Santa soliciting Shell divestment petition signatures

Today, we collected more than 200 petition signatures calling on the University of Toronto to sell their stock in Shell:

I am thoroughly appreciative to the Toronto volunteers who organized the whole event and then pulled it off today.

We will be building up our divestment campaign by seeking more signatures, including from campus groups and prominent alumni.

Both those associated with the University of Toronto and outside sympathizers are asked and encouraged to sign our petition. We are hoping to get thousands of names on it before we present it to the president of the university.

A four-lens system and the Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS macro

My approach to photography is basically to stick with the amount of gear I can keep in a single Domke F-2 bag. That means: one dSLR body, two flashes, a small softbox and 18% grey card, radio triggers, lens hoods, four lenses, lens cleaning supplies, lens caps, a tripod plate, and a few other related bits and bobs.

Four lenses is what you can manage in that bag, provided you don’t have too much other gear. They can’t be excessively fat lenses like the Canon 50mm f/1.2 or the 70-200mm f/2.8. If you make one of them the Canon 50mm f/1.8, you have a bit more space for things like radio triggers.

After the 50 1.8, my next two lenses are the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 and the Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS. Between those two, you can do almost anything. The 50mm is a useful additional lens for low light and other special situations.

I was torn on which lens to get as a fourth. I have found the 50 1.2 useful in the past, but it is fat, heavy, very expensive, and not all that much more useful than the enormously cheaper, smaller, and lighter f/1.8 version (though the 1.2 is an L-lens with low chromatic aberration).

In the end, as a final piece of photographic investment before returning to penniless studenthood, I bought the Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS lens. It’s thin and fits nicely in the F2 along with the other three (the 24-70 being the fat lens of the bunch.) I can’t fit all the lenses and hoods in the bag at the same time as the SLR body anymore, so perhaps I am cheating, but it does make a useful kit.

The output from the lens is exceptional, and it definitely widens the range of what can be photographed in an interesting way. Suddenly, very small details can become compelling subjects for photos.

To some people, another fast prime (like a 35mm) or a very long telephoto zoom (like the 100-400mm) would have more value as part of a photographic toolkit. While I may rent such lenses from time to time – and will probably buy the Canon 50mm f/1.4 at some point – I think the 100mm macro will be a useful thing to have along when shooting a wide variety of subjects.

Canada’s Liberals and NDP should merge

Can the Liberals and the NDP please just merge already?


The Liberal and New Democratic parties have now spent years operating under the apparent assumption that the key issue is leadership and that if they can just find the right leader they will be able to form a government.

I think a much bigger problem is vote splitting. Different voters have the NDP, Liberals, and Greens as their top choice. Probably, the second-place preferences of these voters are also for one of those three parties. And yet, because votes get split between left-leaning parties, the Conservatives end up governing.

Arguably, it would be preferable to reform the electoral system, rather than respond to the united right by uniting the left. What this alternative proposal lacks is practicality: the federal Conservative Party is unlikely to replace an electoral system that has allowed them to govern with a minority of support for so long, and no other party is in a position to influence legislation.


Shell ad parody generator

With this website, you can make your own satirical version of Shell’s “Let’s go” ads:

Shell is one of the most enthusiastic companies taking advantage of how climate change is melting the arctic in order to drill for oil there and thus cause even more warming. Shell is also the largest single investment in the portfolio of the University of Toronto.

Toronto is calling on the University of Toronto to sell its stock in Shell, as a starting point for a general campaign of fossil fuel divestment.

What’s in your bedroom v. what’s in your politics

Apparently, the contents of your bedroom may be indicative of your political leanings:

The items at the top correlate with a conservative leaning, while those at the bottom correlate with a liberal leaning. The strength of the correlation is indicated by the number of stars.

Source: Jost, John. “The End of the End of Ideology.” American Psychologist. October 2006. Vol. 61, No. 7, 651–670 DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.61.7.651. Global Power Shift

This looks rather interesting:

Global Power Shift (GPS) will be a multi-pronged project to scale up our movement and establish a new course, like never before. The basic plan is this:

  • In June of 2013, 500 of us will gather in Turkey — from leaders to engaged community members
  • We’ll train in grassroots and digital organizing, share our stories, and chart a strategy for the coming year
  • Attendees will then return to their home countries in teams to organize mobilizations
  • These national or regional events will be launchpads for new, highly-coordinated campaigns targeting political and corporate levers of power
  • Together, we will truly shift the power and spark the kind of visionary transformation we need to fight the climate crisis

I hesitate to endorse any event that requires so much travel to attend, but this may be a case where the emissions associated with getting there are justifiable.

American unconventional oil and the economic viability of the oil sands

Hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of tight and shale oil in the United States may be the biggest economic force determining the future of Canada’s bitumen sands. The Globe and Mail recently printed an interesting article on how the development of unconventional oil in the United States could undermine the business model of the oil sands: “a belief in unfettered access to an insatiably oil-hungry U.S. market has been a central underlying assumption of the great energy expansion under way in Alberta.” If the U.S. can satisfy domestic oil demand with their own unconventional sources, the huge investment that has been made in Canada’s oil sands may never produce a reasonable economic return.

This is one more risk that should be borne in mind when making energy investment decisions. Unfortunately, the climate system doesn’t care about the source of greenhouse gas emissions. America’s newfound bounty of unconventional oil and gas will probably make it even harder to avoid catastrophic climate change.


Conference on Enbridge Line 9 today

Today I am attending a conference on opposing Enbridge’s plan to reverse their Line 9 pipeline in order to carry diluted bitumen from the oil sands to Montreal.

I will be posting detailed notes on the Toronto planning forum.

If you are in Toronto and have some time before 5pm, I recommend coming out. It is happening in Sidney Smith Hall at the University of Toronto, at 100 St. George Street. This is a five minute walk from the St. George subway station.

Writing advice for undergraduates

I am in the middle of grading stacks of undergraduate essays. If I could give one piece of advice to the students, it would be that they should read their essays aloud to themselves when preparing the final version.

For each sentence, they should ask:

  1. What is the argument I am trying to make with this sentence?
  2. Do I make my point clearly?
  3. Is there any way I can make the sentence simpler or more specific?

Most essays I have looked at have included sentences that no person would leave unchanged after reading them aloud. All the essays have featured sentences that are unnecessarily convoluted or too vague to express much of anything.

Particularly when your essay is destined to end up in a stack to be assessed by a grad student teaching assistant, it is essential to make sure that your sentences are comprehensible and advance the overall argument you are making.