Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for August 2020

More about notebooks

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Since the beginning of the Covid-19 shutdown I have been keeping a journal. Not another blog but the old fashioned kind that you put on paper in a book with a pen.

The idea came from someone I knew from WordCamp or some similar blogging conference years ago. On Facebook she was encouraging people to write about their experiences, because she is an archivist and she is concerned about what will happen in the future. It is unlikely that the technology we now use to store blogs and pictures will be readable indefinitely. She suggested twenty years – but that seems a bit pessimistic to me. After all I know many people who still use film in their cameras and vinyl discs on their stereos and both are long superseded technologies. Even so I quite liked idea, since I have been writing in notebooks for a while. Most of my early blog posts started off as notes taken at meetings. I could scribble far faster than I could type, so I was able to make good contemporaneous notes – a skill I had developed at work back in the days before laptops or tablets. Before PalmPilots even, remember them?

So the first entries in what I called The Plague Diaries were written in a Moleskine notebook that I had lying around.

That is what now appears at the top of this document. In the original version a scan I had made with my phone using a Google app appeared here – with a complaint about Canon software. That has now been updated and I can once again use Image Capture to operate my scanner. But I am blowed if WP block editor will actually allow me to put the new scan into this space which is where I wanted it. So I have got rid of one problem just to find two more.


And it turns out that I was wrong. I could have bought a refill for the fountain pen I was using. It was just that the shop I went to did not know that.

The Moleskine I had was bought in 2005, when journalling was recommended by whoever it was I was sent to deal with depression. Well it didn’t help then but the Moleskine did get used for a variety of purposes, and I thought that it would last. It did not seem likely that I would need much more than a replacement pen. And anyway there are notebooks lying around unused. My partner seems to get one free whenever she does some professional development course or other. Trouble is they are nothing like as good as a Moleskine. Well, I did get something free myself from The Guardian, as thanks for my subscription. That became Volume 2 (14 March to 29 April) and Volume 3 is from an unknown source but the paper was highly absorbent, bled through (i.e. making it hard to be legible when written on both sides) and was actually falling apart and had to be repaired with duct tape.

There are some of the healthcare pro freebies but all have lined paper.

I went to Granville Island thinking that I could buy a new Moleskine – just like Volume 1 – at Paper~Ya. Somewhat to my surprise the sales lady said that I could do better for cheaper. After all, you are paying quite a lot for the brand name alone. Midori paper is much better than that used by Moleskine, and the notebook is considerably cheaper. The lack of a hard cover is not an issue since I won’t be carrying it around with me and it is anyway too large for my pockets at A5 (European standard).

Midori notebook made in Japan

It was also in  Paper-Ya that I found these pens – for very little money.

Japanese notebook and pens

This is the inside first page. The black pen is a Pentel Plastic Fountain Pen. Made in Japan. The nib is 24 carat plastic. Refillable! I wish I had known that sooner as I recently threw an empty one away! The blue one is a Platinum Preppy F 0.3 which comes without the cartridge being inserted for use, but loose inside the pen. Also Made in Japan.

I am now ending Volume 3 and will start on Volume 4 tomorrow, but I can say categorically that writing in the Midori is a great pleasure – even though I am still using the cheap Chinese pen I bought on line when the previous Pentel Plastic ran out. By the way, beware of online ads. The Jinhao X450 I bought from for nearly $20 is available elsewhere for $5! It has also had to be repaired twice (Gorilla Glue) as the pencap and its plastic liner kept parting company. It works well enough and you might even be able to find cartridges for it but I bought a bottle of Quink – something I haven’t done for many years.

The one thing I have not done is try to go back to italic writing something I taught myself to do from a book my brother bought. He had a very legible hand. Mine looked much worse – and was not really much better with a proper calligraphic pen. It was also far too slow for note taking – but pretty useful for slowing down creative writing since it needed more care and thought.

I have no intention of publishing The Plague Diaries.  Anymore than I have of turning this blog into a book. You will have to outlive me as my heirs will be instructed to delay any circulation of them until there is a general wave on interest into how ordinary people coped with the pandemic of 2020. Though I fear there will be more pandemics before then.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 31, 2020 at 2:58 pm

Posted in blogging, Pandemic

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A New Conservative Leader

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source: hugh_dandrade's avatar
Hugh D’Andrade @hugh_dandrade

“Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.” The Who

After a shambolic process, Erin O’Toole was declared the new Leader of Canada’s Conservatives.

He is quoted as saying “I want you to know from the start that I am here to fight for you and your family.” I do not know Mr O’Toole – in fact I had not even heard of him until this process started. But I am absolutely certain that when he said that he was lying. Lying deliberately. The last thing he is concerned about “millions of Canadians” and their families. He is from the right wing of his party – the ground occupied by the old Reform Party. Their intention of joining the old Progressive Conservatives – who were after all very nearly indistinguishable from the Liberals in policy terms – was to ensure the continuation of their campaign to “take back Canada”.

Now when I typed that quotation I was thinking of a tweet I had seen this morning – which gave a very neat description of what O’Toole meant when he said that. The tweet stream I uncovered when I did a search is very, very lengthy. This is a tweet from Ann Bibby (who I also don’t know) – which wasn’t exactly what I was looking for but is much closer.

“Take back Canada means making it safe to be a homophobe, a racist, a misogynist. It means making sure poor people stay poor, and cronies get pocket public money. It’s the same old conservative corruption it ever was. Nothing new here. O’Toole is just an angrier Kenney.”

Stephen Gordon

“Intelligent, thoughtful conservatives (there are lots of them!) will be forever shut out of power as long as the CPC survives. Shut it down and start over.”

I replied that I had never met one. For a long time people I was working for would tell me that the economics of Hayek were more intellectually sound than Keynes. Somehow I doubted that but my experience since has done nothing to shift my scepticism. Ayn Rand was even more of a dog whistler. The idea that we are all individually responsible for own lives is an attack on humanity. The thing that made us Homo Sapiens was our ability to communicate, learn and co-operate. Right wingers think that it is clever to dismiss ideas as “socialism” – indeed Mrs Thatcher famously said “There is no such thing as society.” Which is as big a lie as any told more recently by the 45th POTUS.

To understand conservatives, you need only to look at what has transpired in the 21st century. The crash of 2008 was one of their trademarks. And nothing has changed in the way the economy is managed since. So is rapidly accelerating climate change and failing to deal with a new pandemic. It is quite striking how the countries that dealt most effectively with the virus were those who understood the values of science and cooperation. Not the people who actually enjoy punishing others – who think the current death toll in the United States is acceptable. Who think that taking small children from their parents to deter others from seeking asylum is a Good Idea. Who value people who display a willingness to work overly long hours for little pay but refuse to provide them with the basics of a decent life – including healthcare, education and housing – all of which must be priced out of the hands of the poor.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 24, 2020 at 12:09 pm

Posted in politics

What’s in a name

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In the Guardian yesterday was an article about a writer who has brought out a new book only to be confused with another with the same name.

There are lots of people who share the same name as me. One of them tried to hijack my gmail address a while back, but the spam filters now seem to have worked well enough that it is no longer in my inbox all the time.

What was in my inbox was a reminder from WordPress that I was about to lose – which a while back did not seem to be so important to me, but then so did the whole idea of blogging. But in the absence of FaceBook and Instagram I seem to be blogging more often. And this year we have not spent anything like what we usually do on travel. We haven’t been anywhere since January – and there has not been any concerts, plays or even eating out. So the amount to renew did not seem significant.

So will still be the best way to keep up – unless you might prefer to use the RSS feed. I have also added in the right hand column a link to an explanation of how RSS works. I got NetNewsWire as my RSS reader (because it works on a Mac) – which comes already populated with feeds – and that has also been interesting. I was going to delete them and add my own, but it turned out to be a nice change from my routine.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 13, 2020 at 1:53 pm

Posted in blog update

Borrowed Landscape

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Last night we watched the second episode of Monty Don’s Japanese Gardens on Knowledge TV. These programs can be streamed free for the next month if you live in BC.

I learned a new expression “borrowed landscape“. The gardens tend to be fairly small – but by artful trimming of the trees around the garden the natural landscape beyond it becomes incorporated into the view of the garden. This makes the garden seem larger and more impressive. Many formal Japanese gardens are designed carefully to be most impressive from particular viewpoints which can be found by stone markers placed along the foot path – in fact these are known as “stroll gardens“. This concept is actually quite well understood here by landscape gardeners and is something that I sometimes feel is a bit overdone. If you want to get somewhere you will try to walk in a straight line to your desired destination, and the cunningly curved paths are actually frustrating. Indeed desire lines off the paved paths are a real issue to the maintenance of perfect lawns.

I am much more likely, however, to be strolling with no particular purpose these days. I like to indulge myself by being a flaneur. So stroll gardens would actually be an improvement in some locations such as Trafalgar park which has no paths at all and just relies on the street sidewalks. It is also very much a playing field rather than a garden.

But living in Arbutus Village Park, my greatest desire is that we ought to be making more of the location, and borrowing the view of the North Shore mountains should be part of the park’s design. Of course, this would be of no value at all to people walking through the park. The beneficiaries would be the residents of the buildings – at least the taller ones, on the north side of the building. Like us.

The view from our window

Apparently in BC topping trees is regarded as a bad practice by arborists. Elsewhere in the world they have a different perspective. And our love for trees doesn’t seem to extend to the real giants in the old growth which are coming down at an increasing rate.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 13, 2020 at 1:30 pm

Uber Cannot Deliver

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This has been one of my continuing personal campaigns – to try and persuade the gullible that Uber is not now, nor ever has been, viable.

If you are on Twitter you ought to be following Cory Doctorow ( @doctorow) for a vast number of reasons but not least for information like this

“The only reason it [Uber] exists is that the Saudi royals decreed that they would diversify their income, and gave Softbank an unlimited investment budget. Softbank backs companies that it thinks can monopolize a sector, allows them to lose money for years – decades! Softbank assigns its companies absurd, unsupportable valuations, in the hopes of scaring off competitors. If the monopoly rents never materialize, Softbank flogs the company to rubes who were wowed by those sky-high valuations. That’s the Uber story.”

I did not know that. The reason I left the BC Green Party was that then Leader Andrew Weaver’s very personal commitment to getting Uber service in Vancouver. He had been inconvenienced at YVR one evening waiting for a taxi. So he used his leverage to get the market in BC broken open after years of successful opposition to an idea even dafter than Site C – which Weaver also implicitly supported by propping up the NDP.

So Cory recommends you to follow Hubert Horan. “40 years of experience in the management and regulation of transportation companies (primarily airlines). Horan has no financial links with any urban car service industry competitors, investors or regulators, or any firms that work on behalf of industry participants.”

Here is but a short excerpt of what Horan has to say at the link given above:

“Nothing has happened to change the fact that after ten years, riders have always been fundamentally unwilling to pay prices that would cover Uber’s actual costs, that Uber was always less efficient than the traditional taxis it drove out of business, that its only “efficiency improvement” was to push driver compensation to minimum wage levels, and that its growth depended entirely on unsustainable predatory subsidies.

But if anyone still thought that Uber could somehow magically reverse its multi-billion dollar losses, the coronavirus should have put their fantasies totally to rest. The coronavirus has crushed the major drivers of urban car services demand, including business travel and discretionary urban entertainment (clubs, restaurants, etc.). Their customers remain highly concerned about the health risks of all forms of public transportation.”

If you are at all concerned about the future of transportation in our region – or any other – you really need to go read the rest of that. And add to that Uber Eats is now wrecking the business of restaurants that managed to get through the Covid19 shut down.

Written by Stephen Rees

August 10, 2020 at 7:29 pm

Posted in Transportation

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“Miracle in the Desert”

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Ariel photo of the Salton Sea from the south
from Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0
Created: 31 January 2012

I get offered all sorts of things by email. This time I was offered a “Press Screener” – access to a video on line that will become available soon. I get to write about it in the hopes that people will spread the word about the upcoming release.

This is an excerpt from the email which lead me to ask for access to the video

“…documentary release of filmmaker Greg Bassenian (“CSI: Miami”) eye-opening award-winning documentary Miracle in the Desert: The Rise and Fall of the Salton Sea,” which lays bare the startling environmental disaster that is the Salton Sea in California’s coveted Coachella valley.  Charting the Salton Sea’s creation in 1905 to the current devastating environmental crisis that it faces today, this harrowing journey takes the viewer into the toxic dust. As the largest lake in California begins to dry, millions of lives are in danger as clouds of toxic dust threaten the health of millions of Californians. … Bassenian’s  new documentary carefully plots the course of economic growth that sprouted a shimmering desert riviera laden with costly construction challenges developing into the perfect storm – creating an unstable ecosystem that now lays to waste the health of the Coachella Valley’s community as both local and federal governments look to pass the cost of fixing things onto someone other than themselves. This riveting investigative documentary will be released by Gravitas Ventures, a Red Arrow Studios company across North America on all VOD/Digital & Blu-Ray/DVD platforms beginning on September 22nd, 2020.”

I was aware that the water from the Colorado River no longer reaches the sea. What I did not know was that this was the result of some turn of the century real estate speculation based on the idea of making the desert bloom. It actually went badly wrong from the start. Both due to the unpredictable nature of severe weather events but also due to some remarkable ignorance on the way that rivers work. The idea to build a canal to tap into the massive waterflow of the Colorado just south of the Mexican border and send it back north to a desert a couple hundred feet below sea level seem an attractive proposition. But the notion that the canal would have to deal with a massive quantity of silt didn’t seem to occur to the promoters. Or the need for the diversion to be able to cope with flash floods when the river level rose.

Map of the Salton Sea drainage area
source: wikipedia

Far too much water turns out to be as big a problem as not nearly enough. And in Southern California where the major cities have been growing rapidly and the people there demanding more water as a result seems to have run counter to any idea that having created California’s largest lake, there could be dire consequences from not looking after it properly. Or at all.

Much of the movie is about the failure of the California state government doing anything effective. They have made many plans. There have been plenty of surveys. There has been no real action of any kind – other than trying to persuade farmers who were encouraged to move to the Coachella and Imperial valleys with the promise of irrigation to give up farming all together.

The big, immediate issue is the health of the population. Obviously the impacts are currently greatest locally but the potential problem is going to cover a much wider area, including those large new populations mentioned above. Indeed drying up of lake beds producing air quality problems with widespread health impacts is not new in California. On the other hand while politicians need to be seen to be concerned about public health, as we currently see with COVID, that doesn’t mean that they feel they have to do very much about it. Most Americans are still on their own, or at the mercy of insurance companies, when it comes to healthcare costs.

When I watched the video I was actually quite pleased that there was no mention of the current crises. I don’t think the words COVID or Trump occurred once. The feds do get the odd nod here and there but overwhelmingly the blame is being directed at Sacramento, the state capital. No individual politicians at State level are mentioned, though some local ones are very compelling in their on screen remarks. No political party is mentioned either. In fact the real surprise is how positive so many of the locals are that there are solutions that will work and will cost far less than doing nothing.

I highly recommend looking out for this video on your preferred streaming media source, and I hope that if you are in Southern California – or know people there – that this documentary will encourage you to consider what actions you can take to influence how the decision makers can be made to actually do their jobs for a change. Because a miracle is certainly needed

The featured image for this blog post also comes from Wikipedia
Samboy – I took a picture from the window of an airplane I was on”

Ariel photo of the Salton Sea from the south

  • CC BY-SA 4.0
  • File:SaltonSeaArielFromSouth.jpg
  • Created: 31 January 2012

Written by Stephen Rees

August 9, 2020 at 3:22 pm

Posted in Environment

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