Saturday, 11 February 2017

Who are the trolls?

Rosa Brooks writing on Foreign Policy about the reaction to her purely theoretical think piece on what might happen if senior US military officers refused to obey an order from a clearly unhinged Commander in Chief "And Then the Breitbart Lynch Mob Came for Me" 

Sometimes I wonder who they are, these people who spend their free time sending vitriolic messages to strangers. Often, I imagine them as actual trolls, leaving their computers only to kick the occasional puppy, smack their children, or tend to their basement meth lab.
Other times, I imagine something even worse: Perhaps these are all seemingly normal people who go about their days smiling politely at strangers but then go home and start spewing.

I think at least some of them are police officers, security guards and employees of the Department of Homeland Security. I have certainly come across several who were themselves in the grip of some power trip.

Not every border crossing, but enough that I am beginning to get very wary of crossing the border if I am going to be asked to give up my smartphone and password. If my political opinions are going to be questioned. We have already seen people turned back at the border for quite egregious reasons, and appallingly bad behaviour by people who clearly have no fear whatever of being called on it. Police handcuffing a five year old girl (I thought that was an isolated incident until I did a Google search). Refusing entry to Canadian citizen with a valid passport and no links to any country on the already suspended "Muslim ban" Executive Order. Or because they intended to exercise their right of free speech.

On the most frightening books to read for me was "Hitler's Willing Executioners" - or Hannah Arendt's "Banality of Evil". Bannon and Trump are legitimising the knee jerk responses of those who are only to ready to see threats and enemies: who make huge assumptions based on little or no evidence, who readily confuse a sikh turban and dark skin with militant Islam.

I had a troll go after me on my other blog - until I blocked him. Because of that he confirmed his real identity. He is now dead, and I will not identify him but he was a popular mainstream leftwing political activist, and civil servant, who claimed his activities were simply "harmless amusement". He was actually driven by the common delusion that all progressive votes belonged to his political party, and that independents and third parties simply aided the powers that be to win elections with a minority. One might have thought that such a person would want to win over someone like me by persuasion or reasoned argument. Something had tipped him over the edge. He even invited me to talk about this over coffee: I declined.

I saw something similar once with a police officer who transformed from a possible source of assistance to a hectoring bully in the blink of an eye. I have no idea what set him off. But reading the reports of the various trials and enquiries that have occurred after the death of Robert DziekaƄski I began to see how some people seek out employment as police officers but ought to have weeded out long before they could do any harm. Of course, in many parts of the US police officers have been able to work out their racist and other phobias with little fear of retribution for years: if that were not the case there would be no Black Lives Matter campaign. There would be no account of a black man held for over forty years in solitary confinement and who had to sign a tendentious admission in order to get released.  The behaviour of RCMP officers to women in their own force, and to indigenous women in general would fill many more paragraphs. I am not at all surprised that one group now does not want to see the police take part in the Vancouver Pride Parade.

Actually the answer to my question is as always the same: we have seen the enemy and he is us.


Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Canada Post FAIL

We just emptied our mailbox: it is now January 18, 2017. The mailbox was last emptied yesterday. There is a large card in three languages announcing the Golden Rooster Collection, in celebration of Chinese New Year. The unveiling took place on January 9, 2017. The card states that if you bring it to the celebration at 11:30 am on that day you will receive a FREE Day of Issue Collector Envelope (limit 500).

I know that the bad weather here has been hampering some mail deliveries. But to get this particular mailpiece nine days after the advertised event does seem to mark a new level of incompetence.

  

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Farewell Coast Capital

When I moved to BC it was after the 1990 housing crash. In fact the economy of Toronto by 1994 was so bad that I was unemployed for a year - on my resume I was a self employed consultant but the contracts I got were few and far between. I considered myself lucky to get a job with the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources in Victoria. I also expected to be able to bring my so called portable mortgage with me: the Bank of Montreal declined. My lawyer, as I have so often heard, told me I had a Good Case but not the resources to take on one of Canada's biggest banks. So when we settled in Saanich I opened an account with Pacific Coast Savings, the local credit union. They really were a breath of fresh air after BMO. I was sad that they did not have any branches on the mainland when I had to move again but was content to switch to Richmond Savings, also a local credit union. And very well run indeed. Fast forward twenty years or so, and by now Richmond Savings and  Pacific Coast have merged into Coast Capital and are looking at the opportunity to become national.

The nearest branch to where I live is not especially convenient, but most of my banking gets done on line and there are "ding free" ATMs all over. Without me asking, the chequing account has a pre-approved overdraft limit of $2,000 which makes the "available balance" look very healthy whenever I use an ATM. But I have no need of an overdraft.

On our recent trip to the UK my partner and I used the same British bank ATMs to get pounds, but hers cost a lot less than mine. So when I got back I opened up a VanCity account. It then took a while for the various pension deposits to get shifted over. I do not understand how that takes months in a system that is largely automated and virtual. It is not like the goblins have to shift around piles of gold coins.  I also was annoyed that a payment through PayPal did not get charged to my credit card as I expected but deducted from the Coast Capital checking account. A small sum, but one that incurred a large (compared to the amount) fee. There was a significant balance on the savings account, but it did not occur to Coast Capital that on the whole I really wasn't actually in debt to them at all. And the fee was distinctly unexpected given their sales pitch.

So today I went to the branch on Broadway at Cambie. There were two tellers working - and a steadily growing line of customers. In VanCity it is not unusual for the staff at other desks around the branch to come forward to see if they can help the people in line. I have never, ever seen that happen at Coast Capital. When I get a teller, I tell him to close my accounts, and that I want the balances in cash. This apparently requires multiple transactions - each one requiring him to go and get a separate sum of money after I have signed a paper slip he has printed. And an agreement about "Overdraft Protection": I don't know how that protects me - I am that one that got dinged. He cannot manage to actually close the account. He has to call over another member of staff. The line behind me is now getting restive. Each transaction is, of course, rounded down. NO attempt is made to explain why they have to be separate payments, and not added together. It cannot be done purposely to save the pennies - can it? The process is lengthy and conducted in silence - except for the two tellers whispering to each other and pointing at the screen between us.

At no time did anyone evince any interest at all as to why I had chosen to close my accounts, and get back my $5 membership share.

But I am glad I did.

Postscript


Post Postscript

This evening I got a telephone call from the Assistant Manager at the branch in question. She was very apologetic and listened to what I had to say - even though it largely repeated what is written above and which she said she had read. She even offered to meet with me, buy me a coffee, and hear my questions and concerns. I explained that I have been a member of the Coast Capital "Tell us what you think" panel since it was set up. Not once did I get any feedback from that. She said that what I have written and said will be of great concern to Coast Capital.

It has taken me about four months to wrap up the "relationship" I had with this credit union. It is a shame that only after it is all over that they think to ask why. Too late for me, I hope not too late them.  

PPPS

I learn from Integrity BC that in 2016 Coast Capital donated $11,700 to the BC Liberal Party.

January 20

A letter arrives by Canada Post from Coast capital suggesting I should switch to electronic statements - for the accounts I closed ten days ago.



Friday, 11 November 2016

Farewell Leonard

I have been sitting listening to the CBC Radio 2 tribute to Leonard Cohen. He has died at the age of 82. And here are 82 reasons why you should care.

He had just released a new album "You Want It Darker" and the New Yorker printed a profile in its October 17 issue. By a curious twist of fate, the magazine came to be in my mailbox, by mistake, and I took the opportunity to read it before passing it along to my neighbour, who has a subscription but was at work while I read it.

Elizabeth Renzetti has a piece in the Globe about the impact he had on her

"If you live without the comfort of religious belief, as I do, it seemed like the universe was playing a cruel joke by removing a force of light just when the world seems so broken. But the crack, as he so memorably taught us, is how the light gets in."

There is a lot on Twitter right now too. Including this image


He saw the future with unerring accuracy.  Maybe we should all have paid more attention.  




Sunday, 23 October 2016

ThingCharger


When I saw this I laughed. The box inserted into the wall outlet (unswitched standard North American electrical socket for my English readers) is a ThingCharger. I was one of the early adopters. That meant I joined in a crowd funding scheme before any were actually made on a production line, and the company used the crowd's funds to get started in business. Some time later - quite a long time in fact - they sent me the chargers and I started using them.

Let me say at the outset that the ThingCharger is beautifully designed and carefully made. It does exactly what it says it will do and comes with clear directions and all sorts of videos about how to use it. The main benefit claimed - that you will no longer need to have cables trailing around to charge your things is true - but only so far as that goes, as the photo illustrates. We have had ThingChargers since they first started shipping and we no longer use them as designed, even though they are still plugged in around our home.

The place we used to plug in our phones and iPads  - before ThingCharger - was the kitchen counter. Why? Easy, those are the most accessible outlets. They cannot be used with the ThingCharger because of overhangs: the one on island has a shelf with an overhang above it. The one next to the stove is under a cupboard - and so on. The outlets in the bathroom are simply too perilous. Balance an iPad on a ThingCharger and it is at risk of falling into the toilet. So the places where the ThingCharger can be plugged in are outlets low on the walls of other rooms that are not hidden behind desks, tvs or stereo systems - all of which tend to have multi-outlet surge protection bars plugged in at all times.

So to use the ThingCharger, you need to bend down, and then plant the device exactly and correctly onto its power tip that protrudes from the Charger into the bottom of your Thing. If the phone or iPad is in its case, you have to be ensure that the power tip is in its intended socket and not just trapped between thing and case. There are USB ports under the ThingCharger but we have never used them as they are inaccessible in their current locations, and anyway leave cables trailing on the carpet which was what we were trying to avoid in the first place.

Yes, we no longer have cables trailing across the kitchen work surfaces where I was always convinced  I might slice through them. No, we are not using the ThingCharger. Except as noted above.

Before writing this article I did a Google search to find the links. The second item in the suggested list of searches was ThingCharger Complaints. There are many hits on that list. Here instead is a more balanced review. Which seems to reflect my experience. If your desk has a standard, flush mounted North American electrical outlet at a convenient height with nothing above it, then ThingCharger might be useful for your phone - or possibly a new iPad mini or similar. I cannot recommend its use on the old multipin Apple connector as used on older full size iPads.

UPDATE ThingCharger got into trouble. I have had several emails now from its founder, explaining what went wrong. That also cleared up why it is apparently no longer possible to get new spare tips. My partner would need a new USB C tip for her now phone if she was ever going to use the Thing again. The founder is apparently also convinced that he has another brilliant idea that he may try to crowd fund.


Thursday, 18 February 2016

Day 3 at TED live stream



Yesterday I spent all morning at the Kits library watching the TED livestream. The room was much darker than previous days, I suppose because of the dreadful weather, and in any event some of the talks were more tech demonstrations - such as the one demonstrating the capabilities of drones.

One of the most useful I think was the introduction to the Google Cultural Institute but you do not need to read my clumsy notes of what Amit Sood said. Click on that link and try it for yourself. But allow lots of time: you will get sucked in, and the resource is enormous.

It does link up two things in a useful serendipity. While I was waiting for a TED session to start I was sitting in the library and my eye was caught by the spine of a huge book which shouted VAN GOGH The Life at me. Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith produced the definitive biography - nearly a thousand pages published in 2011 but somehow I didn't notice that at the time.  I haven't got far with it yet but I will, and will also pass on the fact that there are no notes in the text. The are all on line with much more - so with the book, the website and the GCI I am going to be a bit occupied. As well as the increasing pace of the effort to fight the replacement of the Massey Tunnel.

But first I will record my impression of the opening session yesterday which started with Linus Torvalds the man responsible for Linux, Android and GIT. It was not a talk but rather an interview with Chris Anderson to encourage him to talk about himself and his work. Which he does alone, at home and mostly in his bathrobe. A bit like me though the picture showed him at a standing desk, which he said he no longer uses. From the age of 11 until he was 21 he worked alone. He wrote software - code - and developed things that he wanted to use. Like a new operating system that would be Open Source - not that he knew about that when he started - and take over much of the web. He was introduced to Open Source by a colleague, and simply offered up Linux so that people could comment. It was the first time in his life that other people gave him ideas - not code. He developed GIT as a management system for software development as the number of people offering ideas and code became unmanageable by other means.

"Every project is something I needed so as not to have to work with too many people."

He said he was "myopic" towards the needs of other people. He said that his sister describes his main quality as being stubborn. But listening to him the word that came into my mind was perseverance. But with the stress on the second syllable as used by a child psychiatrist describing the behaviour of my son. He gave him a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome. Not something I was especially pleased about but it was a great deal better than his teacher telling me he had ADD - which is quite unfounded. And there is no prescription medication for Aspergers.

"I am not a visionary. I am an engineer. There is no moonshot - I fix the pothole."

He likened himself to Edison as opposed to Tesla.

"Code either works or it doesn't."

Open Source is now becoming not just central to code but to science in general.

At one time, I used Linux (Ubuntu) to make an old PC run better. But after a while I realized that I was spending way more time doing computery than the things I am really interested in. So I switched to Mac, so I did not need to use the command line anymore. But I did get the first Android tablet and have an Android phone.

He did say that he would be useless at designing a User Interface. So there must be someone else to blame for one of the reasons that I gave up on Ubuntu.

I am not going to try to summarize Girls Who Code, the AI X prize, of what the copy editor of the New Yorker told us. I could not possibly do justice to the man who uses code to make art, or talk about the TED Radio Hour on NPR anymore than I would feel comfortable talking on behalf of Dalia Mogahed who explained what life is like now being an Islamic woman in America.



There was a whole bunch of stuff later about the importance of connectivity which made the best use so far of visual aids but seemed to me to to banal and obvious - "political geography is less important than functional geography". Well, duh!

Thank you to the larger number than usual readers. I am not going to TED today or tomorrow. As I said to the people at the library, life does get in the way. Which may well explain the low attendance at this livestream. You can of course read Lisa Johnson's professional summary of what Al Gore said last night.  TED has also blogged that too. Indeed I think you should, just as you should keep an eye on the TED channels to see which of the talks this year get broadcast. But this blog will be silent on the topic for a while, I think, just because TED does a pretty good job of spreading this stuff around already.  Later that day Al Gore spoke on why he thinks we can beat climate change.



Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Life Hacks from TED 2016

This is material taken from the 2:15 to 4pm session on Tuesday February 16, 2016

The session opened with an unscheduled short talk from Allen Adams on gravitational waves. I noticed that very few people in the audience at TED - or at the VPL Kits branch - were taking notes, so I just listened. He was very enthusiastic and made clear just how extraordinary the very idea of trying to listen to gravitation waves was - and how quickly the machinery of LIGO actually proved useful.

The first speaker on life hacks was Tim Urban who is a blogger and procrastinator.  He talked about the Instant Gratification Monkey who gets in the way of getting on with a task until the Panic Monster wakes up, just before deadline and lets the rational being get on with the job.
"It has always been a dream of mine to have given a TED talk." 
He explained that there were actually two types of procrastination - with and without a deadline. When there isn't a deadline there is no way to wake up the Panic Monster, so some things - which might be Very Important - do not get done.

He was very entertaining and got a standing ovation.

Adam Grant started off by talking about Warby Parker - something I confess I have never heard of but is apparently hugely successful, but he chose not to invest in, because he thought the people who created that website seemed to him to be less than fully committed, and were not giving it their undivided attention in the period before it launched. He was wrong. He calls himself a pre-crastinator: he does not wait for the deadline but has his work all done and dusted well before it is due. Even so, he has begun to recognize the value of procrastination.
"You call it procrastination. I call it 'thinking'." Aaron Sorkin
Much thinking occurs in the part of the brain that is not actively engaged in a task. While you are playing Minefield, your brain is turning over other possibilities that you may not actually be aware of. (He has researched that.) "I have a dream" was not in the script of MLK's famous speech.

"First mover" is not actually much of an advantage (he had data of the first mover failure rate)
You don't have to be first. You have to be different and better.
He is trying to recognize "Originals" - the successful ones anyway. He noted a process through which ideas go and said that it was necessary to distinguish between idea doubt and self doubt. The first is essential and the second gets in the way.

The first drafts are always crap. You need to get better by working on them. He had a simple test that seems to help identify people willing to go that extra step. If you use Internet Explorer or Safari as your browser, you accept the default. Chrome and Firefox users want to find something better. What you need to do is replace "deja vu" with "vu jade". When you experience doubt don't let it go. the biggest regrets we have in life are not the things we did, but those we failed to do. Originals are the ones who try the most and experience the most failures. Be quick to start but slow to finish.

The organizer then got both presenters to talk about their different approaches. I am not sure that added much. Nothing appears in my notes, anyway.

Brian Little was the third presenter: at this point I did my own data collection.There were 18 people present. Only two were male.

He is a psychologist and talked about "trait psychology": he used the acronym OCEAN

Open
Conscientious
Extroversion
Agreeable
Neurotic

each one of which is a parameter. There are also three fields in which these parameters are measured: biogenic, sociogenic and idiogenic
I don't think [even] pigeons belong in pigeonholes
We need to act out of character sometimes to get results. He said that he was an introvert but he was very funny and got the first standing ovation.

Dave Larson called his talk "Learning 2.0" which started with the observation that the way we learn things are outdated and ineffective. He illustrated how we can better remember things by singing his Alzheimer's song. Basically, sitting in a lecture room, writing notes and then studying in the library does not actually produce quite the same effect as the way you pick up an "ear worm".

John MacWhorter was the first black guy in the line up, and talked about languages - why even though English is becoming universal there are benefits to learning another language. I have few notes but what stuck in my mind was his reference to "Jesus of Montreal" which features a group of francophone women forced to speak English when they get to the ER - and are no longer the witty, intelligent engaging people we have seen for most of the movie, but shadows who can barely function in the second language that they can speak but is not their own.  This had a great resonance for me, as I can speak french but very badly and so the French do not perceive me as intelligent or witty but barely coherent. If you do not understand this watch an episode of 'Allo 'Allo until the policeman appears. He said that web pages like Glossika enable you to learn a language easily and will "blow your mind".

Noah Zandan has been analyzing how people speak to help identify how to speak like a visionary. His data analysis has allowed him to produce three rules

1 Focus on the present (like Elon Musk)
2 Be Clear and Simple (sorry did not note the name of the lady)
3 use "you"and "your" a lot (like Richard Branson) enabling people to Experience the Vision

Kio Stark said that she is "obsessed with talking to strangers". We have been raised to believe in 'stranger danger' but most people are not dangerous. We need to use our senses not our fears, and do not put people into categories, which is a road to bias. We need to see them as an individual. "It's a political act."

She told a story. "I'm a New Yorker. So when I am waiting to cross the street, I stand on the stormn drain, not the curb. Like I am going to get across the street quicker. An old man said to me 'Don't stand there. You might dissapear. I could turn around and you're gone'." She felt valued - another human being had expressed concern for her, a total stranger ... cared.

She also spoke about how she teaches her daughter (four years old) how to assess a situation and recognize that some people will not welcome an approach, or should be avoided.

We expect our spouses to read our minds but with strangers we have to eliminate that expectation and explain everything. We practice "civil inattention" but other cultures have different rules. In Egypt it is rude to ignore a stranger.

So there are some simple techniques

Smile
Triangulate - refer to some third point of interest
Noticing - she recommends shoes (note: this was cited in The American President "Compliment her shoes. Girls like that.")
Dogs and babies - talk to the dog or baby directly: they are a social conduit
Disclosure encourages disclosure

I put that into action when the stream stopped. I had a very rewarding interaction with another audience member. I gave her my card. I hope she found her way and leaves a comment.

Speakers: 6 men (of which 1 black), 1 woman
Audience at Kits Library: 18, of which 2 male