Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The age of ignorance

I’m not referring here to ignorance in the pejorative sense but rather as a simple lack of learned knowledge.

In times past a person knowledgeable in their field would be trained in not only the ‘what’ of an object but also the ‘why’ and ‘how’.  It wasn’t sufficient for a skilled auto mechanic to simply know what a part did, he also had to know how it worked and understand why it was important. It was similar for any tradesperson or other professional and that knowledge was what separated them from us, the ignorant, as it were. They had their secrets and we employed them to get access to that knowledge.

But today? More and more of those secrets are now available to the world through Google, YouTube, and the other great equalizers of the internet world. Who cares what a link arm does? It’s sufficient to know you need them and there are thousands upon thousands of YouTube videos that explain how to diagnose a faulty suspension component and replace it with minimal fuss. There’s probably even one for your specific make and model of vehicle in order to make it really simple. So now you’re an ‘expert’.

Case in point.

I’m currently working on a small electronics project. I am not an electronics engineer, nor do I have any electronics training beyond basic high school physics. I couldn't design a circuit from scratch to save my life. However, armed with nothing more than an idea for this project I started digging. Google came up with numerous sites of folks who had done something similar and who shared their tips, tricks, and circuit designs. Likewise YouTube offered up a few dozen videos showing how others had tackled similar problems.

With that information I was able to create and build a circuit that does what I want but which I don’t really understand. I have a 220 ohm resistor in there because that’s what someone else said I needed. I’m still not completely sure why it’s there and why it’s that specific resistance. Ditto for the capacitors and diodes and all the other little bits and pieces of which I only vaguely know their purpose.

It works – which is a good thing – but I feel a bit like I cheated, not having earned the right to create something without having been schooled in the underpinnings of the technology. It’s a bit like claiming to be Van Gogh because I’m adept at paint-by-numbers. Or, I suppose, a better example might be the baker who can churn out loaf after loaf of delicious bread without ever understanding the chemistry behind the process, or developing their own recipes.

It is but one of the many, many ways technology has significantly changed our world. But still, somewhere, sometime, someone has to be the creator, the designer, the chemist. And as long as they continue to share the fruits of their expertise and creativity the rest of us can continue living in the age of ignorance.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

From the shop

Some time ago I acquired an old Singer sewing machine base with some vague plans of using it to make something. Six months later it was still taking up space in the garage so I decided I’d best get to work. Besides, riding season was over, as was the golf season, so I had nothing else to do with my time. Right, my dear?

webIMG_0135

So first job was to repair, sand blast, and paint the treadle frame.  Fortunately, other than being rusty from being out of doors for a while (previous owner), it was in decent shape with only a couple of small cracks to be repaired. I got it all moving freely and made a replacement treadle arm. All it does is spin the wheel, but that’s okay. With a fresh coat of paint it finished up even better than I expected.

webIMG_0408webIMG_0429

Then it was time to decide on a top. I always have a pile of leftover scraps from various projects (never, ever throw anything out!), and I found a small piece of padauk which I thought would make a nice table. But it was too narrow, so in order to make it fit I had to cut it diagonally and slide the two pieces past each other to get the necessary width, which left an unsightly seam. Rather than try to hide the seam I decided to accentuate it by gluing in some bits of maple and cherry I also had laying about. Then it was lots and lots of hand sanding and finishing.

webIMG_0433

Today was the big day when I put it all together and I think it turned out pretty nice. So nice that the missus has already claimed it as a Xmas present. Perfect – one less shopping trip to make.

webIMG_0446

And now I have a little more room to work on some of the other projects on the infinite list of things to do.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The pendulum has swung too far

Although I have my own opinions on the current frenzy around sexual harassment and the whole #metoo hashtag thing I have avoided publically commenting on any of it because, as with every social issue, context and nuance are important but are virtually impossible to have come across accurately in a short blog post. But this issue blundered into the realm of the ridiculous when a sitting Liberal MP, Sherry Romanado, stood and made a statement to the House of Commons today.

Here’s her statement in its entirety:

"In May, the member from Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman [James Bezan] publicly made inappropriate, humiliating and unwanted comments to me that were sexual in nature. These comments have caused me great stress and have negatively affected my work environment."

Immediately the mind thinks of explicit and unwanted propositions, snide comments about her person and/or body, or any of a number of other possible and serious transgressions. Right?

Well, before manning the barricades, it’s important to know what actually happened.

Back in May (7 months ago) Ms. Romanado, a Liberal, was posing for a photo with 2 Conservative MPs, one of whom was Mr. Bezan. In a joking manner Mr. Bezan made an off-the-cuff comment about it not being his idea of a threesome.  A bit boorish? Perhaps. But these are coworkers and colleagues and, presumably, adults. He was clearly not serious and made the comment in reference to having 2 Conservatives and a Liberal together in the same photo and not at each other’s throats as they are often portrayed.

Since then Mr. Bezan has apologized personally to Ms. Romanado, stood and apologized in the House of Commons, undergone sensitivity training, and had the chief human resources officer review the case, in response to a complaint by Ms. Romanado, and determine that “no sexual harassment had occurred”. And still … still …. Ms. Romanado felt the need to stand and make the above statement today.

Really? Has it come to this, that any flippant comment deserves a full, and preferably very public, broadside? That a stupid remark causes the person who hears it “great stress” and negatively affects their work environment? (As an aside one wonders how Ms. Romanado can even function as a politician with such thin skin.)

And that’s the crux of the problem. Sexual harassment is real and, as we have recently seen, usually a result of a power imbalance. Women (and some men) have had to deal with very serious issues around use of force, physical assaults, unwanted and persistent harassment, and so on. It’s not right, does not belong in our workplaces or our politics, and needs to be weeded out. But when we tip the scales for every Chicken Little who claims to be aggrieved over some trivial matter we debase the plight of those dealing with serious issues of harassment. And we make it just a little bit harder for those truly harmed to find justice.

We need to find some balance, and soon.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Accepting the inevitable

At this time of year I procrastinate when it comes to putting the bikes away, hoping against hope for that one last, glorious, sunny day when I can go for a short, even if it’s chilly, ride. Usually it works out, but not this year. Riding season is done.

And that explains why the Harley was sitting, idling, on the snow-covered driveway yesterday, warming up the oil in advance of its pre-winter oil change. Which is a messy affair at the best of times, not helped by melting snow off tires and boots mixing with the inevitable oil spills that somehow manage to always get past the drain pan.

IMG_0423

But now it’s done and she’s ready for a long winter’s nap. I’d also like to think I’ll be smarter next year, but I know I won’t.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Red Notice – a Review

Red NoticeThis book had been on my must-read list for a while and with Russia commanding the news cycles these days it seemed like an opportune time to pick it up.

Red Notice is the true story of Bill Browder, an American financier operating in Russia in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He is the founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management and was the largest foreign investor in Russia until highly placed and influential members of the Russian government decided to loot his companies for personal gain and to drive Hermitage Capital out of the country, and out of business.

He escaped Russia with his family, but as he fought back against the state-sponsored corruption, colleagues still in Russia were harassed, intimidated, and sometimes jailed. His friend and lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, was jailed, tortured, and beaten to death by the authorities because he wouldn’t lie to wrongly indict Browder and his company in the thefts. This one event, more than any other, triggered Browder’s relentless crusade against the Putin regime, eventually resulting in the US Magnitsky Act which denies visas to, and targets the finances of, named Russians involved in Magnitsky’s incarceration and brutal death.  Variations of that law have also been passed in Canada, the UK, and elsewhere. Vladimir Putin and his partners in crime are not pleased, but then that was the intent.

This is a true-life thriller that reads like fiction. It gives the reader a fascinating and frightening glimpse into what it’s like to do business (or politics) in today’s ‘modern’ Russia. Which makes one wonder why Western businesses continue to do so. But then, as in Browder’s heyday, there are billions of dollars to be made – it’s all relative.

A highly recommended read.