A week after Sandy

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It’s been a week since Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast. Some friends in NY are still without power, some still flooded, last I heard.

This has been one of the first times it seems like most people are willing to admit the effects of climate change. This article has some good quotes: It’s Global Warming, Stupid

“Would this kind of storm happen without climate change? Yes. Fueled by many factors. Is storm stronger because of climate change? Yes.”

And

“We can’t say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, but steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther. Now we have weather on steroids.”

After a month with an iPad

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As I’ve mentioned here many times before, I’ve been an iPhone user for several years. When the iPad was released 2.5 years ago, I wanted one of course, being a geek. But, I couldn’t convince myself what I’d use it for. Questions like “couldn’t I do that with one of our laptops?” kept bugging me.

I made a first step into tablets with a Playbook. For $99 I couldn’t pass that up. I did like the Playbook; the OS is very slick and it’s good as a media consumption device. But, using it helped me figure out what I was really looking for.

All of my computers are currently work-related and I figured out I needed something to help me step away from work at night. I didn’t really want another laptop, so I was trying to use the tablet to fill that hole, as a laptop replacement. The Playbook ended up falling short on this, for a few reasons

First, the 7″ screen made it feel too small for anything but media consumption. I didn’t feel compelled to grab the Playbook over my iPhone for most things. 7″ is great for videos and ebooks.

Second, the apps just aren’t there yet for the Playbook. There are lots of great apps, but when looking for a laptop replacement it’s hard to be satisfied with less knowing the iPad has much more. Also, notable omissions like Skype and Kindle are frustrating.

Anyways, I finally made the leap to a new iPad. Wow. It really is as good as everyone says. It’s a joy to use, I’ve switched to doing almost all my web browsing on it because the screen is beautiful and it somehow feels more satisfying to touch a webpage compared to a mouse.

Also, it really does feel like an iPhone with a bigger screen. I remember some people saying this as a joke when it first came out, but I think this is ideal. The iPhone feels incredibly powerful yet constrained by the screen, so this is perfect. My dream would be an iPhone that can slide into an iPad-like shell and instantly get a bigger screen, but that’s another matter.

Armchair quarterbacks

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Everyone obviously has an opinion about the iPhone 5, but sometimes it’s just funny to read. Here’s one (from the obviously well-respected Woz, but still): Arrogant Apple should build a bigger phone. Hm, funny to call a developer arrogant for building the “wrong thing”, when said thing will be the best selling thing to date.

Justin Trudeau as a Prime Minister?

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I have no idea what to think of this yet. I plan to read up on his opinions over the next while.

All I know so far is that he’s already brought energy to the very boring political scene. All else being equal I would normally tend to lean towards a Liberal vote, although this hasn’t been true the last few times out. I want to be excited about someone, whoever that ends up being.

Banking sick days and public sector unions

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I’ve written previously about the idea of banking sick days, and getting a payout for them later.  Now the Ontario government has passed Bill 115, which “freezes their wages, bans strikes for two years and ends their ability to bank sick days” for teachers.

I don’t agree at all with banning strikes, I’m not sure on the wage freeze in that I’d normally be opposed to it but I’m not clear on all the details of why they think it’s needed, but I’m pretty OK with ending the banking of sick days.

I have discussed this with teachers and I know part of the reasoning for banking is because teachers get so few official sick days, so they can basically bank up some equivalent of short term disability.  That’s fine, and banking seems reasonable for that purpose.  But banking sick days and getting paid out for them later seems ludicrous to me.  These are sick days, not vacation days.  They are supposed to be used when needed, they’re not an entitlement.  How did anyone first have the idea “Hey, I didn’t get sick as much as I’m allowed to this year, that means I get a fat paycheck!”

On another interesting note, I read some discussion about how unions can’t work very effectively in the public sector.  The argument being that in the private sector, the company has a huge incentive to settle immediately because their production stops and are losing money.  In the public sector, taxes are still coming in, and the government has little incentive to settle.  In fact, the longer they wait, the angrier people get at the union.  And now, even further, it’s becoming common practice for governments to just legislate an end to the strike.  So, it’s always a win-win for the government.

I think there’s some truth to this, but I’m not sure what a solution is.  Maybe we should get tax rebates to compensate us for lost services while there’s a public union strike?  At least that way the government has a penalty.  I’m not sure if public workers still get paid while on strike, but if they don’t, then at least both sides have an incentive to settle early.

Global warming in 30s

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This video has been floating around: VIDEO: The Warming World in Less Than 30 Seconds.

Alright, here’s what I don’t get: let’s say someone hasn’t believed all the evidence so far that human activity is having a major effect on climate.  They claim “it’s natural climate variation.”  Ok, we all know that large global shifts in climate happen over long periods of time.  How can you look at that video, which covers only 130 years (a blink of an eye in planetary terms), and not at least suspect that human emission of greenhouse gases is a possible cause?

Is WiFi harmful? More junk science

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I just had to purchase a new WiFi router for home, so the safety of wireless signals was in the back of my mind recently again.  Not in that I am terribly concerned, but since there’s no “conclusive” answer yet I do tend to use wired Ethernet when possible/convenient, just to be safe.  For example, now that the router is much faster, I was considering whether to switch our Boxee Box (media center) to WiFi and get rid of the ugly network cable running across the floor.

Anyway, I’ve previously written about my frustration with the literature on cell phones and radiation many times, and the quick little search I did for WiFi was no different.  I really am willing to believe the majority of scientific evidence that non-ionizing radiation has shown no harmful effect to humans, but do have the slightest pause because of the small, but persistent, claims of counter evidence.

But, it’s stuff like this that drives me crazy, from article Is Wifi Safe?, a quote from a professor and supposed expert on the subject:

“I read a heck of a lot of research, and it does show that some people have electrosensitivity to this frequency. We are about to publish a study that is not statistically relevant but nevertheless shows that some people are irrefutably affected by this frequency.”

The bold highlight is mine.

A few problems with this:

  • WHY THE HELL ARE YOU PUBLISHING A STUDY THAT’S NOT STATISTICALLY RELEVANT???????   (Sorry for the all-caps, but I really do want to scream that)
  • How can you possibly claim that someone is irrefutably affected by something when your sample size is admittedly so small that it’s not relevant?  Some of the major studies have found small statistical correlation to feeling unwell around WiFi, but they concluded it was likely psychosomatic.
  • What’s the point of publishing a study that’s not relevant?  I have to assume there’s an agenda and an attempt to scare people.  Many people will infer a level of authority as soon as they hear “study”, and I’m sure this person won’t always introduce their study as “I have done a study on the safety of Wifi, although it wasn’t statistically relevant.”

So, my quest for real data on WiFi safety left me in the same place I started, I guess.  WiFi does concern me less than cell signals just because of the lower signal power.

The mass murderer in Norway gets 21 years in prison

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Anders Behring Breivik: Norway court finds him sane

And my first reaction was “only 21 years for killing 77 people?!?!?!”  But, this made me feel a bit better:

“He was convicted of terrorism and premeditated murder, and given the maximum sentence of 21 years’ imprisonment.

However, that can be prolonged at a later date if he is deemed to remain a danger to society.”

Which made me curious if we have something similar to the “can be prolonged” part in Canada.  Defining maximum sentences is mostly a good  thing, but there are extreme cases, like this, where they fail.

This Rob Ford sideshow is becoming embarassing

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The latest: Police to Mayor Rob Ford: ‘Please get a driver’.

I guess it’s always been kind of embarrassing, but it was still funny, in the way that you hope those who voted for him are now mortified and won’t repeat their mistake.  There have now been enough instances of road rage, physically threatening people, and now illegal driving, that it’s crossed into “definitely embarrassing.”  Our public officials, especially those singularly elected to the highest offices, should be positive examples for people.  This guy definitely does not seem to be.

Musicians still don’t understand how the internet works

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… and it’s still not made of tubes, either: Pete Townshend and Brian May attack Google over piracy.

A search engine indexes the web.  The web is generally an open space, where people can put up whatever they want (not that they necessarily should).  Forcing search engines to block sites is censorship, which will always be harmful to the web, because the easier it is to censor things, the more it will be abused.

Now, digital piracy isn’t an easy problem to solve, by any means, but one thing we know is that censorship isn’t a solution.  The sites that provide the content can move around at will.  Look at the long-running saga with the Pirate Bay, which governments have tried to censor, attempted legal action and tried to shutdown the servers.  Yet, the site is still there, and we’ve also heard that attempts at censorship have actually increased traffic to the site.  And that’s an attempt to shutdown an entire site, which is arguably easier than trying to censor individual links out of the billions on the web in a search engine.

What’s the answer?  No idea, because first of all we need to figure out just how bad piracy is, given that society mostly considers it a moral grey area.

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