[General] Google News useless to me

I generally dislike Google News because it follows the same trends as other newspapers.  Ultra popular and trendy news up front, and actual important and interesting stuff disappears.  Also, stories I want to hear nothing about linger for days.  They try to personalise, but I want the ability to filter out things I don't care about; pedestrian technology articles, depressing wars, silly entertainers.  Let me dismiss story clusters altogether and focus on what I care about, would you? :)

I wonder if they're concerned about people censoring too much reality and biasing their views on the world, ignoring what's news to others. 

[Technology] kernel_task consumes almost 100% of CPU on Mac OS X

The Problem

A friend spilt tea on their MacBook Air and this has probably killed their battery.  In an attempt to see if it was just a firmware problem, they attempted an SMC reset, which resulted in their computer becoming incredibly slow (and the battery still not working).  Reviewing CPU usage showed that kernel_task was opaquely consuming all available CPU cycles.  Oh nos!

(spoiler: this post does not end in a working battery, just in eliminating the excessive CPU usage)

Possible solutions

I googled a bit.  Some people recommended trying a PRAM reset (which did nothing (to do it, use command + option + P + R at boot after the tone, until you hear a second tone)).  Starting up in safe mode to see if disabling all non-core kernel extensions helped did not (to do that, hold shift at the start up tone until the grey Apple logo appears).   Finally, someone suggested disabling one of the plists for power management in one of the kernel extensions.  The idea there was that the kernel thought the computer was overheating and was trying to take misguided measures to deal with it that resulted in total CPU consumption (and more heat).  I thought this might be relevant, not due to heat, but because a part of the device was no longer working, and perhaps the kernel didn't understand and was making a bad decisions.

The solution

This turned out to be the right idea.  Under /System/Library exist many kernel extensions, and the relevant one is the IOPlatformPluginFamily.kext.  There suggestion was to disable the plist for your model of computer that was located in that kext's Contents/PlugIns/ACPI_SMC_PlatformPlugin.kext (a sub kext!).  First, his MacBook Air didn't have a relevant plist, and second, disabling that entire kext (simply by renaming it to something else so Mac OS X wouldn't find and load it) did not help.

I then tried disabling IOPlatformPluginFamily.kext altogether, and it worked!  Thinking that a bit too brutish, though, I re-enabled it, and tested disabling a variety of its sub kernel extensions (under /System/Library/IOPlatformPluginFamily.kext/Contents/Plugins) to see which one was the culprit.

Here are the sub kernel extensions within IOPlatformPluginFamily.kext:
  • ACPI_SMC_PlatformPlugin.kext
  • AppleSMCPDRC.kext
  • IOPlatformPluginLegacy.kext
  • X86PlatformPlugin.kext
  • X86PlatformShim.kext   < this is the one I had to disable.


Here are the steps for disabling them.  Pardon any errors, as I'm doing this from memory and photographs after the fact.

1. Open a Terminal (Applications > Utilities > Terminal).  This took a dreadfully long time, given how slow the computer was running.
2. Run these commands (text precede by a # is just a comment)
> cd /System/Library/IOPlatformPluginFamily.kext # enter main kext directory> cd Contents/Plugins  # enter kext's plugins (other kexts)
> ls  # list the available kexts

> sudo mv X86PlatformShim.kext X86PlatformShim.kext.disabled # rename the culprit .kext (after trial and error) to something different so it can't be loaded (doesn't need to add .disabled specifically); start  with sudo to do this as the root user (or you won't have permission); this will request your user password
3. Then, restart your computer to see if it works.

You should be able to actually rename /System/Library/IOPlatformPluginFamily.kext as a quick test to start to see whether a problematic .kext exists within it, and then try this (or maybe ACPI_SMC_PlatformPlugin.kext's specific plist, depending on your actual problem) to be more specific (who knows, some of the plugins might actually be there for a reason ;). 


[Microblog] Ignorant

What does "ignorant" even mean?  I mean, I know what the word means, but I dislike how it gets used.  It often just dismiss's someone else's behaviour as a result of being pathetically unaware of something that the speaker is.  Bleh.

[General] Those People

This morning I was at a cafe with some acquaintances, and sometimes their conversation horrifies me.

At one point, they talked about lying to kids about what they're served as food, in the context of killing 10-month old goats that they're attached to, so that they wouldn't refuse to it.  I'm glad that a child's sentimentality can be humane.  I usually just ignore conversation like that.  What bothered me today was when some young folk with developmental differences came in to eat and one was producing a lot of noise, my acquaintances started complaining about them being brought out in public, and commented how they should have been aborted.  There's no understanding about the loud subject's experience.  It's just a selfish preference for one's stable, calm environment over another's freedom and life.  It was also conversation that could easily be offensive to the incoming group, and was completely audible.  Rather than arguing and making their opinion more visible, I just rose and left.  



[Technology] gethostbyname failed

I was trying to set up a Festival speech synthesis server to work with Speech Dispatcher and a Rhythmbox plugin I'm working on. Speech Dispatcher couldn't connect to it. I tried connecting to the Festival server with the Festival client, and that didn't work either, instead giving me an error "gethostbyname failed". I investigated and saw it should be trying to connect to localhost at 1314. I verified that my firewall and selinux weren't involved. Then I finally peaked at my /etc/hosts file, and sure enough a change I made a couple weeks ago broke it. I reverted that, and now it works again. Yay!

[Microblog] Transient Blankets

Idyllic Flesherton, covered in fresh snow fall. Why go to sleep when I can chill outside?


[General] Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing

So I just wrote a post noting some of my favourite things about the anime Last Exile.  What prompted it is watching the sequel series Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing.

Without discussing its content too much, I'll note that it has a delightfully atypical gender ratio.  Its protagonists gender distribution is basically the inversion of the Lord of the Rings' (though it does not rival the Hobbit).  What's also nice is that it feels very natural to me; I don't question the gender choices at all, it doesn't feel artificial to me.  Neat.

[General] Last Exile

Alexander Row, Sophia Forrester, the Sylvana,
and Guild Mæstro Delphine in the background

Alex Row, captain, Sophia, commander, and the dread-ship Sylvana.

Claus Valca, Lavie Head, and Alvis Hamliton

Claus Valca, vanship pilot, Lavie Head, navigator, and Alvis Hamilton, scared child and key.

Tatiana Wisla

Tatiana, ace pilot, very serious.

Dio Eraclea and Lucciola

Dio and Lucciola, members of the Guild.  Slightly inhuman, very elegant.

 Ships of Disith and Anatoray at war

Here are airships from the countries Disith and Anatoray.  They're embroiled in a terrible war over land resources.  Each country is undergoing its own climatic changes, with Disith covered in everlasting winter, and Anatoray perpetual drought.  Water and wheat are becoming rare and valuable, and due to political missteps and the Grand Stream, war has begun.


Last Exile

Last Exile is one of my favourite anime. Above is the opening video and a variety of images of key people and elements.  The setting is the sky.  The first image shows Alexander Row and Sophia Forrester, the captain and the commander of the Sylvana.  Alex Row is an easily romanticised character.  He is intelligent, competent, quiet, and has a past you can sympathise with if you can find out what it is.  Sophia is a lubricant for Alex in interacting with the others.  Together they command the Sylvana, a dangerous ship with a terrifying reputation.  The Sylvana operates independently of nations but with determination and definite purpose.

I admire Alex Row easily, even though he captains an efficient killing machine.  It's similar to the respect I can hold for certain military officers despite reviling war.  When you're in a difficult situation and your options are reduced to protecting those you care about by exercising your own power over others, or let them suffer and die.  Alex's motivations are a bit different.  But a blossoming commander in Ender's Game helps exemplify that motivation a bit better.

There's a problem with that, where the idea that force is the only remaining option is incorrect.  When there are alternatives, but they're just not obvious.  It's hard to completely blame someone for inadequate imagination, it's just sad.  Even if force was somehow the only option, it's still sad.  In real life, it feels like force is almost never the last resort.

It feels strange how military service has often been held in high estimation, though I understand it.  It's interesting how literature makes me feel as though it used to be esteemed higher before and receives greater derision today.  Though, in reality, I think that respect and criticism are still similarly distributed now as it has been previously.

Still, there are qualities in Alex Row that I'd like to adopt.  Especially his composure, contemplation, deliberation, reliability, and admirability.

Claus and Lavie are delightful.  They're ambitious children growing up in relative poverty with a passion for the sky and good hearts.  They just want to fly.  They pursue their passion and apply their talents wholeheartedly, and they're willing to use them to help others, regardless of the inconvenience to themselves.  Tatiana is a bit like them, but much more serious about it.  I used to be much more serious about things, but I've relaxed a bit.  I still admire her dedication to her skills.  I try to think about people like this when I work on things like iaido and programming.

Dio and Lucciola are cute when they're children, and almost terrifying when they're grown up.  They are elegant and beautiful and loyal and refined.  I used to seek refinement more, but let's be serious, a lot of refinement is arbitrary and reflects artificial divisions between us and them.  Create rules and practise abiding them to distinguish oneself.  There are tangible benefits to many such rules, and the result can often be elegant and beautiful like Dio and Lucciola, but for my life, it's not worth the non-financial expense.  I just want to appreciate everything.  I like playing at elegance, dressing up for outings, etc., but only as long as my companions and I know it's for fun.

Disith and Anatoray's situations are quite tragic.  A lost communique fails to prevent war and humanity's limitations lead them into bloodshed.  Beautiful, majestic ships wield technology towards mass death.  People with homes and families sail forward to their deaths and the destruction of happiness and home.

Vanships are cute.  They're personal, tiny aircraft that are very nimble and give freedom to their pilots.  They're like my computer and my programming, or like my sword and my iaido.

I adore the art, the music, and much of the culture in the world, but I've written enough for now.  At the top is the intro to the series, which depicts much of the struggle.  Now is the outro, which depicts more of the humanity.

[Technology] Resizing my encrypted, ext4 file system

I normally just upgrade my Linux distro from its semiannual release in place.  I keep my existing file system and just upgrade packages en masse.   I don't usually reformat and restore files from a backup.

For Fedora 17 last year, though, I wanted to upgrade all my file systems from the ext3 format to ext4.  It's "better".  You can do it in place, but there are attributes that won't apply to any old file system entries, only to new ones (new files that get added).  I could in theory have upgraded it in place, and then just copied files back and forth from another drive, but whatever.  Clean start.  I backed up all my personal files, and reformatted the whole disk as ext4, and moved it back.

Now, the disk setup was this.
  • 0.5GB boot partition (device: /dev/sda1, mount point: /boot)
  • 465GB volume group (device: /dev/sda2)
    • 4GB swap partition
    • 24GB ext4 root volume (mount point: /)
      This is where all the system files go, like programs.
    • 200GB LUKS ext4 volume (mount point: /home)
      This was my primary file system for personal files.  It's encrypted so that if someone steals my laptop, they won't be able to read my data. :)
    • 237GB ext4 volume (mount point: /home2)
      This was a secondary one.  I wasn't sure whether the LUKS encryption on /home would slow down IO-heavy activities, like managing media files.  I didn't mind having things like videos and music stored unencrypted.
Ultimately, though, I found /home2 was unnecessary.  /home was adequately fast for my media.  While I have a laptop, it's 7200RPM rather than 5400RPM, so that helps.  Thanks to my photography habit, I found /home getting almost full, only 1GB free!  I considered moving my music collection to /home2, but decided instead to try to get rid of /home2 and expand /home over that space.

I used system-config-lvm to delete /home2 and then used it to resize /home over top it.  However, that alone did not resize my file system to cover it.  Interestingly, gnome-disks reports the LUKS volume and ext4 file system as taking up the full space, but df reports the ext4 file system as taking up only 200GB.  Uh oh.

So, I read this tutorial on Ubuntu forums about resizing encrypted file systems, and found the one step I still needed to take.  Apparently, system-config-lvm won't really resize the ext4 file system, even though gnome-disks claims afterwards that it larger.  So, I just ran resize2fs on it.  I used mount to figure out which volume it was on (mine was /dev/mapper/luks-blah-blah-blah) and then ran resize2fs /dev/mapper/luks-blah-blah-blah, while it was even mounted (!).  Hooray for live resizing.  It worked well, and after a reboot still worked too.

[General] Infidels

While in Flesherton, I've enjoyed visiting my friend Sam in the evenings and watching Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing.  It's the sequel series to the original Last Exile.  I tried to watch it a bit last year, but the hosting site was inadequate at the time.

The series touches upon politics of war and individuals' personal humanity.  It's sometimes difficult, in a good way, to watch.

I also get to torture Sam, as he's temporarily an invalid/infidel and vulnerable to excruciating pain induced by laughter.  Mispronunciation has never been more fun or evil.  People say laughter is the best medicine, but not if I kill him with it first.

[Technology] Efficiency!

I was using a script for a project that applied a bunch of transformation and filtering rules to some data.  There are only about 60 rules right now, and there is an average of 272 data records each day.   I originally wrote this quickly in a bash script using the terminal commands sed (for replacing a matched pattern with some string) and grep (for filtering based on a matched pattern).

Running it in a given month gets progressively longer as the month goes on, and it was taking on average over 5 minutes (!) to run those 62 rules.  Applying all the rules to each data record was taking almost a full second each.  This wasn't really scalable.

So, today I ported the script to vala, which is a C#-like language that compiles down into C (which is then compiled into native code).  This promises to be much quicker than interpreted code to begin with.  The run time once converted was less than 1 second.  That was a pleasant surprise.

Some of the fun was moving the transformation rules into their own file (XML), separate from the code, and making sure all the Regex objects were created once at the start of the program and then applied to all later data.

To make it still better would probably involve parsing the data records into a structured form from the start, rather than just using regular expressions to transform data strings.  Then creating a couple different type of rules for specific fields.  But this is good enough for now. :)


[Technology] Silly mistakes

Wondering for a day why my Linux Live USB key won't boot on my Asus Eee Top and then realising that the Linux image is 64 bit and the Eee Top is 32 bit.

[General] Theme update

So, if you're not reading this in Google Reader, you may have noticed a seasonal change to my theme.  Snow flakes and night time.  I might add some stars later, but I want to try some neat things for CSS first.

Anyway, let me know if you have any issues with it (perhaps the contrast is hard on your eyes), and perhaps I will add a toggle to switch it back and forth (with a cookie to remember your preference :D).

[Microblog] Transient Tripping

February 17 – Molson Canadian Studio – Hamilton, ON
February 18 – Starlight Social Club – Waterloo, ON
April 16 – Danforth Music Hall – Toronto, ON
Josh Ritter is coming to Ontario!  YAY!  Who wants to go?!

[General] Compulsion to Internet

There's a phenomenon I experience where I will feel compelled to continue clicking on the Internet.  It's almost as though I'm looking for something, I go from news site to news site reading items, flip through Wikipedia articles, scan through Facebook updates, etc., and I feel a mild anxiety about going offline.  This used to happen a lot when I was in high school, a lot while in my undergrad, late at night, a bit while I was in Vancouver and New Zealand (which is where I started to think of it as a problem, as my life situation was being interfered with when it happened), and then a few times since coming back to Guelph. 

I used to try to seek the meaning behind.  I used to assume there was something meaningful about it, that I must be looking for something or crave something that I lacked.  Or that I was afraid of something.  That maybe it was to do with some existential angst or loneliness.  During the later times, when it bothered me more, I'd want someone to come interrupt me (at 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7AM?) and maybe just give me a hug and help me just break the spiral I'd be in for the night.  I couldn't often get that, but sometimes and I did and it was amazing.

However, now I look at it differently.  My perception of my psychological behaviours have shifted a bit, and sometimes I see myself a bit more mechanical, seeing some behaviours as much less meaningful than I would have previously, and more as side-effects of how it is that I even exist.  And so, without actually thinking it's directly applicable, I feel more now that I get caught in something like a meaningless infinite loop (a common programming problem) that's almost more a consequence of sleep deprivation.

I've noticed that at around the 16 hour mark, the less mentally stable I am.  I don't become mentally unstable, but I start to destabilise.  I get more emotional, more sensitive, more sad, more silly.  And the solution usually isn't to understand and address those symptoms as meaningful, but to simply go to sleep, let my mind recuperate and start a new day with a clean slate.  It's great.  So, lately, if I feel hooked on the Internet late at night, rather than despairing, I give my head a literal shake and then turn off my computer.  It helps that I have redefined my relationship with deadlines and now feel free to generally sleep when necessary to protect my general health.

I'll note that prolonged social deprivation also produces strange mental states.  I used to experience this during times when I was isolated, or my social interaction was limited in magnitude or variety.  Now I actively avoid that, and I haven't noticed symptoms since.  

The brain is interesting.


[General] Society and us

"Welcome to the human race.  Nobody controls his own life, Ender.  The best you can do is choose to fill the roles given you by good people, by people who love you."
I like thinking about how society is responsible for itself, in how actions of mine will affect you and vice versa.  I like this statement denying singular control over yourself, but still having choice towards which influences you face.

[General] Happy at home

It's been a while since I've felt this happy to be back home in ever-idyllic Flesherton.  Water dripping from a roof splashed me in my face and all I could do was laugh.

White Christmas, indeed

My father, goofing around

[General] Ender's Game

I have now read it and it was amazing. Without discussing much content, I liked
  • the socio-political context
  • how little it worries about abnormal details (e.g. describing aliens)
  • how straight-forward and focused the story is (the context doesn't jump around too much)
  • focus on interactions between humans
  • intelligent reasoning of many of the characters, revealing the authors competence in reasoning and reasoning for others
  • fair exploration of complex issues: the author presents both positive and negative perspectives (even within the same character) on challenging issues
  • the foresight the author had concerning technology's development and usage
  • mixture of philosophy and politics
  • multiple stages of gradual development
  • value of honesty and loyalty
  • consistency of feeling between siblings, friends, acquaintances
  • value of analysing your environment, your self, and your context
  • irrelevance of a lot of material possession
  • competition within a society and violence
  • communication barriers and fear
  • handling of complex population problems
  • so much more

[General] Zellers and Waste

Today I came home and visited a friend of my father, and learned that an acquaintance of theirs enjoyed a contract to empty a closed Zellers.  They were supposed to throw away all the inventory O_O  As you might imagine, a lot of awesome stuff ended up diverted and personally redistributed, but I'm sad that formal arrangements weren't made by Zellers (or that particularly one) to ensure that all useful products went to some actual use.


[General] Responsibility

There's an article on Lifehacker titled "Avoid Stupid Arguments, Complaints, and Self-Victimization by Blaming Yourself More Often".

I actually generally agree with this.  The Lifehacker editors caution against always blaming yourself exclusively, which is good.  Last night I read an egotistical diatribe by a stupid University student on  Facebook that made me sick, and was a wonderful example of someone blaming others for their own problems. 

Now I must go and cut this abruptly short.


[School] Fresh start for blogging


I originally intended to blog a lot about my Masters here.  I haven't, partially due to discouragement from my department.  I understand the concern about leaking results, but I feel like I've missed out on a lot by not being able to communicate more about what I've learned and my work.  So, I'm just going to write about it anyway, though I won't get too specific.

To start, I have a system as a prototype of my hypothesis that mostly works.  It's not ideal, and I like to tinker with it to try to make it better.  Here are some concerns right now
  • efficiency; computational efficiency isn't key to my work, but it helps me test the accuracy of the algorithm.  Waiting 15-30 minutes to get a result and then analysing it to see where any problems may lie is a lot less productive than getting a result in one minute.  So, I'll work on that.
  • background knowledge; I need to understand two domains, one of linguistics and one of natural language processing.  In my first year, I acquainted myself with a lot of linguistics, but lately, I've only paid attention to computation.  I want to expand my understanding of linguistics in the hopes that it will serve my Masters better.
  • visualisation; it's been hard to clearly explain to some other people exactly how the algorithm operates if they're not already deeply into computer science.  I'd like to be able to have it visualise its progress as it runs so people can see its behaviour. 
  • stateliness; right now each run of the system starts fresh, and a grammar must be retrained from scratch.  What I would prefer would be able to have a built grammar that persists between runs, and that I can continue to add to.  I've used some of my GXml work to help with this a little, but I need to do more.


[Microblog] Transient Physicality

I was talking with a friend in NZ about the Christchurch museum and they indicated they weren't sure if it was still open after the earthquakes of the past couple of years.  That made me a little sad.  I spent a glorious time in Christchurch in 2009 and there were all sorts of wonderful sites and sights.  It's weird to think that those may no longer be available, perhaps ever.  I have photos archived, but those are no longer readily accessible either.


[Microblog] Transient Thought

My friend Liljana has decided to help a stray doughnut fulfill its Doughnut Destiny, by eating it.

[Microblog] Transient Pleasure

Marking assignments in the Daily Grind, sharing cookies and tea bags and smiles.  The good life.

[Microblog] Transient Want

I'd like to have a mini-whiteboard that would fit the full width and height of my shoulder bag, with suction cups.  Often I need to advertise something (like the Veggie Challenge prizes I have with me) and people won't readily recognise that i'm the dispenser.  I like signs.


[Microblog] Transient Thought

Took up an offer to see a friend's choir perform at a downtown church. A lady fell outside. The average age in attendance must be double me. It reminds me of Christmas at home.

[Technology] Login with Facebook

I never log in to a foreign website with Facebook.  Part of the reason is because it's never clear how much true access the website gets to your identity and data, even unintentionally.  I also avoided Google Connect.  I'd much prefer having an identity provider (I.me) which took a step to verify me, and then only gave other websites a consistent token that could not be correlated with my usage between other websites.  I'd be consistent to the website I'm signing in to (I could be 9017 to FreeTheGoats.go) but even if they shared their logs of users with another (EatGlass.net, where I'd now be 7103), they wouldn't be able to go, "A-ha, he likes eating glass and goat liberation!"

I bring this up because of Aviva, and in particular their Georgian Bay Turtle Hospital.  They need an account to at least know your votes are unique (though they'd also like to contact you), but I don't want to create yet another account (I probably will, for the turtles you know) and I don't want to use the alternative of logging in on Facebook.  I'd like another provider to just go ("This is 1097, who you've seen before, so they're not voting a second time today, but they can again tomorrow.")  It's a little reminiscent of OpenID, but that's more identifiable, with named URIs.  Sigh.

[General] Buy NOTHING Day and me

So on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is the United State's single busiest shopping day of the year and starts the Christmas shopping season.  Consequently, it is also Buy Nothing Day, an effort to raise awareness about consumer culture and waste.  The plan is, despite the amazing sales on consumer goods that day, you simply refrain from buying anything.  (The point isn't to starve, if you need groceries, go get some, but still, avoid superfluous waste.)   Buy Nothing Day is celebrated on campus with events primarily organised by Guelph Students for Environmental Change.

This year, I helped with their free soup by helping prepare vegetables for a couple hours the night before in fun company, and baking my trade mark cookies.  (I begin to feel towards my cookies as Sir Conan Arthur Doyle felt towards Sherlock.)

Death of a Squash

Crock Pot: the power of soup

Feeding dozens

3-2-1 COOKEHS!

I also proposed running a crafts table with my friend Libby so people could craft personal gifts for their friends for Christmas.  I and Laura spent the first hour crafting the Craft sign. 

It was a popular table

I was surprised at how many crafting
supplies I've accumulated in the past year
There was even a tie-dye area where I gave my ancient lab coat new life.  I don't have a picture of that yet, but look for it in the future on G+?
A friend, S, and I making the most of clothes
and accessories we do and do not own
I taught Libby how to make an origami crane and then made a video tutorial for her and Val.  We did two styles of crane, but only recorded one.

After that, DIYode was there.  They're a community work shop that works with materials (via their wood lathe, laser cutter and, newly, a PLASMA CUTTER (Hello Ironman!), 3D printing (a $2000 MakerBot, which they make many mini-Yodas with), and DIY electronics (programming Arduino boards and Raspberry Pis).  I went to their Arduino work shop.  They were having technical difficulties, as the provided school computers lacked admin rights, so I used my own Linux laptop to connect to the board and upload programs to do neat things like ... make lights blink!

Arduino with the DIYode Code Shield running my code
Finally, the day ended, we wrapped up, and I was greeted by the first snow fall in Guelph.

Moral of the story

So, buying things, the exchange of goods, is vital to a functioning civilisation, and having cash as an intermediary between services and goods is very efficient, even if it creates a disconnecting distance between a thing and its worth.  Materials were a big part of Buy Nothing Day, and those had to be bought.  The point isn't to stop all purchasing, but to encourage more intelligent and considerate purchasing.  Do you need the newest and latest thing?  Do you need to generate waste?

Arduino is cool because it's a functioning, no-frills chipset that is easily programmed by a user and can be used to accomplish all sorts of wonderful things instead of purchasing expensive, showing solutions.  DIYode has a digital door access mechanism where you use a fob with a unique magnetic signature that is interpreted by an Arduino system that checks it in a small database of authorised users and then sents a signal back to unlock the door, also telling the security camera (a commodity web cam) to start saving its feed to the hard drive for the next 15 minutes (instead of periodic snap shots).  This makes useful functionality very affordable to people in a relatively accessible manner.

The soup was cool because it was home made and communal preparation can be more efficient regarding waste.

The crafts were cool because they help use generic supplies to create personal gifts that can't be easily substituted.

But, time, creativity, imagination, energy.  These are not infinite, and I suppose a major reason why we outsource to pre-packaged consumer goods, despite the reduced personality, the increased waste.  Buying and installing a home security system is a lot less time consuming and requires less skill than fashioning your own.  Buying lunch can save a lot of time over making it and carrying it around.  We can't always be inspired to craft the most amazing things for our friends.  And presently, economic health of societies strongly impacts the quality of life people can enjoy, and contracting an economy by reducing total consumption is dangerous.

Hopefully activities like this can be educational and provide alternatives and new ideas for the future. :)

[General] GO VEGGIE GO! Plastic edition

This year GSETA hosted another Veggie Challenge, and this time I coordinated it, as well as volunteered and participated.  The poster was basically the same, and we did well in signing up participants: almost 200.  About 1 in 5 ballots were returned.  Hooray!

Updated poster, only a prize and the dates differ
I've been vegan for over a year now, so for my challenge, I tried to avoid purchasing any food that resulted in plastic waste.  I actually tried to buy nothing that resulted in plastic waste, and I failed, multiple times.  With the Veggie Challenge, we distribute trackers, and participants get to check off each meal that they successfully eat vegetarian (or vegan) for.   For the purpose of the draw, we understand if people make mistakes, and each returned ballot is equal (unless someone didn't try at all, in which case ...).  Habit and a failure to remain conscious of my actions foiled me 3 times, and helped remind me how difficult it can be for someone trying vegetarianism or veganism to avoid mistakes.  Fortunately, the plastic challenge was very educational for me.

Day 1: Easy and clean

The first day of my plastic challenge went very well, as it was also Buy Nothing Day (more anon), and I simply purchased nothing at all.  There was still danger from obtaining free things generating plastic waste, but that simply did not come up.  Problems arose immediately the next day, even when I thought I was being clever.

Day 2: Trying and failing


First, I was clever, and decided I would go to the Guelph's Farmers' Market for most of my materials.  The plastic challenge is already easy in that I get to still use things I've already acquired (a tough one would involve starting from scratch and avoiding all potential plastic waste).  I reckoned I would stock up on plastic-free produce and bread at the Farmers' Market (conveniently next door) with my hip reusable bags and sail through the week.  Then I bought salsa from the Salsateria booth.

Salsa from the Salsateria booth comes in a plastic container.  It's not a really useful plastic container.  The lid is a pain, and it melts in the microwave.  The salsa is very oily and tends to stain the plastic a little.  I realised my mistake moments after purchase, and the vendor let me swap it for a challenge-compliant wrap.  Few.  Disaster averted, I thought.  I also asked whether it was possible to bring my own container to Salsateria and just have them fill it, and apparently that should be doable.  Hooray!

cleaning supplies

Then I went to go replenish my cleaning supplies.  Again, clever I thought I was!  I went to Footprints, the Eco Store, in downtown Guelph, where you can also bring your own containers and refill them in bulk fashion!  It's brilliant!  I currently have my shampoo, hand soap, and dish soap from there.  My general cleaner will come from there once I've exhausted my current supply.  I'll be sad if I move somewhere without refillable cleaning supplies.  (For the record, they all seem effective at their jobs, despite having eyed them with suspicion; the only qualm is that the shampoo doesn't lather much.)   The liquids also claim to be at least more environmentally friendly than standard fare, so hooray!  One thing to note is that the barrels they are dispense from are themselves large and plastic, but I understand they are themselves refilled.  Even if they weren't, at least that would be much less total waste.

But then I bought toothpaste.  I didn't realise exactly what I was doing because the plastic portion (the tube) is not immediately visible, hidden within a cardboard box.  Besides the fact that the cardboard box is largely waste itself (even if recyclable), the brand I buy is generally considered environmentally friendly, Green Beaver.  I am told I can apparently use baking soda effectively, but I'm a bit wary of its abrasiveness, given how soft teeth actually are.

Day 2: Metro apocalypse

A friend desperately needed to go grocery shopping and I tagged along as a grocery mule.  And then I noticed many things I also needed.  And a couple things I didn't.


I ultimately purchased Christie's maple fudge cookies (because they are VEGAN!), almost picked up some of their Pirate peanut butter cookies (because they are vegan!), and perhaps it was then that I picked up some Fudge-Os?  (or it was a clone, but either way, they were VEGAN; it's not just regular Oreos, people!).  The cookies had totally plastic packaging.  I generally bake my own cookies, though, so I don't usually run into a problem here.


I also picked some hippy brand of cereal, which is delicious, and contained plastic freshness bag.  I could go to a bulk store to get in a container of my own, though.

vegan meat

I also bought Yves' veggie sausages.  This is a big gap in my diet: if I want to eat fancy meat substitutes, I am doomed to purchasing them with plastic.  Instead, I can still eat healthily with chickpeas and soy products and a bunch of other things that aren't plastic-wrapped, and I don't even really like food that simulates meat, but I do want to help round out my diet with the nutrients veggie meat products are fortified (most importantly, B12).  I don't have a solution for this, but I can say I don't think that a real goal wouldn't necessarily be eliminating all plastic usage, but reducing it to a sustainable and environmentally friendly level.  I could purchase exclusively recyclable plastics, for one, etc.  Unfortunately, clear information on what a sustainable level of plastic waste is isn't readily available, as an average usage if everyone obeyed it, or as a pessimistic usage if you were the only one and everyone else was wasteful.  At the very least, though, I know that the less waste I generate altogether, the more efficient I'm being and the more efficient my consumerism is. :)

clif builder

Finally, I bought a Clif Builder bar.  I use these to supplement my diet as well.  I was otherwise avoiding them throughout the week.  I should look into an alternative, like a powder mix and have shakes in the morning, or something.  I blame my friend Frank for addicting me to Clif Builder bars, though.

Day X: One last error

Near the end, I bought another Clif Builder bar because I felt a bit down and eating chocolate makes me feel better. :D  It was strange experiencing how significantly being down could void my week-long intent to avoid plastic.  I wonder if that happens with some people who try vegetarianism and veganism; they just become apathetic due to other circumstances and lose any sense of purpose behind their action.


It was a great attempt, unless you count all the many failures.  I used to actually do a somewhat conscious job of trying to minimise plastic waste up until a year and a bit ago, when I sort of lost sight of the purpose then and grew a tad apathetic, as I did on day X. 

It makes a lot of simple sense to me: I don't need this plastic for this item, so why get it?  It's more resources being used, and more money being spent.  Some people might think that helps add a segment to our economy, but I want to carve out inefficiencies generally.

I was glad that I was able to catalogue a sketch of my usual encounters with unnecessary plastic and was able to postulate alternatives; like going to bulk food stores and using reusable containers more.  It limits my choice in some ways (no more Corn Pops) but given an evaluation of a choice as being sufficiently  potentially detrimental to the world, is it a valid option to consider at all?  It's like chocolate chips: is it a valid choice for me to purchase ones that aren't Fair Trade just because then I can afford to buy more and make more cookies?  Given the purported situation of cocoa farmers, no, it's not really a valid choice.  Those I currently purchase in bulk form from the Flour Barrel in Guelph.  I don't think their brand is Fair Trade certified, like Camino are, but Camino comes in plastic packaging (and tastes not great).  How do I evaluate plastic packaging from Camino versus potentially-poor-working conditions from the bulk chip?

I'm glad I could consider further what an acceptable level of consumption might be; it is a thought that applies to my energy consumption, and any activity that destroys what it uses.  Some times I think I want to stop an activity all together, but really maybe I just want to identify what's a good amount.

I think I have more thoughts, but I've waited a week too long to share these ones already.


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