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19 Mar 15:52

MEC and network-edge computing is overhyped and underpowered

by Dean Bubley
I keep hearing that Edge Computing is the next big thing - and specifically, in-network edge computing models such as MEC. (See here for a list of all the different types of "edge"). 

I hear it from network vendors, telcos, some consultants, blockchain-based startups and others. But, oddly, very rarely from developers of applications or devices.

My view is that it's important, but it's also being overhyped. Network-edge computing will only ever be a small slice of the overall cloud and computing domain. And because it's small, it will likely be an addition to (and integrated with) web-scale cloud platforms. We are very unlikely to see edge-first providers become "the next Amazon AWS, only distributed".

Why do I think it will be small? Because I've been looking at it through a different lens to most: power. It's a metric used by those at the top- and bottom ends of the computing industry, but only rarely by those in the middle, such as network owners. This means they're ignoring a couple of orders of magnitude.

(This is a long post. You might want to grab a coffee first....)

How many zeroes?

Cloud computing involves huge numbers. There are many metrics that you can use - numbers of servers, processors, standard-sized equipment racks, floorspace and so on. But the figure that gets used most among data-centre folk is probably power consumption in watts, or more commonly here kW, MW & GW. (Yes, it's a lower-case k for kilo). 

Power is useful, as it covers the needs not just of compute CPUs and GPUs, but also storage and networking elements in data centres. It's not perfect, but given that organising and analysing information is ultimately about energy it's a valid, top-level metric. [Hey, I've got a degree in physics, not engineering. Helloooo, thermodynamics & entropy!]

Roughly speaking, the world's big data centres have a total power consumption of about 100GW. A typical one might have a capacity of 30MW, but a number of the world's largest data centres already use over 100MW individually, and there are enormous plans for locations with 600MW or even 1GW (link). No, they're not all running at full power, all the time - but that's true of any computing platform.

This growth is partly driven by an increase in the number of servers and equipment racks needed (hence growing floor-space for these buildings). But it also reflects power consumption for each server, as chips get more powerful. Most equipment racks use 3-5kW of power, but some can go as high as 20kW if that power - and cooling - is available.

So, to power "the cloud" needs 100GW, a figure that is continuining to grow rapidly. We are also seeing a rise in smaller, regional data-centres in second- and third-tier cities. Companies and governments often have private data-centres as well. These vary quite a bit, but 1-5MW is a reasonable benchmark.

How many decimal places?

At the other end of the computing power spectrum, are devices, and the components inside them. Especially for battery-powered devices, managing the power-budget down to watts or milliwatts is critical. This is the "device edge".

  • Sensors might use less than 10mW when idle & 100mW when actively processing data
  • A Raspberry Pi might use 0.5W
  • A smartphone processor might use 1-3W
  • An IoT gateway (controlling various local devices) might be 5-10W
  • A laptop might draw 50W
  • A decent crypto mining rig might use 1kW

New innovations are pushing the boundaries. Some researchers are working on sub-milliwatt vision processors (link). ARM has designs able to run machine-learning algorithms on very low-powered devices.

But perhaps the most interesting "device edge" is the future top-end Nvidia Pegasus board, aimed at self-driving vehicles. It is a 500W supercomputer. That might sound a lot, but it's still less than 1% of the engine power on most cars. A top-end Tesla P100D puts over 500kW to the wheels in "ludicrous mode", or 1000x that figure. Cars' aircon might use 2kW, to give context.

Of course, all of these device-edge computing platforms are numerous. There are billions of phones, and hundreds of millions of vehicles and PCs. Potentially, we'll get 10s of billions of sensors. Most aren't coordinated, though. 

And in the middle?

So we have milliwatts at one end of distributed computing, and gigawatts at the other, from device to cloud.

So what about the middle, where the network lives?

There are many companies talking about MEC (multi-access edge computing) and fog-computing products, with servers designed to run at cellular base stations, network aggregation points, and also in fixed-network nodes and elsewhere. 

Some are "micro-data-centres" capable of holding a few racks of servers near the largest cell towers. The very largest might be 50kW shipping-container sized units, but those will be pretty rare and will obviously need a dedicated power supply.

It's worth noting here that a typical macro-cell tower might have a power supply of 1-2kW. So if we consider that maybe 10% could be dedicated to a compute platform rather than the radio (a generous assumption), we get 100-200W, in theory. Or in other words, a cell tower edge-node will be less than half as powerful as a single car's computer.

Others are smaller server units, intended to hook into cellular small-cells, home gateways, cable street-side cabinets or enterprise "white boxes". For these, 10-30W is more reasonable.

Imagine the year 2023

Let's think 5 years ahead. By then, there could probably be 150GW of large-scale data centres, plus a decent number of midsize regional data-centres, plus private enterprise facilities.

And we could have 10 billion phones, PCs, tablets & other small end-points contributing to a distributed edge, although obviously they will spend a lot of time in idle-mode. We might also have 10 million almost-autonomous vehicles, with a lot of compute, even if they're not fully self-driving. 

Now, imagine we have a very-bullish 10 million "deep" network-compute nodes, at cell sites large and small, built into WiFi APs or controllers, and perhaps in cable/fixed streetside cabinets. They will likely have power ratings between 10W and 300W, although the largest will be numerically few in number. Choose 100W on average, for a simpler calculation. (Frankly, this is a generous forecast, but let's run with it for now).

And let's add in 20,000 container-sized 50kW units, or repurposed central-offices-as-datacentres, as well. (Also generous)

In other words, we might end up with:

150GW large data centres
50GW regional and corporate data centres
20,000x 50kW = 1GW big/aggregation-point "network-edge"
10m x 100W = 1GW "deep" network-edge nodes
1bn x 50W = 50GW of PCs
10bn x 1W = 10GW "small" device edge compute nodes
10m x 500W = 5GW of in-vehicle compute nodes
10bn x 100mW = 1GW of sensors & low-end devices

Now admittedly this is a very crude analysis. And a lot of devices will be running idle most of the time, and may need to offload functions to save battery power. Laptops are often switched off entirely. But equally, network-edge computers won't be running at 100%, 24x7 either.

The 1% edge

So at a rough, order-of-magnitude level, we can see that the total realistic "network edge", with optimistic assumptions, will account for less than 1% of total aggregate compute capability. And with more pessimistic assumptions, it might easily be just 0.1%. 

Any more will simply not be possible to power, unless there are large-scale upgrades to the electricity supply to network infrastructure - installed at the same time as backhaul upgrades for 5G, or deployment of FTTH. (And unlike copper, fibre can't even power small devices on its own). And haven't seen announcements of any telcos building hydroelectric power stations anywhere.

Decentralised, blockchain-based edge "fogs" are unlikely to really solve this problem either, even if they also use decentralised, blockchain-based power supply and management.

Now it could be argued that this 0.1-1% of computing workloads will be of such pivotal importance, that they will bring everything else into their orbit and indirect control. Could the "edge" really be the new frontier? 

I think not.

In reality, the reverse is more likely. Either device-based applications will selectively offload certain workloads to the network, or the webscale clouds will distribute certain functions. Yes, there will be some counter-examples, where the network-edge is the control point for certain verticals or applications - I think some security functions make sense, for instance, as well as an evolution of today's CDNs. But will IoT management, or AI, be concentrated in these edge nodes? It seems improbable.

Conclusion & TL:DR

In-network edge-computing architectures, such as MEC, will become more important. There are various interesting use-cases. But despite that, they will struggle to live up to the hype. 

There will be almost no applications that run *only* in the network-edge - it’ll be used just for specific workloads or microservices, as a subset of a broader multi-tier application. The main compute heavy-lifting will be done on-device, or on-cloud. As such, collaboration between edge-compute providers and industry/webscale cloud will be needed, as the network-edge will only be a component in a bigger solution, and will only very rarely be the most important component. 

One thing is definite: mobile operators won’t become distributed quasi-Amazons, running image-processing for all nearby cars or industry 4.0 robots in their networks, linked via 5G. 

Yes, MEC nodes could host Amazon Greengrass or other functions on a wholesale basis, but few developers will want to write directly to telcos' distributed-cloud APIs on a standalone basis, with or without network-slicing or 5G QoS mechanisms.

Indeed, this landscape of compute resource may throw up some unintended consequences. Ironically, it seems more likely that a future car's hefty computer, and abundant local power, could be used to offload tasks from the network, rather than vice versa.

Comments and feedback are very welcome. I'm aware I've made many assumptions here, and will doubtless generate various comments and detailed responses, either on my blog or LinkedIn posts. I haven't seen an "end to end" analysis of compute power before - if there's any tweaks to my back-of-envelope calculations, I'd welcome suggestions. If you'd like to contact me about projects or speaking engagements, I can be reached via information at disruptive-analysis dot com.
19 Mar 15:52

Plantronics 8200 UC :: Jetzt fluppt das

by Volker Weber


Ich muss sagen, ich bin ein bisschen erleichtert. Dieses Headset hatte mich bei der Markteinführung enttäuscht, und das passte gar nicht zu meinen Erfahrungen mit Plantronics. Aber ich wusste damals schon, dass sich Softwareprobleme lösen lassen und dass Plantronics das auch macht. Man kann sich die Software-Historie jedes Headsets anschauen und man sieht, dass die Produkte dauerhaft gepflegt werden. Sowas ist mir wichtig.

Gut ein halbes Jahr und zwei Software Releases später bin ich sehr angetan. Und das hat auch ein bisschen damit zu tun, dass ich mich ausgiebiger mit dem PLT Hub beschäftigt habe, den es für Android und iOS, sowie macOS und Windows gibt. Da waren eine ganze Reihe von Einstellungen drin, die man leicht übersieht. Die für mich wichtigsten waren Firmware Update, HD Voice und Sidetone.

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Was ist Sidetone? Damit stellt man die Lautstärke der Monitorfunktion ein. Monitorfunktion? Ist Euch aufgefallen, dass Bühnenmusiker Kopfhörer tragen? Das dient dazu, dass sie sich selbst hören. Früher standen auf der Bühne Monitor-Lautsprecher direkt vor den Musikern, aber die Headsets sind noch viel besser. Das 8200 nutzt den Sidetone dazu, bei Telefongesprächen den ausgehenden Tonkanal über die Ohrmuscheln wiederzugeben. Damit hört man sich selbst sprechen und zwar nicht nur aus dem eigenen Kopf, sondern so, wie die andere Seite einen hört. Das ist bei geschlossenen Kopfhörern, und noch mehr bei solchen, die Geräusche aus dem Raum aktiv unterdrücken, sehr wichtig. Jeder, der schon mal mit einem geschlossenen Kopfhörer telefoniert hat, kennt dieses Unter-Wasser-Gefühl.

Der ausgehende Tonkanal ist bei Telefongesprächen nicht etwa die gesamte Klangkulisse des Raums, sondern (möglichst) nur das, was man selbst spricht. Den Unterschied hört man, wenn man vom Headset auf das iPhone umschaltet. Das iPhone klingt besser, aber es nimmt auch das Raumecho auf. Das Headset-Signal klingt weniger natürlich, aber dafür ist die Stimme aus dem Hintergrund herausgelöst. Der Unterschied wird nochmal klarer, wenn man die OpenMic-Funktion nutzt. Die schaltet man über einen kleinen Knopf auf der Unterseite der rechten Ohrmuschel ein. Dann wird das Außensignal nach innen verstärt, sozusagen das Gegenteil der Geräuschunterdrückung. So hört man Ansagen im Bahnhof oder im Flugzeug die Frage "Darf ich Ihnen etwas zu trinken anbieten?". OpenMic ist creepy. Jeder nimmt an, dass man mit den dicken Kopfhörern nichts hören kann, dabei hört man beinahe besser als ohne.

Wie man oben im ersten Bild sehen kann, sind die Seiten des Headsets mit einem dicken L oder R in den Hörmuscheln angezeigt. Das ist nicht nur wichtig, weil links und rechts unterschiedliche Bedienelemente sind, sondern auch, weil die beiden Mikrofone links und rechts die Stimme "vorne" haben wollen. Dreht man das Headset um, dann schlägt die (ausgehende) Geräuschunterdrückung zu und man ist schlecht zu hören.

Apropos Geräuschunterdrückung: Darunter versteht man allgemein, dass man selbst vom Lärm abgeschirmt wird. Der Benchmark ist das Bose QC35, das wirklich phänomenal effektiv ist. Die Unterdrückung im Plantronics ist weniger deutlich und ich habe eine Anfrage gestellt, warum das so ist. Beim 8200 gibt es drei Einstellungen, die ich so übersetze: Off, Office, Airplane. Ich hätte gerne noch eine vierte: kein Babygeschrei, keine Businesskapser, keine Kegelclubs.

Die ganzen anderen Settings des Headsets gehe ich mal kurz durch. (Ich benutze die englische Software, weil ich die Übersetzungen unerträglich finde.) Und weil das lang ist, gibt es das in einem eigenen Abschnitt.

19 Mar 15:51

Vier Plantronics Voyager :: Vergleichtest der Geräuschunterdrückung

by Volker Weber

InkedIMG 2617 LI

Um das 8200 UC besser verstehen zu können, habe ich mal einen Vergleichstest von vier verschiedenen Plantronics Voyager Headsets gemacht. Dazu brauchte ich ordentlich Lärm und den habe ich bei Soundcloud gefunden. Diesen Lärm habe ich über zwei PLAY:5 bei 75% Lautstärke abgespielt und mich in etwa einen Meter davor aufgebaut.


Bei dieser Aufnahme drehe ich mich mit jedem Headset jeweils von links nach rechts und zurück. Der Mikrofonarm ist jeweils rechts. Um den Lärm einordnen zu können, beginne und ende ich ohne Headset. An zweiter Position die Apple AirPods, außer Konkurrenz. Auch wenn ich das immer ansage, noch mal die Reihenfolge: iPhone, AirPods, Edge UC, 5200 UC, Focus UC, 8200 UC, iPhone. Hört Euch die Aufnahme an:

Was klar auffallen dürfte: Die Bearbeitung des Mikrofonsignals erzeugt eine "metallische" Stimme, dafür ist der Hintergrund weg. Was mich total überrascht hat: Das 8200 kommt locker mit, auch wenn es keinen Mikrofonbügel hat. Im Video wird erklärt, wie das funktioniert.

Beam forming, davon hat auch Apple beim Homepod sehr viel erzählt. Die Sonos Playbar macht das seit fünf Jahren. Man kann das auch als "Richtcharakteristik" bezeichnen. Statt drei Mikros auf einem Mikrofonarm wie die anderen Plantronics Headsets nimmt das 8200 vier Stück in zwei Paaren links und rechts.

Das 8200 UC kann wie das Focus auch Geräuschunterdrückung (ANC) für die eigenen Ohren. Die zweistufige ANC vereint die beiden Modi des Backbeat Pro 2 (Airplane) und des Focus (Office). Gerade der Airplane-Modus funktioniert bei mir sehr gut. Er nimmt die tiefen Töne weg, die meinem Unterbewusstsein Gefahr signalisieren. Zusammen mit den Long Ambient Sounds von Moby bin ich dann zuverlässig weg.

Ich bin beeindruckt.

19 Mar 15:51

"A human society would never willingly harm nature."

“A human society would never willingly harm nature.” - | Curtis White, The Ecology of...
19 Mar 15:50

"Having safely established that Jordan Peterson is an intellectual fraud who uses a lot of words to..."

“Having safely established that Jordan Peterson is an intellectual fraud who uses a lot of...
19 Mar 15:50

"The workers in an auto plant are strongly affected by the decision as to whether or not it should..."

“The workers in an auto plant are strongly affected by the decision as to whether or not it...
19 Mar 15:49

Investigating ClaimReview

by Jon Udell

In Annotating the Wild West of Information Flow I discussed a prototype of a ClaimReview-aware annotation client. ClaimReview is a standard way to format “a fact-checking review of claims made (or reported) in some creative work.” Now that both Google and Bing are ingesting ClaimReview markup, and fact-checking sites are feeding it to them, the workflow envisioned in that blog post has become more interesting. A fact checker ought to be able to highlight a reviewed claim in its original context, then capture that context and push it into the app that produces the ClaimReview markup embedded in fact-checking articles and slurped by search engines.

That workflow is one interesting use of annotation in the domain of fact-checking, it’s doable, and I plan to explore it. But here I’ll focus instead on using annotation to project claim reviews onto the statements they review, in original context. Why do that? Search engines may display fact-checking labels on search results, but nothing shows up when you land directly on an article that includes a reviewed claim. If the reviewed claim were annotated with the reviewed claim, an annotation client could surface it.

To help make that idea concrete, I’ve been looking at the ClaimReview markup in the wild. Not unexpectedly, it gets used in slightly different ways. I wrote a bookmarklet to help visualize the differences, and used it to find these four patterns:

  "urlOfFactCheck": "",
  "reviewRating": {
    "@type": "Rating",
    "ratingValue": "-1",
    "alternateName": "Fuzzy math",
    "worstRating": "-1",
    "bestRating": "-1",
    "image": ""
  "itemReviewed": {
    "@type": "CreativeWork",
    "author": {
      "@type": "Person",
      "name": "Donald Trump ",
      "jobTitle": "President",
      "image": "",
      "sameAs": [
    "datePublished": "2018-03-13",
    "name": "in a tweet"
  "claimReviewed": "\"The $18 billion wall will pay for itself by curbing the importation of crime, drugs and illegal immigrants who tend to go on the federal dole.”"

  "urlOfFactCheck": "",
  "reviewRating": {
    "alternateName": "False",
    "ratingValue": "",
    "bestRating": ""
  "itemReviewed": {
    "datePublished": "2018-03-13T08:25:46+00:00",
    "name": "Snopes",
    "sameAs": ""
  "claimReviewed": "A captured Islamic State leader's cell phone contained the phone numbers of world leaders, including former President Barack Obama."

  "urlOfFactCheck": "",
  "reviewRating": {
    "@type": "Rating",
    "ratingValue": "-1",
    "alternateName": "Clinton Endorsed Mars Flight",
    "worstRating": "-1",
    "bestRating": "-1",
    "image": ""
  "itemReviewed": {
    "@type": "CreativeWork",
    "author": {
      "@type": "Person",
      "name": "Donald Trump",
      "jobTitle": "President of the United States",
      "image": "",
      "sameAs": [
    "datePublished": "2018-03-13",
    "name": "Speech at military base"
  "claimReviewed": "NASA “wouldn’t have been going to Mars if my opponent won.\""

  "urlOfFactCheck": "",
  "reviewRating": {
    "@type": "Rating",
    "ratingValue": "2",
    "alternateName": "False",
    "worstRating": "1",
    "bestRating": "7",
    "image": ""
  "itemReviewed": {
    "@type": "CreativeWork",
    "author": {
      "@type": "Person",
      "name": "Ted Cruz",
      "jobTitle": "U.S. senator for Texas",
      "image": "",
      "sameAs": [
    "datePublished": "2018-03-06",
    "name": "Houston, Texas"
  "claimReviewed": "Says Beto O’Rourke wants \"open borders and wants to take our guns.\""

To normalize the difference I’ll need to look at more examples from these four sites. But I’m also looking for more patterns, so if you know of other sites that routinely embed ClaimReview markup, please drop me links!

19 Mar 15:49

Two methods for writing a paper outline: Answering questions and listing topic sentences

by Raul Pacheco-Vega

Since I usually write blog posts by request, unless there’s a pressing thought that I really want to get out and get off my chest, I normally make a list of what I’m supposed to be blogging about. A topic that I saw people insisting upon was the question of how to write an outline for a paper. The process can be escalated to a book, or a doctoral dissertation, a Masters thesis, or an undergraduate honors major paper.

AcWri at my campus office

I use a couple of methods, and in this post, I discuss two methods I use. Both are inquiry-focused, but in one I set up questions, whereas in the other I basically throw words or sentences and then list and group them to see if they make a coherent argument when assembled. There are, as I mention in my Twitter thread (which you can open by clicking anywhere on the tweet below) other methods, such as IMRAD, Introduction – Body – Conclusion, etc. Mine are just two methods, and hopefully they may be of use to others who are interested in writing outlines for their papers, books and dissertations.

My Twitter thread began here (you can click anywhere on the tweet, and the thread will expand and open in a new window – scroll down all the way to the end to read the entire thread and people’s responses):


I tend to dialogue with myself, and I use writing as a form of conversation, where I am the interlocutor and the speaker too. In the example I posted, where I shared the outline for my ethnographic methods in public policy analysis chapter, I asked questions that can become sections of the paper.

When I ask questions to myself, I usually add anything that can help me create sentences and paragraphs. For example, in the tweet below, I have used those questions as prompts to force me out of a writing rut.


This method works really well for me, as I ask for feedback from fellow academics very early in the process. What I did with my paper on the global governance of plastics was that I wrote a list of ideas I had, a list of topic sentences from where I could create entire paragraphs, I gave it some coherence, and asked for feedback from Dr. Robin Nagle and Dr. Kate O’Neill, both experts on waste.

I am a big fan of conceptual maps (also known as mind maps). I usually draw them in different colours and I use them to connect ideas, concepts and authors. For example here, I more or less have drawn the connections between local, national and international environmental regulation of plastics, thanks to the feedback Robin and Kate offered.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a conversation with oneself on paper, especially when we are at the early stages of composition. I try to always write topic sentences that can have one idea, and then flesh out that idea by assembling additional written sentences until they form an entire paragraph.

The “Listing Topic Sentences” method works very well for me when I know the literature so well that I can use it to write topic sentences that I can then flesh out. For example, in this case I link my own work with that of Dr. Malini Ranganathan and Dr. Colin McFarlane. We all three have written about informal sanitation mechanisms.

Topic sentences work wonderfully for my writing because they act as prompts or anchors from where I can spin off the thread that will compose my entire argument.

This is another example that is a variation from the Listing Topic Sentences, which is Listing Key Ideas.

Do note how in the previous case, each concept is one sentence, whereas in the case below, I have a more well thought out idea of what I want to say.

I always keep going back-and-forth between my paper, my Everything Notebook and my handwritten conceptual maps. Doing this allows me to maintain control over my ideas and grasp what I’m trying to understand more clearly.

The pair of tweets below clearly summarize my approach.

One final thought: research is social, contrary to what you hear. When you write, you put ideas down that (if you submit them to a peer reviewed journal) somebody else needs to read and understand. Therefore, the earlier you can share your drafts with fellow scholars, the better developed your argument.

Hopefully my method will be useful to students, early career scholars and other fellow academics and writers.

19 Mar 15:49

The Cambridge Analytica Files

by Volker Weber
The data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trump’s election team and the winning Brexit campaign harvested millions of Facebook profiles of US voters, in one of the tech giant’s biggest ever data breaches, and used them to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.

This is painted by some media as a Facebook leak. But it is not. This is just the core of what Facebook is. When will you walk away?

More >

19 Mar 15:49

"The American Union feels itself to be a Nordic-German state and by no means an international..."

“The American Union feels itself to be a Nordic-German state and by no means an international...
19 Mar 15:48

Baptism | Hieu Minh Nguyen

Convinced she’s in hell my mother wakes me & begs to be taken to the lake. Wailing in prayer on...
19 Mar 15:48

Family fun with deepfakes. Or how I got my wife onto the Tonight Show


Sven Charleer, Mar 19, 2018


Content sites are beginning to block and take down deepfakes animations and videos. These are created by AIs and essentially put the face of one person onto the body of another (where the other may be depicted in some very compromising positions (or to insert Nicolas Cage into all your favourite motion pictures)). This post is safe for viewing, however, and the fakes are clearly labeled as fakes. And it demonstrates quite nicely how the transition from ordinary person to guest on the Tonight Show can appear seamless. The technology poses new challenges to our understanding of truth and veracity. More about deepfakes. More.

Web: [Direct Link] [This Post]
19 Mar 15:48

Cambie Report: Civic Basics

by Ken Ohrn

Brush up on the wonderful weirdness of Vancouver’s past and upcoming civic election scene.

Cambie.ReportThe Cambie Report podcast:  Episode 1. (A rambling, fun and informative 1:03).

Ballot goofiness; Parks Board; UBC governance; alphabet roulette; ward wariness; why do we have a highly partisan party that calls itself the Non Partisan party; the losing days of bike lane haze; manhole covers; power sharing strategies; vote blocking; South Asian candidates; party prospects in 2018; inter-party agreements; dancing chickens; emerging Green ascendancy; OneCity rising; who’s got the money; group branding (Vision, Green, OneCity — a lefty coalition); the achievement gap–  balancing promises and problems and results; prospects in a change election for the NPA, watching their internal civil war including Bremnerization; rise of the millennial friend-pod; the open and fresh feeling for October 2018; the Mayor’s race – the chorus of “not me”; waiting for coalitions to emerge; equity slates.

19 Mar 15:48

Why the Social Sciences are Irreducible


Tobias Hansson Wahlberg, Mar 19, 2018


This is a very common position in the social sciences (including education): "“We can hold that any particular social entity at a given time and its causal powers are token identical with the sum of individuals composing it.” Or "it might well be true that each instance of a social kind - for example, a state structure - is identical with an ensemble of individual actors having certain properties." This paper examines, in detail, some of the arguments for and against this position. It is a tough analytical slog and may well take several hours to work though. The effort is worthwhile, however, as it raises (among many others) questions like 'at what point does an ensemble turn into a team?' And even, 'what makes a team a team?' This in turn raises questions like 'is teaching a class the same as teaching an individual?' and 'how do you assign responsibility for the actions of a group?' 36 page PDF.

Web: [Direct Link] [This Post]
19 Mar 15:47

15+ Easy, Cheap and Fun Indoor Activities for Kids

by Andrea Fraser-Winsby

When we think of Spring Break, many people picture kids in shorts frolicking outside on a sunny day. But we live in Canada, and in many parts of the country, Spring Break doesn’t always mean spring-like weather, which means we’re dealing with entertaining the kids indoors. We’re here to help! You don’t need to leave spring break to the iPad this year, and you don’t need to spend a lot of money or effort to have some fun with kids within your four walls.


Giant Box Art

Have a big cardboard box taking up space in the house? Before you toss it into the recycling bin, take a handful of crayons or markers and drop them inside, add one toddler (or two if you have another on hand) and watch it come to life. We all know toddlers love to write on walls, and these walls are fair game. Older kids can join in the fun too with more elaborate creations on the outside–pirate ship, princess castle, space shuttle, airplane–the possibilities are endless! Speaking of endless, there are loads of fun and simple activities to do with cardboard boxes.


The Floor is Lava

This classic indoor game became a meme for a reason – it’s super fun! You don’t even need anything special to set it up: sheets of paper, books, pillows, blankets, towels, furniture, or anything else around the house that’s safe to step on will work great. Little ones will love building a path and just hiking around the house, and older kids can add a challenging element like a race or a scavenger hunt.


Escape the Volcano

This fantastic game is inspired by The Floor Is Lava, but it’s a little more involved. The planning is worth it, though, because it gets your kids moving and thinking with colour matching, exercise, riddles, and more.


Sponge Finger Painting

If your kids love finger painting but you hate the mess, keep it under control with sponges. Makeup sponges work great for keeping the paint in one place, and clean up is easy if you keep them on a plate or plastic tray.



indoor activities - baking

Baking is a great rainy-day activity for kids of any age. Not only do they get yummy treats at the end, but they learn a little about chemistry and where their food actually comes from. No worries if you’re not an expert baker yourself – try these super-simple recipes from that anyone can master. Don’t forget to stock up on baking tools and supplies!



Yes, your little ones can do yoga! There are lots of great DVDs to help your toddlers and kids get started with yoga, but our favourite videos are from Cosmic Kids. In each free YouTube video, likeable host Jamie walks little yogis through a new adventure, including favourites like Moana, Star Wars, Frozen, and other fun stories, while learning the basics of flexibility, balance, strength, and mindfulness. Move the coffee table, grab your mat, and get ready for some fun. Bonus–you can sneak in your own workout right next to the kids!


Indoor Picnic

If grilled cheese and baby carrots are getting a bit boring, inject some fun into lunch and have an indoor picnic! Pack portable containers into a basket, clear some space, put down a blanket or tablecloth, and voilà! For extra fun, add some “outdoor” details like homemade grass, flowers, trees (aka tall potted plants), etc. Don’t forget to invite the stuffed animals! You can also continue the fun into the night with an indoor campout. Especially fun for a sleep over!


Spy Laser Obstacle Course

A ball of yarn or string is all you need for this secret mission. Find a narrow passageway like a hallway or stair case, and wrap the string at different angles back and forth at kid-height. Little kids will have a blast trying to climb through the configuration, and you can take the challenge up a notch for older kids with spy back stories, timed races, secret maps, special treasure missions, or a spy movie shoot. More ideas and instructions at

Make Your Own Book

If you’ve read the 478th book to your kids, why not get them to make their own books? There are many tutorials online about homemade book projects, but we found a great place to start with this simple one, which is good for beginner crafters, or for a sweet gift for someone. All you’ll need is a few sheets of paper, scissors, and crayons or markers. You could also add magazine cut-outs to practice pre-schooler scissor skills.

Cotton Swab Blow Darts

Don’t be alarmed by the name! This game is as safe as it gets. For this one, you’ll only need some cotton swabs, bowls or small bins (even old yogurt containers would work!), number stickers or tape, and some drinking straws. You’ll foster some healthy competition with everyone in the family with this lively game. Full instructions at

Sticky Spider Web 

Painter’s tape, light, throw-able objects, and a doorway is all you need for this active game. Have fun looking for things around the house that will stick in the web, like balled up newspaper, balloons, small toys, etc, or make it a competition by adding points or a timer.

Masking Tape Race Track

A no-brainer if you’ve got a tub full of toy cars or trains. Make it colourful and fancy with washi tape like the one above, but regular old painter’s tape works well too (and is just as fun on carpet and furniture!). You can keep it contained in the kid’s room, or take it all over the house for an epic race. You can even add a souped-up garage or train station, like this one:

indoor activities - gas station

Want more ideas for fun and learning with just a roll of tape? Check out more ideas at Hands On As We Grow.

Minute to Win It

If you’ve got a house full of kids, Minute to Win It games are a surefire hit. Bring the popular game show into your living room with rip-roaring races like “Junk in the Trunk,” “Cookie Face,” or “Pong Tac Toe.” The entire family, neighbours, cousins and the mail carrier are all going to want to join in this one. More ideas for MTWI games at

Sewing Station

This indoor activity is perfect for 4-6 year olds to practice fine motor skills. You will need to pick up a few supplies, but it’s a creative and colourful project that your pre-schooler can be proud of.  Full instructions at


I’m Bored Jar 

If you’ve reached your creativity limit, an I’m Bored Jar will be your best friend. Simply put, it’s a container filled with things for kids to do. Some people fill it with fun stuff, others mix in chores kids can help with around the house. You can get creative with the design using tokens, popsicle sticks or laminated cards, if that’s your cup of tea, or you can just write the activities on slips of paper and put them in a jar. Every time you hear a small person in your house utter the phrase “Mooooooom/Daaaaaad, I’m BOOOORED!”, you can bring them the jar and let it do its work. More ideas for jar design and activities at


What’s your favourite activity for beating kids’ cabin fever? Let us know in the comments!

The post 15+ Easy, Cheap and Fun Indoor Activities for Kids appeared first on London Drugs Blog.

19 Mar 15:47

Before The Fall

This polished, intriguing, and formally-innovative mystery brings a collection of interesting and colorful rich people together in a modern locked-room, country-house mystery. A small private jet crashes on a hop from Martha’s Vineyard to Teterboro, NJ. Something or someone caused the crash. Everyone wants to find out — the anchorman on the cable news empire whose owner chartered the jet, the NTSB chief investigator, the FBI whose had planned to arrest another of the passengers the following morning for money laundering. Scott Burroughs, who somehow swam to safety, and the network head’s 4-year-old boy whom he rescued, are the only survivors. Hawley takes an Agatha Christie format and updates it with a vengeance; his minor characters are sometimes synthetics but they’re detailed and though through.

19 Mar 15:47


A fascinating, nimble play in which two Asian-American high school sisters, L and M, find that their plans to both attend The College are in trouble despite their 2400 SATs, amazing softs, and impeccable grades. (M, “the smart one,” has a 4.8/4 weighted GPA. L only has 4.6/4.) They’re both double-minority. But each year, The College only accepts one, and this year the fat early-decision envelope fell (from the heavens) on a classmate with a slight claim to American Indian descent and a brother with cystic fibrosis. Macbeth ensues, naturally.

19 Mar 15:47


A Jason Snell

recommendation and Nebula finalist, this faery noir saga pits a young film director with borderline personality disorder (and without legs, which she lost jumping off her dormitory roof in a failed suicide attempt) against a frightening magical conspiracy.
19 Mar 15:46


A comprehensive but pleasant biography, Grant never bogs down. That’s a challenge for the biography of any general, but especially challenging for Grant because his life before the war was far from notable and his postwar life was not entire successful. The axis of this book, it seems to me, revolves around the disastrous Johnson administration and its strenuous efforts to give the defeated South what it could not win in battle. The calamities of the Johnson era, in which one cabinet member barricaded himself in his office to prevent his replacement, are strikingly resonant today.

19 Mar 15:46


Theo, a charming, isolated daughter of two professors, lives on a planet dedicated to scholarship. This has advantages; everyone understands why tenure matters. It has disadvantages, too: Mom and Dad are splitting up in order to improve Mom’s academic visibility, the whole planet is governed by the Safety Committee, and because Theo is sometimes clumsy and sometimes just a bit too assertive, Mom’s rivals think it might be a good idea to sedate her for everyone’s safety. It’s a space opera, and if it’s not really adventurous science fiction, it’s a skillful exploration of coming-of-age with spaceships and telepathic bears.

19 Mar 15:46

Lakeshore Cycle Track

by jnyyz

Cycling along the lakefront is a very popular pastime. Towards the west end of the Martin Goodman Trail, a separated pathway extends beyond the bridge at the Humber River, through Mimico, ending at Norris Ave. From that point, cyclists are expected to use a 1.4 km stretch of Lakeshore Blvd until First Ave, at which point the waterfront trail continues through residential streets. This has been a sore point for cyclists in South Etobicoke, and the city finally started planning a protected cycle track to bridge this gap. The construction process has been very slow, but it appears at this point that the cycle track is more or less done, needing just a bit more signage and some sweeping before it can be officially opened.

Here is the west end of the track, at First Ave, near where Susan Trainor died.


Here you can see the concrete barriers separating the bidirectional cycle track from car traffic. There are many gaps in the barrier at cross streets, and also at every single driveway along the south side.


The fact that one of the bike symbols is not inverted bothers me. Also, it looks like the directions for the bike lanes are reversed. As far as the actual bike lane markings go, the lane closest to the car traffic should be westbound, which is downwards on this sign that is visible from the eastbound direction.


Riding east, here is the first of three raised bus stops at Royal York. The fact that they are relatively far apart makes them much less annoying than the ones along Roncesvalles.


Here is the east end of the track at Norris Cres.


From here you can join onto the lakefront trail. Note the Brompton rider riding no hands.



19 Mar 15:46

Adblock Plus and deceptive dark patterns

by Don Marti

Some sites recommend Adblock Plus (or just "an ad blocker," for which Adblock Plus is often the first search result) as a privacy or security tool. But Adblock Plus uses deceptive "dark patterns" to avoid offering real privacy or security to users.

Please do not recommend either Adblock Plus or "an ad blocker" to users who are concerned about web privacy or security.

Adblock Plus runs a paid whitelisting program called "Acceptable Ads". The "Acceptable" criteria include no rules against common user privacy and security concerns, such as malvertising and PII misuse. And configuring Adblock Plus to actually provide tracking protection is complicated.

  • Go to "Filter Preferences" in the ABP menu.

  • Click "Add filter subscription"

  • No privacy lists appear on the main drop-down. You will have to hunt for them behind "Add a different subscription".

  • Scroll down and eventually find the "EasyPrivacy" entry from a long list.

  • Click "Add subscription".

So far, it's time-consuming and deliberately complicated, but not deceptive. (Keep this in mind when Adblock Plus proponents talk about how users are mad about annoying ads but don't mind tracking. If users don't mind tracking, why did Adblock Plus make it so hard to make the choice?)

Turning on a privacy list is enough of a maze to discourage users, but not deceptive deceptive. That's found in another place.

Now for the deceptive part.

Even after you go through the above five-step (!) process to find and turn on "EasyPrivacy", you're still not protected. This is not clear unless you read the fine print. The "Acceptable Ads" paid whitelisting program actually overrides your explicit EasyPrivacy choice, to allow tracking by Google, Criteo, and other companies.

In order to make your tracking protection choice take effect, you also have to turn off "Acceptable Ads" using a different option, which is labeled "Allow some non-intrusive advertising."

whitelisting screenshot

To really block trackers, un-check a box with a label that says nothing about trackers at all.

The checkbox is not even labeled "Acceptable Ads," maybe just in case a user has heard of "Acceptable Ads" and knows about the controversial paid whitelisting program.

What to do instead

The good news is that alternatives are available.

  • Instead of recommending "an ad blocker," link to a list of legit tracking protection tools, or make your own list of tools that work well with your site. It's easy to use a JavaScript browser detector like bowser to recommend an appropriate one for the user.

  • If you maintain a directory of web software, please do not list Adblock Plus in a privacy or security category.

More: Aloodo for Web Publishers

19 Mar 15:45

Use case sighting: Personal cyber insurance

by Don Marti

Aaron Harris writes,

As more things in our lives become hackable, we’ll need more help protecting ourselves from those things. Existing companies that focus on homeowner’s insurance are unlikely to understand these issues well enough to create great products.

If a user visits an insurance site for a personal cyber insurance quote, will the number be higher or lower of the user is running Privacy Badger? How about Apple Safari with Intelligent Tracking Prevention?

If you need to check a user's browser to make sure they're protected from third-party tracking and all its negative security externalities, we have a tool for that.

19 Mar 15:44

An updated description of my colour-coding scheme for highlighting and scribbling

by Raul Pacheco-Vega

In 2015, I believe, I first described the process I use to read and highlight. But that has been evolving through time. This blog post, like the one I did on an updated version of the Drafts Review Matrix, is intended to show how I read, highlight, and scribble on the margins of book chapters and journal articles. This colour-coding scheme is approximately the same that I use right now, though as I’ve mentioned before, sometimes I veer off.

There are a number of decisions that students and early career scholars ask me about. For example, how do I decide which articles I’m reading merit a memorandum, which ones merit a synthetic note, and which ones are simply a quick AIC/CSED row entry? Here’s one example of such decision. If after running an AIC Content Extraction I find that the paper is really heavy with marginalia and highlights, it would probably be wise to read it more deeply and in its entirety.

I often tweet about the fact that I match colours across. For example, if I highlight in pink, I scribble corresponding notes in pink, and I write on my Everything Notebook in the same hue.

As I mentioned on Twitter, this is more or less my colour coding scheme right now.

You can read the rest of the thread by clicking anywhere on the tweet below. Once you do, the Twitter thread will expand and you can scroll up and down to read it in its entirety. As I mention, I usually use Yellow for main-level, or key ideas. For example, each paragraph’s opening sentence (if the paper is written that way) would be highlighted with yellow. The problem I have with writers who lock their main idea in the middle of a paragraph is that you need to read an entire paragraph to “unlock it” and find THE key concept.

I normally use orange, pink, green and blue to second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-level ideas (hierarchically and sequentially organized).

This is an important component of the process. I don’t always summarize on the margins. I dialogue with the text’s author, with the literature and I also critique. I also give myself instructions on what to do with the text I’m highlight (e.g. “construct a table summarizing these insights” means I should find the most important concepts and build a table that summarizes these insights in a visual manner that is a lot more logically organized than the way in which the author is presenting these thoughts).

The side bars I use to “grab” an entire paragraph or a few sentences mean “these sentences have important ideas, and the paragraph is too long for me to try and grab only a few of them, so I’ll capture all of it”. They can also mean “this quotation looks very cool and should be sent to my Conceptual Synthesis Excel Dump”.

Hopefully this post will help others create their own colour-coding scheme.

19 Mar 15:39

Cayan Tower, Dubai, United Arab Emirates by

by archpics
mkalus shared this story from archpics on Twitter.

Cayan Tower, Dubai, United Arab Emirates by

Posted by archpics on Sunday, March 18th, 2018 12:58am

654 likes, 197 retweets
19 Mar 15:37

An Intuitive Motor: IQ Control’s Serial-to-Position Module

by bunnie

Back when I was a graduate student, my advisor Tom Knight bestowed upon me many excellent aphorisms. One of them was, “just wrap a computer around it!” – meaning, rather than expending effort to build more perfect systems, wrap imperfection-correcting computers around imperfect systems.

An everyday example of this is the noise-cancelling headphone. Headphones offer imperfect noise cancellation, but by “wrapping a computer around it” – adding one or more microphones and a computer in the from of a digital signal processor (DSP) – the headphones are able to measure the ambient noise and drive the headphones with the exact inverse of the noise, thus cancelling out the surrounding noise and creating a more perfect listening experience.

Although the principle has found its way rapidly into consumer goods, it’s been very slow to find its way onto the engineer’s workbench. It’s the case of the cobbler’s children having no shoes.

In particular, it’s long bothered me that motors are so dumb. Motors are typically large, heavy, costly, power-hungry, and riddled with small mechanical imperfections. In comparison, microcontrollers are tiny, cheap, power-efficient, and could run software that trims imperfections while improving efficiency to the point where the motor + microcontroller combo is a win over a dumb motor on almost every metric. So why aren’t we wrapping a computer around every motor and just calling it a day?

Then one day a startup called IQ Motion Control showed me a demo of their smart motor, the IQ Position Module, at HAX in Shenzhen. My eyes instantly lit up – these guys have done it, and done it in a tasteful manner. This is the motor I’ve been waiting years for!

Meet the IQ Position Module
Simply put, the IQ Position Module is a brushless DC motor that talks serial and “thinks” at a higher level. I don’t have to design any complicated drive circuitry or buy a proprietary controller that talks some arcane or closed standard. I just plug an FTDI cable into my laptop, hook up power, clone a small git repo and I’m good to go.

Because of the microcontroller on the inside, the IQ Position Module can emulate a range of behaviors, from a simple stepper to a range of BLDC drive standards, but the real magic happens when you tell it where you want it to go and how fast, and it figures out the best way to get there.

“But wait”, you say, “my servos and brushed DC motors can do that just fine, I just control the pulse width!” This is true for crude and slow motion control applications, but if you really want to run at high speeds – like the ones achievable by a BLDC – you have to consider things like acceleration and deceleration profiles.

The video below shows what I mean. Here is a pre-production IQ Position Module that’s being commanded to turn once in two seconds; then twice, three times, and finally ten times in two seconds. The motor can go even faster, but the figurine I attached on top isn’t balanced well enough to do that safely. Notice how the speed “ramps up” and back down again, so that the motor stops with the figurine in precisely the same position at the end of every cycle, regardless of how fast I commanded the motor to turn.

That is magic.

And here’s a snippet of the core code used in the above demo, to give you an idea of how simple the API can be:

Just tell it where you want it, and by when — and the motor figures out an acceleration profile. Of course other parameters can be tweaked but the default behavior is reasonable enough!

A Motor That’s Also an Input Device
But wait! There’s more. Because this is a “direct drive” system, there’s no gears to shear. Anyone who has busted a geared servo motor by stalling or back-driving it knows what I mean. IQ Position Modules don’t have this problem. When you stop driving the IQ module – put it in a “coast” mode – it turns freely and without resistance.

This means the IQ motor doesn’t just “write” motion – it can “read” motion as well. Below is a video of a simple motion copy demo I cooked up in about an hour (including time spent refactoring the original API), where I implement bidirectional read/write of motion between two IQ Position Modules.

The ability to tolerate back-drive and also “go limp” is advantageous in robotics applications. Impact-oriented tasks — such as hammering a nail or kicking a ball — would rapidly degrade the teeth in a geared drive train. Furthermore, natural human motion incorporates the ability to go limp, such as the forward swing of a leg during walking. Finally, biological muscles are capable of applying a static force without changing position, such as when holding a cup on its sides without crushing it. Roboticists have developed a wide range of specialty actuators and techniques, including series elastic and variable stiffness actuators to address these scenarios. However, these mechanisms are often complicated and pricey.

The IQ Position Module’s lack of gearing means it’s back-drive tolerant, and it can apply an open-loop force without any risk of damage. This means you could, for example, use it to build a robot arm that can hammer a nail or pick up a cup. Robotic elements built using these would have far greater resilience to motion interference and impact forces than ones built using geared servos.

Having Fun with the IQ Position Module
While attending 34C3 back in December 2017, I managed to sit down for about an hour with my good friends Prof. Nadya Peek and Ole Steinhauer, and we built a 2-axis robot arm that could do kinesthetic learning through keyframing, using nothing more than two IQ Position Modules, a Dunkin’ Donuts box, a bunch of schwag stickers we stole from the FOSSASIA assembly, and the base plate of an old PS4 … because fail0verflow.

This was improvisational making at its best; we didn’t really plan the encounter so much as it emerged out of the chaos that is the Computer Congress. While Nadya was busy cutting, folding, and binding the cardboard into a 2-axis robot arm, Ole “joined” (#lötwat?!) together the power & serial connectors, and I furiously wrote the code that would do the learning and playback — while also doing my best to polish off a couple beers. Nadya methodically built one motion axis first, and we tested it; satisfied with the result, she built and stacked a second axis on top. With just a bit of tweaking and prodding we managed to pull off the demo below:

It’s a little janky, but given the limited materials and time frame for execution, it hints at the incredible promise that IQ Position Modules hold.

So, if you’ve ever wanted to dabble in robotics or motion control, but have been daunted by control theory and arcane driver protocols (like I’ve been), check out the IQ Position Module. They are crowdfunding now at CrowdSupply. I backed their campaign to reserve a few more Position Modules for my lab – by wrapping a smart computer around a dumb motor, they’ve created a widget that lets me go from code to physical position and back with a minimal amount of wiring and an accessible API.

Their current funding campaign heavily emphasizes the capabilities of their motor as a “better BLDC” for the lucrative drone market, and I respect their wisdom in focusing their campaign message around a single, economically significant vertical. A cardinal sin of marketing revolutionary tech is to sell it as a floor wax and a dessert topping — as painful as it may be, you have to pick just one message and push hard around it. However, I’m happy they are offering the IQ Position Module as part of the campaign, and enabling me to express my enthusiasm to the maker and robotics communities. I’ve waited too long to have a motor with this capability in my toolbox — finally, the cobbler’s children has shoes!

19 Mar 15:37

Why I Love Compact Mechanical Keyboards and You Will Too

by Nathan Edwards
Why I Love Compact Mechanical Keyboards and You Will Too

If you spend a lot of time typing at a computer, you might as well have a good keyboard. Mechanical keyboards are comfortable to type on—they have deeper key travel, more feedback, and more space between keys than laptop keyboards. But even those that lack number pads (“tenkeyless” models) are bulky and contain keys you’ll likely never use (Scroll Lock? Pause Break?). Laptop keyboards, in contrast, are conveniently compact but have jarring, shallow key travel; typing on my Touch Bar MacBook Pro feels like typing on a pizza box. Although harder to find, compact mechanical keyboards are a third, better option that combines the best of both boards.

19 Mar 15:29

16 Years of Web Hosting Changes with WordPress and Other Web Platforms: The Lessons Continue


Wesley Fryer, Moving at the Speed of Creativity, Mar 19, 2018


Because I host my own website (as well as a half a dozen MOOCs and some other stuff) I'm always attentive to discussion of issues around web hosting. I've had good service providers and bad. This article recounts the lessons Wes Fryer has learned over almost two decades of hosting web sites. Mostly his advice makes sense to me (and one day I wish to start following it).

Web: [Direct Link] [This Post]
19 Mar 15:27

How To Stop Kinder Morgan

Yesterday, I was arrested and charged with Civil Contempt for failing to respect an injunction forbidding protesters from coming within 5 meters of the property where Kinder Morgan is trying to bring a pipeline for tar-sands bitumen to the Pacific. Herewith a few words on why this kind of action might work and how to go about doing it. Well, and I guess I should tack on a note about why the pipeline is a stupid idea and should be stopped, but I suspect most readers here are already on-board with that.

But before any of that, my strongest thanks to our gracious hosts, the good people of the Coast Salish, whose unceded territory we were on. They were friendly, inspirational, supportive, eloquent, and politically savvy. If we win this, it’ll be their victory as much as anyone’s.

No Courage Here

A lot of the social-media buzz is fulsome about the “Courage” of the protesters. Gimme a break; if this was a “brush with the law”, it was a soft-bristled make-up brush. Now bear in mind that I am speaking from a position of maximum privilege as a grey-bearded clean-cut well-off white guy. But the legal and financial consequences seem likely to be trivial, and there seems to be an awesome support organization in place for those a little less privileged than me.

Tim at Protect the Inlet

Thanks to the photog, who wishes to remain uncredited.

Seriously, the praise is embarrassing. I took public transit to within five minutes’ walk of the gathering place, marched for about fifteen minutes to the front gates, sat in the sun for a few hours singing songs, and was eventually courteously escorted away by affable police officers to a nice processing area under the trees where, in order to get released that day, we had to sign a document promising not to do it again. The only mildly scary bit was when the cop made a little speech claiming that getting arrested could damage your ability to travel, get a job, volunteer, and so on. Which in this particular scenario is almost certainly not true.

Then we walked back down the hill and took the train home. What could have gone wrong, but didn’t, in decreasing order of likelihood:

  1. It could have been a horrible freezing rainy sort of Pacific Northwest March day.

  2. There could have been cops with attitude problems who worked hard at making the experience unpleasant.

  3. There could have been people doing Black-bloc shit with the aim of making real violence happen.

  4. Some Kinder Morgan jerk might have decided to wade in and make trouble.

Why it might work

The project has been officially approved by the Government of Canada. Kinder Morgan has raised hundreds of millions of dollars from investors to finance it. Depending on how you slice your sampling, somewhere around 50% of Canadians (or British Columbians) support the project. How can a few people getting arrested in Burnaby slow down this juggernaut?

Charge sheet

Well, there are politics and there are economics. First, the Feds’ approval was unenthusiastic not to say agonized; it happened after the petro-heads moved the Overton Window by proposing this other batshit-crazy project called Northern Gateway and created a situation where it seemed like if you shut that down, you had to give something back, and that’s what Kinder Morgan is. But I’m pretty sure the local Liberal MPs around here are tossing and turning sweatily in their beds at night. And if you surveyed Liberal voters, I bet you’d find a huge anti-Kinder-Morgan majority. Thus, I expect that the Feds are prepared to expend exactly zero serious political capital to backstop this project.

More politics: The government of BC, which the pipeline traverses and where the tar-sands tar will leak when it leaks, is dead-set against the project. So is the government of Burnaby, where the pipeline terminates and accidents are most likely, as in totally going to happen. So is the government of Vancouver, which depends existentially on its harbor, where the tanker spill will happen when the tanker spill inevitably happens. And maybe most important, so are a large number of First-nations organizations, who are litigating furiously at multiple points along the route.

Which is to say, you’re not just one of a few rag-tag environmentalists up against the whole world. You have a lot of allies.

The important thing to remember is: Decisions that matter come down to politics and economics. If you want to stop this stupid pipeline, the thing to do is to make it politically painful for its backers and economically painful for its investors. Then go back and do it again and again and again.

Delay is the planet’s friend. The economics of tar-sands oil get lousier every month oil remains in global surplus, and every month that the disastrous effects of global warming become more evident, and every month renewable and battery technologies get a little better and cheaper. Which is to say, we don’t really need to stop this pipeline, we just need to slow it down and make its awfulness visible, then go back and do it again and again, and eventually the other side will, uh, run out of gas.

There are a lot of ways this could happen, but I’d like to highlight one of them. Suppose a few thousand people decided to do what I did, each requiring police intervention to write up all those Civil Contempt charges. Then suppose the City of Burnaby decided their taxpayers just couldn’t afford it and slammed the brakes on police overtime. Yesterday they had like 30 officers there, and it took them hours to arrest us and write us up. Suppose there were 300 protesters and five cops? Writer’s cramp alone might be enough to bring it to a grinding halt.

You think I’m joking? I’m not.

Practical advice

If you want to get involved, the first thing to do is to go visit Protect the Inlet and hit the Sign me Up link.

The people who are organizing this, first of all, are not recommending that you go out and violate injunctions. But since there are a lot of people like me who are so mad at the process that they are just gonna go take bold action anyhow, they’re providing training, advice, and legal support. The training is excellent and super-practical. If you’re trying to block access to something, is it better to stand up or sit down? If you’re being arrested, what should you say, and be careful not to say? If someone on your side is being crazy and escalating things, what can you do? And so on. So if you’re going to do this, please take the training.

Now, how do you get there? One good way is to drive (it’s at Burnaby 200 soccer field); there’s plenty of parking up there. You might get trolls sneering at you for driving to protest an oil pipeline, but screw ’em; obviously we’re heading for an electric-car future but we’re not there yet, and one of the key points is that even today’s oil-dependent world doesn’t actually need the tar-sands product.

But public transit is a good option too; that’s how I went yesterday. Take the Skytrain to Production Way, then go stand at the #3 bus stop and take the 136 line to a stop named “WB Forest Grove Dr NS Meridian Pl”. It only runs every half-hour, but no protest has ever started on time.

More advice:

  • Take something to sit on. I had a folding pad that I use for uncomfortable seats at ball games, and it may have saved my life. If, like me, you are a not-terribly-flexible person with a skinny bony butt, an extended sit-in can be seriously uncomfortable. But not with the right pad.

  • Dress with care. I had multiple layers and was glad of it; the morning was chilly, and then it got baking hot up against the south-facing Kinder Morgan gate under the direct sun. Also, I wore my Saskatchewan Rough Riders baseball cap, to inject a little Prairie culture and hey, it was St. Paddy’s, for the wearing o’ the green. And mostly to keep the sun from my eyes.

  • Should you take your phone? In the training course, they warned us that police have been known to confiscate phones, make sincere efforts to crack into them, and find excuses to not return them. So I didn’t take mine, which I ended up regretting — because I couldn’t take pictures and tweet away. And the arresting officer didn’t show the slightest interest in what I was carrying. Having said that, it was the first time in many years that I’ve been on a multi-hour outing without my mobile. I wouldn’t make a habit of it, but it did add an edge and some flavor to the day.


There’s an excellent chance we’re heading for global climate-change catastrophe. If it isn’t obvious why digging up highly carbon-loaded fuel and making it cheaper and easier to get it into the energy economy is an egregiously stupid idea, I’m not sure that there’s much I can say that will help you.

But there are three other specific arguments in this case. First, this project is being rammed through against the wishes of a high proportion of the Native peoples whose land this is; their economies and spiritualities depend on the earth, and not the version that’s soaked in this nasty black toxic shit. Second, the place where it’s coming from, the Tar Sands project in Northern Alberta, is utterly appalling, wreaking havoc on the landscape and the water and the people. Third, a couple of dozen tanker-loads of bitumen a month running through Vancouver harbour, which has strong tidal currents, three bridges crossing it, and a couple of million people living around it, is really not very smart. The Globe and Mail has a fabulous multimedia article on the subject.


If you’re in Vancouver, and care about this stuff, you can make a difference and it isn’t difficult or dangerous. Please consider coming along.

You don’t have to get arrested. Help is needed with cheerleading, supporting, and financial donations. But putting yourself on the line between Kinder Morgan and the planet you live on, it’s a thing that leaves you feeling good.

19 Mar 15:26

SotD: I Put A Spell On You

This song was written in 1956 by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins as a ballad, but he claims the producer got him drunk in the studio and that’s when he started Screamin’, and people loved it, so he never stopped. Since then, it’s been recorded a whole lot. I’m here to recommend a mini video festival’s worth of takes, and one recording, and this may be a little weird but I think it’s the best out there, by Creedence Clearwater Revival.

I actually think the Jay Hawkins story is a little sad. He was a good songwriter with a huge, thunderous voice, and after this song he turned his stage act into a sort of slapstick voodoo-shaman sideshow. I have to admit it makes for pretty amusing video; also I gather he got paid pretty well for it, and it’s hard to be against anything that gets a musician paid.

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins

Anyhow, the way I Put A Spell On You became a Song of the Day is I was walking to the train listening to Shuffle All Songs and this wicked-sharp excellent blues came on, just outstanding singing and feeling and guitar, and I asked myself “Who the hell is that?” and it turned out to be Creedence. When I sat down to write this I immediately discovered Screamin’ Jay, and, well, just skip down to the Links section for some weird and wonderful stuff.

I suppose few people under sixty even know that there was once a band called Creedence Clearwater Revival but when I was about twelve the teenager upstairs used to play them, and I’d lie in my room with the window open and just listen. If this goes on long enough I’ll drop in one or two more of their songs, which are a unique blend of soulful American electric flavors. It turns out they were mostly a vehicle for John Fogerty, who wrote a lot of songs that you’d recognize even if you never heard of Creedence. But anyhow, this is just a cover of Screamin’ Jay’s original.

This is part of the Song of the Day series (background).


Spotify playlist. Creedence’s take on Amazon, iTunes, Spotify. Now, as for video, oh my goodness gracious. I guess I should start with the classic Screamin’ Jay shtick. And since I recommend the Creedence recording, here they are at Woodstock (sloppy), and then here’s John Fogerty in 1997; a very fine performance, maybe the purest, and John really brings it on guitar.

Now, for some reason, there seems to be something that happens when two famous and entirely unrelated musicians get together in a studio that makes them want to do I Put a Spell on You. For example, here’s British blueswoman Mica Paris with a super-hot slow-burn, some dude named David Gilmour playing guitar. Speaking of Gilmour, here he is backing up anther skinny Brit white boy, name of Pete Townshend. Two of the biggest guitar names in history on stage and they don’t play much, but you might want to watch this anyhow, Pete bites down hard on the vocals in a weirdly campy way but with total commitment, it’s a really ace piece of blues singing. Famous guitarist/singer combos? Here’s Jeff Beck and Joss Stone and they’re only OK. Let’s leave the guitars behind and appreciate some late-stage Joe Cocker; not everyone’s cup of tea but I thought it was honest and moving.

I’ve saved the best — well, the weirdest, anyhow — for the last; Iggy Pop with French chanteuse Catherine Ringer. I totally lack words to describe what they do, but if you watch it, you won’t soon forget it. Seriously.