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Spring Weather

It’s the last week of March.  The weather is warm.  In fact, temperatures are above normal.  My back and front lawns are very wet and muddy.  They are still pressed flat by the winter’s snow.  Birds are hopping on the bare trees.  I see chickadees and juncos.  Geese are in the air.  Flocks of crows are gathering.

The snow piles are greatly reduced, but still persisting in my yards.  I wanted to spread them out, but I couldn’t.  They were frozen solid.  I could feel the shock when I tried to plunge my shovel into them.  It looked like a beautiful day for a walk.  The warm air and blue skies were inviting.

I went on my usual route, turning around part way.  I wanted to go on, but I knew I was not ready for that.  I need to work up to it gradually.  At first, I wondered how the sidewalks were.  Last time I tried a walk, they were very slippery.  In some places they were treacherous.  I had to be really careful where I put my feet.

I couldn’t cross the boulevard to the sidewalk right in front of my house;  there was a high ridge of snow and ice on the boulevard.  I had to walk on the road until I came to the first driveway.

Finally I saw it.  The sidewalk was clear of snow and ice.  There were large puddles of water in places.  Some I walked through carefully, trying to keep my feet dry.  In a few places, I made a detour around a puddle by walking on the road.  Still, it was a pleasant walk.  The snow and ice was all gone from the sidewalk.  I was free at last from the slippery surface.  That was my first carefree walk of the year.  I expect to do it again soon, and gradually extend my walk as the spring progresses.


Foxfire Four

I just reread Foxfire 4, one of a series of books about skills and crafts of people who were pioneers in the Appalachian Mountains of the southern United States.  Wikipedia has an article on the Foxfire books.  They were written by students at a high school in Georgia, based on visits the students made to people living in the mountains.  In addition, they contain photographs and drawings made by the students.

The articles are all about the people who originally settled the Appalachian Mountains, and how they lived and farmed the land.  Until recently, they had no electricity, no running water, and no roads.  The stories are based on their memories of how they used to do things, along with information passed down from their ancestors who settled the area.

They subsisted from small farms and gardens.  They built almost everything they needed to live there, including all of the farm equipment and the log houses.  The book, for example, describes how to make knives and how to carve bowls.  One of the craftsmen even built large stone buildings, using mostly unskilled labour.  The book also describes two different ways to make a fiddle from local wood.

The people of the Appalachian Mountains made their living from small farms and from the logging industry.  Before roads and motor vehicles appeared, they did all of this by hand, or with horses, mules, or oxen.  The book contains a great deal of information about the early logging industry in this area.

I found the book to be quite interesting, even though most of the skills described there are obsolete now.  In fact, they are not even needed by the people who live there now.  Some of the things they built, using mostly local materials, are still quite impressive.  Others are crude and utilitarian.  I enjoyed the book.  Some of their techniques have been widely used, with differences only in small details.  Most of them are historical artifacts.  I’m not likely to follow their examples today.  It is amazing to find out how people used to live when they were limited to local resources.


Climate Change

Do you believe in climate change, or do you think it’s a hoax?  No wonder there’s doubt.  This is a complex topic.  Climate is actually part of geography.  It refers to long-term temperature and rainfall conditions.  In essence, it’s an average.  Is it changing?  Are we the cause of this change?

There are some major problems with the study of climate change.  First of all, ordinary people are unfamiliar with climate.  We all know weather, but that’s not climate.  Climate is a long term average, over hundreds or thousands of years.  This is longer than a person’s lifetime.  You may say that you don’t remember ever seeing a year like this one, but that’s not long enough.  You should be comparing to years that your grandfather saw, but generally you won’t have that information.  Weather is not good enough.

We do record extreme weather events, like floods and droughts.  We generally don’t record averages.  That makes the information on past weather both fragmentary and biased.  We do record the crops that can be grown succesfully in a particular area.  That’s good information on climate, but it also can be biased.  New plant varieties, for example, can be grown where old varieties would fail most of the time.  Still, scientists can only go  back a few hundred years by using information from humans.  To go back further, they have to employ a variety of indirect methods to determine the past climate.  For temperature, these methods taken together have been quite successful.  Temperature, of course, bears directly on global warming, the principal alarming feature of climate change right now.

Scientists have also created climate models that have worked quite well to reproduce climate from the distant past right up to the present time.  Of course, we don’t care about the past or the present time.  It’s the future that troubles us.  Predictions of the future have been notoriously bad.  Often they are only good for a laugh.  It’s a very difficult task to predict the future and get it right.  That’s what scientists are attempting to do with their climate models.  With every year of new data, they refine their climate models.

It does look to me as if predictions of rising temperatures are correct.  Even a simple straight-line prediction shows that.  It also looks to me as if humans have caused part of the temperature rise.  I have no doubt that we caused the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide, itself one of the causes of the temperature rise.  Consequently, we the people of the earth have to take action to stop releasing carbon dioxide.  That’s a first step, anyway.


That’s a Myth

Have you ever heard somebody say “that’s a myth”.  Saying that conveys the message that all myths are things that are not true.  That’s not exactly correct.  It depends on what you mean by the word myth.

A myth can be a false belief, one that’s easily expressed in a one-line statement.  These are often widely believed.  For example, people sometimes complain that the murder rate is much higher than it was 30 years ago.  It is actually false.  The rate of violent crime has been falling steadily over the past 30 years.  The perception that it’s higher now is only because violent crimes are publicised more than they used to be.  Similarly, we’ve all heard that our attention span is getting shorter, and soon we’ll have the attention span of a goldfish.  This is also a false belief, as this article demonstrates.  Not just one, but several aspects of the statement are false.  People say that this sort of statement is a myth simply because it’s not true.

What about something that’s longer than a single statement, something long enough to be called a story?  If it’s a recent creation, one that can be verified, we usually call it an urban myth.  These are often cautionary tales.  Have you heard the one where somebody woke up in the bathtub, with their kidneys missing, and a note on the bathroom mirror that said “call 911”?  That’s an urban myth.  It probably never happened to anyone.  Usually these stories are told by someone who heard it from somebody else, who knows somebody it happened to.  If these stories are both recent and false, they deserve to be called urban myths.

That leaves the ancient stories.  Some of them may be true, although perhaps not literally true.  To interpret them, we need to understand the process of their development.

This begins with an event of great significance to a small group of people.  They tell the story of this event, and pass it down through successive generations.  All of this happened before printing was invented.  The story may have been recited or may have been hand-written.  At some point, the names of people and places in the past lose their meaning.  Only the moral message remains understandable.  The teller may change these names to illustrate the moral message.  Historical accuracy disappears because it’s not important.  They may even change the moral message to make it more appropriate for their society or culture.  Eventually, the myth becomes frozen by being recorded and printed.  That’s what we see today, something that’s been through all of these changes.

How do you read such a myth?  If you read it literally, you will find that the history is incorrect, and the names of people and places are also incorrect.  Of course they are: they are unimportant, only serving to illustrate the moral message.  If you read it in a symbolic manner, the moral message stands out.  Such a message gives you advice on how to live your life.  The moral message was true for the people who created it, and at the time they created it.  It may still be true today.  The myth may convey valuable information from your ancestors.

The creation myth in the first chapter of Genesis is a nice example.  You know this one.  It’s the one where God created the world in seven days.  When this took place doesn’t matter.  The moral message is that God is all-powerful, and that He’s responsible for creating everything that you see in the world today.  It provides an explanation for the origin of the world and everything in it, and also the role of God.  Is this still true today?  Some would say “of course it is”.  Others would say that we have better and more recent creation stories.  We can’t be certain, but then this is a moral message from people living thousands of years ago.  My inclination is to believe that things have changed since then.


Medical Marijuana Predictions

The life of predictions has three phases.  First, they’re published.  Second, they’re shown to be wrong.  Third, they’re forgotten.  They are usually wrong because of something unforseen in the original prediction.  Nevertheless, I’m making some predictions about Medical Marijuana.

Three different groups of people depend on this market.  The producers are the ones who grow and harvest the crop.  The consumers are the customers, the ones who smoke or otherwise ingest medical marijuana.  Between them are the doctors who prescribe the product and the stores that sell it.  All of them will be affected by coming changes in the market.

We’ve heard many claims of beneficial effects of marijuana on people who have certain disorders.  These claims will be investigated by medical researchers, using reliable methods.  This new research will support some of the claims and will disprove others.  As well, researchers will identify compounds within marijuana that have beneficial effects.  Of course, some consumers will dispute the research findings and will continue with their now disproven claims.

At this point, the pharmaceutical companies will discover more active ingredients and will put a series of medications on the market that provide the same beneficial effects as medical marijuana.  Doctors will prescribe the pills, rather than writing prescriptions for marijuana itself.  Many consumers will switch to the pills.

The other type is recreational marijuana, used for its intoxicating effects.  The whole market will move towards this type.  Sales will be regulated by governments, just like they do for alcoholic drinks now.  Governments similarly will tax recreational marijuana.  Governments will do what they can to prevent the import of untaxed and unregulated marijuana.

In short, medical marijuana will gradually disappear, replaced by pills and recreational marijuana.  Order will be restored.  Prescriptions will be needed for the pills.  Marijuana will only be available at places that are licenced by the government.  Maybe this will happen.  It’s only a prediction, after all.


Receptacles With No Ground

My house was built in 1953.  There’s no knob and post wiring in the house;  it was built after that era.  All of the electrical wiring uses conventional cables, except that there’s no ground wire in any of it.  That means that all of the electrical receptacles only allow you to plug in two-pin cables.  I’ve added ground wires and changed receptacles for all the ones that were easy to get at.  All that’s left now are the difficult ones.

These are all on exterior walls of the house, just above the concrete foundation walls.  I particularly wanted to fix three old-style receptacles along one wall of the living room and dining room.  My plan was to bring up new wiring from the basement.  The problem was that the basement walls were much thicker than the walls on the main floor, so that I couldn’t just drill straight up from the basement.  I’ve seen how electricians do it.  They install a pedestal for the new receptacle about 10 or 15 cm out from the wall, and then put a cover over the old electrical box.  I didn’t want that.  I wanted the new receptacle to remain in the wall.  I was expecting to make holes in the wall, but I knew how to repair them.

I started with the most difficult one, on one end.  The power feed was from the ceiling light in the centre of the room.  I disconnected it there, putting a wire nut over the two wires so they wouldn’t touch anything else.  I removed the old receptacle and the box from the wall.  Then I tried drilling downwards, inside the wall.  There was a bottom plate and the subfloor to go through.  It worked at first, but then my drilling stopped.  I don’t know how far it got, but I never hit concrete and never saw light in the basement.  That attempt was a failure.

Next, I tried drilling up from the basement, at an angle.  I drilled a pilot hole first.  It looked about right, but came out in the hardwood floor, about 8 cm from the wall.  Oops, I wasn’t expecting that.  I can plug that hole pretty easily, with a dowel.  I tried a lower angle.  This time it didn’t come out in the hardwood.  It was someplace inside the wall.  I followed that pilot hole with a larger drill.  This time it cut into the baseboard, just at the edge of the hardwood floor.  I don’t like that either, but maybe it’s the best I can do.  Once again I drilled down inside the wall.  That time the hole intersected the one coming up at an angle from the basement.  I was able to run a cable through and have it emerge at the opening in the wall where the new box was going.

The rest was easy.  The new box fit in the space where the old one was.  I had to drill holes for the ground screws and clamp screws.  The wiring was easy too.  I installed a junction box on one of the joists in the basement.  I ran a cable from there to the breaker panel.  My tester confirmed that all the wiring was correct.  I had finally replaced that receptacle with a modern one.  It finally had a ground.

Well, I still had to repair the hardwood floor.  The small round hole was easy.  I just glued a dowel into it and cut the dowel off with a flush-cutting saw.  The other one was more difficult, even though it was close to the edge of the wall.  I used a rotary cutter and a chisel to cut a shallow rectangular opening into the hardwood, and then glued a piece of wood into the opening.  Once I apply a coat or two of polyurethane varnish, nobody will notice the repairs.

I still have two more receptacles along the wall.  One of them already has a power cable coming up from the basement, of course with no ground.  It disappears into the gap between the concrete and the subfloor.  With luck, I will be able to use that cable to pull the new cable into place.  The new cables are thinner, so it might work.  In any case, the holes will be there.  If I have to, I can use them as a guide.  The other receptacle gets power from that one.  I don’t know what I’ll do when I get to it.  At least, it’s a double receptacle, giving me more space to work.  I’ll have learned a few things by the time I get to it.  Maybe I’ll even have learned to give up and install a pedestal, but I don’t think so.  I am persistent, after all.  Time will tell.


Broken Promise

Yes, Prime Minister Trudeau did promise, during the election campaign, that his government would reform the electoral system by adding some form of proportional representation.  Yes, he did appoint a minister with the specific task of investigating electoral reform.  Yes, he did announce the results of this investigation.  He told us that Canadians favoured change in the electoral system, but that there was no consensus among them for the type of change.  With that result, he abandoned his promise of electoral reform.  Immediately, the media were occupied with cries of outrage.

Why was there so much outrage?  Some people felt betrayed, saying that they had voted for his party because of that promise.  Some people saw hidden motives behind this change of position, claiming that reform might benefit the Liberals, or might disadvantage the Liberals.  I suppose that everybody is interested in the electoral system because everybody uses it; any change is going to affect most people.   Has no politician ever broken an election promise before?  Maybe this seldom happens in Canada.  It does seem to be happening every day in the US.

I’d say that this is an honest and correct change, in the face of public opposition to the original promise.  It takes a great deal of courage, and is the mark of a good leader, to change something as controversial as this promise.  In fact, our Prime Minister did proceed a long way down the path of electoral reform, before deciding that it was a bad idea.

Our current electoral system is generally called first past the post.  This means that one member is elected in each constituency, with the party having the largest number of members elected forming the government.  In this system, the popular vote has no effect on the outcome of an election.  Like all electoral systems, it has positive and negative effects.  This system favours major parties, and neglects minor parties.  It generally promotes a majority government by not accounting for the popular vote.

There are various schemes to reform the traditional democratic electoral system, by taking the popular vote into account.  A ranked ballot is one.  Proportional representation is another.  They all favour, to some extent, minor parties, regional parties, or single-issue parties.  They all disadvantage major parties.  Some of them are quite complex.  They may also favour minority governments.  They may even encourage coalitions to form after the election results have been announced.

I like the current system, mostly because it promotes majority governments.  This sort of government can do its job of governing the country and enacting legislation, while still being accountable to the people who elected it.  Still, I’m open to a certain amount of proportional representation.  People who voted for minor parties or for polititions who hold unpopular views still need to be represented in parliament.  After all, in a democracy, the majority rules but the minority must be heard.  The only issue for me is how much proportial representation we should have.