In a struggle to be happy and free

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The COVID Alert app icon

Federal government’s COVID Alert app is out for iOS and Android. I knew it was coming and have been thinking about whether I’ll use it or not. On one side is the government’s insidious gathering of information about us, and on the other is keeping safe and learning when I’ve been in contact with someone who has later tested positive.

It’s strength and weakness is that it’s a contact notification application, not a contact tracing application. That is, it will let you know only if someone you have been in contact with has later tested positive for COVID‑19. It will not let you know who that person is, when you were in contact, or where the contact occurred. All it tells you is that you really should go get tested to find out of you caught it from the person with which you were in contact.

The weakness is the very limited information you’re given. The strength is that you’re not laying your soul bare to the government. They receive very little information.

The main COVID Alert app page. Good news for me! I hope it stays this way.

How it works is your phone periodically generates a random code and transmits is via Bluetooth. Any phone near yours will record any codes it detects from other phones. If you some day are tested for COVID‑19 and the result is positive, you inform the app of this unfortunate occurrence. It then transmits this, with all the codes it has recorded, to a central server. All copies of the app periodically download this information from the server and your app recognizes its own code from any downloaded and marked as having been infected, it notifies you that you’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive. Then you need to go get tested and see if you caught it.

No GPS data is used. It’s a clever solution to finding out if anyone you’ve been with has caught it, and at the same time protecting your privacy. But of course, you have to trust the application to do only what the government says is does.

I would normally not be onboard with this application, but COVID‑19 is serious. I believe there is so much about it that we don’t yet know, it could be far worse than we currently realize. So I did download and activate it. But at the same time, the Provincial and Federal Privacy Commissioners were consulted during its creation and Federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien says: “Canadians can opt to use this technology knowing it includes very significant privacy protections. I will use it.”

The real tipping point to my decision to use the app is the fact that the source code is available on GitHub. If you have programming knowledge, you can download the code yourself and see what it does. I appreciate that level of transparency.

Get it from the iOS App Store or on Google Play. More information is available on the COVID Alert app page.

Subdivision signals

Drivers from different regions seems to have their own quirks.

I may have mentioned before that the some drivers in Ottawa really stretch the yellow lights. I recall once at a left turn, the person in front of me turned on a yellow and I followed them. I shouldn’t have, but I did. To my amazement, the two people behind me also went. I suspect they both ran the red. Certainly the second car did.

Here in Niagara Falls, People often don’t signal. Others signal too late. It’s so frustrating.

Take today for example. I turned into my subdivision and saw a car a block away slowing down. Brake lights were on. No signal. I got closer and closer and the braking car eventually came to a stop, though it wasn’t close enough to the curb to be parking. Okay, I don’t know what this person was doing, but they stopped so I went around them.

Some folks like to make darn sure they don’t hit anything in their lane so they go far into the other lane, especially with bicycles. I really do understand not wanting to hit a bicyclist, but going entirely into the other lane is excessive. Not only that, but it’s dangerous because if someone turns a corner or is suddenly coming toward you in their own lane, you’re in trouble.

So I passed this stopped car. No, I did not leave a lot of space. I certainly did not put the right side of my car on the left side of the road! I know the extent of my vehicle so I didn’t touch their car. Whatever the driver was doing, it was then behind me.

A few turns later, I parked in front of the neighbourhood mailbox. A black Mercedes, an older C‑class I think, approached from the other direction. It stopped in the street beside me, and the driver called over, “That was pretty close.”

I have no idea what he’s talking about, so I replied, “I don’t follow.”

“You came pretty close to me,” he said. Then it clicked. This is the same car.

“Not really,” I said.

“You shouldn’t come that close,” he said. This was going no where fast.

You shouldn’t just stop in the road with no signal,” I replied.

He again repeated that I came too close. I was going to suggest that maybe his signal was not working, but of course it was. It was also unlikely that anything would come of this conversation so I said, “Fair enough,” and got out of the car to retrieve my mail. He left.

Thinking back, I should have stayed in my car until he left in case he was lacking in self-control. I already know he lacked good judgement. But jeez, really?

He put me into a situation where I had to make a choice. That he didn’t like my choice doesn’t bother me one whit.


On a bit of a lark, I bought a pencil for my iPad. I don’t draw so it’s not terribly useful, but when the next iPadOS arrives in the fall, the Notes app will accept handwriting and convert it to text. It strikes me that would be a cool way to take notes at school… if the device can understand the mess you see before you! Because of these questions I didn’t buy an Apple Pencil, but a knock-off for $40. We’ll see how it goes.

For the record, I am extremely curious and skeptical about the handwriting recognition. Trying to view the above chicken-scratch with fresh eyes, the handwriting recognition will have to be exceptional!

On that note, the alt-text is there if you need it.

A strange four months

I’ve been so quiet. It’s partly because my mother has been having some health challenges lately. It’s mostly because the last four months have been just so off-the-wall. First the most serious pandemic in a century and then in the middle of that, all off the black lives matter demonstrations triggered (this time) by the police murder of George Floyd. It’s been amazing and wonderful to see the demonstrations in the US spread all around the world.

My problem is that I have so little to add to this movement beyond my absolute support. Indeed, I’ve done a lot of learning and I will continue to learn.

I can do more in regards to the pandemic. I’ve stayed home and gone out only minimally. As things have opened up I’ve got to Julie’s more but that’s pretty much about it. Restaurants opened Friday but I have no interest in going out to eat at this point. Why risk it? I’ll continue to call ahead and pick up my order, thank you! It just seems too early for things to be getting that much back to normal.

Look at the situation in the southern US. They’re well on their way to having everything open again and are getting slammed with the highest infection numbers since the pandemic started. Florida alone has 8 530 new cases today, while all of Canada claims 178 new cases. I understand wanting to get out, but if we open up too early, these months of self-quarantine will have been for nothing.

It’s not the widespread death of the 1918 influenza pandemic, but people are dying in numbers far higher than necessary through neglect or thinking they’re somehow immune, and that’s tragic.

As of today, the worldwide death toll is 504 078.

New decade thoughts

We’re just two weeks into a new year and a new decade. I’m not about to regale you with all my new year resolutions, because I have none. The change of a number on the calendar doesn’t make me any more likely to make successful changes in my life. In fact, I hold the very thought in disfavour because if you see the need for a change, you should make the change rather than wait for the end of the year to do it. Why wait?

What has me thinking is not the change of the last digit of the year, but the second last. The 2010s have given way to the 2020s. What’s coming?

I’ve been thinking a lot about climate change. I was going to tell you what I think will happen if we continue along the road of lip service to the changes we need to make, and also what will happen if we get down to business and make the changes we really need to make. But frankly, there’s no need to lay out two scenarios because we’re not going to get down to business. Individuals feel inertia in their habits, and the more people you consider, the larger the inertia gets. This is before even considering that our current way of doing things is very profitable to many people. As a result, they’re actively putting the brake on changes. As a result, change is slow.

With our foot-dragging, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing. I’m not sure, but the rate of increase may be increasing as well. The weather is growing more severe, climate is changing, seas are rising. The pleasant inter-ice-age climate in which we developed civilization will soon be over. There will be fewer comfortable places to live and less arable land. Less arable land means less food. Wars will break out over food and water, squandering the precious resources remaining.

A century from now, things will be very different than today. I just can’t decide how different. Either civilization will regress, leaving behind the highest technology we enjoy today, or civilization will completely collapse. Either way, population will drop significantly. I’d suggest the worldwide population will drop by half, with large cities being the most affected. Whether this is a best-case, or a mid-way between the extremes, I can’t decide.

By 2250, I would be absolutely stunned if the world population is significantly greater than 20% of what it is today. And it won’t get better from there. Unless we discover an easy and energy-efficient way to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in a deep-time durable form, there won’t be any coming back from this new normal any time soon … and ‘soon’ is geologically speaking. It’ll take millions of years for natural processes to bring the carbon dioxide levels down. The question is whether we can develop the technology to do it ourselves before we lose the technical and manufacturing means to put it into action in a meaningful way.

I would suggest that biggest impediment to taking action today is the average adult’s inertia. Things seem okay so people go about their business. Although most people are in favour of reducing their nation’s carbon footprint, they are not so enthusiastic when confronted with the bill. I really think a few things have to happen before people change. In no particular order, everyone over 40 has to age and die. People currently younger than 40 have far more skin in the game and were therefore more willing to make a greater sacrifice. Also things have to get worse. To my amazement, there are still deniers out there. All but the most hard-core will come around when things get much worse and there’s no denying the truth. At that time, the tide will carry those hard-core, regardless.

It’s our habits and what we consider problematic. No one I know would think of not recycling. At the same time however, most people I know don’t consider the carbon dioxide created by a trip via aircraft. This has to change and it won’t while the older among us are still around. I do wonder how much it will change as you young age, however. When I was very young, the first energy crisis struck. We all learned to turn lights off when we weren’t in the room. A small thing, to be sure, but the young don’t worry about even this any more. And by young, I mean anyone under 30.

I’m thinking things will have to get much worse, far past the point of no return (if we’re not there already) for people to change their habits.

So severe climate change is coming. In my mind, there’s only one question. Will it damage civilization and set technology back a few centuries? Or it destroy civilization and set technology back a millennia or two? Either way, a lot of people are going to die and everything is going to be a hell of a mess for a very long time to come.

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