It’s crazy how demanding web browsers have become.

Both my main computers are somewhat old, but they can run modern 3D games at low graphics settings and perform computationally-intensive tasks like converting RAW files to JPG. Nonetheless, I find both my iMac and my MacBook Pro routinely struggling to run GMail in Safari, Firefox, or Chrome.

If I wasn’t a PhD student, I would probably have replaced both computers years ago.

Tracking back through my archives, I have some records of major Apple purchases:

  • My 20 GB 4th gen iPod was $389 in 2004;
  • my 14″ 1.33 GHz G4 iBook was $1990 in 2005 (that was the computer I brought to England and used exclusively in Oxford);
  • my top-of-the-line 24″ iMac was $2,249 in 2008 (a gift to self for being gainfully employed, and the computer I am typing on now);
  • In May 2010 I paid $35 for Mac OS X 10.6.3 Snow Leopard!
  • I got one of many 160 GB iPod Classics for $279 in 2010 (still the best MP3 player ever; I need to replace the hard drive in my current one); and
  • I got my 13″ MacBook Pro for $1649 in 2011

I am pretty tied into the OS X universe. That’s how all my projects (academic, photographic, activist) are organized, including encrypted archives and backups.

I would love to get a Mac Pro (though apparently those available now are outdated and expensive) or an iMac Pro (not out yet, first-of-a-kind Apple products tend to have big problems, and crazy expensive at $5000+).

All told, I would prefer to avoid the all-in-one design. My current iMac has a great screen, but inadequate processing power for current applications. It cannot be used as a display for a faster computer.

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This fall, it has been a bit sad to spend my first September at U of T after finishing my five years as a Massey College Junior Fellow: not getting invited to orientation events, or told about the official college photo.

Massey has had an enormous influence over my time at U of T, and it’s hard to imagine how the PhD experience would have been without it. U of T is so big (as is the political science department) that I would never otherwise have had such a sense of community, much less the cross-disciplinary and stimulating environment of Massey.

As an alumnus, I am still free to participate in most college events, and I have been enjoying meeting this year’s crop of Junior Fellows. I’m grateful that I have had the chance to experience graduate school again, after working for long enough to know what a privilege it is.

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After a 20-year mission, and to avoid any risk of contaminating Saturnian moons with microorganisms from Earth, the Cassini space probe was deliberately crashed into Saturn’s atmosphere today.

The science it has returned has been stimulating and the imagery spectacular. The watery moon Enceladus now joins Europa among the solar system’s most intriguing life-compatible bodies.

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Dr. Doug McAdam – Social Movements: Power from Above and Below (FSI 2010)

(Darlings, I would normally embed the video, but something really weird is happening with YouTube’s embed tools ATM)

Doug McAdam

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New Zealand’s kakapo parrot is equally rare and bizarre: critically endangered, with 154 survivors living on three protected predator-free islands, the birds can’t survive the presence of rats, cats, and other potentially-carniverous mammals, can’t fly, and reproduce slowly and strangely.

The chapter about them is perhaps the most memorable part of Douglas Adams’ excellent non-fiction book Last Chance to See.

Now, the DNA of every living kakapo is being sequenced, with 81 done already.

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One way in which the lives of contemporary urban dwellers must differ from those of most people in the 250,000 years of anatomically modern human history is in not knowing our neighbours. In a small settlement in a time before widespread travel and privacy, you would probably know everybody. Now, many of us couldn’t pick out the people who live on our block from a lineup.

I suspect this has several negative effects. Because so many of us duplicate what would once have been shared spaces (living rooms, laundry rooms, kitchens), urban density is lower than it might otherwise be, contributing to sprawl and the time and energy inefficiencies of long commutes. Socially, there is ample evidence that we are atomized and isolated to an unprecedented expense.

Living for three years at Massey College offered one alternative model. The college has the physical layout of a Benedictine monastery, with shared spaces including the common room, libraries, and the dining hall on one end and private rooms looking inward around an enclosed quad. Everybody gets their own small bedroom and attached office, but all other facilities are shared. Meals are taken in common, and cellular phones are prohibited in the dining hall. It’s an attractive approach that combines privacy with communality, and it probably fits more people into a Massey-sized area than private apartments would. If it were more than three stories tall, it could be much more dense than conventional housing, while still not having so many residents that people won’t all know one another.

A commercial take on a similar idea is being tried in London:

The Collective is a pioneer of a new property format known as “co-living”. Instead of self-contained flats, residents live in tiny rooms with 12 square metres of floor space. Most contain just a bed and a bathroom.

It is outside these rooms that the building makes its pitch. It comes with a gym, spa, libraries, a good restaurant and a cinema. Residents get access to all of these amenities, as well as their room, for a rental payment of £800-£1,000 ($1,033-$1,292) a month. That includes all bills and high-speed Wi-Fi; they pay extra for meals in the restaurant. Residents have come up with their own services, too. The Collective houses a “library of things”, or a shared repository of useful objects—hammers, tape measures and even tents.

They do note that this building is too large for close social pressure to prevent bad behaviour:

With too many co-livers to be able to know everyone personally, CCTV is used in these areas as a guarantor of good conduct and cleanliness.

That said, I have experienced problems with chores, shared cooking equipment, and cleanliness in situations with just two or three housemates.

Along with innovations like more laneway housing and policies to discourage low-density urban living, such approaches could contribute to a more sustainable future which also includes stronger communities.

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