Cause to comment

One more reason to comment: this site uses WordPress SuperCache as a way of rendering pages for non-commenting visitors. The cached versions are not fully up-to-date, especially when it comes to comments left by visitors.

As soon as you leave a comment that behaviour changes for your computer. That means you will be getting a freshly rendered version of the page every time.

Rideau canal skating

Somehow, over the course of my two years in Oxford, I never managed to go punting.

Lest my Ottawa experience be similarly impoverished, I got some skates today and gave the famous Rideau Canal a try. My high-school era rollerblading experience seems to have been surprisingly well maintained, given the comparative ease with which I took to skating. Over the course of the day, I went from Argyle (near the Elgin Street diner) to the pavilion at Dow’s Lake, then back to Argyle, then back to Dow’s Lake, then back to the Bank Street Canal Bridge, and back once more to Dow’s Lake.

The ice is certainly rougher than in an indoor arena, and you need to watch for fissures. That said, the experience is much more enjoyable than looping round and around a generic ice rink. You get some sunlight for vitamin D synthesis, and you feel like you are participating in a part of civic life. For certain friends, the canal is actually a pretty useful mode of transport for me. If you live somewhere along it and ever need to get to the southern end of Preston Street, it provides a nice alternative to the random timing of Ottawa’s non-transitway buses.

I am going to try and skate a couple of times a week, at least, between now and when the canal skating season ends. If people have skating plans, please let me know. I now live five minutes from the canal, and have skates at the ready.

Crediting friends for photos

I put a lot of photography online. I try to put a photo per day up on this site, and I have heaps of photos on Facebook and Flickr. It’s a hobby I enjoy and people seem to enjoy seeing my photos, including ones of themselves.

As photo and computer gear have made it easier and easier to store large numbers of digital images, my library is ballooning. I use iPhoto to store ‘digital negatives’ and currently have an album of 36,109 photos. Most of those photos (over 2/3) have been taken since I came to Ottawa.

While lugging around a giant SLR, it is fun to let other people try taking a few shots. One person brought the gear, but that doesn’t mean people with different perspectives shouldn’t be allowed to make use of it.

I do try to memorize which shots are mine and which ones were taken by others, but I deal with a daunting number of photographs overall. Once in a while, I may accidentally mis-attribute a photo taken by someone else as my own. It is never my intention to do so, and I ask you not to be offended if I haven’t remembered which shots you took. I would always be pleased if you would let me know, so that I can provide an appropriate caption or hover-over text.

Does that seem like a sensible approach to people?

Bell, usage based billing, and TekSavvy

It seems the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has let the dominant internet service provider (ISP) Bell largely ruin the smaller ISP Teksavvy:

From March 1 on, users of the up to 5 Mbps packages in Ontario can expect a usage cap of 25GB (60GB in Quebec), substantially down from the 200GB or unlimited deals TekSavvy was able to offer before the CRTC’s decision to impose usage based billing…

We encourage you to monitor your usage carefully, as the CRTC has imposed a very high overage rate, above your new monthly limit, of $1.90 per gigabyte ($2.35 per gigabyte in Quebec).

Forcing big companies like Bell to lease capacity to companies like Teksavvy seems very smart, as it helps prevent dominant monopolies from forming. Unfortunately, such arrangements don’t have much meaning if you also allow the big company to force their own policies on the smaller companies that are leasing from them.

Consider the case of a customer using 100 GB a month – half of Teksavvy’s previous low cap. Before, they would have paid $44.30 with tax. Under the new rules, they would pay that plus another $142.50 in additional data usage fees.

AdBlock arms race?

I have been happily using AdBlock for years, with few if any inconveniences resulting. Lately, however, I have noticed websites partially sabotaging themselves for AdBlock users. I suppose this makes sense – they must hate the loss of advertising revenue.

It wouldn’t surprise me if even the sites that aren’t taking action in response to AdBlock now are tracking which of their visitors have used the software in the past.

Upgrade terrors

When you really rely on a piece of software, it is always frightening to see that there is an upgrade available. That sets you to worrying about the day when your version will no longer be supported, when it may even stop working altogether.

You’ve spent so long learning the peculiarities of the software, you naturally worry about how hard it will be to learn the new version, and whether you will still be capable when using it. If they change something that is a core job function of yours, you can be suddenly unable to do your job.

And yet, you’re a nerd and you believe in the possibility of never-ending improvement. You are seduced by the new version, where they promise it will be easier to do all the jobs you have to, and you will look like more of a professional when using it (camera companies promise the same thing for lenses).

And so, everyone is forced along the upgrade path. Ordinary users probably hate every step of the march, because they don’t buy into the seduction of the new (and yet everyone working in an office with an old version of Windows is happy to complain about it) and they still have to deal with the headaches of upgrading. Many geeks will be content with any change since their primary need – novelty – is automatically being served, even when they are cursing the strange new interface. The uber-geeks who actually run everything will work to keep everyone sane: maintaining a lifeline for all the old legacy systems that people absolutely rely on, while also making the investments necessary to service the software and hardware needs of the future.

Greenhouse gas ’emissions’ or ‘pollution’

The phrase ‘greenhouse gas emissions’ or ‘carbon emissions’ doesn’t cary much emotional weight. It sounds like some nerdy, probably unimportant thing.

In reality, our emissions will determine how much the planet warms, which will have a huge effect on humanity. While it’s true that the Earth is better off with some CO2 than it would be with none at all, it is also true that all the additional greenhouse gases being added to the atmosphere now are harmful. As climate scientist Gavin A. Schmidt argues: “If you ask a scientist how much more CO2 do you think we should add to the atmosphere, the answer is going to be none. All the rest is economics.”

Given all of that, I think it makes more sense to use the phrases ‘greenhouse gas pollution’ or ‘carbon pollution’. It accurately reflects the harmful role these emissions play, and it ties them to ideas like the ‘polluter pays principle‘.

Pondering smartphones III

I realize that one of the bigger sustainability problems of our age is all the waste generated by planned obselescence and the need to have the next big thing every couple of years. At the same time, it seems plausible that for whatever my trade is, a functional smartphone is increasingly a necessary tool.

As such, the increasing number of bugs and problems with my Nokia E71 (purchased in summer 2009) are driving me to think about new options. The phone no longer receives text messages while on, but rather in one big clump when rebooted. The battery now cannot even handle an evening out, even when it has been charging all day at work, and yet replacing it would cost a fair bit of what a new phone would. The web browsers (both Nokia’s and Opera Mobile) are inadequate for many everyday tasks. The machine won’t stay connected to my email server, even when it has constant access to the cell network, and it doesn’t tell you when the connection goes down. Also, it has been abruptly and randomly crashing.

The smartphone market changes fast. When I looked at it previously (once and again), I concluded that a Nokia phone aimed at the business market was the best match for my needs. Foremost among those are a good keyboard and integration with Google. It’s great that the Nokia seamlessly syncs up my contacts and calendar with GMail and Google Calendar, though it seems ironic that it uses Microsoft’s ‘Mail for Exchange’ app to do so. Other important features are decent battery life, GPS, access to useful apps like Google Maps, and good build quality. I don’t care at all about media player or camera capabilities, as I have better machines to do those things and I don’t have a problem carrying them with me.

What would people recommend? One of the BlackBerries? An Android phone? Much as I appreciate the familiar layout of Nokia’s operating systems, I don’t think I will be giving them another go. This will probably be my first ever cell phone not made by the Finnish giant.

I won’t be getting it very soon, however. Things are still a bit up in the air with the job search, and some of the lower-paying opportunities might not be smartphone compatible. Once I have some certainty, however, I will be back on the pocket computer market.

Obama’s 2011 State of the Union

While it did say a fair bit about cleaner forms of energy, climate change wasn’t mentioned at all in yesterday’s State of the Union address.

The absence of any reference was almost certainly politically driven, and based at least partly on an awareness of official Republican hostility to pretty much any government policy that would restrict greenhouse gas pollution. When people read this speech in retrospect – twenty or thirty years from now – perhaps they will reflect on how broken the politics of the time were, and how incapable they were of identifying and acting upon the biggest issue of the day. We are far too distracted by day-to-day and week-to-week blips; as a consequence, we are failing to properly recognize how we are making choices that will establish the conditions in which a huge number of future humans will live.

The segment on green energy does feature some specific proposals. Obama suggests that America could have one million electric vehicles deployed by 2015; he calls for 80% of American’s electricity to come from ‘clean’ sources (including natural gas) by 2035. While these objectives may be laudable, it would be a stretch to call them commitments. The last few years have amply demonstrated President Obama’s limited power, when it comes to determining what course the U.S. government will actually take.

We have to hope that a quick change will somehow take place in American politics and that climate change – this terrifically important fact about the world – ceases to be a hyper-partisan matter to which minimal real effort is devoted. How such a change could be accomplished, in a world where people seem to choose their facts to fit their ideologies, I cannot really say. I cannot help but thinking that my general optimism about humanity’s potential for making the transition to carbon neutrality in time might be excessive. Perhaps the real future we face is one filled with geoengineering, massive chaos, and suffering.

P.S. Kudos to the BBC, incidentally, for setting up a really excellent internet-embedded version of the speech. They have it divided by subject, and clicking at any point in the written transcript makes the quick-loading video jump to the section in question.

Fun, and also educational

Here’s a question that I think a lot of Ottawa-area Anglophones would appreciate an answer to:

Are there any good French television shows or films available via Netflix streaming?

For one reason or another, a few of us could benefit from some revision and practice.

I think most people watch at least some television as a guilty pleasure (HBO doesn’t count as television, does it?). Maybe we could just do that in French and kill two birds with one stone – get in one’s vegging time, and maintain French language skills.