Pokemon Go – What games are all about

Pokemon Go was recently released in Canada to much fan fare. The game takes place in augmented reality and is everything a game should be.

The hook of the game is that you have to move to play it. You can’t sit at home and play, you have to walk around. Thousands of people are getting off their ass and going outside to play a game, and they are having fun doing it.

On my train ride home I saw professionals of all stripes chasing virtual monsters instead of starting off into space as they usually do. On my running route, the same one that I’ve been running for years, I saw hundreds of people out in the park, walking around with their cellphones, catching pokemon. Not only that, but they are learning about their city. The locations in the game are tied to real locations in the world. Public art, important buildings, transit locations are all locations in the game. Today I found a fountain in a downtown park I didn’t know was there.

Health Canada can only dream of activity numbers like that. Imagine if Parks Canada had an app that had kids searching our national parks and playing games outside.

People having fun and sharing a common experience is why I play games. Augmented reality has a bright future ahead of it.

 

I liked you better as a Minister

This is a post about the change of demeanor I’ve seen in The Honorable Michelle Rempel since the election. Michelle was the minster for Western Economic Diversification from 2013 until the election in 2015. The mandate of this department is to:

“Promote the development and diversification of the economy of Western Canada and to advance the interests of the West in national economic policy, program and project development and implementation.”

Her job was to diversify the western economy. That roughly translates to creating businesses that don’t deal in oil. To do this, she create the WINN, a $100 million fund available to small and medium enterprises. From the website:

Over the next five years, WINN will provide up to $100 million in repayable assistance to SMEs working to commercialize their products, processes, and services.

$20 million a year that a company would have to repay at some point. An loan basically. As a SME, a kickstarter campaign might get you more traction. That criticism aside, I enjoyed Michelle’s work. She was my local MP, and I enjoyed her (usually) straight talk and approachable manner. She routinely visited non-standard Albertan industries and opened some new facilities. All this changed when she became an opposition MP. Watch this video in this link.

To recap, her job from 2013 until 2015 was to diversify the western economy to remove it’s reliance on a single industry or commodity.

In the video, she says “The bottom line is that there are over 100,000 people out of work in my Province” Somehow completely skipping over the part where it was her job to provide opportunities for their employment.

“This is a major concern for the national economy” Yes it is. It was your mandate for two years to diversity the western economy to be more resilient, but you didn’t.

“We’ve got this industry that’s in crisis..” It was your job to make sure if a crisis happened, there would be other industries to keep us afloat. That’s what diversification means.

“We have to care about the people who are out of work, not just in Alberta but the ripple effect this is going to have across the country” Probably should have done something about shoring up the economy while you were the minster in charge. Take advantage of a sunny day to build a better foundation perhaps? Michelle, you were in charge of the economic safe guards to thwart unemployment in this very situation.

You get the idea. She is becoming a master at this type of Orwellian doublespeak. Pointing fingers and the very same problem she created.

 

There is no spin! Those are the facts! The Conservatives did nothing to protect Canada against falling oil prices. They are now pointing the finger at the Liberal government for not bolstering the very same industry that got us into this mess.

Yes, we need the Energy East pipeline. We should absolutely use Canadian resources for Canada. The application was filled in October 2014. These applications take time. In the meantime it would be nice to fall back on a few secondary industries… but someone didn’t create enough incentives for them to grow. In the interest of politics, Michelle is attacking with all her ammunition, regardless if her guns are pointed at the department she use to run.

Michelle, I liked you better as a minister. Please go back to positive politics. Work with the Liberals in creating real change and stop worrying about your reelection. Your country needs you.

Our boxing PM and his criminal opponent

[cryout-button-color url=”#” color=”#47AFFF”][/cryout-button-color]Now that Justin Trudeau is our PM, international news outlets are showing pictures of him, including pics from his boxing match with Patrick Brazeau. While it’s all fun and games to post topless pictures of politicians, but I think it’s important to reminisce a little on this boxing match. I’m sure Justin hasn’t forgotten it. At the time he was a junior MP, pitted against a physically stronger Conservative Senate member. The parallels are numerous.
patrickbrazeau

To recap, Justin and Patrick were paired to fight in a boxing match to raise money for cancer. Tickets were $250, and Patrick was the favorite going into the fight. When the dust settled, Justin was the winner, Capital hill was all a buzz, and life went on. Justin was later elected the Liberal Leader and Brazeau started assaulting people outside the ring.

I don’t think anyone much cared about Brazeau after this boxing match. Then he went and committed a few crimes. He was charged with assault and sexual assault, and pleaded guilt to assault and possession of cocaine. He also has a fraud case scheduled to go before the courts in 2016. The way I see it, He’s a scum bag and has no business being in the Government. Now, my big issue here, is why isn’t he in jail? The Conservatives have a strong anti drug stance, so why don’t they make an example of this guy and put him in jail? The guy has prior convictions, and other court cases in his future, but he walks free.

As far as Senators on trail, Brazeau isn’t alone. There’s Duffy, Wallin, Harb… the list goes on.

There are plenty of arguments to be made.

The takeaway I want to leave you with, is Justin is now the leader of the country, and there is a lot of talk about the Senate. When he speaks to Parliament about the Senate, remember he’s not afraid to put on his[cryout-button-dark url=”#”][/cryout-button-dark] gloves and go toe to toe in an actual ring with these guys.

The Terrorists Win

Over the past few years, there has been a lot of talk about the threat of terrorism, and how Canada can protect its populace against it. I’m here to tell you, if you want to win the war on terror, ignore it.

I’ll say that again, ignore terrorism.

You see, terrorism is a military tactic to get political change through threats of violence. You don’t actually have to commit violence for it to work. And it turns out Canadians are not victims of violence from terrorists activities. Before you read on, take a guess on how many Canadians were killed as a result of terrorists activities. And then think about if that number constitutes a risk to the average Canadian.

The number of  Canadian deaths attributed never rises above 5 people a year going back as far as 1970. 5 people a year hardly seems like a threat to the Country. Highway 63 in Alberta has seen 46 deaths in 5 years, why isn’t infrastructure the higher priority?  The average Canadian is under no statistical risk due to terrorism, so why is it such a big topic? It’s not even a risk to US citizens; in 2010, 8 US civilians died due to terrorism, and 29 died by lighting.

Yes, I realise that destabilization is a concern for the Global safety, and that deaths, globally, are on the rise. But, we are the ones destabilising these regions. Canada may have killed 27 Iraqi civilians in Jan of 2015 during an airstrike. So, Canada has potentially killed half the amount people in one incident that Canada has lost to terror in 40 years. Some estimates from the 2001 Afghan war say that 91,000 deaths are directly related to combat, including 26,000 civilians. Canadians would be wise not to forget the Somalia Affair, where Canadian forces tortured and killed a boy.

So, this begs the question, who is the terrorist in this scenario? Why are we spending our time, money, and effort to kill other people in the name of safeguarding Canadians, for a risk that statistically doesn’t merit mentioning?

Fear, that’s why. And because we harbour that fear, the terrorists win.

 

Exploration Mindset

Talk of Mars is getting more and more media attention. Because of that, reporters have been calling astronauts, agencies, schools and government officials to get their take on a mission to Mars. Much of the conversation has been centered around Mars One, a newcomer to the Mars race. Being the newcomer, the established players are rightly skeptical. However, I’ve found that skepticism has turned into negativity. It’s very easy to find criticism of the mission and difficult to find optimism. I find this troubling.

I find it especially troubling coming from Canadian astronauts. As a Canadian, I want my country’s astronauts to be the embodiment of the “can do” attitude. Their responses to the Mars One mission, a company up against formidable odds, shows me the Canadian Space Agency is becoming more and more risk averse. More than that, a general unwillingness to entertain new ideas seems prevalent in their culture.  to A sad state of affairs for the third nation in space.

Compare these two statements: It can’t be done vs How can it be done.

The knee jerk reaction I’m seeing is that a mission to Mars can’t be done. Everyone hopes it will, but they aren’t making a personal effort to get it done. They are more than willing to offer excuses as to why it won’t work, instead of solutions to get it to work. There is a big difference in thinking between the two mindsets.

Chris Hadfield

Hadfield is a household name around Canada. I’ve never met him, but I’ve watched his talks online and read his book. As the ISS commander, he no doubt understands leadership and determination. That makes it all the more confusing to me when a bold plan is announced, he’s against it.

“There’s a great, I don’t know, self-defeating optimism in the way that this project has been set up, I fear that it’s going to be a little disillusioning for people, because it’s presented as if for sure it’s going to happen.”

But that’s exactly how you set goals. You set an objective, a time line then start working the details. You don’t set a goal to “maybe”. You set a goal to “we are doing this”. As ISS commander I’m sure he did this over and over again. There were goals in place, and he had to make them happen. You set your goals and adjust your strategy as time goes on to ensure they happen. You may not know all the details when you start towards a goal; the most important thing is that you start.

“I want to know: How does a space suit on Mars work? Show me how it is pressurized, and how it is cooled. What’s the glove design? None of that stuff can be bought off the rack. It does not exist. You can’t just go to SpaceMart and buy those things.”

Hadfield is talking about the details. The short answer is they haven’t been worked out yet. However, MIT and NASA are both working on new suits for Mars. The details are being worked on. Why didn’t he say “I’m anxious to see how the new prototypes work” rather than tell the media they don’t exist. I’m sure he’s aware of the efforts being made. He choose to talk in the negative; implying that it’s better not to even try. As for Space Mart, it’s looking like the aerospace business is going in the direction.

Why isn’t he using his public clout to get people excited and engaged with new space ventures?

Robert Thirsk

Bob is a fantastic man. I’ve personally been to his lectures, chatted with him and shared a few beers. I’ve even spoken to students about Mars at the high school named after him. He’s very knowledgeable, calculated and detail oriented. He’s also said an effort to colonize Mars would be a suicide mission.

“I don’t think we’re ready … we don’t yet have the reliable technology to support a one-way trip to Mars … It’s naive to think we’re ready to colonize Mars — it’d be a suicide mission.”

He doesn’t say “let’s get ready” or “here are the steps” or even “I would rather see…”. He said it’s naive to think we are ready, and trying is the same thing as suicide. That to me is uncompromisingly defeatist. I will agree, we do not have reliable technology. My solution would be to get reliable technology, not to call it adempted suicide. When confronted with an obstacle, the winner starts to think how they will overcome it; the loser goes home. It’s a frame of mind that seems to be missing from the Canadian astronaut alumni.

Bob is the current University of Calgary Chancellor, a position that carries academic visibility. The UofC has a department of space research and an observatory. So why the negative comments about a new space venture? Why wouldn’t he use his position to encourage students to critically examine the mission? Instead honest effort is causally dismissed.

Julie Payette

Julie is one of the few women who’ve made it into space. When I heard her talk in Montreal, she spoke about overcoming the male dominated aerospace industry during her journey to becoming an astronaut. She spoke about the uphill battle against the preconceived notions of the day. That makes her harsh words for the mission all the more baffling.

“So, if you meet any of those people, don’t tell them they’re courageous because the only courage they had was to sign up on a website.”

I wonder if any of her male colleges told her the same sort of thing as she was trying to prove herself. I wonder if they said things like, “Don’t pay attention to Julie, she’s a woman”. Yes, the Mars One mission looks completely different than what’s been done in the past. It goes against conventional mission planning. So did women in aerospace and engineering at one point. How she doesn’t see that parallel is baffling to me. Her reaction is to say it can’t be done, instead of asking how it can be done.

“We don’t have the technology to go to Mars, with everything we know today, so I don’t think that a marketing company and a TV-type of selection, is sending anybody anywhere,”

She goes on to say:

“We are going to go to space on a commercial basis and it’s at our doors, It’s a reality that will become the norm in the next decades.”

She’s saying it both ways. A marketing company can’t get into the space business, but space will become commercial in the next decades. This is the positive talking that I’m referring to. Looking to what’s possible and what’s on the horizon. Commercial space will become a reality and space travel will become monetized. Why then, such negativity when a company attempts to do just that? She displays outright hostility to those who want to follow her footsteps and reach for something bigger than themselves. She believes that taking steps to Mars, small as they may be, are worthless.

This attitude is coming from the Chief Operating Officer of the Montreal Science Centre. A centre whose mission is to “… to help visitors of all ages acquire an understanding of science and technology for use in building their future” Why is she lashing out at people who are trying to do just that?

 

 

I ask my questions with the hope of an answer. Why are Canadian astronauts so negative towards new ventures?

Life on Mars won’t be awful

Is life a disgusting toil of never ending disappointment to you?

Myself, I believed my life, and life in general is rather fantastic. There are those who walk among us who disagree. Gerry Flynn wrote a blog titled “Life On Earth Is Shit, Life On Mars Will Be Just As Awful“. It’s just as full of adolescent name calling and unrealistic hyperbole as one would expect from the title. The first sentence completely sets the tone: It says a lot about our life on Earth that when Mars One announced in April 2013 nearly 200,000 meat-sacks decided that their futile existence of toil, eczema and club-points would be infinitely improved if blasted millions of miles away from the rest of society and into space. The post is a complete fabrication  from the author’s opinions, however I feel it important to tackle the text. Misconception is never a good thing. I realize it’s been posted under comedy, but I don’t find this angry text fun or beneficial to the wider understanding of exploration.

Life On Earth Is Shit, Life On Mars Will Be Just As Awful

Let’s start with the title. We have it good on Earth, despite what the news will tell you. We live in the most peaceful time in human history. We have an ever increasing life expectancy across the world. We are constantly creating an increasing amount of data that tells us more and more who we are. Things are good, and they are getting better.

I absolutely reject that life on Earth is shit. It’s never been better. Life on Mars will be difficult, just as any exploration is. Because something is challenging doesn’t make it awful and extending falsehoods about Earth to future exploration in the solar system is damaging to those explorations.

Firstly, my suspicion was aroused by the involvement of Lockheed Martin – a company who having long since perfected the art of decimating mankind with the ruthlessly efficient innovation of high powered death machines and are now taking time out from their regular schedule of being a real-life version of ACME from Looney Tunes to assist Big Brother in Space (as I’m sure it’ll be renamed before liftoff) in propelling the next generation of humanity into another fruitless existence on an even more barren and inhospitable planet than Staines could ever aspire to.

If your suspicions are aroused by the involvement of Lockheed Martin in a space mission, that tells me you know nothing about space. Lockheed build the Hubble, the spacecraft that gives us all those fantastic background pictures for our computers. They’ve been involved with half a dozen other space telescopes, not to mention being the prime contractor for several Mars missions including the Phoenix lander. This is of particular importance, because the Mars One lander is based off the Phoenix architecture due to the similarities in water extraction for both missions. This is a perfectly reasonable course of action and is no cause for alarm.

What with the Mars One mission statement consisting of barely a single paragraph, namely extolling the virtues of “inspiring future generations,” but chiefly aiming to establish a human settlement on Mars, it’s hard to see what the point of all this interstellar butt-fuckery is.

A mission statement should be clear, easily understood sentence. It reads It is Mars One’s goal to establish a human settlement on Mars. That seems pretty clear to me. The point, as was eloquently put, is to establish a permanent settlement on a celestial body other than Earth. There are many reasons to study Mars, and many more to settling the planet. It’s a big idea, with lots of complex parts. I get that it’s not easy to grasp. It is not, however, butt-fuckery. Nor is it interstellar; that’s something completely different.

Considering what an awful, money-grubbing, bastard society of shit-gobs we’ve crafted down here on Earth, what little hope can be reserved for our colonising cousins – especially when the Mars One website compares its batch of space-monkeys to “Vikings and famed explorers of Old World Europe.” So in essence they’re going to go and introduce credit-lending financial systems to whatever resides out there in the black and crush any resistance they meet with an iron fist, presumably before subjugating any extraterrestrial existence under a brutal regime of rape and murder all in the name of televised entertainment.

I consider the people of Earth to be much more than that. Composers, artists, engineers, dreamers, athletes and comedians. It’s easier than ever to pursue what your passion is, and it’s up to each person to put the effort in. There are those that don’t, true, and it could be argued that the barrier to entry is a bit short in places. The world is full of good, and exploration helps us become better at being us. Without explorers we would all be living in caves, with very little technology to aid us. Getting to Mars is a stretch goal that will aid humanity into becoming even more amazing.

Also, there’s no reason to get mad at the Vikings, they were rather normal people for their time. Almost all the stories that are told about them are exaggerated. They were great explorers and skillful traders. Their culture has a lot to be admired, and I do admire their exploration spirit. I was given a copy of the Viking laws by a Scandinavian man I met at ISU and I keep in on my fridge. I run into a lot of negativity about missions to Mars and it usually dissipates once I get a chance to share some of the facts.

Don’t Stay in School

The sentence “Don’t Stay in School” is jarring to those of us who grew up with the words “stay in school” being thrown at us from every direction. The campaign isn’t about people leaving school, but questioning school subjects. When was the last time you sat down and thought, why do we learn what we learn in school? I recently watched the video below and asked myself that very question.

Public school, in it’s k-12 format is supposed to teach people how to be citizens in the society they live in. The skills they need to survive as adults should be learned before they become adults. Is that the case in Alberta? From what I remember of my public education, I don’t think it is.

As the video mentions, I don’t remember being taught how to do my taxes. Money and trade is the foundation of our modern economy, and it’s not in the core classes. Lots of people have their lives ruined by predatory lending every year because these people don’t understand compound interest. Essential financial skills for an adult in Canada are:

  • Paying taxes
  • Understanding lending rates
  • How to manage a budget

So lets teach these skills. Lets make sure kids have mastered these skills, not spend an afternoon looking at some slides.

We should be teaching kids skills that they will used everyday, along side the skills that they can use to better their lives.

People are becoming adults today and they believe that vaccines are bad. This shows a tremendous lack of understanding when it comes to scientific literacy and statistics. These people may have memorized facts, but they have no idea what the data behind those facts mean. It an increasingly data driven world, we need people to understand what the data means. For examples of misunderstanding data, google climate change.

What about something as simple as driving? Why isn’t defensive driving taught in school? Even if you are never going to get behind the wheel of a car in your life, you will walk on a sidewalk. Knowing how to drive would keep you safe while interacting with vehicles. There were over 120,000 injuries from motor vehicle accidents in Canada in 2012. There are cars everywhere in our cities, why aren’t we teaching kids how to change a tire and check the oil? Shouldn’t all of our citizens know if the vehicle they drive everyday is safe to do so?

We need to get everyone to a base line where they can interact with the world we live in. We are not doing that. We owe it to our future to teach our children skills they can use to navigate their lives. You can always take advanced courses later in life, but it becomes very difficult to do so with massive debt due to the misunderstanding of how credit cards work.

 

The kids are alright

Last week I spoke at the Tanbridge Academy about going to Mars and my personal reasons for doing so. I’ve done this talk close to 20 times and I still love doing it every time. I love doing it because I get to see the faces of kids who are hearing it for the first time. There are always a few whose faces light up with excitement, or frown with questions. It’s very rare that they will run out of questions before I run out of time. When I’m coordinating the talks with teachers and other adults, I tell them that I usually talk for 10-15 mins and then answer questions for another 20. It’s the adults that can’t fill 20 minutes of questions, kids want to know it all. The youth of today gives me hope for tomorrow.

At the beginning of the month I was asked to be the closing speaker for a space camp being put on by Connect Charter School and Millarville Community School. The topic I chose was life in the solar system. It was the first time I had talked about this topic, and I was excited to do so. When people ask me if there is life outside of earth, I tell them yes. I spent time explaining myself to these kids, and the reaction was similar; they wanted to know more. It’s the best feeling in the world being able to talk to someone about what you are passionate about, and they always want to hear more. Not only that, but their questions and conversations are usually much better than with adults.

Kids have an amazing ability to learn that we lose as we grow older. We believe there is a “real world” out there and we have to fall in line. Kids live in the same universe that we do, but they see it so much differently. They see possibility and they want to do amazing things. The grown up world should spend more time with kids. Not to teach them how to be grown up, but for the kids to teach us adults how to imagine. If we want a better world, we should encourage our youth to follow their own path instead of telling them what to do. We need creativity, passion and drive more than ever and you find this in elementary school, not graduate school.  We should help them, not tell them. They already have the skills they need, it’s our job to make sure they don’t lose them when the join the “real world”.

Grade 6 Science fail

I’ve been going into classrooms talking to elementary students about Mars One, space and engineering. Grade 6 classes in Alberta study Sky Science, so my talk fits well with their curriculum. I thought it would be a good idea to read up on the curriculum so I could better tailor my talk. When I printed off a study guide, I found it was riddled with errors.

Science!Why are we lacking STEM talent in Canada? Could be that the facts we teach our children aren’t correct. The document was written in 1996, but even then we knew about more than 1011 stars, and where we parked the Hubble. Click the picture for full resolution and read it for yourself. It’s embarrassing at best.

There is one very troubling sentence that appears in the official curriculum. I don’t know what to make of it.

Describe the location and movement of individual stars and groups of stars(constellations) as they move through the night sky

This seems to say that individual stars and the constellations move at different rates. Technically, that’s true, but for a 11 year old observer, all the stars in the sky keep the same orientation. The constellations are not grouped by nature, they are grouped by our imagination. That’s how we discovered the planets, they moved and the stars didn’t. It’s this sort of ambiguous teaching that will confuse students and turn them away from STEM.

Remember the taste map we learned in school? There are places on the tongue for sweet, sour, bitter and salt? That’s not true either. Turns out that hypothesis from 1901 was disproved in 1974 when someone checked the data. No one updated the teaching material; thanks for nothing.

How can we avoid teaching myths as facts?

We have a whole body of academics and professionals in this country. They oversee all sorts of regulatory issues across Canada. Why don’t we get the experts in their respected fields to proof read the material we are teaching children? It’s just so simple, it might work.

Mars One in the eyes of Islam

Obviously, I pay attention to news about Mars. It’s usually about missions, funding cuts and new discoveries. This past week I learned that the UAE Islamic watchdog has declared that Muslims must not take part in Mars One, as it is against Islam. According to their site, they issues 337,000 Fatwas last year, so it’s a very common practice. At more than 100 a day, it seems they are a very busy agency. According to Wikipedia, a Fatwa is a legal judgment or learned interpretation based on the the teachings of Islam. As I understand it, when something new in the world shows up, it is judged against Islamic Law and then decided upon if it is a sin or not. Traveling to Mars is apparently a sin in Islamic Law.

That doesn’t make me happy. I’m not a Muslim or a member of any organised religion. I do strongly believe that space exploration is very important, so a decry by anyone that it’s morally wrong doesn’t sit right with me. In this case, the voyage has been likened to suicide, and suicide is a Sin, therefore the voyage is against Islam.

I’m not going to argue against Islam, but exploration is not suicide. Suicide is intentionally killing oneself; there argument is that the trip is so dangerous that death is a certain outcome. Two things about that:

  1. Death is a certain outcome of life
  2. The trip does not mean certain death

Life and death are part of the package. Every living thing will die. The risks we take in life can increase the likelihood of dying sooner, but risks also let us live more richly. Everything we do has a risk. Life itself is a risk. So how do we die on Earth? A good portion of it is from cancer, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases. Suicide and accidents are higher in the USA, but cancer and heart are still fantastic killers. Motor vehicle accidents are up there as well, 1 in 84 chance in 2006, but driving isn’t a sin.

The NASA study on radiation says there is about a 5% increase in fatal cancers for every three years you are on Mars. On the flip-side there is no risk of a traffic accident or accidental firearm discharge on Mars. You will be on a strict diet so your chances of heart disease goes down. You can’t drown in the bathtub either on Mars. (1 in 818,015, about the same risk as electrocution.) People die all the time. It’s cliché but not everyone lives a full life. Exploring, pushing boundaries, growing and making new frontiers is how we live our lives to the fullest.

Lets get back to what was said:

Professor Dr. Farooq Hamada, who presides over the fatwa committee, shared the motivation for issuing the fatwa: “Protecting life against all possible dangers and keeping it safe is an issue agreed upon by all religions and is clearly stipulated in verse 4/29 of the Holy Quran: Do not kill yourselves or one another. Indeed, Allah is to you ever merciful.”

Do not kill yourself or one another, that’s the verse. This year, the UAE is creating a law for mandatory military service. The UAE has a standing military force of 70,000 souls; over 5% of it’s GDP used for it’s upkeep. That’s the 5th highest in the world for 2011. If you have control over a standing army, you are preparing to take lives. FULL STOP. Any one of those 70,000 people can be called in to combat and is expected to fight another human to the death. That’s what war is, that’s what armies do.

Mars One is sending 4 people on a settlement mission. Permanent settlement requires people to be alive. No one on the mission is intentionally dying, therefor no one is committing suicide. The fact that you could die an accidental death during the trip is no more suicide than dying accidentally on Earth. Taking risks to live a better life is how we make tomorrow better.

A peaceful path to a brighter future is not a sin.