What We Have is a Failure to Communicate!

It is 5:32 AM and you are woken by your spouse. They are shaking you and in distress. They are strangely quiet. Even in the half light of early morning their face looks strange and you realize only strange sounds are coming from their mouth — slurred sounds.

As your own mind wakes to full alertness one word bursts into it — “Stroke!”

Please Listen For Dial Tone

Please Listen For Dial Tone (Photo credit: Tweygant)

Trying to calm your spouse you reach to the phone at your bedside and as you try to dial those three digits you never hoped to dial for your family you realize… 911! No Dial Tone! Frantically you check the cords. Everything is plugged in. You rush to the phone in the kitchen, the older one that isn’t cordless and doesn’t have a plug in power adapter. Not only is there no dial tone, there is no light on the dial, and it is strangely dead to your ear. Normally there is a faint echo of your breath.

Luckily you have a cellphone charging on the counter and you can call for an ambulance. You give the operator your address describe the problem and while trying to explain why you aren’t using your regular phone they explain that you aren’t the first — Someone has ripped out a chunk of phone line and stolen it during the night rendering a whole suburban neighbourhood without telephone or internet service. Cable theft

It is something that perhaps you might have expect out in the country but this is something happening in the city and though perhaps you, your friends, your parents, grandparents and aunt Sue have cellphones, many people don’t. These sorts of thefts are becoming more common. Thefts from constructions sites of copper piping and household wiring as well as other metal household components — all sold for scrap metal prices to scrap yards. Recently a whole block in Vancouver had the front garden gates stolen at night as residents slept! At another time extreme damage was done to a charity when water pipe was stolen resulting in flooding and water damage to the offices and stored supplies.

A heap of scrap metal.

A heap of scrap metal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, when telephone lines are cut to a subdivision, then lives are immediately at stake. No telephone means no protection by Fire, Police, or Ambulance. No paramedics will be coming to resuscitate heart attack victims, no utility company to come for a downed power-line — though the utility company would probably notice through other means.

A few times a year now, we hear of someone found electrocuted when they tried stealing metal at a power station — unsuccessfully. Sometimes they are successful of course.

In the “wild west” they used to hang horse thieves. The reason for that extreme form of punishment was that to steal a man’s horse could too often mean that you were stranding them under circumstance that could lead to their death. Perhaps metal theft, in particular theft of power lines, telephone lines, or other utility equipment that renders that utility inoperable should have a commensurate penalty to the potential loss — that being endangerment of human life. I am not speaking of the inconvenience of not being able to surf the web or gossip with your neighbour or watching TV, but being denied access to emergency services.

Something has to be done.

We might start with increased penalties to repel crime and perhaps prohibit the buying and selling of scrap metal except by licensed tradespeople. Increased penalties might deter some, but licensing mostly only deters the honest person and is a complication for the honest trades-person — like a truck mechanic trying to dispose of worn out brake drums once or twice a year.

Still… when the phone falls silent, even in the City of Surrey, the second largest city in British Columbia

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A Step Back

Ford E-Series photographed in New Westminster,...

Ford E-Series photographed in New Westminster, British Coumbia, Canada. Category:Ford E-Series busesCategory:TransLink (British Columbia) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

British Columbia’s Metro Vancouver public transit system is run by Translink; and they announced recently, that they are going to scrap a system by which people entitled to “HandyDART” access — which is a door-to-door minibus service that seniors and disabled folks can book — can  buy coupons to pay for 50% of taxi fares to supplement the service.


HandyDART (Photo credit: paulkimo90)

Translink feels that improvements to the HandyDART service — increasing it to 18 hours a day which includes evening until midnight — as well as the fact that nearly all public transit buses as well as other modes of transit are “accessible”, renders the TaxiSaver program unnecessary. The money saved by scrapping the program will be used to increase usage of taxis used to supplement the HandyDART service. Taxis are used when HandyDART vans aren’t available and using a taxi won’t compromise client care.

They expect to save $1.1 Million over the next 3 years and will be reinvesting $200,000 into the supplementary taxi service. (Facts from The Vancouver Courier)

Columbia Station

Columbia Station (Photo credit: DennisSylvesterHurd)

This might seem reasonable at first. A person in a wheelchair or using a walker can book a ride on the HandyDART to travel from doorstep to doorstep with an attendant for the price of bus-fare basically. They also can ride any transit bus and all the elevated rapid transit trains — SkyTrain — or cross harbour passenger ferry — Seabus — or the commuter rail — West Coast Express — as they are all “accessable” now. Of course I guess taxis are still an option, though at full price.

English: SeaBus crossing Burrard Inlet. ‪中文(繁體...

English: SeaBus crossing Burrard Inlet. ‪中文(繁體)‬: 海上巴士橫渡布勒内灣。 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the other hand…

As I am led to understand, you can only take the bag or two you can carry when on the HandyDART. On public transit of course you might take a two wheeled grocery cart, if you can manage it with your wheelchair, mobility scooter, walker, or cane. Mind you, There is limited space on those accessible buses for scooters and chairs … and strollers, walkers… and once those are taken, there is no more room. The buses I take often have those spots filled. A driver might not take on someone with a grocery cart when someone on board has a baby stroller.

English: TransLink West Coast Express trains a...

English: TransLink West Coast Express trains at Waterfront Station in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even then, a person can only put so much in a two wheeled grocery cart. When you take a taxi you might do two or three weeks grocery shopping. That means only one trip every two or three weeks which makes a difference to a person who can’t get out much.When you are taking the bus things just might not work out — you might not be able to get from here to there.

For instance, you might walk 250 metres to the bus stop and take a bus 500 metres before transferring to another bus. which will take you 1 or 2 more km to where you get off and walk another 250 or so metres to the store. Then you still have to get the groceries before reversing the process on transit — With the groceries in that two wheeled cart. Of course since you can only get 1 week of groceries — if you can fit in a weeks worth or carry that much — you have to do it again each week. This is not so easy when to start with you have health issues and probably stamina issues.

TransLink Bus

TransLink Bus (Photo credit: nathanpachal)

The HandyDART won’t allow you to take enough on to do your groceries You also can’t bring other larger purchases that might fit into a cab. Public transit also just won’t work for many due to stamina issues and the complexity of handling a cart or grocery bags on a bus. Taxis are expensive and the TaxiSavers helped a lot. What else is there really?

Then there is the issue of needing to book the HandyDART in advance. Some things are just not bookable. Also from what I hear, people are unable to book rides because HandyDART is overbooked already. Perhaps the influx of more money might help, but then also there will be more need.

The TaxiSavers only paid half of the Cab-fare. The client paid the other half — so I figure it likely wasn’t abused.

Removing it seems a step back.

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Are YOU Prepared for Big Brother?

Big Brother 1984So, are you prepared for Big Brother?

I’m not referring to any conspiracy theory or any TV reality show. I am considering things I have seen in the news and in science magazines and on the web. While some of the things are speculation, or were speculation 25 or 30 years ago, many are happening now.

That sounds like the start of a conspiracy theory type article — I am sure. However, even as I write, the Province of British Columbia, Canada is in the process of swapping out  the decades old analogue electrical metres from domestic households to replace them with new electronic digital ones.

These digital metres have been very controversial. There are the factions who are against the increase in microwave background — the metres use WiFi to send and receive information to the electrical power company on power usage in the household a number of times a day. (Even a number of times an hour.) While with my education in electronic engineering, electronic communications, and Animal Biology I have concerns over the general increase in microwave radiation in our environment — I am not overly concerned over the metres from this environmental point-of-view. I’m more concerned about overuse of cell phones, personally. My concern has to do with intimate personal monitoring of the usage of electrical power.

This monitoring is in part — they say — to help do things like catch electricity theft, quickly respond to power outages and developing safety issues in the power system. Officially BC Hydro says:

Once smart meters are  fully operational they will:

  • Help get the lights back on faster during  power outages;
  • Keep rates low by helping BC Hydro operate more efficiently  and help to reduce  wasted electricity
  • Provide customers with new tools to conserve energy and money.

BC Hydro – Media Centre , “BC Hydro Smart Metering update” May 4th, 2012

Advanced Metering Infastructure meter

Advanced Metering Infastructure meter

Part of the conservation is encouraging people avoid using power during “peak hours”. Also to be aware of “power vampires” — ie items that drain power even when apparently turned off.

Being aware of your power usages does sound wise. Having the utility company too aware of every Milliwatt of electricity I use bothers me a bit. With a bit of logic they’d almost be able to tell if I were home or cooking or when I went to bed, turned my computer on or off, my TV…

Water metres are very sophisticated too. From one metre on the outside of your house they can tell which faucet or fixture is being used for how long. Combine this with other smart metres available and inherent abilities to monitor such things as telephone and cellphone usage and Internet usage or even cable/telephone/Internet TV usage… we are or will be “very” monitored soon.

surveillance-camerasWe are already visually recorded many times a day whenever we go out. Our picture is taken when we go into the bank or past any automatic bank machine — at least when we use them. While there are some shops that have fake cameras, the video surveillance is now so cheap that perhaps fake cameras are more expensive. Even without actual public surveillance cameras our images are caught by “Red Light Surveillance” cameras and where they exist Radar Cameras. We also are caught on the many “Traffic Cams”.

Recycling?Those things are not conspiracy fodder or “things to come”. Nor are cameras mounted on “garbage” trucks which record the material dumped from rubbish bins at each house to enforce recycling bylaws by recording if there is an excessive amount of recyclables going into the trash waste stream. Those cameras keep track of the address each bin’s contents come from and while they don’t audit every piece of garbage, they do take a video of all the trash going into the truck. I wonder how long that information is kept for?

Ten or more years ago people were proposing that smokers be charged more for health insurance than others. That sounded almost fair until a friend pointed out that if that was fair, then it should also mean that people who skied should pay more and people who did anything to excess should  be charged more as well. Along those lines, there is a movement that parents of obese children should have them removed on the theory that they are unfit parents.

Where does Big Brother come into this? A “smart toilet” might be able to tell many things to do about your health. That smart toilet combined with monitoring a person or family’s purchases might give health officials a very intimate view on a person’s lifestyle. Are you getting enough fibre? Too much fat?

When I recently was asking the pharmacist at the local area pharmacy (it just happens to be in a major grocery chain, but it is “my” local pharmacy) about the wisdom of a particular product on the shelves and if it would interact with my prescription medications — after checking my records and the medications I was on he gave me my answer. The answer included a tidbit of information I didn’t know. The pharmacist also knew what over-the-counter medications I purchased! Granted, in this case I am pleasantly surprised. The pharmacy record of my medications is available to emergency service providers and hospitals. Whether I am coherent or not when I reach an ER they will know what medications I am on.

But it is in part what got me thinking about this whole “Big Brother” issue.

I do watch what I eat. I’m diabetic an have a few other issues. I a lucky… a fluke of genetics perhaps …and have low cholesterol and low-normal blood pressure. I even have had a carotid Doppler and among other things they discovered that I have little or no plaque in my arteries and veins. That doesn’t mean I am in perfect health. Though I have never smoked and rarely drink, I was quite heavy and though I have lost 50 Kg or more I could stand to lose more.

But, I do sometimes like to have “Hint of Lime” Taco Chips with low fat sour cream. I also like to sometimes have a square or two of unsweetened semi-sweet baking chocolate. (The sort you buy in the baking section.) I also keep some regular Pop on hand for when I feel down. What of a time when there might be “smart fridges” or “smart cupboards” that will record what comes and goes through their doors based on the bar-codes?

I know a few people who live lives that are nearly that structured already. Their lives are measured and weighed. Every “movement” every morsel… unless they go out …is recorded and every time they go out of course is recorded. Even when they go out, “it all comes out in the end.” They have few choices in their lives. I know that most people would like more choice, but have to punch a time-clock — literal or not.

But when the time-clock becomes automatic and as non-invasive as it is invasive, will life ever be the same. Non-invasive, as in we won’t have to write anything down or punch anything; but invasive as in, it will pervade every intimate detail of our life.

Some people argue that if you have nothing to hide, you should have nothing to worry about. But do you want to worry about how everything looks? What if the author of that book you picked up on the shelf is unsavoury? Perhaps you didn’t recognize the author or what they stood for — but the person looking over your video feed might. Is your garbage pristine? Do you want someone knowing if you “do it” with the lights on? If you are unmarried and are “doing it” or if it is with someone of the same sex? Perhaps it might provide an alibi when you tell the judge were at home alone.

Big Brother 1984Perhaps we should stop saying “Big Brother” and start saying “Santa Claus”?

He knows when you are sleeping,
He knows when you’re awake!
He knows when you’ve been naughty!
So be Good!
For Goodness Sake!

But I like Santa. :-(

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An Artistic Crunch! Big Bang?

Indika Ball PenI think we are coming to an “Artistic Crunch” or perhaps “Big Bang”?

When you consider the options open to budding authors and writers, singers and song writers, animators and film producers, and even software developers — there are so many venues that a person really has to either shine like a super-nova or be incredibly lucky to be successful in this new age.

When i entered my teen years, I could look at the school library — which was fairly decent — and reasonably decide to read every science-fiction book in the library. There simply were not that many science-fiction authors around — including classical ones. I was a bit in the dark regarding the genre of fantasy or horror. Now, not only are there whole sections in bookstores and even whole bookstores which cater the fantasy, science-fiction, and other speculative fiction, but so many new books and authors come out that I know I don’t recognize many.

With the Internet, there are very many more options for creative endeavours and these are not just fiction and art. There are whole periodical news sites and reference sites and quite professionally done. In fact it can be difficult sometimes to tell the fake from the real — the well researched from the off the cuff flights of fancy. Musicians and film makers have so many ways they can express themselves they can easily get lost and even gems can get lost with oly one or two viewers or people as an audience.

Even while major publishers and retailers are having problems adapting to this electronic age, they also have a glut of material to select from. There are also very many talented people desperate to be read or heard that they are nearly giving their material away for pennies.

The time where the Internet may have made it easy for an artist to come out into the open — I think — are gone. Now it is a new struggle to be noted. At least there is plenty of space to practice practice practice.

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Siege Warfare in the 21st Century

colchesterWho cares about them, they’re only peasants!

When two great forces fought in the dark ages, often it came down to “siege warfare” — where one side or the other or more rarely both would hold up in their fortress and lob stones at each other. They’d wage a war of attrition. The people within the walls living on what supplies they had brought or stored within and what water they might have access too. The people without the walls living off the land which perhaps had been put to the torch by the castle defenders before they closed their gates.

You might wonder where I am going with this short history lesson — we have modern sieges happening all the time around us. Two opponents digging in their heals and waiting for the other side to break… or to break the other side. In the meantime, in the once fertile valley between the fortresses are the peasant farmers — now unable to farm due to the armies trodding upon their fields or burning them. The warring armies often paying lips service that they are doing it all for “the country” “the Crown” “the people” “for God” or some lofty purpose are mostly doing it for themselves in the end, but the people paying for it are the peasant farmers, slowly losing their livelihoods and slowly starving.

ARUNDEL CASTLE SIEGE AND GARDEN (2)Who are the warring armies? Who are the peasants? They aren’t distant armies or nations or starving rabble. I am talking about government and public service workers. I am not talking about whether the workers have a right to bargain or negotiate. I am not talking about whether the government in power has the obligation or right to protect the public interest in the negotiations or whether they are making wise decisions in their budgets. I am talking about the peasants being treaded upon in the meantime with the posturing and the siege warfare while all the so called bargaining and negotiation doesn’t happen.

It is very rough when education is the battlefield of choice. Teachers, or whichever public sector involving the education system happens to be in dispute with government may have legitimate reason for complaint. Government also most likely is having a tough time balancing the budget with many hands grasping for money for shrinking funds and growing needs. But, though in the long run these arguments must play out and solutions must be found, students “live in the now”. I don’t mean that they don’t plan for the future or that they fiddle and play rather than work. Rather, that each year is important.

When I was in my graduating year — grade 12 for me, the year before starting university — there was a “janitor’s strike”. which lasted for a good chunk of the school year. They did keep the schools open for most of that year. I did graduate. But I know many students were hurt by the shortened half days of classes, the loss of any non-class activities that might take place on school grounds. There was also destruction caused by increased vandalism due to many who thought it might be interesting to either accelerate things or perhaps get a day off.

However, I don’t know if it hurt my own education.

I don’t know if it hurt my own education because, I only took Grade 12 once.

ARUNDEL CASTLE SIEGE AND GARDENMost children only take each grade in school once. Even those who might repeat a grade still are only taking that year uniquely and the year they repeat is unique unto itself and taking it a year older is very different from the previous year.

Each year to a young student is important and a priority to that student.

So, “working to rule” and cutting back on non-essential activities really do change the lives of the students in school. The peasants are having their fields stomped on. Perhaps they might still take in their crops. The the crops will have some degree of damage.

True, teachers might be fighting for limits to class size and similar things “for the students”. But, that is for students to come and harming students that are here. Even parents are another army on the field. One of the first things I heard when schools were to be closed for a week was “What will I do about daycare?” — not “How is this effecting my child’s education?” It isn’t every parent or all the time, I am sure, but it was the first thing out of all of the parents’ mouths when asked for comment on the news. I know that daycare is important. But.. although finances are important, shouldn’t the first question be about the child.

Perhaps I am too harsh there as looking out for the well being of the child and worrying about where they will be cared for is important. But it did rub me a bit wrong the way the parents worded it — the wording felt like they were looking at how it inconvenienced them, not their children.

I don’t know the solution. The naive solution was mediation. But, that doesn’t work when both sides pull into their castle and close the drawbridge. IE. Neither side is willing for any compromise.

The only thing I can see is, sadly, looking at the rights of the students first. Saying, “When election time comes, you can encourage the voting population to vote for another party. For now you have to keep teaching those we have entrusted to you.”

Or are there other solution?

colchesterI come from a family of educators with  3 school principals and 3 or more additional teachers numbered among close relatives, not to mention perhaps a half dozen more who have been to teacher’s college. In arguments on whether teachers are overpaid, I normally take the side that they are not overpaid.

But, I feel that the fields are being trampled into the earth and the peasants are starting to hunger.