Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Walking Computer Chips

In A New Premise, written a few years ago now, I describe a future where all residents have a small computer chip, called a grain, implanted.   The device has various purposes, including paying for purchases.   I was interested to read here about a firm that has something similar implanted in their employees.   The stated reason is to gain access to company files, copiers and even snack machines but like I wrote in my book, this would be easily adapted to other purposes.   

I wonder if I can claim royalties of some kind?

Sunday, July 23, 2017



A lot of information, articles and posts available these days seeks to access our outrage.     Presumably once this goal is achieved, the reader's outrage will lead them to take some sort of action such as writing a letter to a politician, sending donations, changing their lifestyle and generally spreading the word.  That is the main goal in generating the indignation or even fury.   It can seem that increasingly disgusting stories are required as time passes.

Even if no direct action is taken, sometimes the forcefully expressed opinions can be intimidating.  We say nothing on the topic in the interests of not disagreeing.   Various 'cards' could be shoved in our face:   we are accused of being racist, sexist, carnivores, or just plain stupid  . . .  who wants to be that?   Saying nothing means only one point of view is presented.

News media is controlled by a few corporations and those that own them have a point of view.   They may have business interests that do better under certain political parties or policies.  There was a former Canadian prime minister whose newspaper photographs always showed him in a poor light:   he was tripping down airplane steps, he stumbled on a curb or his face was somehow contorted in conversation or while eating. It was pointed out by a more independent writer that media sources have hundreds of images to choose from and the ones they pick said more about their editorial slant than about the prime minister. He was shortly thereafter defeated but I've never forgotten that lesson.

Be attune to the photographs used, the language and even the placement of articles.     It is a truism that scandals receive front page coverage, apologizes for errors are on the last page.   Somehow politicians, and news organizations, seem to thrive on doom and gloom . . . and they are just the ones to solve it.

But take heart, despite what you read things are getting much better in the world.

Sunday, July 16, 2017


I read an interesting blog post here by Margaret Powling about her annual tradition of re-reading a book which she first read as a young girl and which had a great impact on her.  In some ways, the books that touch us significantly tell a great deal about ourselves and even as we get older and change, re-reading a treasured novel can provide us a hint of the person we were that we had almost forgotten.

That's a gift.

This practise isn't something I have done myself but it makes we wish I had.   Ms. Powling kept the book, originally filched from the local library, for over 60 years.    You would have to own the book as most library books could not survive sixty years of wear and tear not to mention frequent necessary culls that libraries engage in.

The post is fascinating to read because Ms. Powling eventually met and interviewed the author, the well known Rosamunde Pilcher and she signed the tattered novel which, being of the author's earliest writings was never re-printed.   Having lived in the area where the novel, entitled April, was set made it all the more poignant.

I have enjoyed re-reading books that I have enjoyed in the past.  For example, see here. Sometimes, there is nostalgia and the recall of an age and stage where a genre or plot of a book was particularly meaningful, other times the location is one that I visited or lived in and hearing those familiar names mentioned and framed in the story's setting adds personal involvement.

It is likely better than re-watching an old movie or television show as you come to realize how stilted the acting was or how unrealistic the sets.   I was shocked when I realized that the Ponderosa home on Bonanza was a set with painted backdrops.  We must have been easily distracted by the action.   Although I was recently told that real fires are no longer used in movies and television programs since it can all be added after filming by means of CGI (computer generated imagery)   For safety reasons I will have to let that pass.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Environmental issues, large and small.

There's an enormous chunk of ice waiting to fall off the Antarctic ice shelf.   It's the size of Prince Edward Island (or Manhattan), 5660 square kilometres.   There are unknown dangers but there are definite consequences when a chunk of ice this is size reaches shallow depths of ocean and scrapes its heft along the ocean floor.  Penguins and their chicks have difficulty traversing around something this large and entire colonies become unviable.    Scientists seem to be uncertain as to long term, less localized consequences but the sheer size adds to the drama.

Then there is the matter of the much smaller honey bee whose appearance is much less dramatic but the importance of this small insect is difficult to overstate.

This article in The Guardian details how despite years of research and warnings we are still setting ourselves up for the catastrophic consequences that would arise from the death of bees.

You can start small and in doing so save yourself a tedious task.   Let dandelions take over your lawn.   This article in The Guardian makes us aware that in addition to bees, beetles and birds benefit.

The BBC is hosting a series The Wonder of Bees  which should be worth watching.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

What are we entitled to?


There are regular news stories and articles about the cost of housing in Vancouver and Toronto.   In Britain, housing and accommodation is even more expensive.   I came from a poor immigrant family but grew up in Vancouver.   But that was then and this is now.   Is there an entitlement to live in the location one chooses?

A large cities has many amenities, sources of entertainment, easy access to top medical facilities and good rapid transit.   These are all things that are either lacking or present in much smaller quantities in small towns and rural areas.   I imagine that their presence is part of what drives up the cost of urban housing.    Perhaps only one or even no vehicle is required in the city;   a considerable cost saving.   Vancouver has an ever increasing number of bicycle lanes, lovely to use when the weather cooperates but can't be pleasant from November to March.   

Of course, one must accept the crowds, the traffic jams and the cost of paying for parking so there are trade-offs.   Some people love the big city atmosphere -- the buzz.   There's always something happening, there's something for everyone.   Alternative ways of living are more easily accepted and there's more privacy as it is easier to become lost and faceless in a city.  This can lead to more loneliness, paradoxically.


If you grew up in a big city like Vancouver or even if it is everything you want in your choice of personal venue, are you entitled to live there?   Assuming you have the correct immigration status, the answer is yes.  But don't leap for joy yet, there's that small matter of the cost of housing.   You can't live in Vancouver unless you either:

a)  bought a place to live years earlier and can afford the mortgage;
b)  have a GOOD paying job.   I would estimate $100,000 annual salary for a       single, $150,000 for a couple, maybe even with 1 child.   This is to own or rent.
c)  still live at home with your parents
d)  Are exceedingly frugal, clever and original in your thinking about housing.

You may be wondering about what is meant by the last option.    It means you are prepared to think outside the box in terms of housing and live in a tiny house in a place that permits it, share a 5 bedroom house with 5 like-minded people, or do the usual climb the property ladder game with great patience, buying a $250,000 studio condo, making double payments on your mortgage and moving up each 5 years or so until you can buy a fixer-upper in an undesirable neighbourhood.   Your children will thank you as they will likely be the ones to move to the home you always wanted after you depart this life.   Housing becomes a generational thing.

People protest about housing costs;  does it help?   Everyone wants the maximum they can get when they go to sell their house.   Should landlords subsidize their tenants?   If you are not employed, do you need to live in Vancouver, much as you might like to?   Some people live in a tent city in a local park;   the residents generally protest vociferously.     But everyone should have a roof over their heads and those unable to provide it must be looked after by others.   Switzerland requires that all relatives, older and younger provide assistance first, before the state will invest tax revenues.  So both grandparents and children could be required to assist parents and so on.   Does this obligation extend to second cousins, twice removed? 

Governments promise subsidized housing built by the taxpayers as they have difficulty persuading developers to lose money.   Or adding cheaper housing to more upscale units becomes a condition of receiving a development permit at city hall. 

Young families contribute life and atmosphere to a city.  Without them schools close and playgrounds wither.   A city of retirees who were fortunate to buy when housing was cheap is not desirable from many perspectives.   Vancouver has put a tax on non-resident purchasers, something already present in other locales.   Does it help?   Starting this month, July, a tax is to be levied on homes that are not occupied at least six months of the year.   I imagine enforcement will be onerous.   As was done with illegal basement suites, the city ends up relying on neighbours calling to complain.   Is that the right approach?   I imagine there will be work available for companies to supply individuals to make the rounds of empty homes,  turn on the lights, crank up the heat and leave the faucets running, all in aid of raising utility usage to acceptable levels.   Since government agencies provide these services they provide a means to track owners' presences.    Do we want this type of intrusion into our lives?   What if you follow recommendations to conserve energy and save the planet by using less power?   What would be an acceptable level to avoid suspicion?

We could start by looking at how other countries have dealt with this issue.  

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Waste not . . .

The streets of Cairo are strewn with garbage, something that doesn't figure in tourist brochures.    A still developing country, it might seem that Egypt shouldn't have enough left over to discard.   Perhaps the brochure photographs make use of the same apps that can be used to remove the other tourists from your scenic shots to remove the detritus.   Similarly, selfie seekers need to be avoid certain angles where the heaps of garbage detract from the historic splendour of the Taj Mahal. 

Times of India

Partly, it is just habit.   In some neighbourhoods litter is rarely seen, despite the presence of public litter boxes.   Tossing trash can be contagious;  once there is one item, more easily follow.   A former mayor of New York worked wonders by dealing with matters like litter, graffiti and broken windows under the belief, proven correct, that reduction in crime is a by-product.   We take our weekly garbage pick up for granted, but where does our garbage go?

This article in The Guardian describes a convenience culture.   Food packaging is a major source of waste, much of it plastic based and not bio-degradable.   Even poisonous.   It might be a radical suggestion, but what about unwrapping the excess packaging and leaving at the checkout is mentioned in the article.

Think about starting small.   This blogger, at Going Zero Waste has a plethora of ideas.   Surely one will be easy to incorporate into your lifestyle.   Start small.

It is also important not to get discouraged about the world; that makes it easy to give up and just toss that wrapper on the ground.   Have a look at Professor Pinkers' article in Guardian and statistics here.  Things are getting better;  the least we can do is pick up the trash.

Sunday, June 18, 2017


Saying those words can be difficult but they open the path to change.   It doesn't have to be phrased like that unless you just hit a baseball into someone's front window.   (You did stick around and make arrangements to cover the cost, right? ).  You might have said something like, 'I could have done better,'  or 'I think next time I'll try it this way," or even 'I'm going to start writing down my appointments so I don't forget them.'    Any of these phrases, or something similar, all have something in common:   You are taking ownership for your actions.

It's interesting how people like taking credit for something they did that turns out well, even if success was also a surprise to them.   But admitting that what happened was a direct result of your actions is not so easy when the outcome is negative.    Perhaps society, in the form of parents and teachers, must bear some responsibility.   We could see errors, bad choices and poor behaviours as teachable moments, suggest ways to improve and then --this is the important part -- hold children accountable for improvement.  But sometimes we choose to rain down criticism and punishments without future solutions that leave the child/student deciding to avoid future similar events at all costs.   Thus, is blame someone else born.


Some children/adults will lie -- if they think they can get away with it.  Even with the chocolate cupcake icing smeared on their face they will deny that they took one after being told not to before dinner.   In a two year old it's almost comical.   Some people get good at lying, straight-faced and with righteous indignation that someone else was to blame.   The problem is there is this thing called credibility.   The courts rely on it a lot to decipher the truth and most of us develop a sixth sense about it even though it is not reliable.    But once you have categorized someone as a liar or at least prone to fantasy or wild exaggeration their future veracity is in doubt.   Kind of like the boy who cried wolf.

I think there is an inherited component to it.   Young children who never acknowledge that there are areas of their education they need to work on - like not habitually losing assignments before handing them in will often have parents, who at parent/teacher interviews, will tell me that relatives came to visit or that the child had to go shopping with them or that Johnny wasn't feeling well as the reason homework was undone.   How many times do excuses work before they don't?    Children grow into adults and hang onto their habits.   It's always someone else's fault  that they can't hold onto a job, get into a financial bind, smoke and abuse prescription drugs.   I don't know if by now they believe their own excuses but I sometimes notice that they seem to check to see if the person they are talking to has bought into their excuse or do they need to work on honing their pitch.