Showing stories tagged with: sabbatical

Depart

<p>I had arranged for my visa paperwork to be sent to my parents' place &mdash; I'd go there for thanksgiving, and maybe we'd drive down that weekend, or maybe I'd bring it back to Ottawa with me. Either way, the key was to try to be in Ottawa for the Tuesday night election results to roll in, and then to get back to New York on Wednesday, to start work on Thursday.</p> <p>My papers didn't arrive on Friday. When the London office opened on Monday morning, I got a tracking number which said it would be delivered on that day by 17:30. Not bad, I hoped: I'd be able to catch, at worst, the overnight bus to Ottawa, and be in the office for election day. But 17:00, then 17:30 came and went. I called the London office of the courier company, and they said it was maybe misrouted. By Tuesday morning, it turned out it had gone to <a href="http://maps.google.com/maps?q=from:windsor,+on+to:orillia,+on&ie=UTF8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&z=7">Windsor instead of Orillia</a> and would take another day.</p> <p>After much scrambling, I decided to redirect the package to Ottawa, to get ahold of a high-quality scan of the original, and then to bus my butt to Ottawa. I'd get there just in time for the election night party, and then try my luck at the border crossing the next day. One of my friends-from-Finland who now lives in Ottawa with her fella has family in <a href="http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=binghamton,+ny,+usa&ie=UTF8&ll=42.098222,-75.915527&spn=8.980439,19.467773&z=6&iwloc=addr">Binghamton, NY</a>, so she was going to take me across the border and visit family. Good deal for all, assuming the border crossing was seamless.</p> <p>The election night party was...well, we lost our only seat, didn't come really close anywhere, and increased our vote by less than 50%. The party was still fun, but there was certainly a degree of deflation. However, some <a href="http://www.greenparty.ca/en/node/8361">further analysis</a> gives a pretty good impression...not the success discontinuity that I had come to hope for, but strong steady gains. I think we left around 3am, and I finally made it to bed by 4am. At 7:30, alarm clocks started going off; by 8:15 I was out the door to head to Avis to get our rental car. We took care of that, picked up my stuff, and rolled out. </p> <p>Fingers crossed, we got to the border. I have only done one land-border crossing in my adult life, and I've never applied for a US visa, so I only had a rough idea of how it would go down. Basically, you talk to the normal border guard, he gives you a yellow piece of paper with your plate numbers on it, and you pull off and go into an office. By then, they have your car keys, your passports, and one (of three) copies of the visa paperwork, so you're pretty stuck. They took my paperwork, and mostly just disappeared, popping out to ask a few questions, then to collect a once-in-a-lifetime 500USD "fraud charge," (presumably you have to pay it again if you are trying to use a different identity. ha.) and to take my fingerprints on the fancy scanner machine. They were friendly and efficient and clear about how the visa worked. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience, having braced for the worst.</p> <p>From there, we drove on to Binghamton, I boxed up my bike and repacked my stuff (it was pretty hastily and hungoverly packed) and I caught a bus onwards to New York.</p> <p>(Note that this marks the end of my sabbatical; if you've got a sabbatical-specific RSS subscription, it will end here; consider the <a href="http://rob.infinitepigeons.org/blog/index.rss">general feed</a>.) </p>
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Asthma and Bogus Surveys

<p> A combination of a precipitous drop in exercise, decreased dietary quality, stress, a cold, and an encounter with fresh oil paint seems to have exacerbated my asthma over the last week. I had a minor cease-up this morning, so decided to get a script for some tasty tasty salbutamol (aka Ventolin). I went to one clinic, but it looked like it was going to take about two hours, so I went to another in the same chain 'cause they allegedly had a five minute wait (hah!).</p> <p>Anyway, when I finally got to sit in a room, they asked me to fill out a survey. "Meh, sure, I have nothing else to do." Name, address, home phone, hmm..this isn't very anonymous.</p> <p>"Which of the following applies to you?" Aha! The survey proper!</p> <p>"I am concerned with excessive hair growth and would like to have it removed." Umm. no. next.</p> <p>"I would like to diminish the appearance of vertical lines on my lips." Hmm. I don't even know which way my lip-lines run. </p> <p>"I would like to enhance the size of my lips." This survey is very focused on my lips. </p> <p>Five more bullets, and then "I have no cosmetic concerns." Yeah.</p> <p>How bogus. </p>
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Onward Journey

<p> I took a ring with two keys on it, spun it off my keychain, and placed it on the countertop. I picked up two shoulder bags and two canvas bags, closed the door behind me, and left. Two couches and a foam mattress sat on the downstairs patio along with a couple bags of magazines &mdash; the last remnants of a flurry of freecycling. (The result was good: less than two "supplementary" large garbage bags of waste from two years of living.) </p> <p>I often wish I had a timelapse photo of my keychain: a solitary bicycle key through highschool, the long UW-branded lanyard from first year that I spun around incessantly; the various sets of housekeys, eventually attached to my pocket knife, and then its progressive decay from an unforgiving life in my pocket; periods, like now, when there's a chaos of loaned keys from places where I'm staying; and still, brief times where the only key is for a bike lock...somehow these changes uniquely represent the transactional points in life.</p> <p>I'm on a bus now, to Ottawa, back to the election campaign. In about two weeks, I'm going with my stuff to NYC, and then popping back up to finish off the campaign. Then begins my onward journey, on October 15th, to New York, for real. To the United States, a place I once thought I'd never work. To Google, and a new project and a new team. To a city absorbing the collapse of a major industry. To a country on the brink of a potentially game-changing election. To live in the same town as my sister for the first time in nearly ten years.</p> <p>To my onward journey.</p> <p></p>
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Credit Card Fraud

<p>Yesterday I looked over my credit card, and noticed a charge I didn't recognize. A few phone calls later and it turned out someone had been using my card to buy wireless time in Toronto. </p> <p>One of the merchants (who will rename nameless) erred somewhat in giving me the details of the purchaser &mdash; probably a violation of their privacy policy, notwithstanding the fraud &mdash; which included a phone number one digit off from mine (the phone is currently off), an email address @live.com, and an address that turns out to be a bike shop in Toronto. </p> <p>Visa was prompt and effective, even promising to investigate the oldest fraudulent charge which was over three months ago. I'm surprised that they got away with it; it seems like the fact that they used a name, email and phone number that weren't mine would enable Visa to shut down that purchase, if the merchants were sharing that information. </p> <p>The whole thing reminded me of this YouTube clip:</p> <p><object width="425" height="344"><param name="movie" value="http://www.youtube.com/v/CS9ptA3Ya9E&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&hl=en&fs=1"></param><param name="allowFullScreen" value="true"></param><embed src="http://www.youtube.com/v/CS9ptA3Ya9E&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&hl=en&fs=1" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" allowfullscreen="true" width="425" height="344"></embed></object></p> <p></p>
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A (Novel?) Pure CSS Image Rollover Technique

<p> CSS: <blockquote> a.rollover { background: no-repeat -9999px -9999px; display: block; } <br> a.rollover:hover { background: no-repeat top left; }<br> a.rollover:hover img { visibility: hidden; }<br> </blockquote></p> <p>HTML: <blockquote> &lt;a class="rollover" style="background-image:url('blog-roll.png')" href="/blog"&gt;<br> &lt;img border="0" alt="blog" src="blog.png"/&gt;<br> &lt;/a&gt; </blockquote></p> <p>This is a variant on other techniques I found. By setting the <tt>a</tt> tag to be a block-level element, it gets the size of the contained image; by setting the background by offsetting it, you get preload; by setting the foreground but using <tt>visibility:hidden</tt> (as opposed to <tt>display:none</tt>) it keeps its size. You also get a single point of truth for the button: image, rollver image and alt tag are all in the same place. Finally, this works everywhere I tested it (Safari 3.1.2; Firefox 2 and 3; IE6 and 7). </p> <p>There are a few gotchas: don't be lazy and set <tt>background</tt> instead of <tt>background-image</tt> in the <tt>style</tt> tag, because that sets the other <tt>background</tt> CSS back to the default, specifically <tt>repeat:repeat</tt>. The images need to be the same size, pretty much. If you haven't cleared borders around images, they might be a problem, too.</p> <p>I dunno if this is actually novel, but I didn't see it as I looked around. The (IMO less natural and more fiddly) technique of using a single image and changing the offset seems to be more popular.</p> <p></p>
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Bell Canada Sucks -- I'm leaving!

<p> I called Bell a few days ago to cancel my cell phone plan. It was a twelve (12) month contract, and I'm pretty sure there was a 30 day cancellation period. After the identity verification, the conversation went roughly like this:</p> <p><blockquote> Me: I'd like to cancel my cell phone plan.<br> Her: When would you like cancel it?<br> Me: Ideally, September 30th, but if it has to be at the end of a billing period, then September 19th or whatever it is.<br> Her: Okay. We can do it for September 30th. That's after your contract period, so you should call back on September 19th.<br> Me: I believe I'm required to give 30 days' notice, and since there aren't thirty days after the end of my contract, I'm not sure that will work.<br> Her: What day do you want to cancel?<br> Me: September 30th if I can, but the 19th is fine.<br> Her: Okay, well, for the 19th, here will be a fee for cancelling early.<br> Me: I don't understand. It was a twelve month contract, I'd like to cancel it after 12 months.<br> Her: Yes, there's a fee of $100 because you're future-dating the cancellation during the contract period, so you're terminating during the contract.<br> Me: Can you explain that to me? I just want to terminate my contract at the end of it.<br> Her: Yes, so there's a fee for cancelling early.<br> Me: That can't be; you can't charge me an early cancellation fee for ending a twelve month contract after twelve months. Is that really what you're trying to do?<br> Her: Yes, there's a cancelation fee for that.<br> Me: Okay, can I speak with your supervisor please?<br> </blockquote></p> <p>It was the fastest and fiercest I've ever gotten angry with a telephone person, partly because I saw it all coming, and I'm generally ticked at the horrible customer service and pricing and market manipulation in telecomms in Canada.</p> <p>It took a couple minutes, and then the same voice came back:</p> <p><blockquote> Her: Sir?<br> Me: Yes.<br> Her: Okay, it looks like we can go ahead and do that for you.<br> Me: Oh, great! So cancelling Sep 19, and no fees?<br> Her: Yes. Can I ask why you're cancelling?<br> Me: I'm leaving the country.<br> Her: Oh, forever?<br> Me: Well, for a while.<br> Her: Okay, you will be disconnected on September 19th. Anything else I ca--<br> Me: Great, thanks. That's all, then.<br> Her: Good bye.<br> </blockquote></p> <p>Weird. What happened while I was on hold? My best guess is she played back some of the call for the supervisor. My tone was extremely curt, and I had said "you can't charge me an early cancellation fee for ending a twelve month contract after twelve months" with great conviction, mostly 'cause I felt..err..great conviction. </p> <p>It really seems like they were just fishing for me to go along with another month or whatever. The transcript above is actually substantially less ambiguous than the original conversation. </p> <p>This all stems from the fact that I'll be moving to New York in late September. I'm going back to Google after a reasonably successful leave. Canada's my ultimate home, and I think Toronto in particular, so I'll be back often to say h'lo.</p> <p></p>
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Letter to Minister Prentice

<p>I just fired this letter off to Jim Prentice, who tabled the rather vile Bill C-61 on Canadian copyright <span style="text-decoration: strikethrough">de</span>reforms. I'm not sure if it's all properly addressed, but then I realized I really shouldn't have to care.<blockquote><p>Hon. Minister,</p> <p>As a Canadian citizen, I'm disappointed by the lack of balance in Bill C-61. The balance in copyright policy should be struck by governments, with strong provisions for fair dealing and personal use to maximize art and the enjoyment of art. Certainly, a "balance" should not be left to corporations shielded behind legal buttressing of so-called "digital locks". </p> <p>When I buy a DVD, I should be able to format- and time-shift it, regardless of the existence of digital locks. To call this a "very technical issue" as you did in your interview with The Search Engine is disingenuous; this is a simple issue that will affect Canadians in their day-to-day lives. Indeed, since a truly effective digital restriction system would prevent the fair dealing that's inherent to the social balance of copyright law, it's unclear to me why they should even be permitted in Canada. These problems only scratch the surface of what's wrong with Bill C-61, but I'm surprised something so clearly out of balance was tabled in the House of Commons.</p> <p>As an active citizen, I participated vocally in the last round of national copyright consultations, and I'm disappointed and distressed that the lessons learned then were ignored, and no further public consultation was held. I strongly support thriving art and culture in Canada, but I certainly don't believe this bill will serve small artists, nor does it serve consumers.</p> <p>Sincerely,<br> &nbsp; Rob Ewaschuk<br> &nbsp; Toronto, ON </blockquote></p> <p>In other news, <a href="http://picasaweb.google.com/rob.ewaschuk/TorontoPrideParade2008">Toronto Pride Parade 2008</a> was super fun, <a href="http://www.wwec2008.com/">World Wind Energy Conference 2008</a> was super learnful, Canada Day in Ottawa was a giant party of red and white and sunny green grass fields, I think our mouse is really actually gone, Trev, Krista and Phil visited from Dublin and it was good, and summer in Toronto is lovely. </p>
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A Good Day

<p>Yesterday was a good day. I spent two hours working with the local Green Party candidate on the permanently soon-to-launch new website, with great productivity in terms of deciding what content to put up, and where to draw the lines around duplicating the central <a href="http://greenparty.ca">Green Party</a> website. </p> <p>Then I got a call from <a href="http://helmer.ca/blog">Jesse</a> and we had a good lunch at <a href="http://www.juiceforlife.com/">Fresh</a> -- the Ninja Bowl has the tastiest preparation of tofu I've ever had.</p> <p>Then I went into Pembina and did some actually-good work, which I'd been struggling to do this week. Then it turned out there were two events at the <a href="http://www.socialinnovation.ca/">Center For Social Innovation</a>, where Pembina has its office. The first was a "speed geek" event, where you went table to table for five minutes each, hearing about what people are doing. Then there was a free-beer party for a long-time <a href="http://www.environmentaldefence.ca/">Environmental Defence</a> guy who was about to start his own legal practice.</p> <p><a href="http://350.brighterplanet.com/"><img class="right" src="http://350.brighterplanet.com/images/badges/BP_badge_180x201.jpg" alt="Brighter Planet's 350 Challenge" border="0" /></a>The "Speed Geek" event was a fascinating examination of <a href="http://rob.infinitepigeons.org/blog/life/sabbatical/finding-leverage.html">leverage</a>. Jeff presented <a href="http://borealisoffsets.com/">Borealis Offsets</a>, who are doing tree-planting for carbon credits. They're selling "80-year carbon", which means that they sell today carbon to be absorbed over the next 80 years (unless those trees burn, or are eaten by pine beatles, or the land is illegally logged, or..) In the offsets biz, this is a pretty unpopular practice from what I can tell, but they still seemed to be getting going and planting trees pretty cheaply. He said they'd shift to one-year carbon as soon as it was cheap enough to do so; present voluntary carbon offset prices are in the $6-$10 per tonne CO2e* range. He had an interesting argument that, since we were already over the <a href="http://www.350.org/">350ppm</a> CO<sub>2</sub> that we need to safely end up at, emissions-reductions credits were bogus since we necessarily must do that anyway, and the only <i>real</i>carbon credits are true net-sinks of carbon, not just net-reductions. </p> <p>Jenny was representing a large but informal network of youth workers and researchers. It reminded me how little I know about working with people who aren't colleagues or peers or customers or teachers, but children or youth or troubled people or the elderly. They seemed to be almost forming non-labour union, objecting to the repeated bogus "consultations" from the government that went nowhere - though that certainly wasn't a central message, it was clearly something she felt very strongly about.</p> <p>But by far the most interesting group was <a href="http://www.marketsinitiative.org/">Markets Initiative</a>. In some sense, they were a free-marketers nightmare in terms of what they demonstrated. Essentially, 10 or so years ago, they walked into the paper industry, and asked paper mills why they weren't making more recycled paper and paper using sustainably harvested pulp, and the industry said there was no demand. They went to the publishers, and asked why they weren't buying, and the publishers said that it was a boutique product, and far too expensive. Markets Initiative got publishers to issue policies over a large (years) timescale about ramping up recycled paper usage, so the mills had a clear demand signal. They also got authors to sign on, requiring that their books be published on <a href="http://www.ancientforestfriendly.com/">Ancient Forest Friendly</a> (AFF) paper. That's a designation, not a certification, meaning (I think) that it's not monitored and audited as tightly, but they do depend on the <a href="http://www.fsc.org/">Forest Stewardship Council</a> for the certification of sustainable forests.</p> <p>The acheivements of a small group of people in greasing a market effect were phenomenal, aided in no small part by the concentrated clout of the authors - Margaret Atwood, J. K. Rowling -- as opposed to the much more diffuse clout of the book-buying public. But, they basically had to do all of this work not-for-pay to get it to happen, acting as free environmental and business development consultants to smooth things along. To me, it's a testament to the amount of market inertia, especially where costs are basically totally externalized, even in the presence of strong signals. The most recent Harry Potter book was published on fully AFF paper in 22 countries, and the presses were halted in Finland by Rowling because they weren't using it. Cool!</p> <p>After the party dwindled, a fella I know from the Green Party and a CSI guy who works for <a href="http://www.carbonzero.ca/">Carbonzero</a> and who is of asian descent talked about racism, multiculturalism, the subtle semantics of context in questions like "where are you from?", "where did you grow up?", "what's your ethnic background?" and whether (as I often think and hope) Canada, and especially Toronto, and especially the core, is finally entering a post-racist period, where your skin colour (though not where you grew up, or where you were educated) is finally becoming irrelevant. </p> <p>In other, less world-altering news, I've found some time to work on <a href="/mandarin/cubes.html">Learning Cubes</a> (formerly and maybe futurely known as <a href="/projects/pbrain">pbrain</a>, but all the good domains are taken), which is basically online collaborative flashcards for learning things that require brute memorization like languages. </p> <p>* tonne CO2e means "tonne of Carbon Dioxide or equivalent"; since some gases like <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrochlorofluorocarbon">HCFC</a>s are actually have a much more potent greenhouse effect than CO<sub>2</sub>, you can offset a tonne of CO2e for a much smaller amount of HCFCs. Either the IPCC or Kyoto (or both?) have conversion rates to use. </p>
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Update and Morals

<p> A friend sent me a link to a New York Times article called <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/magazine/13Psychology-t.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all&oref=slogin">The Moral Instinct</a> (free reg req'd.) Fairly interesting, though it contains one of my pet peeves:</p> <p><blockquote> On your morning walk, you see a trolley car hurtling down the track, the conductor slumped over the controls. In the path of the trolley are five men working on the track, oblivious to the danger. You are standing at a fork in the track and can pull a lever that will divert the trolley onto a spur, saving the five men. Unfortunately, the trolley would then run over a single worker who is laboring on the spur. Is it permissible to throw the switch, killing one man to save five? Almost everyone says "yes." <br> Consider now a different scene. You are on a bridge overlooking the tracks and have spotted the runaway trolley bearing down on the five workers. Now the only way to stop the trolley is to throw a heavy object in its path. And the only heavy object within reach is a fat man standing next to you. Should you throw the man off the bridge? Both dilemmas present you with the option of sacrificing one life to save five, and so, by the utilitarian standard of what would result in the greatest good for the greatest number, the two dilemmas are morally equivalent. But most people don't see it that way: though they would pull the switch in the first dilemma, they would not heave the fat man in the second. When pressed for a reason, they can't come up with anything coherent, though moral philosophers haven't had an easy time coming up with a relevant difference, either. </blockquote></p> <p>I hate these so-called utilitarian questions. I wouldn't throw the fat man, and I'll tell you why: it might not work. In fact, my aim with a fat man throwing off a bridge is less than 20% likely to work. Plus he might resist, and I might get hurt, or he might just slow me down until it's too late. Plus he might be about to discover the cure for cancer, or otherwise save lives (though that's true of the single man on the spur as well). There are so many practical distinctions between these so-called "moral equivalents", I don't understand how they're an accepted technique for experimentation. Even in the first one: is that really the only way you can intervene? Really? Are you sure none of the men know it's coming? I'm not sure I'd throw the switch even in that case, though I'd certainly try to do something. In fact, wouldn't the men hear the trolley coming and jump out of their way on their own?</p> <p>My philosophy textbook had one about (as I recall -- it was old writing) someone saying they were going to kill 20 Indians unless you shot one of them yourself, then the other 19 could go free. Again: how do I know he's telling the truth? It certainly sounds implausible. If it's true for 20, it's true for 2, and if that happens, I'm doing half the "immoral work" for this mysteriously murderous man. I have no reason to believe him.</p> <p>These are cases of <a href="/wiki/TreesRainAndIntuition">over-analysis of an intuitive decision</a>, without properly trying to understand the intuition. </p> <p>In other news: <ul><li><a href="/blog/life/man-vs-nature.html">Mouse</a>: still there. Still only one, I think. We thought he was gone, but I've seen him recently. He either doesn't go into the trap, or can get back out again (I think the former, but I'm not sure.) I really don't want to get a sticky trap, but I might have to get the snappy kind. I sat one night trying to wait for him to come out, but that didn't work either.</li> <li><a href="http://pembina.org">Pembina</a> work: Good. Working on something substantial, doing some web work and some research and some good discussions.</li> <li>Ants (did I mention we had some ants?): seemingly gone.</li> <li><a href="http://picasaweb.google.com/rob.ewaschuk/AroundOrilliaAndTorontoWithGraceWinTwoFreePints">Clare's mum's visit</a>: victorious. </li> <li><a href="http://picasaweb.google.com/rob.ewaschuk/ToMontrealWithGraceAndClare">Trip to Montreal</a>: great. better than I expected. weeeird modern dance thing. nice churches. fairly good food. looks like Europe.</li> </ul> </p>
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Visits, Kayaking, and a quarter of leave

<p> I updated my <a href="http://docs.google.com/View?docID=ddvnbrz_27hm92snhr">Objectives for Leave</a> with scores, comments, and the goals for next three months, most of which are carry-overs. Comments welcome. Especially on how to have more self-discipline. :-)</p> <p><embed id="VideoPlayback" style="float:right;width:400px;height:326px" flashvars="" src="http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-8109222351795932383&hl=en" type="application/x-shockwave-flash"> </embed>I tried to go <a href="http://picasaweb.google.com/rob.ewaschuk/AbortiveKayakingTrip">kayaking</a> with my friend Jeff. We got all packed up and ready to go, then drove up to Port Severn, unloaded, and got going. Three hours and about three kilometers later, our hands were cold (no gloves, but socks were making it livable) and the waves were picking up. We pulled into a little unsheltered nook to decide whether to continue. I pulled up alongside some rocks (shown at 0:16 in the movie) in a feet of stupidity, and then started getting pushed up onto them by the waves. It was all pretty scary, and I seemed to be getting pushed up higher with every wave. Eventually, I managed to figure out how to ride the waves <i>down</i> the rocks, instead of up, got myself off, paddled frantically to a more sane docking place. By the time I got there, Jeff was up and out of his kayak and on his way around to where I nearly tipped. It was pretty exciting and scary &mdash; tipping's never fun, and rocks and frigid water make it less so &mdash; but it all worked out in the end.</p> <p>New photos are up from when I <a href="http://picasaweb.google.com/rob.ewaschuk/AprilHalifaxTrip">visited Halifax</a>, and some random ones from <a href="http://picasaweb.google.com/rob.ewaschuk/TorontoAprilMiscellanies">around Toronto</a>. I "lost" my camera (in the recycling pile, as it turned out) for while my whole famiy was gathered in Orillia, so no photos from that. </p>
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Six Months

<p>Quietly, we passed the six-months-in-Toronto mark on March 18th. A week later, I passed the two-months-on-leave mark. Easter happened -- ending Lent, and my associated <a href="/blog/life/sabbatical/giving-up-for-lent.html">restriction</a> on durable purchases, and presently I'm on a train to Halifax. The rest is just details and thoughts.</p> <p><img src="/images/website/IMG_4847_small.jpg" class="left">I like this part of Nova Scotia, that the train is rumbling through. This is my fourth or fifth time through it by rail, and for a while I'm pretty sure the rail line was twinned with the highway I cycled on for my first distance cycling trip. With a rented cell phone, home-made energybars and a low-ball estimate of 90km/day, I ended up clearing 500km two days early, and catching the train home from <a href="http://maps.google.ca/maps?q=Bathurst,+NB,+Canada">Bathurst</a>. </p> <p><img src="/images/website/IMG_4845_small.jpg" class="right">Mostly the train is going through a 6m-wide clearway sliced out of empty wilderness, with the occasional cluster of houses wizzing by. We're an hour behind schedule, which is about two hours ahead of schedule from past experience.</p> <p>The trainmuffins are terrible -- in ingredients, texture, flavour, excessive packaging (a plastic package wrapped in shrinkwrap!) -- but they were on special for 75 cents since they were day-olds. Actually, probably more like 10-day-olds given the preservatives. I ate breakfast with a fellow named Ken who did cable installing near Kingston before retiring to <a href="http://maps.google.ca/maps?q=Bathurst,+NB,+Canada">PEI</a>. I'm not sure if it was cable-as-in-TV or cable-as-in-industrial-wiring. He had some good stories about driving across the southern US as a "long-hair" in the 70s and taking a lot of intimidation and threats for it, and about getting caught on the open seas while sailing. The oatmeal portion was too small, but there was lots of good fresh fruit.</p> <p>I woke up yesterday feeling nauseous and generally a little under the weather, uncertain about whether I was going to go ahead with the journey I'd decided on only the night before. Around 10:15, after some mini-wheats and OJ went down okay, I decided to run with it; by 11:30 I had rush-packed, caught a subway to Union Station, bought a one-way ticket, and boarded the train. One-way tickets are so much more dramatic than the return kind. Running on not much food, with a headache and general malaise on top of my post-by-election lassitude, I spent a couple hours feeling claustrophobic, unmotivated, and vaguely regretting the commitment of 28-hoour train journey. I wondered drearily if that's comparable to what some unlucky people feel like all the time: slightly unhealthy and unmotivated. (I've been reading <a href="http://www.matthewgood.org/">Matthew Good's blog</a>, which is an interesting mix of tough health and happiness problems with a lot of motivation; makes me glad I have both, most of the time.) The last two weeks have given weight to the implied warnings of the people who remarked about my leave that they didn't think they'd have the motivation to do get up every day and be productive. After a long but wakeful sleep in the too-cold train ("I thought I was riding a train, not a freezer," lamented an elderly man at breakfast this morning. "Never again!") I feel much better today.</p> <p>Six months in Toronto. 5 of them winter. Bring on the spring! 'nuf said.</p> <p>Two months of leave -- if I had internet access on the train, I'd check my objectives list, panic about how many of them were unstarted, and take immediate action. Good thing there's no internet!</p> <p>Okay, so the six months of Torontonianism hasn't been so bad as to be summarized in one whingy sentence -- I think we've settled in fairly well, with some community involvement, a few gigs, lots of restaurants, some exploring, one play, and some germinating friendships. In fact both Clare and I have already met "friend-potentials" who are leaving Toronto soon; it seems a very transitory place for people our age. But yes, bring on the spring; even <i>I'm</i> growing weary of winter. Poor Clare.</p> <p>The end of Lent ended my somewhat-successful embargo on purchases of durables. One of the policy decisions was what to about gifts; for outgoing gifts they were counted in my three material purchases (two gifts, one corn-plastic filled duvet) and for incoming I just ignored it, not wanting to unduly expand the intent of the project. But then since this period included my birthday, which included gifts of cash since I'm so hard to buy for, I ended up stretching things a bit, and buying some CDs, some cloths, and a replacement iPod. All within the budget of the cash I'd been given for my birthday, but it certainly seems like a cop-out. (Though to be fair I didn't realize the period included my birthday until I was rather well into it.) Maybe next year I'll do it again with more buy-in from those that might give me stuff. I don't think it actually made a huge difference, which is mostly what I wanted to find out; most of my consumption is..err..consumables.</p> <p>To that end, I also did one shopping trip with a meal plan, after reading someone somewhere saying how much it cut down on their food waste; we got pretty good results too, I think. Just the process of working out roughly how many nights would <i>actually</i> involve cooking, rather than going out, grabbing a sub before a night course, or eating something quick from the freezer. It feels very hyper-organized to have a list of what to eat, but it seemed pretty effective. We'll see if it continues.</p> <p>In blog news, I now use <a href="http://reader.google.com/">Google Reader</a> pretty heavily to read too many <a href="http://gristmill.org">repetitive</a>, <a href="http://treehugger.com">redundant</a>, <a href="http://envirowonk.com/">duplicative</a> blogs about stuff I'm interested in -- there will be a cull soon -- and I've integrated into the blog the stream of items I've found and shared for interest, humour or perspective. Go, web 2.0! </p>
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Finding Leverage

<p>One of my goals for my leave was to find leverage: places where I could make a disproportionate impact, by helping the right group of people with the right goals at the right time, where they needed the things I could bring to the table.</p> <p>I think I found it. Yesterday's <a href="http://enr.elections.ca/ElectoralDistricts_e.aspx">by-election</a> put the Green Party nearly tied with the NDP in three of the ridings. It probably <a href="http://enr.elections.ca/ElectoralDistricts_e.aspx">squished</a> expectations for an imminent election. And it looks like it helped push the Liberals towards <a href="http://www.christindal.ca/2008/03/18/victory/">Green Tax Shift</a>. </p> <p>The campaign was a blast: I met a tonne of people, knocked on many hundreds of doors, said "Chris Tindal" twelve zillion times, and jumped in on election day to help repair a logistical problem. Elections Canada was beta-testing a new system for reporting who had voted to the campaigns (I didn't even know this happened) and it caused a knock-on effect on the paperwork required for scrutineers to get that information. </p> <p>The whole thing was hugely educational, both as a citizen and as a partisan. I learned how elections work from the inside, which is great -- this was one of the best-run Green Party of Canada campaigns ever, as I understand it, and differed in scale but not kind from the Liberal campaign, at least as far as I could see: they had organized lunches for scrutineers, and plenty more of them, and we ordered pizza and didn't have as many volunteers heading out, but it was a full-blown election machine, and that was great to see.</p> <p>Here are some <a href="http://thewingnuterer.blogspot.com/2008/03/and-party-in-pear-tree.html">photos from the Victory Party</a>. There's some good neutral analysis <a href="http://idealisticpragmatist.blogspot.com/2008/03/real-by-election-story-there-is-no.html">over here</a>. And there's some good <a href="http://thewingnuterer.blogspot.com/2008/03/chris-tindals-might-green-machine-war.html">commentary on the campaign machine</a>.</p> <p>I feel like I have a second lease on my leave -- the last few weeks have been pretty campaign focussed, though "full time" isn't quite accurate, since I've been keeping up with some other stuff. But now my time is suddenly re-freed, which is nice. </p>
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Got a Gig!

<p>Yesterday I had a chat with someone from the Toronto office of <a href="http://pembina.org">the Pembina Institute</a>. I'll be ramping up slowly with them, by mutual agreement. It's a one-person office, and she's very busy, while I'm spending a lot of free time working to get <a href="http://christindal.ca">Chris Tindal</a> elected, or at least record-setting vote numbers.</p> <p>Though I don't think they're secretive about what they're doing, I don't want to go into detail -- it's related to the <a href="http://www.renewableisdoable.com/">Renewable is Doable</a> campaign. And electricity grids. And things that are not entirely dissimilar to my work at Google. And they want me to be a <a href="http://www.math.uwaterloo.ca/CandO_Dept/">Combinatorist and Optimizationist</a>, per my degree title -- better bust out those linear algebra textbooks. woop woop.</p> <p>After a few weeks, I'll hopefully be going in two days a week, which should suit me just fine. Then I will design in a tiny component of the system that shaves a rounding error from every power transmission and diverting it to my private lair, where I will use the power to build an army of monsters.</p> <p>Please don't tell anyone. </p>
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Chili Garlic Eggplant

<p><a href="http://picasaweb.google.com/rob.ewaschuk/SpicyChiliEggplant"><img src="http://lh6.google.com/rob.ewaschuk/R8YsGRgmkzI/AAAAAAAACCs/c7nVqYzeEL4/s144/IMG_4528.JPG" class="right"></a>I've been working on a vegetarian version of <a href="http://feedmethat.com/recipe.php?id=44288%20Eggplant%20With%20Yu-Xiang%20Sauce%20(Yu-Xiang%20Qie-Zi).html">this spicy eggplant</a> (aka Eggplant With Yu-Xiang Sauce; Yu-Xiang Qie-Zi) recipe.</p> <p>Here's my recipe: <ul><li>If you're going to serve it on <u>brown rice</u>, start that cooking. Vermicelli or jasmine or other rices are also good.</li> <li><u>6 <a href="http://www.foodsubs.com/Eggplants.html#Chinese%20eggplant">chinese eggplants</a></u> -- the normal kind don't taste the same. Slice them into fingers (cut the length in four and the circle in four), fry them in <u>~1/4 cup oil</u> in a non-stick pan until soft. Do this ahead, or at the same time as the next step.</li> <li><u>1 block extra-firm tofu</u>. Cut into cubes -- 4x4x2 is my usual slice. Fry in a non-stick pan in ~2 tsbp oil. Turn regularly, try to brown each side.</li> <li>Add to tofu: ~one <u>zillion cloves garlic</u> (I'm trying about 10 right now); <u>~2-3 tbsp grated ginger</u>; <u>1 tbsp+ hot bean sauce</u>. This is "<a href="http://picasaweb.google.com/rob.ewaschuk/SpicyChiliEggplant/photo#5171870030495126434">Toban Djan</a>" from <a href="http://home.lkk.com/">Lee Kum Kee</a> or other suppliers. It is not "chili garlic sauce" or anything like that. It's very distinctive and makes my kitchen smell of awesome. Cook a bit.</li> <li>Mix together, then add to tofu: <u>2 tbsp soy sauce, &lt; 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp sugar, 1/2 cup water, 1 veggie stock cube</u> crushed up.</li> <li>Cook a bit, then add in the eggplant strips, cook until the liquid starts disappearing.</li> <li>Add two or three <u>chopped green onions</u>, stir, then add <u>1 tbsp cornstarch</u> mixed with 2 tbsp water. Stir to thicken. If it gets dry, add more water at any time.</li> <li>Add <u>2 tsp sesame oil</u>. More is tasty and <a href="http://www.rwood.com/Articles/Fat_and_Oil_Guide.htm">good for you</a>.</li> <li>Make sure everything is hot and mixed, maybe give it another minute, then serve.</li> <li>Optionally, chop with <u>topped cilantro</u>.</li> </ul></p> <p></p>
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Deryk King Reponse

<p>The <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/">Mop &amp Pail</a>, in all its infinite wisdom, neglected to print my brilliant reply to Deryk King's opinion article, "<a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/Page/document/v5/content/subscribe?user_URL=http://www.theglobeandmail.com%2Fservlet%2Fstory%2FRTGAM.20080208.wagendaking0211%2FBNStory%2FrobAgenda%2Fhome&ord=23740345&brand=theglobeandmail&force_login=true">Carbon tax or cap and trade?</a>". So I've decided to print my reply where it will get even more readers -- yes, right here, on my blog. <blockquote> <p> In "Carbon tax or cap and trade?" (Business, Feb 8 2008) Deryk King expresses several fallacies in the carbon tax vs. cap and trade debate. First, he says that setting a carbon price is a game of "not too high...not too low". Both cap and trade and carbon taxes require a careful policy choice; only a few paragraphs later, Mr. King mentions the disastrous fall-out of the European Carbon Trading System (ETS) because the cap was set too high. </p><p> Mr. King later alludes to the income problem: with both auctioned credits (the flavour he rightly proposes as the best variety of cap and trade) and taxes, the government has a new stream of revenue. With both, this money must be either spent, or used to reduce other income sources. In both cases, a revenue neutral solution is best. </p><p> Mr. King's comparison to the highly effective sulfur cap and trade markets of the 1980s is also dubious: sulfur is an incidental side-effect of many industrial processes (mostly coal burning); carbon dioxide is a chemically necessary result of energy extraction from fossil fuels. </p><p> Finally, the business case. Carbon markets set an unpredictable price on carbon. In times of economic downturn, the price will plummet and the incentive to reduce pollution will disappear. If the government sets the cap too low, the price could shoot sky-high, and require careful policy intervention. Carbon taxes provide a steady schedule for the price on carbon, and a steady, predictable incentive towards reducing emissions. </blockquote></p> <p>Since writing this, I've decided that the implication of feature-equivalence between auctioned cap and trade and carbon taxes is incorrect. There is one important place where carbon taxes differ: pure sequestration projects, like the recently defunct <a href="http://www.planktos.com/">Planktos</a>, who plan(ned) to seed the ocean with iron filings -- which happen to be the limiting reagent in algae growth -- so that an algae bloom would form, and then sink to the bottom, allegedly safely sequestering the carbon. There are many other, less zany possibilities, and they would go unfunded under carbon taxes, unless you either subsidized them out of band, or allowed them to offset taxes, in a sort of "tax and trade" system. </p> <p>Yes, I just coined a term. Even though I stole it from a private email with <a href="http://wargle.blogspot.com/">Fergal</a>.</p> <p> In other news, Clare and I are off to NYC for the (long) weekend. Overnight bus there, should be fun. Hopefully we can sleep. If you're one of my New York readers, let me know so I can come say hi. Not that I have any New York readers, but I figure the possibility might be self-fulfilling. Toodles. </p>
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Giving Up For Lent

<p><a href="http://www.davidandgoliathtees.com/index.php?mode=DETAIL&parent=HCM&pid=3329&page=1&perpage=4"><img class="left" style="height:10em" alt="Save Water, Shower with a Friend T-Shirt" src="http://www.davidandgoliathtees.com/shop/images/tees6/3329_0L.jpg"></a>I'm not going to buy this tshirt, despite its high awesomeness quotient.</p> <p>I've been mulling over a moratorium on purchases; despite writing about this idea on <a href="/blog/life/sabbatical/objectives-and-an-interview.html">Pancake Tuesday</a>, I didn't make the Lenten connection. The Church of England pulled it together for me with their <a href="http://www.tearfund.org/Churches/Carbon+fast+new/">Carbon Fast</a>. I'm pretty up on my carbon, but I can take the hint: I'm giving up purchases of durables for lent. This, at a time when I've just lost my iPod, heaven forbid. (Though given my loss-and-destroy rate for iPods, calling them "durables" and not "consumables" is suspect.)</p> <p>Here are the consumables on the white-list: soaps and cleaners, food (including restaurant food), toiletries.</p> <p>Lent lets you skip Sundays, as I understand it, but that's no good for durables purchases. So instead I'm going to give myself three (3) exceptions for <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentine's_Day">exigent circumstances</a>. I have an interview-ish-things to do volunteer research/advocacy work with <a href="http://www.pembina.org/">Pembina Institute</a>, and have to match the office dress code, which is slightly higher than I'm used to. Okay. More than slightly. Not quite bowties and cumberbunds, but still far from jeans and a tshirt. I think I can make it go without anything new, though it may take one or two remaining exceptions. I also have an <a href="http://www.economist.com">Economist</a> subscription that I'm not going to cancel.</p> <p>So yeah. It's a couple days late, but retroactive from <a href="http://www.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk/customs/lent.html">Feb 6 to Mar 22</a>. I don't think it'll be that hard, but we'll see. The trickiest thing will be to remember the rules every time I bust out my wallet.</p> <p>Also, this is blog number 200. Woo.</p> <p>Oh right, aalllso, in other news, I went out canvassing for the first time, last night with <a href="http://www.christindal.ca">Chris Tindal</a>. We did several floors of a large <a href="http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&ll=43.673552,-79.371167&spn=0.001971,0.005&t=h&z=18&om=0">apartment building</a>. Of perhaps 100 knocks, maybe 50% were absent, one guy was moderately hostile, a few doors were closed promptly, but most people were friendly. I was surprised how many people positively indicated who they were voting for, one way or the other. People seemed receptive, and Chris was good at what he does, including playing friendly with dogs, despite mild allergies. Oh, the things politicians do! </p>
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Painting Ourselves Red

<p>This image shows the contributions to atmospheric CO<sub>2</sub> including land use changes over the period from 1950 to 2000.</p> <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gases"><img src="http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/84/CO2_responsibility_1950-2000.svg/800px-CO2_responsibility_1950-2000.svg.png" height="406" width="800"></a> <p>The only countries that get a brighter shade are those that are extracting oil for us to burn (itself a carbon-intensive process), or slashing their rainforests to grow beef for us, or, in the height of irony, burning peat bogs to make the way to grow palm oil...for <a href="http://julienne.wordpress.com/2007/04/16/scientists-weigh-downside-of-palm-oil/">"environmentally friendly" biofuels.</a>. (I'm not actually sure why Guyana is so red. I assume it's dominated by clearcutting and land-use changes, but I can't find anything to back that up.)</p>
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Objectives and an Interview

<p>I've finally published my <a href="http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddvnbrz_27hm92snhr">objectives</a> -- this is a living document, and I invite feedback on it. It's basically continuing the quarterly organization I grew used to at Google, though simpler. </p> <p>I also had a chat with someone at the <a href="http://www.pembina.org/">Pembina Institute</a>. He pronounced it Pem'-bin-ah, not Pem-been'-ah, so I will too. It sounds like there's a good possibility that I'll be able to do some form of structured volunteer work on their advocacy side, which is very exciting. He proposed two possibilities, both of which sound great -- one that sounds roughly like the kind of work I thought I might get, and one that sounds like a much larger, more nebulous but far-reaching goal. Did I mention that both are very exciting? Good.</p> <p><a href="http://www.google.ca/search?q=jezzball+flash"><img style="height:12em" alt="Jezzball" src="/images/website/jezzball.jpg" class="left"></a>This week has suddenly seen a bit of a slow-down. Yesterday was lost to an addictive flash game reminiscent of Jezzball and some Linux/Debian/Etch/Sarge upgrade SNAFUs on our webserver. Also reading a tonne of blah blah blah about the YHOO+MSFT&gt;<sup>?</sup>GOOG question. And blogs and stuff.</p> <p><a href="/blog/life/no-repeat-movies.html"><img style="height:12em" src="/images/website/natural_capitalism.jpg" alt="Natural Capitalism" class="right"></a>In addition to my current moratorium on flying, and on <a href="/blog/life/no-repeat-movies.writeback">seeing movies I've already seen</a>, I'm considering sanctions against myself -- a sort of targetted "buy nothing" month. I'm reading <a href="www.natcap.org/">Natural Capitalism</a> and the first bit is all about the collosal amounts of waste everything generates. It's not the TV. It's not even the box, the styrofoam. Nor the lighting in the shop, the receipts and paperwork. It's the large (more than 10-to-1 in many cases, and even more for electronics) waste from manufacturing, not even counting effluent water. It's the tailings from the mining of the various metals, and the wasted runs of moulded plastic from parts manufacturing. And, of course, it <i>is</i> the TV, and it <i>is</i> the lighting in the shop, and all the things you can see, but there's so much more that you can't see. No, I'm not going to make an iceberg analogy.</p> <p>Last night I had the second installment of my media course, which was every bit as good as the first -- full of things I have no idea about, but aren't particularly difficult. It turns out we actually have to do some work, which somehow caught me off-guard, but it's not actually that much. She also gave us a free copy of her book.</p> <p>Tomorrow I'm going to go to the Green Party office again, and hopefully start kicking a bit more ass there. I've also gotten in touch with their tech guy, who seems quite keen to harness my energy for his nefarious purposes. </p>
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My First Day On The Job

<p> Today, I woke up early, and awake. I had breakfast, saw Clare off for the day, and started...</p> <p>..wait, where's all my email? I've started the day for the last 3 or so years reading anywhere between one and a bazillion hours' worth of email. And it's gone. It's like a free hour in my day. Along with the other 8 hours that are also now free. </p> <p>After I didn't read my email, I proceeded to not go to work. Admittedly, this wasn't my most productive morning -- I spent it getting my address book in order. I'm quite happy to have time to do this sort of thing. I'd like to write Christmas cards this year, since I got enough last year that I can't really continue with this laissez-faire approach. But, to send Christmas cards, I need two things: A list of people to send them to, and those people's addresses. I've decided to build the list based on frequency of flattering blog comments, so get your considered thoughts in below. </p> <p><img src="http://www.msnairport.com/img/quiznos_logo.jpg" class="right">I'm sitting in a <a href="http://www.quiznos.com/index.aspx">Quizno's</a> sub place. That wasn't my plan -- I was supposed to be at <a href="http://www.christindal.ca/">Chris Tindal</a>'s campaign office helping them set up. On my way, I went to file for a new passport, so I can go to New York sometime soon. Turns out that takes like an hour and a half -- twenty minutes in a <a href="http://rob.infinitepigeons.org/blog/travel/ireland/being-an-immigrant.html">pre-queue</a>, then being told to go to Quizno's an come back in an hour. Who am I to disobey the fascist passport office people? ("Excuse me ma'am, please step outside or turn off your phone." "Excuse me sir, please don't use that perfectly good pen right now; it's attached to a desk that nobody is at, and your use of idle resources offends us.")</p> <p>Tonight I have my first day of my <a href="http://2learn.utoronto.ca/uoft/search/publicCourseSearchDetails.do?method=load&cms=true&courseId=1582360">media course</a>. I hope it's good. The first lecture in the Friday Lecture Series was about the evolution of man. You'd think that would be a fascinating subject, and it was when I read about it in Guns, Germs and Steel. The audience was mostly older folks, and the lecture was very accessible. Which is obviously good, bt I coulda dealt with something more meaty as it were. Hopefully further lectures are better.</p> <p>It's almost time for me to go back to passportlandia. Hopefully they didn't lie to me about how long I could go away for. </p>
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The First Day of the Rest of My Leave

<p>Today was the first day. Of course, it's a Saturday, and so it felt like any other Saturday. Presumably Monday will be rather more distinctive.</p> <p>Last night I went out for pints with my office cohorts, and had a good time. After that, Clare and I went to <a href="http://www.steamwhistle.ca/unsigned/">Steamwhistle Unsigned</a> and saw some live music. Some of the bands were okay, but overall I wasn't a fan of the music. It was a cool venue, though.</p> <p>I had my minor "oh man, what have I set in motion?" freakout on Thursday, but it passed quickly. I dealt with it by writing a giant list of things to do on Monday. Normally when one writes a list, the goal is to keep it reasonable, and perhaps try and have it be feasible to accomplish it all -- in the case I wanted the opposite: a big list of things to make sure I couldn't possibly get them done, so I knew this whole thing wasn't a mistake. Fortunately such a list wasn't hard to come up with.</p> <p>At work, we divide things up into quarters, and set objectives on a quarter-long timeline. I've decided I'll do the same, and so I also started figuring out what those things might be -- life stuff, like going to the dentist for the first time in a while and cooking some new things; learning stuff, like my courses, and reading; and of course the more focused stuff like Green Party participation, and that sort of thing. </p> <p>I bought a new laptop today -- a mid-range Macbook -- since I don't actually own any computer right now. I've been using my work laptop for quite a while. It's kinda nice to have my own computer again.</p> <p>So, not hugely eventful. I'll post my quarterly objectives sometime soon, for comment. And maybe I'll even take it all the way, and score them and take feeback on that, too. </p>
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