I do not mourn for Steve Jobs

Back in early August, I recall reading a comparison between the NDP and Apple.

At the time both leaders were still alive, but had each taken a leave of absence for health reasons.

When Jack Layton left, it was unclear who could fill his shoes. When he became leader in 2003, the party appeared lost and was written off by nearly all media pundits. Through a combination of tireless work and personal charisma, Layton built the party up both internally and in the minds of the electorate. With each successive election, he increased the party’s seat count, and increased the NDP’s vote in every region. In 2008, the NDP could truly claim to be a national party, winning seats in Alberta and Quebec. Finally, after cancer and a hip injury early this year, his determination paid off with a record-breaking performance in the election. He turned the Parliament’s conscience into the Official Opposition and government-in-waiting.

Similarly, Steve Jobs returned to the company he founded in 1997 when as it drifted into oblivion. Microsoft was dominating the computer market and there seemed little space for Apple. Yet through his vision and dedication, Jobs brought Apple back. He introduced style to the personal computer and marketed the company aggressively to urban artists. While Apple didn’t invent the portably mp3 player, the iPod made it cool. Very quickly iPod became synonymous with mp3 player. The iPhone revolutionized the smartphone industry and recently the iPad made the tablet mainstream.

Both of these men were able to tap into the public consciousness to make their brands cool. And now cancer has taken the lives of both of these men.

Yet there is a stark contrast between their legacies.

I mourned the loss of Jack Layton, while I feel little about the loss of Jobs. A part of this difference has to do with my personal connection to each brand.

I have voted for the federal NDP consistently since turning 18 and in 2008 spent many afternoons knocking on doors in Edmonton-Strathcona to help elect Linda Duncan. I have seen Jack speak a couple times and met him in 2008 at a nomination meeting. I saw his commitment to bringing diversity and social justice to the House of Commons.

Conversely, I can honestly say that I have never owned an Apple product. I find iTunes to be an inconvenient and bulky software and have never been a fan of Apple’s proprietary hardware. I have built most of the desktop computers I have used, which allowed me to keep costs low while getting exactly the performance I want. This meant I was always tied to PCs, whether Windows or Linux. Apple products felt like you spent more just to get the logo. To me they are the Nike of computers.

But there is more to this difference than my subjective attachment to each brand.

To put it crassly: One dedicated himself to a life of public service, seeking to make life better for the people of Toronto first, and then Canada; the other made billions of dollars by making products that he convinced people they needed.

Now, it is not my intention to slander the legacy of Steve Jobs. Hence why I delayed posting this until after the long weekend. I really don’t want to come off as Christie Blatchford, who, mere hours after his death, rhetorically danced on his grave over the public mourning that followed.

Jobs was a visionary; however, it feels shallow to celebrate the corporate icon as anything more than he was.

One of my friend’s pointed out on Facebook how we ought to instead remember the exploited sweatshop workers who make Apple products and are often driven to commit suicide. Another friend questioned why we don’t mourn for the heroic Arab Spring protesters, murdered by tyrannical regimes. The sad fact of my generation is that too many of my peers identify with brands and logos rather than fellow human beings. The irony is that people are not mourning Steve Jobs the man, they are mourning his brand.

A similar criticism could be levelled against the outpouring of grief after the loss of Jack Layton. But where Layton’s death left us with a progressive message of hope, Jobs death leaves us with cheap gadgets.

The idea of a brand is morally neutral. It is a device that can be used for good or bad, progress or profit. Brands, as Naomi Klein argues in No Logo, are much more effective than products. She notes in the 10th anniversary edition how politics has absorbed the branding ideals, turning politicians into brands – notably Barack Obama, but arguably Jack Layton. The problem with this transformation is that brands tend to be shallow. They are substitute emotions. Layton and Obama became substitutes for hope in politics, while Jobs became a substitute for being hip and cool.

And this is where I think the two legacies diverge.

I believe there was more to Layton than his brand. While he would compromise with other politicians, it was always to advance a progressive project of his own. His support for Paul Martin’s budget brought in several NDP projects, and his support for a coalition in 2008 was dependent on a progressive alternative to the Harper Conservatives. Even with Stephen Harper, Layton would offer conditional support when it could bring better support for seniors or the unemployed.

Further, Layton’s positive brand inspired a positive legacy that succeeds his life. His death echoes Obi-Wan Kenobi’s final statement that “In death I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

Tragic though it remains, Jobs’ death leave us with no similar inspiration.

I want to add one additional note that doesn’t really fit in the above discussion. The extra tragedy of Jobs’ death is how preventable* it was. Had he employed modern medicine, rather than succumbing to modern snake-oil salesmen, he would still be alive today. It is unfortunate that this story is not receiving the attention it needs to. Alternative medicine kills.

*Modern science would likely only have bought him an extra 10 years, but death can only ever be delayed.

For the good of the province

Congratulations are oddly in order for David Hahn.

I say oddly because it’s extremely rare to see an overpaid executive of a crown corporation fall on his sword like Hahn did as he quit BC Ferries to save the corporation upwards of $1 million per year.

Hahn had previously announced that among his attempts to cut costs at BC Ferries that he would recommend that the province cut several hundred sailings annually. He quickly came under criticism for his huge compensation package relative to the company’s $11 million deficit.

What’s most interesting though is that Hahn decided to just leave BC Ferries, rather than offer to take a pay cut.

It makes me wonder what else is out there for him?

Regardless, his decision to take BC Ferries away from being an infrastructure extension of the highway system, toward some weird luxury tourist service was short-sighted and a complete misreading of the market for the service. The accompanying absurd rate increases only exacerbated the issue for those who rely on the service to actually serve them.

Hopefully BC Ferries can bring on a new CEO that has some appreciation for the ferry system’s place in BC as a service, not a profit venture. Although until the BC Government is willing to bring the corporation entirely back under provincial jurisdiction, I’m sceptical of its chances for success.

When will BP ruin BCs coastlines?

By the time you finish reading this post, well over 5500 litres of oil will have leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. The oil continues to pour out of a busted well and the slick continues to grow and has already hit land in some parts of Florida. Meanwhile, closer to home, the question that seems to be off of the provincial radar is when will our offshore wells be built so they can threaten our fragile habitats?

It has been over a month since an explosion rocked British Petroleum’s (BP) Deepwater Horizons oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. The blast left eleven people missing and presumed dead and well over 790,000 litres of oil has gushed into the sea. There has been little success at stopping the flow so far.

It seems hard to tell if any remorse is being felt by the heads of BP for a disaster that is shaping up to be worse than the Exxon Valdez spill in the North Pacific years ago. Perhaps their biggest fear is either the public relations hit or that they will not be able to profit off this spilt oil.

Just a week prior to the last provincial election in 2009, Premier Gordon Campbell signalled that a provincial Liberal government would continue to lobby for an end to the offshore drilling moratorium that inhibits BC from building wells at sea. This position was in line with the Liberal’s 2001 commitment to have an offshore drilling industry in BC by 2010.

Days later he squeaked by with a slim majority government. It was soon leaked that the provincial deficit would be much larger than promised and that BC, along with Ontario, would be implementing an HST. It should not be a surprise then that after dropping twenty points in the polls that Campbell would not want to broach the subject of offshore oil wells.

Yet with the recent tragedy in the Gulf, it is more pertinent than ever to find out what our far-too-secretive government is up to. While the typically oil-friendly federal Conservative environment minister Jim Prentice has backed off from any new offshore projects and has reaffirmed moratoriums on drilling off BC’s shorelines.

Darrell Dexter, the newly-elected NDP premier of Nova Scotia, was quick to pledge his continuing support to offshore moratoriums in his province and even Barack Obama has gotten behind a temporary slow-down. Obviously no leader would want to publicly come out as pro-drilling right now, so I guess Campbell’s silence on the issue speaks as much to the issue as a press conference would. There is currently no sign that Campbell plans to back down on offshore drilling.

As a non-renewable resource, it is quite clear that at some point in the future we will run out of oil. And while there is still a lot of it underground, the remaining supplies are in increasingly difficult regions to access. Whether it is in the Alberta tar sands, under politically unstable regimes, or deep under the Arctic ice sheets, there are many political and environmental issues that must be addressed if we want to responsible drill for this oil. And while a leak off BCs coast may be containable, imagine the damage that could be done were a disaster to befall an arctic well, with hundreds of thousands of litres of oil covering the undersides of the ices sheets.

Of course, I personally would love to see the end of the oil age in my life time, the fact of the matter is that this laptop I am typing on, the synthetic portions of my clothes, and countless other products use barrels and barrels of oil, let alone the amount that we use for energy. A lot of work has been done on alternative energies, and there is a huge need for more investment, but until those industries are positioned to meet the demands, we will either have to continue drilling for oil, or massively cut out consumption.

I believe that it is possible to extract oil from the tar sands and deep underwater both safely and with as little environmental damage as possible, however, if our leaders fail to discuss if they are even interested in such activities, how are we to trust them to ensure the proper regulatory regimes are in place when corporations do begin to stick their pipes in the ground?

Time for non-religious enterprises?

I had an idea today. Like most ideas, it’s not original, and builds a lot on work that others have done, but it’s one that hasn’t been applied within the freethought movement yet, to my knowledge (at least in Canada).

The idea is, as I’ve now learned, based off the growing social enterprise movement which seeks to have companies run for financial, social and environmental gain – the triple bottom line. In many cases the corporation is actually a non-profit or charitable organization which runs a business to fund its work and expansion. A highly successful model of this sort of idea is the Salvation Army’s Thrift Stores which finance much of their missionary and religious work.

So the idea that I had today was sparked by a desire within the Vancouver skeptical/freethought community to have a place of our own, that is a venue where we can routinely host out discussions, meetings and set up an office or two.

Currently CFI Vancouver meets sporadically in cheap or free spaces that are provided by campus groups or rented at reduced rates (through its charitable status) and the BC Humanist Association meets weekly at the Oakridge Senior’s Centre through a deal they have there.

CFI is committed to seeing something more permanent in the next few years be established and while the Senior’s Centre is a great venue for the BCHA, there is the justified concern both inside and outside the organization that the word “senior” in the venue’s name is a deterrent.

So the idea I had was that these organizations ought to found a coffee shop/cafe, which during regular hours can be open to the public for coffee, cookies, and what-have you, with an extra influence of humanism and skepticism present (such as a resource library for the curious and some science-inspired artwork or something). Then, during evenings, weekends, or whenever it is needed, the shop can close up, move the tables aside (or not) and serve as a meeting venue for the invested groups.

There’s a few bonuses in this format. First, the coffee shop serves as an advertisement and fundraiser for the associated charities. Second, the venue would accommodate the majority of the events being held (the larger lectures and debates will always require large campus lecture halls), and would have coffee and snacks available, and could even be potentially licensed.

The drawbacks are the large initial investment required (likely a few $100,000 which none of these organizations have), and the requirement that someone will actually have to manage the business end of things.

However, with a strong business plan and the right people, it should be possible to raise the requisite funds via government grants, personal donations, and loans if necessary.

It’s also worth noting that under Vancouver’s basic commercial zoning laws [pdf], most of these types of spaces can be used for the categories of cultural and recreational (including clubs and community centres), institutional (schools), offices, retail and services. So there should be no difficulty with this portion.

Now, who has some entrepreneurial experience and wants to get this started?

SkyShuttle Refund

Guess what came in the mail today (besides the notification that my tax refund will be at least $850 and my giant welcome package to Coast Capital Savings):


That’s my $30 refund from Edmonton SkyShuttle. They also offered “apologies for the lack of service.”

While I still have no plans to use the SkyShuttle in the future (with three trips through the Edmonton Airport before May planned), it’s good to see that a Better Business Bureau complaint can still get resolved after some patience.

I’m still holding out hope that Edmonton Transit will get their shit together, work with the region, and get any kind of bus service to the airport.

Whiny corporate shills and the Corporate Vote

People generally acknowledge that BC politics is messed up, but this push to regain the corporate municipal vote [pdf] here really takes puts the ass in asylum.

The claim is that businesses are being unfairly taxed without representation, ergo businesses ought to have a vote at the municipal level.

Never mind that every business owner and employee that actually lives in the city they operate in already has a vote.

Never mind that the only other place in the world that shills like this is the business district of London, England.

Never mind that the guy who wrote that trite in the Vancouver Sun is “known for showing up at Burnaby council meetings wearing his scoutmaster uniform.”

Just remember that democracy is, in it’s most pure form, a system of people governing themselves. In Canada, at least, corporations are not people.

Edmonton Sky Shuttle: Doomed!

First the long-overdue news: The Edmonton Transit System Advisory Board is strongly recommending that when the South LRT extension opens at Century Park that ETS add a route that goes from the new LRT station to the airport as an add-fare for an extra $2.50 [pdf report]. They recommend half-hour service and have strong evidence that the service would be hugely successful and would break even at 27 riders per bus (under half full I think).

The better news: This will mean the end of the crap scam-of-a-service that is the Edmonton Sky Shuttle.

Why I want the Edmonton Sky Shuttle to die:

  1. My first experiences with the Shuttle a few years ago were terrifying reckless drivers who made it their mission to race around Edmonton side streets and down the QE2 in record time to attempt to get to the airport.
  2. Their disclaimer that shuttles may be ±15 minutes, which on half-hour service means their shuttles show up at random intervals, up to an hour apart. Note that Edmonton Transit is much more consistent with their timings then this (and don’t give me stories of when the bus was late – think how many times it was on time).
  3. Their shuttles have been 45 minutes late (for my girlfriend a few weeks ago).
  4. Their fake “Going Green” campaign which means they no longer stop (or even slow down) at half their stops, while they still run empty or half-empty vans to the airport. Meanwhile, I’ve had a couple rides since this new “only stop if you book us” policy where the driver still stops at every hotel en route.
  5. The driver I had from the airport at 1 am one night who had his buddy in the passenger seat play a portable DVD player for him to watch while highway driving – that helped me feel safe.
  6. Their grade of F from the Better Business Bureau.
  7. Their new stop at Army & Navy (which is more convenient for where I live in Edmonton), is apparently at the SE entrance (on 104 St.), however that extra information is not listed anywhere on their website (the best they list is in the dropdown list on the “Book Online” feature which gives the Whyte Avenue address).
  8. After waiting 10 minutes past my time of booking for a shuttle at the wrong Army & Navy entrance I had to call them only to find out that they claimed to have stopped at Army & Navy at the scheduled time, and would book me on the next Shuttle.
  9. After waiting until 5 minutes after the next scheduled time, the shuttle I was told was coming and looking for me drove right by and after calling the dispatcher again he circled the block and picked me up, while I was about to hail a cab.
  10. At no point in the 3 phone calls to dispatch complaining about the lack of shuttles for me did they offer any sort of apology for their service, and rather promised a shuttle was going to be “right there” when it was actually still 10 minutes away.
  11. When I brought all my complaints to the driver before getting off the airport before paying, he neither cared, apologized, or even shed a tear that I would never use their service again.
  12. Once, when we were waiting for a sky shuttle with a large group, the van filled and a couple of us had to wait at the curb for a shuttle they were sending, after half an hour we just grabbed a waiting cab. Luckily their atrocious customer service has meant they’re only routinely taking between 1 and 5 people per trip.
  13. (Although more minor) Some sketchy gum got stuck to my foot in the last ride I took to the airport.
  14. Also, I doubt that they have permission from the city to stop at half of the curbside stops they offer (the Army & Navy one is an ETS stop). If they do have permission, perhaps they could get a nice little sign to make it obvious that you’re waiting for their shuttle.

Customer service apparently isn’t important when you run the only affordable way to get from the remote Edmonton International Airport (one-way cabs cost around $50). Their ridership seems to be declining and I don’t doubt that if the city has its act together and approves the airport bus route (and doesn’t cave to the cab lobby) that the Sky Shuttle will quickly disappear from the roads.

It’s bad enough already that the only way to get from the airport to Edmonton is Airport Taxi (no other cab companies are allowed to pick-up from the airport), a limo, or the Sky Shuttle; and to go from Edmonton to the airport you can take any cab (except Airport Taxi), a limo, or the Sky Shuttle. This means that other than the Sky Shuttle – every cab is empty on at least one leg of the 45-minute one way Edmonton-Airport trip.

So here’s hoping that Edmonton Transit listens to their advisory board, smartens up and makes this bus route a go come April – that will mean only a couple cab rides for me, because I’ll be caught dead before another dollar of mine goes to Edmonton Sky Shuttle.

January updates

Well it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, and considering Geer Week (formerly Eng Week) is coming up on campus, it may be another week before I really get going again.

Anyways, here’s a round up of news items I feel like sharing:

  • The Garneau Theatre is under new ownership. I was initially very conserned about this story, as they were talking (and still are) about tearing down the front entrance. However, it turns out that they are doing this to essentially revamp it and the theatre will continue to operate (even during construction). This is a great indie theatre, and it’s good to know it will continue. (Speaking of indie films, see Milk if you haven’t yet).
  • In the past month and a bit the Alberta Tories have found another way to increase our carbon emissions and finger the recession: spending a quarter million on flying across the globe. Teleconferencing is so 1990s, face to face is the only possible way to convince people that the tar sands aren’t evil.
  • And speaking of tar sands, the oil companies released a poll that found that almost half of people polled in Edmonton and Toronto don’t trust a word they say. I feel a little bad that they had to spend money to confirm this.
  • Alberta leads Canada in job losses in December as Albertans lost nearly 20,000 jobs. But the good news that the Journal finds: Edmonton is still tied for lowest unemployment rate (however, they neglect to mention homeless rates).
  • And finally, keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming report on carbon-capture technology that the Tories are banking $2 billion on (and wanting the broke federal government to match). Eng Phys director Dr. Backhouse did a (very rough) ballpark calculation on carbon-capture and figures that if we bury all our carbon burned and continue to increase at a steady rate that we’ll be out of oxygen (since you have to take 2 oxygen atoms for every carbon atom you remove from the atmosphere, since we bury carbon dioxide) in 750 years. Of course, the issue becomes more of a threat if you realize that a slight change in oxygen content in our atmosphere will likely have drastic effects.

Until I get another chance to write, here’s some blogs (that are regularly updated) that I follow regularly (in loose category labels):


Web Comics


I read lots more than that, but that should be a good start.

Future shop gives 53,000 sq. ft. middle finger to recession

This past Wednesday evening Alan and I got the opportunity to get a tour of the new Future Shop in South Edmonton Common. They gave us food, a tour, and a free bluetooth headset in the interests of biasing our opinions.

This store is massive. It’s more than double the size of an average Future Shop. Imagine a Costco-sized warehouse dedicated to electronics.

But they weren’t going to settle with being the largest store, this is also a special pilot store where they plan on introducing new product lines and feeling out new markets.
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