What3Words

In an illustration of combinatorial mathematics, what3words.com will represent any location on Earth as a set of three simple English words.

It’s intended to help in cities that lack formal maps and street names.

The points it distinguishes are close enough together that for a building of any size you get various choices.

The Toronto Reference Library could be journals.nuggets.nipped.

Toronto’s best kite-flying spot: agree.rewarded.lasts.

High Park’s labyrinth? hatched.alarm.riding or drainage.draining.kitchen or playing.training.achieving.

Nearly eight years away from Vancouver

It has been 7 years, 11 months since I was last in Vancouver, having made the trip out and back by Greyhound to visit my family and friends and spend time with Emily.

The last time I flew was also to Vancouver, back in 2007/08.

I had hoped to go back by bus this summer, not only to see Vancouver and dispose of the boxes with all my possessions which I put in a closet before moving to England in 2005, but also to take a trip to the Haida Gwaii to make up for the one that was cancelled when I dropped the Northern Gateway Pipeline as a PhD research subject. That proved impossible because of the urgent need to find a new supervisor by the end of August.

It’s not clear when I might find my way back. I need to go at least once over the rest of my life since there are materials (like all my old photo negatives) which are stored and which I really need to deal with myself. Perhaps when the PhD is done (target: fall 2019) there will be an opportunity for an overland trip. I doubt there will be a chance before then. During the times when I am not working every available extra TA job to stay comparatively solvent I will need to be working on research and writing up.

Mitchell on “Carbon Democracy”

A surprising oversight in Timothy Mitchell’s generally-insightful Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil is how he gives relatively little consideration to static versus mobile forms of fossil fuel consumption. He strongly emphasizes the production and transportation logistics of coal versus oil, but gives little consideration to special needs for fuels with high energy density (and sometimes low freezing points) in transport applications from cars and trucks to aircraft and rockets. People sometimes assume that oil demand and electricity production are more related than they really are, especially in jurisdictions where oil is mostly used as transport fuel and for heating (both areas where little electricity is generally used).

At a minimum, I think it’s important to give some special consideration to the needs of the aerospace and aviation industries, especially when pondering biofuel alternatives. Also, we need to try to project things like the deployment rate of electric ground vehicles in various applications, when trying to project how the forms of energy production and use in the future affect politics and low-carbon policy choices.

To Ottawa and back

I had a marvellous time in Ottawa, getting spoiled by my friends Andrea and Mehrzad, getting to know their newborn son, and getting some portraits for the growing family.

A few things are happening in the next week or so, but job #1 is to persist with my recruitment campaign for a new supervisor. A friend recently suggested that I should downplay the conventional metrics (similarity of research interests and methodological approach) in favour of looking into who has the best record of getting people through their dissertation quickly and reliably.

Digital academic conferences to reduce carbon pollution

Since January 2010 I have avoided flying because of the excessive amount of carbon pollution it creates. This has meant avoiding conferences located beyond plausible Greyhound bus range.

It’s heartening to see that some conference organizers are taking into account the climate impact of conferences based on in-person attendance and deploying alternatives:

This is an unusual conference in two respects. First, because it approaches the issue of climate change from the perspective of the humanities, rather than, as might be expected, from that of the sciences. Second, it is also more than a little unusual because of the conference format: it is an international academic conference with over 50 speakers from eight countries, yet it has a nearly nonexistent carbon footprint. Had this been a traditional fly-in conference, our slate of speakers would have had to collectively travel over 300,000 miles, generating the equivalent of over 100,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the process. This is equal to the total annual carbon footprint of 50 people living in India, 165 in Kenya. A conference that takes up the issue of climate change while simultaneously contributing to the problem to such a degree would be simply unconscionable.

In contrast, we took a digital approach… As with any academic conference, our goal is to help establish relationships and to build a community. In this case, since travel has been removed from the picture, we hope this community will be both diverse and global.

No doubt, a digital conference loses some of the advantages of in-person attendance in terms of building relationships. It probably has advantages, however, in terms of avoiding lost productivity due to travel time. As the world becomes more serious about controlling climate change, we are going to have to target travel-intensive events like conferences and weddings and think about how we can avoid the damage they cause.

Climate change and flying

The question of climate change and flying has arisen for me again, based on some questions asked by other people.

While it has been extensively discussed on this site, the relevant posts are scattered and not easy for someone new to find. To remedy that – and to create a central thread for any future discussion – I am listing them here in chronological order:

My last air travel experience was when I visited Vancouver from 22 December 2009 to 7 January 2010. Since then, the choice not to fly because of its climate change impact has affected every aspect of my life, from the aspiration to see other places, to professional development at work and in school, to relations with family and friends, to loss of relationships with friends and instuctors at Oxford and UBC, to limiting opportunities to participate in activist actions and training.

I think it’s important to draw attention to the highly destructive behaviours which people have normalized and come to perceive as inevitable. In the long run, if humanity is to bring climate change under control, we are all probably going to travel a lot less, a lot more slowly, and for much more important reasons.

Astonishingly enduring boots

Back when I was in high school (before 2000), I was given a pair of Raichle hiking boots, purchased at Mountain Equipment Co-op (and also kindly mailed to me in Oxford before my first trip with the Walking Club).

The boots are excellent, with solid ankle support, a reliable ability to maintain grip in wet and slippery conditions, and excellent comfort. I hiked in them in the heat of Italy, Morocco, and Malta; on rain-covered rocks in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, England’s Lake District, and British Columbia; in ice-bound Tallinn, Vermont, and Helsinki; and tramping through the mud in Devon and Oxford’s Port Meadow.

I am glad the people at MEC recommended these leather boots over Gore-Tex ones. They essentially never soaked through, even after the occasional slip into streams, and were comfortable with wool socks in even very hot conditions.

They have also been my standard winter boots for five years in Ottawa and four in Toronto. In all that time, I haven’t even had to replace the laces — though I have tied them to fix breaks two or three times.

Yesterday, part of the rear right heel came loose. I will check into whether replacing the Vibram soles is possible and affordable. If not, I will be in the market for a new pair of hiking boots for the first time in an absurdly long while. Without a doubt, these boots have held up to at least twenty times as much use as any other pair of shoes or boots that I have owned. It makes me wonder what makes all the rest of my footwear so inferior, including Blundstone boots which cost only a bit less than the Raichle’s did but which only ever last a couple of years and Allen Edmonds boots which cost over twice as much and which have needed multiple repairs despite only being worn for formal occasions.