Harper: Just Say No

I’m Canadian.  Have been all my life. And I count myself very fortunate as a result.

Stephen Harper’s long term goal “is to make Conservatives the natural governing party of the country”. (Paul Wells, Maclean’s, September 17, 2008)

I would have thought that a better goal would be to do what’s best for Canada and Canadians.

If your party is more important than the country, you should be kept out of Ottawa.

Harper’s Conservatives: bad for the country, and bad for Canadians.

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Book Review: “Drive” by Tim Falconer

Through the good graces of Mini Book Expo For Bloggers and Penguin Group Canada I received a review copy of “DRIVE: A Road Trip Through Our Complicated Affair With the Automobile” by Tim Falconer.

The book is an examination of our collective love affair with cars, and the impact on our cities and infrastructure, told within the framework of the author’s nine and a half week road trip from Toronto to Los Angeles and back. (Most of the book (18 chapters) is part of the “way there”, and only one chapter covers the way back.)

I was reminded of Pirsig’s classic “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, though Falconer’s “sub-text” is much more obviously related to his road trip than Pirsig’s was.

As this is a non-fiction book, I wanted to see it start with an obvious “Introduction” i.e. that pre-chapter that is so often seen before “Chapter 1”.  “Drive” starts right in with Falconer (literally) in the driver’s seat, on a Friday afternoon mini-road trip to cottage country, with him, once past the worst of the traffic, cranking the tunes and stepping on the gas.  But quickly chapter 1 covers the basics of car culture, its effects on our neighbourhoods (Toronto’s Annex and the vanquished threat of the Spadina Expressway), pedestrians vs. drivers, and car as art.  I hit the end of the chapter and realized that Falconer had slipped one over on me: chapter 1 was the introduction, framed in the guise of a trip to the cottage.

Falconer lives in Toronto (which presumably is why his trip started here) and the book covers quite a few local issues, people, situations.  I enjoyed the somewhat “Toronto-centric” start to the book and the trip, but I’m not sure whether readers ouside the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) or outside Canada would enjoy it as much as I did. (Everyone hates Toronto, right?) Would non-Hogtowners enjoy Falconer’s chats with Cam Woolley of the OPP?

Once the road trip begins (with “Leaving Minivan Nation”), Falconer visits Detroit (and the car company museums), Indianapolis, St. Louis, the remainders (reminders?) of Route 66, Colorado, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and the fabulous Pacific Coast Highway before reaching Los Angeles.  Along the way he visits places, car clubs, people and points of interest, while discussing car culture, incorporating information he gathered before the trip in a seamless fashion.  The result is that the reader is drawn into the trip, and into the “conversations” along the way.

Falconer examines the impact of the car on our cities and our economies, and our love/hate relationships with our cars (is your car a work of art, or simply a transportation tool?).  He spends time with car clubs, looks for excitement in the downtowns of cities that have escaped to the suburbs, and looks at how different cities have succeeded or failed as a result of “car culture”.

I was left pondering the good and bad of the car, and with a reinforced impression of the quality and results of the past fifty or so years of professional “Urban Planning”. (Confession: I’m completely suburban, and rarely ride public transit.  I’m as guilty as anyone.)

I really enjoyed the book – it was a good read, informative and thought-provoking while still being entertaining. Recommended!

Please also read Katie Gennaro’s review of Drive.

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Some days I Like Technology

Some days I like technology, and some days technology doesn’t like me. Must it always be an either/or situation? Or are there ever days when technology is neither good nor bad? (I like VMware ESX, really I do. But it does seem to have its quirks from time to time.)

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Search for Terrestrial Intelligence

So, I signed up for another dating service, whereby the computer chooses who it thinks you will enjoy meeting.  Out of somewhere over 100 women it suggested I might enjoy knowing, seemingly only one said that she liked intelligent and articulate men (and presumably people as well).

I said: “hey, want to chat?”, she clicked “OK, sure”, Over a couple of weeks, I wrote three notes, being polite, hoping to come across as verging on intelligent and/or articulate, and hoping to start a conversation.  Nary a response, until one day, when she clicked the “close match” button.

Perhaps I don’t seem as intelligent or interesting in print as I hope I do.  Or perhaps the matching computer is not as smart as it thinks it is. That must be it, it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with me. Or just be one of those things. Technology is out to get me.

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Technology Makes Our Lives Easier

Just keep repeating that to yourself – “Technology Makes Our Lives Easier” – and maybe someday you’ll believe it.

Meeting people – internet dating – a good thing? a bad thing?

Meeting people is good.  I think perhaps this internet dating thing isn’t.

Are most people really that uninteresting?  Or is it that they won’t (or can’t) put any effort into describing themselves?  Or they don’t understand the idea of “putting your best foot forward”?

Proliferation: linkedin, facebook, flickr, orkut, blogs (guilty), forums.  How can so many mechanisms be a good thing?

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., was right:

“Electronic communities build nothing. You wind up with nothing. We’re dancing animals. How beautiful it is to get up and go do something.”

(I’ve been trolling them dating sites again, as I seem to do periodically, and not being all that optimistic about it.)

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I’m a technical guy — I like to think that life is rational and controllable.

Relationships are inherently uncontrollable.

I’ve been trying to expand my circle of friends.  Yes, using that wonderful invention, Internet dating.  Some times, I’ll be trading mail with someone, and then suddenly (seemingly) never hear from them again.  Having done nothing (so far as I know) objectionable or unexpected.

This lack of control does not always sit well with me.  So it goes.

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“Because nothing sucks more than feeling all alone, no matter how many people are around you.”
— “John ‘J.D.’ Dorian” in the TV series “Scrubs”, the “My T.C.W.” (Tasty Coma Wife) episode.

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Fun for One

Much of what is thought to be fun seems to be oriented to more than one.

I mean, independence is nice and all that, but it sure is more fun to share an experience rather than just enjoy it solo.

But when one’s very particular about the company one keeps, one often ends up keeping one’s own company.  Or so it seems to me anyway.

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Almost Too Quiet

When the kids are here, there’s always something to do – feeding, driving, laundry, playing, reading, sending to bed.  It’s busy, but it’s fun.

When the kids aren’t here, it’s quiet, almost too quiet, and there seems to be less motivation to get things done, and more inertia.

Kids: nature’s anti-inertia.

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Do It Right, or Cover Your Butt?

I am a computer geek, at a large international company, in a central services group.  I am but a small cog in a big wheel (sadly not a “Big Wheel” (TM)).

I am your typical technical person: there’s a right way and a wrong way to do things; if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well; information should be shared, not hoarded; power games are sub-optimal; and all that.

I try to gently push the things I’ve learned in 20 years of being a sysadmin. Document, share, keep people informed, track, use tools.

It’s frustrating to be having such trouble convincing others to do good — do a good job, do interesting things, do things well. It seems to be especially difficult when the team leader’s only apparent motivation is to keep asses covered, and avoid any possibility of blame if something ever goes wrong.

Yup — that’s the safe way.  But walking around all day ducking, kowtowing, and reflexively saying “Yes Sir!” to anyone further up the food chain seems like not a good way to spend the day.

Oh well. There’s dumb stuff everywhere, you just choose the dumb stuff you’re willing to put up with.

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