A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for February 2016

[LINK] “Values, directions, and action”, or, sociological self-help

Daniel Little’s self-help post at Understanding Society was a bit surprising to see at first glance, given the fundamentally sociological nature of that blog. On second thought, it made sense. Why not a sociological approach to self-improvement?

Several earlier posts have raised the question of rational life planning. What is involved in orchestrating one’s goals and activities in such a way as to rationally create a good life in the fullness of time?

We have seen that there is something wildly unlikely about the idea of a developed, calculated life plan. Here is a different way of thinking about this question, framed about directionality and values rather than goals and outcomes. We might think of life planning in these terms:

* The actor frames a high-level life conception — how he/she wants to live, what to achieve, what activities are most valued, what kind of person he/she wants to be. It is a work in progress.
* The actor confronts the normal developmental issues of life through limited moments in time: choice of education, choice of spouse, choice of career, strategies within the career space, involvement with family, level of involvement in civic and religious institutions, time and activities spent with friends, … These are week-to-week and year-to-year choices, some more deliberate than others.
* The actor makes choices in the moment in a way that combines short-term and long-term considerations, reflecting the high-level conception but not dictated by it.
* The actor reviews, assesses, and updates the life conception. Some goals are reformulated; some are adjusted in terms of priority; others are abandoned.

This picture looks quite a bit different from more architectural schemes for creating and implementing a life plan considered in earlier posts, including the view that Rawls offers for conceiving of a rational plan of life. Instead of modeling life planning after a vacation trip assisted by an AAA TripTik (turn-by-turn instructions for how to reach your goal), this scheme looks more like the preparation and planning that might have guided a great voyage of exploration in the sixteenth century. There were no maps, the destination was unknown, the hazards along the way could only be imagined. But there were a few guiding principles of navigation — “Keep making your way west,” “Sail around the biggest storms,” “Strive to keep reserves for unanticipated disasters,” “Maintain humane relations with the crew.” And, with a modicum of good fortune, these maxims might be enough to lead to discovery.

This scheme is organized around directionality and regular course correction, rather than a blueprint for arriving at a specific destination. And it appears to be all around a more genuine understanding of what is involved in making reflective life choices. Fundamentally this conception involves having in the present a vision of the dimensions of an extended life that is specifically one’s own — a philosophy, a scheme of values, a direction-setting self understanding, and the basics needed for making near-term decisions chosen for their compatibility with the guiding life philosophy. And it incorporates the idea of continual correction and emendation of the plan, as life experience brings new values and directions into prominence.</blockquot

Written by Randy McDonald

February 29, 2016 at 11:59 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • blogTO notes that, this summer, there will be a play in Toronto about Target Canada’s demise set in an old Target store.
  • Dangerous Minds shares photos of women using boxy early 1980s office computers.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to one paper suggesting most super-Earths are mini-Neptunes and to another noting the odd disk of L1455 IRS1.
  • The Dragon’s Tales looks at the huge problem of corporate debt in China.
  • Joe. My. God. notes a new Indonesian ban on “effeminate” men from television.
  • Language Hat notes German/Polish ethnolinguistic tensions in late medieval Poland.
  • The Map Room Blog shares a link to posters of the New York subway.
  • The Planetary Society Blog introduces readers to the new Lightsail 2 cubesat.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer looks at the terrible housing shortage in the coastal United States, especially the most desirable areas of said.
  • Torontoist notes York University’s construction of new dorms.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that the continuation of Western sanctions against Russia depends on Ukraine’s continued reforms.
  • Arnold Zwicky takes issue with WordPress’ categorization system, from a linguistic perspective.

[LINK] “Genetics reveal 50,000 years of independent history of aboriginal Australian people”

The Dragon’s Tales linked to this press release, which does indeed seem to suggest a lack of substantial Indian migration five millennia ago to Australia. It could be that, if contact with India was an issue, perhaps simple cultural diffusion was responsible. Might it also be that the reproductively successful migrants were women, not men?

The first complete sequences of the Y chromosomes of Aboriginal Australian men have revealed a deep indigenous genetic history tracing all the way back to the initial settlement of the continent 50 thousand years ago, according to a study published in the journal Current Biology today (25th February 2016).

The study by researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and collaborators at La Trobe University in Melbourne and several other Australian institutes, challenges a previous theory that suggested an influx of people from India into Australia around 4-5 thousand years ago. This new DNA sequencing study focused on the Y chromosome, which is transmitted only from father to son, and found no support for such a prehistoric migration. The results instead show a long and independent genetic history in Australia.

Modern humans arrived in Australia about 50 thousand years ago, forming the ancestors of present-day Aboriginal Australians. They were amongst the earliest settlers outside Africa. They arrived in an ancient continent made up of today’s Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea, called Sahul, probably thousands of years before modern humans arrived in Europe.

Five thousand years ago, dingos, the native dogs, somehow arrived in Australia, and changes in stone tool use and language around the same time raised the question of whether there were also associated genetic changes in the Australian Aboriginal population. At least two previous genetic studies, one of which was based on the Y chromosome, had proposed that these changes could have coincided with mixing of Aboriginal and Indian populations about 5 thousand years ago.

Anders Bergstrom, first author on the paper at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: “We worked closely with Aboriginal Australian communities to sequence the Y chromosome DNA from 13 male volunteers to investigate their ancestry. The data show that Aboriginal Australian Y chromosomes are very distinct from Indian ones. These results refute the previous Y chromosome study, thus excluding this part of the puzzle as providing evidence for a prehistoric migration from India. Instead, the results are in agreement with the archaeological record about when people arrived in this part of the world.”

Written by Randy McDonald

February 29, 2016 at 5:06 pm

[LINK] “Japan’s ‘Ghost in the Shell’ Inspires Real Robots”

As someone who liked the manga version of Ghost in the Shell, Jeremy Hsu’s blog post at Discover‘s Lovesick Cyborg intrigues me.

A Japanese anime film that strongly influenced Hollywood films such as “The Matrix” has more recently inspired a real-life research effort dedicated to creating futuristic technologies. The “Ghost in the Shell” anime imagined a special law enforcement unit that employs cyborgs, robots and hackers to fight cyber criminals in 2029. That science fiction setting remains more than a decade away, but Japan’s Ghost in the Shell Realize Project has begun unveiling research initiatives based on the film’s vision of giant spider-like robots and “cyber protection suits” with some form of artificial strength for humans.

The Ghost in the Shell in the Shell Realize Project officially began in 2014, according to a roundup of Japanese news sources by Kotaku. This year, the project held a small competition and award ceremony that highlighted ideas such as the cyber protection suit. It also announced two new initiatives aimed at recreating the anime’s iconic Tachikomas, giant spider-like robots that can either walk or roll on wheels attached to their legs. One initiative by the company Cerevo aims to create smartphone-controlled toy robots that can walk on four legs or roll for sale toward the end of 2017, according to the website Crunchyroll. The other initiative by Amauchi Industry and Karakuri Products aims to build a much larger industrial robot version of the Tachikomas by the end of March 2018.

The Ghost in the Shell Realize Project is not the first to mine the realm of science fiction for real-world technologies. The U.S. military has launched a number of research projects inspired by the technologies of science fiction stories such as the “Star Wars” films. An informal survey by the scientific search engine startup Sparrho also showed how often references to science fiction films appear in research papers: a possible indication of science fiction’s influence.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 29, 2016 at 5:02 pm

[LINK] “Trump: The American Version of European White Nationalist Politicians”

At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Erik Loomis builds his argument around a three-paragraph quote from Hugh Eakin’s New York Review of Books essay “Liberal, Harsh Denmark”

Yet many Danes I talked to are less concerned about terrorism than about the threat they see Muslims posing to their way of life. Though Muslims make up less than 5 percent of the population, there is growing evidence that many of the new arrivals fail to enter the workforce, are slow to learn Danish, and end up in high-crime immigrant neighborhoods where, while relying on extensive state handouts, they and their children are cut off from Danish society. In 2010, the Danish government introduced a “ghetto list” of such marginalized places with the goal of “reintegrating” them; the list now includes more than thirty neighborhoods.

Popular fears that the refugee crisis could overwhelm the Danish welfare state have sometimes surprised the country’s own leadership. On December 3, in a major defeat for the government, a clear majority of Danes—53 percent—rejected a referendum on closer security cooperation with the European Union. Until now, Denmark has been only a partial EU member—for example, it does not belong to the euro and has not joined EU protocols on citizenship and legal affairs. In view of the growing threat of jihadism, both the government and the opposition Social Democrats hoped to integrate the country fully into European policing and counterterrorism efforts. But the “no” vote, which was supported by the Danish People’s Party, was driven by fears that such a move could also give Brussels influence over Denmark’s refugee and immigration policies.

The outcome of the referendum has ominous implications for the European Union at a time when emergency border controls in numerous countries—including Germany and Sweden as well as Denmark—have put in doubt the Schengen system of open borders inside the EU. In Denmark itself, the referendum has forced both the Liberals and the Social Democrats to continue moving closer to the populist right. In November, Martin Henriksen, the Danish People’s Party spokesman on refugees and immigration, told Politiken, the country’s leading newspaper, “There is a contest on to see who can match the Danish People’s Party on immigration matters, and I hope that more parties will participate.”

Loomis adds:

All these discussions of “Danish values” and the like are not that different than the fears of multiculturalism, diversity, and racial identity that are motivating many white American voters. The major difference seems to be that the Trump voter is seen as an idiot and yokel is probably missing teeth while the Danish anti-immigrant voter is seen as more class-respectable. But then Denmark seems to have adjusted better to the globalized economy with high rates of capital mobility thanks to that welfare state, and thus the economic desperation also driving white people toward a Trump vote isn’t nearly as profound there. Rather, in Denmark, the unemployed are also the immigrants.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 29, 2016 at 5:00 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “HMV to shutter Bloor Street store”

NOW Toronto‘s Kevin Ritchie writes about the impending closure of HMV’s Bloor Street location, as the chain promises–promises–to survive in the new market.

Increasing rent prices in the city’s luxury shopping district are forcing music retailer HMV to shut its 50 Bloor Street store at the end of March.

The closure leaves five HMV locations in Toronto: the flagship store at 333 Yonge Street, the store at Eglinton and Laird and stores in the Eaton Centre, Dufferin Mall and Sherway.

“It comes down to economics. We’ve been desperately trying to find a way through with the landlord,” Nick Williams, HMV’s president and CEO, told NOW. “As you would expect the rent price on Bloor Street is prohibitive for most. We’ll look at what opportunities will become available elsewhere in that area but we just couldn’t make it work in that particular unit.”

[. . .]

In 2011, HMV Canada was acquired by Re:Capital, a subsidiary of London-based restructuring firm Hilco Capital (the company also acquired HMV’s former UK parent two years later), which expanded the store’s products from CDs and DVDs to include an e-commerce platform, vinyl records, headphones and accessories, apparel, and gifts and collectibles related to music and film.

Vinyl is a particular growth area. Records are now available in 65 of HMV’s Canadian stores and heavily represented on shelves in its flagship locations in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Edmonton. Williams says vinyl represents 20 per centof HMV’s overall sales so this year he plans to expand vinyl sections in smaller stores as well.

“[The market] is not as ever changing as it has been previously,” he explains, adding that CD sales have flattened out. “You have a consumer settling in and buying CDs and buy a lot of them, and you have those that are now buying and exploring, for the first time, vinyl.”

Written by Randy McDonald

February 29, 2016 at 4:57 pm

[LINK] “Liberals’ gay-pardon decision applauded but obstacles still exist”

John Ibbitson writes in The Globe and Mail about the decision of the Canadian government to posthumously pardon Everett Klippett, the man whose definite imprisonment in the 1960s for being actively gay helped lead to law reform.

“Canada would be breaking new ground,” said Douglas Elliott, a lawyer who has advocated for the LGBT community since the 1970s. “It would be fantastic to see Canada getting ahead of the pack, again.”

Family members and gay-rights activists are celebrating the Prime Minister’s decision to pardon Everett Klippert, the only Canadian to have been labelled a dangerous sexual offender because he was a homosexual. Mr. Trudeau decided to pardon Mr. Klippert after his office was apprised of the case last week by The Globe and Mail.

“It’s just wonderful, it’s a great idea,” Donald Klippert, Everett’s nephew, said on Sunday. Everett Klippert never sought out publicity after his release from prison, and declined to participate in parade marches or protests when gay-rights activists sought him out in later years.

“I think he’d be embarrassed by all the attention” his pardon is generating, Donald Klippert said. “On the other hand, I think he’d be very proud of the fact that his sacrifice, his time in prison, that something good came out of it.”

Everett Klippert’s imprisonment led to the decriminalization of homosexuality, and it is now expected to lead to the pardon of thousands of men who were also imprisoned.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 29, 2016 at 4:53 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Internal Metrolinx ‎reports pointed to lower Union-Pearson train fares”

The Globe and Mail‘s Oliver Moore writes about new memos revealing an astonishing amount of internal disarray at Metrolinx regarding Union-Pearson Express pricing.

Metrolinx knew before launching Toronto’s train to the airport last summer that prices in the $10 to $15 range were popular and would attract more riders, according to internal data, but pressure to recoup costs helped push the prices much higher.

The decision to set the cash fare for the Union Pearson Express at $27.50 has turned into a serious black eye for both the regional transit agency and the provincial government, which is keen to get the train breaking even quickly.

The gambit backfired. In spite of discounts, relatively few people were willing to pay the higher ticket price. The train was bleeding money. With the number of passengers falling short of expectations, officials eventually accepted that the fare structure would not achieve what they wanted.

Under increasing pressure from Queen’s Park, Metrolinx is cutting fares by more than half, effective March 9. The new price of $12 – or $9 with a Presto fare card, and less for riding only part of the distance – brings the cost into line with figures identified in the research done before the train launched. The new fares also jibe with the results of focus groups the agency did in January.

With the new ticket prices, though, the goal of having a train that breaks even – a key government requirement that contributed to the high initial fares – has become mathematically almost impossible unless costs can be reined in somehow.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 29, 2016 at 4:51 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “The modernist Bloor-Danforth line at 50”

Chris Bateman writes at length at Spacing about the architectural modernism of the different components of the Bloor-Danforth line.

One of the biggest challenges faced by the subway’s engineers was how to connect the Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue sections of the line. Two significant barriers—the Rosedale and Don valleys—stood in the way.

The TTC investigated various options, including tunnelling all the way to the east end, but ultimately chose to use the existing lower deck of the Prince Edward Viaduct.

Built at a cost of $90,000 during construction of the bridge in the 1910s, the lower level was designed to carry streetcars at a time when the city was planning underground lines across the city. Ultimately, the deck sat dormant for more than 40 years before the TTC converted it for subway use.

In all, using the Prince Edward Viaduct cut $10 million off the cost of building the Bloor-Danforth line.

Though there was also a viable subway deck on the Rosedale portion of the Prince Edward Viaduct, the TTC found it didn’t quite line up with the planned location of Sherbourne station, so a new bridge was required.

The solution, supplied by architect John B. Parkin and U.S. engineering firm DeLeuw, Cather & Co., was an open spandrel structure with a sweeping reinforced concrete arch. The deck, almost 17 metres above the valley floor, was almost entirely enclosed to prevent train noise disturbing residents of the nearby Kensington Apartments.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 29, 2016 at 4:49 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Before Toronto Had the 6ix, We Had Toronto 1”

Torontoist’s Jesse Hawken looks at the brief history of Toronto 1, a local Toronto-centric television station that did not do well.

Today marks the debut of the Viceland channel in Toronto, a $100 million venture by Vice and Rogers to make television relevant to 18–35 year olds. The new station will occupy prime real estate on the dial as channel 15 for Rogers subscribers, but it comes with a catch: the station appears to be haunted. Most notably, 13 years ago another channel designed to appeal to the young downtown urbanite launched with much fanfare, but then disappeared two years later. Do you remember Toronto 1?

The short-lived tv channel had a vision for Toronto—a vision of condo ownership, hip and cool young people, and their fascinating water cooler conversations. But just like Poochie, when people asked if it had something to say, it suddenly said “I have to go now,” and died on the way back to its home planet.

Toronto 1 was the first general-interest non-specialty channel to hit the city’s airwaves since Citytv debuted three decades earlier. In 2002, five media groups bid for the coveted broadcast license when it was offered by the CRTC but in a surprise decision, the Commission passed on bids from CanWest and TorStar and awarded the license to the Western Canadian cable giant Craig Media. For several years Craig had borrowed heavily from Citytv’s style, running City programming on their A-Channels in Calgary and Edmonton and aping their approach to hip local news coverage. In 2001 Craig competed directly with City’s parent company CHUM by launching MTV Canada, muscling in on Much’s turf. Now here Craig was, launching a new channel in Toronto that promised “Citytv with a twist.”

Toronto 1’s advantage in securing the license was their promise to offer a Toronto channel that, unlike City and Rogers’ OMNI properties, wouldn’t be aimed at Ontario. Instead, it concentrated on local advertisers at local rates, as well as introducing a channel pitched directly at the 18-34 age group (skewing 18-49), with a modern swagger and approach befitting this diverse city.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 29, 2016 at 4:47 pm