Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Stuff for Christmas

Just in time for Christmas! The Story of Stuff with Annie Leonard is a marvelous little animated piece that puts consumerism in perspective. The 20-minute movie can be viewed online at Everyone should see this vid... Check it out, and tell your friends!

I mean imeem

With all the news lately of the RIAA's McCarthyistic dragnet on file-sharing music fans, it seems some of the record companies have had a change of heart. The big four record labels are allowing to stream their full catalogs of music online, supported by online advertising[1].

Since the recent conviction of Jammie Thomas, a 30 year old single mom, who was sued by the RIAA for $222,000 for 24 songs ($9250 per song!)[2] there's been a strong backlash against the RIAA. Example: websites like and One of the best sites, let's you search for music to find whether its RIAA-free or not.

The ongoing RIAA vindictiveness goes hand-in-hand with copyright concerns, but there's more than meets the eye when it comes to copyright protection. Newer ultra-restrictive terms not only infringe on the rights of users[3] but seem to hurt sales, as well. Retail giant Walmart recently demanded major record labels release their product in the MP3 format, free of Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology[4], demonstrating how attempts by the record industry to protect their profits have backfired. A recent attempt to bring in a "Canadian DMCA" sparked a massive negative reaction from Canadians[5].

While the record companies continue to enjoy large profit margins, artists themselves are getting fed up with being starved out. They've formed the Recording Artists Coalition to fight the industry's claim that their songs are "works made for hire", effectively removing copyright interests from the artists and transferring those rights directly to the record labels[6]. And recently, Radiohead decided to make its latest album available as an online download under a pay-what-you-want-to scheme. And while there were plenty of folks who downloaded the album for free, the band still made out pretty well by all accounts. It's estimated the band got $8 on average for each sale. The average cut a recording artist would receive from a record label? About $1.30.

With online radio stations having been largely run out of business by recent copyright rulings that charge 10,000 times the going rate for online song broadcasts [7], some, like Whole Wheat Radio have turned to broadcasting only independent music.

Having gotten tired of mainstream music and the industry's deplorable treatment of artists and consumers a long time ago, I've been into independent and foreign artists for a while, and have found there's an incredible amount of fantastic music put out by relatively unknown artists... you just have to look a little harder for it. Now sites like RIAAradar and WholeWheatRadio are making it easier.

Maybe the recording industry finally figured out people hate them and are angry enough to stop buying their stuff. Maybe they've finally clued in, and maybe is the result.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Battling for Opinion on Climate Change

The US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has issued a report describing a systematic effort by the White House to manipulate climate change science[1]. The report is available in PDF format from the House of Representatives here[2]. From the document:

This report presents the findings of the Committee’s investigation. The evidence before the Committee leads to one inescapable conclusion: the Bush Administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming.

I am sure that most North Americans are very unaware of the lengths to which industry will go to influence the thinking of consumers. Last month I wrote a post titled "Meatitarianism" in which I talked about John Robbins' book Diet for a New America, which documents the ongoing battle between medical scientists and the meat and dairy industry. It's no wonder that there's confusion about what a healthy diet is. The book lists example after example of the deceptive tactics used by the meat and dairy industries to influence public opinion.

The battle for our opinions is just as extreme in the oil and energy sectors. The many people who today believe that the "science is still out" on climate change have fallen directly into the American Petroleum Institute's stated goal that "Victory will be achieved when ... average citizens ‘understand’ uncertainties in climate science ... [and] recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom.’"

I've been meaning for some time to write more on the climate change issue, and in particular about the sources of resistance and skepticism. This is just one more lead out of dozens of sources, but it was good enough to post.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Frontline Online

PBS Frontline has made available online their program "Spying on the Home Front" [link]. As a computer systems engineer working in the telecommunications area, I can attest to some of the content in this piece, as some of my work has been in related areas. This is one reason why many young people, and many "technically savvy" folks have become more and more concerned with personal privacy and freedom. From what I've seen, the pervasiveness of digital surveillance goes further than this report would indicate, and that there are significant drivers from both state and private sectors for "pimping out privacy", to coin a phrase.

Take for example the RIAA and MPAA. Recently, a toolkit designed to help universities spy on their students for copyright infringement made news[1]. Eventually, it was forced offline[2]. But these could be the more innocuous examples.

The Frontline piece discusses the NSA, and the "illegal" wiretapping act, and the report is factual and not overstated, in my opinion.

In the near future, I hope to write an article, or series of articles, that provide a brief overview of personal privacy issues in the digital age. There are just so many aspects of it, and "everything is connected", as they say, that's its hard to know where to start! But there are already many good resources available to the inquiring mind:

I hope you'll take an interest, perhaps watch the program, and maybe even follow up by familiarizing yourself with the Electronic Freedom Foundation (EFF) and Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), where many privacy-related concerns are covered. This is something that increasingly affects all of us.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


If, as a thinking individual, if it is possible that you could tire from watching the television, and the inkling of learning something about the real world should come along, here is part of a documentary about the Hmong people in Laos who are the victims of an attempted genocide.

The first video isn't too graphic, but the subsequent videos require a login because of scenes of mutilation. The media doesn't seem to be reporting on this, but it is important to raise awareness.

You can also read about the CIA's secret war in Laos, which precipitated this atrocity, on Wikipedia.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Vantage Point

Approaching Lake Lefroy, Yoho National Park, B.C., Canada.

August 2007. Photo by Darren DeRidder.

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Change'll Do You Good

They say change is as good as a vacation, or at least a change will (sometimes) do you good. I found this to be true when I quit my job last summer, bought a sailboat, and signed up with a new high-tech startup. It's been a gas. It's not just a change of surroundings or a change of workplace or hobby or house that can do you good, though. How about a change of habit? Or how about a change of mind? A change a heart? I think the pure and simple luxury we have as human beings of being able to change our minds is one of the most precious gifts we have. A change of job, or a change of residence... what is that compared to a whole new outlook, a new way of seeing things, new understanding? A change of mind can open new possibilities. It can free us from old ideas that have held is in bondage by our desperate desire to prove that we were right, and give sweet relief in being able to say, "I was wrong" or, "I forgive you."

But we're somehow conditioned to think that changing our minds is a bad thing. Of course, waffling back and forth on issues isn't a good bet - "a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways" and all that - but, by golly, what a load of fun it can be, just to change your mind about something.

When we're little kids, and don't know anything, we sort of drink in the world in wide, wild-eyed wonder until our world-view gets cemented in place somewhere (if we're lucky) in our late twenties or thirties. After that, what are you going to do to find that lost sense of wonder you felt as a kid? Your brain is pretty much full, you've thought about most of the stuff you want to think about, and you've settled your curiosity down with some sort of mental model that makes (more or less) sense of everything.

I suppose having kids of your own opens up a new world, and you can begin to experience and learn new things through them. Some vicariously, some just by observing, a lot just by loving the tarnation out of them. Then they grow up.

But enough about that for now, I want to talk about my friend Marvin, who would not eat chicken unless it was a free range chicken. "What the heck is a free range chicken!" I said. "Well," Marv explained, "they're allowed to run around free and peck at seeds and stuff. They aren't forced to live their entire lives in a tiny cage."

"They like it in a cage," I replied. "Free range, ha! Gobble gobble!" And I made fun of Marvin over free range chickens after that.

Believe it or not, there are some people who think the food that you eat can be happy. Or angry. Or scared... ooh! What's our first reaction to that going to be? Oh come on, don't be silly. Food can't be happy or sad or whatever. I mean, we're humans. We're capable of reason and emotion, not like animals. Emotion is just something in your mind, its because we have a soul, not like... chickens. Cluck, cluck! And anyway, it's dead.

Now, kids have no problem with the idea of food being happy or sad. They have, after all, the Happy Meal, complete with bouncy burgers and cheery french fries. They talk to their food. They sometimes wear it. Frequently throw it. And if the food is sad, they'll let you know it.

What is emotion anyway? According to Dr. Candace Pert, formerly Chief of the Section on Brain Biochemistry of the Clinical Neuroscience Branch of the NIMH, emotion is actually an electro-chemical response. It sweeps through the body from head to toe -- literally from our heads, since the neuro-chemicals (called peptides) are regulated in the hypothalamus. These protein chains create the myriad of emotions we're capable of experiencing. And, these neuro-chemical agents "register" by locking into the cells of our body at particular receptor sites. Cells are sensitive to peptides, and when they replicate, Dr. Pert claims, the new cells tend to have more of the receptors that match the peptides to which the original cell has been exposed. The body actually grows accustomed to particular emotional states, not just because we're in habit of being grumpy or happy, but because the cells of our body become addicted to particular peptide chains. Interesting stuff.

This always happens to me.

I was just in the kitchen making my own Happy Meal (organic brown rice, red pepper and brie omelet with organic free range eggs), put the lid on to let it finish on low heat and then peeked in on the computer. While being hypnotically entertained by Oshiri Kajiri Mushi (apparently the latest and greatest craze to hit Japan in 2007) and the mind-bending Mobius Transformations Revealed, I began to notice a stange, organic burnt smell... my omelet! Crap. My $7.99/dozen free range organic bug infested eggs! My Happy Meal turned into Oscar the Grouch! There he is, glaring out of the garbage can.

The second time around was much better. I decided not to leave the kitchen until the whole mission was accomplished, a much better strategy. Anyway, the point of it is, I'm not making fun of my friend Marvin anymore. It's nothing much, but I changed my mind, and instead, I'm sitting here eating free-range eggs, from happy little chickens.

Marv long since moved away anyhow.

Now I'm going to have to run, because I just baked a blueberry pie. I like blueberry pie, and don't think I'll change my mind about that! I even remembered to set the oven timer, and it's beeping just like a big ol' happy organic free range hen.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Routine Variation

Somewhere, a long time ago, I remember reading that an established regular routine is common among people who live very long lives. I also remember an article that talked about altering your regular routine, and how it can inspire new ideas, creativity and a youthful mind.

On Tuesday nights from Fall, through Winter, and through Spring, I would go to the Bells Corners Academy of Music to take piano lessons and play with the Tuesday night jazz ensemble. Parking my car in the lot shared with the Nepean Creative Arts Centre, I'd walk out back behind the building and cross a small wooded lawn to the back lot of a Tim Horton's drive-through. There were hardly ever any walk in customers, and although I never got to know the staff by name, they got used to seeing me pop in on Tuesdays, around 6pm. With my double-double in hand I'd scoot back to BCAM, crossing the pavement, over the lawn on a hint of a footpath, and if I was lucky and the door was slightly ajar, into the back of the large class-room where I had my lessons.

My teacher, Yves, was also a coffee drinker. If I passed by the office on my way to Timmy's, he'd often drop a buck seventy-five in my hand and ask me to pick up one for him. "Medium regular". Same very time.

In the winter, I'd still cross the back lot and pick my way over to Tim's. The light would be fading by the time I got there, but after December, the days got longer. The wooded lawn was covered with snow, and I often saw the footsteps of someone who'd gone there before me. I was pretty sure that would be Yves. Sometimes, when the snow was especially deep, the footsteps would find another way around the wooded lawn. There was the back of a strip-mall to one side, and a narrow, paved border that followed along the wall, which was made of white-painted concrete blocks. For some reason, it never had much snow on it, apparently because it faced the afternoon sun, which warmed the dark, sheltered asphalt. After a little way, the footsteps would appear again, crossing the grassy meridian at a narrower place, steps like post-holes.

I don't know why, but I smiled as I thought of Yves post-holing his way across the snow. Scuttling into the Timmy's drive-through. I pictured him in the windowless office of the Bells Corners Music Academy, poring over music sheets, schedules, and lesson plans, and nursing a medium regular with all the relish of someone who's given up smoking and found a new habit in a hot cuppa joe. It made the cold dash to Timmy's a bit less unpleasant. In fact, I came to look forward to it.

The Bell's Corners Academy of Music was also home to the Nepean chapter of the Sweet Adelaines ladies' chorus on Tuesday nights, who met in the large auditorium adjacent to our classroom. An unfriendlier more self-absorbed gaggle of middle-aged women you would be hard-pressed to find. Religiously dressed in red, and bustling about in the hallways with their big puffy coats, bags full of what-not, and music binders with pokey corners, they formed a veritable gauntlet of "Mrs. Santa-Clauses", as the fellows in the jazz band dubbed them. The jazz band were all men, and we were definitely the minority. We would arrive just as the Sweet Adelaine's were reaching full pre-chorus bustle. Each of us would arrive in the class-room after threading our way down the hallway like a pachinko ball, with a look on our faces somewhere between fear, relief, and hilarity. Its not that the Mrs. Santa-Clauses were hostile, its just as if they have been behaviorally conditioned to completely and totally ignore the presence of a man. Or anybody not dressed in red and wielding a poky binder, for that matter. I doubt that passing through the hallway, dodging one frizzy white-topped red bumper-car after another, we men ever caused more than one or two synapses to fire in the gray depths of their song-addled minds. Same fellows, same jokes, week after week... oh we had endless fun.

Last weekend, I decided, more or less on a whim, to substitute what has become my regular Saturday morning routine of breakfast in the Glebe, with a quiet walk along the river to Old Ottawa South. I'd look for another breakfast spot. I'd go for a coffee afterwards in a different coffee shop. I'd purposely stay away from my regular spots.

What a beautiful day; the walk in the crisp fall air was refreshing. I came across a beautiful and cozy little bistro perched over the sidewalk in the heart of Old Ottawa South with food that was several notches above anything I've had before - the kind of quality you can only find in meals that have been prepared almost lovingly - and only in small, low-traffic well-kept secrets of a joint. Stopped in at the Glebe Meat Market to see if they had any grass-fed organic beef and instead walked out with a frozen bake-at-home strawberry rhubarb pie. Had a coffee in a newly renovated 2nd Cup, a place that brought back lots of memories from visits over the years but which I hadn't been to for ages. On the way home, I dropped in at, of all places, the public library, where I got a card in about 2 minutes flat and went home with a DVD of Keith Jarrett called "The Art of Improvisation". I'd seen it before, but I watched it again anyhow. Ate fresh baked strawberry pie. Felt like I had lifted the lid off a bottomless box of curiosities.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007


I used to jokingly tell people I'm a meatitarian. My attitude has generally been, I like meat. I don't care where it comes from. I don't care how it is raised. Kill it, cook it, eat it.

This book, Diet For A New America, is changing that, however. John Robbins (the heir to the Baskin-Robbins empire who walked away from it all to promote healthy food choices) uncovers study after study in this book that amounts to a mass of scientific research on the effects of diet on our health and on our planet. Robbins also does a good job of making clear how the scientific community has long been battled by the Meat and Dairy Industries, who patently ignore, contradict and criticize the prevalent medical evidence to promote their own sales through misleading advertising, 'educational' campaigns and outright deception.

This book is remarkably impacting. Accoring to Google Books, since its publication in 1987 American consumption of beef has fallen by 19%. Arthritis, MS, diabetes, asthma, cancer and hypertension are but a few of the conditions on which the impact of diet is documented by extensive research.

Here is a distilled version of some of the facts from the well-documented book. Please read it.
  • Number of people worldwide who will die as a result of malnutrition this year: 20 million
  • Number of people who could be adequately fed using land freed if Americans reduced their intake of meat by 10%: 100 million
  • Percentage of corn grown in the U.S. eaten by people: 20
  • Percentage of corn grown in the U.S. eaten by livestock: 80
  • Percentage of oats grown in the U.S. eaten by livestock: 95
  • Percentage of protein wasted by cycling grain through livestock: 90
  • How frequently a child dies as a result of malnutrition: every 2.3 seconds
  • Pounds of potatoes that can be grown on an acre: 40,000
  • Pounds of beef produced on an acre: 250
  • Percentage of U.S. farmland devoted to beef production: 56
  • Pounds of grain and soybeans needed to produce a pound of edible flesh from feedlot beef: 16
  • Cause of global warming: greenhouse effect
  • Primary cause of greenhouse effect: carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels
  • Percentage of greenhouse gases from livestock: 18%
  • Fossil fuels needed to produce meat-centered diet vs. a meat-free diet: 3 times more
  • Percentage of U.S. topsoil lost to date: 75
  • Percentage of U.S. topsoil loss directly related to livestock raising: 85
  • Number of acres of U.S. forest cleared for cropland to produce meat-centered diet: 260 million
  • Amount of meat imported to U.S. annually from Central and South America: 300,000,000 pounds
  • Percentage of Central American children under the age of five who are undernourished: 75
  • Area of tropical rainforest consumed in every quarter-pound of rainforest beef: 55 square feet
  • Current rate of species extinction due to destruction of tropical rainforests for meat grazing and other uses: 1,000 per year
  • Increased risk of breast cancer for women who eat meat daily compared to less than once a week: 3.8 times
  • For women who eat eggs daily compared to once a week: 2.8 times
  • For women who eat butter and cheese 2-4 times a week: 3.25 times
  • Increased risk of fatal ovarian cancer for women who eat eggs 3 or more times a week vs. less than once a week: 3 times
  • Increased risk of fatal prostate cancer for men who consume meat, cheese, eggs and milk daily vs. sparingly or not at all: 3.6 times.
  • Number of U.S. medical schools: 125
  • Number requiring a course in nutrition: 30
  • Nutrition training received by average U.S. physician during four years in medical school: 2.5 hours
  • Most common cause of death in the U.S.: heart attack
  • How frequently a heart attack kills in the U.S.: every 45 seconds
  • Average U.S. man's risk of death from heart attack: 50 percent
  • Risk of average U.S. man who eats no meat: 15 percent
  • Risk of average U.S. man who eats no meat, dairy or eggs: 4 percent
  • Amount you reduce risk of heart attack if you reduce consumption of meat, dairy and eggs by 10 percent: 9 percent
  • Amount you reduce risk of heart attack if you reduce consumption by 50 percent: 45 percent
  • Amount you reduce risk if you eliminate meat, dairy and eggs from your diet: 90 percent
  • Average cholesterol level of people eating meat-centered-diet: 210 mg/dl
  • Chance of dying from heart disease if you are male and your blood cholesterol level is 210 mg/dl: greater than 50 percent
  • User of more than half of all water used for all purposes in the U.S.: livestock production
  • Amount of water used in production of the average cow: sufficient to float a destroyer
  • Gallons of water needed to produce a pound of wheat: 25
  • Gallons of water needed to produce a pound of California beef: 5,000
  • Years the world's known oil reserves would last if every human ate a meat-centered diet: 13
  • Years they would last if human beings no longer ate meat: 260
  • Calories of fossil fuel expended to get 1 calorie of protein from beef: 78
  • To get 1 calorie of protein from soybeans: 2
  • Percentage of all raw materials (base products of farming, forestry and mining, including fossil fuels) consumed by U.S. that is devoted to the production of livestock: 33
  • Percentage of all raw materials consumed by the U.S. needed to produce a complete vegetarian diet: 2
  • Percentage of U.S. antibiotics fed to livestock: 70
  • Percentage of staphylococci infections resistant to penicillin in 1960: 13
  • Percentage resistant in 1988: 91
  • Response of European Economic Community to routine feeding of antibiotics to livestock: ban
  • Response of U.S. meat and pharmaceutical industries to routine feeding of antibiotics to livestock: full and complete support
  • Common belief: U.S. Department of Agriculture protects our health through meat inspection
  • Reality: fewer than 1 out of every 250,000 slaughtered animals is tested for toxic chemical residues
  • Percentage of U.S. mother's milk containing significant levels of DDT: 99
  • Percentage of U.S. vegetarian mother's milk containing significant levels of DDT: 8
  • Contamination of breast milk, due to chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides in animal products, found in meat-eating mothers vs. non-meat eating mothers: 35 times higher
  • Amount of Dieldrin ingested by the average breast-fed American infant: 9 times the permissible level
  • Number of animals killed for meat per hour in the U.S.: 660,000
  • Occupation with highest turnover rate in U.S.: slaughterhouse worker
  • Occupation with highest rate of on-the-job-injury in U.S.: slaughterhouse worker
  • Athlete to win Ironman Triathlon more than twice: Dave Scott (6 time winner)
  • Food choice of Dave Scott: Vegetarian

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Digging a Hole (to China)

When I was a kid, somebody told me that if I dug a hole in the ground deep enough, eventually I would dig all the way to China on the other side of the Earth! I thought about it, but it seemed like it would be an awful lot of work. So instead, I tried to dig a hole big enough for my sister to fall into.

These days it seems like China is doing some digging... digging themselves into an embarrassing hole.

Today Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially met the Dalai Lama, the exiled leader of Tibet. Good for him, and I hope they had a nice chat. The Dalai Lama is a Nobel Peace laureate, was recently awarded the United States Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, is an honorary Citizen of Canada, and has met with countless world religious leaders and heads of state. He has tirelessly campaigned for peace and maintained a pacifist position in the face of brutal political, cultural and religions repression of Tibet by the Chinese government.

China has protested rather loudly. But the world has changed... even in the last decade. It's somehow gotten smaller as people have connected through ever-improving information technology. Information on global issues is now so much more readily accessible. Yet somehow China seems to think we still live in a world where people can be duped by rhetoric. Their officials continue to tout the Party line, protesting and threatening and carrying on like a bunch of autocrats trotting out an old straw horse. It would be funny if it weren't so sad. In the Information Age you can't get away with this and not look pretty silly.

Canada's behaviour disgusting, says Beijing

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Liu Jianchao said the Prime Minister's reception of the Dalai Lama was "gross interference in China's internal affairs", calling the meeting "disgusting conduct" that has "seriously hurt" relations between Canada and China.

I feel embarrassed for Mr Liu. I'm glad I don't have his job... obligated to embarrass myself and country.

Chinese 'childish' for opposing visit

I think the headline from the Toronto Sun accurately sums up the general opinion of the informed Canadian public and most of the rest of the world. Here, for example, are a few comments from the article today:
"Hmmm. let me see, Canada imports 5 times more than they export to China and 95% of it is cheap crap. China needs the natural resources that it imports from Canada to continue making their cheap crap. I don't think China has a really good bargaining position here. Who are they to tell us who we can or can't talk to?" - M.

"We are a free country and we won't let Communists tell us what to do. This is what a democratic country looks like, China. Watch and learn." - N.T.

"China wants all countries to be silent and to silence those who speak on behalf of freedom. They are still a communist country and anybody who does business with China are finding out the practice of free speech is against the law." - S.

"Canada should warn China that dumping toxic fish in Canadian supermarkets [See latest W-Five episode] "could harm relations" as well." - N.

My sister did not fall into the hole that I dug. I wouldn't really have wanted her to fall in a hole, anyway. All in all, the digging was pretty much a waste of time.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Hi. After the last post I got a couple of emails. One was asking about plastic bottles, particularly the Nalgene plastic bottles, and if they're safe for drinking water. So I decided to look into that a bit.

Apparently the colorful, hard plastic Lexan bottles by Nalgene (and other manufacturers) are polycarbonate based and they do leach harmful chemicals into the water, especially if exposed to heat and/or sunlight. These bottles can be identified by a recycling symbol with the number 7.

The disposable plastic water bottles are made from polyethylene teraphthalate (PET) and identified by the recycling symbol 1. They're often marked "do not refill" because they are known to release toxins into the water in increasing levels as they get older. The molecular formula for this compound is (-CO-C6H5-CO-O-CH2-CH2-O-)n, where C6H5 is a benzene ring. Benzene is known to be a carcinogenic substance.

Here are a couple of links for more information:

Then I got an email from a friend who said they were skeptical of the idea that the changes in climate over the last couple of decades are attributable to human activity. At first I was a little bit shocked, but then I realized that this is still a widely-held opinion amongst the general public. Although my friend admitted to not having done any research into it, there were a few reasons why he rejected the idea human impact on the climate. The reasons were mainly about some local 'environmental' bylaws that kept him from doing what he wanted with his waterfront property.

A couple of points were interesting to me.
  • That people who research environmental issues are usually concerned about them because of what they've learned, and people who don't research it usually aren't concerned.
  • That our perceptions of injustices or inconveniences done in the name of environmentalism have often affected our ability to think without bias on the subject.
  • That a lot of my own info comes from going out and digging it up on the web, in books, lectures or presentations -- and that is purely because I don't have television. Seems like most people get their information from the TV, and I wonder if that's healthy. I think this is beginning to change with the younger generation.
So now I have three whole new things to think about and possibly write about, and they're all very interesting! 1. Human Impact on Climate Change 2. Critical Thinking 3. The TV Free lifestyle.

I'm reading a couple of books right now that relate in one way or another, so I hope to get around to commenting on them pretty soon.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, October 15, 2007

One for the Planet

Today, it turns out, is Blog Action Day, where bloggers around the world are encouraged to blog on the environment. And it turns out that as a climber, I have an interest in the environment because of what I've seen in the mountains.

It's easy not to care about the environment. For most of us, environmental issues don't affect our day to day lives. In some places, if you go on about "the environment", people look at you like some kind of kook. Growing up in the 70's, there were lots of environmentalists around making noise, but in general they were treated like a bunch of weirdos. In my upbringing, there was a certain stigma attached to environmental issues. You still encounter this today even in young people. A lot of people just don't want to be worried about the environment.

I just posted a bunch of photos from my last trip to the Canadian Rockies. I started doing technical mountaineering in the Rockies in the mid-90's, starting with Mt. Temple, Mt. Edith, and Mt. Athabasca in 1997. Several years ago I went back to Mt. Athabasca with a group of friends. Although the route was familiar, I was really confused by how much steeper and more difficult the glacier seemed to be. I couldn't be sure if the route itself had changed, or if my memory was incorrect. I just couldn't imagine the mountain environment changing that much.

In recent years my climbing trips to the Rockies have confirmed what a lot of people have been saying... the mountain environment is really changing. The glaciers are melting like crazy, and a lot of the routes we used to climb are now either more difficult, too dangerous, or just plain gone. In this regard, mountaineers have a unique perspective on climate change.



Its not easy to find good photo documentation of glacial recession online (they don't tend to make good marketing material for the tourism industry). But you won't find any mountaineers who doubt global warming, glacial recession, and the drastic changes that are occurring high in the alpine, away from the view of city dwellers. Year after year, as we return to the Rockies, the same phrases... "It's just incredible", or "I can't believe it"... echo around as we stare at the remnants of glaciers and ice fields where only a few years earlier we had led troupes of novice climbers for a beginners day. Ice fields which now even the most experienced climbers in our group wouldn't try to climb.

Seeing these drastic changes first hand really drove home to me that the mountain climate and environment is absolutely changing. The Melting Mountains project aims to raise awareness of changes in the mountain environment. Reinhold Messner put it, “From the changes I have seen, it’s clear that climate change is a huge threat to the mountains. We need to act now and protect them for the future.”

The changing mountain environment impacts a lot more than just the climbing routes of mountaineers. The Columbia Icefields are the hydrographic apex of North America, feeding rivers that run into three oceans. They represent the largest accumulation of snow and ice south of the arctic circle and are a vital source of water for the continent. Unfortunately the rate at which they're disappearing is plain to see if you visit there often enough, and if the current rate of recession continues, the eight major glaciers that extend from this incredible spot could be gone in our lifetime.

This brings me to a more serious and insidious side effect of change in the mountain environment -- water. In some corporate and government circles, water has been referred to as "the new oil". Water shortage is no longer confined to far-away drought-stricken third world countries. And even as news of water shortages and the global water crisis grows, corporations are fighting to gain control of this precious resource that most of us take for granted.

"The wars of the next century will be about water." - Ismail Serageldin, vice president of the World Bank

In a special report entitled "Blue Gold: The global water crisis and the commodification of the world's water supply", issued by the International Forum on Globalization (IFG), Council of Canadians National Chairperson Maude Barlow describes the global water crisis, the push to commodify and commercialize it, and urges governments and citizens to act to save the world's water resources.

More recently, it has been developed into a book entitled Blue Gold - The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World's Water (2003), followed by Blue Covenant - The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water (2007).

Maybe reading books and reports isn't your thing, and you're looking for something simple you can start doing right away. Here it is:

Stop drinking bottled water.

There are so many reasons not to drink bottled water. Even the United Church has called for a ban on bottled water. The Polaris Institute website is a good place to start researching water issues, but here is a list of 7 good reasons to stop drinking bottled water and turn on the tap.
  1. Bottled water costs over six hundred times more than tap water. Bottled water costs up to $11.00 a gallon in the supermarket when most municipal water supplies cost less than one cent per gallon.
  2. Bottled water is not as safe as tap water. Tap water has much stricter quality standards than bottled water.
  3. Bottled water causes pollution. 1.5 million tonnes of garbage results from plastic bottles every year. Between 80 - 90% of water bottles end up in landfills, in the ocean, and in our food. A vast swath of the Pacific, twice the size of Texas, is full of a plastic stew that is entering the food chain.
  4. Bottled water depletes local water resources. Excessive water extraction leads to local water resource depletion. For every gallon of bottled water, two gallons are wasted in the bottling process.
  5. Bottled water is bad for the environment. Plastic water bottle production uses up to 47 million gallons of oil a year, enough to fuel 100,000 cars or remove 1 billion pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
  6. Bottled water is not pure spring water. Much bottled water is nothing more than bottled tap water (ie. Aquafina and Dasani).
  7. Bottled water is bad for your health. Xenoestrogens leached from plastic water bottles are associated with medical problems including infertility and breast cancer (manufacturers know this, so bottles are marked 'Do not refill').
A good alternative to drinking bottled water is to buy a stainless steel bottle to carry tap water. Its versatile, hard-wearing, and it looks good and shows you are in the know. Bottled water is out.

Its a small step we can all take, mountaineers or not.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Take Stock

Well I've uploaded just about everything worth uploading from my summer vacation pictures.

Other than posting pictures, I've been rebuilding my porch. As for sailing, the season is coming to a close and I'm sure I'll be writing about haul-out and winter boat projects soon.

But not before the Turkey Trot! A fun Thanksgiving Day race where the goal is to have everyone cross the finish line at the same time, a boisterous bevy of boaters, booze and ... birds. The winners - however they're chosen - each get a frozen turkey. Gobble gobble!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Going Home

Climbers' silhouettes against Mt. Odaray , Yoho National Park, B.C., Canada

August 2007. Photo by Darren DeRidder.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Fresh Snow

Mt. Hungabee, Yoho National Park, B.C., Canada.

August 2007. Photo by Darren DeRidder.

Monday, October 1, 2007


Climbers on Mt. Odaray, Yoho National Park, B.C., Canada.

August 2007. Photo by Darren DeRidder.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Persistent Pine

Lake O'Hara, Yoho National Park, B.C., Canada.

August 2007. Photo by Darren DeRidder.

Mount Huber

Lake O'Hara and the Huber-Victoria Massif, Yoho National Park, B.C., Canada.

August 2007. Photo by Darren DeRidder.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Lake Oesa, Yoho National Park, B.C., Canada.

August 2007. Photo by Darren DeRidder.

South Ridge

Mt. Victora, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

August 2007. Photo by Darren DeRidder.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Verdant Green

Forest Moss, Yoho National Park, British Columbia, Canada.

August 2007. Photo by Darren DeRidder.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Alpine Air

Lake O'Hara and the peaks of Opabin in morning mist, Yoho National Park, BC, Canada.

August 2007. Photo by Darren DeRidder.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Abbot Pass, Alberta-BC border, Yoho National Park, Canada.

August 2007. Photo by Darren DeRidder.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Hidden Gem

Lake MacArthur and Mount Hungabee, Yoho National Park, Canada.

August 2007. Photo by Darren DeRidder.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Mountain Pass

The Death Trap, Abbot Pass on the Continental Divide, BC and Alberta, Canada.

August 2007. Photo by Darren DeRidder.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Comment Switches

What are comment switches and how to use them? To comment and uncomment certain blocks of code repeatedly, I use what I call a "comment switch", allowing me to switch a block of code on or off with a single character. It looks like this:
printf("I am active!\n");
// */
printf("I am commented out!\n");
// */

Switch between two code blocks with a single character:
printf ("I am active!\n");
printf ("I am commented out!\n");
// */
printf("Now I am commented out!\n");
printf("And I am active!\n");
// */
I recently found a forum posting where a similar comment switch was proposed:
/* */

/* */

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Net Worth

You can find out how much your blog is worth.

My blog is worth $0.00. Wow. That's how much I paid for it.

Speaking of net worth... BYC is talking about installing finger docks. That sounded great, until I found out how they planned to pay for them. They plan to charge every member $5000. Welcome to the club. One would think the avenues of fund raisers, sponsorships, donations and volunteerism ought to be explored. I feel that maintenance and improvements to club property should be done within a budget laid out in BYC's operating plan, but I haven't yet put my two cents in to the Commodore or manager.

Oh, wait... according to Technorati, I haven't got two cents.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Les Saisons

Elizabeth Rutledge is an artist whose work I greatly admire. Her paintings are currently on display at Les Saisons in Old Chelsea, Quebec. There is very little information online about the artist, but a brief description is available at Tour Des Ateliers.

Lake O'Hara.

It is time for an update. I've been away in the Canadian Rockies, spending a week at Lake O'Hara to do mountaineering. In the end, we didn't get to the top of anything other than Mt. Schaffer (in the picture). The weather wasn't great, and the night we spent at the Abbot Pass hut between Mts. Victoria and Lefroy left about two feet of fresh powder snow all over everything; climbing Victoria was out of the question. Ironically it was a lack of snow on Mt. Huber that put us off. Having been on Huber a few times, I decided not to go the last few pitches to the summit. My partners Markus and Marcel attempted it, but found the last section impassable. At least I felt my judgement was confirmed.

Since the climbing trip, Aura has gone out a few times. Unfortunately, one of those times we tore the Genoa. It's now in need of a major repair. I've purchased sail thread, needles, and a leather sail-makers palm (so you don't stab yourself). I'm working up the courage to attempt the repair. My knowledge of sewing is quite limited. Okay, its zero.

Also in the repair department, whilst flying the spinnaker with Jimmy last Tuesday, we went onto a beam reach, swung the pole ahead, and somehow broke the hook on the end of the spinnaker guy. I have no idea how this is possible, but it broke clean off at the swivel, so the sheet is in need of a new hook and what looks like some tricky rope lashing technique to reattach it all. I thought I'd be writing here about major improvements to my boat, but so far it's all been minor upkeep... it's a lot of work! Fortunately, it's also a lot of fun!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

PHRF Racing

No better way to learn a new boat that to race her, I guess. We've been racing Aura for a couple of weeks now. The first trip out was to take a look at the course and try not to hit anybody. A bonus was that we met up with Dwight, skipper of Gabrielle, and his crew out on Lac Duschenes, and gave him a proper rock-star salute. This is a picture of Markus sailing back to harbor after the race.

PHRF is a handicapping system that allows boats of different makes and models to race together, and the faster boats have a "handicap" that causes them to "owe time" to the slower boats... they get a few seconds shaved off their score and when the results are tabulated, its not necessarily the first boat across the line who wins, but the boat with the fastest time after adjusting for the PHRF rating.

Last Tuesday we sailed out and no wind was blowing. We found about six Tanzer 22's all roped up together, however, and decided to pull alongside and raft up. Everyone was sitting around in the late afternoon sun, drinking and having a party, hopping from one boat to the next. One of the fellows came over and gave us some pointers on rigging up the boat to go faster. I took one suggestion and raised the boom gooseneck about six inches to get the sail higher in the air.

On Thursday we had a really good race. We were not the first to cross the line but we were to windward of the other boats and tacked early to beat for the windward mark. All was going great until we came upon the mark and found that we weren't high enough to round it. We went immediately onto a port tack and unfortunately forced the boat behind us to tack as well. Apparently, in that situation you're supposed to jibe and go around the mark again. On the downwind leg, Markus did a perfect spinnaker launch and we sailed well, passing a Shark (slightly smaller sailboat) that seemed to be standing still. As the wind died down more and more, the horn signaled a shortened course, and we limped around the leeward mark for one last tack in the light air. As we came to the finish line we beat out a couple of other, larger boats, much to our surpise.

Tonight we raced PHRF JAM (Jib and Main). No spinnaker. Most of the boats were flying full genoas, but we put up a #1 jib. Initially it was plenty enough sail as the winds were high, but as the race played out, the wind settled right down and left us badly under powered compared to the other boats. We might have opted to change sails mid-race, perhaps on the downwind leg, but we didn't. Anyway, we got a reasonable start, sailed well, made the lay-lines to the marks, and finished the race in the middle of a beautiful sunset and one last puff of warm summer breeze. Can't complain about that!

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Here are a few pictures of Aura. The harbor at BYC has 'Mediterranean' style moorings rather than finger docks. I admit the finger docks at Nepean Sailing Club are really nice. On the other hand, you can put many more boats in the harbor without all the docks. It makes boarding a bit challenging, so I think I'll construct a gangplank of sorts.

This first picture is Aura laying at Britannia Yacht Club. There are a lot of Tanzer 22's at the club, but I think she's one of the nicer looking ones. For a boat that was built in 1979 it's in surprisingly good condition.

The first major project undertaken on Aura was sorting out the electrical system. Although the depth meter was working, almost nothing else was: AM/FM radio, VHF radio, anchor light, running lights or cabin lights. I started by recharging the two 12volt gel batteries and then got first mate Markus in with his soldering iron. Markus set to work on the fuse panel and after some creative soldering we had everything wired and working. In fixing the electrical, we dislodged the depth meter's solenoid, so I bought some Marine Gloozit for sticking it back on the inside of the hull.

The last picture is just a shot of the inside of the cabin showing the am/fm radio, wet locker, and part of the quarter berth that can transform into a small table for two. Definitely cozy in there. A part of the v-berth can also be seen, and the porta-potty stuck underneath. I haven't overnighted on this boat yet, but I expect it to be basically a floating camping trip.

As for sailing, I've been out on Aura quite a lot, starting with some easy day-sails with friends and picnics off Aylmer island, up to a PHRF Jib-and-Main (JAM) race last Thursday. The plan is to race Tuesdays and Thursdays from now through fall, so I'm working on getting a couple race crews together. It's a great boat to sail and the fun factor is way high! I really like this boat.

Monday, June 25, 2007


We went out on Aura on Saturday, and the wind was really blowing. We sailed up to Aylmer Island and anchored for a picnic, and then headed downriver wing-on-wing, blowing down towards BYC with our wake boiling. A dinghy with a 3-man crew went flying past, heeled over on a port tack, and the skipper yelled over to us, "This is AMAZING!!!". Seconds later, we heard a huge BOOM!!! and looked back just in time to see his mast collapse into the water.

Amazing, indeed.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Getting Wet

Aura went in the water on Tuesday morning. On Wednesday evening we stepped the mast and motored over to BYC. She now lays in the inner harbor alongside a bunch of other T22's. BYC has a phenomenal number of these boats.

One burly older guy in the yard strolled past scowling. Club security. A younger guy, happy and friendly, came by to chat about the high water and boat stuff. I suspect there might be a mix of the old guard and yuppies at BYC.

Now, here is a webcam of BYC. Hope it works:

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Today I became a member of the Brittania Yacht Club. It is the oldest yacht club in Canada. This is where Aura will be moored for the summer.

The boat is "on the hard" at Nepean Sailing Club. I'll launch her there and sail her down to Brittania. The cradle she sits on will have to be dismantled and hauled over to the BYC yard by truck.

I like the Brittania club. It has a reputation for being a bit elitist, but I found them to be very friendly and helpful, interested in new members. Thanks to Mark Walton at BYC. If all goes well, I'll keep Aura at the BYC. It's close enough to reach by a pleasant bicycle ride along the canal and river-front pathways.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Gödel, Escher, Bach

In the book Gödel, Escher, Bach: a metaphorical fugue on minds and machines in the spirit of Lewis Carrol, author Douglas Hofstadter refers to great works of logic, art and music as three aspects of a central essence, different expressions flowing from a common source.

It strikes me as interesting that lot of the great hackers are also fairly accomplished musicians, to one degree or another. Quite a few of the engineers I know and respect happen to be quite musically talented. It may not be mere coincidence, either.

Of course there are plenty of good programmers out there who never took up a musical instrument. However, I've begun to see the musician/hackers and the pure technicians differently.

The technician is the person who is fascinated with technology. They actually like complicated things, and figuring out what makes them work. They get a sense of accomplishment from having mastered a particularly difficult piece of software, much like solving a puzzle. They've probably built several computers from spare parts and are constantly upgrading their various electronic gadgets with the latest technology.

On the other hand, Musician/hackers are fascinated with creating things, and see technology as a way to express themselves. They're less likely to be captivated by the latest high-performance video card or Java SDK. Whatever allows them to get to work immediately creating things, and gives them the greatest range of artistic license, is what they like. They don't want to make things that are complex, they want to make things that are elegant.

Technology irks me most of the time, because it tends to be artless. A collection of functionality that is no greater than the sum of its parts. Musician / hackers don't just want to build programs that do things, they want to build programs that do things beautifully. I realized this when I began to notice the similarities between composing music and writing computer programs.

There are cases when the artist is needed. Chances are, the undergrad who just created the latest most-popular web application software is one of these. Unfortunately, there is a downside. Artists, particularly musicians, are hard to get along with. They especially don't get along well with other musicians. This is because they want control over what they see as the creative process. Suppose someone had gone up to Leonardo da Vinci when he was painting the Mona Lisa, and said, "You got the smile crooked!" Or if someone had insisted Bach write his Brandenburg concertos featuring the bagpipes. Can you imagine? Such is the indignation of the musician / hacker when told he must conform to such-and-such a dictum.

Artists work best when there aren't so many people telling them how to create their artwork. As a result, they're more likely to enjoy working alone or in a small group, but they might also be more likely to create something elegant.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Starting Up

I recently made a decision to leave the company where I have been employed for the last 6 years, Bridgewater Systems Corporation, and become a contractor (gasp!) working with a very small group of high-tech entrepreneurs to form a new start-up. Starting a new company can be rather risky, and the golden age of startups in the Ottawa Valley may have passed, but its the sort of opportunity you don't get every day. There are a lot of reasons why I decided to do this, and as I was reading Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham, I began to feel even more like this is the right decision.

Graham gives an example of a galley ship, powered by 1000 rowers. He says there are a couple of factors limiting the speed of the ship. One is that the individual rower isn't going to see any noticeable improvement from working harder. The other is that, on a boat of 1000 rowers, the average rower is likely to be... well, an average rower. If you took 10 rowers and put them in a dinghy, their performance might double, because they'd be able to see the effects of rowing harder. And instead of taking 10 average rowers, if you took 10 of the best rowers, their performance might be 5 times better than average. The problem is when you can't see measurable results from your efforts.

The other thing Graham says is that you need leverage, which means the decisions you make will impact the success or failure of your endeavor. One way to tell if you have leverage is if making the wrong decision could result in a catastrophic failure.

These two things, measurability and leverage, are what Paul Graham says you need to contribute significantly to the wealth of society. And starting or working for a startup is how you get them.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Welcome Aboard

Last Thursday I went down to the Nepean Sailing Club to look at a boat. A fellow drove up and hollered through the passenger window "Do you want to buy a boat?" -- the owner of the Tanzer 22 I was about to see. The boat was high and dry in the yard and we spent about an hour poking around. Her name is "Aura" and she was built in 1979.

The bottom paint is blistered and peeling and theres a crumbly seam between the keel and the hull that needs to be faired up. The gel-coat is gouged along the gunwales and crazed around some of the fittings, but the teak has been all nicely refinished topside. There was a little water in the bilge and hints of rust from the keel bolts, but it looked treatable. The electrical system is a bit of a dogs breakfast, but there are only running lights and a radio to re-wire. There are four sails that look in good shape, including an older spinnaker, and a 9hp Mercury 4-stroke outboard motor.

All in all a nice boat, and Ottawa has one of the biggest T22 fleets anywhere. The community is very active with lots of racing opportunities and people to share information with.

So I made an offer that took into account the amount of work I figured was needed and... long story short, I'm buying my first sailboat this week.

Productivity and Note-taking

I told a friend of mine that I wasn't really happy with the amount of time that gets taken up by Slack and "communication and sched...