over the year. I started out working in of the Cambridge office with 3 other developers, and one-by-one they all left the company. Now I'm the only one in this town, with most of the rest of the company based out of London. Thankfully, the CEO has promised that she's not going to make me commute to London on a daily basis (honestly that just wouldn't happen), but it does mean that I don't have anyone to bounce ideas off of on a regular basis and that sucks.

On the plus side though, before he left, Richard and I wrote what I think might be some of my Best Code Ever: a system that handles multiple data sources of varying trustworthiness and merges it into a single derived model that performs even with tens of millions of records in the system. Now it's just a matter of getting that code into the main product...

Travel

It turns out that babies seriously cramp your travel plans. For the most part, Christina and I have been Cambridge-bound this past year. I'm hoping that once Anna reaches the age where we can hand her a phone and say: "shut up and watch Peppa Pig", we'll be able to consider then 9-hour flight to Vancouver.

Siros

The one trip we made was to Athens & Siros (Σιρος). Anna was just young enough that she wasn't bothered (too much) by the flight (even though it was RyanAir), and she slept through the majority of the trip. We spent a few days in Athens, and then continued onto Siros where we rented a little house with a pretty remarkable view of both the island and the sea.

We took Anna for her very first swim in the Agean, ate a lot of delicious food, and I came face-to-face with my paralysing fear of crickets & grasshoppers. The trip was lovely... except for that last part.

In-laws In-residence

Not long after the trip to Greece, Christina's parents came out to Cambridge to live with us for 2 months. The plan was that they would help ease Christina's transition back into the workforce, help Anna get used to her day care, and help out around the house as we all get used to having a baby around. Now I'm not going to come out and say that living with my in-laws for 2 months was super-fun and friction-free, but I really appreciated the help. Having someone around to talk to for advice, or to help with putting the kid to sleep when you're at the end of your tether is invaluable to say the least.

Parents visit

Not long after the in-laws left, my parents came for a few weeks, though their stay was interrupted by their own (apparently abysmal: screw you Norwegian Cruiselines) detour through the European North. It's always nice when my parents visit and I get to show them the life I'm helping to build, though this time around my mom was having a really hard time. Still, I think they enjoyed their trip, and they're talking about coming back for a visit before (in their words) they're too old to make the trip.

Politics

I got to vote in two national elections this year, though in both cases first-past-the-post ensured that my vote didn't really mean anything.

Canada

The Liberals squeaked out a minority government, campaigning of the idea that they gave a shit about climate change and a history of actions that prove that they don't. I suppose I could be happy that at least Canada didn't elect outright climate deniers, but like everything else they do, the Liberals are even more infuriating: they play up their green rhetoric, but demonstrably aren't willing to do what's necessary to combat the climate crisis. To my mind, they're just as bad as the Conservatives, just more duplicitous.

UK

The UK had its 3rd election in 5 years in a desperate attempt to get a strong majority that would lend some stability to their position in managing Brexit with the rest of the EU. Thanks to first-past-the-post, even though the majority of the country voted against the Conservatives, we all got a crushing Conservative majority. Jeremy Corbyn, the first political leader that's inspired me in the UK, and only the fourth politician to inspire me in my lifetime, somehow is being blamed for the failings of his own party-unfaithful, that of the Lib-Dems, and of the Greens, whose platform was objectively less-green than Labour's. The country's fourth estate is in shambles, and we're now on-track for a disasterous brexit: upwards of 5-years helmed by a government & prime minister with a record of xenophobia, homophobia, flat-out racism, climate denial, and Trump ass-kissing.

So yeah. This is where I live.

World

On the world stage, 2019 was a year of hope and horrors. Every week, you'd read a story about how the world is literally on fire, but you'd also hear about how lab-grown or plant-based "meat" was getting a foothold in the market, that coal and oil were losing share to renewables, and a little girl was sailing across the Atlantic to lecture our do-nothing leaders.

Greta Thunburg

More than inspiration, Thunburg has been a voice for my (and future) generation's rage:

"The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you."

- Greta Thunburg, address to the UN Climate Action Summit

Personally, I'm impressed with the futility: the people she was speaking to demonstrably have no interest in fixing this mess they and their parents have created. Some of them are even straight-up climate deniers. She's 17. This is the limit of her power and she's shaming them into action. They won't act of course, but at least she's now part of the historical record: the voice of a generation enraged by how the boomers have fucked us all.

The #TeamTrees logo

#TeamTrees

It may seem small, but I'm still elated with the results. The #TeamTrees campaign started by a bunch of YouTubers accomplished its goal of funding the planting of 20,000,000 trees. With the vast majority of donations in the area between $1 and $10, people all over the planet scratched together what they could to show our leaders that we're willing to step up and do what we can to save the world. Every donation streamed onto the site in real-time, but my favourite was from a bunch of 8th-graders who crowdfunded $1,111 from 200 of their classmates -- all to save the world they're going to inherit from a generation that's done everything it can to use everything up before they die.

A baby kangaroo, burned to death on a fence.  Credit: @earthfocus on Instagram

#AustraliaFires

It's not hyperbole anymore. The world is literally on fire. Australia, home to thousands of unique and fascinating species, has lost approximately one billion animals to the fires. The amount of CO₂ is being measured in the millions of tonnes, and this is just the beginning. When summer comes in the Northern Hemisphere, it's entirely likely that the forests in Canada, Europe, and Russia will see the same. If you think that any of this is going to change the minds of those with the power to fix it, think again. The Prime Minister of Australia is a climate denier. Australians elected a climate denier, even after decades of flooding was laying out the truth in front of them.

We are so. very. fucked.

XR

I did however draw some hope & inspiration from one group though: Extinction Rebellion. They're the next step I've been expecting for a while now. When diplomacy fails, the next step is violence. Now to be clear: to my knowledge, XR hasn't taken any violent action against any people, but their actions against the machine that's destroying the planet are most definitely violent. They obstruct traffic, shut down transit infrastructure, and effectively cripple economies. They're the living embodiment of Mario Savio's words:

“There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

-- Mario Savio

Those destroying the planet don't care about people, animals, or even breatheable air. They do however care a great deal about profits. XR is hitting them where it hurts: they're fucking with capitalism and this is just the beginning. As people get more desperate, I expect XR to play a bigger role.

Leaders that Get It

I've also been inspired by some of the leaders we're seeing gain traction like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders. They're both the right people with the principled positions to guide the US through to doing the right thing by the climate and their people. My only concern is that of timing: AOC is too young to run for president, and the Democrats still have it in their head that a milquetoast "moderate" like Biden is their best bet at beating Trump. If Bernie doesn't win the Democratic primary, it's entirely likely that Trump will take the White House again, and if that happens, the US will be entirely lost to us with regard to its impact on the climate. We can't wait another four years for them to get their act together.

There's also The Green New Deal for Europe, which was released in 2019, and appears to have heavily influenced the European Green New Deal -- ramping up to be official EU policy. If the EU can get this right, they can dictate terms to the big polluters like India, China, and the US. They might actually save us all.

Maybe I'm still a little too hopeful.

Conclusion

So that's it for 2019. With the exception of Anna's birth, I don't feel particularly good about this year, but I have hope -- not you know, a lot, but some. Maybe 2020 will be the magical year that Trump is deposed, that all of Johnson's bluster about Brexit turns out to be smoke & mirrors for the softest of Brexits, that the EU finally starts to throw around its weight on the environmental file, that Canada's Liberals are forced to do the Right Thing through alliances with the NDP & Greens.

And maybe Anna will learn enough words to actually tell me why she's screaming at 0400h.

A guy can dream.

October 06, 2015 18:02 +0100  |  Canada Democracy Environment Green Party NDP Politics 0

A dear friend asked me over Twitter today why I think she should vote Green and not NDP. I started with 140 characters, then switched to a direct message, and then I wanted formatting... So I wrote a blog post.

So Theresa, this is a short, but reasonably complete list of the reasons I couldn't bring myself to vote NDP this election. Which is a pity really. I'd like to live in a world where a party like the Greens didn't need to exist because the mainstream parties actually did the Right Thing.

...but they don't do the right thing, and they shouldn't be rewarded for that.

Environment

The Tar Sands

If there is one fact that should be obvious to anyone who claims to know anything about climate change, it's that the carbon reserves that we have in Northern Alberta need to stay in the ground. The NDP are against Keystone XL and Northern Gateway, but they do support Energy East. So, either the NDP don't believe the millions of scientists who have stated that this stuff has to stay in the ground, or they're pretending to support the oil sector in an effort to get votes.

Either way, the NDP position is suspect and speaks to either their scientific literacy or their authenticity. I'll let you decide which is more egregious.

Carbon Tax vs. Cap and Trade

The NDP has taken a cap/trade position (to the exclusion of a carbon tax) against the advice of every prominent environmentalist and economist. This is quite clearly done for political reasons, to separate themselves from the Liberals and Greens who favour a carbon tax.

This wouldn't be such a big deal if it weren't for the fact that every reputable environmentalist group will tell you that a carbon tax is the best way to affect the change needed, and that cap/trade is a market non-solution. In other words, the NDP is choosing its platform based on what it thinks will win them power over what is right for the country. You may sense a theme developing.

The Senate

Their position on the senate is untenable, impractical, and dishonest. Ignoring for the moment that almost all of the countries on the planet with a single governing house are what you and I might refer to as banana republics, an upper house is a crucial check on the power of the lower house, and in a parliamentary system like ours that vests so much power in the hands of a single person, the prime minister, this is a Very Bad Idea.

On top of that, abolition is quite impossible as it would require support for all of the provinces and every constitutional lawyer in the country will tell you that there's no way you'll ever get everyone on board with abolition.

No one is saying that the Senate shouldn't be reformed, but the NDP position of abolition is not good policy. Once again, they're writing policy based on what they think will play better with the public (abolition is much easier to grasp than reform), as opposed to what would be good for the country.

Proportional Representation

After the 2011 election, the NDP, who had been talking about electoral reform months earlier, suddenly came out in favour of first past the post. I distinctly remember listening to CBC's The House, where the NDP MP steadfastly supported FPTP with the typical platitudes of "it's worked for the country for so long" etc. etc. None of this is surprising since it was first-past-the-post that gave them that "orange wave" in Québec.

Then, just last year, they showed up late to the party on electoral reform and did a big blitz where they told everyone that if elected, they'd "make this Canada's last unfair election". Then, as they rose in the polls, all of that rhetoric evaporated, and now their issues page makes absolutely no mention of it.

The Consortium Debate

Thomas Mulcair started this campaign saying he'd gladly debate anywhere, any time, and he's finishing it having backed out of the one debate that was guaranteed to have the most viewers out of the entire Election.

You can't claim to want to lead the country if you're going to run away from debates with your opponents. It doesn't matter that Stephen Harper refused to participate. In fact, Mulcair's refusal simply puts him in bad company, with arguably Canada's worst Prime Minister in history.

The Consortium Debate could have been an opportunity to reach more than 10 million people (as opposed to the paltry 1.5 from the Maclean's Debate) and publicly shame Stephen Harper for abdicating his responsibility to the democratic process. Instead, through his actions, Mulcair legitimised Harper's position and drastically limited the level of political discourse in Canada.

This reason alone would be enough to keep me from the NDP.

Wrap Up

I want to make it clear that I still think that the NDP are better than the Liberals and Conservatives, but I also think that they've fallen far, far from their roots as the sensible socialist alternative. They've become a party of pragmatists, shifting their principles toward whatever they think will win them votes, and for me this is an unforgivable sin.

If you want to lead my country, I expect you to have ideals and principles underlying your positions, policy that's supported by those principles, and a leader that stands behind them. The CCF was that kind of party, Tommy Douglas, Elizabeth May and Jeremy Corbyn are that kind of leader, and voters can smell the stench of an impostor. They smell it on Thomas Mulcair, and they certainly smell it on Justin Trudeau.

I voted Green because they're still the party of principle out there. They take sometimes unpopular positions that are vested in principles as stated by the party members. I don't agree with all of these positions, but I can live with what I see as bad policy if it means that I can trust the party to follow through with everything they say they represent:

  • They called for a carbon tax more than a decade ago, when the science was in but the public was strongly against it. They've never wavered on this.
  • They've always opposed the tar sands because it's bad policy to support an industry that's trying to kill everyone on the planet.
  • They routinely call for order and respect in the House of Commons.
  • They support the reduction of powers of the Prime Minister, because we shouldn't be electing de-facto dictators, and for the increase in power of MPs so that they can do the work of local representation.
  • Their leader is an accomplished lawyer, parliamentarian and diplomat, dedicated to her role as MP and advocate for a safe environment.

I also think that their position on the senate is silly and impractical, and that their opposition to GMOs is anti-science and idiotic, but as it's clear that neither of these are priorities in the party, I'm unconcerned given their positions on real issues that actually matter.

When it comes time to vote in this election, who would you rather support, a party that stands by what it says, or a party that has demonstrated that their ideology and even their science will bend to pragmatism?

May 03, 2015 20:40 +0100  |  Energy Environment The Economy 1

A few days ago, Elon Musk and Tesla announced the release of their new Powerwall system to much fanfare. It's being widely recognised as revolutionary and a gateway to the democratisation of energy production, but I think that the media is focusing on the wrong aspects of this story.

While it's true that Powerwall makes personal power generation more feasible, I would argue that this doesn't even scratch the surface. The real value of this technology is in the potential to delegate mass energy storage to smaller subsystems and, in so doing, effectively eliminate much of our addiction to fossil fuels.

What Powerwall Is

A photo of the powerwall

This is Tesla's Powerwall. Essentially it's a nice-looking box that hangs on the wall that can power your home for a day or two (more if you live in an apartment). It can charge off a personal solar array or wind turbine or, more importantly, it can be charged simply by connecting to your city's power grid.

The magic of Powerwall is in the details:

  • It's Cheap. At $3500 USD, it's a viable option for millions of people, which is nice for those who like expensive toys, but the real value is in the fact that this price point allows utilities and industry to apply this technology at a massive scale.
  • It's Versatile. Designed to be used in the home or chained together to form a serial super battery for large venues and industrial-grade buildings, Powerwall can be applied at the scale required where needed.
  • It's Unencumbered by Patents. Tesla has a standing policy on opening its patents to the world so that other companies can develop competing or compatible technologies without the fear of crippling lawsuits.

How We Manage Power Right Now

All of this is interesting from a technical perspective, but I want to talk about the potential to drastically change how we manage energy use in our cities.

One of the most difficult issues with power management is that it must be generated as needed. That is to say, the power you use when you turn the lights on at home was generated far away, often hundreds of kilometres away, and it was done so with the expectation that it will be used right away. Indeed, it has to be used right away because there's nowhere else for it to go other than into light bulbs and dishwashers across the grid.

A diagram of what our energy generation/use looks like now

The result is a power generation diagram that looks a lot like this. The entire network is essentially divided into two parts:

  • Base load is the power used regardless of the time of day. The network is built with the understanding that at any given time someone, somewhere will be using that power, so this power is generated using methods that are difficult to adjust, like nuclear or sometimes hydro.
  • Peak load is the power generated as we need it. We add more generation in the mornings and evenings and taper off considerably at night. You can only manage this variable nature if you make use of less rigid generation technologies. Typically that means coal or natural gas, though in some parts of the world, hydro is also a viable option.

The take away is this: fossil fuels are necessary for our current system because they're the only proven technology that can manage the variable nature of our energy needs at peak times. Nuclear reactors take days to start and stop and wind and solar are dependent on the weather. Fossil fuels can be spun up and down on a whim and for roughly a century this has been the one and only way to provide reliable power to the masses.

What Powerwall Means for Our Current Situation

Powerwall has the potential to change all of this. With a battery in every home (or even just every neighbourhood), any form of power generation is viable: simply dump that energy into the grid and let the batteries stabilise the flow. Powerwall eliminates the need for variable power generation and, by extension, fossil fuels.

A diagram of what our energy generation/use will look like with cheap, ubiquitous batteries

Instead, we get a power distribution that looks more like this, with the base load still generated by big industrial forces like nuclear, but with the added possibility of making better use of renewables like solar, wind, and even tidal & geothermal.

The Outlook

This is so much bigger than allowing upper middle class yuppies to power their espresso machines with solar power. Cheap and ubiquitous battery technology is the missing link in responsible energy production in the coming century.

Fossil Fuels vs. Renewables

Coal, oil, and natural gas (methane) can still play a part in the short term, but, in the long term, the market will inevitably move away from them, as it's impossible to compete with free energy beaming from the sun. Governments will delight in being able to appear "green" as they move with the market to curb CO₂ levels in the atmosphere.

The Democratisation of Power Generation

And of course there's the story everyone appears to be running with: the democratisation of power generation. This will be an exciting change too, as shopping malls, factories, and even apartment buildings opt for local generation as a means of supplementing or even avoiding the grid. I honestly don't think that so-called "democratic power" will be the primary means of generation, but this will undoubtedly play a part.

Excited

So yes, I'm excited about the whole thing. So much so that I checked whether Tesla was hiring in Europe (they don't appear to be interested in software developers, pity). Powerwall and technologies like it are a Really Big Deal and so far from what I've seen, much of the media hasn't quite grasped this. I'm convinced however that that all of the above is Musk's grand plan and that this reality is not lost on the heads of power utilities around the world.

July 11, 2012 21:54 +0100  |  Activism Economy Environment 0

This is going to be a ranting post, so you may want to skip it if that sort of thing isn't your cup of tea.

I went to a meetup tonight called CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) Amsterdam, a new group started here making efforts to build a community to encourage social responsibility here in the city. The guest speaker was Kumi Naidoo, executive director and "chief troublemaker" of Greenpeace International, and his talk was, for the most part, both informative and interesting -- but something rubbed me the wrong way, and I need to rant about it.

Naidoo claims that the world is suffering from a great imbalance: the rich European countries, he said, spend more on feeding their pets in a week than is required to feed an African family for a month. Here in the Netherlands, we subsidise cows to the tune of something like €2/person/month, and yet such a large portion of the world still doesn't have access to electricity. Both of these statements are true, but they're both completely irrelevant to the cause of environmentalism and only serve to alienate rational people from it.

This isn't just about the fact that the world is not going to be fixed by making people feel guilty for feeding their pets. It's about Greenpeace painting the entire environmental movement as a bunch of out of touch hippies driven by irrational guilt to redistribute wealth from stable, richer nations to less stable, poorer ones. Statements like these imply that there are simple answers to the complex problems of militarism, corruption, unstable regimes, and corporate influence, instead framing everything as if we should all feel guilty for having pets.

There's nothing wrong with managing the welfare of your citizens by using their collective wealth to secure a supply of meat and dairy. Having pets and buying frivolous things, while not exactly constructive for the betterment of humanity, isn't the source of the problem. If Greenpeace really wanted to go after this imbalance, they'd do better to go after corporations (and those who buy from them) that pillage poorer nations, like precious metal mining companies in South America and Africa, but now that he's already blamed pet owners and milk drinkers for the ills of the world, he's lost half the room.

Seriously people, stop it. It's hard enough being an environmentalist in this world, I don't need help like this.

July 25, 2009 19:09 +0100  |  Activism Copyright Environment Net Neutrality Politics 0

I haven't posted in here for a while, but now that I have a few minutes I've been inspired by Melanie and Karen who are blogging 24hrs today for charity to do a little PSA and share some info about three topics I think everyone should be thinking about.

Copenhagen 2009

In December of this year, 192 countries will gather at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen to essentially determine the future of the planet. It's going to be a mix of climate activists, scientists, politicians and very powerful special interests and there's a lot on the line. Potentially, this conference could mean massive change to help save us from ourselves, both environmentally and economically, or it could be more posturing and inaction. We need to pressure our leaders to Do the Right Thing on this front and let them know that we are willing to support them in doing so.

Hopenhagen

Think of the potential for both the economy and environment. International agreements to raise tariffs on unsustainably harvested primary resources, subsidy programs for R&D into new energy production, or an accord to phase out coal fired plants by 2050. It's possible, the potential is there. Here's some links to get you started:

Copyright Reform

Humanity is changing and at the root of it is how we communicate. What rights we have to control our own culture and what it means to foster creativity and innovation is finally becoming a discussion worth having because for the first time ever, the average person has the potential to become their own printing press.

Technology has given us the tools, but the old guard of copyright owners is actively pushing back to retain their hold on our culture while simultaneously eroding our own privacy rights. Canada has great potential here to stand on its own and do the right thing, thereby becoming a centre for innovation and creativity on the world stage -- we just need the will.

Michael Geist, a copyright lawyer and activist for years on this issue has created a site called Speak Out on Copyright, a compilation of resources covering what you can do to affect change in this area. Talk to your MP, write letters to the editor for your local paper, do whatever you need to help people understand that what the Conservatives want to do right now is more dangerous than the damage Bush did to digital rights in his 8 years as a wrecking ball.

Net Neutrality

The Internet is gradually being eroded into a consumer tool from the powerful equalising force it was from the beginning. The key issue (for me anyway) is that the Internet is moving from a telephone-style system where all traffic moves at the same rate regardless of who's using it or what it's being used for, to a consumer service where people can pay more for better service or access to different content.

This can sound appealing at first until you realise that this means that your ISP (Shaw, Telus, Bell, Rogers, etc) is trying to make it so that you can't use our Internet the way you want. If they don't want to let you see certain sites, they won't, if they don't want you using a particular technology regardless of how you're using it, they'll throttle it or block it altogether. Moves like this impede innovation and turn the power of the Internet over to a conglomerate of 4 companies in Canada... companies we know that from considerable past experience, can't be trusted.

A number of sites have sprung up on this issue:

June 13, 2009 01:50 +0100  |  Activism Environment Politics Transit Translink 2

I thought that I might post a brief note on this whole Be Part of the Plan business from Translink.

For those of you not living in Vancouver, Translink is the Lower Mainland transit authority. Created just before the demise of the NDP over a decade ago as a way to offload the responsibility of transit from the province, Translink is an unelected body charged with support of all methods of transportation from Vancouver out to just past Langley. They handle SkyTrain, the road system, the West Coast Express, the Seabus and even the cycling infrastructure and they're notorious for tending to do so with very little input from the public.

So you can imagine what a remarkable thing it is to see posters and ads all over the place for this be part of the plan program they're pushing. They're trying to give everyone the impression that they're interested in public input regarding their responsibilities and to do just that, they've built a website, a blog, a Twitter account and set up a number of "consultations" with the public over the next few weeks.

It all sounds really great: public engagement on one of the most important civil issues in this generation is a pretty big deal, but unfortunately there's nothing engaging about the whole process. Instead, all of this, the website, the Twitter, the "consultations", are all targeted at one purpose: they want more money and they want you to agree with them on their plans for transit going toward 2040.

Every element of this outreach has the same message:

  1. You have three choices: more service, the same service, abysmal service
  2. You should pick the first one
  3. You should give them more money so they can do the first one.

Of course it's all framed like they're giving you all this really detailed information about the process of making hard choices about transit, but that's also bookended with statements like "we have a vision" on the one side and the usual "end of the world" rhetoric you hear if you don't make the "right" choice. What kills me though, and what should bother the hell out of everyone "involved" in this circus is that they entire process is framed with their own goals in mind. In other words, they've already made the decision and they're telling us that we have only one option for better transportation in this city and it's their plan. If you don't like it, that's it -- transit is doomed.

It's all quite dishonest and manipulative really. We know Translink's track record: over a decade of service with the transit adoption rate holding steady at an embarrassing 13%. They want more funding for their plans which we now know are just plain ineffective and we're being told that there is no alternative but to accept their position or give up. It's maddening.

I'd suggest that you attend one of these events and give them a piece of your mind (as I did) but I don't like encouraging people to partake in an exercise of futility. I would instead suggest that we come up with Better Ideas for transit in the Lower Mainland and work to pressure our elected officials to reject the Translink plan in favour of something more effective because this kind of manipulative behaviour should never be permitted to fly.

March 26, 2009 01:52 +0000  |  Activism Energy Environment Public Space Toronto Vancouver 9

I'm going to participate. I'm not really concerned about the effectiveness of that single hour's darkness on energy consumption as a whole, rather I'm more interested in taking a moment (or in this case, an hour) to reflect on our habits and maybe even convince others to slow down a bit. Besides, who doesn't love a party in the dark?

As always, Toronto is having a party in Nathan Phillip's Square while Vancouver still lacks any real public space capable of such an event. If you know of anything that Vancouver is doing that's interesting please let me know.

February 06, 2009 07:46 +0000  |  Environment Family Friends Self Reflection Suburbia Why I'm Here Women Work [at] Play 14

People have been sending these my way for days now and the activity seemed so very contrary to my usual behaviour, that I thought that I'd give it a shot. I'm not going to "tag" anyone to do this though since this is my blog and not bloody Facebook, but if you want to share your own, you can post it or link to your own post here in the comments.

Here's the deal. This is a list of 25 random things about me. They're personal, so if you want to know more about me, this might be a scary place to start, but it's your call:

  1. I am a very private person. This may come as a surprise to someone who doesn't know me, as I do after all maintain a blog and all kinds of online profiles. Look carefully though and you'll realise that there's nothing all that personal about me anywhere. I don't share. I'm going to try to make this post an exception.
  2. I'm happy to listen to others though. People like to talk to me -- gods know why. I like to think that I'm a pretty good listener and that my lectures are often helpful.
  3. I never used to care about the environment. In fact, when I moved to Ontario, it was the furthest thing from my mind. It wasn't until I realised that so many people still burned coal to make electricity that I got involved.
  4. As part of a seventh grade public speaking exercise, I wrote a speech titled "Why Does Everyone Talk About Saving the Environment, but No One Does Anything About It?" (or something to that effect). I was then voted as the one to give the speech in front of the whole school. I was so terrified that I skipped a complete paragraph from my cue cards.
  5. I was, and still am, terrified at the prospect of public speaking. In recent years, I've actively combated this fear by repeatedly putting myself in situations where I must speak publicly in one form or another. It's working.
  6. I don't try to save the world out of guilt, or a feeling of responsibility. I do what I do purely out of a sense of principle: I honestly believe that there is a Right way and Wrong way to interact with this planet, and I fight to ensure the former. As Mark Twain said: "Always do right. This will gratify some and astonish the rest".
  7. I am seriously afraid that I will waste away here in Vancouver. Most days I feel as if any ambition I had was left behind in Toronto.
  8. It is because of this fear that I've avoided doing things "for me" in the past like joining a choir. I've always felt like I have a responsibility to act on the aforementioned principles and forgo my own wants until those goals are achieved, but the hollowness and lack of purpose I've felt since returning have caused me to consider some selfish options. I still feel that this is a mistake, but I don't know what else to do.
  9. I love my job. I love the work, the fact that it's constantly challenging and that I'm being given the power/responsibility to write some really fucking awesome code.
  10. I often burn 90% of my work day spinning my mental wheels trying to get my brain out of its funk. I believe this to be related to my poor diet and sleeping schedule... at least I hope that's the case.
  11. I'm so afraid of what it might be if it's not diet or rest that I won't talk to a doctor about it.
  12. I'm constantly concerning myself with others' impressions of me. Alone, at home working on my computer, walking down the street, writing a blog, or deputing at City Hall, the question of how my words may be construed 20years from now is a serious concern to me.
  13. I often catch myself reliving or daydreaming about past or potential future conversations. What was / could've been said, or what will be / should be said, and the rebuttals for each. These conversations sometimes cross over from the mental space into real out-loud annunciations for my part of the exchange -- though this is usually only at home as I'm getting ready for work.
  14. I've developed deep emotional attachments to a number of people scattered around the world. These feelings aren't romantic, but rather almost familial and definitely protective.
  15. I think that my unwillingness to share is likely directly connected to my inability to commit emotionally to someone. Either that or I just haven't met the right girl yet.
  16. My childhood was really quite horrible. My family was wonderful, but my school life in Langley has probably damaged me permanently. Don't raise your kids in the suburbs folks, it doesn't do anyone any good.
  17. My single bastion of sanity in high school was choir practise with Mr. Thompson and Mr. Rahn. They gave me something into which I could pour myself at a time when all I wanted was shut the whole world out. Had it not been for Thompson Tran, the guy who dragged me into choir in the first place, I think that I would be a very different person today.
  18. My parents actively discouraged me from taking music, art, shop, or drama classes in high school. I was told that such activities were for the dumb kids and that I, as a smart person shouldn't waste my time with them. I'm not bitter about this, it's just unfortunate that I missed such an opportunity for a creative outlet for so many years.
  19. I honestly do think that I'm really fucking smart about a lot of things. I don't care if this makes me appear arrogant, condescending or superior. The way I figure it, so long as I'm open to the possibility that someone out there is smarter than I am and I embrace their opinions when I meet them, then it's all good.
  20. I'm attracted to people who are smarter than I am, or have an understanding of the universe drastically different from my own.
  21. I have an image in my head of the girl I'm supposed to be with. I've had dreams about her for years. In these dreams she has long, straight, brown hair and wears a long, stretchy, cotton grey dress. She sings and plays guitar. I am aware that harbouring a fantasy image of a non-existent mate is counter-productive and I don't care.
  22. I'm sometimes frustrated by the maintenance a friendship requires. My feelings toward people don't change with the distance between us or the time between our visits, yet many of my friends seem to think otherwise and try to reconnect repeatedly. I don't begrudge them this, but it's also really hard to make time for everyone as well as myself.
  23. I vividly remember dozens of instances where I've been wrong about something. In all of these cases, I've been sure and was later proven ignorant. This is a serious concern for me so I usually use non-committal fragments in my sentences to assure my position as a non-authority on a topic... Unless I think that I am an authority, at which point any mistakes haunt me permanently.
  24. I cannot tolerate being called "stupid". It's a trigger word for me. I'm alright with naive or ignorant, though these words do flare me up a bit -- usually enough to get me to ask question after question until I'm no longer worthy of either word.
  25. I use the regret model for my decision making: I imagine how I would feel looking back on a situation 20years later and then decide to go with the option that I would likely lead to the least regret.

September 02, 2008 19:09 +0100  |  Canada Environment Green Party Politics 14

For those who haven't yet heard, Canada's Green Party is now an official parliamentary party. Blair Wilson, the MP for West Vancouver has defected from the Federal Liberal party to the Green Party of Canada. This move pretty much solidifies the Green Party's right to enter the debates for the upcoming election, and believe me when I tell you that Elizabeth May will rip the other four to shreds.

This election is likely to be a lot more fun than I initially expected.

May 25, 2008 20:07 +0100  |  Environment Friends Self Reflection Suburbia 13

Lately, I've come to dread my weekends, which is odd, because I'm so very busy during the week, but nonetheless it's happening. It took me a while to deduce from where this sense of desperation was coming, but it finally donned on me: it's the suburbs.

I don't think that I can accurately explain my discomfort with suburbia. Sure, it's completely wasteful and unsustainable, but my political reaons for hating that way of life are separate. No, it's the... emptiness. Standing in a field of parked cars in blistering heat, surrounded by pickup trucks and SUVs all humming along with their heat-generating A/C units. The acres of big box stores, parking lots and big box stores, all separated by pointless little medians and mock "nature" in the form of a tree in a concrete box or a wood bench facing yet another parking stall. It makes my nerves itch just thinking about it.

I've been out to the suburbs (yes, that includes Kelowna) every weekend without exception for at least 5 weeks now. Obviously, it's not out of a sense of masochism, but rather because I have friends out there. I guess, part of me secretly hoped that they'd all get the hell out of Langley and Surrey before I returned from Toronto and that I wouldn't have to endure a personal hell just to be with them, but it would seem that Fate is a sadist: rather than leave, they've entrenched themselves.

Jeanie and Ruth have moved into a pretty house in White Rock, and Chris and Trish have bought a house out in Langley. Quinn and Michelle seem to like it there and my parents moved to Kelowna because of the lifestyle. The truth is though, I don't begrudge any of them for their choices. They've chosen that life for themselves and barring the inevitable major financial collapse hinging on oil scarcity, they'll probably continue to enjoy it for years to come. I just hate having to go there to see them -- and by hate, I mean hate. The mere thought breeds contempt in my veins, I get bitter just boarding the Skytrain.

It's probably all a mix of the horrible memories I have of that place and my knowledge of the socio-economic-environmental implications of such a lifestyle that does this, but knowing this doesn't make it any better. I miss my friends. I'll continue to see them. But I just need to vent.

I hate it so much.

Edit: 2008-05-28

It's been brought to my attention that this post might be construed as bitterness toward my friends for making me come out to the burbs all the time without them making the same sacrifice for me. Nothing could be further from the truth. Chris Rhodes and Trish especially have made the trip on many occasions and I've appreciated the visit every time. This post was, more than anything, about how much I hate the suburbs.