Sunday, 1 July 2018

What I've Been Reading, June 2018

This note used to say that the links below appear in the order I read them and was meant imply that they were more or less random in their subject matter, other than being of interest to me. Recently I started a few new sections at the bottom of the links on subjects that are of particular interest to me. But I can see that as time passes I am moving to a greater degree of "curation", which the dictionary tells me is about organizing and maintaining a collection. Applied to this collection of links and books I guess this will mean selecting links less randomly and trying to make them relevant in the context of this blog and whatever is going on in the world during the month.

But my originally statement still applies to the first section of links—they are pretty much random and just in the order I read them.



Refugees and Migration

  • Five myths about the refugee crisis, by Daniel Trilling, The Guardian
    " likely is it that states which treat migrants with such callousness will behave similarly towards their own citizens?"

Poverty, Homelessness, Minimum Wage




I'm still wading slowly through The Bell Curve, in order to be able to criticize it with some degree of credibility. Almost half way through at this point. This has also lead to reading some scholarly articles about IQ on the web, further slowing down my other reading. I did read a couple of short non-fiction works this month, though.

  • This is Water, by David Foster Wallace
    "Some thoughts, delivered on a significant occasion, about living a compassionate life."
    As a committed atheist, I don't agree with the author's thoughts on the impossibility of not worshipping. I do agree that many people do worship things other than God, that are a bad or worse than God. But the important part is what the author has to say about the importance of seeing things from the other guy's viewpoint.
  • Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, by David Graeber
    An excellent little book about anarchism.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Autobiographical Notes, Part 4: My Peak Oil Journey

For some time now I been intending to do a post about "My Peak Oil Journey", describing how my understanding of Peak Oil has evolved over the years. I think it will fit nicely at this point in my series of autobiographical notes.

Throughout the history of this blog I've focused on three of the challenges we face: Climate Change, Peak Oil, and Economic Contraction.

I first became aware of climate change in the late 80s and had no trouble accepting its reality. I expected that nuclear fusion or possibly renewable power sources, especially solar, would take over from fossil fuels and solve the problem with ease. But things have not worked out quite so well.

Sometime in 2000 or 2001 I first heard of Peak Oil. Again, my initial reaction was that improved technology would solve the problem. But I was drawn back to the topic repeatedly and by the time I retired from Hydro One, I was convinced that this is not a problem we are going to solve. I retired with a very nice pension, but also a keen awareness that this pension was contingent on the continuing growth of the economy. And even that early on, my reading about Peak Oil made it pretty clear that continued economic growth was far from a sure thing.

My current understanding of the economy took much longer to come together, and is intimately intertwined with my understanding of Peak Oil.

In the early 2000s many people, myself included, had quite a naive understanding of how Peak Oil might play out. I think many of us thought of oil fields as big underground tanks, originally full of oil. In this view we'd be able to keep pumping oil out of the ground until one day it suddenly ran dry. We also thought that the demand for oil was quite inelastic and running out would cause a very serious disaster, quite possibly the collapse of industrial civilization.

There was a lot of speculation about the amount of oil that was actually left, and good reason to suspect that official estimates of oil reserves were artificially inflated. Both the privately owned oil companies and the OPEC countries had (and still have) much to gain from claiming that their reserves are larger than they are in reality. Some of the agencies estimating future oil use numbers based them solely on predicted demand, without considering the realities of the supply side at all.

Gradually, this way of thinking came around to a more realistic picture of porous rock formations saturated with oil and gas and capped with layers of impermeable rock. Drill through the cap rock and the oil (and gas) would start running out. With this more accurate picture came many inconvenient details which gradually, as events played out over the years, became more obvious.

The rate at which oil comes out of the ground is determined by the geology of each particular well, and is at a maximum when the well is new and declines as the well ages until eventually it is no longer profitable to operate the well, the costs of operation being higher than the small remaining production is worth. This happens before all of the oil is removed from the well. There are techniques such as water injection which can be used to increase the rate at which oil comes out of a well, but this may increase the decline rate so that the total production of the well is less in the end.

Discovery of new oil resources must make up for the decline of existing wells and allow for increased use of oil as the economy grows. For the last few decades this has not happened, and it appears to me that the production of "conventional" oil peaked around 2005. This was reflected in the increase in the price of oil from around $12 per barrel in late 90s to just over $140 per barrel in the summer of 2008. The price of oil goes up as demand exceeds supply or even if events make it seem that supply might soon be constrained. It seems that in the months leading up to the summer of 2008, both of those factors were involved in making the price of oil spike upwards.

Looking back on the effect of oil price on the economy, post 2008, it became clear that almost every recession since the 1950s had been preceded by a spike in the price of oil. It turns out that the demand for oil is not nearly so inelastic as some had imagined. When the price goes up we see what is known as "demand destruction"—economic growth slows and people find themselves short of cash, cutting back on discretionary spending and doing whatever they can to use less energy. If the price goes high enough, even conservation begins to look like attractive.

At the same time, the idea that there is no alternative to oil turns out to be a little too simplistic. As the price goes up, oil wells that have been shut down as unprofitable become profitable again. Alternative forms of oil, what is known as "non-conventional oil" (deep offshore oil, Arctic oil, fracked oil, heavy oil and bitumen from tar sands) which had previously been too expensive to bother with, also become economically feasible.

The demand for oil dropped off from 86.3 million barrels per day in 2007 to less than 84.5 in 2009, and the price dropped to just over $40 per barrel. As the economy recovered, non-conventional oil made up for the decline in production of conventional oil and total demand increased to over 99 million barrels per day in 2018. Higher prices 2010 to 2014 (peaking at over $100 per barrel in early 2014) no doubt drove developments in non-conventional oil, while at the same time slowing the recovery of the economy.

In that period (2008 to 2014) the idea of Peak Oil was alive and well. Lots of people were interested, there were numerous websites and books being published, and a variety of groups, (of which the Transition Town movement is probably best known) sprang up in an attempt to bring people together to prepare for what was coming.

And while overall global oil production kept growing, many oil exporting countries reached their production peaks. In a phenomenon described by "The Export Land Model", this happened even quicker than it might have otherwise. As most such countries were experiencing growth in their own economies and improvements in their standards of living, so their domestic consumption of oil was increasing, leaving even less to export than could be accounted for by natural decline, and putting their balance of payments in an ever worsening situation post peak.

In the Middle East climate change brought on increased temperatures and droughts, making agriculture less and less feasible. And this was at a time when money to import food and jobs for bankrupt farmers fleeing to the cities were both in short supply. There is no doubt in my mind that both climate change and peaking of oil exports were factors in the so called "Arab spring". But changing governments does little to improve the situation when there are real, fundamental problems that even the best government would be hard pressed to cope with. In general, everywhere in the world, there is growing disillusionment with new governments, elected to deal with economic and social problems, who turn out to be just as inept as the old ones, and just as much in denial about what's wrong.

It was sometime after 2008 when I put together the missing pieces in my understanding of economics.

The first thing was to realize that it's not really about money.

Money is just a convenient set of tokens—a medium of exchange, a unit of account and a store of value. Of course, a whole "meta" level of business, the financial sector, is based on money. But it's vital not to lose sight of the underlying realities.

The second thing was to understand role of growth in the economy.

Modern economies run on credit. Money is created by the banks as debt and those debts must be paid back with interest. The extra money for the interest comes from yet more loans. This works fine as long as the economy is growing and the banks have good confidence that debtors will continue to pay back their loans, with interest. If the economy stops growing, or even if its growth slows down very much, governments, businesses and individuals who have taken out loans find themselves unable to continue making their payments and are forced to default on their loans. Too many defaults and the banks themselves start failing. So it is vital that the economy continued to grow.

The third thing is the role of energy in the economy.

The reason that debtors can pay back loans is that they used the borrowed money to set up enterprises that create more value than the capital and labour that are put into them. This surplus value can be used to pay off loans, with interest, and leave something as well for the owners of the enterprise. Or in the case of large companies, pay dividends to the investors. Conventional economic theory is pretty vague about where this extra value comes from. But when I read up on "biophysical economics" it became clear to me that the extra value comes from the energy inputs to the process, because the energy costs substantially less than the value it enables us to create.

That Wikipedia article I linked to doesn't mention the two sources where I learned about biophysical economics: Energy and the Wealth of Nations by Charles Hall and Kent Klitgaard, and Life After Growth by Tim Morgan. Morgan also has a website with up to date information.

Extra value (wealth) coming from surplus energy was true to a limited extent even in the past when energy came in the form of food and was converted in mechanical form by human or animal muscles. Things improved somewhat when we learned to harness the mechanical energy in moving air (wind) and falling water. But with the invention of engines that could convert the heat of burning fuel into mechanical energy, things really took off. These engines could drive automated factories which could produce goods with a fraction of the human labor previously required. This started with steam engines burning coal to pump water out of coal mines, replacing horse powered pumps. What followed was the industrial revolution.

The economy grew as it never had before, and as long as abundant cheap energy was available, it continued to grow.

Throughout the history of fossil fuel use, we've used the lowest hanging fruit first—the easiest to access and the highest quality fuels among those. With the result that as time passes, the remaining fuels are harder to access and/or of poorer quality. This leads us to concept of Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI), and the related idea of surplus or net energy.

Taking a typical oil well from the early twentieth century, the energy equivalent of 1 barrel of oil would have been used to get 100 barrels of oil out of the well. This gives you an EROEI of 100, and surplus energy of 99 barrels of oil equivalent.

Looking at present day corn based ethanol, to produce 1.3 gallons, it takes the energy equivalent of 1 gallon of ethanol. This gives you an EROEI of 1.3 and surplus energy of .3 gallons of ethanol equivalent.

This can be helpful in choosing the sorts of energy we should be using—early twentieth century oil wells are something we can only dream of today and the corn ethanol business is hardly viable without large subsidies. But there is more to it than that, because surplus energy is what drives the economy and makes economic growth possible. If you look at all the energy sources a country uses and calculate a weighted average EROEI, it can tell you quite a lot about that country's economy.

As that average EROEI declines toward about 15, economic growth grinds to a halt and it becomes difficult to raise capital to start new ventures and to maintain existing infrastructure. Below 15 a modern industrial civilization quits working. Because this is a weighted average, choosing to produce more energy from low EROEI sources makes things worse while temporarily seeming to make them better. It has been estimated that the current average EROEI of the world economy is around 11. Of course some lucky countries are doing much better than that.

But because of our "lowest hanging fruit first" approach, EROEI continues to decline. Real economic growth appears to have stopped in the 1990s, with governments using clever new ways of calculating gross domestic product, and unemployment and cost of living statistics to make things look better in the short run. And low interest rate policies to encourage lots of borrowing and keep the economy growing, again, in the short run.

By early 2014, oil prices had topped $100 per barrel and it looked to many of us like the economy might fall apart again as it had done in 2008.

But then oil prices started to fall, bottoming out below $40 per barrel. Why the slump happened is not well understood, but it had been predicted by a few (notably Nicole Foss of the Automatic Earth) as yet another step on the way to Peak Oil.

There was a glut in oil supply from 2014 to 2017. Several factors contributed to this.

The first, no doubt, was the increase in non-conventional oil production, particularly tight oil in continental US, accessed through the "hydro-fracturing" process, commonly referred to as "fracking". Contrary to popular belief this was not enough supply all of America's demand for crude oil. But it did add about 4 million barrels a day to US oil production.

All the hype about fracking as a new source of crude oil and natural gas caused some people to conclude that Peak Oil was dead, and that any shortage of oil was a very long way in the future. Even President Obama announced that there was enough tight oil to last 100 years. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. In 2017, the United States produced an average of about 14.2 million barrels per day, and consumed about 19.8 million barrels per day, with the difference made up by imports, changes in petroleum inventories, and petroleum refinery processing gain.

No doubt fracking has significantly decreased the amount of oil the US has to import. But this is temporary—the decline rates of fracked wells are much higher than those of conventional wells and most of the sweet spots in the tight oil plays have already been used up. Realistically, America's supply of tight oil will likely run out early in the 2020s.

But even if there was enough tight oil and gas to last 100 years, fracking is a classic case of trying to use a low EROEI energy source (somewhere between 3 and 5, in this case) to keep an economy going. You might expect that this oil would be more expensive than conventional oil, but as we learned in 2008, high energy prices cause recessions, which should lead to over-production and lower prices.

Parts of this happened—oil prices certainly went down. But oil consumption continued to grow, by about 1.7% per year. Strangely, it appears that this extra energy did not result in corresponding growth of the US economy. It is a bit of a puzzle where the energy went, until you realize that fracking is a very energy intensive process (the "energy invested" part of EROEI). Fracking itself is the "gas guzzler" that was causing the growth in US oil consumption. This is what I call "energy sprawl", where the extensive infrastructure and energy use required to make low EROEI energy sources work begins to dominate the economy and the landscape.

OPEC was initially unwilling to cut back production to bring the price back up, but in late 2016 an agreement to cut production was signed by many OPEC producers and Russia as well. At the same time, many other non-OPEC producers were experiencing natural decline.

The price of oil bottomed out just under $40/barrel in early 2016, bounced around in the $40s and low $50s, and then in mid 2017 started to increase pretty much steadily, as the glut began to dwindle. Today the price is in the high $70s/barrel and has topped $80 in the past few weeks. The glut is over and the U.S. government has quietly asked Saudi Arabia and some other OPEC producers to increase oil production by about 1 million barrels a day to bring the price down to a more acceptable level.

OPEC economies were hurt badly by several years of low prices and one suspects they will be only too glad to increase production. The question is how long they will be able to do so before the natural decline rates of their oil fields catch up with them.

The major oil companies were hurt by low prices too, and cut back on their investment on discovery in order to save money. This has left us in a very bad situation as far as oil supply goes over the next few years. Trillions of dollars would have to be spent on discovery to catch up with demand. It seems to some of us that there is no sweet spot where oil prices are low enough to keep the economy growing and high enough to make the oil business profitable.

In any case, it seems unlikely that there are actually sufficient oil resources out there even if we could find the money to spend on discovery. Beyond natural supply decline and reduced spending on discovery, we are seeing geopolitics playing a role in Peak Oil as well. Major oil producers like Venezuela are facing sanctions and internal economic chaos. Their oil industry is suffering as a result and production is falling off. If President Trump gets his way, something similar will likely happen with Iran. An overall peak in production will likely occur sometime in the next few years.

How will the economy respond to this? Not well, to be sure, but the specific details will include some surprises that are very hard to anticipate.

That's my "Peak Oil Journey", to date at any rate. No doubt there is more to learn. We're pretty good at explained what just happened, but not so good at predicting what's coming next. It always seems to involve something we just haven't considered yet.

While I was following the story of Peak Oil, my life carried on and I tried to prepare for the challenges that lay ahead. Eventually this lead to me starting this blog and calling myself a "Kollapsnik". More on that next time.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

What I've Been Reading, May 2018

This note used to say that the links below appear in the order I read them and was meant imply that they were more or less random in their subject matter, other than being of interest to me. Recently I started a few new sections at the bottom of the links on subjects that are of particular interest to me. But I can see that as time passes I am moving to a greater degree of "curation", which the dictionary tell me is about organizing and maintaining a collection. Applied to this collection of links and books I guess this will mean selecting links less randomly and trying to make them relevant in the context of this blog and whatever is going on in the world during the month.



  • The unwelcome revival of "race science", by Gavin Evans, The Guardian
  • Socioeconomic Status Modifies Heritability Of IQ In Young Children, by Eric Turkheimer et al, University of Virginia
    "Results demonstrate that the proportions of IQ variance attributable to genes and environment vary nonlinearly with SES. The models suggest that in impoverished families, 60% of the variance in IQ is accounted for by the shared environment, and the contribution of genes is close to zero; in affluent families, the result is almost exactly the reverse."

Poverty, Homelessness, Minimum Wage

Puerto Rico

Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous Vehicles



  • Step to the Stars, by Lester del Rey
    I originally read this when I was about 10 years old. Re-read it purely for nostalgic reasons.
  • Nemesis Games, by James S. A. Corey
    Book five of the Expanse series.
  • On a Red Station Drifting, by Aliette de Bodard
  • Into the Fire, by Elizabeth Moon
    Another episode in the "Vatta's Peace" series
  • After the Last Day, by Don Hayward
    The author is a fellow I actually know, who lives in Goderich, the next town south from Kincardine along Lake Huron. What mainly attracted me to the book, though, is that it is a story of life after the collapse of civilization in the area where I grew up. It starts in the town where I went to high school, and then the plot expands to include most of Southern Ontario and a small part of Northern Ontario. Don has done a pretty good job of sketching out the events following a major financial collapse.


I'm still wading slowly through The Bell Curve, in order to be able to criticize it with some degree of credibility. This has also lead to reading some scholarly articles about IQ on the web, further slowing down my other reading. So I didn't read any other non-fiction books this month, even those I have a growing pile that I'd like to get to. To make up for this lack, here is a short list of some gems from my bookshelf:

Monday, 7 May 2018

Autobiographical Notes, Part 3

Bruce Nuclear site, in the foreground Bruce GSB (left) and Bruce B switchyard (right).

After 1992 my life seemed to have several parallel streams, even more so than it had before, so that's the way I'll present this.

If you missed the first two parts of this series, have a look here: Part 1 and Part 2.

Power and Politics

For most of the twentieth century, the province of Ontario was the industrial heartland of Canada. Ontario Hydro, as the supplier of cheap and plentiful electrical power, was a major enabling factor of that situation. Hydro was seen as an example by other power utilities, who used us as benchmark for their activities.

Ontario Hydro was publicly owned from when it started in 1906 as the Hydro Electric Power Commission. In 1974 (incidentally the year I was hired) the HEPC was reconstituted as Ontario Hydro, a "Crown Corporation" with a single stock holder: the provincial government. Our CEO reported directly to the Minister of Energy. When things weren't going well economically for the province, Hydro was a convenient scapegoat for the high cost of power (regardless of what the cost was) and the competence of Hydro's management would be questioned. And when things weren't going well at Hydro, the fortunes of whatever political party was in power would often take a dive.

In the 1980's, based on expected economic growth, the province was going to need a lot more power over the coming decades, and supplying that power was going to mean a big upfront investment in new generation and transmission lines. But cost and schedule overruns on construction of the nuclear plants at Pickering and Bruce led to controversy over whether Hydro was competent to undertake such a program of expansion. More overruns in the construction of the Darlington Nuclear plant in the early 90s further fueled that controversy.

"Fortunately", those forecasts of economic growth didn't pan out and Ontario switched from being Canada's industrial heartland to being Canada's rust belt. And Ontario Hydro went from being the benchmark for utility operations to "a failing utility", even though in the late 90s we were making record profits. We went through several reorganizations and downsizings and many stern lectures about running the company "like a business".

In the mid 90s there was such concern over the "incompetent management" of the Hydro's Nuclear Generating division that a group of American nuclear experts (often referred to behind their backs as the seven horsemen of the apocalypse) were brought in to solve the problem. These poor fellows were pretty much in awe of the size of the Bruce Nuclear site, and proved to have little of value to offer.

It soon became obvious that the American nuclear industry had a strong military background, having started with nuclear submarines, and that culture clashed pretty badly with the more democratic Canadian approach to management. The whole effort was a poor solution to a problem that hadn't really been much of a problem in the first place.

But the American managers' zero tolerance approach did a lot of temporary damage to the positive workplace culture that had existed at the nuclear plants and soon taught our nuclear workers to hid things instead of being honest about mistakes and using them as learning opportunities for everyone. It seemed to me that things went back to normal after the Yanks left, although some may question that.

In 1999 Ontario Hydro was broken up into two commercial successor corporations, Ontario Power Generation Inc. and Ontario Hydro Services Company Inc. (OHSC), as well as two not-for-profit agencies, the Independent Electricity Market Operator and the Electrical Safety Authority. About a year later, OHSC was renamed Hydro One.

The Conservative Provincial Government under Mike Harris planned to sell Hydro One, and the process for an initial public offering was well underway. But increased power prices and public concern over the advisability of privatizing the province's electrical grid caused the government to call the process to a halt and freeze power prices. It appeared to me that this controversy had a lot to do with the Liberal victory in the 2003 election.

In 2015 the Liberal government under Kathleen Wynne announced a plan to privatize 60% of Hydro One and despite considerable discussion about whether or not this was a good idea, over the next couple of years, 50.1 percent of Hydro One was sold, with the province retaining 49.9 percent.

In 2001 OPG leased the nuclear units at the Bruce site to Bruce Power, a partnership of several companies, including British Energy. In 2002 British energy dropped out, and Bruce power became wholly Canadian owned. The motivation behind this deal was that Bruce Power would raise the money for refurbishment of the 4 units at Bruce A (and eventually all 8 unit at Bruce), so the province didn't have to. This has gone well so far, except that Bruce Power has just as much trouble with cost and schedule overruns as Ontario Hydro did. And of course, when it is time to finally shut down the Bruce Units, OPG gets stuck with the job.

I should note here that the real reason for all these cost and schedule overruns is that the estimates for each of the jobs were low balled in the first place. If the estimates had been realistic, then approval never would have been given to go ahead with the projects. Ontario needed the power, we didn't want to admit the cost, so we accepted the unrealistically low estimates, and people with a golden parachutes took the blame when the dust settled at the end of each project. All part of the job, and nice work if you can get it.

My Job at Ontario Hydro/Hydro One

So, the job I got in the fall of 1992 was that of Union Trade Supervisor, Level 2 (UTS2), commonly known as Crew Foreman. There were two of us UTS2s in the crew at Bruce, each with a crew of 4 or 5 journeymen. As the name implies, we were in the same union as the people we were supervising.

As I said in my last post, I took this job to stop someone even worse than me from getting it. I approached the job with considerable trepidation and I was not disappointed. I do not get any thrill from being in a position of authority, and in any case this job came with no real authority. About the best you could hope for was to earn the respect and personal loyalty of the people working for you. Fortunately, my experience was that usually only about one person in twenty would be a serious problem.

One of the things that made being a UTS II at Bruce more challenging than at many other location in Ontario Hydro was the interface with the nuclear stations. We did a lot of work for them, mainly on their main output transformers and station service transformers. Most of this was done during unit outages and I had to work closely with the outage planners at Bruce GSB. Fortunately, the head of that department was Hans Braul, a friend of mine from Chamber Music Kincardine (see below). We had to coordinate with operators, control techs, mechanics and scaffolders from the plant and with OPG who provided cranes and crane operators. And despite the best efforts of the planners, much of the work got planned by the foremen from each workgroup, often getting together after the daily planning meeting was over.

I could tell many war stories about supervising people (herding cats is easier), but a bigger part of my job was coping with the many downsizings, reorganizations, and the eventual breakup of the company.

In 1996 the Electrical Mtce. crew at Hanover was shut down and the workers moved to the Bruce, two of them in my crew, and two of them in the other crew. This would have been bad enough, but the foreman from Hanover, a TMS2 (same level as UTS II, but in management rather than the union) was put in charge of the whole bunch of us. This is the same guy who'd made my stay in Hanover as an apprentice so miserable. It was a stressful time. The other UTS2 ended up quitting because of the conflict, and in 1999 the TMS II's health failed due to the stress and he retired. There was a "retirement package" in 2000 to encourage employees to take early retirement (easing the downsizing process) and 4 members of the crew left. I was left as the only UTS2, in charge of an eight man crew.

If my memory serves, there were seven different people in the position above me in the thirteen years between 1992 and 2005. Training many new bosses who had very little idea what they were doing was a constant challenge. Barry Fuller, who had been our District Foreman for many years retired in the fall of 1993, when Ontario Hydro offered a retirement package. During the following years, I began to realize just how good a supervisor Barry had been.

Even the title of that position changed occasionally and in April 2004 I became the eighth guy since 1992 in what was by then called the "Front Line Manager" position for Hydro One at Bruce. Once again, I took this job in self defense. The fellow who preceded me was a real problem child and I didn't want to take the chance that he would be replaced by someone as bad or worse. In the 15 months that I was in this position I think I did a fairly good job of it and I was actually starting to win over the guy above me, who at the outset had clearly had his doubts.

Taking this job involved moving to another bargaining unit, the Society of Energy Professionals. Hydro One's CEO at the time, a transplant from Australia, had taken it in his head to blame Hydro One's problems on the Society, especially the FLMs. Our contract expired in the spring of 2005 and it was obvious that management was looking for some major concessions. One was that new hires would be under a different and very much inferior contract and this was something we weren't willing to consider. At the start of June 2005 we went on strike.

This was a pretty acrimonious strike, with management working hard to stir up bad feelings between the Society and the Power Workers Union, the organization representing the people who worked for me. The thought of going back to work after the strike and having to represent management to the working guys was pretty appalling. As it happened, I was eligible to take early retirement by then and I did so, ending my career with Ontario Hydro/Hydro One at the end of June, 2005.

I miss some of my friends in the crew at the Bruce, but not the work. I probably could have gone back as a contract worker with either Hydro One or Bruce Power, but never did so. If I'd wanted to stay, I would have stayed as FLM and worked on some of the changes that I'd been aiming for. But it was not to be.

When I broached the idea of retiring with my wife she was very supportive, eager indeed to have me at home all the time. And neither of us has regretted it in the years since.


Since 1988 I'd been volunteering with Chamber Music Kincardine (CMK), doing publicity for a yearly series of chamber music concerts in Kincardine. This continued until 2000 when decreasing support from the Ontario Arts Council made it infeasible to continue.

In the spring of 1992 it became clear that the summer music camp in Southampton was not going to happen, so a group of people in Kincardine organized the first Kincardine Summer Music Festival. This was set up as a project of CMK, as part of CMK's mandate to bring music to the community. KSMF was a music camp with evening concerts performed by the teaching staff. I attended as a violin student in 92 and 93 and in the fall of 1993 took over as publicity director.

I had the privilege of working with Ron Lewis, who was chair of the KSMF organizing committee and also happened to be the Station Manager at Bruce Generating Station B. He knew more about ethics and how to treat people well that anybody I've ever met. I learned a great deal from Ron. The Lewis' left the area in 1999 and I took over as chairperson of KSMF in the fall of 99.

In 1992 we had somewhat over 200 students enrolled and by 2002 enrollment was over 600 in programs including jazz, chamber music, band, strings, vocal and "Music for Young People". I passed the chair position on to one of the other organizers after the festival in 2001 and retired altogether after the festival in 2002.

C&I Graphics

In 1992, along with everything else that was going on, we bought our first desktop computer and a big inkjet printer and started a graphic design and printing business which we named C&I Graphics.

Experience gained at C&I was a big help when reorganization began at Hydro and I, as a supervisor, was expected to "run things like a business".

At the start we mainly did work for CMK and KSMF, but we soon acquired many other clients—individuals and businesses in the Kincardine area. One of these clients was John Sangster, a fellow who ran a screen printing business and had us produce artwork for him to print, mainly real estate signs. Then John became a real estate agent himself and asked me to create a website for him and take photos of properties as well.

We had an assortment of photocopiers over the years and then copiers that were also printers—you could print to them directly from the computer. The quality kept getting better and so did the capability to print on heavier paper and coated papers. By the early 2000s colour laser printers got to the point where they could be called "digital printing presses". We had a Canon Imagerunner first and then switched over to Xerox machines which were pretty much the equal of an offset press for short runs of printing, which we specialized in.

After I retired from Hydro One business picked up considerably.

There was quite a demand in the area for large printing on a one-off basis, something that John Sangster couldn't do since screen printing is all about doing larger runs. Late in 2007 I bought a second hand inkjet printer made for printing on vinyl which could do up to 36" wide and we started to get into the sign making business. In the winter of 2009 we replaced it with a 54" Roland inkjet/vinyl cutter which was amazingly capable. And durable—it is still in use today, over nine years later.

We were also getting requests to print and bind books and I picked up a very rudimentary perfect binding machine on ebay, and replaced it a year or so later with a better model.

In 2008 the Municipality of Kincardine got together with a local historian, Bill Pace (who I had worked with at Hydro One) to create a set of plaques describing the history of each of the business on the main street of Kincardine, to be hung in the front windows of each of those businesses. Working from Bill's research we did the design and typesetting and printed those plaques and later we printed and bound a book with a page for each of the plaques. This was excellent publicity for our sign making and book binding capabilities.

In 2010 I was contacted by Eunice Lawrence, a retired school teacher and an absolutely brilliant woman. She had previously published a book on English grammar through on of the major text book publishers in Canada, but had a idea for another such book which would be done her way. She was in her 90s and this book was to be her legacy. We worked very closely together and turned out a grammar book that she was very satisfied with, and then another one on composition.

In 2014 I turned 60 and began to think about retiring from this second career. At the end of the year we sold to Progressive Results Group, run by a young fellow who was doing web sites and social media promotions and wanted to add printing and signmaking to the services he was offering. I was finally ready to retire, but not to relax, or at least not too much.

I don't miss deadlines or customers who can't be relied on to check proofs for typos. But I do miss the day to day contact with my customers, many of whom had become friends. C&I, along with CMK and KSMF, enabled me to do a lot of networking and to become well known in the community.

My Family and Friends

For the sake of their privacy, I'll let my wife and children tell their own stories when they choose to do so. But I will say becoming a husband and father was an experience involving a great deal of learning and growth that was helpful in everything else I did. When my kids set out to make their way in the world, I learned a lot about what it is really like out there today, that I wouldn't have been exposed to otherwise. And I am pretty proud of how my kids are doing in the messed up world that us baby boomer have left for them.

Carolynn has been steadfastly at my side all this time and also busy helping our kids and grandkids in every way possible and volunteering in the community as well. She is an amazing networking resource—just seems to know everybody.

Dad died at September 17, 1996, just before his 87th birthday. He was in a nursing home in Shelburne, and Mom was in the retirement home part of the same facility. The whole family got together at the retirement home to celebrate their forty-fifth wedding anniversary on September 15. I wheeled dad back to the nursing home side and talked to him for a while. He was suffering from some sort of dementia, but he made it pretty clear that he didn't want me to leave him alone there. I explained that everyone was waiting for me and we had to head for home and then left him. If I had it to do over again, I would have let everyone else wait a while longer and spent some more time with him.

Two days later I got a call early in the morning that Dad was failing fast and I should come as quickly as possible. We were in the middle of a big job at Bruce GSB and I stopped in at work long enough to get things moving before heading for Shelburne, even though a phone call would have sufficed. When I arrived, Dad was already gone. Seems I always have to learn things the hard way.

Mom died in June of 2001. The weekend before she passed away we had a very nice visit with her. When the call came that she had been rushed to the hospital in Orangeville, we left immediately and made it in time to see her before she passed on.

I haven't lengthened this account by talking about all the dogs and cats we've had over the years, but they have been a big part of our lives. After I retired in 2005 we got involved in fostering dogs for a local pet rescue and eventually adopted Rumour, a Siberian Husky/German Shepherd mix. He is thirteen years old now and still going strong. Carolynn and I both got pedometers and started walking at least 10,000 steps a day and Rumour has served as a personal training, giving us lots of encouragement in this endeavour.

Friends are a good thing to have and will become even more important as times get harder.

In 1993 I met my steadfast friend and financial adviser David Leigh. He doesn't give me a hard time about not drinking alcohol and I don't give him a hard time abut being a vegan, so we get along well.

In 2013, Dave had the idea of getting a group of self employed or retired guys together once a month for coffee and talk. This caught on very well and there are seven of us now. These are some friends I would never have met if not for Dave.

In a couple of other cases I've met a new male friend, only to find that Carolynn knew his wife, through Aquafit, or the choir she sings in. This has led to close friendships with several couples in the area.

More next time: how I became a kollapsnik

I had hoped to finish up with this post, but it's already long enough and what is possibly the best part is still left to tell. So I'll break off here and leave how I became a kollapsnik for next time.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

What I've Been Reading, April 2018


This note used to say that the links appear in the order I read them and was meant to imply that they were more or less random in their subject matter, other than being of interest to me. Recently I started a few new sections at the bottom of the links on subjects that are of particular interest to me. But I can see that as time passes I am moving to a greater degree of "curation", which the dictionary tell me is about organizing and maintaining a collection. Applied to this collection of links and books I guess this will mean selecting links less randomly and trying to make them relevant in the context of this blog and whatever is going on in the world during the month.


KMO, of the, gave me a bit of a tuning up a while back about criticizing things I haven't even read, in connection with The Bell Curve. I now have a copy of that book and am slugging my way slowly through it. But I've also been keeping an eye out for more rigorous criticism of the book, and this has led me down quite a trail of links. The ones I've actually read are listed below:

  • The Skewed Logic of the Bell-Shaped Curve, by Diane F. Halpern,
    A negative review of The Bell Curve:
    "Commenting on The Bell Curve is a lot like trying to catch a ball of jello. The arguments are slick and, like most skilled rhetoricians who are attempting to change how people think, the authors provide a veneer of fairness to cover the flaws and biases in their message."
  • Charles Murray is once again peddling junk science about race and IQ: podcaster and author Sam Harris is the latest to fall for it. By Eric Turkheimer, Kathryn Paige Harden, and Richard E. Nisbett, Vox
    "Asserting that the relatively poorer intellectual performance of racial groups is based on their genes is mistaken theoretically and unfounded empirically; and given the consequences of promulgating the policies that follow from such assertions, it is egregiously wrong morally."
    "Our bottom line is that there is a responsible, scientifically informed alternative to Murrayism: a non-essentialist view of intelligence, a non-deterministic view of behavior genetics, and a view of group differences that avoids oversimplified biology."
  • Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns, The Report of a Task Force Established by the American Psychological Association, February 1996
    The scientific consensus on intelligence as of 1996.
  • Intelligence: New Findings and Theoretical Developments, by:
    Richard E. Nisbett et al, published in The American Psychologist, February-March 2012
    The scientific consenus on intelligence, updated as of 2012.

Poverty, Homelessness, Minimum Wage

  • The Sharp, Sudden Decline of America's Middle Class, by Jeff Tietz, Rolling Stone
    They had good, stable jobs - until the recession hit. Now they're living out of their cars in parking lots. I think this will become more and more common over the next few years.
    "The Great Recession cost 8 million Americans their jobs. Three years after the economy technically entered recovery, there are positions available for fewer than one out of every three job seekers. In this labor market, formerly middle-class workers like Curtis and Concita Cates and Janis Adkins and Sean Kennan cannot reliably secure even entry-level full-time work, and many will never again find jobs as lucrative and stable as those they lost. Long-term unemployment tarnishes résumés and erodes basic skills, making it harder for workers to regain high-paying jobs, and the average length of unemployment is currently at a 60-year high. Many formerly middle-class people will never be middle-class again. Self-identities derived from five or 10 or 40 years of middle-class options and expectations will capsize."
  • Without a Home, LA Times
    "They're part of the Los Angeles streetscape, as familiar as the swaying palm trees and idling traffic, living under freeways, alongside riverbeds and on canyon hillsides. The mentally ill, the drug addicts, the economically disadvantaged, many with their life belongings in a backpack or shopping cart. In this ongoing series, Without a Home, The Times is examining the crisis of homelessness in our region."
  • Homeless in Seattle, by Ethan Epstein, The Weekly Standard
    "The relationship between rising rents and increased homelessness is particularly strong in four metros currently experiencing a crisis in homelessness—Los Angeles, New York, Washington, D.C., and Seattle."
    "With rents rising faster than incomes, we need to bring everybody to the table to produce more affordable housing and ease the pressure that is forcing too many of our neighbors into our shelters and onto our streets."

Puerto Rico

Autonomous Vehicles

  • The Dangers of (Self-)Driving Cars, by Melinda Sacks, Stanford Magazine
    Stanford researchers zero in on the safety challenges of autonomous vehicles.
    This article does a good job of raising some of the ethical issues with self driving cars, but it completely buys into popular ideas about the benefits of autonomous cars, about which I am very skeptical.
  • Uber’s negligence killed someone. It can’t be allowed to happen again, by Paris Marx, Medium
    Take note of the chart about half way down in the article. I wouldn't have guessed that Uber and Tesla are near the rear of the pack among companies developing autonomous vehicles, but apparently so.
  • What Uber’s Fatal Accident Could Mean for the Autonomous Car Industry, by MIT Technology Review, Medium
    "The first pedestrian death leads some to ask whether the industry is moving too fast to deploy the technology." “The sensors probably didn’t pick her up, or the algorithm didn’t understand what it’s seeing.”
    "...the Uber accident raises questions about the ability of safety drivers to monitor systems effectively, especially after long hours of testing..."




This month I've been bogged down reading one non-fiction book, which I haven't finished yet. So instead of what I've been reading this month, here are some gems from my bookshelf:

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Autobiographical Notes, Part 2

Adriene, me and the foundation of our house, Spring 1982

If you missed the first part of this series, have a look at it here.

When I returned home after dropping out of University in the fall of 1973 Dad said I had to get a job and start paying room and board and helping him around the farm as well.

I got a job working for one of the neighbours who grew potatoes. During the harvest I drove truck (poorly) and following that I did a pretty good job of shoveling potatoes onto to one end of a grading machine and stacking the 75 pound bags of potatoes that came off the other end.

Mr. Anderson, my high school principal dropped by one day during the potato harvest to ask what had happened with university and what my plans were. He wasn't too impressed when I said I planned to help dad on the farm and wanted to know if there was anything else I was interested in. I said I would like to be an electrician. As it happened, he had connections with Ontario Hydro, the provincial power utility, and got me a meeting with the personnel guy at Hydro's Barrie regional office. I put in applications for operator and electrician, had an interview for the electrician job a few months later and actually got the job.

I thanked Mr. Anderson the next time I saw him—his help made a major difference in my life.

I started my apprenticeship with the Electrical Maintenance crew in Barrie on April 28, 1974. We worked on electrical equipment in generating, transformer and distribution stations—generators, transformers, switches, circuit breakers, batteries and battery chargers and the control systems for this equipment. A lot of this equipment was so large that the work was more mechanical than electrical. Because of the amount of insulating oil and compressed air involved, we did a lot of pipe fitting. Building and tearing apart wooden crates for shipping equipment required basic carpentry skills. It was a kind of "jack of all trades" trade, which suited me. My favourite part was trouble shooting control systems and electronics.

This job led me to rub elbows occasionally with engineers and gave me a much better idea of what an engineer really does. I soon concluded that I would be much happier as an electrician than I would have been as an engineer. At the same time, I was always interested in the more technical aspects of the trade.

In the fall on 1975 I got a room in Barrie to avoid the winter driving between there and Honeywood, which could be pretty nasty. Living by myself was not my favourite thing but fortunately the library was only a block away from my room and I was involved with the Baha'is in Barrie as well.

With both mom and grandma busy in the kitchen at home I'd had very little chance to cook for myself, but I soon learned, and both mom and grandma were glad to offer advice. I learned to make chili con carne, something that was not part of the rural southern Ontario food culture, and soon showed mom how to make it.

The crew a Barrie were good guys and taught me a lot. Working in a closed union shop at Ontario Hydro also affected my politics and showed me why unions really are necessary.

In the later grades of high school I had become something of a libertarian. That is, an anarchist but with little concern for the welfare of others, based on the idea that I'd always be able to take care of myself and so should everybody else. I probably picked this up from reading too much of Heinlein's science fiction, especially his book The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. Then becoming a Baha'i moved me firmly into the counterculture, making me what I would now call a "Crunchy", but even back then I was not comfortable with "woo"—stuff that is not supported by the scientific consensus. And unfortunately most of the Baha'is I met seemed to subscribe to rather a lot of woo. But the Baha'i faith did give my more sympathy and concern for my fellow man, leading my eventually to being what I would now call an anarcho-communist rather than a libertarian.

I had always enjoyed drawing and in the last couple of years of high school I took up landscape painting. In the fall of 1974 I signed up for a course in sculpture at Georgian Collage in Barrie. Only got a C, but it was a good exposure to many different techniques.

I spent the Victoria Day weekend in May 1975 with my friend Owen, canoeing in Algonquin Park.

It was the practice to move apprentices around to different location to expose them to different work and a wider variety of types of equipment. In August of 1975 I was moved to the Electrical Mtce. crew in Hanover. They were a different bunch and working there was not a particularly good time for me. The District Foreman was an old fellow with heart problems who was frequently off sick. The journeyman who was usually stepped up to fill his position was one of those guys who aren't really suited to managing people, which is hard enough even if you're good at it.

Thanksgiving weekend 1975 I camped out by myself in Algonquin Park, and did some landscape painting of the brilliant fall colours.

For the first few months in Hanover I boarded with another Hydro worker (not one of the guys I was working with). Early in the winter of 1976 I rented an apartment in Hanover. I was back to cooking for myself again and I took up bread baking, with pointers from my grandmother (don't use milk in bread, among other things). She also explained why she didn't like whole wheat bread—when she was little it was her job to crank the grain mill to make flour. Her family ate whole grain bread made from that flour, while those who were better off got store bought white bread.

In the fall of 1976, though still working at Hanover, I moved to Kincardine. This move was to support the Baha'is in Kincardine, who needed another body to make up the nine required for their Local Spiritual Assembly. I moved in with a family of Baha'is, since housing was hard to find in Kincardine at the time due to the influx of construction workers building the Bruce Nuclear Power Development.

The lady of the house had a younger sister named Carolynn. I started dating her and in a matter of a few weeks we were engaged. A lot of people thought this was way too quick and told us it would never last, but 40 years later we are still together. If I don't do anything too stupid I expect we'll be together for quite a while longer yet. Fortunately, after forty years with me Carolynn has quite a high tolerance for stupid stuff. And after forty years with her I am starting to smarten up a bit.

Driving from Kincardine to Hanover every day that winter was pretty brutal—as luck would have it, the winter of 1976/77 was one of the worst I've ever seen. So I requested a transfer to the Electrical Mtce. crew at Bruce. There was a fellow there who wanted to go to Hanover, and in June of 1977 we changed places. This was the start of my career at the Bruce, the largest nuclear power development in the world, where I spent the rest of my time with Ontario Hydro.

At the start of that time, I was not too keen on nuclear power—part of my crunchiness, I guess. But as I learned more about it, my opinion changed.

In the early summer of 1977 I moved from Kincardine to a rental mobile home in Tiverton, a small village a few miles north of Kincardine—much closer to farm where Carolynn lived with her parents. Carolynn and I were married in August of 1977. Her father lent us his motor home for our honeymoon and we drove around southern Ontario, as far east as Ottawa and back through Algonquin Park.

On the way back we stopped at a book store in Barrie and I picked up some books, including The Limits to Growth, and Small is Beautiful. Small Is Beautiful made a lasting impression on me and affected my political, economic and business management thinking for the rest of my life. The Limits To Growth made less of a positive impression—being a technical guy, I was sure there would be a technological solution. In the 70s and 80s, I was reading a lot about solving our resource and energy problems off planet—orbiting solar power stations, asteroid mining and so forth.

I don't think I even finished reading The Limits to Growth on my initial encounter with it. It was well into the current century before I returned to that book with a more realistic idea of what technology can do. In the meantime, we settled down to living, and attempting to prosper in the "business as usual" world.

I had never really enjoyed living alone, so I found married life suited me well.

The trailer we were renting was on a big lot and I got a nearby farmer to plow the backyard. I bought a nice rear-tine rototiller and planted a big garden in the spring of 1978.

Also In the spring of 1978 I finished my apprenticeship, passed my final exam and became a journeyman "Power Maintenance Electrician".

In the spring of 1979 we moved to a rental house in the south end of Tiverton and planted a small garden in the backyard there. We were renting from a farmer and I arranged to plant a much larger garden in a corner of a field of his just south of town in 1980 and 1981.

Our daughter, Adriene, was born in the Kincardine hospital in the middle of a blizzard in January of 1980.

The thing about living in Tiverton was that rarely a day went by when we didn't have to drive to Kincardine, so we decided to move there. In the summer of 1981 we bought a building lot in Kincardine.

In the fall of 1981 I left the Baha'i Faith. The immediate cause was a squabble over my correcting another Baha'i on a minor issue of grammar/semantics. But I had been growing less satisfied with the Faith for some time, and this was just the straw that broke the camel's back. When the dust settled, so to speak, I was an atheist again and I still am.

Baha'is aren't supposed to drink alcohol or use mind altering drugs (except coffee) and I still don't. Living in Bruce County, where the use of alcohol is a key part of the local culture, I've taken a lot of flack for this, but I've no intention of changing. The Baha'i Faith also left me with an abiding distrust of hierarchy and patriarchy in particular, and an aversion to statements of absolute truth. Sometime not too long after this I came up with the smart-ass quip, "truth is what other people want you to believe." As time goes by, I think there is more to that than I originally though. Years later, after reading Daniel Dennett's "Breaking the Spell", I absorbed his idea that what most people believe in is belief itself—that belief is a good thing. But I don't think it is.

I had had some limited exposure to computers in high school and university, but "personal computers" were exploding onto the scene in the early 80s. I bought a "pocket computer" from Radio Shack with a single line LCD display that allowed you to program it in BASIC. We also got a computer at work and I did some BASIC programming on it as well.

In the summer of 1982 I bought a Radio Shack Color Computer, and a program cartridge that allowed me to do assembly language programming. I had a lot of fun learning 6809 assembly language, writing a text editor, a compiler for a Forth-like language, and some programs to control a robot I was building.

In 1982 we built a house on that lot in Kincardine, doing all the work ourselves except for the foundation, the installation of the electric furnace and ductwork, putting up the drywall board and some of the flooring. Carolynn was my extremely valuable right hand man, and we had help from my parents, all three of Carolynn's brothers and several local youths. In December of 82 we moved in. It was by no means finished and I spent a lot of time during the next few years finishing drywall, installing flooring, doors and trim, and building the kitchen cabinets. Carolynn did most of the painting. In the course of building that house Carolynn and I learned a lot about working together. It was a stressful experience from time to time and we've often said if we could get through that, we could get through anything.

In 1982 the "energy crises" in 1973 and 1979 were still on my mind, so we built a house with lots of insulation and south facing windows. Sadly, the lot was quite small and for many years I didn't think there was room for a garden and didn't do any gardening.

Ontario Hydro had sent me on a course on electronics in 1981. I was invited to come back and teach the course to apprentices and in January 1983 I sat in on an apprentice electronics course and did some of the teaching. Over the next few years I taught two of those two week courses each year, usually one in the fall and one in the winter, and later on taught the somewhat more advanced 3 week journeyman electronics course as well. All this took place at Ontario Hydro's Conference and Development Centre in the Hockley Valley, near Orangeville. That meant that I was away from home during the week while teaching. Being left at home with our small children was rather tough on Carolynn but, as always, she was a real trooper and managed very well.

Teaching added some welcome variety and new learning experiences to my career. I had been a journeyman for six years by 1983 and was feeling somewhat discontented. There was also some conflict with some of the crew members at Bruce who were adept at pushing my buttons just for laughs. Thinking back, I had had good people skills in high school, so it puzzles me why that ever became a problem, but it did. Eventually I learned to let it all roll off my back and teaching gave me some added confidence that helped. Eventually we all learned to get along, and it seemed to me that the other guys had changed more than I had.

For the first couple of years the electronics course consisted of my presenting the main content of the course in a series of lectures, some hands on projects and then troubleshooting the battery chargers we had in the classroom. But the training department had a mandate to switch everything over to "self paced learning", and that required writing down what we'd been lecturing. So myself and the other guy who'd be teaching the course did just that.

By this time computers had come far enough to run word processors, and fortunately I'd taken typing back in grade 9. I spent a few of months sitting at a computer, writing down what I'd been saying up at the front of the classroom. This was my first experience with writing professionally and of course it included being edited. This no doubt improved my writing while wearing some corners off my ego.

Once the text of the course was ready, I got involved in typesetting the manual, using Pagemaker on a Mac and drawing some of the illustrations using something called Cricket Draw, again on a Mac.

My grandmother passed away at age 97 early in the summer of 1983.

Michael-John, our first son, was born in August of 1983, and Daniel, our second son born in winter of 1986.

Some of the engineering people in our part of Ontario Hydro (Georgian Bay Region) wrote a timesheet entry and management information program called "CALMIS" (Computer Aided Local Management Information System) in the mid 80s. This originally ran on the Radio Shack TRS80 computers, but was soon moved over to the IBM PC. Initially only the timesheet entry part of the system was ported and then I was offered the opportunity to move the rest of the system over to the IBM and do maintenance programming on the system until the mid 90s when our part of Hydro switched over to an entirely different system. The system was written in Fortran, which was the programming language that the engineers were familiar with. I untangled their spaghetti code and turned the system into something that was more structured and fairly easy to maintain.

We bought our first proper stereo system in early 1987, with a CD player, and I started collecting CDs. My musical interests were mainly classical, and I soon found that I especially enjoyed strings (violin, viola, cello) and chamber music.

A group call Chamber Music Kincardine (CMK) had started in Kincardine, bringing world class chamber music groups to perform in Kincardine, with the help of some grants from the Ontario Arts Council. We started attended the concerts and I got involved as publicity director in the fall of 1988.

I bought a violin at a pawn shop in Toronto late in 1988 and started lessons in early 1989. I had a good ear for pitch , but almost no sense of rhythm or timing. My sons started playing violin not long after that, as soon as they were big enough to hold a 1/8 size. For the first while, I taught them myself.

My parents sold the farm and moved to Orangeville in 1988.

In 1989 our union steward got another job and I volunteered to replace him.

In the spring of 1990 we bought a new computer, a PC clone laptop, and I started 8086 assembly language programming, as well as word processing and desktop publishing. For a couple of years after that, CMK's promotional posters were done on that little computer and a dot matrix printer.

In 1990 and 1991 I went to went to the summer music camp in Southampton with my son Michael.

1992 was a busy year.

We got our first desktop computer, a proper desktop PC clone with a 486 process, a big Canon inkjet printer that could print on up to 11X17 paper and a scanner. This equipment was the basis of C&I Graphics, the desktop publishing/printing company that we started.

The summer music festival in Southampton didn't happen that year, so a group of us got together and started the Kincardine Summer Music Festival, which is still running 26 years later, though I haven't been involved since 2002.

In the spring of 92 of the two crew foreman at work got job elsewhere in Ontario Hydro. The other crew foreman encouraged me to apply for the job, mainly to prevent one of the other possible candidates from getting it. I agreed that his getting the job would not be a good outcome and so, in self defense, I applied for and got the job in the fall of 1992.

Both myself and that other guy were sent on a course called "Developing Potential Supervisors" before the interviewing for the job started. I found this very helpful, both in the interview and when I had to actually start being a supervisor.

This marked the end of my teaching the electronics course, the end of my time as Union Steward and the start of a new era in my career with Ontario Hydro. As such, this is probably a good place to stop for this time. Next time I'll bring this story of my life up to date.

Monday, 2 April 2018

What I've Been Reading, March 2018


This note used to say that the links appear in the order I read them and was meant imply that they were more or less random in their subject matter, other than being of interest to me. Recently I started a few new sections at the bottom of the links on subjects that are of particular interest to me. But I can see that as time passes I am moving to a greater degree of "curation", which the dictionary tell me is about organizing and maintaining a collection. Applied to this collection of links and books I guess this will mean selecting links less randomly and trying to make them relevant in the context of this blog and whatever is going on in the world during the month.

Poverty, Housing, Homelessness

Last month I listed a link to an article that maintained poverty is the main cause of homelessness, so I've expended the scope of this section, and rolled minimum wage issues in with it.

  • Exposing the great 'poverty reduction' lie, by Jason Hickel, Aljazeera
    "The UN claims that its Millennium Development Campaign has reduced poverty globally, but some measures show it is worse."
  • Survivors, by Brigid Hains, Aeon.
    "Filthy and violent it may be, but life is still precious for the world's street children. Can you look them in the eye?"
  • $15 minimum wage or a tax cut: what are the trade-offs? by Sheila Block, Behind the Numbers.
  • Thousands of Working New Yorkers Are Living in Homeless Shelters, by Jacquelyn Simone, Coalition for the Homeless
    "Rents surged nearly 20% in real dollars from 2000 to 2014, while household income decreased by 6.3%. The number of people living in New York City shelters skyrocketed to more than 60,000 late last year, up from 31,009 in 2002. The rise in the working homeless is a big reason why."
  • L.A. homeless crisis grows despite political promises, many speeches and millions of dollars. How do we fix this? by Steve Lopez, LA Times
    "Beginning at Central Avenue and heading west, I counted 16 tents on the south side of 5th Street. My longtime traveling companion, Times photographer Francine Orr, counted 15 tents on the north side of the street.
    "One block, 31 tents.
    "On skid row, this is the norm, and it has been for years. On a recent day, it was not possible to walk on the sidewalk in the one-block stretch of 6th Street between San Julian and Wall streets. Rows of tents and blue tarp shanties lined the entire stretch, extending all the way to the curb, so you had to walk in the street."

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico after the hurricane is a present day example of what we can expect to see someday soon in many areas experiencing collapse, though the future will no doubt see even less recovery funding from the mainland.

One would hope the recovery would aim for resilience and sustainability, but that doesn't seem to be the way it is going. And beyond that, I don't hear anyone talking about preparing for the next storm. The reality of climate change is that there will surely be another storm and probably in the near future. it would be a shame if all the recovery work that is being done was wiped out during the next hurricane season.

Intelligence and IQ Testing

Autonomous Vehicles



  • Ecko Rising, by Daniel Ware
    First in a three part series, but I don't think I'll read the other two.
  • The Corporation Wars: Emergence, by Ken Macleod
    Third and final book in an excellent trilogy.
  • Dark State, by Charles Stross
    Second in a trilogy which is a continuation of a series of six books. But he keeps me coming back for more. A real cliff hanger at the end of this one and the next book isn't coming out until January 2019.


And to round out this month, here are some gems from my bookshelf: