Saturday, September 27, 2014

On Farming -- Family Farms Under Siege

Long time no blog.  Sorry -- though some of you may have enjoyed the respite. :)

On Twitter I follow a wonderful person who is both a farmer (mainly dairy) and a lawyer.  It may seem odd to some, but I think it is a wonderful combination.  Farmers need advocacy, and when that advocacy comes from one of their own, it stands a chance of being more helpful.

It is no secret that small "family" farms have been under extreme pressure for several decades.  Large scale farming, driven by "agribusiness" and other factors were the initial forces feeding the change.  Corporations that produce genetically engineered crop seed have been a big factor.  The public claims by Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow and others in this space has been that not only that yields can be dramatically increased through GMO (genetically modified organism) technology, but that it is necessary to feed an exploding global population -- that the available arable land and "conventional" farming methods cannot feed the planet.

Without going to deep, I totally disagree with that claim and am convinced that GMO technology's true purpose is to sell pesticides and trap farmers into purchasing only from the Monsantos of the world.  My Twitter contact (whom I won't name because I haven't asked permission) and thousands of other farmers become financially unable to break away.  As my "Tweep" posted, "since we can't afford to buy non gmo grain to supplement our cows diet , yet another strike against us"  Isn't that the definition of serfdom -- the rural equivalent of a company town?

Fundamentally I am anti-GMO because of biology.  My undergraduate degree is in biology, with an emphasis in invertebrate zoology, aquatics and ecology.  Even though I do not work in the field, my concern for the health of the planet, its ecosystems and the essentials of life -- food, clean water, healthy food -- is incredibly deep.  And so is my commitment to basing my opinions on reliable data.  That isn't easy, and I freely admit I don't always succeed.  But if I find myself wandering away, I yank myself back and try to do my homework.  Eventually. 

Enter the anti-GMO and foodie movement.  I will be the first to admit that at times the anti-GMO signal-to-noise ratio is so bad that "sane" people have to switch off.  Activism itself is good, a force for change.  But rabid activism driven by 1% fact, 9% myth and 90% rabid, frothing emotion is destructive.  Suddenly, anti-GMO rage turns against farmers who care deeply about their land, about food, about farming, but for their own good reasons, whether financial or other circumstances, do not have non-GMO certification.

Small farmers, once "only" pressured by corporate farming operations, are suddenly demonized by crazy-eyed, wealthy urbanites who can afford the higher prices of non-GMO products.  And the local food movement eschews anything not grown within 100 miles -- or 161 kilometres in Canada.  The financial impact can be real, resulting in more families having to abandon the profession and lives they have loved.  The emotional shock reverberates through the countryside.

It is no wonder then that any anti-GMO discussion, especially in the shortened 140-character Twitterverse, is a huge emotional trigger for small farmers.  Those of us who respectfully disagree with genetic engineering on scientific grounds get lumped in with the "nattering nabobs of negativity".  Meaningful dialogue, a true exchange of ideas, stops or is at least delayed or diminished.

Thus went the Twitter thread with my friend, more than once.  I hope my observation on what lies beneath does not come across as somewhat harsh, or even condescending, but I want to offer it in a true spirit of friendship.

The source of suffering is attachment -- this is the Second Noble Truth.  When I am so emotionally attached to something, I will suffer.  We all find this out the hard way -- I know I did.  Two failed relationships, both tragedies in my life which sent out ripples, if not small tsunamis, of karmic hurt, finally brought me up short.  There were hundreds of other, seemingly smaller, attachments that inevitably led to the two major blow outs.  Even if I am "right" about something and others are "wrong", being emotionally invested at a very high level will bring about suffering.  And not just my own.

We all need to separate emotion from objective evaluation.  I hear you, and I totally agree -- that's not at all easy to do.  It takes practice.  It takes the recognition that while emotions are completely valid and an essential part of our true selves, being out of balance is not healthy.  It takes learning to treat ourselves gently and to treat others gently.  When we fail to do either, we need to forgive and regenerate the commitment and effort.  Or suffer.

This is about letting go.  My stuff is my stuff; the stuff of others isn't mine.  If someone else, if that frothing-at-the-mouth-rich-SOB-faux-foodie won't listen even to calm, dispassionate, logical discussion delivered in the most loving way ... that's their stuff.  And behind that stuff is more stuff -- layers and layers about which we have no idea.  There is pain, suffering and who knows what.   It is theirs alone to acknowledge and confront.

The sooner I recognize that, acknowledge it, let it go and honour my self, the sooner I can continue to breathe and be psychologically healthy.

I grow some of my own food -- not nearly as much as I want, and not nearly as much as I plan to grow.  Every year I bring more of our land out of ornamental grass (sod be gone!) into production.  I put no chemicals in the ground.  Yes, I am fortunate to have the gift of good land, and no, I have not had any drastic infestations or other challenges.  So I don't judge others who are faced with adversity, even while sticking to my convictions to grow organically and plant non-GMO stock.

My small farm friends, I am with you.  If I disagree with you on genetic engineering, pesticides, herbicides, the place of meat production, please don't lump me in with the shrieking crowd.  Believe me, I want you to be successful and happy.  Happiness makes for good food.  Stick to your guns, but know when to tune out the noise and to not return fire with the same ammunition.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Stand for the CBC

I have been a listener and viewer of CBC since 1971. Many things can be said about CBC's contribution to Canada, Canadian society and the rest of the world. What I think is its most important contribution, however, is that it is brings Canada together as a nation. I don't feel it is hyperbole to say that it is the modern equivalent of the building of the Canadian Pacific.

Many of CBC's program, especially Radio One, are family affairs, that bring not only prominent Canadians and international persons into closer dialog with "ordinary" Canadians, but also provide a forum and kitchen table for all those not-so-ordinary Canadians to have a family chat, a debate, or celebration.

As the current government actually conserves nothing, they are, of course, seeking to destroy the CBC. This agenda has in plain sight for decades, and now with a Conservative government that has kicked its progressive sensibilities to the septic field, please stand with me to make your voice heard.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

One Month+ with the MacBook Air

I suppose all love affairs have to end at some point, but I don't foresee my feelings about the MBA changing.  If anything, after more than month with it, my admiration for it, if not my crush on it, has increased. 

There has not been one hiccough (yeah, I know ... old spelling; I'm old,) and I only see the MacBook line getting better as the technology that drives the Air migrates to the MacBook Pro line.  The only drawback I see to the machine is that RAM is not upgradeable.  The RAM module(s) is/are soldered to the system board, so upgrading would be difficult and somewhat costly.

 The other limitation is the lack of Ethernet port.  Designed as an ultralight laptop replacement, this makes sense.  WiFi may not be ubiquitous, but it is normally readily available.  It is at home or office that an Ethernet port would be an advantage, especially when uploading a lot of data to a network drive.


You can, of course, get a USB-to-Ethernet adapter, but that limits you to 10/100 speeds, as the Air's USB port is 2.0 -- no Gigabit speeds for this machine.  The Air's Thunderbolt port is faster than even USB 3.0, so this makes sense.  But there are precious few Thunderbolt devices, much less adapters, available at this time, and the jury will be out on Thunderbolt for awhile, perhaps for a long time.  A Thunderbolt to gigabit Ethernet adapter would be really, really handy.

Which brings us to Thunderbolt itself.  Happily, there are some display port to HDMI available, and I purchased the Kanex which works perfectly and seems to be solidly built.  In our spare room we have a 22"  HDTV set (720p), and I wanted to use that as a larger display for photo editing and to have a dual display setup available.

With the Kanex adapter, it works perfectly! Well ... as perfectly as the Sylvania (Funai) technology permits.  As a TV, the Sylvania is not bad.  Video from my satellite receiver via HDMI and Nintendo via component is good.  But at only 720p and with an older, lower spec'd panel from an unknown manufacturer, it's really not going to cut it for serious photo editing.

What I would like is a 27" IPS display that can also serve as a TV monitor.  At that size, an IPS display is going to run serious money.  Models from NEC, Dell, HP are going to be north of $1K, and an Eizo FlexScan SX2762W, which is pretty much an industry standard for the graphics environment, is over $1600.

Enter, then, the Apple Thunderbolt at $999 (less with employee purchase plan discount,) which not only starts to look "cheap" but adds 10Gb peripheral port capability -- and that's full duplex.

The fly in that ointment is that to date there are no adapters available to connect HDMI sources such as AV receivers, satellite and cable boxes to the Thunderbolt display.   This is after the first release of Thunderbolt technology about 9 months ago.  If I have any criticism of Apple at all, it is that they have repeatedly developed and implemented new I/O technologies that have not gone mainstream.  Firewire ... DisplayPort ... these and others were proprietary enough to keep them from becoming standards.  In this case, my understanding is that Apple initiated Thunderbolt and transferred IP  to Intel for development so that indeed it could become a standard.  That's hopeful, but it's not a guarantee of success.

Another option would be for Apple to manufacture or purchase as many adapters and devices for Thunderbolt as possible and flood the market.  Hell, make PCI-e to TB adapters and practically give them away.  Entice Windows PC owners and at the very least you they will sell some devices that are either Apple branded or branded by 3rd party suppliers closely associated with Apple.  How many Windows users have iPods and iPhones?  Make the next gen of those devices Thunderbolt-enabled for super-fast syncing (yeah, I know ... iCloud is replacing tethered syncing,) and watch how many of those users eventually buy a Mac. 

Such a strategy is not technically difficult.  On the Intel page referenced above, Intel states:

"Extend to reach other I/O technologies by using adapters that use widely available PCI Express* controllers. It's simple to create a Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire, or eSATA adapter using existing device PCI Express* drivers."

Did you get that Apple and Apple partners? 

Of course, Jason Hiner thinks the whole Thunderbolt strategy is a block on wireless USB 3.0

If so, Apple (the only "major" user of TB that I know of) and Intel better get really, really busy. Anyone who comes out with wireless USB is going to have at least a reasonable chance of having a major impact on technology.  And making a lot of money.

Then there's the rumoured Apple Television (not the Apple TV set-top device) ... which I would hope would have HDMI input as well as Thunderbolt.

But back to my MacBook Air ... Will Moyer wrote a blog entry about his MBA purchase.  His only real negative was that he felt the cursor (arrow) keys were chintzy.  I don't find mine to be any different than the other keys, and they certainly don't feel chintzy.  I suspect Apple has more than one OEM vendor for keyboards, and I got lucky.

So all-in-all, I'm still thrilled.  It's like being on a really long honeymoon with an inanimate object. 

Yeah, I'm weird.  But you knew that.








Saturday, October 01, 2011

My new name is Gene Wilburn

After all, I'm sitting in a coffee shop, writing on a MacBook Air. This is a good trick because the "real" Gene Wilburn is no doubt sitting across Lake Ontario (about 100 miles as the crow flies,) in a coffee shopt, writing on a MacBook Air.

There is a lovely symmetry to this, don't you think? Actually, it was my friend Gene's experience with his MBA that contributed to my final decision to make the jump.

Gene is a fellow photographer and fellow IT professional. With a long career as a techie, I figured someone who had been a Unix sysadmin, developer working on contract for a major, major online retailer, someone who dove into Apple and loved the experience, well ... what can you say?

Having been a long-time Wintel user, I had resisted Macintosh primarily for two reasons.

First there was the price. Mac fans will argue that there is more long-term value to the purchase of most Apple products, and won't argue that point as I really haven't been qualified to do so. But the fact remains that if you don't have the up-front cash, then you just don't have it. For some years I held that premise as a major barrier.

Second, there was familiarity. Once you're deep into knowledge and experience of a particular system, technical or otherwise, there is an inherent resistance to changing. Don't get me wrong, I am not stubbornly resistant to change. I just knew what a big, time-consuming effort it would be to make the leap.

Fortunately I overcame the first challenge with a really novel technique -- I saved. Shocking, I know. Every paycheque I put aside $75 into savings, moving some of it into a CD once I hit the minimum deposit for a CD. I created a spreadsheet predicting the date when I would be able to purchase a specific model of MacBook. I noticed that in general I would have sufficient funds just after the Air product line was likely to be refreshed.

This pleased me, since I deduced that I likely would be able to purchase a better, more powerful Air for the same money, or I could purchase a previous configuration for less in the event the refreshed models were not a significant upgrade. If you know Apple, you know that latter was not likely to happen. And it didn't.

I ended up with (delivered at 11:51 yesterday!)

MacBook Air 13"
4GB RAM
128 SSD
AppleCare
Apple One-to-One

I'll write another post (or several) about my experience, but for now I can summarize my impressions as follows

* Wow -- amazing design and build quality
* Smooooooth
* SILENT
* Fast

Monday, July 04, 2011

Thoughts on Interdependence Day

Yes, I know it's Independence Day in the US, and yes, I know there is an Interdependence Project, though I don't know anything, really, about that except that it's a secular Buddhist affiliation.

It occurred to me this morning, however, that one of the central ills of the US is the whole idea of what independence is. Somehow the issue of separation from a ruling government not of one's choosing has morphed into "We can do anything we want just because we are us/US."

This is trouble.

All things, all beings are interdependent. That's not an optional view or belief system.

It just is.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Enlightenment

Enlightenment seems to be greatly misunderstood. As it has no "definitive definition", all I can really say is that is not perfection; it is not achieving a permanent state of detachment from externalities.

Sitting outside, summer day
Silent. Total
Breeze ceased
Skin, air intertwined without notice
That big tree there
That colour of sky
Exist
Awake