A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for June 2010

[NON BLOG] What’s my Scott Pilgrim avatar?

Yes, I will be going to see the Scott Pilgrim movie. How did you know?

Me as Scott Pilgrim

For some reason it feels like 2002 here now …

Written by Randy McDonald

June 30, 2010 at 9:29 pm

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[OBSCURA] The first digital image: Walden Kirsch, 1957

The first digital image: Walden Kirsch, 1957
Originally uploaded by rfmcdpei

I think it quite fitting that the first digitally scanned image was a picture of a baby scanned by his father. The National Institute of Standards and Technology wrote about this achievement on the 50th anniversary of this image’s scanning back in May 2007.

It was a grainy image of a baby—just 5 centimeters by 5 centimeters—but it turned out to be the well from which satellite imaging, CAT scans, bar codes on packaging, desktop publishing, digital photography and a host of other imaging technologies sprang.

It was 50 years ago this spring that National Bureau of Standards (NBS, now known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST) computer pioneer Russell Kirsch asked “What would happen if computers could look at pictures?” and helped start a revolution in information technology. Kirsch and his colleagues at NBS, who had developed the nation’s first programmable computer, the Standards Eastern Automatic Computer (SEAC), created a rotating drum scanner and programming that allowed images to be fed into it. The first image scanned was a head-and-shoulders shot of Kirsch’s three-month-old son Walden.

The ghostlike black-and-white photo only measured 176 pixels on a side—a far cry from today’s megapixel digital snapshots—but it would become the Adam and Eve for all computer imaging to follow. In 2003, the editors of Life magazine honored Kirsch’s image by naming it one of “the 100 photographs that changed the world.”

Kirsch père and fils were brought to my attention by Rachel Ehrenburg’s Wired Science article examining how the elder Kirsch came up with a process for creating, not the square pixels used above and later on, but pixels of variable shape. (The consensus in the comments is that it’s an unnecessary effort, an unneeded fix.)

I wonder. Has this image has an uninterrutped electronic lineage fifty-three years long, never having been scanned back in from a book or a paper or another physical document?

Written by Randy McDonald

June 29, 2010 at 4:57 am

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[LINK] “Sadness remains on Toronto’s streets”

Peter Kuitenbrouwer’s article sums up my feeling, and the feelings of my fellow Torontonians, about the G20: it was just a sad, expensive mess, overshadowing the good points of the city and the positive things many people tried to accomplish.

“I don’t think the G20 should be here in the downtown core,” [one Leslieville mother, Tara] said. “No one asked whether we wanted a prison on the end of our street.”

This morning, as Toronto sweeps up the broken glass of shattered Yonge Street and hauls away the wreck of the burnt cop cars, and the courts begin the tedious job of processing those arrested, and workers begin dismantling the awful fences that criss-cross the financial core, Toronto will heave a collective sigh of relief.

All we can hope is that the leaders and visiting police are gone, and will not return soon.

“It’s not like [all the rioting, arrests and property damage] was a surprise,” said Tara. “Have you seen what happens at other G20s? My taxpayer dollars are going to this: a circus at the end of my street.”

The playwrite Anton Chekhov famously remarked, “‘If you bring a gun on-stage you better make sure it is shot,” a fitting remark as wave upon wave of police arrived in Toronto last week and big fences went up downtown.

Add summery June weather with exams over for high school and university students, the presence of many controversial world leaders, and hundreds of journalists whom authorities forbade from attending the actual summit meetings, and you had the ingredients for trouble.

Most people at Saturday’s mass protest, which snaked from Queen’s Park south through the rain to Queen Street and then west, did not want violence. Ethiopian-Canadians denounced the presence in Toronto of their homeland’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, whom they say “has muzzled civic society.” Vietnamese-Canadians protested that country’s Prime Minister Dung Tan Nguyen, whom they called “corrupt.” Tibetans protested for freedom in their ancestral home.

And when Jean-Francois Des Lauriers, a regional vice-president with the Public Service Alliance of Canada visiting from Yellowknife, stood in the mud under a huge chestnut tree at Queen’s Park and shouted in French to a group of about 100 union members (each wrapped in a clear plastic bag) that: “It is time for the people to take back the power!” he meant it in the figurative sense.

Even so, a small group wanted violence, and smashed up Queen Street and Yonge Street Saturday afternoon. At about 4 p.m. Post cartoonist Gary Clement and I walked up Yonge past windows smashed at Pizza Pizza, American Apparel, Zanzibar strip club, Swiss Chalet, Money Mart, De Boer’s, Quiznos Sub, the ironically-named Urban Brick, and the Bell store, Tim Hortons and Winners in College Park.

Yonge, closed to traffic, thronged with thousands of people, sort of riot tourists having their pictures taken in front of all the broken windows, as though it were a big joke. “I am in the smashed Tim Hortons!” one young man said into his cell phone. There were no police in sight; business owners wondered why no police had come to protect them.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 28, 2010 at 8:36 am

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • Andrew Barton shares in the general disgust with the utter pointlessness of the G20 riots here in Toronto.
  • At GNXP, Razib Khan doesn’t like the sorts of public perceptions which make it impossible for journalists like Dave Weigel–i.e. all of us–to present different faces to different people in the Internet era.
  • At Centauri Dreams, Paul Gilster lets us know how preliminary surveys may well demonstrate that there are more brown dwarfs–basically, star-like objects lacking the mass necessary to sustain fusion–in our area of the galaxy than normal stars.
  • Eastern approaches points out that the Holocaust was rather discontinuous from post-war pogroms in Poland, not least because the Polish state didn’t authorize them and tried to stop it.
  • The Global Sociology Blog reviews a book that takes a look at downwards social mobility, making the point that fears of decline often inspired dodgy politics.
  • Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen worries about Berlin’s economy. Since the end of Communism, the end of subsidies to industry in west and east Berlin both has led to an industrial collapse, leaving the city without much of a tax base and forcing the state to take on the role of patron to the arts.
  • Torontoist has great pictures of all the free swag that accredited G20 journalists go.
  • At The Way the Future Blogs, Frederik Pohl writes about how Isaac Asimov really didn’t like people saying that he was not Jewish enough.
  • Window on Eurasia reports that Uzbekistan’s admittedly powerless opposition wants Kyrgyzstan’s Uzbek population to receive territorial autonomy.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell takes a look at how the Taliban in Afghanistan is reshaping itself in Afghanistan in response to its need to acquire public support. The ideological dialogics continue, as they always do.

[LINK] “Measures of War”

Fittingly, for this weekend’s Historicist feature at Torontoist, Jamie Bradburn discussed Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s 1970 invocation of the War Measures Act in response to the October Crisis, when the Front de Libération du Québec took hostages to forward its separatist cause and Canadians thought their country was about to teeter.

It turns out that the October Crisis has some Toronto connections.

After the federal government invoked the act without parliamentary debate on October 16, Toronto’s evening newspapers swung into multiple-edition mode. Each successive copy of that night’s Star and Telegram featured the day’s debates in Ottawa and at Queen’s Park, along with the evolving responses of local law enforcement officials. Early editorials backed parts of the act that were absolutely necessary to maintain calm and curb the FLQ and wished for a speedy revocation. While all of the papers expressed reservations about rights suspension, the Star was the most critical in its views, as it believed that Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau should have gone to the House of Commons first and provided a full explanation as to why his tactics suddenly changed from strict negotiations over the release of the hostages to bringing in the act. The general reservations among local media were summed up at the end of the Globe and Mail’s editorial the following day: “It will be up to the government now to prove that it invoked the War Measures Act in order to eliminate a gang of terrorists and not to destroy its political enemies.”

At Queen’s Park, Ontario Premier John Robarts was quickly provided with round-the-clock guard in the wake of statements from a group of prominent Quebeckers that urged him to keep his nose out of Quebec’s affairs after he commented that the FLQ was a national concern. Robarts indicated that he had been consulted before the act was imposed and, while conceding its powers could be harmful if misused, felt full confidence in the federal government. On the opposition benches, the Liberals raised no fuss, while NDP leader Stephen Lewis felt the act was unnecessary unless Trudeau could prove that an armed insurrection was imminent and asked for daily reports on any arrests that were made in the province. Ontario Attorney General Arthur Wishart refused any comment until it was clear what, if any, responsibilities local police forces and the OPP had to enforce the emergency measures.

[. . .]

While there wasn’t a mass rally at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute, several of its students went to Nathan Phillips Square the same day to shout down anti–War Measures Act demonstrators from Rochdale College. Clad in school jackets, the Ryerson contingent waved flags and pictures of Trudeau while calling out points made by the Rochdalians in back-and-forth volleys that, when reading the account in the Globe and Mail, sound like an argument between primary school pupils (including cries for the Rochdalians to take a bath, names like “white honky” tossed around, comparisons to abortions, and debates as to time protesters spent in Quebec).

[. . .]

Over the month that the War Measures Act remained in effect, most incidents related to it in Toronto were either debates or problems with the printing and distribution of publications that included FLQ manifestos, as the Varsity discovered in early November. When the paper’s printer refused to touch one offending article, the editors replaced it with a photo of gagged man with “censored” written across the tape, captioned “guess what folks.” On a visit to Oakwood Collegiate around that time, federal Progressive Conservative leader Robert Stanfield was confronted by a student who felt Stanfield’s initial questioning of the act hadn’t helped the country. Stanfield admitted he was a “little disturbed” by the depths of the lack of regard for civil rights suspended by the act.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2010 at 10:49 pm

[URBAN NOTE] Stonewall, 41 years later

Since Pride this weekend has been displaced by the G20, it took Joe. My. God. to remind me that today is the 41st anniversary of the eve of the Stonewall riots, the urban protests in New York City that–well–made it possible for me to live. In commemoration of the anniversary, Joe. reposted the New York Daily News article covering the events. It is condenscendingly homophobic, as one might expect for the time, but it marked the beginning of something very nice indeed.

The crowd began to get out of hand, eye witnesses said. Then, without warning, Queen Power exploded with all the fury of a gay atomic bomb. Queens, princesses and ladies-in-waiting began hurling anything they could get their polished, manicured fingernails on. Bobby pins, compacts, curlers, lipstick tubes and other femme fatale missiles were flying in the direction of the cops. The war was on. The lilies of the valley had become carnivorous jungle plants.

Urged on by cries of “C’mon girls, lets go get’em,” the defenders of Stonewall launched an attack. The cops called for assistance. To the rescue came the Tactical Patrol Force.

Flushed with the excitement of battle, a fellow called Gloria pranced around like Wonder Woman, while several Florence Nightingales administered first aid to the fallen warriors. There were some assorted scratches and bruises, but nothing serious was suffered by the honeys turned Madwoman of Chaillot.

Official reports listed four injured policemen with 13 arrests. The War of the Roses lasted about 2 hours from about midnight to 2 a.m. There was a return bout Wednesday night.

Two veterans recently recalled the battle and issued a warning to the cops. “If they close up all the gay joints in this area, there is going to be all out war.”

Both said they were refugees from Indiana and had come to New York where they could live together happily ever after. They were in their early 20’s. They preferred to be called by their married names, Bruce and Nan.

“I don’t like your paper,” Nan lisped matter-of-factly. “It’s anti-fag and pro-cop.”

“I’ll bet you didn’t see what they did to the Stonewall. Did the pigs tell you that they smashed everything in sight? Did you ask them why they stole money out of the cash register and then smashed it with a sledge hammer? Did you ask them why it took them two years to discover that the Stonewall didn’t have a liquor license.”

Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2010 at 8:00 pm

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[FORUM] What is your personal experience with street protests?

This is just a brief little [FORUM] post, but events make me wonder.

How many people have actually taken part in a street demonstration? More than one? Was it any particular cause that got you out, an outrage that pushed you out, or were you committed to a particular cause that just happened to take out you on one occasion or another (or others)?


Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2010 at 5:08 pm

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[URBAN NOTE] Today, in Toronto under the G20

By the time that I was ready to go on from work on of my co-workers, who lives in the area around the University of Toronto perhaps a half-hour’s walk north of the G20 summit area, told me that someone set a police car on fire in front of her apartment.

The Globe and Mail‘s timeline suggests that the Black Bloc protesters had begun their work around 3 o’clock, breaking out of the crowd to start attacking different outlets–an American Eagle, a Starbucks, a Scotiabank–on Queen Street West and Yonge, too, as the below video shows. Yonge was unprotected by police.

All were eventually redirected north and east and the whole body of protesters being dispersed a bit after 7 o’clock. Long before that, the TTC had made the decision to halt all subway service below Bloor Street, along with the streetcars, and left only two bus routes bracketing the downtown running.

I like Aaron Wherry’s description of Toronto as being in a state of “stupid chaos.” Toronto is pretty far from succmbing to a provisional revolutionary government of any kind, most Torontonians simply staying away from the downtown core–I know a few people who have vacated the city entirely–and people who wanted to go somewhere managing, somehow, soccer fans hoping to see the Toronto FC perform being given a dedicated bus starting from Bathurst Station. Attendance at various events is still very depressed, notwithstanding reported hopes that business will not collapse, but even thrive.

Violence is being blamed on the “Black Bloc” protesters, belonging not to a movement so much as maintaining a tactic of being selectively invisible: “The crowd, dressed in their black uniforms, moves as a blob, its members indistinguishable from one another. One will run from the pack and lob a rock through a window, before disappearing back into the mob.” Presumably it is the sort of tactic supposed to trigger generalized police attacks against crowds and further radicalization; again, given a profound lack of interest in revolution, I have no idea how this is going to work. The Black Bloc is a post-modern cellular group, “made up of smaller groups of 10 or so activists, keeping head counts and decision-making quick and easy. Directions are passed through the mob with codes — on Saturday, “umbrella” was a call to move to the frontline.” While resistant to being taken over, as Wikipedia notes it is pretty easy for outsiders like police to subvert the tactic users, who are prone to go off in all directions anyway.

For the most part, their targets are specific and symbolic: As the crowd tore across Queen St., they hammered police cruisers, attacked banks and other corporate companies. Yet they left a record store, a local tavern and an independent hardware shop untouched.

“This isn’t violence. This is vandalism against violent corporations. We did not hurt anybody. They (the corporations) are the ones hurting people,” one man said.

Others pelted the Zanzibar strip bar with manikin limbs they had snatched from a nearby clothing store.

“This is all part of the sexist, male-dominated war machine we live in,” explained one member.

Factions within that group, however, appeared to just relish the mayhem. As the protest marched up Yonge St., they became more indiscriminate in what they damaged.

Two young activists sprinted onto Yonge-Dundas Square and battered the tourist information booth, sparking jeers from some crowd members.

On College St, a pack of masked protesters began to vandalize an empty BMW 4X4. A civilian car, albeit it an expensive civilian car.

“Stop it. They’re not our enemies,” one protester shouted.

The other retorted: “Yuppies are our enemy.”

I have to agree with people like the National Post‘s Don Martin, who criticized the Black Bloc folk for ruining things for the other protesters, and not incidentally repeating the obvious point that it is a bad idea to hold these kinds of summits in crowded city cores. Sarkozy promises that the next G8/G20 summit, in France, will cost a tenth. I can only hope someone will learn from Harper’s foolish decision.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2010 at 12:49 am

[FORUM] What experiences with huge international conferences have you and yours had?

Following A Bit More Detail, you’ve certainly noted my anxiety over the impending G20 summit here in Toronto, a period of several days marked by mass protest and huge needless expenditures and a downtown core temporarily rendered less livable. I have stated my hopes that the Toronto summit might mark the beginning of a new era in global governance, but still, does the summit have to take place in this way?

Toronto is a new arrival to the rank of summit-holding cities. Others, I know, have had much more experience hosting delicate negotiations over issues of regional; and global import. How do your cities and communities handle like events? Have you felt them impact on her life, negatively or maybe positively? Do you have any advice for us newbies?


Written by Randy McDonald

June 26, 2010 at 12:02 am

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[LINK] “Police powers expanded for G20”


Police forces in charge of security at the G20 summit in Toronto have been granted special powers for the duration of the summit.

The new powers took effect Monday and apply along the border of the G20 security fence that encircles a portion of the downtown core. This area — the so-called red zone — includes the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, where delegates will meet. The new regulations effectively expand the jurisdiction of the existing Public Works Act to apply to high-security areas of the summit site.

Under the new regulations, anyone who comes within five metres of the security area is obliged to give police their name and state the purpose of their visit on request. Anyone who fails to provide identification or explain why they are near the security zone can be searched and arrested.

The new powers are designed specifically for the G20, CBC’s Colin Butler reported Friday.

Ontario’s cabinet quietly passed the new rules on June 2 without legislature debate.

Civil liberties groups are concerned about the new regulations, but Toronto police Chief Bill Blair defended the move to add the new powers and denied there was any attempt to deceive the public about how or when they were enacted.

“It was not a secret,” Blair told CBC News on Friday. “It was passed in exactly the procedure as described in our legislation in Ontario.

“It was published by the province … if you go and Google ‘Public Works Act Ontario’ it’s the second thing that comes up. The first will be the act itself.”

Lawyer Howard Morton said the new rules go too far and were brought into effect without proper notice.

Protester Dave Vasey, one of Morton’s clients, was arrested Thursday after he failed to produce identification. Morton said his client — who was not aware of the new rules — was held for five hours at a special detention facility on Eastern Avenue.

The “special detention facility” was described in the Toronto Star as “a wire cage, on a metal bench.”

Vasey was arrested Thursday afternoon while exploring the G20 perimeter with his friend, Cameron Fenton. He said they were just “walking around” when they were stopped by police at York St. and Bremner Blvd.

“The officer told me, ‘I am going to have to place you under arrest if you don’t show your identification,’ and I replied ‘I’m not comfortable with that.’”

Vasey said he had been provided with legal information prior to the G20 from the Toronto Community Mobilization Network, an umbrella group supporting thousands of protesters descending on the city.

“But (police) told me there was this bylaw,” he said. “I didn’t know what they were talking about.”

Vasey was held under the Public Works Protection Act and charged with refusing to comply with a request of a peace officer. His bail lawyer, Howard Morton, said that, as far as he knows, Vasey is the first to be arrested under the new regulation.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 25, 2010 at 6:27 pm

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