Monday, June 27, 2011

The Calculations Around Fracking

In response to David W. Campbell, who writes of the fracking issue, "I think a government could be brought down over shale gas. It seems quite easy to whip up public anger over these types of flash point issues. I suspect, but hope I am wrong, the Liberals will try to make this an election issue. A shame, really."

There's more than just the Liberals and Conservatives in New Brunswick. I could easily imagine the New Democrats making gains opposing shale gas exploration should both Liberals and Conservatives support it. Part of the calculation the Liberals will be making is whether the NDP is strong enough to make Liberal support for exploration come back and bite them.

For my own part, while I can see the benefits of oil and gas exploration (I did, after all, live in Alberta for 17 years) I can also see the risks. We will always be assured that the technology is perfectly safe, but what that means in practice is 'safe to a certain degree of precision', where this can be precisely defined as the financial risk posed by failure as compared to the cost of more stringent measures. For the oil industry, it's a financial calculation, not a political calculation; people know this, and that's what makes political support politically risky.

So to be clear: support for exploration (and presumably, extraction, without which there would be no point to exploration) is support for the economic development the industry provides despite the risks. Reassurances won't make the risks go away; support therefore entails embracing the risks. So the province (and/or the Liberals, in opposition) need to be clear about the *political* calculation that will be undertaken around the risks: how much more over financial expediency will the exploration companies have to commit, how much more over that calculation will the province cover?

The good side of it is, fracking isn't particularly risky. Goodness, we could be talking about sour gas, offshore drilling or oil sands, things that entail real risk. The worst that could happen is that some wells go dry, or lose their quality. The political calculation balances the cost of replacement reliable water supply minus the contribution toward that risk economically viable for the exploration company. Given good baseline measurements (underway now) this risk should be assumable.

So: the Liberals and New Democrats should logically come out with much the same stance, silent publicly on support for the exploration, supportive in the back room, willing to offer financial support (but not beyond what potential royalties would reimburse), and visibly vocal on the need for clearly defined measures to protect New Brunswickers in the event that the long shot comes in and the water supply is disrupted. The Tories, meanwhile, tke the public risk of supporting the project, but reap the political reward if everything goes well, which is (to my estimation) better than even money.

Sound political calculations all round, and ones that would provide us with a gas industry, if there is one to be had.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

gRSShopper Graph API

Just setting up the gRSShopper graph system


    unixdate: cutoff is the unix date; the API will deliver results only greater than the cutoff value. Default is 0 (though I may change that :) )
    key: your API key. You have to get one from me.

Output is in OPML format.

Each graph edge is as follows:

<outline text="1308944421" title="Graph link 389">
   <outline htmlurl="" text="link 2655" title="link" type="link">
   <outline htmlurl="" text="link " title="link" type="link">

The lines:

   <outline text="1308944421" title="Graph link 389">
       title: Graph [edge_type] [edge_id]
           right now the only type is 'link' but that may change over time
       text = date the edge was created, un unix date

   <outline htmlurl="" text="link 2655" title="link" type="link">
       Each node connected by the edge is indicated with a single ouline line
       text = [table][id] 
           table = gRSShopper internal table; values include link,post,media,feed,author, etc. this list is extensible
           id = gRSShopper ID number for that entity
       title = [link]
           link = gRSShopper internal table of the entity
       htmlURL =[url]
            url = the URL of the entity

     Note that while all entities will have a URL value, some entities may not have a table or ID, if they are not actually stored in the gRSShopper database

That's it. Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Fallacy of a United Left

Responding to Warren Kinsella, who waxes enthusiastic about a united left.

The thing is, a united left will bleed support from its margins to the Conservatives. It would bleed those people who supported Ignatieff, who supported Paul Martin, who support blue Liberalism. How much would it bleed? Probably, as in other two-party systems, just enough to balance the two sides. At which point political discourse becomes a race to win those centre votes, and becomes meaningless.

What Ignatieff failed to do (besides act like an unrepentant conservative) was to define any actual policy differentiation. What Harper and Layton had in common was an understanding of what they stood for and why they were running. The reason the Conservative attack ads were so effective is that they spoke to the fact that Ignatieff had no reason to return to politics other than a desire to play in the game - there was never any sense that he was trying the save the country from something, to lead it toward some vision or ideal, or anything.

As a longtime New Democrat - someone willing to work in the wilderness because I do believe in something - I have always felt that Canada worked better when it had a variety of points of view, a variety of perspectives. It is is easy to sell (to Liberals, apparently) the idea that politics in Canada operates along a single dimension, but it's incorrect. Harper's party is economically and socially conservative, the Ignatieff Liberals could have been very successful being economically conservative (it certainly had the track record) and socially liberal, while the NDP distinguishes itself as liberal on both fronts.

The requirement that New Democrats abandon socialism is, I think, as clear a statement as any that there is not some mythical 'united left' that we could all have belonged to. The leadership renouncing socialism would have been the death of the NDP. I know, some people still live in the world where socialism involves nationalizing banks and withdrawing from NATO. The objective of socialism, of a liberal economic policy, which the NDP will not abandon, is one that promotes social equity, that resists the increasing disparity between rich and poor, that protects the security of the old, the ill, the infirm, that treats society, not as a competition, but as a community.

Liberals asking NDPers to abandon socialism did not understand this. Liberals - from my perspective - have always been willing to talk a good game about social equity, but less willing to make the spending decisions when it counts. That's why Liberals and the NDP have found a great deal in common in causes but such a division of purpose in actual legislation. That's why Liberals can be sanguine about cutting health, education and social assistance, while to the NDP this strikes at the heart of public policy. And it underscores, as we have always known, that there are distinct points of view, distinct perspectives, and that our diversity of voices is what makes us stronger as a nation.

Finally, it wasn't a matter of uniting the right that led to the Conservative victory. It was the result of some very smart campaigning, of a devastating advertising campaign undermining a weak opponent, of a coalescing around economic priorities while shelving - for now - the potentially much more divisive social issues that still divide the party, of successfully co-opting the media, which with one exception supported Harper in the election, and in very smartly painting a false picture of us against them, left versus right, Harper's way or the wrong way. And the Liberals bought into the myth, still buy into the myth, that brought them down.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Moncton Demo in Support of the Maeng Family

June 12, 2011, Moncton, demonstration in support of the Maeng family, who had earlier been required to return to Korea because Immigration Canada had deemed that their son would pose too much of a burden on the health care system - this after they had been here for something like eight years, had built a home and a business, and sent their other son through school to university. By the date of the demonstration, the order had been rescinded. It was good to see the entire community, people of all political stripes, recognize when an injustice had been done and move swiftly to correct it.

Monday, June 06, 2011

City Hall & Yellow Fish Road

Moncton City Hall

Artwork in City Hall

I got an email a few days ago inviting me to the launch of the Plan Moncton video and report at the City Hall Council Chambers at 4:00 p.m., so Andrea and I went down to take part, since we had been to the open house and contributed voluminously. I had also been quoted a couple times in the paper on things like a possible downtown pedestrian mall, so I was curious to see how it would all work out.

So, I'm still curious. The highlight of the Council meeting was not the video launch, which was, after a two-hour wait, something of a let down. No, it was the presentation by these Grade 2 students from Arnold H. MacLeod school on something called Yellow Fish Road, which consists of a plan to paint yellow fish and the slogan 'rainwater only' around storm sewers. It's a good idea, though I'm somewhat uncomfortable with all the corporate sponsorship. No matter; the kids were great, and it was interesting to see the point they had raised surface in later discussions aboutr subdivisions and zoning.

Ah, subdivisions and zoning. Two hours of it, before they showed us the Plan Moncton video. Probably the best was the presentation from the Moncton Vision Lands people, which on the whole is a good concept, though they're trying a little too hard to create features of suburbia alongside urban villages (the Plan Moncton video was all about urban villages too, though I don't recall reading anything about that in the hundreds of comments I looked through).

The worst of it was a subdivision being planned out near Magnetic Hill that followed (so far as I could tell) none of the lessons being applied in the 'vision lands'. So far as I can tell, the deal was that they would build the subdivision before the water main was extended out to them, not after. Then there was the rezoning of some industrial land that we were assured would not make any changes in the use of the land, and probably wouldn't result in the value of the land going up. Uh huh. And the rezoning to allow for the development of an apartment building right behind the Pizza Delight on Mountain Road.

So all this happened before we saw the Moncton Plan video. Leaving me to wonder what the point of the exercise was. But at least we got to see the Yellow Fish Road kids, which, as I said, was the best part.

City Hall

One presenter.

Moncton City Hall

Another presenter

Moncton City Hall

Moncton Mayor George LeBlanc

Moncton City Hall

The proud teachers and Grade 2 students.

Setting Up Windows 7

Day One

So I've upgraded my desktop to Windows 7 in my office today, and this is what I'm doing to personalize it after I've got the basic system installed. This is the second time I've set up a Windows 7 environment; I have been using it on my desktop at home for a few months now. Note that I am not a Windows power user; I'm sure other people have better tips and tricks. This is simply what I do, and should be taken as such (and suggestions to help me improve my Windows 7 experience would be appreciated).

- Opened Internet Explorer, went through the startup, and turned off all of the 'recommend' and 'faster download' options. Accepted the option to select a custom search engine. Had to search around to find it, as IE launches another window over the options window. Not sure selecting Google actually changed anything. No matter, because...

- Went to and downloaded the latest version of Firefox (not the Firefox 5 beta, but the currently stable Firefox 4.01 -- normally, I would use the beta version, but too many of the extensions do not work for me on Firefox). I then added the following extensions to Firefox (click options, then add-ons):
- imTranslator, because I read many international sites
- AdBlock Plus - absolutely indispensible advertisement blocker
- Video DownloadHelper - lets me save YouTibe videos as MP4s and other formats
- Firebug - adds a bunch of development tools, eg., CSS viewer
That's all for now. I'm not a big extensions person.

- Went to the Audacity site and downloaded Audacity. Audacity is my major workhorse sound editing program; I use it to record from the microphone, the screen, to convert and edit audio files, and more. Audacity has various plug-ins I also installed (all are available from the main Audacity download page):
- LADSPA Plug-ins - various Audacity plug-ins. One day I'll learn what they all do.
- LAME MP3 Encoder - absolutely essential to save audio as MP3s
- FFmpeg import-export library - ffmpeg converts numerous audio and video formats

- Opened Microsoft Outlook, which came with the installation. Set up my office email account, then set up my email account. Minimized the ribbon, and changed the view to show folders on the left, list of new messages above right, and text of the message below. I have no imagination when it comes to email. Normally I would use Thunderbird, which is what I use at home, but Outlook is more suited to the office environment, being used for a variety of functions (such as room and vehicle bookings) in addition to email.

- Set up my Firefox bookmark toolbar to my most commonly used cloud sites. Again, there's probably a lot I could do in the cloud that I don't actually do. As I run through the list I have Firefox remembering various userids and passwords. Here's what's typically on my bookmarks toolbar:
- Blogger Dashboard - from here I create new posts on my Half an Hour and Make Some Art blogs.
- Google Calendar - which I will have to sync with Outlook (later)
- Twitter - of course I get a 'Twitter is over capacity' screen, so I'll have to come back; I set the Twitter bookmark to a predefined search so I can see what people are saying at the same time I post
- Flickr - which is where I store my photos online
- Google Reader - which is where I (form now) read my RSS feeds; eventually gRSShopper will be better for this, but it isn't yet
- my login page, to my home site administration system, and online course administration systems
- MyAutoDJ client area, for my radio station

- Set up my FTP client, Filezilla. I have two major places I FTP into, my website and my radio station. Filezilla is a fast, super-easy way to upload files. I use secure SSH access to FTP into my site.

- Downloaded PuTTY, a SSH client, to give me terminal access from Windows into my website. This is useful for doing things like editing server configuration and restarting it. PuTTY doesn't need to be installed; just drag it from the download window to the desktop.

That's basically it for the basic startup. I still need to set up things like Winamp for my radio station, calendar sync, authoring and drawing environments, and file backup.

Day Two

So Day One was actually just a couple of hours in the afternoon. Day Two is more of an occasional thing, where I'm setting stuff up as I notice I need it. Link, for example:

- VideoLan (aka VLC) Player, a multi-format video player that will handle DVDs, various video formats, etc., without any fuss. I'm loading this before my audio player so that the audio player becomes the default for the audio formats. Anyhow, if you play video, this is the player you want.

- Winamp - once the ugly duckling of music playing software, WinAmp is now a lot better than Real, Windows Media, and even iTunes. As well, WinAmp will offer support for my radio station. You have to be careful not to install the 'extra features' which will put a toolbar on your browser and search your search defualt to AOL.

- Skype - this is my major video conferencing tool. And using the system I describe here, I can capture Skype calls as audio recordings or live web radio broadcasts. I turned off the 'get Google Chrome' option - I'll get Chrome on my own terms later.

- 7-Zip - file archive utility to open things like zip files. I'm not sure whether I need it on Windows 7 but it opens everything and I'm used to using it, so I'm installing it. I'll need it for the next item.

- EdCast - this is a digital signal processor (DSP) that will convert and stream music and audio from my WinAmp player (or whatever else I sent to it) to my online radio station. It also requires that I download and separately install LAME and AAC .dll files. Follow the instructions I provide here and you'll be fine (and today I'm really glad I wrote those instructions - when you document what you're doing, the person you're helping is yourself).

And now for the web browsers. I like to have the selection of web browsers installed so I can test things on different browsers and access browser-specific things.
- Internet Explorer - Windows 7 came with IE8, but the current version is IE9, so I upgraded. This was a loooong process involving a reboot (and a shutdown that didn't run properly). On the bright side, reinstalling IE got rid of all the add-ons that updating the Adobe suite (which came with the Windows 7 installation here at the office, along with the Microsoft Office applications) polluted into the IE8 browser.
- Google Chrome - which I actually experimented with as a default browser for a while a few months back, but I returned to Firefox because Chrome was missing a few things (documented here) I really needed. Also, I don't like searching from the address bar.
- Opera - this is a smart, fast browser that does a lot of things well and some things no other browser does, like offer its own built-in web server, Opera Unite.
- Safari - there's an old saying, "nothing works on Safari", which is no longer true, but it's still the least reliable and most quirky of the bunch. As usual, I turn off most of the options, especially automatic updates, because Apple loads all kinds of extras in those (I'd find myself with iTines, Moble Me, and a bunch of other stuff).

- Netbeans and the Java Development Kit (JDK) as a bundle. This is a bit of an experiment. Normally, to write software, I would just use a text editor like Notetab. Notetab is fantastic software and I'm sure I'll add it to the list below. But I really need right now to extend my development capacities, to organize myself better, and to work in a proper environment. That means Netbeans (the oft-touted alternative is Eclipse, which I've tried on both Vista and OSX, and it has been a disaster both times). Netbeans requires Java (so do many other things, so there's no real escape here) and I may as well get the full SDK, as some applications require it.

Day Three

Late afternoon, installed: PaintShop Pro 5. This is software from 1998. I have a very old install CD. I use it for basic image tasks, including line drawings, cutting and trimming, and such. I wanted a more recent version, but when I went to Corel I ended up buying PaintShop Photo Pro X3. Ack. But this looks like it will be useful for photo editing in any case - I've been using Adobe Photoshop Elements from 2005 or so. And it still has all the draw tools, so I might end up using it instead in any case.

The Next Few Days

Installed NoteTab light, because it's still an unequalled text editor. I spent quite a bit of time trying to make the Perl plug-in work on NetBeans, and ended up having to reinstall NetBeans. So I'm still without a Perl IDE. But NoteTab will do for now.

Getting Google Calebdar synced with Outlook. Started here and downloaded the Google Calendar Sync (version It reported an error (2016) but this appears to have simply been caused by it taking some time to download all my Google Calendar stuff.

After searching about and trying some Perl plugins for NetBeans, the most successful of which was this one on Google code, I decided that NetBeans and Perl aren't ready to work together yet. During the course of the installation I installed Strawberry Perl. I chose Strawberry because the other Windows Perl distribution, Active State Perl, has a very unfriendly license.

About 30 minutes later I uninstalled Strawberry, not because I didn't like it, but because in order to get Padre, the Perl IDE, to work properly, you need a fresh Perl install (I imagine I could work my way around it but really would rather not). Padre comes as part of a larger Strawberry with Cream installation that gives you Perl and a number of widely used modules not incuded in the basic Perl distribution (such as Moose, DBI, and more). The secret to making Strawberry with Cream work is, after thre installation, to go to the installation directory (typically C:\Strawberry) and run some batch files: , and Annoying.

Sunday, June 05, 2011


DePape was protesting two things. First, and most obviously, she was protesting against the Harper government. But second, her point was that Parliament doesn't work. The system we have now allows Harper, with the support of 25 percent of Canadians, to form a majority government and rule at will for the next four years. If you believe Parliament doesn't work, I see nothing inherently wrong with making the point IN Parliament. It is just this 'respect for Parliament' everyone says she should have that is, in her mind, the cause of the misrepresentative government we have today.

In this I think she has a point. And I think her protest is, in addition to being overnight iconic, very well taken. Good for her.