"Corporate Governance", Identity and Meat

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At the risk of stating the obvious, democratic government is unlike running a business in a number of important ways. David Olive gives one of the similarities in his excellent blog at the Toronto Star:

It is the death of any commercial enterprise to starve itself of necessary expenditures on R&D, new-product development and marketing. I'll never understand how today's conservatives fail to make that connection, slavishly devoted as they claim to be to free-market principles. Maybe it's because so few of them have run a business. Or had to make their way in the private sector - as I …

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Terror alert level: PEE PEE PANTS

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The May issue of The Walrus contained this article by Daniel Stoffman. An illustrative quote:

Because they are amateurs, homegrown terrorists prefer soft, undefended targets — a restaurant rather than a military installation, a bus rather than a hydro dam. And because they are part of the community, they are hard to detect. “We have cases of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants converting to the most radical forms of Islam…"

The author perhaps hopes you will supply your own, "…because we all know white Anglo-Saxons could never be terrorists." The paragraph also opens with one of many misleading or patently false assertions about …

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Software and the small organization

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I have been involved in a number of small organizations in which I held either explicit or de facto roles as a director of communications or webmaster. These include the Iron Dragons, the University of Toronto Engineering Society, the Leaders of Tomorrow Working Group (WG) for Engineering Science and later the Graduate WG, as well as project groups for several courses.

As a web development tinker, I have been able to introduce a number of tools to these groups, including:

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The city mouse

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Public policy is a growing personal interest, building on my background in engineering, my morbid fixation with local, provincial and federal politics, and a view for leadership.

This term I have a fascinating graduate course in Engineering & Public Policy at the University of Toronto. While much of the material would likely cause the reader's eyes to glaze over, I hope to write about some situations that motivate the use of policy.

My mother grew up in what was essentially farmland in Aurora, Ontario in the 1950s and '60s. School always involved a long bus ride; the nearest neighbours were miles …

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Thorn

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The scabbard wants its negative;
Grip and pommel scarce can guard
The jagged tang, for on it thicker
Clots the knight than foe on blade.

The rifle's flesh to bone is rimed,
Corrupted—fused with like white heat,
Hungry rust or binding frost
As barrel, breech and chamber clog.

Most shrapnel thickly skyward swarms,
Up, swift up the bomb's long arc.
It flies true to the bombardier,
To pierce and burrow, fester, maim.

What youth is not surprised to find—
Loosing anger's early blow—
His nails grown sharper, longer in
The soft palm of his clenchèd hand?

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Dulce et decorum est

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Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
  The torch; be yours to hold it high.
  If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
  In Flanders fields.

—from In Flanders Fields (1915), John McCrae

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est …

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…and under no circumstances are you to associate with that Machiavelli boy!

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The third of three short items for today concerns Niccolò Machiavelli and The Prince. I read the work for an excellent Modern Western Civilization course in high school, but hadn't seen the text again until an excerpt in Lapham's Quarterly prompted these remarks.

Everyone realizes how praiseworthy it is for a prince to honor his word and to be straightforward rather than crafty in his dealings; nonetheless, contemporary experience shows that princes who have achieved great things have been those who have given their word lightly, who have known how to trick men with their cunning, and who, in the …

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Manufacturing in Ontario

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REPower turbine

Manufacturing jobs in Ontario, the prophesy goes, are disappearing and will soon be extinct. I think this is unnecessarily dire. I recently read a report that Multibrid was weighing manufacturing the turbines for a large wind project in Lake Ontario.

Read the attached brochure from REpower, another Germany company making 5 MW turbines, and note the thirty-two endorsements from presidents of subcontractors and associated companies. Some of those companies do work exclusively in support of wind power manufacturing, which—if the world's third-largest GDP were not enough—should convince you that Germany knows what it is doing in terms of …

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Tax Freedom Day

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The first of three short pieces for today deals with the concept of Tax Freedom Day, which divides the working calendar year in the same proportion as the income tax paid by the average taxpayer (around 40%, in Ontario). Promoted in Canada by the conservative Fraser Institute, it is also highlighted by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) with words such as:

Another, albeit more depressing, way to view our tax burden is through the lens of a typical day…after working all morning for Paul Martin, Ernie Eves and Mel Lastman (or substitute your own mayor), it’s time for …

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LaTeX tools

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Over the past few months, I have moved almost entirely to LaTeX for word processing. The transition started at the end of AER407 Space Systems Design, when OpenOffice (or my five-year-old desktop) choked on a 200-page document with over 120 figures. While it was too late to transfer that entire report to LaTeX, I now use it even for one- or two-page documents. Why?

  • I am accustomed to editing HTML and other source code files and so habitually abstract content from its appearance—exactly the purpose of LaTeX.
  • Gedit (a text editor) is much faster to start and even more …
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Leadership & the 2008 Canadian election

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A friend posted the following today:

I'm not going to say much on the upcoming election, mainly out of concern that this post will turn into an undirected, irate rant. Still, the above ad prompted me to scratch a weeks-old itch.

One of the parties in this election is casting its prime ministerial candidate as a strong leader, and attacking his chief competitor as "not a leader." The portrayal includes an effort to conflate demonstrating leadership with exercising authority. This elides the core question regarding positional leadership: are you a leader because of where you sit and the power you …

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Why the TTC needs capital & policy support

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A Toronto Star article about the TTC potentially axing the free parking benefit for Metropass holders caught my attention this morning. While the Star's online comment system doesn't encourage nuanced viewpoints (more on that later), the general outrage is understandable. This isn't a good idea, and it wouldn't be a good choice. Unfortunately the Star fails to point out the real reason why: lack of vision and support.

Note the info box at the side of the page:

BALANCE SHEET Impact of ending free parking at TTC lots for Metropass holders: Parking revenues (after increase): $5.5M to $7.5M …
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Password strength

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https://secure.pctools.com/guides/password/ is a useful tool. Many people use weak passwords, and further use the same password for many sites online. Knowing this was a bad idea, for a long time I used a system that involved choosing an obscure word with several vowels and applying a simple cypher to make it more secure: aeiost 431057 …so that, for example, 'supercalifragilisticexpialidocious' became 5up3rc4l1fr4g1l1571c3xp14l1d0c10u5'. Occasionally I would also capitalize a non-leading letter. This is what is referred to as "leet speak", and the substitutions quickly feel natural, even if you use them for nothing but passwords.

However …

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Old arguments that won't die

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Reuters has a story today about the current Canadian government's resistance to agriculture proposals in the Doha round of WTO talks. Some domestic farm produce (dairy, poultry) is apparently protected by import tariffs of over 200 percent (!).

At the same time a report from CIBC World Markets indicates that even if the current USD 130+ price of oil is merely a spike (wanna bet?), higher energy costs will act to counteract globalization in many fields. Also, in a TED talk I have been spamming people with recently (but delivered in 2004) James Howard Kunstler repeatedly emphasizes that integrating farming with …

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Spanning sets

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I want to introduce a concept to some who won't be familiar with it, and then use it to illustrate a constructive way of thinking. For those who have had a course in linear algebra, please skip to the second part while ignoring my clumsy mathematical explanation in the first.

Spans and Bases

Points on a two-dimensional plane can be expressed by ordered pairs such as (4,5), where the first number is an x-coordinate and the second a y-coordinate. In three-dimensional space, we can use (4,5,2). This extends up to any number of dimensions (although once we …

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Seven for one

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There is general agreement that a world food crisis is occurring. Biofuel (especially ethanol made from corn) has borne a large part of the blame. I'm not convinced that it overshadows other factors — speculation, water scarcity and the effect of the price of oil — but it certainly allows for the most vivid imagery.

Once again I am reminded of a passage from Dune. The titular planet is mostly desert, dry to the point where water is currency and windtraps are constructed to harvest airborne moisture. Two characters talk about trees planted brazenly outside the mansion of the ruling Duke:

The …
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$150 oil

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Agitating to lower "unfair" gas prices isn't something I would ever be caught doing; I like the idea of expensive gas forcing the stiff-necked to actually use public transit. Regardless, I'm attentive spectator on the way to peak oil, so I came up with a little game:

When will crude oil cost USD 150 per barrel?

So far we've got:

  • 1 July 2008 — Konrad P
  • 15 August 2008 — Matt M
  • 1 November 2008 — Greg T
  • 1 January 2009 — Paul K
  • 14 February 2009 — Amy J
  • Never — ??

Feel free to leave a guess in the comments, or to revise your initial …

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Spring

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Chirruping brightly (through dusty, long-closed windows) Spring comes, insistent

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Wars and a man I sing…

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     —an exile driven on by Fate, he was the first to flee the coast of Troy, destined to reach Lavinian shores and Italian soil, yet many blows he took on land and sea from the god above— thanks to cruel Juno's relentless rage—and many losses he bore in battle, too, before he could found a city, bring his gods to Latium, source of the Latin race, the Alban lords and the high walls of Rome.

At the University of Toronto Bookstore yesterday, I discovered I had been too hasty in buying the David West prose translation of Virgil's Aeneid …

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