Thursday, September 13, 2012

What Do You Believe?

Ontario politics seems to be in the process of radicalizing itself, which I find baffling.  Radicalism is an inefficient way of thinking, it closes too many possibilities.  I've never found it a comfortable way of thinking, yet it seems to be becoming increasingly popular in Ontario politics, and feeds partisan firestorms that the media licks up.

The angry right winger seems to be dictated by their emotions, letting anger rule their judgement.  The righteous left winger also seems to be a creature of emotion, enjoying a self created sense of superiority that makes their politics a public event.  Both play well in media bites where emotive, irrational displays get you tens seconds of air time well before a thoughtful response.
I've been reading the Tao Te Ching in relation to politics.  The simple common sense and humility presented in this tiny classic seems as far from the spin and manipulation of Ontario politics as one person could possibly get from another.  Where we manufacture crisis for personal benefit, Lao Tsu's masterful governor quietly does what is best for everyone, then retires.  Our politics are all about self aggrandizing, cynical manipulation.  The  Taoish ideal is the opposite of that.

Call me old fashioned, but I'd like to think my way through issues and not follow dogma in developing opinions.  That approach may lead to some less than popular positions - especially if most people make decisions designed to serve their own tribal interests rather than looking to maximize the efficiency of society as a whole.

With all the vitriol and drama in Ontario politics around my job this summer, I now know more clearly what I hold as self evident truths, so at least all of the emotional trauma and intellectual violence has led to some clarity.

I believe that human beings are our most vital resource.  Even in a world bulging with population, I believe our minds and hands can resolve any problem we create; I'm an optimist at heart.  Because people are the most powerful resource we have as a society, I believe that it is government's first and most vital duty to attempt to develop its citizens to their maximum potential.  There are other factors in society (racism, capitalism, classism) that cause people to fail to reach their potential.  Government must be dedicated to reducing those inequalities.  A government that throws citizens on the fire to serve economic interests is no representative government at all.

Any time a government uses its power to tend to its own tribal concerns, it hurts society as a whole, reduces people's ability to make the best of themselves and creates a less even playing field.  When a government attacks workers to reduce their rights, they are setting a precedent that concentrates power and wealth in a smaller group.  I don't see that this is a good idea, ever.  Maximizing a few people's wealth to ludicrous proportions causes many others to not have enough.  The damage from an expanding poor class hurts a society more than the benefit gained from the wealth of a few.

It's a myth that rich people use their wealth primarily to benefit society.  The first goal of a rich person's wealth is to maintain their wealth, that's how they got, and remain, rich in the first place.

This may all sound very leftist, but I don't believe in government as a solution to all ills.  As important as it is for the government to act to spread wealth in society and even out the inequities of the greedy, it is more important that citizens are active in their duty and focused on recognizing their own potential.  Without an individual side to this equation, people get lazy.  They have gotten lazy.

I occasionally re-read Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers as much for the sci-fi military futurism as for the political value theory.  In Heinlein's future, democracy collapsed under the weight of leftist forced equality where soft, socialist thinking set the standards so low that society was destroyed by the dangerous, feral children it created.  The idea that all people are actually geniuses and there is no common standard of citizenship causes the failure of representative democracy in the 20th Century.  Heinlein goes into great detail about this in the novel, and it's hard not to sympathize with the thinking.

The rebirth of democracy in Heinlein's future democracy is never handed out because you were born somewhere.  All citizens have to earn the right to vote by demonstrating that they are willing to put societal need before their own interests by joining government service for two years.  This kind of responsibility really appeals to me as an immigrant who had to earn his Canadian citizenship.  Watching the lackadaisical home-grown Canadian makes me realize that anything that is handed to you doesn't have a lot of value to you.  A veteran would know what I'm talking about, as would other new Canadians.

I'd extend that requirement for competence to many things beyond citizenship.  Unless you can build a car and understand how it works, you don't get to drive one.  Until you can build a computer, you shouldn't get to use one.  Too many people with too little ability of their own are empowered and amplified by the brilliance of others.  It creates an odd sense of equality not based on anything real.

There is a harsh side to my politics that demands excellence from people.  In that regard I find myself quite comfortable with some progressive conservative ideals.  If the government is dedicated to maximizing everyone's potential, I believe it is a citizen's duty to participate in the state to the best of their ability.  A citizen who does nothing of value should not be considered a citizen.  As I've already said, being given something as powerful and important as Canadian citizenship, itself paid for in blood by others, shouldn't cost you nothing, yet it does, and then if you choose to do nothing with it, or use it to support your own interests at the cost of many, people come to believe that this is all citizenship is - a license to serve your own interests.

So here I am, demanding a government that doesn't protect its own interests, but rather works tirelessly for the good of society as a whole, even willing to risk their government in order to do the right thing.  Here I am, demanding that citizens take their responsibilities seriously, or not have them.  You choose not to learn what is needed and vote in an election?  No tax return for you, and we'll take that money from the selfish and resolve societal problems with it.  Better still, citizenship is valued because you've committed yourself to it by offering to serve your country.  This does not mean military exclusively, it could mean any number of social services.

I expect better from government, and from the citizens that support it.  Democracy is an ongoing experiment, and I hope Democracy 2.0 brings us better access to each other through social media, so that more voices can be heard beyond the spin of organizations in broadcast media.  Any technology that de-centralizes the ability for political parties to spin big media is an improvement in my mind, even if it's messier.  Most traditional organizations, political, governmental, business, are terrified of this sharing of the message.

A messy, active, honest, engaged democracy would be ideal.  Instead we have less than half the possible voters showing up and voting out of habit.

Act Like You Give A Damn

There were some complaints about the effectiveness of OSSTF in presenting our side of things in the media last night at our school meeting.  I tried to explain (maybe using a few to many expletives - I've spent the summer trying to make D18 OSSTF more visible in social media and it irked me to get criticized by someone who hasn't lifted a finger) that the media will always go to flashy, emotional appeals, even (or especially) if they are factually wrong.

If someone lies, professional journalists no longer feel it is their duty to fact check and call out the discrepancy, they just quote the person and call the quote a fact.  Cynical right wing interests know this and constantly present calculated, manipulative, often complete inaccurate emotionally charged comments that they know will get air time.  The poor right wingers eat this up.  The unions reply with calm, reasoned, accurate information and then wonder why they aren't broadcast.  We need to take a page from Winston Churchill, some powerful rhetoric and emotionality would help our cause.

"...we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender..."  
Winston Churchill, 1940.

Love that speech.  It's passionate, it's powerful and it enables an underdog to get back on its feet in the face of a terror much stronger than it and face the fight.  But at its bottom it's a speech about commitment and belief.  If you believe in what you say, instead of trying to cynically manipulate words, you will have out.  It's that kind of belief and commitment to action that I'd love to see from teachers.

What has hurt OSSTF's (and the other union's) ability to affect real public change is the centralized structure they still cling to.  It makes them appear closed, which the media loves to jump all over.  Unions are still clinging to a single voice with a single message.  The mediascape is changing, and I hope we're willing and able to evolve with it.  We have a fantastic resource in our members, who if only used to silently back a single (simple) message, are woefully underused.  We need participation, passionate participation.  When teachers and friends of education passionately present their side of the case online, in letters to the media, in letters to their MPPs, in conversations with friends, it becomes a lot easier for OSSTF to gain the attention of mainstream media and have some hope of tipping the scales of public opinion.

I know this is a change - the union, like most traditional institutions, prefers a single voice with silent support.  That doesn't jive with the social mediascape that is evolving around us, and it's not particularly democratic either.  We need to get used to the idea of many voices, otherwise we aren't leveraging the power of our educated, savvy members in social media.

Anyone watching mainstream media has noticed the change in how they address social media, they are trying to integrate it.  If you want to influence media, speak out in social media.  But do it passionately, like you give a damn.  The only thing better than a cynical, targeted emotional plea designed to attract media attention would be an honest, passionate emotional plea based on the truth of your work.  You're using the same mechanics in a more honest way, and you'll get your sound bite.

What we have instead are passionate Tim Hudaks getting sound bites on media because they are emotionally charged.  The media will always take showy, emotionally charged nonsense, even if they are outright lies, over a reasoned, logical and accurate argument.  If more (all?) teachers and their families and friends communicated passionately about what they do and how this summer has treated them, it would give we communications people much more wood to throw on the fire.  This isn't only a matter of social media.  If you've ever just shrugged and said, "yeah, we have it easy" at a dinner party when the resident jackass goes off on teaching, you've chosen to hurt our position.

Is the dark side stronger? Nonono. Quicker,easier, more seductive.
In short: you can't whine about how OSSTF is presenting the case if you're hoping everyone else will present it for you.  It's your profession, your work, and I hope your passion.  If we got a bit more of that out of membership, we'd have a multitude of teachers' voices echoing about in the media, and the forth estate wouldn't be monopolized by cynical, well rehearsed, angry, manipulative, right wing voices.

Now I have to ask the hard questions.  Have you written your local newspapers, your MPPs?  Have you contacted your favorite radio program, TV news program?  Have you been forthright with friends and family about what your job is and how you feel about the media's portrayal of you and your work?

Find your voice, express your passion for your work, it doesn't even have to be in a political context, but act like you give a damn and do something to get us out from behind this image of a walled garden that the politicians, the media and our own union habits have painted us into.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bill 115 letter to Queens Park (twice)

From: Timothy King <t***>
To: <>
Cc: <>
Date: Mon, 10 Sep 2012 13:47:39 -0400
Subject: Fwd: does everyone in government believe that collective bargaining is wrong?

Mr McGuinty & Miss Broten.
This is one of those moments that will haunt the future.  Do you really want to be remembered as the government that tried to destroy a worker's right to participate in how their work place is run?
It's antidemocratic.  With a political system that lives in an uneasy alliance with a capitalist economy that seems intent on redesigning itself to serve a smaller and smaller wealthy class, do you really want to be the peoples' representatives who gave away this important democractic protection?  There is nothing wong with sharing power in a democracy.  The only system this serves is dictatorial, it serves the few by disenfranchising the many.
In years to come you will look back on this moment and wonder at how it has coloured the future of so many people.
Please make the fair decision and support worker's rights to collective bargaining.
Tim King
Elora, Ontario
this sent to my MPP Ted Arnott in August:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Timothy King <t****>
Date: Fri, Aug 24, 2012 at 11:02 AM
Subject: does everyone in government believe

Hi Ted,

I was your son's English teacher last year.  He's an outstanding fellow.  I can't wait to see what he does with himself when he graduates.

I'm writing today knowing this is a  long shot, but I have to ask anyway.  Is it general consensus at Queen's Park that the right to collective bargaining is bad for Ontario even though it is enshrined in the Canadian Charter?

I'm a bit baffled by a democratically elected government's willingness to toss out something that is supposed to be a fundamental right in our country, and then observing the backing of this apparently immoral act by other parties.

Does anyone at Queen's Park actually think the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is worth upholding?

By the way, if there happens to be an election in the coming months, McGuinty has lost hundreds of thousands of voters who actually bother to vote.  I'm ashamed that I voted for him last time 'round.  I should also note that I voted for Mike Chong nationally, so the idea that all teachers are staunchly left wing isn't true.  Actually, I'm a Liberal at heart, but I don't know what they stand for any more.

At this point, I'd vote for the party that stands up for our basic rights and freedoms.

Thanks for the ear.

Tim King
Elora, ON

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Broadcast Value Theory

Watching broadcast media, one of the giants birthed of industrialization in the Twentieth Century, struggle with the recent Olympics was enjoyable.

Wimbledon Flashmob
Early on, CTV's London desk was showing video of a flash mob at Wimbledon.  The broadcast anchor said, "I don't get this at all, why would people do this?  What a waste of time."

He doesn't get why people would do back flips to get on mainstream media?  Dude, your entire career is predicated on what they are doing... did you enjoy getting made up for your camera time today?  Does your agent do what those people are doing all the time just to get your mug in front of more cameras?  Do you throw a fit when they bring you the wrong tie?

The 'let them eat cake' distance that the corporate broadcast media has from a bunch of sweaty fools having a good time on a hill at Wimbledon underlines how truly out of touch they are.

Technology has miniaturized, communications have become a widely distributed two-way medium, yet the corporate broadcast media cling to their unidirectional economic model, frantically milking it for all it's worth before the weight of inevitability forces change.  I'm not saying there won't be a place for professionally created media, but technology is allowing for smaller, niche groups to make what they want, how they want, and do it well while still making a living selling to niche audiences.  The days of centrally controlled media are ending because the need for expensive corporate backing are no longer a technical necessity.

Where once an artist had to gather the corporate power of a massive enterprise behind them in order to get their hands on the technology needed to broadcast their story, they now find themselves increasingly able to create their vision and distribute it themselves, assuming the wallowing dinosaur doesn't have a room of lawyers on hand, which they do.  Deinnovation by legislation.  Deinnovation by lawsuit.

Sita Sings The Blues
A couple of years ago I came across Quinn Norton's brilliant column in MaximumPC on the calamity that was Nina Paley's attempt to express her own miserable breakup using a brilliant mash up of Flash animation, Annette Hanshaw's blues, and The Ramayana.  To call this copyright theft is ridiculous... this mash up is insane (and brilliant - I use it every year teaching media arts).  Yet Paley was run out of business by copyright trolls (lawyers) who look for out of date art, copyright it, then lay in wait, hoping to squeeze money out of something they purchased from other copyright lawyers - an open market of dead artist's work being held to prevent new art from forming.

If that isn't an example of the desperation of the broadcast media system, I don't know what is.  They are so intellectually bankrupt that they can only recycle and steal other ideas.  The corporate media machine continually pumps out near identical films at virtually the same time, desperately trying to tap into cultural memes that they aren't agile enough to keep up with.  Indy and social media media create far more current, personalized and pertinent media in the early 21st Century, and younger viewers are cottoning on to it, even while everyone tries to dodge the wallowing dinosaur's departments of lawyers.

There will always be money to be made in a good bit of story telling, and digital media is nothing if not a good bit of story telling (even the news).  What we're seeing now is a slow, painful adjustment as the habits we invented around expensive, industrially driven broadcasting give way to cheaper, individualized, technology supported media.  Professional media isn't dead, but we don't require millions in corporate backing to produce it any more.  Don't expect an industry worth more than two trillion dollars to give up on squeezing it though.

I'd hope that instead of trying to cobble together another massive production, corporate mega-media would be trying to spin off divisions that support small, agile groups feeding niche markets, but I don't imagine that's the case.  The problem with really big animals that are ideally suited to a specific environment is that they are horrible at adapting.  They're great while the ecosystem stays the same, but the minute the social media asteroid appears, they just keep trying to do what they've always done, thrashing around, hoping to hold off the inevitable, until they are extinct.

Note: thanks to Quinn & Nina, Sita will be shown again in the middle of our Flash animation unit this year.  I'm looking forward to another year of grade tens wrestling with who owns what, what art is, how no one is free from influence, how The Beatles could steal other people's musical influences and then lock down their own for ever, what is appropriation of voice, and the future of media art. That one little column led me to a wonderful teaching piece that is still raising hard questions for hundreds of students years later.  Thanks!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Poor Right Winger

What do working poor right wingers hope to get out of slavishly supporting the ultra wealthy?

The move is well under way here in Ontario to dismantle unionized skilled labour. Teachers have had bargaining rights stripped and contracts made irrelevant by a cynical government willing to do anything to chase votes. It's the votes that they're chasing that have me baffled. What do working poor conservatives hope to gain out of supporting right wing positions that seem intent on wiping out the middle class?

I've been trying to understand the thinking of the working poor conservative in this. They think that supporting the rich will pay off? It never has historically.  The middle class has a much better history of opening its ranks to up and comers than does the aristocracy. If you're smart and hard working and able to see things through, you're almost guaranteed a place in the professional classes.

I don't mean to sound elitist when I say professional classes. These are skilled laborers, everyone from surgeons and teachers, to nurses and mechanics. Yet these accessible, skilled groups are the very people under attack by right wing interests who seem intent on racing to the bottom in a global market in order to make Ontario competitive. Competitive? With what, China?

Nothing short of a miracle will get you into the 1% who are intent on taking everything for themselves, yet poor conservatives seem unhappy with anything but the complete dissolution of the middle class. I don't get the thinking. There is a reason why the ultra-rich who are too big to fail are only 1% of the population.

Wouldn't you want to keep the working, skilled, professional levels of society as healthy as possible in order to eventually join them? Holding out for a place in the 1% feels like desperation, the kind of thing an idiot would do. It seems like the story of a house slave who has been up to the big house and now puts on airs, acting like the plantation owners, thinking that there is empathy there. The rich-poor gap is wider now than it was then. Just because you like their big houses and how they act doesn't mean you'll ever see one, or be considered one of them. You're a tool they use for their own ends, but you're content to be a tool.

The working poor often battle one sided upbringings that make it difficult to effectively access the educational opportunities they are given (GIVEN!) by public education. I suspect this failure grates on them as they get older, and rather than accept their own failure to grasp opportunities, they would rather dream of 'being rich', and nurture an ongoing hatred for the teachers and education workers who they feel put them in their place. It makes for a handy target for a cynical government looking to raise right wing antipathy of public workers.  You have to wonder how far that cynicism can go.

The 'I identify with Donald Trump more than a paid professional' thinking speaks to an idealized vision the poor conservative has of themselves. One day they'll be rich and at their ease through no effort of their own, just like all those rich people they so admire.  They'd rather dream of being like the aristocracy than roll up their sleeves and make something of themselves.  It's a lot easier to fantasize about being rich than it is to realize you don't rate as a capable skilled labourer.

Those skilled workers contribute to society, paying taxes, producing educated citizens, protecting people and property, and maintaining its infrastructure.  Only the rich selfishly leech from it, hiding their wealth and avoiding paying taxes at all costs. The idiot sub-class of right winger worships them for this and thinks it's an ideal they should aspire to.

The professional classes are the engine of the economy. Shop clerks, manual laborers and other script followers don't depend on their own competence, or care for standards, or invent new technologies, or work to improve their profession and society as a whole. The incompetent working poor grumble, complain, whine, and then vote for the right wing government that looks like it supports their own myopic self hatred. They swing democracies by the tail, bringing back a rule by idiot mob that any Roman would recognize. These asinine people support the ultra-rich, who consist mainly of people whose money works for them so they don't have to be capable of doing anything at all.

I guess I can see why an uneducated, lazy jackass would sympathize with greed, self-interest and short shortsightedness.  These are traits that the working poor conservative share with the one-percenter.  How could the poor, unskilled right winger have anything in common with a firefighter, doctor, teacher or engineer who performs skilled labour that demands continual effort, improvement and expertise?

A new article today: Ontario the worst place for widening gap between rich and poor...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Steps Away

The first weekend was shock. 24 hours of limbo and tears followed by talking to the police, walking into the apartment, smelling the smell. Mopping the floor. The confusion and helplessness.

The second weekend was about the service. Collecting the ashes, tearful good byes. Watching the concentration of things that was Mum disperse into the hands of people who knew her.

The third weekend has been about emptying out the apartment, donating, watching her apartment slowly evaporate over hours of heavy lifting.

I've read a lot of the Tao te Ching in the past few weeks...

Empty your mind of all thoughts.
Let your heart be at peace.
Watch the turmoil of beings,
but contemplate their return.
Each separate being in the universe
returns to the common source.
Returning to the source is serenity.
If you don't realize the source,
you stumble in confusion and sorrow.
When you realize where you come from,
you naturally become tolerant,
disinterested, amused,
kindhearted as a grandmother,
dignified as a king.
Immersed in the wonder of the Tao,
you can deal with whatever life brings you,
and when death comes, you are ready.

I suspect Mum wasn't ready, I know I wasn't, but the wonder of it is that the universe never isn't. She has returned to that unknowable everything. Whatever brain chemistry that broke her marriage and left her alone in government housing is gone. The pain from the arthritis, gone. It must be wonderful to quit the lonely struggle that is life and experience that return to everything.

The thought of decomposition has been with me whenever I close my eyes, but even that decomposition is a part of a process that wastes nothing. Mum would have been thrilled to know she'd made flowers grow. I'm not sure legions of angels are necessary.

I won't have a chat with her again, or be able to tell her what's going on in my life knowing that she'll sympathize and support me no matter what, because you seldom have a stauncher ally in life than your mum.

I've recently began dreaming that Mum shows up, or phones, telling me that it's all a misunderstanding. "The bloody police, you know how they are..." I am flabbergasted. What do we do? How do we un-dead you paperwork wise? We've given a bunch of your stuff away! Who is in the box on our shelf? I'm relieved, and shocked, and worried. Just like in real life, except backwards.

There's probably a technical name for this. I don't care what it is.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Signs and Portents

I'm going into week three of my Mother's death, and I suspect I'm in the reflective stage of grief...

It's been a rough couple of years in a new house.  I don't believe in curses, but this particular house didn't come with a good pedigree (former owner had a stroke, his insane wife took off on a world tour after leaving the house in broken shape for us to move into late because her mother's employees hadn't emptied their stuff out yet).  Rich people can afford to be incompetent.

I had trepidation about moving to where I teach, I value my privacy and find constantly being on display exhausting, especially when I'm THE TEACHER.  I thought a house up on a hill with only one neighbour would minimize the constant presence of students, instead I've found that it puts you up on a pedestal.  I'd tried working where I lived once before, and it didn't go well.  I'm not sure why I thought it suddenly would this time.  Students have boundary issues.

The move-in over, we began settling in to the newer, bigger house.  The sunsets were unbelievable, the extra space eagerly used, and living in a house that was 100 years newer meant that it was pretty much a turn key operation.  Other than some paint over the psycho colour scheme, it was finished (apart from the broken windows and taps).  It is more energy efficient than our holey old house, though the mortgage is much bigger.

When our little dog suddenly came up limp that August, only a month after we moved in, we were baffled.  She'd never missed a step in seven years, and she seemed like she was in the best shape of her life.  When we had to put her down in September with what looked like a spinal injury, we were stunned.

That autumn also saw what we thought was the sunrise of our second child turn into a sunset.  With that ended the medical intervention, and the hope.  We are three, which is wonderful, but I always thought we'd be four.

Around that time my Mum began her descent into the darkest times of her mental illness.  What has followed has made me feel like I'm orbiting too close to an emotional black hole (the new house is 40 minutes closer than the old one was).  A little piece of me fell into the emotional event horizon every time I came too close, never to return.

We tend to assign value to things based on circumstance.  In most cases these things have nothing to do with each other, but we have a tendency to make connections simply to try and explain why things happen.  I know that this house didn't kill my dog, or lose my child, or drive my mother mad, but some unfortunate timing makes it a symbol of these things in my mind.

Where we lived before was hardly perfect.  The trucks down shifting all night on the highway that ran in front of it, the insane neighbor, the old house sinking on shaky foundations... hardly ideal.  Unfortunately, the feelings associated tend to forget that and remember sledding on the hill, walking with Freya along the trails, and heading up main street after school to get a fresh baked cookie or a milkshake from the dairy (a frickin dairy!).  Even the crown moldings that almost had Alanna and I in fisticuffs ended up being part of a rather beautiful kitchen that exuded pride at some real home authorship.

Erin itself was far from perfect, but it seemed to press some odd but exact buttons for me.  The variety of walking trails, the bakery, the tea room, the just what we needed and nothing elseness of it.  The anonymity, where I was just a guy walking down the street with his family.  The timing of my walking into Freemasonry and Erin being my home lodge.  I've never been a good joiner, but I'm joined there.

This house has aspects that I love, like the hilliness, the view that comes with it, the shear extent of the sky, the winds that keep the bugs away.  Even the killer lawn mowing wouldn't deter me from that view.  When we first came upon it I had a romantic vision of a lighthouse on a hill.  The fact that the previous owner had a whale weather vane and a lighthouse door bell ringer only added to that romantic notion.

Size wise it's nearly perfect.  1800 square feet seem like the perfect fit for us, and I love the three floor vertical nature, from earth to sky, from cool basement to windy bedrooms, it feels like a tower reaching into the sky.

That romantic seclusion has been mared by the nature of my work.  Along with the never private studentness of it, it also possesses a sub-urban mindset that I find emotionally sapping.  Streetlights everywhere mean it's never dark, the neighbour with the yappy dogs that never stop,  the obsessive lawn mowing and manicuring, the Edward Scissorhands vapid aesthetic of the whole thing.  I've never loved suburban living, with the rows of SUVs and smug conservatives, I've tried it now, I'm still not a fan.

Finally being a citizen has made me more aware of the politics of where I live.  Living somewhere where my vote means nothing because I'm a tiny minority in a vast sea of self-satisfied, righteous righties makes me wonder what chances my son has of growing up without a red neck.

Lessons learned.  I'm still dreaming of the country home sufficiently large enough to create my own sense of space, our own aesthetic around gardens, and growing our own food, and making our house our home.  I dream of being off the grid, having enough space to make a go of it on our own; a compune.  A culture of home without the daggered eyes of society peering in, judging, demanding conformity; the ideal of the secluded country home, but it's expensive, and doesn't come without its difficulties, not the least of which would be still living in a blue sea of conservatism.  At least I wouldn't have to see the over weight, old, white frowns of contempt when I leave in the morning.

I recently read a quote that implies that living in a larger community offers you knowledge and diversity of experience without the crushing "parochialism of village life."  For the first time in a long time I've been considering an urban life, with all the advantages of city life, in a nice little home in an old neighbourhood with character that has us parking our cars much of the time, and where I can enjoy the anonymity of walking down the street with my family again.

Either the seclusion and chance to make our own society in the country, or the anonymity of an urban life, might shed the curse.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Rogersfail 3 Facebookfail 1

I tried to post Rogersfail 2, the return of Rogersfail on Facebook yesterday and suddenly found that my tiny, low traffic, personal blog is considered spam by Facebook.  Trying to post the link got me:

So I tried to let them know that it makes no sense that this tiny, little blog you're reading would be considered SPAM.  It barely has a 1000 page views, there is nothing remotely spammy about it.

I got this reply:

Poor Facebook, they are helpless to correct censorship on their own site?  They don't provide individual support to free a site from wrongful spam accusation?  How did it get shut down in the first place?  Perhaps they are happy to receive business to business requests from large corporations they receive advertising money from that don't like negative descriptions of their poor service.

This blog is a non-educational writing exercise for me.  It don't write it for page views, I write it for personal interest.  The only thing on this seldom viewed blog that might draw any ire are the ROGERS FAIL series.

I wonder if I have drawn ire.

If this is why this is happening, then shame on you Rogers.  You're acting like a bully.

If this is why this is happening, then shame on you Facebook.  You can't call yourself an honest social media network if what you're really doing is censoring what people see to suit your own bottom line.  If that is the case, I would strongly urge people to minimize the time they spend on Facebook and consider Google+, Twitter and other social media entities who seem more intent on providing an honest, transparent service, rather than feeding their users into their bottom line.

If this is simply a matter of Facebook killing all Canadian blogs whole-sale, then it asks some hard questions about how useful Facebook will become if it doesn't actually want to act in partnership with the rest of the internet.  Ignoring off-Facebook sites might force idiots to stay in your walled garden, but the rest of us will simply find a better avenue to information.  This may be the beginning of the end of Facebook if the new corporate approach is to funnel people only to Facebook owned (and advertising revenue generating) pages.

... and they are perfectly willing to edit your reality on Facebook to suit the needs of their advertising partners, or simply to drive your eyes to more Facebook ads.

Quora discussion ensues...

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Commuting for 3 weeks in July...

After weeks of having to dig up decade old paperwork, certifications and letters of employment, I just got accepted for the computer technology teacher's additional qualification at the University of Toronto!

The most important question to ask now is, "how can I make a single person, 1 hour commute for 3 weeks in July on everything from small country roads to one of the biggest highways in Canada entertaining and interesting?"

Here's the route:
62kms, about an hour, through the countryside and down the escarpment, just when traffic gets dodgy, I get to stop!
How would I most like to do this?  Ah, a way to make a necessary commute fun for a single person?

My top 5:

#1:  my first choice is a MORGAN 3 WHEELER!

All the fun of a motorcycle, without the helmet!

Though if I had one, I think I'd go full pilot leather cap and googles!

I could totally pull that off.

One of the silliest things I've ever MOST DESPERATELY WANTED!  Charles?  If you're reading this, I'd spend my free time when I'm not driving it taking photos of it!

#2:  Second Choice?  A Lotus Elise!

In Norfolk (Norwich City) Colours!
A marginally less silly choice that still lets me take the roof out!  All while supporting my Norfolk roots (and City's best season in AGES!)

#3:  Third Choice?  Kawasaki Ninja 500!

Get my motorcycle license, get myself a 500cc Ninja and wind my way down to Milton every day on two wheels...

#4: Forth Choice? Give in to my bosozoku urges & scratch my '80s Japanese Sports Car itch!

Toyota MR2: a mid-engined pocket rocket that would surely put a smile on my face while bombing in to school every day, complete with a little supercharger kick in the pants!

The original Miata, inspired by Lotus' Elan, small, light and totally chuckable, happiest in a corner.

The 280ZX.  Not the best Z car Nissan ever made by far, but the one that hung in my e-type addled mind as a teenager car of lust-worthy proportions.

Fifth Choice?  Series 2 E-Type Jaguar!

A 1969 model built in May (so it's as old as I am).  Firing up a big V-12 and sending this beast down the road every day would be delightful!

Well, that about covers it.

My worst case scenario isn't bad at all.  My lovely little green rocket will happily cock a leg in a corner and get me to and from the beastly edge of the GTA (aka: Milton) using as little gas as humanly possible while making it as fun as it can.

... but still, for a summer commute for a single person?


Saturday, May 12, 2012

Rogersfail Two: The Return of Rogersfail

After a miserable experience with a constantly breaking phone over the past year, I thought the poor Rogers customer experience couldn't get any worse, then we got the horror story bill after travelling to the States.

Out of nowhere comes a $500 plus bill for cell phone use from our trip to NYC.  I'd gone online and arranged travel packages for both phones, but Rogers seemed to know nothing about that.  When we crossed the border we got a text saying we were roaming and would be charged, which prompted a long distance out of country call to Montreal.

The customer service person said there was nothing on record for us with travel packages, so she helped me set some up.  We got no messages about data use or anything, so I (foolishly) assumed that all was OK.  When we crossed back over into Canada my phone suddenly died after only a few months, and I had to pay for a replacement, even though I'd purchased insurance, and the damn thing was only a few months in service.

When I got the ridiculous bill it had hundreds of dollars in data and voice usage on it.  I contacted Rogers via email, but the person who received it didn't actually read anything I'd written, instead they sent me a 'we looked at your account and you owe us that money' email, which made me angry.  The response is telling, I'm in red:

"Frustration building...

On Sun, Apr 29, 2012 at 6:20 PM, Rogers Wireless Customer Service <> wrote:
Dear Timothy King,

Thank you for taking the time to write to us, we appreciate your use of online customer service.

I wish you would take the time to actually read the email I sent.
After looking through the bill it seems as though both of the phones had 15MB US Data Travel Pack. Each phone went over that limit in which caused charges. ***-0362 had an additional 60 MB used and ***-0363 had an additional 31 MB used. It does seem as this is a legit charge as there was only a 15MB pack added on both lines and the data went over.

I know this, I told you this in my initial email which you neglected to read.  I ordered two 60 mb travel packs on the website the night before... when we crossed the border I got a message saying we were roaming and would be charged... which shouldn't have happened because I'd already made other arrangements and received an onscreen confirmation.  A long distance phone call later I thought they had restored the 60mb packs I'd initially ordered that the website conveniently dropped.  The french call centre I had to phone long distance from out of country apparently put 15mb packages on instead.

At no point did either of us receive any warnings about exceeding our data plans, something that I thought was part of the process.  Had that happened we would have realized the issue and resolved it on the spot.

I've felt misled several times in this process, and in each case Rogers seems to have benefitted financially.

I would politely ask now that the cost of that long distance call be dropped and the bill recalculated with the 60mb packages applied.  I'm happy to pay for the usage I thought I had, that seems entirely reasonable.

Some kind of response that acknowledges the situation instead of ignoring salient facts would be appreciated.  I'm a long time customer who pays a great deal per month in Rogers for cell phone use.  This was our first attempt at using them out of country and we are feeling abused by the experience.

Rogers replied with this:

I am sorry that the last reply did not address your issues and appeared
as if we had not fully read your email.

(appeared?  No, you actually hadn't read it)

I can see on xxx-xxx-0362 and on xxx-xxx-0363 there was the $25 package
added by us to cover 15MB done by call centre and a notification
10718173 was sent advising: “Added/Changed Added on Mar 10, 2012 - 15MB US Data Travel Pack $25.00 - expires on Mar 17, 2012
One-time Fee: The data in your Travel Pack are available for one month
from the date of purchase. If you run out of the bucket, you'll still continue to enjoy the same great low rate for the month. Receive a 5%discount off the price of Rogers Travel Packs next time you travel by purchasing through a self-serve option 1. Text 'Travel' to 7626 2. From your Rogers My Account 3. From your mobile device visit

(Yeah, I'm enjoying the great low rates... only rogers would try to upsell someone they've just ripped off)

I also see another package added from the devices for another $25 on March 9th for another 15MB.  Given this duplication of coverage this technically means 30MB per line was covered.

(Technically?  But whoa hey! suddenly you've found the packages I purchased before?  When was that going to happen if I didn't complain?)

Also given that each line had the data travel passes each line should have been prompted to renew the packages after 15MB passes you purchased from the devices were used.  Assuming you customer would have chosen another 15MB when notified on xxx-xxx-0363 for $25 cost since usage was lower on that line, this means you would have only paid $25 instead of $52.38
For xxx-xxx-0362 since you were using data in a much quicker rate, it is likely you would have chosen a 60MB data travel pass for $50 instead of having a $100.77 in usage.
What I have done is discuss this with my manager and we assumed that you would have chosen packages as above and now adjusted $78.15 from your bill.  This leaves you with a balance of $231.21 owing on May 8, 2012. You will see the credits noted on page 2 of the next invoice.
I am sorry that this issue was not fully looked into on your original email and hope that this information has been helpful and fully resolved this for you.  If you need me to resend the notification that was sent when the agent added the 15MB travel packs please let me know and I willresend this for you.
You are a valued customer and it has been a pleasure responding to you today.

Sigh.  With a repeatedly broken phone and some (always to Rogers' advantage) billing errors, I'm not feeling valued and none of this has been a pleasure.  They were willing to sort out the data plans so we weren't left in the wind, but not the long distance phone call their amnesia over my initial purchases prompted.

So what have we learned?  Rogers will only acknowledge errors in travel package purchases if you pursue it relentlessly, otherwise they will pretend to have not received the request and charge you ludicrous amounts of money.  If you say nothing, they will happily wrongly charge you.  Don't expect these errors to ever be in your favour.

Don't give up when you query them and they ignore your specifics then reply with snide emails.  Keep at them.

Most of all?  NEVER EVER BRING YOUR ROGERS SMARTPHONE OVER THE BORDER! Five days in New York cost us over $200 in additional charges, even after they finally acknowledged dropped packages and a failure of any advertised warning about exceeding travel data limits.  I could have brought a wifi laptop and uploaded pics from the hotel for 1/10 that, or just picked up a pay as you go phone, and next time I will.  Rogers "convenience" comes at too high a price (and any convenience is mitigated by the hours you'll have to put into sorting out your bill afterwards).

Had they not renewed my contract when my phone broke (without my knowledge), I'd be so gone, but I'm trapped under a contract I never asked for with a phone I don't trust with a company that seems intent on finding every possible way of making me miserable.

I'd love to try Telus, or even Bell, but it'll cost me hundreds to just walk away from this.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

My Love Hate Relationship With Neuroscience

It all started with Bertrand Russell's Analysis of Mind while I was undergrading in philosophy.  After reading Descartes' ghost in the machine dualism, Russell's clear eyed, rational explanation of the mind came as a shocking revelation.  That mind didn't have to be elevated to metaphysics made me happy; we should be able to make sense of our selves without resorting to fantasy.

An interest in neuroscience grew out of that reading and dovetailed nicely with my ongoing apprenticeship in computing.  I especially enjoyed learning about the people who played a part in inventing the modern world; computing is really our fascination with our own minds recreated.  Computational neuroscience is our attempt to recreate a mind.  Computer engineering was also often driven by neuroscience's need for massive increases in computing power.  They are two very complimentary areas of interest.

Today I suddenly found myself in a strange confluence of neuroscience.  @melaniemcbride's link on twitter about adopting neuroscience as a means of guiding education asked some hard questions.  Then, while driving, I heard on Quirks & Quarks an interview with a computational neuroscientist that gave me pause.

His book: Connectome offered some interesting insights into how neural networks create complexity, but one response he gave made me pause.  When asked what this sort of research could lead to in relation to neuro-atypical brains, Dr. Seung replied suggesting that, in time, as technology advanced, we could eventually rewire all atypical brains to become normal; to operate according to the same criteria.

In the last little while I've had a wave of atypical neurology going on around me.  A diagnosis of ASD-PDD-NOS in one generation and a diagnosis of bi-polar schizophrenia in another.  When dealing with the bipolar nastiness, all I can think about is trying to normalize the behavior, but I also believe (because I know it about myself), that this atypical brain chemistry also produced atypical mastery in other areas.  I know this because I can see it in myself; I'm a generational link in this neuro-atypicality.

So there I am, listening to a computational neuroscientist who thinks that a granular understanding of the mechanics of thought will eventually allow us to create the ideal mind, over and over again.  My family could be normal, typical, manageable.

There is a fear that technology will leech us of our individuality, make us easier to enslave, a more perfect race?  That took me back to Gattaca.  In a world full of engineered, genetically perfect people who have been measured, categorized and optimized, where is there room for suffering or the creativity that can come from it?  Of for the opportunity for exceptions to produce the astonishing?  In that utopia there are no Van Goghes, or DaVincis, or Helen Kellers.  There is no room for the atypical, only the quantified sameness of someone's idea of perfection.

I've been wracked with fear in the past year, that I've been infected by insanity courtesy of my genome, and passed it on to someone I love dearly.  I've been wrestling with the idea that I've put someone into the world who can't compete with it.  Standardized testing at school and psychological testing elsewhere have quantified these failures that I've caused.  The human race doesn't treat atypical neurology very nicely; we're really still a troop of apes at heart and the best you can hope for with difference is toleration.

According to Dr. Seung, once we get the computational power together to understand the mechanics of the brain, we'll be able to 'rewire' errors.  I suspect, as we develop a finer understanding of the mind, there will be a moment where, as I did reading Russell's clear eyed analysis of mind, we will suddenly realize that we are free of misunderstandings based on ignorance.  In that moment, it's my hope that we realize that a mechanical understanding of the mind means embracing atypical neural states as part of what it means to be human.

If we fail to realize this knowledge, we ultimately tie our minds to whatever we think they are, constraining ourselves to our expectations.  Our idealized expectations of ourselves do not include madness, or students who don't all learn the same way in neat, organized, financially efficient rows.

Neurotypicals don't make Starry Nights, or general theories of relativity; you'll miss us when we're gone.

Neuro-atypicals might not always be the cheapest, or easiest to manage but you won't find a lot of neuro-typical output in a gallery, or museum.  It's a shame we only celebrate their exceptionalities after they're gone but bemoan their differences while they're here.