Duncan Wilcock

duncan@wilcock.ca
T: +1 (604) 379 0224

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

My Tenacious Nephew


Check this out. My nephew Thoran - a year & half old - look at how intensely he's clinging to the toboggan. This little guy enjoyed the snowy end of November we had here on Vancouver Island. He hung on through a whole bunch of runs through the deep powder before he had enough!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Are Tea-Lights Green/Eco-friendly?


At the check-out the other day, someone pointed out to me that - as I put my shopping in my cloth grocery bag - that the 100 tea lights I was buying weren't very enviro-friendly. I haven't previously been a huge consumer of tea lights, but I am starting to use them much more lately.

At any rate, I had to concede that there are some drawbacks - the most obvious to me being the metal holder that is not burned during use. Each candle has a metal holder that must be discarded.

Naturally Reduce is the first word of the three R's (Reduce. Re-use. Recycle.) This is a given in my mind, and behaviourally I reduce all consumption in my life as much as I can while still feeling balanced (ie that i am not being unfair to myself).

Given that, this leaves Re-use and Recycle. Re-use i'm working on, but for now I'll concentrate on Recycle. Is the metal part of a tea-light recyclable? It's metal, so it's a good candidate in theory. Ultimately it will depend on one's local recycling service, and i have not yet phoned my service to inquire, but I will.

Information on the web is surprisingly sparse. Have so few others cottoned on to the eco-unfriendliness of tea-lights as yet? One reason for this post is to put more material out there on the subject. Frighteningly I was able to find only one relevant link as I write this, it is:

http://www.waverley.gov.uk/recycling/

So apparently in Waverley (UK) - "The metal bases from tea lights can also be recycled in the [metal] bank." Phewf. Someone recycles them.

I was a little concerned that the inevitably unconsumed wax remaining the in metal holder might disqualify these bases from being recycled, but then most metal recycling processes will use a lot of heat already and would presumably burn off the excess wax as a matter of course.


As a final thought: Standards can be good. In fact they can be quite green in many cases. The tea light is a standard candle format for which there are a great many modular tea-light candle-holders, and it sure is convenient. It would be nice to find tea-lights without the metal bases - please let me know if you come across any & if so where I can find some...

Jan 2011: Edited to replace the photo which had gone offline since the original post.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Adversarial Model of Government

Someone something out to me the other day. Something fundamental about the Canadian system of government and how the "House of Commons"/Legislatures work. The current party system, where one party forms "a government" and the other parties form "the opposition" operates in a fundamentally adversarial fashion.

She contrasted this model with a "co-operative model." I thought I would pontificate briefly on this thought. Personally, I like the term "collaborative" and I'm going to throw out the terms competitive & conflict-based while I'm at it.

Collaborative in my book is the process of working together towards a common goal. It brings to mind co-operation for me, but strictly speaking I think I wouldn't exclude conflict/adversarial based collaboration, and I would definitely include competitive collaboration.

I can actually see each of these types of collaboration at work in the current system. Election is a competitive model, where candidates compete for the most votes in a given constituency. The House itself definitely operates in a conflict/adversarial way. I think that's related to the party system - this arbitrary definition of "a government" and "an opposition" - terms which are meaningless to me in a non-majority situation. Perhaps if all candidates were independent, there would be more co-operation (and competition) in order to build enough support to pass legislation. Such a model might move more slowly than a majority government, but then again - what's the rush?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

[CR] Displaying Stats on your Blog

Subtitle: : Making StatCounter.com work on Blogger/Blogspot

Google doesn't offer any built in stats for blogger/blogspot, but it does offer a few recommendations in the help section. The coolest of these in my opinion is StatCounter (www.statcounter.com) The best feature is the world map that it generates with markers where different people who have accessed your blog are from.

I had a bit of difficulty getting it to work for me here on blogspot so it thought i would write up a few notes on what challenges i had & how i solved them for - as they say - posterity.

_________

First of all - go to statcounter & sign up for an account & all that. I didn't find any of that too difficult, other than slightly tiresome.

When it comes to the generate html code phase - in the "StatCounter Code Setup Wizard" I chose the following:

a) Visible Counter
b) Unique Visits only
c) Counter Image
d) Choose your own colours. I did opt for the "View My Stats" Link
e) I did choose "Yes my website uses frames" but i doubt it matters. I tried "html only" code, but in the end it didn't matter much. In the end i used the default javascript-containing code.
f) I went for the "Default Install Guide"


I got as far as that without any difficulty - where i had some trouble was "Where do I paste this code to?"

After quite a bit of trial and error, I went to the "Template" section of my blog and found i could put it in there. At the bottom of my template there was a commented section that said:

"!--This is an optional footer. If you want text here, place it inside these tags, and remove this comment. --"

Actually i didn't remove the tags as intructed, but pasted the code in between this tag & the /footer tag and Voila - my stat counter is up & running.


It's at the bottom of the blog - scroll all the way down to the bottom of this page to have a look. If you click the "Detailed Stats" link, you can actually see the up-to-date stats for this blog. The "Recent Visitor Map" link at the left of that screen is the cool map I mentioned that will show you where your visitors are from.

At any rate - I hope that works for you & Happy Statcounting.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Carbon Sequestration

Another great article from the Economist - on climate change.

http://economist.com/opinion/displaystory.cfm?story_id=7884738

It's nice to see a rightist magazine seeing the value in being green.

My only beef is "Carbon Sequestration" - it seems to have seized the approval of a lot of otherwise smart thinkers out there, but I just can't get my gut behind it. It feels wrong to me. Maybe it's that it is new & a bit of a fantasy, so people are latching on to it as a saviour. My gut tells me it's a band-aid & an unsustainable option. I'll have to do some more research into it to see how much i trust it.

It just seems to me that if you stick all that CO2 underground - not only is it an energy intensive task that is effectively a tax on already inefficient electrical generation technologies, but it seems a little too buck rogers, with risks of leaks & escapes. I guess it's creating "CO2 dumps" underground - much too much like chemical dumping in rivers, and trash dumping in landfills.

I don't like it!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Crazy-but-Good Movie: "Paradise Now"

Wow. Just saw "Paradise Now" a movie about two palestinian men who are suicide bombers.

A heavy, but ultimately good movie. Interesting on so many levels & topical to my "Pity for Suicide Bombers" post in June. The story is of two friends who live in Palestine & who are called upon to perform a suicide mission. It basically recounts their lives from just before they are notified, to - well i don't want to give the whole plot line away, so i'll stop there. The film is extremely well done - the actors are so convincing you can taste their emotions. The cinematography was beautiful, the plot was superb too. Not sure if it was a particular true story, or if it was just a representative dramatization, but I am sure that it was excellent.

A terrible subject, not to mention depressing, but so well done & so worth seeing - particularly for us North American/Western World types.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Switching from a "Consumer Driven" to a "Conservation Driven" Economy

I was contemplating the modern "Consumer-Driven" Economy the other day & had to ask myself - what would happen (and how we could switch) from an economy that is driven by Consumption, to an economy that is driven by Conservation.

I think we could perhaps term it an "Efficiency-Driven Economy" because that has a more conventional ring to it, but is almost as effective in concept. Hmm - now that I write it I do notice that they are different.

At any rate - What would a Conservation Driven Economy look like? How could we achieve it?

What do I mean by a conservation driven economy? Well, in the Western Free-Market style economy (which works well for a lot of things! ) the greater the rate of consumption, the greater the growth of the economy. We usually measure this with figures like GDP (Gross Domestic Product) for a given region or country. So in a conservation driven economy, the greater the rate of the conservation, the greater the “growth” of the economy.

If calling it "Growth" in a Conservation Driven Economy seems like a contradiction, note that I am effectively redefining the meaning of "economic growth" from an increasing quantity of something, to a more general concept of "increasing goodness" where goodness (in my book) means conservation of something worthwile conserving. (And a host of other things too, but all summarized by "increasing goodness.")

If you're starting to wonder what I am talking about with this "increasing goodness" thing, try looking at the David Suzuki Foundation's definition of "Genuine Wealth" in the first Chapter of their report "Sustainablity within a Generation" for a bit more concrete enlightenment.


I think this contemplation was inspired by my brother's bumper sticker that reads:

"Question Consumption"

Sound Advice.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Live Like your Grandpa

Living like you're grandpa (or grandma) is a good model, when one is trying to be green. Between WWII & the depression era, people from that generation knew how to be thrifty, which was often in sync with being green.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

[CR] The Googiverse

Someone at Google has probably already coined this term, but Googiverse is the only term I can think of for Google's insane expansion/proliferation into all aspects of the internet. Everytime i think of some information or service i need, i find that google has already built it, has it online, & is offering it for free.

Either they will be the internet soon, or they will go bust trying. I wonder which it will be? I'd be interested in your thoughts, since you are reading this.

I think they have "got it" in terms of the internet, collaborative models, and ethics - the 21st century business.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

[CR] Stopping "Bad-ware", Accountability & In defense of Gossip

There really are some neat things going on - on the internet. It's a whole new "sphere of existence" in a way, literally in places like "Second Life" http://secondlife.com/ but it's more interesting what's going on in the wider internet.

From what I can see, it's evolving into an instrument of accountabilty. It's certainly enabling accountablity where before real accountability was not practical.

In small towns & communities - accountability is handled by a natural - probalby evolved - system - a system called "The grapevine" or with less positive connotations - gossip. Well - that's not strictly true - i suppose gossip could be defined as the malicious use of the grapevine.

Just to be explicit, I mean the "informal network of people talking to people - in a natural socializing kind of way" when I say "The Grapevine." I'm pretty sure it's a universal aspect of human experience, because I also think it's probably an evolved-in trait, because it serves a purpose that would select for the success of a small group or tribe - the natural unit of human evolution until a few hundred years ago. (again - in my opinion)

Anyway - so - in defense of gossip - I think/believe that it (in it's non-malicious incarnation - "the grapevine") is an important enabler of accountability within tribal units/communities. I figure the natural group size is @ 50 people, but can probably scale to several hundred - even a thousand or two. Think how many people you know, how your experience in highschool was - how many people did you know, know well, etc. I've also noticed that department sizes/management group sizes in large corporations seem to cluster @ 50-ish in size.

So - Accountability is a good thing & a natural thing in small communities. That's why small towns are such gossip-mills & again I think this is a good thing in general, but as always the balance of positive intentions vs. maliciousness exists.

IMO - (In my Opinion) what has been a problem in the past with big business, with government & large groups in general - is a lack of accountability, because mechanisms for accountability on a large scale have not existed. This has allowed "jerks" to act badly - ie without a balance of respect for others with self-interest and not only get away with it, but effectively do well because of it. People have been able to "do well by doing bad" - which sucks! A far better model is that which the quakers espoused - "Doing well by Doing Good"

What a big problem has been is that in large groups without a mechanism for accountability, the benefits of doing good were not realized - those such as endorsement from others, repeat business, what-have-you. Even worse - the negative effects of doing bad became negligible the larger the group size has become, because there was "always a new sucker around every corner" because there was no reasonable, convenient way for a bad reputation to develop.

Anyway - hopefully you get the idea - because i think this post is @ long enough now.

If you don't believe me that the internet is providing a way for this to change check out:

http://stopbadware.org/ and http://www.google.com/corporate/software_principles.html

which are what inspired me to write up these thoughts.

Also think about e-bay & the accountabilty system of rating that has been built into it. Interesting no??

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

How to Avoid being Sued

Had a funny thought about our excessively litigious society...

The most effective (and cheapest!) defense against being sued, is to not have anything worth being sued for.

This trick also works for avoiding being robbed. If you don't have anything worth stealing, there's nothing for anyone to take from you.


The implicit connection made here between sueing & robbery wasn't part of my initial intention, but now that they concepts are compared - the shoe does seem to fit...

Ah well, enough for now. Over & Out.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Massively Parallel Processing

A market economy could be considered a massively parallel processing system. I bet there are some interesting connections emerging in the study of both markets & massively parallel computing.

The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy was right.

Monday, June 26, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth - the Movie

I saw Al Gore's new documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" on Thursday night. Great Flick - as good as I was hoping it would be. Better actually. There was science in it that was new to me, it had a great balance of "Scary" with "galvanize-to-action," and there was just enough fun to make a difficult topic enjoyable to watch.

On top of it all, my-oh-my was the presentation technology well done. From a purely intellectual perspective, I had to appreciate his slides, graphics, & delivery for their own merits - aside from the obvious power of their content.

Technology Will Save Us

The CBC is doing a series of stories this week on climate change (hooray! - it's quite good actually) and in one interview, the interviewer asks a question that sums-up an often expressed sentiment - that "Technology will save us" I wanted to put down a few thoughts on this topic.


I'm an optimist & all for the global market-economy. I do believe that technology can & will respond rapidly to the crisis & that humanity will survive climate change.

Humanity will survive, short of sterilizing the planet (which i'm not sure i'd put past us - Nuclear winter & an unanticipated effect from one of the many GMOs that have been released into the environment being the two chief contenders in my book,) but it remains to be seen how much of it will survive. Will it be the current level of population? Will it be a greater level of population? Will it be substantially less? The answers are not yet known & in practice can probably only be found via experiment.

The theory that probably best answers the question is provided by an "Ecological Footprint" analysis of the type first popularized by Prof. Bill Reeds of the University of British Columbia. But that's the question - how many of us will survive climate change - rather than if. The answer to that question depends on how much anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change we allow to happen.

Note that rephrasing the question that way eliminates the polarizing effect of a "the world is ending" argument - it isn't. However - the important question - the question of how much to do remains, and it is a function of a) how bad is it going to get? b) how many people are we willing to let die? and c) how many people do we want to live with on this planet in the longer term. I would sum these up as how much do we do, how fast do we do it, & how many people do we want to live with.

Moral & Ethical questions to direct our science.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Chuckles Rides Again & Again



I just noticed that the last few entries have been getting a little overly serious. Time to put some fun back up here, so i've reposted this shot of Chuckles & I and how we get around Town. - Cute No?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

[CR] Spam Tax

Doing my dishes this morning, I think I came up with a policy to combat SPAM that actually could work - both from a technical & implementable policy perspective. Ready for it?

Spam Tax - actually, probably more like a fine or a ticket, but "Spam Tax" has such good sound-bite potential don't you think?

I should qualify this - actually this is the 2nd policy that i have come up with, but the first one is not nearly as palatable & is less likely to be implementable for that reason. The first (unpalatable) one: each email costs money to send. Maybe only a penny, or a fraction of penny, but if it costs some money, it will get cost-prohibitive to send 10 000 or (10 million for that matter) emails.

I don't like this option because it introduces a cost to legit users, which isn't as fair as it could be, not to mention that technically it would be quite a challenge, now that the internet has been largely deployed without these kinds of cost controls.

Spam Tax: So here's the option I came up with this morning:

For each Spam recieved, charge the Internet Service Provider a fee - again a small amount - perhaps a a fraction of a penny. What this would do is a) eliminate charges for legitimate emails b) localize a global problem so that accountablity becomes a realistically solveable problem. (in my opinion, localization & community are the natural & most effective enforcers of accountability, and losing accountability is one of the down-sides of globalization - but that's for another post...)

So how would this work? Well - Say Person A) is getting spam for Enlargement of this or that. Through a central spam reporting agency, they submit the email as abuse. Contained in that email is a trail of information (in the header) that tracks where the email came from. The central agency looks up the owner of that IP address & charges them. Owners of IP addresses tend to be large-ish organizations, that have to pay rental/property tax on their IP addresses eventually, so sooner or later you would get the money out of them. That organization then has a fiscal incentive to stop that SPAM originating from them. There may be enough information in the SPAMed email so that they could track the offender down, and with enough incentive they no doubt would.

The fee is small - a fraction of a penny, so that it doesn't add up to much for occasional mistakes in filing, or small infractions. But if there are 10000 or so complaints, the amounts get significant. Again - this is the needed incentive, and the policing is on a realistic scale. The ISP is in also in a position to be able to grant or deny access to it's network if necessary.

Ok - so what about people falsley reporting SPAM? Well - the accused would have to be able to appeal the accusation - to a central body, the one that organizes reporting machinery. The fines for falsely reporting spam would have to be substantial - substantial enough to grant incentive to avoid false reports, but not so substantial that organizations are discouraged from reporting SPAM.

I think that would work, both technically & politically. It wouldn't be easy of course, but i've read some high estimates of how much traffic SPAM uses up - there really isn't much of a theoretical limit to it - other than (Shannon's Channel Capacity theorem :) ) If the problem is big enough, a realistic solution will be implemented. I think this is a realistic solution. What do you think? (I'm about to email this to my Bro the computer scientist for some qualified opinion. - I'll let you know what he thinks... )


Over & Out.

On Growth

Economic Growth that is...

I've been wanting to write on this for a while - not just on this blog either. I've had a file on my desktop that i've been working away at, but this seems like a much more motivating environment.

So here's where i'm starting from: Growth - GDP Growth in particular - is a desirable economic quality. A lot of good comes from Economic growth. Growth Target's in most western countries are between 2% & 4% year on year. But what is "Growth"? Why is it important? In what ways is it good? In what ways is it not good? How else can one think about growth? It's a topic I first remember contemplating several years ago - with an econmics amigo from India - Anup Thomas.

Let's start with What is Growth: Growth can be whatever you define it to be, but in the current economic system, growth is defined (more or less) as the percentage increase in the number of dollars (or which ever currency unit you use) which is generally thought to represent the progress in a given economic division. In short, if the economy of the UK grew at 4% for 2004, if everyone put their pound-notes together in a pile, there would be 4% more of them in 2004 than there would have been if everyone had done this in 2003.

Heckling disclaimer - obviously there aren't enough pound-notes printed to do this & the calculation is way more complex, but i like this as a nice simple picture, that is more or less valid.

Note that the choice of units of measurement (dollars or other currency units) is fairly arbitrary, as is the definition of progress or improvement as an increase - from a strictly philosphical perspective.


So Now - Why is it important?

Well- Psychologically, growth is important - because it represents a measure of improvement of one year on another. I don't know about you, but if I don't feel like i'm making progress, I can get very frustrated & angry - and eventually depressed. That's what growth is all about - measuring some kind of "progress" so that we can feel happy. I'm pretty sure that we were genetically selected for this type of emotional response, but i'd be interested in some comments - particularly from some of my friends from different cultures on what tends to bring the deepest, most sustainable happiness most human lives.


As well as the psychological arguments it is generally accepted that economies with strong growth tend to be doing well, and economies with less growth don't do as well. If an economy starts to contract - as Japan's did through much of the 1990s - one risks inflation hitting zero or becoming less than zero. Negative inflation - called deflation - isn't good for economic systems as they currently exist. Goods get less & less expensive with each coming day (kind of like electronics currently do, but on much bigger & more important things like houses & buildings)

If things are getting cheaper day by day, there is no sense in buying them today, so one might wait until tomorrow, next week, or next year to buy something. While this isn't a bad thing in one or two cases, in theory one might postpone all of one's spending indefinitely. This would quickly become unsustainable because everyone would stop buying from everyone else, goods and services & eventually the only transactions would be about urgent needs - like eating. This doesn't sound like a completely wrong things to me - it might be representative of hunter-gather economics, but it is very alien to current economic practice & I hope you can see that negative growth would be quite calamitous to us at present.

So positive growth is important because it probalby staves off economic catastrophe.


I think that's enough for today, I'll come back to What's good & bad about growth tomorrow perhaps.

[CR] I like this Blog Thing

I'm getting to like Blogging. I'll do my best to avoid cluttering the airwaves, but I have to say - so far so good.

Hmm. Thoughts for today:

On Growth
Renewable Energy Work for Me
Barrie Zwicker & 9-11

I'll tackle the last two first, as they're quick ones.

Barrie Zwicker. The Great Conspiracy. It's the best of the films I've seen on what really happened at 9-11. If you're rolling your eyes - remember, i'm a bit of a flake, but i'm a pretty critically/skeptically minded flake. I think there is something to this stuff. You could watch the video & make up your own mind if you don't believe me.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6529813972926262623&q=911+zwicker

Barrie Zwicker is a well respected Canadian journalist – he has done a lot of stuff on Vision TV, teaches a course at Ryerson (a University in Toronto) etc. I don’t know if he qualifies as mainstream, if not he's very close & he is well respected by the mainstream community. He also did a lot in “The End of Suburbia” a documentary on climate change that came out last year or so. In short – he’s good & he’s legit. No little green men & holograms here.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrie_Zwicker for some more info on Barrie.

and for some good written material on what really happened at 9-11 - try this wiki:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/9/11_conspiracy_theories



Now - about some Renewable Energy Work for me:

I've decided lately that I need to do more work - one always wants more money, but I'm definitely in the place now where I need more immediate cash-flow. Renewable energy is my passion & i have business in it - www.affinityconsulting.ca - but i've been taking it slow & letting contacts develop while I have been trying to build my cash-flow computer business. Unfortunately the computer business isn't working out as well as I'd hoped on the money side of things & I do find the work quite tiresome sometimes. Fixing computers is one of those things i've always been able to do, but never really enjoyed doing it - or at least when i do or have it's in small doses.


So i need to get some more regular financial income going, preferably not fixing computers. I'm going to start pushing Affinity Consulting a bit more agressively. What I would really love would be to start teaching some courses in it with Malaspina. It's a dream, but it's not totally unrealistic, and it is after all important to have dreams.

Oh yeah - on Growth. I think i might save that for another entry.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Al Gore

I'm getting really impressed with this guy Al Gore. His new movie "An Inconvenient Truth" seems to be just what the doctor ordered - i have yet to see it, but Suzuki Foundation friends of mine saw it early & raved about it. I have since been following it as closely as possible - watching the trailer & managed to download an interview with him talking to Johnathan Freeland (email me if you want it) and now I'm reading a section on him in the Guardian.

He's good. Eloquent, Impassioned, Politick, not to mention right on the money (in my opinion, which of course this blog is...) In fact, it feels like the tide might be turning & a significant wake-up is about to happen on global warming. This movie will hopefully (and I think probably) play a huge role in that wake-up. Michael Shermer woke-up this month too. He's the self-proclaimed skeptic (www.skeptic.com) and writes thoughtful critiques in a monthly column in Scientific American. This month (June) he stated that he's is no-longer skeptical on global warming.

Some questions on Al Gore though - he claims to have made environmentalism his thing since the early 90's & apparently was a major green-ifier of Bill Clinton when he was American VP. I believe it, as it's fairly well documented in his interview & the Guardian. How come i didn't know this? It's not the kind of thing I would have missed if I had heard it once. Is it him & he wasn't adequately promotive of it? Did the media not mention it ever? I can think of a few reasons, but I'm surprised. Johnathan Freedland says this about him: "He can claim to be the first mainstream politician anywhere to have woken up to this danger."


Anyway - I'm glad he's on the scene now. The movement - not to mention the planet - needs this. Clean-Energy here we come.



A few significant quotes from Gore in the Guardian article that I want to document here:

"The debate is over!"
"In a democracy, Political will is a renewable resource"
"No! If you have a renegade band of right-wing extremists who get a hold of power [the Bushies], the whole thing goes to the right. But I haven't moved, I'm right where I've always been." (speaking on his position on the political spectrum - the question was if he had moved left since 2000)
"This really is a planetary emergency"

Friday, June 16, 2006

Chuckles Rides again


I just noticed that the last few entries have been getting a little overly serious. Time to put some fun back up here, so i've reposted this shot of Chuckles & I and how we get around Town. - Cute No?

Pity for Suicide Bombers

I had this on my Email Signature for a bit, but it started to feel a bit too pushy. Still, i think it's an important thought & wanted to preserve it.

Just for a moment - imagine how one must have to feel to be a suicide bomber. On one level, there is the thought that "these people" (ie aliens unlike "us") must be crazy, religiously deranged, etc. etc. Perhaps & no doubt there are some, even many that have this type of conviction.

But when the world is starting to see as many suicide bombers as we have. It seems to me there is at least one suicide bomber a day in Iraq. I had to wonder:

How wronged, powerless, and desperate would you have to feel to think that _blowing yourself up_ is the only way for your voice to be heard.

Sad thought no?

[CR] Blog-Up

Blog Started. 5pm.

Did you know "Dunkle" means "dark" in German?

Thank you Lindt Chocolates.