Stephen Rees's blog

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

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Blogs as a tool for political change

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“I think a lot of times, elected officials are afraid of bloggers. A blogger combines an elected official’s two most scariest things which is a journalist and an engaged citizen.”

If only that were true!

I somehow doubt that Streetsblog was actually responsible for getting Times Square closed to traffic. But possibly it helped give Janette Sadik-Kahn some support for what was actually quite a controversial decision. It also helped that its method of implementation was readily reversible if it had not worked.

HAT TIP

“The Other Side of the Tracks” is a daily email summary of transit and related news:  links to news stories and blog posts about transit and TOD from around the country are collected daily by Jeff Wood, Reconnecting America‘s New Media Director and Chief Cartographer.

“The day may come when Men will fall, and Jeff Wood cannot read every transit article…. but that day is not this day” – Some Transit Lovin Dude

You can subscribe to it here

Written by Stephen Rees

January 14, 2014 at 8:48 am

2013 in review

with 2 comments

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 67,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Thank you to my readers and those who take the time to comment. While I expect to continue to blog here and on my other blog (which is not about transport or planning and gets many fewer visitors) I do not try to write frequently. I will only post here when I think I have something worth saying, and I am trying to reduce the amount of repetition as I have no wish to bore anyone. There will probably be more on twitter or Facebook.

Please accept my best wishes for 2014. For myself I am keenly looking forward to a month in Italy in the spring.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 31, 2013 at 8:44 am

Posted in blog update, blogging

Tagged with

Blog Post #2000

with 2 comments

It is a milestone, and I want to mark it.

The first post appeared in July of 2006 and was about the “C$3 billion road-building plan by the provincial government” as viewed by the Economist and Miro Certenig. That road program – and its consequences – was a theme that would recur frequently, and is still one that bothers me. It is now pretty much complete but as I have no real need any more to drive along #Highway 1 I am not as up to date as I might be on road works. You could always go to drivebc and take a look – at the time of writing it seems they are still working on the Cape Horn Interchange. Of course, I have never been very worried about traffic congestion on that highway – or any other. Absent any tolling mechanism it is pretty much self regulating. It has always been what car dependency does to us and the place we live in that concerned me.

The Port Mann Bridge

When I look at the list of categories, the range of subjects actually surprised me and I have of course forgotten a lot of what I wrote about. This has been a salutary reminder. Yesterday I was listening to Dave Olson talking at Northern Voice about the value of printed ephemera and other objects in understanding our stories. It was actually quite uncomfortable listening, since I have been in the process of decluttering. Much paper has been recycled, many objects have gone to thrift stores, and quite a lot to the landfill probably. I still have a lot of obsolete media. Tapes and LPs, slides and photographs, far too many books still. But lots of magazines went. And so did a lot of my own stuff. I am not at all sure that anyone will ever want to read my MSc dissertation, and the LSE seems not to have kept a copy. Not accessible from its web page anyway.

Dave Olson debunked the idea that the internet never forgets. There were many things which were once there that are now gone. Lots of dead links. I wonder how long WordPress will continue to maintain my archive. I certainly have no intention of stopping blogging, but I am sure that there will continually be some ebb and flow in volume. I will not establish a schedule for publishing, and I will only publish when I have something that I need to say, or draw attention to. And I am quite positive that there is no way this will ever become a book. Nor would I want it to.

WordPress.com has been a very good host as well as an easy system to use, and I have no intention of either monetizing the blog or registering my own domain. It really doesn’t matter how many plugins there might be, or alternative ways of dealing with comments. I am quite happy with this set up, and I am pleased that there are enough people out there to make it worthwhile continuing.

Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 5.17.35 PM

These are the most recent monthly stats of page views. There are 108 people who follow the blog  and 701 on twitter. I have been posting less as I am wary of repeating myself, since the problems never seem to change, nor the responses to them. We do keep on doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. I use twitter more often as that is a good way to be brief (my blog posts to tend to be of the “long read” format) and provide the necessary link. The mainstream media continues to retreat behind paywalls, but all that means is we get our news elsewhere. Usually more directly and thus unfiltered. I am very heartened by the activities of those who fight government and corporate preferences for secrecy and outright lying.

You are one of the people I am writing for. I started to write this because I felt the need to write, but from the very beginning knew that there would be people who preferred I did not. We have not been bothered by the worst troll lately. Akismet does do a very good job of controlling spam. But it is also true that when I get a post to moderate that is fulsome in its praise for this blog, I know it is spam. Most of you do not comment. There is, however, a stable of regulars who can be relied on to let us know what they think (MB and Redfrog get top honours and ought to start their own blogs, with honorable mentions to Voony and Roger Kemble who have. ) I try not to get too worked up about what commenters write, as they are entitled to their opinions and have mostly been very helpful in providing both perspective and often more information which has improved the quality of the discussion. I do read all the comments. And if I do not reply in the comments, that does not mean I am ignoring them. That will often become apparent in subsequent posts. And I have been surprised by the number of people I have met who say they read the blog but ignore the comments altogether. There are over 800,000 views now, and we will soon reach million, though I doubt very much indeed I will notice.

Because that was the other thing I learned, early on. I do not obsess about my stats. I am not going to get into data mining, and I am not going to adjust what I write in the hopes of broadening my reach. It is a bit like the number of views I get of a picture posted to flickr: or the ones that organization deems “interesting”. We know that is determined by an algorithm – but we do not know its parameters or values- and anyway it changes all the time.

It’s just nice to know that I am not shouting into a vacuum.

Thank you for reading. Please, don’t stop now.

And for those of you who think stats are important, I know this is not, in reality, the two thousandth post as quite a lot were short lived announcements that were deleted.

Written by Stephen Rees

June 16, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Posted in blogging

Northern Voice 2013

with 5 comments

This post is being updated to include presentation materials as and when I find them

Last update 17 June at 1pm

The program encourages blogging, there is free WiFi, and there is something I need to say. About transit, and route frequency. To get from Arbutus Village to the Museum of Vancouver, I could take the #16 and walk down Burrard, or walk across to McDonald for the #22. I did not mention the #25 since I was sure that one would come along while I was waiting for the cross walk light, and I was right. In theory an intending passenger has to wait half the headway, on average. In real life, you always just miss the bus. Indeed, as I approached McDonald, a bus whisked around the corner, and left without me. There was at least a shelter and a seat for the wait while I watched other buses pass by.

Eventually I boarded. As the bus proceeded, it caught up to the #2 starting its run from 16th Avenue. And we proceeded as a pair, skip stopping until Cornwall, by which time we had caught up to the #22 in front, and could then move as a convoy. None of this is planned or deliberate, but it always happens, especially when its raining. And should be born in mind whenever you read that Frequent Transit is every 15 minutes.

I have not been impressed with my ability to live blog this event. For starters, you would think, wouldn’t you, that the organizers, when choosing a location would put the availability and quality of wifi high on their agenda. One of the organizers told me that they were still trying to fix it on Thursday, and resorted to appeals to those with wifi hotspots on their smart phones to make them available to all to ease the strain. There are actually two different logins for two wifi connections for different parts of the building – and even then the printed password they issued had an error in it. I did not bring my MacBook Pro as it is too  heavy, and gets too hot, to use as a real laptop. It needs a desk – and new feet, too. The little rubber ones it came with keep falling off. The tablet is not easy enough to type on either – and I noticed this year there are many more people using old fashioned paper notebooks with actual pens. Like the resurgence of vinyl LPs and film cameras, this is a lot more than a fashion statement. Just like digital watches lost popularity really quickly.

The catering this year seems to have been organized by someone from an earlier era too.

It's what's for breakfast #nv13

Though there was fresh fruit as an alternate. Lunch was better than in the past since the wraps were pre-made. The line moves faster when people are not practising their roll-your-own burrito skills. But there was still only one line – and it moved slowly as the people at the front always seem more interested in their conversations than letting anyone else get fed. And the after party had free beer and wine. Unsurprisingly no-one seemed to want to eat the standardized squares or fresh fruit – both of which looked more than a little tired by now. There wasn’t nearly enough bread and cheese – and people seem to have read the same articles I did about the dangers of salami.

There is not nearly the same amount of energy as at earlier NVs at UBC. For one thing there is no really obvious gathering place outside of the lecture rooms – and people wander off to look at museum exhibits, rather than engaging. There is much less going on as a result – which puts even greater pressure on the organizers.

Too many presenters are wedded to their computerized presentations – most of which add very little value anyway. Some electronic distribution of information to personal screens for those who wanted it would have worked much better and caused much less delay while the inevitable Mac/Windows incompatibility issues were sorted out for the umpteenth time. I hate Prezi even more than light background PowerPoint – but at least it is on the web for all.

Reading over this I realised I am overdoing my grumpy old man act. So I turned to storify to crowdsource coverage. It is much more positive – and I noticed that I tended to pick tweets that had pictures attached – whaddyaknow!

Someone either reads this blog or reads my mind. The breakfast on Saturday offers far more than doughnuts. Though still really heavy on the carbs.

Baked Goods

The view out the window is going to be more distracting.

Use the view

So far these are the only Prezis I have found: from the sessions I attended

“Improving Comments on your Blog” by Travis Smith

Story by Theresa Lalonde (which is a relief as otherwise I would feel required to transcribe my own scribbles)

because they used the tag #nv13

Sean McNulty “Getting Things Syndicated” one the many talks I did not get to because there are three streams most of the time.

John Bielher tweeted “A few people asked for my slidedeck from nv13…warning it’s a 144mb PDF: dropbox.com/s/qaqchofg7zph… (I didn’t have notes, just photos)”.

But then a lot of other people who did not present at this conference use that tag. And there are more than 1000 prezis using the tag “Northern Voice” (without a date)

Thanks to Vancouver Gadgets we now have the link to Darren Barefoot slides “Why we live the quantified life” and also on slideshare with the nv13 hashtag Dave Olson Vancouver: Untold Stories, Anecdotes …

 

But you do know, don’t you that Northern Voice has its own blog? At the present time its content is still mostly is “promote the conference before its happens” mode – but useful summaries of presentations – and presenters – are there.

So it’s a nice day and there is a farmers’ market down the road apiece. I think I should be there (see next post) and not “blogging the shit” out of the conference.

#nv13 wrapup at MOV

The keynote speakers : (l to r) Bob Goyetche, Dave Olsen, Mark Blevis
Photo by jmv on flickr

More people are now adding their photos to flickr these are the ones tagged nv13

Written by Stephen Rees

June 15, 2013 at 9:27 am

Posted in blogging, transit

Tagged with , ,

Old growth logging vs the carbon tax

with 8 comments

There is a Canadian Press story this morning which got covered by the CBC, where it caught my attention.

One year of logging old-growth forests in southwestern British Columbia blows away a year of carbon reductions accomplished by initiatives like the carbon tax.

That’s the finding of a Sierra Club report released today, entitled Carbon at Risk: B.C.’s Unprotected Old-growth Rainforest.

That’s the top of the CP/CBC story – and you can find the same thing elsewhere. In fact I think you should. For a start, missing from the CBC story is any substantive content that they have added – and, even worse in my opinion but common to most news web sites, there isn’t a link to the report. For a better example go to Huffington Post  which has the same CP story but at much greater length, and with an interesting back and forth between Rick Jeffery, Coast Forest Products Association president and Sierra Club spokesman Jens Wieting.  But also no link to the report.

In fact I actually talked to Jens Wieting myself this morning. First of all I did not even know that there is more than one Sierra Club – but I guessed that Sierra Club Canada was probably the source. Wrong, it’s actually the Sierra Club BC. Their web page is actually much more active and has the press release – but that doesn’t link to the report either. Jens sent it to me by email, but you can download it from the publications section. Its a six page pdf but worth a look.

I am not at all an expert in this field, but I have some connection to it. I would have had a job at the Forests Ministry had not the BCGEU “bumping” practices snatched it away from me. I did do quite a bit of research before the interview – and he who did the bumping didn’t have to – so I have been a bit more aware of the issues since.  I have been in BC’s old-growth forests – there’s small patches on the North Shore, but more impressive are Cathedral Grove and Meare’s Island.

The old growth

Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve

Cathedral Grove

Cathedral Grove

Hug a tree

Meare’s Island

The latter was the famous site of the Clayoquot Sound protests. And I was also caught by a carbon offset scam which took my money so it could cut down old growth then plant new trees using the same justification that Rick Jeffery trots out. And which has been pretty much debunked. I do feel that the Sierra Club are a bit more reliable here as their report actually is backed by research and data, with useful links. That really is the point I am trying to make here. When you hear something on the radio or tv these days, they will often say “go to our web site for more information” but mostly it isn’t there. But there is Google. We watch tv news now with our tablets at hand. And when you read this

“They don’t want us to log,” said Jeffery. “That is the raison d’etre of the environmental groups. For them to tell you anything else is an outright lie.”

It is a matter of a moment to determine (by going to the report) that what they are calling for is

Increased conservation of the remaining old growth temperate rainforest, phasing out logging of old-growth and transitioning logging fully to second growth is urgent from a climate adaptation and mitigation perspective.

and

Improved forest management, in particular longer rotation, eliminating waste and selective logging, is equally important to reduce carbon loss. Forestry can be an important sector of the low carbon economy of the future, but not without increased forest conservation and improved forest management.

Perhaps if Jeffery had stuck to what he knows about – what his members are doing or proposing to do – and providing some source material to back that up, he might have some credibility. But by first claiming that he knows what the Sierra Club wants – and then calling them liars for their much more nuanced approach – it is not an end to logging that they are calling for – he discredits himself and his employers.  Of course if you are a business you want to maximize your return on investment – that’s what business does. But businesses that want to be around for a while, that do not want to be treated as social pariahs and have some understanding of the concept of sustainability, rather than simple greed for short term profits – do better in the long run.

“They’re basically telling you that once you cut that old-growth tree, that carbon all gets released into the environment,” said Jeffery. “It goes to other uses. It gets recycled. It goes into buildings and it gets stored.”

No they’re not. What they are actually saying is that clear cutting releases a lot but not all the carbon – and the report uses the rather generous assumption that about a quarter of the carbon is stored.  And there is a picture of slash burning to illustrate what actually happens in the woods when they cut the trees down.

There is a also in the CP story as printed by HuffPo some policy issues with quotes from BC Ministers – again something the CBC misses altogether. But rather than get into that, I do think that what is being demonstrated is that the BC carbon tax is an increasingly flimsy pretence at doing something about greenhouse gas emissions, that is more than offset by all the other activities of the present administration. Perhaps it is indeed the right way to do accounting, to log the burning of our exported coal, oil and natural gas against the nations that burn it. But if we weren’t subsidizing the extraction processing and transport of these fossil fuels, they would cost a great deal more, would be less attractive and those nations would look to other sources of energy. Renewables would be much more attractive to them.

The whole world would be better off if we left more of the oil, gas and coal in the ground. We would also be much better off if we stopped logging old growth forests (especially by actually being honest about how much carbon is released when they are cut and how poorly second growth compares at carbon sequestration). And when we do cut down the trees, we do a great deal more than simply ship off the raw logs elsewhere.

The Airport Mall, The Globe and Spammers

with 6 comments

I wrote about the local opposition to the new outlet mall at the airport in July. More information  is now available from the Globe and Mail which explains more about the proposal. Dump trucks have been moving sand at the site at the junction of Gilbert Road and Russ Baker Way since that post appeared.

The Globe is going behind a paywall next week so the story may no longer be available. Apparently, links will still work if they come from Twitter – presumably from the Globe’s feed – so it will not be the end of stories from that source. But in the same way that I no longer scan the Sun for stories, I will now have to rely on secondary sources.

I have also noticed that I am using twitter – when I can produce a pithy response – facebook and even Google+ more when there is less need to write a length but something seems worth attention in the purview declared for this blog. I am also steadily resisting people who “pitch” me offers of “guest posts”. So far this has been really easy as the offers seem to be based on a new type of spamming to get around the Word Press akismet filter. But sometimes there does actually seem to be some real person making these offers (as opposed to a spambot). If that is the case then can I ask that you read some of the blog – or at least the bit on the right hand column which explains what this blog is about. It is headed “Who I am, and what this is”. If you haven’t read that and persist in sending me email you will get a shirty reply and then be consigned to the outer darkness of Akismet

Written by Stephen Rees

October 16, 2012 at 7:25 am

Posted in blogging

Tagged with , ,

Adverts?

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: http://bit.ly/pRgXW9. 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

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