The Examined Life

I did something to music. Wild fuckery a foot.

The Power of Information

Today, Ecuador granted Julian Assange protection at it’s embassy in the UK. 

Things are about to get interesting. 

I wonder if Assange has become a pawn, a tool to negotiate to Ecuador’s advantage. I suppose only time will tell, but speculation is indeed inevitable.

What interests me most about the Assange situation is that we know from experience how those who provide the public with information about the unscrupulous activity of superpowers are treated. See Bradley Manning.

So I ask, does the public have a right to know?  

It’s broken I tell you. Broken!

For years I have watched Canadian federal and provincial politics. And for years I was confused.

I wondered how a party with less than 50 per cent of overall support could end up with a majority government.

Clearly, something was wrong. And it is.

Our current First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system is broken. FPTP is suited for horse racing, not democracy.

Your votes, our votes, mean nothing in an electoral district where a candidate different from the one you voted for is elected. In other words, you live in a riding with candidates A, B and C. You vote for candidate C, but A wins. Now, what happens to your vote?

In a functional electoral system your vote would still mean something. Under FPTP, it does not. This is because your votes are trapped within your electoral district. If the candidate you voted for looses, your votes mean nothing overall.

This is stupid.

Perhaps votes should be tallied overall? Perhaps seats should be distributed based on the proportion of votes a party gets?

Nah. Things are perfectly fine the way they are. Right?

Dear Universe,

I want to thank you for allowing the human race to reach a point of technological advancement that permits us to enjoy cellphone speakers. 

Finally, I can stay up to date on the latest audio fuckery by virtue of some guy or gal with cellphone speakers. 

And to you kind angel of transit audio, I give thanks. Your shitty C-Lo remix that includes a blaring air horn and laser noises makes my ride something special. I especially love that you were considerate enough to download an emmm-peee-three that sounds like it was recorded through a tin can at the bottom of the ocean by a deaf soviet engineer with leprosy.

Oh, I almost forgot about the machine gun noises. Yeah, your remix has machine gun noises. 

I guess I would prefer the sound of a decrepit transmission and the screeching of the subway. 

I Like Learning

So my contract at SickKids Foundation ended recently. I now have a fair bit of free time. I figured I should learn more.

By chance I came across Coursera. 

Coursera has a whole boat load of online courses by real professors and the site offers certificates to students who successfully complete the courses. The site also has a message board where you can chat with your fellow Coursera students. My Internet History, Technology and Security course has over 41,000 registered students from all over the world.

Pretty cool. I suggest you check it out.

Toronto’s Batman and Spider-Man square off

Who Put Dan In a Coma?

I was reading a post on Reddit Toronto about Dan.

On Thursday June 28 at 2:30 AM my cousin Dan was walking along Dundas West Street (Just west of Dovercourt) in Toronto. He was seen in a verbal dispute with a man and a woman. The man struck my cousin in the back of the head with a weapon, causing serious brain damage, the couple then ran off.

What the hell. Is this where the human kind is at in 2012? It fascinates me that we seem to have come so far but still lack the most basic capabilities of reason. Our savagery never ceases. 

And what was this for? Probably, almost certainly, nothing. 

http://www.justicefordan.ca/

The 52 Lawrence West

I have been taking the bus since I was 13. Many people complain that their bus routes are at capacity. The 52 has always been at capacity.

Transit is the great equalizer, everyone is a commuter. The man in a business suit, the lady screaming at her reflection, and the kid in his uniform.

Sometimes, rarely, it comes when it should, but sometimes it does not. There is no more room. But when it does come, when it is empty and the air conditioning works, we are happy. 

Simple things are sometimes the best. Like ice cream.

Niagra Falls Ontario is Different

I just got back from a trip, one part of which was spent in Niagra Falls Ontario. I remember visiting NF as a kid and being pretty impressed with Marine Land. Now, when I drive by I feel bad about the whales.

I suppose things change as we get older. 

I also visited the casino in NF. I watched a man blow through a thousand dollars in an hour and walk away like nothing happened, all while I clutched $80 in winnings, hesitating.

Time stops in a casino. The outside world ceases to exist. In the casino it’s just you and the moment when you win or loose, nothing else matters. 

Jimmy Buffet also has a restaruant called Margaritaville in NF. The beer was hot, the food was cold and the pirate lady on stilts reminded me of a nightmare. At one point the television screens began flashing the words “something in the falls” while a siren blared. I presumed the worst. But it was just some LSD inspired intro to Jimmy Buffet’s classic tune Margaritaville. The restaurant was horrible, but I loved it. Is that normal? 

Role Models, What Role Models?

So I follow this website the proposes weekly questions to inspire writing. Today, it asked me who my role models were and no one came to mind.

Perhaps I am too narcissistic to identify with anyone in particular. Or, perhaps the concept of having a role models does not make sense to me.

When I was a child I idolized action movie heroes. Jean-Claude Van Damme, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the boat captain from the first Jaws film were my heroes. I admired their ability to get shit done. But as I grow older I appreciate my capacity to decide and do and get shit done.

I believe, with the utmost conviction, that values and goals in life are best determined and achieved through one’s own efforts. Sure, there are important lessons to be learned from the experiences and actions of others. However, these experiences and actions will always be someone else’s.



Jobs, Opportunity, and the Labour Gap.

Cant find a job? I hear you. Fear not friends, I have some good news. According to the Conference Board of Canada:

 
The Ontario economy, like many developed economies, is facing the reality of increased labour market pressures related to significant demographic forces. The structure of Ontario’s workforce is changing as a result of a population that is, simultaneously, growing more slowly and ageing.
 

Although labour supply currently exceeds labour demand that situation is expected to reverse itself by 2014 with the projected gap between labour demand and labour supply continuing to grow thereafter. 

Graphic Courtesy of Stats Canada.

This is all very surprising news for me, but, I must say that I am incredibly excited for the career opportunities that will undoubtedly arise in the next few years.  While it is currently really difficult to find an entry level job in Toronto, I predict that those of us who manage to get into entry level positions prior to the labour shortage will be able to advance rather quickly. 

Check out this informative discussion of the issue on The Agenda:

Ontario’s Labour Market Pains

Do Robots Speak of Electric Sheep

Imagine, if you please, that a famous inventor releases a computer program that he claims will be able to communicate with you, through text,to the degree that it resembles a conversation with a human being.

Imagine that you engaged in conversation with this program and that it did indeed communicate with you in the same manner as a human being.

Now, ask yourself: If a machine can convincingly simulate an intelligent conversation, does it necessarily understand?

Thus we arrive at the philosophical problem raised by John Searle which first appeared in his paper “Minds, Brains, and Programs”, published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in 1980.

Consider the following thought experiment:

Searle’s thought experiment begins with this hypothetical premise: suppose that artificial intelligence research has succeeded in constructing a computer that behaves as if it understands Chinese. It takes Chinese characters as input and, by following the instructions of a computer program, produces other Chinese characters, which it presents as output. Suppose, says Searle, that this computer performs its task so convincingly that it comfortably passes the Turing test: it convinces a human Chinese speaker that the program is itself a live Chinese speaker. To all of the questions that the person asks, it makes appropriate responses, such that any Chinese speaker would be convinced that he or she is talking to another Chinese-speaking human being.

The question Searle wants to answer is this: does the machine literally “understand” Chinese? Or is it merely simulating the ability to understand Chinese?[9] Searle calls the first position “strong AI" (see below) and the latter "weak AI".[10]

Searle then supposes that he is in a closed room and has a book with an English version of the computer program, along with sufficient paper, pencils, erasers, and filing cabinets. Searle could receive Chinese characters through a slot in the door, process them according to the program’s instructions, and produce Chinese characters as output. As the computer had passed the Turing test this way, it is fair, says Searle, to deduce that he would be able to do so as well, simply by running the program manually.

Searle asserts that there is no essential difference between the role the computer plays in the first case and the role he plays in the latter. Each is simply following a program, step-by-step, which simulates intelligent behavior. And yet, Searle points out, “I don’t speak a word of Chinese”.[11] Since he does not understand Chinese, Searle argues, we must infer that the computer does not understand Chinese either.

Searle argues that without “understanding” (what philosophers call “intentionality”), we cannot describe what the machine is doing as “thinking”. Because it does not think, it does not have a “mind” in anything like the normal sense of the word, according to Searle. Therefore, he concludes, “strong AI” is mistaken. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_room

IMHO, simulation does not equal understanding.

Why Canada needs Senate reform.

FYI, the Senate of Canada, according to Wikipedia:

is composed of of 105 members appointed by the governor general on the advice of the prime minister. 

Traditionally, seats in the senate are assigned according to region, with the four major regions receiving 24 seats, the remainder being assigned to smaller regions. The four major regions are: Ontario, Quebec, the Maritime provinces, and the Western provinces. The seats for Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut are assigned apart from these regional divisions.

Senators may serve,  from the date of their appointment, until they reach the age of 75.

In summation: Senate members are appointed, not elected, to represent various regions of Canada and Senators serve for life.

I beleive that the two aformentioned points make it clear that the Canadian Senate is not an effective instrument of the rule of democracy and therefore, should be reformed.  Consider Rhonda Parkinson’s perspectives on Senate reform:

Method of Selecting Senators

Proposals for changing how Senators are selected focus on two key areas:

  • Should Senators be elected, or appointed by provincial governments?
  • If elected, should Senators be indirectly elected by provincial legislatures, or directly elected by the public?

Senate Seat Distribution

  • Many other federations have equal representation of constituent units in their second chamber.
  • Canadians identify more with provinces than regions. For example, Albertans view themselves as being very different from British Columbians. However, both provinces are currently lumped together as part of the “west.”
  • Equal representation in the Senate provides a counterbalance to representation by population in the lower House. Any seat allocation that takes population into account (even if the smaller provinces are over represented) duplicates the system in the House of Commons. There is no institution where the viewpoints of the smaller provinces have equal weight with the larger provinces.

Powers

  • Should the Senate have an absolute veto over non-financial legislation, or should its powers be limited to a suspensive veto?
  • What should the Senate’s powers be with respect to money or taxation bills?
  • Should legislation be divided into different classes, with the Senate’s power depending on the class of the legislation? For example, one proposal requires a double majority of English speaking and French speaking Senators to pass legislation concerning linguistic matters.
  • What should the Senate’s powers be with respect to foreign treaties?
  • Should the Senate have the power to ratify or veto federal appointments to national regulatory agencies and the Supreme Court?
  • Should the Senate have the power to initiate legislation?

I encourage you to learn more about the structures that compose your particular country’s system of governance, you may just be really surprised.

These are kids from Bogota, Colombia. It takes them three hours to get to school on foot.  There is no public transportation in this area. Instead, they take a zip line, across the jungle, to their school.