Why I am voting for Diane Freeman in the Waterloo Riding in the 2015 Canadian Federal Election

October 16, 2015 —

I have never voted NDP in a federal election before.  On October 19, 2015, I will be voting for the NDP candidate in my riding of Waterloo, Diane Freeman.  She is the best candidate.  I would be delighted if she becomes my MP.

I’ll go over my reasons for voting for her, and also what I think of the other local candidates.

First, I’ll tell you a story about her.

I have had the opportunity to watch Diane Freeman in action when I’ve attended Waterloo City Council meetings.  I’ve been impressed at the questions she asks, and how informed she is about each decision that comes up.

In one such meeting, a former city councillor who had been involved in the RIM Park scandal was making a comment on the topic of the meeting, when as part of his comment he asserted that city councillors don’t actually read the contracts that they sign as a matter of course.  They rely on staff to tell them what the contracts mean.

Diane Freeman said that she reads every single contract that comes before this council.  A few other councillors said the same thing, I think Karen Scian was one of them.

I think that if Diane Freeman was my MP, she would actually read every single piece of legislation that she voted on.  Do you know how rare that is in a politician?  Especially one in federal politics?

Diane Freeman cares deeply about our community.  I can tell from all of the things she does.  Her actions speak volumes.  She goes above and beyond to make this city a better place, and she is smart about it.  Not only that, she helps make the people around her smarter about it too.  Her questions in city council bring out information that clarifies the situation, and helps everyone make better decisions.

The quality of her work is leaps and bounds beyond anything the other candidates have to offer.  The other candidates care for our community too.  We are lucky to have a choice between candidates who are involved in our community and care about it!  But Diane Freeman is someone special, and I want her to be my MP so much!  It would be so good for our community.

I think that with Diane Freeman as MP, we would not simply have a cog in a party machine, but a person who thinks carefully about everything, who pays attention to the details, and who will advocate strongly to do things in a better way than the first idea that is proposed.  She’s not afraid to do things herself to understand them, like when she cycles all over the city to understand cycling issues.  She listens really well.  She delves into things.  I doubt we would have a situation where she would defend some stupid party policy just because the party said so.  People have to make compromises to be in federal politics, but I think she would keep her integrity.  I have been observing how she behaves for years, and this is my assessment of her character.

And now, on to the other local candidates.

Bardish Chagger, candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada

I know the exact moment when Bardish Chagger lost my vote.  Mind you, she hadn’t won it yet, but I was considering voting for her.

Shortly after Bill C-51 was passed by the House of Commons, I sent her an email asking her how she would have voted if she had been my MP at the time.

She didn’t reply.  I can only assume that she would have voted in the same way as every single other Liberal MP, and voted for the legislation.

At least the incumbent, Peter Braid, gives me the courtesy of a reply.

It’s not just that.  Though Bill C-51 is a huge issue for me.

I think Bardish Chagger cares about the community, and she pays lip service to some of the things I care about.  But would she stand up for them, even when her party leader was urging her to vote against them?  I’ve seen nothing from her that would indicate that she would do anything that would go against the party whip when voting on legislation.

I suppose I would prefer someone who votes with the Liberal party all the time to someone who votes with the Conservative party all the time on legislation, considering what the Conservative party has done in the past few years.  But…it’s still not what I would like from a political representative.

Richard Walsh, candidate for the Green Party of Canada

Like the other candidates, I think Richard Walsh cares about this community.

However, some of the comments he has made about the economy indicate that his views and mine do not mesh.

He oversimplifies things too much when talking about the issues.  I have the impression that he talks more than he listens, so I am skeptical that he would do as good a job as the other candidates at listening to and representing our community.

On the other hand, he was a leader of the local Stop Bill C-51 rally, which is an issue that I care about.

Peter Braid, candidate for the Conservative Party of Canada

Peter Braid is the only one of the candidates who has actually done the job of MP.  So I have a track record to evaluate him on.

If I had to evaluate him based solely on his staff, he would get my highest respect.  Every time I have written a letter to him, I have been impressed by the interactions I have had with them.  I rarely get a form letter in reply, and when they don’t know much about an issue, they ask questions and take the time to get a better understanding of my point of view.  They have been courteous, polite, and nuanced in their interactions with me.

I wish this extended to Peter Braid’s public communications.  Alas, he is part of a party that strictly controls what is said in public, lest there be any possibility of any information that may contradict their script.  Eek!

More on his public communication style in a bit.

Peter Braid seems like a decent human being.  He seems to care about our community.  There are things I like about him.  I think he is in public life because he wants to make things better.

The one private members bill he wrote and got passed was about making donations to charity easier.  A goal I support, though it is admittedly non-controversial.

He has also voted in favour of things that I care about.  There are good things that this Conservative government has done that he has been a part of.
Some noteworthy ones are:

  • passing the Lyme disease conference legislation
  • untying foreign aid, so that Canadian companies aren’t favoured in our aid to developing countries
  • voting in favour of the Reform Act, to make it so that the party leader does not have to approve each candidate in a party, and to limit some of the power of the Prime Minister’s office
  • support for open data in government

There are also some policies of this government that I think have gotten some undeserved negative press.  For example the Tax-free Savings Accounts are often criticized as being only good for the rich, but they also provide benefits similar to an RRSP to some of the most vulnerable in our society, including disabled people who can’t work and aren’t eligible for RRSPs.

Even so, these positive points are outweighed by other problemmatic legislation that he has helped pass.  But I thought I’d mention them.  There are some ways in which Peter Braid has been a good MP.

I do not like Peter Braid’s approach to communicating with his constituents by newsletter.

Andrew Telegdi was my MP prior to Peter Braid, and he had a much better approach to newsletters.

When Andrew Telegdi was my MP, he sent frequent newsletter where he talked about what he was doing in Ottawa, what he felt about it, and why he was taking the stance he was taking.  I felt like I really got to know him.  When he took a stand against the Patriot Act, he wrote a long letter explaining why.  When he did work on the Citizenship and Immigration committee, he talked about the issues that came up at the committee, and what he thought was the right thing to do.

I felt like I had a window into what he was doing in Ottawa, and why, and that he was open to hearing about the topics he was working on from the community.

When Peter Braid was on a committee looking at Intellectual Property and Copyright, I didn’t hear about it from him at all.  The only way I know about it is that I was reading articles online.  He didn’t even bother to mention it to his constituents.  Never mind solicit our opinions on it.  I have no idea what he was thinking at the time, or why he made the decisions he did.

Peter Braid’s newsletters mostly consist federal infrastructure funding announcements and photo ops.  I like infrastructure funding announcements, but I expect more from my MP than that.

I’ve also received some nasty psy-ops style flyers that pretend to solicit my opinion, but make it clear that they don’t give a whit what I think, and the purpose of asking the question is to attempt to subtly propagandize.

Just before the election where Peter Braid first got elected, and for a while afterward, I received a bunch of such flyers that said “Who is on the right track…[regarding topic X]?” and had the names of the party leaders and a little arrow pointing to Stephen Harper next to the words “Check one” in a faux-handwriting font.  Some of them ostensibly came from other Conservative MPs, because they were using a loophole to avoid spending limits.

I’ve scanned some of these flyers in, so you can see for yourself.  I’ve also scanned in the first few pages of some of Andrew Telegdi’s newsletters so you can see how different they were.  Click on any of the thumbnail pictures to see a large version.

Flyers from Peter Braid and other Conservative MPs who mailed flyers to my riding







Telegdi’s newsletters from 2003 and 2008







Even if Peter Braid wanted to write letters similar to what Andrew Telegdi wrote, I doubt the Conservative party, as it is today, would let him send them.  We used to have a tradition in Canada of public debate, of many different voices in the public sphere.  Yes, they occasionally embarrassed the government, but I think that was a good thing.  The muzzle approach to public office and public service has taken away something that was special and beautiful about Canadian society.

I’ll go back to talking about legislation, instead of communication styles.

Sometimes people who are otherwise decent people do terrible things.  Peter Braid has done terrible things.  As has every other Conservative MP in this government.  Stephen Harper did not do them alone.  Every time a vote came up in the House of Commons, each MP decided how to vote.

What terrible things?  Most recently, voting in favour of Bill C-51 and Bill C-24.

In my opinion, voting in favour of Bill C-51 is enough that he should lose his seat.

There are more reasons, but I will start with that.

Bill C-51 creates a secret court that has the power to strip anyone of all of their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

That means that the government can decide, at any time, to violate your rights.  The secret court gives it a veneer of legitimacy.

A secret court is effectively the same thing as no court at all.  The FISA court in the United States approved almost all requests from the government.  It acted not like a court, but as a rubber stamp for abuses of power.

I have been following the developments in the Arab Spring.  It has given me a perspective that I didn’t have before about what it means to have civil rights.  I will share some of it with you.

In August of 2013, I saw photos of young men in Egypt writing their names on their arms with markers, so that if they were killed during the protests, someone would be able to identify their bodies.  This was just before the massacre at Rabaa where police killed hundreds of civilians who had gathered to protest actions by the government.  After the massacre, the nearby hospital was ordered to stop reporting the number of casualties by the health ministry after the number reached about 500.  I saw the photos of the bodies with gunshot wounds to the head.  Near Rabaa, there were makeshift medical facilities and morgues….which the police then came back and set on fire.  The young men who had written their names on their arms became difficult to identify after all.  Their bodies were burned to a crisp.  I saw the photos of the blackened bodies, the form recognizable, but the details charred.  I saw the photos of the families walking through the burned out makeshift morgue, searching for their dead.

I do not want this to happen in Canada.  I do not want this to EVER happen in Canada.  Or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, but it is too late for that.

What stops this from happening in Canada?  The very systems and safeguards that the Conservative government has started to destroy.

This is the type of thing that happens when you have a secret police that is accountable to no one.   This what happens when you think of groups of people that disagree with you as targets to be removed or destroyed “for security”.

Bill C-24 makes it possible to strip people of their Canadian citizenship, if they are eligible to be a dual citizen.

Canada has a track record of what we do to people who don’t have the rights that come with Canadian citizenship.  We hold them in solitary confinement for years without charges, without letting them see the evidence against them, or else we deport them to be tortured in another country.  Just ask the Secret Trial 5.

I don’t want this to happen to my friends who happen to have been born in another country, or whose parents were born in another country, but who have been Canadian citizens for decades, living peacefully here.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement is secret.  There was not a public debate about it, even though Stephen Harper criticized the previous Liberal government for signing the Kyoto Protocol without a public debate.  Some sections of the TPP have been leaked, and they show that this is not a free-trade agreement, but a protectionist trade agreement.  Also, that the “freedom to tinker” which is not on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but perhaps should be, will be taken away.  In essence, the new rules will make it illegal to take apart something you own to see how it works, if it happens to have digital or software parts to it.  The TPP was agreed to by Stephen Harper during this very election campaign, not in a session of parliament.  I hope that when parliament reconvenes, it does not ratify the agreement.

Democracy isn’t just some sad ritual we go through every few years to decide who is going to oppress us for this term of office.  It also consists of civil society and institutions that help us live in harmony with one another and respect each other’s rights.  Those rights shouldn’t be taken away on the whim of a government minister, or a CSIS or RCMP agent, or a suspicion of terrorism, or any other reason.

I love Canada.  I do not want it to become a totalitarian police state like Egypt, or a surveillance society like East Germany.  If the recently passed legislation is not repealed, and the TPP not stopped, that’s where we’re headed.  It’s a devastating future to contemplate.

I’ll get back to the main topic of this blog post, which is evaluating the local candidates in the Waterloo riding of the 2015 Canadian federal election.

Ordinarily, at this point, I might say something like “If you like what the Conservatives have been doing, then Peter Braid is not a bad choice”.  You only have to look at the nearby riding of Kitchener Centre to see that it could be worse.

But these are not ordinary times.  Instead, I will say this:

Do you value living in a democracy?

If you have children, do you want them to grow up in a democracy?

Do rights like the freedom to assemble, or freedom of expression, mean anything to you?

If someone you loved got arrested, would you like them to be able to see the evidence against them?

Do you think the government should create a surveillance state like East Germany to spy upon its own citizens?

Do you know anyone who was not born in Canada?  Do you want them to be second-class citizens without any rights?

What would you think of a government that burned books?

Should people go to jail for taking apart the things that they own?

If you value any of your civil rights, (and I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t value at least some civil rights,) then I strongly urge you not to vote for a person that just voted for legislation to take them away.

That may not be what Peter Braid thought he was doing.  I believe he had good intentions to make Canada a safer place to be.  But the effects of the legislation will be different than his good intentions, and the legislation is just so awful that it should not stand.  It attempts to destroy the very essence of what I think Canada is about.  Maybe not right away, but gradually over time.

This election offers us a choice of the type of future we want.  I believe Diane Freeman will help take us in a better direction, and she is running for a party that did not just vote to take away our civil rights.  In the Waterloo Riding, she has my vote.  I hope you will consider giving her your vote too.


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Egyptian bloggers released

October 25, 2012 —

So much has happened in Egypt since I last wrote about it that I won’t even attempt to summarize it. It has been fascinating to watch from afar, and incredibly emotional at times. In particular, witnessing the events in Maspero through videos, photos, and eyewitness reports about a year ago affected me deeply.

This post is not about Maspero. This post is an update about the two Egyptian bloggers I mentioned in my previous blog post.

Within two weeks of their arrest, both Mosa’ab Elshamy and Tarek Shalaby were released from prison. They had been detained at a peaceful protest outside the Israeli Embassy.

Tarek Shalaby was released first. He was put through a military trial that took less than an hour. He was sentenced, as part of a group of 15 people, to a year of suspended sentence for two out of the six charges laid against the group. The people in the group were not allowed to speak at the trial. The two charges that stuck were vandalism and public gathering. He got out on May 19, 2011.

Three days later, on May 22, 2011, Mosa’ab Elshamy was part of another similar group of civilians to go through a military trial after being wrongfully detained. He too got a suspended sentence of a year.

Since then, they have continued to be active in the revolution.

Here are some tweets and links from those days in May 2011. [Note: sometimes these tweets embed in the post, and other times they show up as URLs, I haven't yet figured out why. But if you see just URLs you could reload the page and see if the embedded tweets show up.]

Tweets About Tarek Shalaby

A person located in Tokyo with the Twitter handle of nofrills, has collected some tweets about events in Egypt May 19-20, 2011 here.

Tweets About Mosa’ab Elshamy

Some more tweets about Mosa’ab Elshamy’s detention here.

At the time I’m writing this, they are both doing well, as far as I can tell from this side of the Atlantic Ocean. Although Mosa’ab Elshamy had an eye injury from a piece of glass thrown at him December 16, 2011, he seems to have recovered from it.

I’m happy that I have had the opportunity to hear their thoughts and debates and see their photos this past year. I’m glad it wasn’t a year of silence, wondering what was happening to them in jail.

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Free Mosa’ab ElShamy and Tarek Shalaby

May 18, 2011 —

Mosa’ab ElShamy and Tarek Shalaby have been detained by the Egyptian army after live-tweeting and taking video of the protest outside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo. About 168 people were taken from the protest to military prisons, 136 are still detained, about 300 were injured, and at least one was shot.

I wasn’t there. I’m in Canada. I might get some things wrong. But from what I have pieced together this is what happened.

Protest at Israeli Embassy in Cairo

On May 15, 2011, Mosa’ab and Tarek separately made their way to the Israeli Embassy to the protest on the 63rd anniversary of Nabka. When they got there, the protest was already in progress. The protesters were non-violent. Some of them may have burned an Israeli flag. The army threw several canisters of tear gas into the crowd. There was a verbal confrontation between some protesters and a soldier, and some pushing on the barricades. The army fired live ammunition into the air. At least one person, Atef Yehia Ibrahim, was injured from a shot to the head and was taken to a hospital. Many of the other protesters were rounded up by the army. Tarek managed to continue taking video while he was caught by the army.

Hykestep Military Prison

The next day, Tarek’s sister Nora Shalaby spent hours figuring out that they had been taken to Hykestep military prison. She talked her way into seeing Tarek and Mosa’ab for 5 minutes. At that time they said they were ok and had been treated well. Another prisoner named Sadaty had been badly beaten.

The day after that, they were taken to a military tribunal to be questioned, although the army gave conflicting information about that. It is very difficult to find out what is going on.

Apparently they, and the others detained from the Israeli Embassy protest, will be held for 15 days, during which they will be questioned, and perhaps turned over to a military court.

The Egyptian army has been repeatedly sending civilians to military courts. That’s not supposed to be the way things work. Many people have been given prison sentences as a result of participating in peaceful protests. It’s an ongoing problem.

Mosaab ElShamy after voting in the Egyptian constitutional referendum

Mosaab ElShamy after voting in the Egyptian constitutional referendum

This is a photo of Mosa’ab Elshamy on March 19, 2011. His thumb is pink to indicate that he had voted in the referendum on the constitution. He stood in line for hours to vote, and he wrote “Voted :) I don’t care how corny it is, but I’m keeping this to tell my kids about it someday. http://twitpic.com/4b1j5h”

I’ve been reading tweets and blog posts by Mosa’ab and Tarek, and looking at their photos. They have participated in and documented the January 25th Egyptian revolution from the beginning. They have inspired me, and informed me with their courage, their eye-witness reports, their senses of humour, their insights.

This situation is likely to keep changing daily. Here are some sites that I’ll be checking to get ongoing information.

Tarek Shalaby’s sister Nora Shalaby (@norashalaby on Twitter), Flickr, Blog
Lawyer Ragia Omran (@rago_legal on Twitter)
Mosa’ab ElShamy’s brothers:
Abdallah ElShamy (@abdallahelshamy on Twitter) reporter for Al Jazeera
Anas ElShamy (@anaselshamy on Twitter)
Mohammed ElShamy (@melshamy on Twitter)

Free Mosa'ab ElShamy and Free Tarek Shalaby pages on Facebook

Twitter hashtags
#freetarek #freeshalaby #freetarekshalaby
#israelembassy #israeliembassy

Sites from Mosa’ab and Tarek themselves, unlikely to change until after they are released
Mosa’ab Elshamy:
Twitter (@mosaaberizing)
Flickr (Mosa'aberising)

Tarek Shalaby:
Twitter (@tarekshalaby)
Facebook page with photos from Tarek’s trip to take medical supplies to Libya

They were also featured in a book called Tweets From Tahrir.

Sites about the incident itself
Mosa'ab ElShamy's photo of the street on the way to the protest
A video of Mosa'ab ElShamy just before he was detained by the army
The video taken by Tarek Shalaby as he was being detained by the army
Article from Cairo newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm about the protest.
New York Times blog about the protest.
Handwritten medical report on Atef Yehia Ibrahim (includes frontal lobe damage)

Update: Within two weeks of their arrest, both Mosa’ab Elshamy and Tarek Shalaby were released from prison.

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The Conservative Party of Canada vs. Facts

May 2, 2011 —

I am ok with people disagreeing with me. I am not ok with efforts to suppress, deny, and falsify factual data.

This seems like a basic idea that we could all agree upon, right? A safely non-partisan issue. Something that we could expect from our politicians as a starting point, something we could almost take for granted.

I wish it were so, but in this election, and indeed for the past few years, Canadian politics has suffered from a disturbing disrespect for factual data by participants at some of the highest levels. There has also been an increase in government secrecy and a tendency for government MPs to attempt to evade responsibility for their actions.

I happen to think it is important for government decisions to be made in an open and transparent manner, not in secret. I also think it is important for people to take responsibility for their actions, and to be accountable for them.

To shed some light on these points, let’s take a look at some example scenarios.

Example Scenario 1:
If I say “Why are you treating punishing crime as a priority, when statistics show that the crime rate is going down and already quite low?”

What would you think of someone who replied:

1) “Even though the crime rate is low, we think this policy is important because of X.”

2) “Everyone knows that the crime rate is going up!”

I think I can have a reasonable political discussion with someone who chooses reply #1. How can I have one with someone who chooses reply #2? They are denying the factual data outright, and they are refusing to explain themselves.

Example Scenario 2:
If you are a Member of Parliament who disagrees with the recommendations of a staff report, what would be a reasonable course of action?

1) Acknowledge receipt of the report by signing it. Put into effect a program that goes against the recommendations of the report. When asked about it, explain the reasons you disagree with the report and why you have chosen to do things differently.

2) Alter a report that has already been signed by other people to say the opposite of what the staff recommended. Put into effect a program based on the altered documents. Publicly claim that you are following the recommendations of your staff and the report. When someone catches you, lie about altering the document. When that doesn’t work, blame the staff for not giving you a way to disagree with the report.

If someone chooses option #2, they are refusing to take responsibility for their actions. They are also showing a willingness to falsify data and lie about facts.

These examples I’ve given are not hypothetical scenarios. These are summaries of real situations where Conservative Party MPs chose option number #2. Not only that, they have shrugged off the episodes as no big deal.

I can’t go along with that. I can’t respect that.

And the sad thing is, these are not isolated incidents. There is a pattern of the Conservative party showing little respect for factual data, and claiming that it is unnecessary for them to explain themselves or take responsibility for their actions.

I will mention some more examples here. The ones I’ve mentioned so far are a sort of paraphrase of the Conservative government’s response to statistics about the crime rate (for example Stockwell Day’s comments about unreported crime) and the Bev Oda scandal.

Requiring government agencies to have the Prime Minister’s permission before releasing information to the public.
I kid you not, government agencies have to fill out a ghastly thing called a “message event proposal” and get it approved by the Prime Minister’s Office before they are allowed to talk to the public.

I find it appalling that they are being silenced in such a way. Prime Minister Harper insisting on controlling what his caucus members say is distasteful, but within the bounds of our expectations about how political parties might choose to operate. But controlling and micromanaging the communications of all of our public servants? That’s a lot more than a decision to stay on message as a political party. That’s censorship and a way to stifle dissent. It’s also a way to use public funds to do advertising and spin doctoring.

Destroying the long form census
The Conservative government changed the long-form census so that it is no longer mandatory. This effectively destroys the census, since it becomes a voluntary survey instead, and has problems with bias because of that. The quality and accuracy of the data will be severely reduced.

Tony Clement, Minister of Industry, defended the government’s decision. First, he said that the voluntary survey will have no effect on the quality of the data. This is simply not true. Ask anyone who has taken a basic course in statistics.

Then, Tony Clement claimed that the chief statistician of Statistics Canada had told him the data would be equivalent. The Chief statistician Munir Sheikh had to publicly resign to make the point that he had said no such thing.

Blaming the staff, and lying about what the staff said seems to be a pattern here. This is part of the disrespect for facts that I am talking about, and also a way of avoiding taking responsibility.

Tony Clement claimed that a reason for destroying the census is to stop people from going to jail for not filling it out. He seemed quite surprised to learn that no one has ever gone to jail for refusing to fill out the census. He also seemed to be unfazed by a proposal by the opposition parties to revise the census law to remove jail time as a punishment. This suggests to me that jail time is not the real issue here.

Tony Clement claimed that another reason for destroying the census was to protect the privacy of Canadians. My interpretation is that is if the Conservative party cared about your privacy, it wouldn’t be making an election promise to require all internet service providers (ISPs) to monitor all internet internet activity and turn over the information to the government without a warrant. (It’s part of their tough-on-crime policy that they’ve promised to implement within the first 100 days of taking power based on Bills C-50, C-51 and C-52 that they introduced this past session.) The census is far less invasive in comparison.

My take on the census is that it is about destroying the ability of the government and ordinary Canadians to have accurate information about the country. It is also an indication that the Conservative party thinks that such accurate information is irrelevant to how they decide what laws to make. They would rather make laws based on ideology and guesswork than consult the evidence. And they don’t want anyone else to have access to accurate information either.

Refusing to say how much “tough-on-crime” plan would cost.
The Conservative government refused to hand over detailed cost estimates of the tough-on-crime plan to build more prisons and require minimum sentencing. This is one of the two incidents that the Speaker of the House Peter Milliken ruled to be a “breach of privilege” that puts the Conservative party in contempt of Parliament. The other incident was the Bev Oda scandal.

This is a very basic question. “How much will it cost?” This is information that all Members of Parliament have a right to expect to have access to. Yet the Conservative government wanted the other parties to vote to approve their plan without having answers to that question. Vic Toews, Minister for Public Safety, and Rob Nicholson, Minister of Justice, claimed the information was a “cabinet confidence” (basically a state secret) and refused to provide the information for almost two years.

There are other examples. I’m running out of time to post this before voting begins, so I’ll just mention a few more.

  • Proroguing parliament to avoid a vote they didn’t like (and thereby disrespecting our parliamentary traditions)
  • Going to court to avoid releasing documents about how Canadians sent Afghan detainees to torture
  • Refusing other freedom of information requests for so-called reasons of national security
  • Pressuring the CRTC to change its regulations to allow false news to be broadcast
  • Firing a whistleblower who shut down a nuclear power plant that was at 1000x the usual risk of safety problems.

To be fair, there have also been some positive moves toward transparency by the Conservative government. For example, the pilot project to release of government data to the public through the data.gc.ca website happened on their watch. But overall, the pattern of their behaviour has been to move our government and our political discussions in the direction of secrecy and disrespect for facts.

The Conservative party came to power in 2006 in part because they ran on a platform of transparency and accountability. They also said they wanted more public debate on issues such as international agreements, and more free votes in the House of Commons. If they had actually followed those principles, I would be a lot happier right now.

Instead, they are in the process of re-making our political system to be systemically worse on these types of issues, and have taken lying and falsification and suppression of facts to extremes that I have never seen before in Canadian politics.

Shall we reward them for this on voting day? Is this truly a matter of pesky political bickering about details that ordinary Canadians care little about? Or is this something that matters to Canadians? I know I care about it deeply.

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My First Webcomic

April 26, 2011 —

I have started a webcomic. The first comic strip is here. I have made four so far. They contain a genie, a lamp, and Canadian politics.

I will update it whenever I feel like it. Enjoy.

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Twitter and Video Sources for Information on Arab Revolution

February 23, 2011 — Tags: , , , , , , ,

If you haven’t been paying attention, the Arab Revolutions are deeply moving, inspiring, enlightening, and the most important thing happening in the world right now. The violence directed at them has been at times horrifying, particularly in Libya. The people not only have not given up, in many cases, they’ve won, and continue to win, success after success, mostly through non-violent protest but sometimes through small scale violence in which their opponents are much more heavily armed and better trained. I’ve been watching the revolutions through the Internet, mostly Twitter.

I thought I’d list some of the sources I’ve been following regarding the Arab Revolution, in case anyone reading my blog finds them useful.

I have created lists on my Twitter account of people who are saying things about the revolutions. Some of them are actually participating in the revolutions, others are translating and transcribing what their contacts have said, and some aren’t involved but are commenting on it. I have a list for several countries. The ones for Egypt, Bahrain, and Libya have the most people on them. I’ve been adding to the lists as I go along.

My twitter lists:


If you want to see what’s going on in general on a topic on Twitter, you can follow its hashtag. A hashtag is a word or abbreviation that has a number symbol in front of it that people mutually agree to use when they are tweeting about the same topic or event.

Twitter Hashtags:
#libya #feb17 #libjp #umbrella #toktok #gaddafi #gaddaficrimes #kaddafi #qadhafi #benghazi #tripoli
#egypt #jan25 #tahrir
#bahrain #feb14 #lulu #pearlroundabout #lulupickuplines
#algeria #feb12 #algerie
#yemen #yf
#iran #25bahman #1esfand #iranelection #tehran
#morocco #feb20 #fev20
#tunisia #tunisie #sidibouzid
#gaza #palestine
#cameroon #cmr11 #douala
#gabon #revogab #alibongo
#ivorycoast #cotedivoire #civ2010 #gbagbo #abidjan
#china #jasminerevolution #cn220
#revolution #revarabic

I have been impressed by Al Jazeera’s coverage, and my respect for CNN has increased, particularly my respect for Anderson Cooper, Ben Wedeman (bencnn), and some of the other reporters who are on the ground.

Al Jazeera English Live Streaming and Youtube Channel (Streaming also available on Youtube)
CNN Anderson Cooper 360 video podcast (RSS)
Alive in Libya

I’m not sure how effective it has been as of yet, but Avaaz.org organized a project to get cameras and other media devices into Libya, which was shut off from international reporters. I donated to it. It will be interesting to see the results.

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Benoit Mandelbrot, Fractal Geometer Extraordinaire

October 16, 2010 — Tags: , , , , , , ,

Benoit Mandelbrot died on Thursday Oct. 14, 2010, at the age of 85. This is the end of an era.

I’m not sure I can adequately put into words what Mandelbrot’s discoveries and work mean to me, and the effect they have had on my life.

Let’s start with the name of my blog and website: Strange Attractor. I’ve been meaning to write a post about what a strange attractor is. I even have my own haiku definition of a strange attractor:

Eavestroughs of chaos
Funnelling beauty into
Following strange paths

A strange attractor is a concept from chaos theory and nonlinear mathematics. Some strange attractors are fractals. That’s probably all you need to know for this post.

The Mandelbrot Set

The Mandelbrot Set

Benoit Mandelbrot did groundbreaking work on fractal geometry. He coined the term “fractal geometry”. The Mandelbrot Set, which the most famous and recognizable fractal in the world, is named after him because he was one of the first people to run a computer simulation to see what it looks like, and he was the first one to study it in detail. He is one of the key people who, building on the scattered mathematical oddities of the past, formed the fields of study we now call chaos theory, fractal geometry, and nonlinear science.

I was introduced to fractals by my high school math teacher, Darren Luoma, and it changed my life.

I never looked at a tree the same way again. I had new ways of looking at art, new ways of recognizing patterns. The structure of imagined things and real things in the world unfurled in my mind in new configurations. I had a sudden feeling for how something so tiny as DNA could encode something so complex as life.

A dissatisfaction I had had with the oversimplification of the world into the clumsy abstractions I’d been taught was suddenly alleviated. (At least some of the dissatisfaction regarding geometrical relationships in nature was alleviated. This type of dissatisfaction about the limitations of abstractions on a variety of topics is still very much with me.) There were now new abstractions that explained things better, that gave me different and fascinating ways to understand the world. It was like a space opened up inside of me. It was like my mind untangled and grew.

The following quote is a famous one, and once I understood the fractal models of the structures of clouds, mountains, coastlines, bark and lightning, there was no going back to the previous simplifications.

“Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.” — Benoit Mandelbrot, The Fractal Geometry of Nature, 1983.

It was the indignation and dissatisfaction I had been feeling, expressed. Clouds are not spheres! No they’re not! You can model them as spheres, but you lose a lot of what makes them interesting if you do so. More importantly, a sphere is not the only available tool, nor is it the best tool, for modelling them. What this quote brought me was vindication and a doorway to something better. The ideas it referred to let me escape from the monopoly on my imagination of the previous model I’d been spoon-fed.

If I ever have children, if I teach them to draw trees, the lesson will start with a simple bifurcating algorithm. They’ll probably pick up the other model, a circle or triangle with a line, from their teachers or peers. It’s not that the other model is bad. It’s actually quite useful in a variety of situations. But it’s not enough for me. And if it’s the only model you have in your imagination of a tree, you can end up thinking that that’s all there is to a tree, without even realizing the abstraction that just took place, or what you’re missing out on. It’s like the problem of imposing legibility, that is, making a map, then forgetting the territory, then attempting to change the territory to fit the map and wondering why it doesn’t work, and leaving carnage in the wake. Ok, not necessarily the carnage part. But usually something gets lost in the process of doing something like that, even if it is no more nor less than the flexibility of a mind.

Fractal Tree

Fractal Tree

The Mandelbrot Set is quite beautiful. I had a visceral, aesthetic response to it. By exploring it, I got more than abstractions, I got a feeling for them. I got experience. There are some things you can know abstractly that are different when you know them from experience. I spent hours delving into deep parts of the Mandelbrot Set, and then I’d come back for more. The wonderful thing is, there was always more. That’s what infinity means. :-)

The Mandelbrot-Julia set was the first 4-dimensional object that I attempted to visualize. There was a setting in the computer program I was using, Fractint, that displayed one 3-dimensional slice at a time. I moved through it, slice by slice, thinking about how to put it together in my head.

Fractint, by the way, was made by the Stone Soup Group, which was named after the story of the stone soup. In retrospect, that was my first introduction to the ideas of software collaboration and freedom, which have become important to me.

I could go on with more examples and stories about what Mandelbrot’s work, and fractals in general, mean to me. I think I’ll stop now. I feel honoured to have benefited from his ideas, and to have lived at the same time as him. I feel sad today, but also I feel like saluting him. Goodbye Benoit Mandelbrot, and thank you.

Related links:
New York Times Obituary of Benoit Mandelbrot
Benoît Mandelbrot’s Wikipedia Page
Fractint’s Wikipedia Page
Mandelbrot Google Image Search
The Most Famous Fractal: The Mandelbrot Set (PBS Nova)

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As You Like It at the Stratford Festival 2010

June 7, 2010 —

I went with some friends to see As You Like It at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival this weekend.

I now have a new favourite scene of that play. It is the one where Touchstone (the court jester who fled with Celia and Rosalind) and Corin (I’ll call him Sheppard Dude) are talking to each other (Act 3 Scene 2). Ben Carlson, who was playing Touchstone, and Randy Hughson, who was playing Sheppard Dude, stood still, in the middle of the stage, looking out at the audience as if watching the sheep in a landscape. I don’t know how he did it, but there was something in Touchstone’s expression and posture that just said “I can’t believe I’m here looking at sheep. I now have a job that’s about as exciting as watching paint dry, except that it’s greasier and smellier and sweatier.” It wasn’t an angry bitter thing. More like incredulous and amusedly resigned. I couldn’t see the Sheppard Dude’s expression as well as Touchstone’s, because of where I was sitting, but he looked happier, content with the world, grinning widely. The two of them just stood there in silence for about a minute, not saying anything, holding their forked (sheep-driving?) walking sticks, and it was the funniest scene in the play. I was already laughing and laughing, and so was a lot of the rest of the audience, and then the sheep bleeting sounds started, from the speakers hidden at the edges of the stage and that made it even funnier. I’m still laughing as I think about it to write this. I’m not sure I can convey how funny it was with words. You might just have to see it to appreciate it. Then, when the Sheppard Dude’s line is something like “So, how do you like the shepparding business?” you just know how Touchstone feels about it. You know already how unimpressed he is with the whole thing. So that one line is made from a bland conversation opener into something that escalates the joke that’s already happening. Then when Touchstone dryly asks Sheppard Dude about his philosophy, you can see how he’s making jokes and banter to amuse himself while out in the sheep field. There’s a motivation in there, and some empathy for the characters, not just a bunch of jokes that seem to come out of nowhere to liven up the play.

Randy Hughson (left) as Corin and Ben Carlson as Touchstone in As You Like It. Photography by David Hou. Image property of Stratford Shakespeare Festival

Randy Hughson (left) as Corin and Ben Carlson as Touchstone in As You Like It. Photography by David Hou. Image property of Stratford Shakespeare Festival

Ben Carlson is absolutely amazing as Touchstone. He stole every scene he was in. I don’t think I’ve seen one of Shakespeare’s clowns played to be so funny. I usually appreciate the jokes in a Shakespeare play, but feel like some of them are lame, and even the funny ones don’t usually have me doubling over in laughter for minutes at a time. I often get the feeling that we’re supposed to be partly laughing at the clowns, instead of laughing with them. Carlson’s Touchstone came off as intelligent, aware, and made even the jokes that I’d usually think were a bit lame hilariously funny. According to my friends, who know less Elizabethan innuendo than I do, he made the innuendo clear too. For example, Touchstone’s speech about whether it’s better to be single or to be married and “wear the horns” (which is slang for being cuckolded) came through clearly to them, whereas I think I was the only one laughing when Rosalind made her speech about how a snail is considerate to women’s honor because it always wears horns, or when the guy was lifted up on the lords’ shoulders during one of the songs, wearing antlers because supposedly his father and his grandfather had worn horns, so now it was a family tradition.

The naughtiest, funniest piece of innuendo, to me, was when Touchstone was making fun of Orlando’s poetry to Rosalind and making up his own rhymes. His own rhymes were so much better, and wittier, and I think that came across because of the way he said them. When he said “Winter garments must be lined, so must slender Rosalind,” my friend and I looked at each other like “Did he just say that? Did that mean what I think it meant?” and cracked up. His hand gesture for that one was something like, with his fingertips and thumb tip pressed together pointing in the same direction he sort of moved his arm, twisting upward, like the tips of his fingers were burrowing upward into something. At least that’s the mental image I have of it; it happened so fast, I might be wrong. His patter for the rhymes was so quick that you didn’t finish laughing from one when boom, you were hit with the next one, and yet each one was clear and understandable.

Another thing I liked about the production was the way that they made all of the songs modern jazz-like pieces, with some of the techniques that make watching a musical interesting. A lot of the time when a song comes up in a Shakespeare play, they have some guy with a guitar or lute droning on in an Elizabethan sort of way, and I often don’t hear what the words are, and I think to myself “Why are we even doing this? Why is it here?” In this production, even the hey nonny nonnies made some sense because they treated them almost like jazz scat. I liked the song segments in this show, which I’m usually at best ambivalent toward in a Shakespeare play. Good thing too, since music seems to be a significant part of the play.

Another thing I noticed was how many of the characters silently reacted to what another character was saying, and so totally changed the context of the scene. I hadn’t seen a stage production of As You Like It before. I had only listened to the Librivox recording of it. Librivox is a volunteer-run project to make public-domain audiobooks. They have a full cast recording of it, downloadable as MP3 files. I liked it more than I have liked a lot of professional full cast recording of Shakespeare plays. I’m not sure why, but I felt more engaged by it. The women who read the parts of Rosalind and Celia were especially good. The guy with an Indian accent, who I couldn’t understand, was memorable in his own way. It was more amusing than annoying, since he didn’t have many lines. From listening to this version of the play, I had imagined that Celia was more or less cheering Rosalind on for the entire play. She makes a speech at the beginning about how they are like sisters to one another and love one another, and she seems supportive and pleased when Rosalind comes up with the cross-dressing plan, so I just sort of assumed that she felt more or less the same way while Rosalind was getting Orlando to pretend to court her.

In the Stratford production I just saw, however, Celia’s facial expressions and posture during pretty much any of Rosalind’s conversations with Orlando register shock, exasperation, disapproval, and amusement. She rolls her eyes, or goes to sit and wait it out. By the time she says basically “stop trash talking women” to Rosalind in Act 4, Scene 1, you already know how she feels about the whole charade, and you can almost feel the exasperation oozing out of her.

Cara Ricketts, who played Celia, was excellent. I’d seen her last year in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I really liked what she did on stage. Celia’s relationship with Rosalind is arguably the centre of the play, and it was clear that Ricketts, and Andrea Runge, who played Rosalind, are strong actors who can carry it off, even in unexpected (at least to me) directions.

It wasn’t just the actor who played Celia who did the silent reaction or commentary sort of thing, though. Most of the actors silently reacted to what the person who was speaking said, in one way or another. Another memorable moment came when the woman Touchstone was courting, Audrey, played by the excellent Lucy Peacock, saw Touchstone go over to play the double bass during one of the songs, and her mouth fell open as she leaned forward. She managed to convey “I had no idea he could do this! I can’t believe I am marrying such an amazing man!”

I liked the set design too. There was a giant green apple that came down and hovered in the air. I’m not quite sure what that was about, but it seemed cool. There was a tree behind the stage to indicate the forest, in the forest scenes, that got flowers and leaves on it as time progressed in the play. At intermission, we saw a stage hand picking up white specks from the stage and putting them into a cardboard box that said “Used Snow”. The stage at the start was presumably the reigning Duke’s room, and had four globes in it. Why four? My friend quipped that it must be that when you rule the world you have to be able to see it at all angles from a single spot.

It wasn’t exactly set design, but there were people dressed up as trees and sinuously swaying, with flowers covering their heads including their faces. And there was a lioness who sort of stood around during the lioness story, and had a sexy walk when she left.

All in all, I had a great time, and would recommend going to see the play. This production runs April 30, 2010, to October 31, 2010, at the Festival Theatre at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, in Stratford, Ontario, Canada. They have a bunch of other plays running too, including The Tempest, with Christopher Plummer, that promises to be spectacular.

The Stratford Festival website has a lot of supplemental information about the play, which can often be interesting. For example, they have Youtube videos of the director, Des McAnuff, talking about the play, an interview with the scene designer, and a production clip that shows the music. They have a study guide for As You Like It, study guides for other plays, and other materials for teachers, including a Shakespearean Insult game, with a list of insults in As You Like It. There is a blog by their archivist, and various other info including schedules for garden tours, backstage tours, chats with cast members, lectures, and concerts.

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Northdale Neighbourhood is not a ghetto

January 7, 2010 — Tags: , ,

Contrary to the impression you might get from a January 6, 2010 article in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, the Northdale neighbourhood close to both universities is not an ugly ghetto with a bad reputation.

I live in the neighbourhood the article mentions, and I think it is a great place to live. I cannot think of another neighbourhood I would want to live in more, in Waterloo. I take issue with the image of this neighbourhood as an ugly student ghetto. I think it is exaggerated and sensationalistic, and it is not at all how I feel about living here.

The Record article, like many of the newspaper articles I’ve seen about this neighbourhood, seems high on sensationalism and low on fact checking. For example, the photo in the article is of the house next door to me. It was recently bought by a young professional couple, the very people that supposedly are not being attracted to the neighbourhood. They are living in the house, and renting the basement to students.

I would also like to note that while there are sometimes loud noises at night, I have never seen anyone having sex on the sidewalk in several years of living near students. Nor do I think that having big backyards detracts from the quality of the neighbourhood. In fact, along with the mature trees, it is one of its charms.

Also, most students are quiet and studious. It is only a small minority that are bad neighbours.

I was disappointed to see the comments made by my city councillor Jan d’Ailly, as quoted in the Record article. For example, this one “I think it’s pretty clear that what’s there now is not working.” Also his plans to “file a motion next Monday that calls for changes to the area.” I’ve written him a letter to tell him my opinion.

Whatever the city does, there will be a lot of students in this neighbourhood, because of the location. I have reviewed the 20 year plans that the city has for the neighbourhood, and I think they are well thought out and sensible. I think it may be possible to improve the plan, but not on the basis of sensationalistic claims, and not with the unrealistic expectation that changing zoning will stop students from living here or attract more high tech workers to the area.

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Gabriela Montero concert

December 4, 2009 — Tags: , , , , ,

I went to see Gabriela Montero perform at the Perimeter Institute on December 3, 2009. The concert was fantastic. She played some pieces by Brahms and a piano sonata by Alberto Ginastera, an Argentinian composer, in the first half of the concert, and these were quite beautiful, but what really made the concert special was the second half, when she did something different from any other classical music concert that I’ve attended.

After intermission, Ms. Montero asked for members of the audience to sing to her a theme, one that other members of the audience would recognize. Then, she played the theme on the piano, and improvised using it as a starting point. Some of the tunes the audience requested were “America” from West Side Story, Happy Birthday, Summertime from Porgy and Bess by Gershwin, the entrance of Papageno in Mozart’s Magic Flute, the Theme from The Simpsons, and Somewhere Over the Rainbow. She said that classical music has a history of improvisation, and that it’s too bad that modern day classical performances so seldom include it. The improvised pieces she played used patterns of music similar to those found in classical pieces. I definitely felt like I was listening to a world-class classical musician improvise in the style of classical music, not jazz or another style of music, although there were small sectionss of the music here and there that were reminiscent of jazz.

After the concert, as she was signing CDs, I asked her how she learned to improvise. She said it is something that she has always done, and that she wouldn’t know how to analyze or teach it. It is instinctive and mystical, mysterious even to her. She said she plays from a mindset of no judgment and that she feels very relaxed and at home when improvising.

Gabriela Montero has been taking requests for improvisations over the internet, and releasing the results as MP3 files, since December 2007. I think that’s a fantastic idea, and I’m looking forward to listening to the results, if I figure out how to, since the website says the MP3s are available only for 3 days after the performance, and the link to subscribe to her email list appears to go to a domain squatter. She did appear on NPR’s Sing It and Wing It, and you can hear some of those segments, including an improvisation based on the song “You Are My Sunshine.” There are also some clips of her on Youtube, improvising various songs in various venues, including at President Barack Obama’s Inauguration.

All in all, I’m delighted that I’ve been introduced to her music. Thank you Perimeter Institute.

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I saw Geraint Wyn Davies’ Bottom

October 19, 2009 — Tags: , , , ,

I saw Geraint Wyn Davies’ Bottom, and it was fantastic! You should see it too. Where else are you going to see such a fine ass? His Bottom has entertained hundreds of people in a night, and I was among them. It was worth every cent.

So get yourself to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and see A Midsummer Night’s Dream before it closes on October 30, 2009. Not only is it an opportunity to see the magnificent Geraint Wyn Davies, it is an opportunity to make jokes about his Bottom.

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Waterloo Park Master Plan

The City of Waterloo is making a new Waterloo Park Master Plan. The idea is to make a plan about how the park will develop in the next 20 years. Members of the public were invited to participate in a task force starting in 2007, and this task force has come up with a Preliminary Concept Plan (related documents available in PDF format here). There were recently some public consultations about the plan, and I get the impression that members of the public are encouraged to participate in the process. So if you’re interested in this stuff, there’s still a chance to get involved. If nothing else, you can fill out the Preliminary Concept Plan Questionnaire (PDF file), and register for their email list to keep up-to-date on events and the planning process and get newsletters.

One thing that I find a bit frustrating is navigating the City’s webpage and making sense of the information I find. I’m not sure what would change at the park if the plan is approved. I would like to see a summary of that. Perhaps one already exists, but I didn’t find it. If nothing else, the projected increase in population living near the park, and the introduction of Light Rail Transit along the railway tracks that go through the park will have an impact. Presumably this is accounted for in the plan.

Waterloo Park is one of my favourite parts of the city. I like to hang out there, sit at the picnic tables, walk by the water, admire the flowers and shrubs in the Victorian Garden, watch the wildlife, and sit on the rocks by the zoo. I hope that the park will continue to be as awesome in the future as it is now.

If you’d like to see what the park looks like, there are photos of Waterloo Park on Flickr, including some of my own.

Kudos to the City of Waterloo for involving the public in urban planning, and recognizing the importance of public spaces. Perhaps we can also get a blogging conversation going on about it. Anyone?

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Looping Music, Beethoven, computer games and dances

When I was a kid, I played an educational computer game named Treasure Mountain. It was made by The Learning Company, and, like most of their games, featured classical music pieces as background music in midi format. Over time, I’ve tracked down some of these pieces, since they were quite catchy and stayed in my head.

And that is how I came to listen to Beethoven’s Contradanse No. 1. On the Naxos recording, it is 36 seconds long, and it doesn’t loop. This, er, threw me for a loop. I didn’t realize how much I was expecting it to repeat over and over until it didn’t. At first, I chastized myself for expecting the original piece of music to loop like it does in the video game, but then I realized that it probably was intended to loop like it does in a computer game. It is a dance after all. I imagine that in Beethoven’s time, if the music was actually used for dancing, then it would have been repeated. Certainly, when I’ve played fiddle at country dances, we repeated each tune several times before going onto the next one. You could probably observe this phenomenon for yourself if you went to a square dance, or ceili, or old-time fiddle dancing event.

So playing the computer game and listening to the looping midi version has given me a rendition that is in some ways more faithful to the original than the modern recording. How strange.

The other implication, which had not occurred to me until I listened to the unrepeated version, is that writing music for computer and video games might present the same types of challenges for a composer as writing for the dance floor. I had experienced both types of music before, but for some reason had not put the ideas together. I had thought of video game music as very much a modern phenomenon with unique challenges, and it is, but maybe those challenges are not so unique or unprecedented as I’d thought. I wonder what I could learn from the techniques that classical composers used on dance music, and just how similar Beethoven’s challenges and techniques were to those of, say, Yoko Kanno, when they worked on dance music and video game music, respectively. Yoko Kanno’s music for Uncharted Waters is also quite catchy, and loops in my head in a similar way, especially the waltz.

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Barecity: a minimalist and customizable WordPress theme

April 23, 2009 — Tags:

I’ve been tinkering with the Barecity theme that I’ve chosen for this blog.  I was attracted to the simplicity of it, the minimalist elegance, the readability and the copious white space.  I moved the sidebar up to the top, changed to a serif font for the posts while leaving the navigation as sans-serif, added a permalink at the bottom of each post, and made various other small adjustments.  I was inspired by some other blogs that use the Barecity theme, including one called Pete Bakes.  I was also somewhat inspired by the blog.txt theme.  Some of the modifications I made to Barecity brought it closer to looking like blog.txt.

For a while, I was mystified that the search box title became serif when I changed the stylesheet for the main text, even though the rest of the side bar items remained sans-serif.  I eventually tracked down the problem to the functions.php file.  I mention it here in case anyone else is having similar problems.

Here is the section of code that was changed, after my changes.

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First Post – Welcome to the Strangeattractor Blog

April 2, 2009 — Tags:

Welcome to the Strangeattractor blog.   I have many interests, and after thinking about whether to start separate blogs for various topics or to start one blog that talks about many topics, I have opted to do the latter, at least to start with.  I might end up using WordPress categories in the future, but for now I’ll use tags.  Hopefully if there are just one or two topics that you want to follow, you’ll be able to subscribe to the RSS feeds for just those topics. When I figure out the details of how to do that, I’ll post about it.

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