A Time to Kill

I wonder from time to time if I am too dependent on technology, and more specifically on being networked at all times. I currently have a cell phone service plan with unlimited data as well as a broadband cable internet package with a 300 GB cap. I do not have cable or subscribe to any sort of internet TV/movies package. My ultimate goal is to be paying one small price for my telephone and internet services and not pay for absolutely anything which I don’t use. I also often dream of what life would be like if I didn’t have a cell phone and/or data on my phone. This would save money, but I’m sure I would miss it and in fact be worse off without it. The one problem is that if I try to scale these things down, like for example if I cut my phone usage down to nothing for a month to see if I can survive (or thrive) is that I would still be paying $45 for the phone if I’m not using it. Some people might say that this isn’t a huge deal, but I’m a student, and if I’m paying for a telephone plan, I’m not not going to use it. There are much better cheaper replacements to SMS and voice calling using cellular networks, but they are not widespread and so adoption of them would simply serve to break my communication up many different ways. In this manner I suppose that settles the issue right there, in that clearly it is more affordable to just pay the $5/mo for unlimited texting just because it is convenient.

I am however, a firm believer in the idea that doing something only because it is convenient is ridiculous. SMS is a horribly outdated technology, and the fact that it exists only on your cell phone and nowhere else seems incredibly silly to me. I had a Sony Ericsson phone 2 summers ago which connected to my computer via USB and had an application interface which would be able to see my texts, and would send me a notification when I had a new one, which I could respond to without touching my phone. I now know this sort of thing is possible, and so I cannot understand why we are forced to send texts on the tiny little keyboard if our computer is the device we’re actually using. On a WiFi network this seems like it would require very little extra work on the part of the programmer, and yet we live in a world where the majority of messages we send rely on actually having one specific device in our hands. I am hopeful that with the widespread adoption of smartphones one day we can be freed from expensive texts. (PS, I know that if Google Voice ever came to Canada, this would be a moot point, but it seems like that may never happen, so this is the best we can do for now)

I could continue on this point for a long time but I feel like a long-winded rant is super pointless, so if anybody wants to talk further on this, or has something working really well in this regard, please let me know, I’m curious to talk about it more.

Hope everybody is enjoying their weekends!

-Robert

I am not in denial!

Welcome back! (Sorry this one is so long, I got into a zone a little, but I would really appreciate if you do read through at some point)

Since my non-technology post was so well received, I thought it would be wise to add another one before trying to head back to more familiar territory (for me). I hope to approach this subject with a little bit of humility because it could end up being a fairly controversial one. I recently had a discussion wherein I asked people who know me fairly well if I get angry very often. I think of myself as a very mellow, yet opinionated person. I was told that in fact I get angry quite often, which didn’t sit right with me. I personally could only think of a few times even in the last year when I had been angry.

This brings me to what I guess would be the main point of what I am trying to say here, namely that there IS a difference between anger with something/someone and disagreement with it. The more I think about this statement, the more it appears to apply in everyday life. I find it extremely difficult to be legitimately angry with people or things, because in my opinion such strong emotion does little to change the situation. Anger is rarely reasonable and thus often stands behind unreasonable people. In my case, I think people often confuse my disagreement with them (however vehement said disagreement may be) as anger with their point of view. I don’t often get the chance to actually discuss these things with people, because reasonable argument between two people on a strongly polarizing issue can be very difficult. However, I will now attempt a rational, objective argument with myself on the subject which brings up this issue in my head.

LMFAO are a decently popular electronic pop/rap duo consisting of Sky Blu and Red Foo, and the songs in question are both produced in part by a gentleman referred to as Goonrock as well. Their new album, Sorry for Party Rocking, was recently released, and the first two singles from the album are called Party Rock Anthem and Champagne Showers. I have posted both videos below for those of you unfamiliar with the works. It has been declared to me that these two songs are “the same”, almost as though music from either song could be played with either video. While it is clear to me that they are wearing the same outfits and the stories are in fact different chapters for the same story, this is not the discussion I was having. 

I would argue the fact that both of these songs are different works of art in their own right, while arguments from the other side suggest that two different works of art rooted in the same formula (similar timings of critical musical elements and choral repitition for example) don’t need to be different works. My argument is exactly the opposite, I think these songs NEED to be considered as different, even if only because the artists themselves presented them separately. In having these discussions, I find that trying to make the above arguments is met with repetitive chants of “they’re the same”, and no manner of argument will change that fact in others’ minds. While I try to state my case, I have been told that I come off as angry, even though no form of anger occupying my brain. The closest emotion I could safely say I feel in these situations to anger is frustration, and even then this is only because I cannot get my points across, but I am used to this as so it doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it used to.
The more broadly applicable topic here is that of politics and political discourse. I find myself siding more and more with excellent political pundit Jon Stewart. The fact is I am not angry with the opinions of (to use Canada as an example) Liberals, or Conservatives, or even Bloq supporters. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but with these rights there come certain responsibilities. When approached with new and unfamiliar points of view, it is VITAL to understand not only what is being said, but also why it is being said. This is why major news organizations which are privately funded will not report both sides of a news story. It is in nobody’s best interest to solely report what is going on, especially with a 24-hour news cycle to fill. Without even feigned balance of opinion, there is nothing to keep people watching beyond the half hour or even hour nightly news shows such as CBC decide is important enough for all to hear. Back to the responsibilities of citizens though, most people, even those who are well-meaning, will end up bickering over abortion, or gun control, or political party lines, or the legalization of marijuana, or religious freedoms…I could go on and on. The fact is, we will and should discuss these things. Our society is largely based on communication and discussion of this nature, and these kinds of discussions are much more important than the weather or last night’s episode of Jersey Shore. It is critical that we have differences of opinion, because without them there would be no progress.
The current difficulty is that we are living in a sea of information which boggles our minds and clouds our judgements. I have an opinion on each of the topics I listed a few lines up, and would love to have a discussion about any of them with anybody will to share their opinion. What I am not interested in is people who will try to convince you their opinion is the absolute, be-all-and-end-all correct opinion simply because it is what they already think. My problem with this is that the reason people often have such strong opinions is because they heard a clear, convincing argument one way or the other, be it from a celebrity, a public figure, a journalist, and most commonly, a parent or loved one. The trouble with convincing arguments is that they don’t require logic or factuality. A argument which is believable based solely on truthiness is a bad argument, which is the point Stephen Colbert tried to make in the opening episode of his show. Opinion based on a gut feeling is generally pretty solid, as in the case of murder or theft, but making an argument based solely on these grounds is a slippery slope. The content of people guts varies widely on many issues, so some form of rationality is also required for a cogent argument. 
Back to politics, I would like to add another small point to news networks and the flaws inherent in their design. By law, it seems, all shows on Fox News must discuss the same stories on any given day. Typically there is not enough going on to require 24 hours of news, so some blanks must be filled in with repeated opinion. I don’t have a huge problem with this, because people need to make a living, and if people are going to watch your network for 24 hours, that is absolutely their prerogative. I have a problem with cycling news with opinion, and then referring to the opinion your network has just presented as though it is news. It allows stories which have no large scale clout to float to the top of the news pile, and allows political talking points to be endlessly circled and rehashed until the original story can’t even been seen through all the partisan siding which has been added to it. I do not agree with this procedure, and really wish it would stop. Watch the Daily Show for many, MANY examples of this.
Anyhow, I hope this post is not also taken as anger, because it wasn’t written as such. Frustrated, maybe…
The crux of this matter is, it is extremely important that we discuss things which we encounter on a day to day basis and the things we deem pertinent. More crucially though, it is necessary that before making an argument or defending a position, that we have thought about why we feel the way we do, why we think what we think, and most important, why do others have the opinions they have, and what can we learn from them.
-Robert

A Fork in the Road

I’m back once again, to discuss another issue I find near and dear to my heart quite often, the conversation about human-powered transport. Whether you cycle, or rollerblade (I dare not mention skateboarding, firstly because  I don’t do it, and second because it does not seem efficient or quiet enough to be a viable everyday transport option), for fun or for pleasure, finding a cheap, fun way to travel from point A to point B, or just do a loop from point A back to point A, is desirable for everyone.

People who drive have it made, it’s an incredibly powerful technology which has changed humanity over the last 150 years (or so, I did not look that up). But for me, having a car just isn’t worth the downsides. I live right in downtown Ottawa, and my walk to work is 7 minutes from my bedroom to my desk. 95% of things I do are within 15 minutes walk, and everything else I choose to bike or rollerblade depending on my needs when I get there.

There are two points to consider when looking for a bike (or any mode of transport, but for the sake of this discussion I will use bikes), either used or new. Some people refuse to buy used, whereas others will only buy it if they can haggle on price, which typically happens a little bit on used bikes but only in rare cases on new bikes. I think the discussion should boil down to a different factor: quality. I have found first hand that not all bikes are created equal. When searching for a bike, price should not be in your head. I made this mistake several years ago when searching for a bike, and came across a heavily discounted one at Sears. After the transaction was complete, I had saved about 75% its initial cost. I was so excited to have a bike that I took it for a two-hour ride the following day, and it was of acceptable quality, it wasn’t GREAT, but it was from Sears. I vowed that after this one ride, I would take it to a bike shop and make sure it was all in tune and ready to go. The morning I had planned to do this it was raining, but I was determined, so I set off happily when about 5 minutes into the second ride the pedal and arm fell off without warning. Needless to say I wasn’t happy, but I managed to stick it back on and continue, pausing every minute or so to make sure it was still on tight. I made it to Cyco’s on Hawthorne (where I still go for all my bike needs, they are great) and asked for a complete tuneup. I also showed them the pedal which had fallen off, and was told it would very likely need replacing, which was my fault for riding it in that condition. Once that work was done, I used the bike on a short ride and found that even when it was fully tuned, it was still a pretty terrible ride and couldn’t go nearly as fast as I would have liked it to. After all the problems I had had with it, I had decided that even at only $50, it still wasn’t worth the cost, and when the pedal itself actually broke off of the arm, I took it straight back and got my money from Sears. They were very understanding, though I did walk in with several pieces of bike. The lesson I took from this was that if I was going to get another bike, it would be sold to me by somebody who knew what they were talking about and who knew that the bike was in good working order. I spent $825 on a bike last fall, and it is a really spectacular ride. It’s upkeep and accessories to go with it do get expensive, but in my mind it is well worth the cost, I enjoy the ride, the bike weighs almost nothing and I can feel great riding it on paths or on streets.

As I mentioned before, this experience applies to many things in life. I have learned many times that spending a little money on something so that you have it tends to only lead to trouble and more expense. I had the same experience as mentioned above with cell phones, laptops, tablet computers and rollerblades, though not to as extreme a degree. After the cheap implement because useless or broken in some way, I was forced to (within 6 months to 1 year) replace said implement. I now have a higher-end laptop which works great and which I am using to write this, an iPhone which I have had for 7 months and is fantastic (replacing an older model iPhone which is still in use by my cousin when I upgraded), an iPad which I use every day and am extremely happy with as well, and a high-end pair of rollerblades which have lasted many times longer than the original pair I had gotten (the cheapest pair). I understand that not everybody can justify purchases such as these, but I implore you, if you plan to make an investment on something that isn’t inconsequential or which you intend to have an extended life-span, please do your research and make sure what you are planning to buy is worth the cost and will serve you well for a long time, rather than finding the cheapest thing you can and hoping it lasts.

The reason I chose to write about bikes today is that I went for a bike ride today and fell off of my bike at the very end of my ride, mashing my knee on something and leading to a crazy huge bump which I would like to share with you. It kinda hurts, and it looks like I have an extra kneecap…Ow.

-Robert