Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for October 2011

New federal seats for BC are not nearly enough!

with 8 comments

Post Media news decides to work itself up into a froth over how much this will cost. That way the most significant part of the story can be buried in the tables at the bottom. Making parliament bigger is costly – but it is a lot easier than simply trying to make the current distribution of seats fairer. Let us concentrate on that word “fair”. Indeed the government is trying to convince us that is new arrangement is  “fair”. In fact the Fair Representation Act is anything but.

Quebec: Will have 78 seats representing 23.28 per cent of seats in Commons with 23.22 per cent of population. Under current seat distribution, it has 75 seats or 23.28 per cent of seats in the Commons.

So currently, in terms of representation by population they are doing OK – but under the “Fair” act they will do rather better.

British Columbia: Will have 42 seats and 12.54 per cent per cent of seats in Commons with 13.31 per cent of population. Under current seat distribution, it has 36 seats or 11.8 per cent of seats in the Commons.

Look at those numbers. The current situation is clearly unfair: under the proposed arrangement is still unfair – just not quite so bad as now. There can be no justification for this.

I could get equally annoyed about PEI – but what would be the point of that?

We also, of course, being an overwhelmingly urban population should also be incensed that rural votes still count for much more than urban votes. The actual seat distribution within provinces is not yet determined – there are going to be independent commissions. Which I am willing to bet will find all sorts of implausible excuses as to why this injustice has to be continued.  The fact that some people decide to live in sparsely populated areas does not give them any greater rights to determine who should form the government – nor should it.

And this is not the time to argue for a better electoral system – though tinkering with this one is not the answer either. I am still baffled about what a country that is supposedly in favour of democracy remains steadfast in its opposition to becoming democractic in reality. The outcome of course is continuing growth of what is termed “apathy” but in fact is widespread distrust and distaste. Which is really sad given how hard some other countries are now fighting – with our assistance – to get some form of democracy established.

And, of course, to get elected Mayor here, one of the candidates is already announcing her highest priority is to get rid of a rather obvious manifestation of discontent with our current system. Just what I would expect from those who conceive of the status quo as the best of all possible worlds – for themselves and their paymasters.


Written by Stephen Rees

October 27, 2011 at 9:55 am

Posted in politics

Honesty and Politics

with 3 comments

Maybe you have noticed the quotation at the head of the right hand column of this blog. A number of events this week have come together to make me want to write about this topic. Firstly, George W Bush spoke at a $600 a ticket event in Surrey – and a lot of people protested that he should have been arrested for war crimes. The Iraq war was illegal, and so was the use of torture, but the reasons for the war’s illegality are what stick out in my mind since delivered a copy of the DVD “Fair Game” which I watched this weekend. Now it is fair to say that there has been some controversy over this movie and some of the claims it makes – but mostly it is about the importance of truth. The White House made claims about weapons of mass destruction (WMD) which were shown to be untrue a few months after the invasion. Before the invasion  Joe Wilson, a former US diplomat, wrote a New York Times op-ed piece saying the claims – specifically about the use of yellow cake uranium from Niger to make nuclear weapons – were untrue. His wife, Valerie Plame was then revealed to be a CIA spy. Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney’s chief of staff and national security adviser “took the fall” for the leak, being found guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice but did no jail time as Bush commuted his sentence. The film of course draws its drama from the tension between those who adhere to a higher standard and those who believe in expediency.

That also had resonance with a local story – at a much less dramatic level –  about almost the same thing. Doug Sweney was BC’s inspector of mines who did the right thing, coincidently about a uranium mine proposal – which the government of the day did not like. He lost his job and found getting another one difficult, and the mine’s proponent is now suing the government (something Sweney warned of) over the flawed process the government imposed over Sweney’s protests. He now wants his reputation restored.

Doug Sweeney doesn’t want money. He’s not even seeking an apology.

All he really wants is for the B.C. government to formally acknowledge that he was a good and competent civil servant who did the right thing in the face of extreme pressure to do otherwise.

Maybe the reason he is just seeking a good reference is that they can do that without anyone having to lose face, or go to court. As a well respected employment lawyer said to me, you may have a very good case but they have more money – and they can keep you tied up in legal disputes for years and ensure that it never gets to court. You will run out of resources long before they do.

When I left the BC public service someone remarked of me that I was “unusually candid”. I do not think that was necessarily meant as a compliment. Over the course of my career I observed a distinct fall in standards in public life, as spin and “optics” became more important than any concern for truth or integrity. Ken Livingstone, a famous left wing politician  in England, whom I worked for at the Greater London Council has recently published his autobiography “You Can’t Say That”. The Guardian’s interviewer seems to think he should have written about his private life: I agree with Ken, that’s is simply not her business nor anyone else’s. But he also says

“I’m never going to take the view that I should say whatever I need to say in order to achieve something. Because that implies a level of dishonesty.”

But it is a level of dishonesty that nearly everyone now seems to accept as part of what every politician has to do. It is commonplace to dismiss all politicians in the same breath. “How do you know a politician is lying? His lips are moving.”

“Livingstone’s politics have almost always been vindicated” – in other words he was truthful, often when the other side wasn’t. I directed the research programme that was used to support the GLC’s campaign against abolition. There was no doubt in my mind that we had the objective truth on our side. The claims that Mrs Thatcher and her minister Patrick Jenkin were not supported by facts or figures – and that was documented in official reports and a paperback aimed at the general reader (“Battle for London” by Francis Wheen) . But the winning the arguments does not matter if you lose the vote – which, of course with her majority in both houses Thatcher was not going to see happen. So what really surprised me was the following:

At a lunch to celebrate the Queen Mother’s 100th birthday (she was still sharp as a pin), Margaret Thatcher made her way through the crowd to say, “Stick to your guns. Everyone will be trying to tell you to do something else, but you must keep your resolve. You’re now the leader of the equivalent of a small nation. Resolute, that’s what you must be, resolute.” I thought this was a bit bizarre, remembering how she had greeted my election as GLC leader by comparing me to a communist dictator.

Well, I suppose you could say that she was a good political operator and encouraging divisiveness among her opponents was in her self interest. But I think actually she felt a sense of fellow feeling, for she was not at all a Tory insider at first – and she had her own ideas about how she should be presented. Her belief system was not at all like mine, but she was very much a person of integrity. And she recognized that in Ken.

In this blog I have tried very hard to stick to issues and not get bogged down in personalities. It really does not matter who I like or dislike, or even what people chose to believe or disbelieve. There always has to be room for disagreement: no-one has a monopoly on truth. There is always going to be a degree of subjectivity – a point of view, a preference for one interpretation over another, different ways of looking at the same things and coming to different conclusions. But then there are also now political operators who think that anything and anybody can be sacrificed to secure political power. In the movie, Joe Wilson relates a story of Saddam Hussein saying “I would rather see one of my friends die than allow an enemy to live”. The movie makes it clear that the decision to blow Valerie Plame’s cover was based on political expediency (to change the discussion from yellowcake to ‘who is Joe Wilson anyway’) and that cost the lives of her agents in the field – the Iraqi scientists who confirmed that there was no longer any WMD program. The people outside the meeting calling for George Bush’s arrest probably did not have that top of mind but they were right that he should be arrested and tried, given what we now know. Of course, he wasn’t .

Maybe Doug Sweney will now get what he asks for – but I would be surprised if he did.

Maybe Ken will once again be Mayor of London. I hope so, if only because he showed, with the Congestion Charge, that there is more to him than simply seeking to be popular. Not something one can say about Boris Johnson.

Maybe once again we will value truth instead of truthiness.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 23, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Posted in politics

Are we reaching ‘peak car’?

with 5 comments

The Globe and Mail looks at some data, and talks to some people, most of whom I have a lot of time for. I think the US data cited is pretty clear that they reached peak car some time ago. It has also been happening here

Australian researcher Jeff Kenworthy has found that driving in the nation’s [Canada] five largest cities, combined, declined by 1.7 per cent per capita from 1995 to 2006.

I suspect that when the 2011 data becomes available that trend will be seen to have accelerated. It is a great pity that much of the data we really need was suppressed by this government’s decision to cancel the 10% “long form” data which included journey to work.

We can argue about the reasons – because understanding that is important if we are to deal with the future properly. Enita Elashs’ assertion “it’s not just a product of high unemployment or skyrocketing fuel prices, as the pattern began to show up years before the 2008 financial crisis” is especially silly. For most people, real incomes have been in steady decline, for the last twenty years. Taxes on the wealthy have been greatly reduced, and jobs have been exported to the extent that manufacturing is now unusual in North American cities – and many European ones too. That is why it is not just Wall Street that is being occupied and it is not just Greece that might go bust soon. The events of 2008 were simply the peak of a steadily growing crisis. At one time, it was possible for families to have one income, reasonable accommodation, a decent standard of living and the justified expectation that if dreadful things happened to them (ill health, injury, unemployment) there was indeed a social safety net. All that has now gone, household income no longer keeps pace with inflation and, while income tax has been reduced, many inescapable fees and charges are now imposed, most with little or no recognition of ability to pay.  At the same time consumption taxes have increased significantly. People cannot afford to live as they once did.

Small wonder, then, that people have had to cut back on those things that they can do without. And driving is turning out to be one of them. People have become very creative at reducing the need for trips, and many things are changing in our society that require people to travel. I no longer go to the bank, or the video store – and the cinema visit is also much less frequent than in my youth. We are also seeing some change in the way that space is arranged – not nearly enough yet, and it is not happening anything like fast enough but places like Vancouver are showing that it is possible to have a good life and not own a car. As my last posting showed, there is a growing movement of people who are finding that being carless is a key to increasing happiness – and they are positively evangelical about it.

I am much less convinced that we have hit “the Marchetti Wall – the psychological barrier against spending more than about an hour getting to work or coming home.” For many places, housing affordability (or rather the lack of it) means some people are going to travel for longer than an hour, and not all of them find that a chore. In other cities (not this metropolitan area of course) it is possible to have a comfortable, long distance commute. And that commute time can be relaxing, or useful (catching up on reading or even working) as the commuter chooses. Not those forced to drive themselves, of course, though many seem to be trying and are reluctant to give it up – as the depressing data on texting and cell phone use attests. But many railway companies historically made significant profits by developing long distance commuter markets. The provision of club cars on the Long Island railway, for instance. Or the Pullman cars that served kippers for breakfast to commuters from Brighton to London. Every time BR brought in a new electrification scheme, the speed of travel increased and the commute distance increased with it. Partly that was due to the policy then of “decanting” population from Greater London – which has only been reversed in recent years with the redevelopment of what had once been the docks and the arsenal.

I have the suspicion (but no data at all) that the children of the boomers (Generation Y) were also the first to actively learn to dislike car travel, because they were strapped into car seats as infants, forced to ride in the back and often with nothing to see. Quite unlike the view you get from the front of a double decker bus, for instance. There were strapped in for the daily commute to school too – not allowed to walk or ride their bikes, due to fear of strangers. No wonder they don’t like cars much to begin with, and then find the whole process of learning to drive really stressful because of the genuine dangers and increasing road rage and intolerance of other drivers. They get their freedom when they get a transit pass or a bike, or get away to college. But they cannot afford a car and their student fees (which have increased exponentially). It is hard enough to balance the coursework and the need to work to earn some income part time, without shelling out most of it to the oil companies and car finance sharks.

the threat of separating people from their wheels (or taxing their fuel use) has long been one of the green movement’s biggest stumbling blocks

But also one of the most necessary things that has to happen if we are to have any kind of future at all on this planet. People do not like the truth, and prefer the more convenient lies that have been spun their way by the elites. That is not going to work indefinitely – and indeed seems to be ending now. Most people now accept that global warming is real and that human use of fossil fuels is responsible for much of it: and those that choose not to believe that are being shown to be deluded or deliberately misled. More entrepreneurs are realizing that sticking to old methods is not going to bring increasing rewards. The big three US based auto makers were the ones needing the bailouts – and all have significantly changed their model mix as a result.

The really innovative companies are those who are looking at not just smaller or more efficient cars, but ways to provide mobility and access to goods and services that do not require car ownership. Because once an individual finds out that it is not necessary to own a car, they find all kinds of other ways to spend what is a larger disposable income. It still includes a lot of travel, but travel that is actually enjoyable. When cars were new on the the market, “going for a drive” was one of their main uses: and people like Robert Moses built parkways to encourage that. It is that element which has been greatly reduced and could feasibly be eliminated.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 22, 2011 at 2:35 pm

“On Bicycles” edited by Amy Walker

with 2 comments

On Bicycles cover

It is available at your friendly local book store: there was a discussion and book signing at The People’s Co-op Boosktore on Commercial Drive last night, and I know that they had some copies left. Or you can buy it on Amazon. When I have done here, I will be posting a review there too. Amy Walker is, as I am sure many of you know the cofounder of Momentum magazine and she also has a blog at

I was asked originally to contribute a piece on the environmental impact of cycling: I responded – “That will be the shortest chapter in the book. There isn’t any.” Well, ok that is an exaggeration, but a pardonable one I think. So my piece now carries the unwieldy title “The Environmental Good of Switching from Car to Bike” and it takes 8 pages. Out of 372 – none of which I have had an opportunity to read until I got my copy last night. Readers of this blog can happily skip over my pages, of course, and now I have read a few of my other favourite contributors, I can only say that I wish I had done a much better job. Todd Littman and Amy herself (she wrote 8 chapters out of 50) set a very high standard indeed.

Amy Walker signing books

If you do not have a bicycle and wonder what benefits you might enjoy I would like to present to you what I think will be some of the most compelling reasons: Youth, Sex and Cake. In the spirit of “you learn something every day” I have to acknowledge that Kristen Steele surprised me when she wrote that cycling makes you better in bed – and she has all the correctly cited academic articles to support that. Of course cycling makes you fitter, and you do burn more calories when you substitute a bike for a ride in a car (or even transit), which is why more people really ought to consider commuting by bicycle. And, as Todd Litman demonstrates, that has economic benefits too. But more and better orgasms ….


Does reading a book actually persuade people to switch mode of travel? Obviously the publisher thinks there is a market for this book for they commissioned it, and not only do I hope that they are right, but that there is a follow up volume. For the common thought that occurred to the contributors in last night’s discussion was “that ought to go in to the next book”.

Unoccupied parking space, useful hitching post

Or is this really a handbook for cycling enthusiasts to use in their on-going cycle advocacy? Certainly on the basis of last night’s event, we were preaching to the converted. But it is definitely the book that I had wished had been written when I started looking at cycling as a transportation policy issue. We have come a long way since my boss said “We mustn’t encourage people to cycle, we will only be killing more of them”.

Of course I hope you will buy this book – or at the very least get your local library to get a copy. Richmond has two.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 20, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Bicycle Diaries: Episode Nine

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Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve

On October 15, 2011 there was a short spell of dry sunny weather. Others were busy occupying the Art Gallery, we decided to take bikes on a ride up the Seymour Valley Trailway. This is 11km of mostly paved, two way multi-use trail which parallels the Seymour Mainline (the service road for the waterworks which is not open to the pubic). It does have some grades – and in several places barriers have been placed to slow cyclists coming downhill. We got there late morning, and it was already busy especially at the southern end. Many people treat the trail as a time trial – a sort of cyclists equivalent to the Grouse Grind. But there are also skaters and boarders and at the Rice Lake end lots of little kids on bikes too. We just went up and back – missing the mid valley viewpoint.

At some future date we will return for the twin bridges and Fisherman Trail.

Not to carp, but it does seem a bit sad that there is no access to the dam – or even a bridge connecting the top end of Spur 4 to Coho Trail which would make a long loop possible. The trailway has the picnic sites and pit toilets, Spur 4 has none but has vehicle traffic (according to the map). As I observed in Episode Eight, people going out for a ride do seem to like coming back a different way.

Old Growth Trail

Old Growth Trail my photo on flickr

The pictures that I took that day were nearly all in the old growth forest area beyond kilometre 10. For this area the paved trail ends, and it becomes several trails, mostly gravel with occasional wooden bridges.

Typical wooden trail bridge

These end at the fish hatchery – which is open daily. There is a steep gravel road for access to the dam, but most of that is closed to the public. There is a small viewing area with a gazebo up to the left of the dam and a small picnic area beyond that.

Seymour Lake

Seymour Lake - my photo on flickr

I used the camera zoom to edit out the dam and a large crane for a more “natural” landscape view, but of course it isn’t natural, being mostly second growth forest (active logging ended in 1994) specifically managed for water storage. (I am quoting the metrovancouver pamphlet).

This was actually our second visit to the area – we came before for a gentle stroll around Rice Lake and the Lynn Canyon. The 22km round trip is a bit more demanding – but with plenty of places to stop and look around all the way, need not be. If you have smooth tires you will be fine on the trail way, but some more traction might be a good idea on the gravel. When we used it, we both had smooth tires and no problems, as it was at least as good as the Richmond Dyke: it is also fairly level between km 10 and 11. Being October, it was distinctly chilly in the shade of the tall fir trees. The grades were more of a struggle in some places than the headwinds, and yes, I did get off and push now and again. But I was carrying the picnic supplies! The area is not formally a park, but is a place that deserves a visit, even if you do not have a bike. Bus Route #228 gets you close to the Rice Lake Gate.  We had our picnic at the hatchery. Getting the bikes up to the single table nearer the dam would not have been easy. People seemed to leave their bikes at the foot of the hill.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 17, 2011 at 12:08 pm

Posted in bicycles

Tagged with

The Journal of Public Transportation

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The Journal of Public Transportation is published quarterly by the National Center for Transit Research

It is unlike most academic journals in that it is distributed free as a pdf. I get mine by email. I would hope that most of my readers who are interested in transit are at least aware of it. If you are wondering what is in that pdf link but have not yet clicked on it to see, here are the first two pages



Center for Urban Transportation Research

University of South Florida • College of Engineering 4202 East Fowler Avenue, CUT100
Tampa, Florida 33620-5375
Phone: (813) 974-3120
Fax: (813) 974-5168

© 2011 Center for Urban Transportation Research


Volume 14, No. 3, 2011 ISSN 1077-291X


Quantitatively Understanding Transit Behavior
from the Rider’s Point of View
Colin Bick ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………1

Using AVL Data to Improve Transit On-Time Performance

Fabian Cevallos, Xiaobo Wang, Zhenmin Chen, Albert Gan ………………………………………..21

Development of a Mode Choice Model for Bus Rapid Transit
in Santa Clara County, California
Chun-Hung Peter Chen, George A. Naylor…………………………………………………………………………41

The Effects of Articulated Buses on Dwell and Running Times

Ahmed M. El-Geneidy, Nithya Vijayakumar…………………………………………………………………….63

System for Transit Performance Analysis Using
the National Transit Database
Albert Gan, Feng Gui, Li Tang ……………………………………………………………………………………………….87

An Empirical Investigation of Passenger Wait Time Perceptions
Using Hazard-Based Duration Models
Ioannis Psarros, Konstantinos Kepaptsoglou, Matthew G. Karlaftis ………………………. 109

What Do Passengers Do During Travel Time?
Structured Observations on Buses and Trains
Marie Russell, Rachel Price, Louise Signal, James Stanley, Zachery Gerring, Jacqueline Cumming ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………. 123

The Effect of City Bus Maneuvers on Wheelchair Movement

Michael J. Turkovich, Linda van Roosmalen, Douglas A. Hobson,
Erik A. Porach ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………… 147



Bonus for those who read entire blog post only: Stumble Upon is changing the way it interacts with users. It is encouraging them to create a blog out of their recommendations – at least those where they have written something, as opposed to just “liking” it. So mine is now here. I have yet to draw any attention to it as I doubt its value, and it is not necessarily restricted to any subject area, like this blog. Although I have no time to look at everything that gets circulated by Stumblers and have limited the number of subjects.


Written by Stephen Rees

October 12, 2011 at 8:09 am

Posted in transit

Steve Jobs 1955 – 2011

Steve Jobs 1955 - 2011

Steve Jobs 1955 - 2011

This blog is written on a MacBook Pro – the only computer purchase I have made that I have never regretted. And, as it happens, the first personal computer I used (back when everyone else I knew who had a computer of their own was playing with a BBC) was an Apple II, running a program called “Data Factory”.

Steve Jobs narrates the first Think Different commercial “Here’s to the Crazy Ones”. It never aired.

There are many tributes – the Guardian has links to the ten best but I will let Stephen Fry have the last word  – hmmm Stephen Fry, Steve Jobs, Stephen Rees – anyone see the link here?

Written by Stephen Rees

October 6, 2011 at 9:31 am

Posted in computers

“Fears of a damaging trade war”

with 4 comments

The Americans are going to start a study to see if Canada subsidizes its ports – with particular reference to Prince Rupert. Oh goody, I just happen to have a recent picture of that

Chuane on the container berth

Container ship at Prince Rupert - my photo on flickr

I added the comment

Container ships to Prince Rupert from the Asian Pacific rim save two days sailing over Vancouver. And the CN line from PR to Chicago is easier too. But BC is still spending billions on its misguided Gateway programme.

In fact Canada has its own federally funded programme of Pacific port expansion (this is a 2007 report which popped up near the top of my Google search). And of course this blog has been warning for some time that any program that is designed to win more business from the United States will, inevitably, attract their attention. And when times get tough the instincts of American politicians are always towards protectionism. Indeed just look at almost any of the earlier posts in the same categories as this one and you will see that this response was indeed predicted.

Whether or not the rules say that governments in Canada are allowed to invest in ports, or in improving access to ports (something the Americans have been doing for years too) does not matter. Anyone who followed the softwood lumber saga – which continues to this day over how we deal with beetle damaged timber – understands that it is what appeals to American voters that matters, not what the agreements on “free trade” might include.

Basically, as Pierre Trudeau observed, when you sleep next to an elephant…

Their view of “free trade” is that they want our resources, especially the oil gas and water. They also want untrammelled access to our markets. But if we want to be treated as equals in an open trading relationship, that is only a matter of what is currently acceptable. Speeches and smiles when the documents are signed – but lots of harrumphing and threats if the deal turns out to favour us in any significant way.

Our current political leadership at both federal and provincial levels has been embarrassingly eager to adopt the role of America’s little brother – not noticing that the Americans themselves always add the word “annoying” to the front of that appellation. The economic viability of the programs to expand our ports and the transportation networks that connect to them was never very strong. After all, just handling containers and passing them along adds very little value. The employment (after the construction phase) is quite small when viewed as a cost per job given the billions spent. And the jobs themselves are not exactly what we need either. The whole traffic of consumer goods from Asia to North America, funded by dubious financial instruments and a huge trade deficit, is clearly not sustainable. The environmental impact has been, generally, ignored by government.

It is, after all, only a study. But given the reaction already, the penny seems to have dropped, finally, that the people who have been pushing the Gateway and port expansion have really not been especially forthright. And that we could indeed be stuck with some more white elephants. The money is largely spent – and the benefits have not been very much and could evaporate. Just as BC’s lumber processing industry has shrunk to a shadow of its former self, not least because of the pressure of the US softwood lumber producers.

Fortunately, the construction of the additional container berths at Roberts Bank has not yet started. It is not too late to cancel them – but we are stuck with the SFPR and the widened Highway #1.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 5, 2011 at 2:07 pm

Posted in Gateway, port expansion


with 3 comments

This post is addressed to all my readers. I knew that in order to have a free blog on WordPress that there would sometimes be ads that some readers would see. I don’t, of course, and if you are logged in you won’t either. What I did not know until now is that these ads can be very intrusive and annoying – and I do not like advertising.

All of this started due to a tweet from one of my readers Robert J Ballantyne

Timethief is correct in this forum: It is in our ToS. OK, but I expected discreet and context sensitive.

So that lead me to consider that I might upgrade to the no ads service – which is ~US$30 a year. However, since I am retired and my income is not only limited but to an extent dependent on the changing relationship between the Canadian dollar and pounds sterling, it is not a commitment I can enter into lightly.

I have not run a poll on the blog for a while, so the question is framed in a way that tries to determine the extent to which ads have intruded. If there is a real need, then the result will be taken seriously. But since I haven’t seen any ads or heard any complaints to date, I was unaware of the issue and, had I not seen the tweet, would continue as I have done. Which, until I am persuaded otherwise, remains the default.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 5, 2011 at 11:22 am

Posted in blog update, blogging