They Could Do It, So Why Can't I?

Today's title is a statement often made by children who see someone else perform an act that they're scolded for themselves.  This statement is not limited to children, however, as nations often employ this as justification for actions that are deemed careless.

I speak, for the moment, about the ever increasing levels of carbon in our atmosphere by some of the larger countries on the planet:  China and India.

China currently has several thousand coal-powered electricity power plants, as well as India.  Some cities even have illegal coal-generated plants to pick up the slack where the state-owned operations are unable to keep up with demands.  Western nations cry foul over these dirty polluters saying that with the rising emissions of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, we will drastically alter the climate of the entire planet.

Both China and India have responed along the lines of:  "You did this for 200 years.  Who are you to tell us any different?"

In a sense, I can't blame them.  Coal fired power plants are much cheaper than the alternatives.  They provide a consistent source of electricity, and both China and India have, what is currently, a seemingly-endless supply of this fossil fuel.  Nuclear powered generators take an excessive amount of time to construct, and many Western nations become uncomfortable when new nuclear generators are started in certain parts of the world.  Wind is a viable option for some villiages, but the number of generators that would be reqiured makes this very clean option excessively cost-prohibitive.

So what's the option?

Personally, I don't know which side of the fence to cast my vote with.  This is one of those situations where I agree with some of the West who believe that this massive source of carbon emissions will hurt us all, while at the same time I agree with Asia's stance that they need cheap and plentiful electricity in order to compete on a global scale.  I don't like the fact that the combined carbon emissions from all nations are on the rise, but at the same time I'm forced to ask myself "what other cost-effective option is there?"

Unfortunately, like everything else in life, this all comes down to money.  Big utilities companies and state-run initiatives will not spend half a billion dollars on a nuclear generator if the surrounding area will not require that level of power, or be capable of affording it.  Wind mills are often considered in areas of high wind, but tend to be an eye-sore for the local populations, so are typically rejected if a large number of them are required.  Hydro-electric dams are a great source of seemingly-unlimited power, but there are only so many waterways that can be converted for this purpose.

So what else can be done?

For the moment, I'm forced to agree with these Asian nations and many other nations around the world that still employ coal-fired power plants (Canada and the United States included).  These massive centres for pollution cause more damage to the planet than most of us can comprehend, but at the same time they provide us with the electrical power that we've come to depend on.

While many people balk at Asia's response to their power generation, we tend to ignore the big picture.  As it stands, the average Canadian uses well over ten times the amount of electricity of the average Chinese person.  25% of our power comes from conventional thermal sources (coal, oil, natural gas), with over 50% coming from hydro-electric dams.  We seem to forget that not every country is as naturally wealthy as Canada.

While the West was polluting the atmosphere from the onset of the Industrial Revolution, Asia was kept relatively pristine and clear.  The West learned the hard way what excessive pollution and exposure to airborne chemicals did to both the human body and the surrounding environment.  While we've taken some strides to clean up our act, we're hardly innocent.

Of course, this means that now it's time for some parts of Asia to learn this lesson.

Just as we've seen time and time again in our collective histories, we tend to make the same mistakes over and over.  At one time, London was the most polluted city on the planet.  Spewing forth chemicals so dangerous and corrosive that people would die just by breathing the air.  Thick black clouds would completely enshroud cities and kill off surrounding farmland.  Disease would run rampant and mortality rates would drastically change.  Now this lesson must be learned in cities like Linfen, China.

We need to find more sources of cheap energy.  Sources that have little to no impact on the environment.  The Earth does a remarkable job of repairing itself despite all the surface damage we've caused, but eventually we may do so much harm that the planet cannot recover in a reasonable amount of time.  I can't pretend to have the answers, but I can say that I understand both sides of the argument.

I only hope that we all learn from our collective mistakes before it's not too late.

When Being Human Isn't Enough

I despise segregation, and everything that it embodies.  I deplore racism, sexism, unnecessary biases and general hatred for others without reasonable justification.  I find it personally insulting as a human being when someone else is harassed because of what they look like, or where they may have come from.

I will not tolerate any of it.

In some parts of Russia, people are beaten or terrorized just because their family has not spent the last 2000 years in Russia.  In parts of the middle-east, people are kept seperated based on gender and religious beliefs.  In North America, people carry silent prejudices and refuse to treat others as equals, despite the claim of being "equal opportunity" or enlightened.

There is no place on earth that I'm aware of where people are judged by their character, rather than some false notion such as race or religion.

When will we learn?

Today I had an unexpected hour to kill while the laundromat was filled to capacity with, what appeared to be, two days worth of people in a single morning of operation.  While waiting for a dryer to become available, I happened to read an article in today's Globe and Mail discussing a Canadian woman's problems while on a bus in Israel.

The jist of the event went like this; a woman gets on a bus heading to the Old City so she can pray, a man gets on and demands she go to the back of the bus, she refuses, she's beaten by 4 men as a result.

Of course, nobody seems to think that the men were wrong.  Women are expected to sit at the back of the bus, much like African-Americans were expected to until a few short decades ago in some US states.  Considering how the aggressors and the victim belonged to an ultra-orthodox group of Judaism, I'm surprised that nobody has complained that these men touched this woman whom they did not know.  Or does spitting, shoving and kicking not count as physical contact?

I'm quite disgusted by this constant disrespect that many people place on others.  Why do men think they have more rights than women?  Why are the basic human rights for people outright ignored, unless those rights are being revoked from us?

Some would argue that the people that were part of this injustice were part of an ultra-orthodox sect of Judaism called Haredi where women are expected to follow very particular roles, and everyone follows a very strict code of conduct.  Being part of this sect, the woman should have known her place and sat at the back of the bus when instructed to do so by the man who wanted her seat.  The only people that would argue that point, though, would likely be males.

I'm not saying that all societies and cultures should drastically change their practises or expectations of individuals.  Many people by nature require some sort of structure in order to properly thrive.  However, at this point in Human history, is it not time that we look beyond our physical differences and instead focus on more important things?

We're poisoning our air in the name of progress.  Millions are starving while others are combating obesity.  Tens of thousands of species stand on the verge of extinction due to our constant exploitation of the world's resources in the most damaging ways possible.

Why are we still fighting amongst ourselves because someone happened to be born a woman?  Why are people looked down upon if they're not a particular "race" ?  Why are these petty differences so important?  In the space of 100 years most of us are born, live our lives, and die.  We all come from an ovum and sperm.  We all revert to dust a few years after death.  We're all human.

If environmentalists are even half-true with their constant fear-mongering predictions about global decimation because of our actions over the last three centuries, then we had better stop looking at visual differences and working together to build solutions.

Slight Change of Plan

Despite what I wrote and planned yesterday, it appears I will not be visiting Japan this coming April.

After a little more deliberation and discussion, Reiko and I have decided to continue forward with our original plan to visit my family in Ontario during the Golden Week holiday (April 29th - May 6th).  This will work out pretty good for my family as they're all expecting to see Reiko in a few weeks, and we'll hopefully get to see Niagara Falls.

I am curious to know how Reiko will react to my family, and vice-versa.  I'm sure that some of my sisters will get along great with Reiko, and I know my parents will really like her.  The only area I'm a bit concerned with is the cultural differences between Reiko's family and mine.  I don't think anything will cause anyone discomfort, but since I've observed and studied asian culture (especially Japanese) for the last ten years, I tend to miss what others would find distasteful or subtly offensive.

I'm sure we'll all have a great time, though.

One of the unfortunate things about this trip will be the short amount of time that Reiko and I will have at each place.  We'll only get to spend about two and a half days in Ontario, and two days in Vancouver.  The rest of the time, Reiko will be stuck at an airport waiting for her flights.  If I had the opportunity, I would send her a Japanese PDA running Windows Mobile2003 so that she could play Jawbreaker while killing time.

It's amazing how addictive that game can be :sad:

Back to Japan in the Spring

After much deliberation and discussion, it appears that I'll be going to Japan this coming April.

Reiko and I had originally planned on going to Ontario this coming spring in order to meet my family.  Unfortunately, it appears that plane tickets during Golden Week are about as rare as a $2 bill in America.  A full three months in advance, the planes are almost booked solid and the fares are double the price from a week before.

Shame, really.  I was looking forward to seeing Niagara Falls with my Reiko.

But one of the positive notes about this turn of events will be my return to Japan.  I have two options available, and I'm still partially considering which one to go with.  I can either fly with Air Canada, from Vancouver to Osaka directly and take the Shinkasen to Nagoya, and then catch the Mietetsu line up to Gifu Station.  Or I can take NWA from Vancouver to Seattle, where I'll have a 4 hour layover before flying to Narita, and finally flying to Nagoya ... where I'll then catch the Mietetsu line up to Gifu Station.

The Air Canada option would cost $1240 + $80 for the trains.  The NWA option would cost $1016 plus about $20 for the train.  My last experience with Air Canada was top notch (even excluding the Business Class upgrade).  My last experience with NWA was painful because of the repeated cabin pressure changes.  That said, I would probably bring some NyQuil gel caps with me (can't bring a bottle of liquid, yet) so that I'm knocked out before we even leave American air space.

That is probably the best option.

Reiko and I are trying to set aside as much money as possible for our wedding, as well as our future together.  I shouldn't be spending the extra $300 just to avoid being uncomfortable and staying out of the US.

So I guess it's decided.  I'll be flying NWA into the US, and then off to Japan.  Now I just need to figure out what clothes I should bring.  I'm in desperate need of new spring-wear.

Taking the Long Way Home

Today I was benchmarking my internet speed using Speakeasy's speed test.  One of the reasons for this is that I've noticed some inconsistencies with Telus' network speeds.  Anything that's outside of a 250 km radius to me tends to cap out at about 1100 kbps, while sites as close as Seattle can send at almost my full 3.0 Mbps.  To prove the point, here is the best speed I managed to get from Seattle, Washington today:

Seattle Run

My test scores from Texas, New York and Illinois averaged at just below 800 kbps.  I tried these tests during different times of the day, and on different days with no real difference in speed.

Digging a bit deeper, I decided to do a trace route for these sites to see just how the data is routing through the net before reaching my computer.  From Seattle, data hops through an average of 12 servers.  From Austin, TX, data hops through just over 30 servers.  From Buffalo, NY, data hops through Montreal, then what appears to be every city with a population higher than 100 people straight through until Vancouver.

I wonder if some network sultan decided to take some revenge on Telus, because I can't believe that something like this would be missed.

For the last few months I've been struggling with speeds moving between here and Japan.  Reiko and I often talk on MSN with our webcams, and we're regularily struggling with constant disconnections and network pauses.  I've pulled my hair out thinking that it might be my hardware, or Reiko's hardware, or something between our different computer setups ... but all of this checked out.  But after doing these tests (not only for speed, but for routing), I have something else to consider.

Broadband isn't just about speed, but reliability.  People pay the extra for broadband internet because it's supposed to be both faster and more reliable.  Telus has already failed miserably with reliability, considering how their DNS servers are about as useful as a 100 yen coin in Istanbul.  Perhaps this routing is just the tip to something else I need to examine.

I know that data will hop from server to server as it travels from one part of the globe to another.  I'm just surprised that it has to jump as often as it does.  With Shaw, I would often see no more than ten hops if I was getting something from anywhere in North America.  Of course, depending on who Telus has angered, they may be powerless to prevent this.

A friend of mine at work has often threatened to have someone route all our external traffic through Uzbekistan (in jest, of course).  Perhaps this is what happened to my long-distance packets, too.

Another Paradigm Already?

Several weeks ago I was reading a post in one of the industry journals about something called Composite Programs and how they were the new paradigm in many businesses.  After reading this rather lengthy article about how certain users build these tools, I was left with the single question:  "Where are these people?"

To quote from Chris Keyser's article in last month's Architecture Journal:

"Composite applications offer a long-sought-after business nirvana whereby empowered technical business users can stitch together componentized business capabilities.  In many ways, composite applications are the business web users' equivalent of Web 2.0 and "mash-ups."  While there has been a lot of hype around composites, many vendors have been slow to deliver real value in this area.  Technologies are emergine, however, that will change this game, and composition will become an increasingly important aspect of constructing business logic."

Pretty words, but does this apply to the average Canadian business?

In order to find out, I've been discussing this supposed 'new paradigm' with a few other programmers and found that the people that work for my employer are no different than 99% of people that work for other employers.  That is to say, that while these employees are typically great at what they do, they will likely never build one of these composite applications.  It's just way outside their field of expertise.

I was looking at how people went about building these apps, and when I think about all the non-programmers with my employer (there are 3 programmers and 380+ non-programmers), I can only think of four people that might venture into this area.  Building these mash-ups typically means that the user has a pretty good idea of what they need the software to do, and what role they expect the data to fulfill.  For all the people my friends and I work with all over Western Canada, we don't really see this catching on.

Then again ... lots of people didn't see the cell phone catching on, either.

In ten years, I can see composites making their way into some companies.  But even then, it will be on a limited basis.  Only people who have a througough understanding of the business or processes should be making these mash-ups.  Otherwise, the problem companies will face will be non-standardized mash-ups.  The other big problem would be supporting these non-standard apps.  Already at work, programmers are expected to reverse engineer reports based off pivot tables in Microsoft Excel using some often-unknown data source in order to make things work.  Who will reverse engineer these products when the initial creators either leave, or forget how something worked?

While the software world is moving into some very exciting areas, I'm looking forward to retiring and opening that coffee shop by the beach.


Tomorrow is the day Microsoft's next-generation operating system, Windows Vista, is released to the general public.  In a recent polling among my friends and co-workers, I have found only two people planning to upgrade before the end of the year.


I've been paying very close attention to Vista and what it can offer.  As a software engineer that works mainly with Microsoft products, I've had to keep myself up to date and aware of the directions that are being made in terms of security platforms as well as the various subtle changes that invariably cause an application to respond unexpectedly.  On top of this, I've been working towards yet another certification (the MCAD).  While none of the course material or exams cover Vista, the people I've been studying with have been working with this OS for the last year throughout the various alpha and beta releases.

Personally, I like what Vista brings to the plate.  The platform is more secure.  The interface is a bit more intuitive for everyone.  The experience is also geared more towards letting people see what they're working with, rather than inferring what they're working with.  When viewing directory contents, rather than see hundreds of files with similar icons, people can now see thumbnails of the document or file.  This will make things easier for quite a number of people who may not have strict habits regarding file management on their computers.

However, I don't think I'll be making the move to this new operating system any time soon.

I did give Vista's Beta 3 and two RC's a try on my notebook here, as well as test my machine for Vista operability using the Upgrade Tool provided by Microsoft, but it's just too soon for me.  I have extreme confidence in Microsoft's ability to deliver great products the first time, and Beta 3 worked flawlessly on my computer despite it's incomplete state.  However, in order for me to make the most of this OS, I will be forced to upgrade to a new machine.

I'll admit that I can run Vista in a simpler mode, which would allow me to have the security and stability of the new OS but without the Aero interface (which I could easily live with).  My biggest constraint is with possible DRM issues.  Unfortunately, the Digital Rights Management system was not fully implemented in Beta 3 (the only release I tested for an extended period), so I did not see the results of this protection software.  Lots of people have issued complaints about the technology (either because they have lots of illegal media, or because they're going off hearsay and think that RIAA and MPAA will be advised any time you see copywritten material on YouTube), but I've not yet seen this system in action.

This is a pretty important area for me as I do download lots of asian media.  I enjoy TV dramas from Japan and Korea, as well as documentaries from all over the world.  Most of what I watch and listen to cannot be easily obtained in North America.  But on top of this, I do have mp3s that were ripped from my CDs.  Will any of these files be impacted because they do not contain any DRM tags?  I found no problems in my testing, but these tests were carried out on pre-release versions of the OS.

I've heard from many industry sources saying that my media will be fine, and audio or video quality will only be down-sampled on super high quality media such as BlueDisc or HD-DVD movies.  But even when downgraded, the media will still play at DVD-level quality according to Microsoft.

This would be more than enough for me, considering how my LCD is 15.4" in size, and I have no ambitions to buy a television any time soon.  But I am always looking to future-proof my media.  I am also curious to see whether some predictions will come true, though.  Will Vista become the next Windows ME?

I don't think so.  But only time will tell whether the general public is on board with everything that Vista offers.  Until then, I'll stick with XP Pro.

Respecting the Deceased

Today I happened to overhear a child asking their parents for a new dog, and this boy wanted to give this animal the same name as one that had passed away a few months ago.  The father had mentioned that they might look at getting another dog soon, but said nothing about the name.

This is not the first time I've heard of this situation, and it makes me wonder if most people view animals as some sort of subjective life form that does not warrant the same respect that is given to humans on their passing.

There has been talk of using the technology of cloning to offer a "carbon copy" of a deceased animal.  On hearing this, I was quite shocked that any family would want to consider this option when bringing a pet into the home.  Dealing with the loss of a loved one (be they animal or human) is something each one of us must learn to do.  The grieving process is crucial to our well being after such losses.  I would think that outright replacing the deceased with another that looks just the same (without the memories, of course) would be incredibly disrespectful.

Would this not also teach our children that life is no different than any other commodity?

Your cat Fluffy died after 12 years?  That's okay, make a clone and call that replacement Fluffy.  The first one lived 12 years, so maybe this one will give you just as much time.  Then just go on with your life without thinking about the temporary loss of your cat.

Your child died in a horrible car accident?  That's okay, too.  Make a clone and give them the same name.  You already have everything you need to start over, right?

"But isn't that heartless?" you ask.  Not at all!  If you've never had to deal with permanent loss of a loved one, then this is no more different than the temporary inconvenience of having your car stolen.  After some paperwork, you get a new car and continue your life with yet another story to tell.

I'll admit that one can more easily get over the loss of a cat or car than the horrible tragedy of losing a child, but if we allow our kids to think it's okay to "get a new one and give it the same name", would that lead to their understanding that life does not need to be cherished?  Looking at this from a human perspective, how would someone feel if they heard someone say "I liked the first version of you better" ?

In the next 20 years, I'm quite certain that technology will allow science to make clones and rapidly age them to the point required.  This would be incredibly useful when someone needs a replacement heart or lung.  If the cloned tissue or organ is made from the person that needs it, there would be no chance of rejection.  What an exciting area of science!

But could this apply to entire bodies as well?

When someone's middle-aged animal runs across the street and gets hit by a car, will the animal be cloned and aged to the point of the accident as a replacement for the family?  I sincerely hope not.

I really hope the child from this morning is taught that we can't just replace a member of the family with someone else and move on.  We need to cherish the time we had with that loved one and keep it close to our heart.  When someone new is brought in (whether it's human or not), they can't be expected to act as a replacement.  They need their own name.  They need their own identity.  They need to be given the same respect that we want for ourselves.

We've already created enough of a throw-away society.  Let's not throw away our loved ones, too.

Is Vancouver Worth the Money?

While doing laundry at the local laundromat I happened to have a conversation with a gentleman who, like many Canadians, enjoyed to pass the time by complaining to anyone who would grant him an audience.  Of all the complaints this man went through, only one seemed valid:  the mass evictions by property managers in order to sell or rent residences at ridiculously high prices.

Since winning the bid for the 2010 Olympics, the Vancouver area seems to have become a prime area for price gouging.  Food costs more, transit costs more, houses have more than tripled in price since 2000 and the population is expected to grow by a significant factor through to 2020.  As expected, much of this can be attributed by people who stand to profit the most.

In the last 12 months there have been large protests by people who have been forcefully evicted from their homes in order for the property managers to clean the building up and or sell the apartments at twice their previous value.  In the case of this man, he had a two bedroom apartment that was comfortably large, and had lived there for a total of 10 years.  Rent was a respectable $780 a month (the going rate for an apartment of that size in this area of Vancouver).  Last summer he received a notice from the property manager that the rent was going to be changed to $1590 a month at the end of his contract, which was due the next month.

Much like his, my response was "WTF?"

This is quite illegal in British Columbia, and the tenants took the property manager to court for this.  Of course, the court ruled in favor of the tenants, and the rent was not increased by such a ridiculous amount.

The next attempt to remove the tenants involved notices advising massive renovations.  The tenants would have to leave for at least a year, but they were given the option to return first when the renovations were complete.  Of course, the expected rental value would be about $1600 a month after the work was complete.

This didn't go over well at all, but many of the tenants became fed up with the treatment they received and moved out to prevent the property managers from making any more money at their expense.  So after only a few months, the building owners managed to get what they wanted.

The building this man had lived in had work crews inside for a total of four months.  After this time, the building opened up again and was accepting tenants.  More out of curiosity than anything else, the gentleman arranged a tour of the renovated building and found that aside from a fresh coat of paint and new carpets, the building was no different than before.  The same cracks existed in the walkways, and the parking lot was just as littered with trash.

Rent for a third floor, two bedroom apartment with view of Oak St:  $1575

I'd like to know where this will end.

Last year I had worked several side jobs in conjunction with my primary place of work and earned more during the 2006 year than I did during 2001, 2002, and 2003 combined.  I live alone and make more than many people in my family who have kids.

Yet despite all of this, I can easily say that I will never be able to realistically afford a house within 75 km of my work.  Houses are insanely expensive to the point where it is beginning to look as though Vancouver is no longer a valid place to live unless one's annual household income is 70+K.

As it sits, I don't think I can realistically afford to stay in Vancouver past 2010.  Reiko and I have plans to raise a family in Japan, but I'm wondering just how much we can save while living in this part of Canada.  I've been lucky so far, in that most of my landlords have not been heartless businesses.  But the people I rent from have the same issues.  They have bills to pay and costs incurred.  How long until I'm forced to pay drastically more or face moving farther from work in order to save money?

I work hard for every dollar that I earn, so I tend to justify expenses in terms of hours worked.  Two years ago my notebook cost me 62 hours at a time when rent was 26 hours ofwork.  In all, both were worth the effort.  This notebook has performed exceptionally well in the 17,500+ hours I've asked of it, and rent is a necessary expense.

Currently, rent takes approximately 30 hours to earn.  I've worked out that I can afford to pay no more than 41 hours toward this.  I haven't had a rent increase in almost two years, so I may be due this coming March.  But this begs the question ... is living in Vancouver really worth the expense?

This is a great city to live in.  It's a shame that people need to be rich to enjoy it.

The Easiest $24.95 Ever Made

One year ago today, I paid $24.95 (plus GST) to  Ten minutes after paying to upgrade my service, I sent my first email to Reiko.  Three days and three emails later we started chatting on MSN.  Since then, my world has changed in more ways than I can count.

In the last year, I've been able to visit Japan twice and learn more about this amazing world.  I've travelled to other parts of this province with Reiko and seen some of the places that she enjoyed while studying in Canada.  I've even been accepted into her family as the newest member, and we've been planning our wedding along the way.

A year ago, I never could have predicted that any of this would happen.  So much has occurred so quickly that sometimes Reiko and I have wondered if things were moving too fast, while other times the world dragged on ... the distance between us seemingly growing wider by the second.  Yet throughout all my mistakes, and all the challenges we've faced, Reiko and I are still together, and stronger than ever.

An old Chinese proverb states:  "When one door closes, another is opened for you."

At the start of 2006, I thought that the year would be spent in lonely isolation.  I can't thank the Lord enough for bringing Reiko-chan into my life.

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