Sunday, February 02, 2020

How would you live if you really cared about the environment and climate?

I don't remember the trail of breadcrumbs that led to it, but I recently found myself watching a YouTube video of a Millennial lifestyle influencer type who was about to show her audience how she made her dinner.

Par for the course with lifestyle influencers.

The thing that stood out for me was the profuse apology for having brought home the groceries for said dinner in a single-use plastic bag. There was a rational explanation, she assured.

Nothing was said of the stream of single-use plastic clamshell fruit and vegetable packaging that emerged from said plastic bags, nor of a subsequent video of weekend trip by plane to British Columbia (a trip of over 4000km).

It's been in the back of my mind for years that the people that are highly vocal professionally about their concern for the environment and climate don't seem to be doing very much in their own lives to suggest that they really do take it seriously.

It has for some time been my thinking that healing a sick planet is not so much about doing more, but doing less.

And so I think that if I really cared about the issue to the extent that I was moved to do something about it, I would:

  • Not use the car, except where there was no real alternative. Electric cars are not a solution.
  • Live closer to work. Or at least live closer to a transit hub.
  • Forego or reduce certain things that require the use of a car because of my poor choice about where to live.
  • Not use a gym. There are plenty of things that need doing that can be done as exercise - including walking / biking / running to places that don't need to be driven to.
  • Work from home to the extent that it will not be a disruption (certain type of work is done better in the office). Not only does this save money and energy, but it frees up transit spaces on crowded transit for people that can't.
  • No more long-distance vacations. Planes especially are out. Cruises even more so.
  • Avoid the use of hydrated products where dehydrated products are as good or better (for example: bar soap and not body wash; ultra-concentrated laundry products; dried beans and not cooked/canned beans). The packaging is wasteful and it's more wasteful to produce and ship the products.
  • Look at things more as an issue of waste and less as a business proposition. For example: it's not better to buy the thing that will need replacing 5 times over the one that will never need replacing just because I could buy 5 of one for the cost of 1 of the other. It's not just about my personal bank account, and I don't need to "get my money's worth" from municipal waste services.
  • Resist "events". The amount of garbage that comes from organized events is astounding.
  • Resist useless additives. Fabric softener, air fresheners, scents, and dyes, for example.
  • Reusable produce bags? How about no produce bags?
  • Air-dry laundry. This is a no-brainer. It's very energy-intensive to dry anything with stored energy. In the summer things hung outside dry quickly outside with free energy from the sun; in the winter, things still dry quickly because the indoor air is so relatively dry and provides much needed humidity.
  • Leave time to care, stay informed, and reflect. Busy lives are sometimes necessary but often self-inflicted and they leave you in a daze. It might be worth it to you if you are making lots of money from doing it, but there's a cost to everyone else in the form of the above.
  • Remind myself that the cumulative effect of making small changes is significant. I usually think back to a previous post previous post to remind myself of this.
  • Remind myself that every single dirty industry exists to provide me as a "consumer" at the end of a chain with goods and services that I buy. There's a dirty industry out there to produce the twist ties that hold together the cord on your new kitchen gadget of questionable utility. You can't buy your way out of this problem - only do and buy less.
There are so many other things. This is a place to start. I am doing well at some of these things. Some I have regressed, and some I have earmarked to deal with on a certain timescale. This is my biased list and I'm sure others have their own.

Aside, I am less concerned about the energy consumption of data centres and digital services. To be sure, there is a lot of waste and needless digital activity out there (I shudder to think how many resources are diverted to keeping online and backing up near-identical photos of the CN Tower in the cloud, for example - to name just one world landmark). However, think of what data centres offset:
  • Manufacture, storage, and distribution of video material on plastic. Trips to the movie rental store to buy/rent.
  • Manufacture, storage, and distribution of paper books, newspapers, and magazines. Trips to the library to borrow them.
  • Trips to the bank.
  • Paper statements and the paper they are printed on (by a very dirty paper industry)
  • Postal mail and the paper it is printed on.
  • Plastic bags to carry all of the above.
All of the above were essentially dependent on harvesting natural resources and transforming/delivering them using fossil fuels. It is now possible to replace them with digital distribution powered by electricity that in theory could be renewable. Isn't that the dream?

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Selectively angry about having to use self-checkouts

People are quite selective about where they get offended on this one.

Self-checkout for gasoline is apparently fine. I seldom hear people clamouring for a return of the full-service gas station.

Having someone pick, box, process payment, and deliver your stuff is in a near-sweatshop type of operation is apparently fine (i.e. Amazon).

And so is pushing your cart around a large supermarket to pick out your own groceries rather than going to a counter of a general or department store and telling someone what you want, as would have been done prior to the evolution of the self-serve supermarket.

But what's not on is to make you use a computer to check out and pay for groceries you've picked out yourself.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Halifax, Nova Scotia - 14 photos

Fourteen photos from my recent trip to Halifax and Taylor Head Provincial Park in Nova Scotia.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Facebook's uncanny ability to convert information into aggravation

There's a lot said about Facebook and its negative effect on mental health.

While I generally resist the whole effort to drum up sympathy, benefit of the doubt, or funding, by classifying everything under the sun as a mental health issue, I do observe the following about my own experience:

  • Almost everything is designed to make an impression or provoke a reaction. There's very little that is designed to inform or educate.

  • Some news sources over-represent crime stories. Some are trivial crime stories but the overall tone is negatively-leading and foreboding. I don't know if this is driven by a decline in serious local news reporting, police wanting to use social media to get the word out, or both, but it leaves an impression that society is becoming a worse place in general and it's an impression that noticeably peaked after following certain local news sources.

  • I like backcountry camping. I joined a backcountry camping group. What do I see? People trampling over the backcountry (sometimes quite proudly). People enquiring about how they may better trample. Interest in trampling on unregulated land. Trucks loaded up with gear whose noise and smell somehow traverse my computer screen. Technology brought into the backcountry to document the trampling. The occasional decent photo that in no way does justice to the experience, just like the cameras block my view at the last concert I went to. And somehow it occupies a less peaceful place in my mind than it used to and makes me feel guilty about participating.

  • I follow my local library. There's often some interesting information but there has also been regular promotion of this novel idea of hairy men in drag reading stories to young children. Fair enough - it's grotty, but that ship has sailed - however, to me it's flotsam and Facebook isn't flexible enough to filter within a source.
The one redeeming quality is to keep abreast of what's going on with family and friends. Depending on what they post, of course. It can go either way.

It's very possible that Facebook makes you feel worse because it shows the world as it really is, rather than how you thought it was. Or maybe not. If life imitates art then we are in serious trouble. But it's devoid of breathing space and it does not encourage thoughtfulness or consideration. I feel sorry for anyone who relies on this platform as a source to passively consume information.

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Wild bees in Argentina building nests with plastic

A recent article in the National Geographic referred to a discovery that wild bees near Argentinian crop fields have been found to make nests out of plastic sheeting debris gathered from around the farms they haunt.

The plastic had been cut and overlapped to provide a foundation for further construction.

The article itself has a neutral tone, but there is the requisite "other perspective" that thinks it's really sad that our rampant use of plastics has led to them ending up in places that they don't belong.

I think that plastic debris is a real problem, but also recognize that while plastic creates unwanted debris in the oceans, waterways, and farm fields of the world, it's also an extremely resource-efficient way to solve many problems. Finding "environmentally-friendly" alternatives would likely require more resources, and would make life more expensive for everyone. I'm fine with that, but we have others to consider. The only solution is to do less - not to find replacements for plastic. Stop "doing things". Stop "looking for solutions" and instead avoid the problem to begin with. Incrementally, of course. Everything you do matters because there might be 7.53 billion of you out there doing the same thing (or aspiring to).

The article speculates that bees incorporating plastics may build nests that are more durable and more resistant to mold and parasites, thereby improving the health of the species. The same thing we use it for.

And so it's great that bees are finding some use for this plastic. They are, in effect, reusing and sequestering it rather than landfilling or recycling it, thereby avoiding the energy inputs that recycling normally entails. The plastic that these bees have harvested will not be blowing into the ocean. We'd be celebrating this if humans did it.

One more reason to protect the bees. Or at least the wild ones in Argentina.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Apple News and where it fits in my life

As part of Apple's iOS 12.2 release, Apple News was finally made available on Apple phones and tablets in Canada. Before now, it had been available in other countries but not in Canada. This availability coincided with the North American availability of their Apple News+ service.

Apple News is a curated and aggregated news app. In the abstract, it's similar to Google News but it only lives on Apple devices in the form of an app and is not available on the web.

So, what is Apple News+? As far as I can tell, it's Apple News plus these things:
  • Full magazine content
  • Articles designated as premium articles within Apple News
  • Offline reading
Here's what I like about it:
  • Clear identification of news source (every single article has a logo indicating the source before you click through to it)
  • Mixing of magazine with news content. Magazines do a better job in some areas than newspapers.
Here's what I don't like:
  • Locked in to Apple devices. I have a Windows PC and notebook with no intention of changing, and I can't access Apple News at all from there.
  • Does not provide full access to news sources. For example, while you get premium Wall Street Journal articles in your feed you can't go back and read the whole WSJ.
  • Loss of artistic layout and flow of newspapers - there's no concept of what a newspaper has deemed "front page material", or relatively more important than other content. Apple takes over this role with a uniform utilitarian approach through the app.
  • Magazines have table of contents but they show the title only and are not helpful in understanding what an article is about.
  • Not very searchable, and the UI for finding sources is a bit confusing (though it makes some sense once you get used to it).
Good luck finding something you read and want to revisit, or if you want to search historical perspectives on a story. That's not what this is about - it's about the here-and-now, and it's why it's more of a supplement than a replacement.
It essentially turns newspapers into time-boxed content providers. But this is similar to how many people watch TV, where channels provide content and the TV service provider presents everything on a level playing field as channels organized in a common schedule.

Imagine if you had to watch TV by going to the schedule for each network and browsing the channels offered only by that network. That's the current state of news. It's not terrible that some companies want to try a new way of doing things.

From what I can tell, though articles display is usually quite clear of clutter, news sources are still free to interject in an article with suggestions of other articles of theirs that you may find interesting, and there does seem to be some formatting control at the source level. Artistic independence is diminished but not fully lost.

I'm trying it out in trial mode at the moment. The big question is: is it worth continuing at $12/mo? A number of times, I've told myself "no", but then I've thought about how much I like using the app. You can use the Apple News app without paying, but you can't read everything in that mode and you lose the magazine integration. It's not a straightforward answer.

I think this needs to be looked at in the context of how news is going to be consumed rather than how news was consumed in the past. I have a newspaper subscription. I have a couple of news magazine subscriptions. To try and stay balanced, the newspaper I subscribe to works against my natural political bias. However, I don't like to get all of my news from one source.

I'd like to have more newspaper subscriptions, but that does get very expensive. If I wanted to add another digital newspaper subscription, for example, it'd be $20/mo. Through newspaper partnerships, I could add additional content to my existing subscription starting at $5/mo.

This adds up and it's hard to justify unless you make your living from discussing news. I have limited time in the day to spend reading news. If I had more subscriptions, I'd read less content from each one but spread my reading across multiple papers meaning the value I obtain from each is lower.

I find news increasingly difficult to read digitally because of intrusive advertising that is getting increasingly aggressive - even on the online edition of the newspaper I pay to subscribe to.

My newspaper contains a lot of syndicated content. It is also now regularly making certain online content unavailable unless I pay more. It regularly "forgets" who I am and requires me to sign in, moreso than many other sites do.

I increasingly read my content digitally because of how portable it is, especially when I am interested in many sources.

I don't like the idea of having a separate source or app for every single news source I want to read - especially not for sources that I consider secondary preferences.

So how does Apple News help with this?
  • It provides access to a diverse set of high-quality sources and clearly identifies those sources so that I can assess how much I trust it.
  • It lets me monitor topics rather than sources (but lets me read more from specific sources if I want to) and gives different perspectives on that topic that I can dive deeper into if I want to.
  • It blends magazine content - magazines do better in some areas than newspapers.
  • It presents the content beautifully whether you are reading on a phone or tablet
  • It removes many or most distractions from advertising and clickbait (which also helps with battery life and data consumption).
It essentially gives me what I want in a modern, digital "newspaper" and provides a solution to all of the problems above. If I continue past the trial, I'll be sending money into the world of journalism that likely wouldn't have gone there before.

It's a great start. I hope it only gets better.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Christchurch mosque shooting, Twitter, and unhealthy dialogue from all sides

I occasionally but not often veer onto someone's Twitter page in the same way that someone may accidentally take a wrong turn down a backcountry lane.

What exactly is the value of the Twitter platform? Even without "fake news" it does not seem to support healthy dialogue in any way, shape, or form. It might be a great way for a musician to announce a new album, an author to announce a new book, or a comedian to hone their efficiency, but what else?

Nuance is impossible on Twitter without dribbling it out in drips to subvert the format. I have no idea what most people hope to achieve other than vanity. I would not be surprised if the polarization on that platform contributes to violence and that many people leave it feeling angry and distressed without having learned anything of value or changed their perspective about any issue other than about the state of human nature, negatively.

What reminded me of this is the recent shoot-up of a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. A terrible situation, no doubt - and there is no excusing it.

But the very next morning while listening to the radio, I heard a host and his guest saying that if you're one of those people who question the rate of immigration in your country then you are contributing to such shoot-ups because you "let it take root" ("it" being the seed that gestates as a concern about the state of their country and ends up as a bullet implanted in plural sternums).

I assume the seedling is fed with some kind of anti-depressant or other recommended mind-altering medication along the way as it often turns out to be, but that is beside the point.

I have also heard Donald Trump blamed in relation to the type of rhetoric that seems to energize much of his political base.

But there's a big piece of the root cause missing, and its absence suggests that we've learned nothing about the "why" of things like Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.

I should preface this by saying that I see immigration as necessary. We need to maintain the skills we need in this country, and we need to sustain what we have built. Diversity in immigration would be appreciated - we do not want to import the biases of another culture wholesale into our own - but we have to go where the skills that we need are found and where people are willing to leave their homes to come to our own.

But when people have legitimate concerns about the direction that their country is going - the very thing we hope to expose to air and discuss in a healthy democracy - it's not right to try and shut them down with polarized political rhetoric, zings, histrionics, or other things that attempt to make them look stupid, dumb, racist, homophobic, or some other form of safe-to-ignore lifeform.

Dismissing someone concerned about the rate of immigration and therefore the changing nature of the culture and country that they grew up with and have so much affection for is as much a contributor to this type of violence as anything else, but it's not treated that way.

We are told by different sides that people don't kill people - guns kill people. Or that guns don't kill people - people kill people. As usual, the answer is in the middle and both are contributing factors to gun violence; but if you fall on the "guns kill people" side then why also try to shut down the genuine concerns and feeling of people about a country that we all have an interest in building? Do you really value diversity like you say you do? It seems not.

People do not wake up in the morning wanting to shoot up a mosque after having a great night out the night before. More than almost anything else, I wonder about the genuine trajectory that led to this point, and I wonder how much attempts to silence, belittle, and minimize a point of view played a part in this. I wonder if we'll ever find out. I wonder if that finding would be politically useful enough for us to find out.

The very people who tell us that it takes a village to raise a child, that we live in a global village, and that no man is an island, should know this better than anyone else.