Posts Tagged ‘Complexity’

That Was Fun … Not!

Whoops. I did it again.

Sorry if you recently got a weird email from our website. Long story, but it was my fault as I try and learn some new software and well, I used it on my website and things went horribly wrong.

I love the TV show “Arrested Development” and they have a great pat line “I’ve made a huge mistake!” I love it and use it all the time. They were using “huge” before, well, anyone else.

Michelle and I ran our CSA for 5 years and I think did a pretty darn great job of growing vegetables for our members. Then along came last year’s drought where we didn’t get rain for…well…like…ever… or at least from May to October, which is kind of a big deal if you grow food.

So that was too much and we decided to not run it this year. It’s been hard. I really like growing food. I love being outside and in the soil. But after many years of trying to find a ‘niche’, I still believe with the current economic model farming is still very much a story of ‘go big or go home” business. Get lots of land and a big tractor. Yes, you can find cool ways to specialize but a lot of it is extremely labor intensive so it’s a young person’s game. And I wish them all the best at it, until I get back in the game. Hopefully with my grandkids… really soon!

We are doing websites again as we have for many years. And like anything technology related things have become even more complex. We’ve been using “WordPress” to develop our websites and I’ve been learning a very cool ‘theme’ which makes it easier to control websites. It used to be you had to be an HTML programmer. So, I’m excited about this new easier ‘shell’ shall we call it that is kind of like a “WYSIWYG” or ‘what you see is what you get”.

But of course, for it to make setting up websites easier, it must be hard to learn. Right? Well at least it is in my world.

I decided the best way to learn it was to actually have it on my own website cammather.com. “And how’d that work out Cam?” Ha ha. Not so good. It sent out a rogue blog notification and well, things just went downhill from there.

Again, sorry about that.

I’m sure you’ve never had a bad experience with technology. Your credit and debit cards always work, statements are always correct, your computer and phone and tablet always work flawlessly.

Netflix has a great documentary called “Silicon Cowboys” about some Texas Instruments people starting Compaq computers in the early 1980s. This probably would not mean too much to most people, but I started selling microcomputers in 1982 so it was at the heart of the whole Apple II, IBM PC, Macintosh, Clones, ‘compatibles’ like Compaq …  evolution.

It was fun to see how much polyester was in suits in the ‘80s. How puffy some women’s hair was, along with their shoulder pads, and how they actually made Compaq computers in Texas. Can you imagine?!

I was looking at screens running DOS (Disk Operating System) and remembering I spent a lot of time training people on microcomputers. Michelle bought one of the first Macintosh computers off the line because we wanted to find out why 1984 wasn’t going to be like “1984” (the book)

“Silicon Cowboys” made me remember just how little you could do on computers in the 1980s, and how when you went from an 8086 Intel processor to an 80286 it was a big deal. And how when Compaq was the first computer with an 80386, well, it was a pretty big deal in my world. I believe it was called “Moore’s Law” which suggested the processing speed would double every 18 months. Which meant that a year a half later, your computer would be twice as fast. So, 3 years from now your computer would be 8 times faster? 16 times faster? Is that how exponential growth works?

All I know is that kids today just have no idea of the processing power of their computers and smart phones. I look at what our iPhone does and I marvel at it all. I think it is compounded by having been in the whole corporate struggle for computer supremacy which involved mind-boggling innovation.

I still marvel at it. And then I think about our reliance on this stuff. I think about moving when I was 20 years old and setting out with my dad’s station wagon on a Sunday morning and getting a flat tire on Hwy 401 on our rental trailer and what was involved. And how much easier it would have been to have a mobile phone. Just a cell phone let alone a smart phone.

Michelle and I have one cell phone because we are usually together. When I left the hospital after our grand daughter was born for my long trek home, my daughter was still a little tired from the birth. I wanted to make sure she was okay. But once I got on the highway I had no way of knowing. Michelle kept the phone.

So, for hours I was traumatized by not having a cell phone. I tried a pay phone at a rest stop but on my third try when I finally resorted to using a credit card they said the call would be $11, or $17 or something like that so I hung up. You know, better to be stressed for hours.

She thankfully was fine and I worried needlessly. And I wondered if I would have worried as much if cell phones weren’t available, like that day in the late 70’s when we just left in the car with the trailer for the move. Is all this technology necessarily so great?

I won’t lose any more sleep over it. The technology is here so I’ll just do my best to try and master it. I did figure out a way though to use an old iPhone our daughter gave us to work on the rest stops along Highway 401 because they all have free Wi-Fi. So now I just use “G-chat” or “Facetime” and call people with the phone and actually can see them as I talk to them. When I was selling computers in the 1980s I could just never imagine a time when you would be able to have a face-to-face conversation with someone on the other side of the world, on your smart phone, away from your home. Meet George Jetson…

My 1888 Brain

This is all related to slow internet which is a country thing, but sometimes can be a city thing, and a twisted convoluted story to get to the point, but really, aren’t most of my blogs like this? Bear with me?… (bare with me?) if you are so inclined.

We often get asked about what we use for internet out here in the country. We use satellite internet because there is no fixed wireless in our region. This is a good thing because it means there isn’t the population density to warrant a company installing towers for wireless. So I’m not complaining. Satellite internet is part of many people’s rural reality.

Right now, with so many (166,000 households in Canada last year so what is that in the U.S., 2 million?) canceling their cable/satellite TV and just watching stuff online, it means that at 7 pm when everyone sits down to watch Netflix, well … the whole internet slows down. But with a satellite there is limited bandwidth so the bottleneck slows everyone down … a lot. Our internet provider has launched a new satellite to deal with it, but it will take a few months to be operational.

So, we’ve been renting movies. Yes, I do a lot of reading … in the mornings … but really …  reading after dinner is a one-way ticket to la-la land for me. We rent from Tim at the local video store when we know that we’ll be driving through town and can return the DVDs the next day, and we’ve been borrowing some from the library. This is a good thing too since it shows up on their records as transactions which helps keep the local branch open, in a time when they’ve closed others in our rural area.

So, I’ve been bringing home stacks of movies, most of which we don’t get around to watching. The last batch had Season 5 of Six Feet Under,” the HBO series about the funeral home. It was exceptional and it was from 2005, so we watched it 12 years ago. But at the age of 57 this means that I when I am re-watching something a decade later, it all seems new to me.

Well, not all of it. I do remember a lot it, especially the final episode where the series is all wrapped up in the absolute greatest bit of movie/TV writing ever.

But there was one scene from Season 5 which has stuck in my mind in a big way. Okay, so spoiler alert, if you are about to watch Season 5 of Six Feet Under and want to be surprised DO NOT READ THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS.

In one of the episodes one of the lead characters, now deceased, returns to do a quasi rock video scene to the song Celebrate by ‘Rare Earth.

He is all dressed in white in a ‘from the other side’ sort of theme singing “I just want to celebrate another day of living, I just want to celebrate another day of life…,” a cautionary tale from the great beyond to remind you that you’d better enjoy every day you’ve got left … which might not be many for some of us. Because really, who knows?

I love this song and often break into quite a loud rendition as I walk this marvelous piece of land Michelle and I inhabit … briefly but extremely joyfully.

So, for 12 episodes I kept trying to recall when this video sequence was going to appear, and well, it turns out, my 57-year-old aluminum-and-soda-pop-addled brain just couldn’t reach down deep enough into its synapses to remember it. I had a feeling, and I got it, 2 minutes before it appeared … in the final episode. No points for you Cam! Oh, my memory was of a 2-minute rock video…nope…it was all of 10 seconds max!

We started thinking about all the noise that our brain would have had to filter through to get that data. How many tens of thousands of hours of videos, millions of words in books, billions of words in day old newspapers and Guardians, would it have to get through to remember something I’d watched over a decade ago.

Then at breakfast one morning Michelle and I discussed how differently our grandkids’ brains will be wired because their brains will be exposed to so much more video and imagery than ours. We’re piling on the hours late in life but when we were kids, TV was a Saturday morning in the winter thing so our parents could sleep in, and rarely did we watch TV in the summers or after school because we just disappeared on our bikes into the woods or suburbs and didn’t return home until we got hungry. Sure, the risks were probably there, but you didn’t seem to hear about them as much so parents were like, “See ya at dinner.” Antibiotics, vaccines so we didn’t get smallpox, endless freedom to play, OMG I was born at a charmed time in human in history.

So how many of the images cluttering up my brain are someone else’s creation, like the scene in the second Jason Bourne movie when he jumps from a rooftop and crashes through a window on the other side of the street and the camera follows right behind him? That was so cool but it wasn’t me doing the jumping, it was like 100 stunt people and movie technicians.

Which finally got us to thinking about the kitchen we were having our breakfast in. A kitchen that in 1888 when our house was built, or in 1910, or 1940, a farmer would come in for breakfast and every other meal, exhausted, or his wife would work in the kitchen, until they collapsed after dinner, most likely without the income to afford or the energy to read a book.

All of their memories were theirs. All their experiences were their own. As they sat and reflected on their life, it would be a recollection of only images and experiences that they had actually participated in.

It’s a very cool distinction. I created many vivid images over the years reading about Ayn Rand’s Henry Reardon or Margaret Atwood’s Grace Marks from ‘Alias Grace.’ I didn’t even see visual images of these people but somehow, they occupy my brain.

If the concept is accurate of this death myth/image of our lifetime passing before us as we prepare to cross over to the other side, I think the 1888 brain would offer a much more legitimate experience. Mine, while populated by a billion hours (into my teens) spent playing with Lego and Meccano, jumping off roofs in homes being built in my subdivision and staying out way too late to overfill a pillow case on Halloween could very likely be cluttered and corrupted with all these other images that I didn’t experience myself.

It would be great if you could get a filter to ensure that all your experiential memories were your own. I’m sure there’s ‘an app for that” on your Smartphone! Oh, and that latest episode of Game of Thrones you’ve been wanting to watch …

Channeling my Inner Thoreau

I’m in the throes of writing my last few posts before I go dark on this blog. It seems to have run its natural course.

It’s partially that I find myself on a journey to completely unplug myself from all things 21st Century/capitalist/technological. I think we may all get there eventually, I’m just trying to get out ahead of the curve. It’s the way Michelle and I seem to have been over the last 40 years, always a step ahead of the pack.

I read “Walden” many decades ago. I think it was even before we got ready to move out of the city.  I think it was when we first started flirting with environmentalism. It’s just one of those books you should read. I know there are lots of criticisms with what Thoreau did … “well, he still walked to town once a week for food … he was still earning a living writing …” yea, whatever, we’re all blowhards, me especially.

As I get more and more committed to not buying stuff, I am forced to deal with the stuff I have which is all getting older, and therefore needs maintenance.

I have often looked longingly at those car ads that brag about the 14 air bags … front impact, side impact, bottom impact in a case a large reptile tries to burst into your car from below … and thought, boy, it would be awesome to own one of those cars.

Until recently when I had to have my airbag inflator replaced in a recall. Coincidentally this happened at the same time my SRS (supplemental restraint system…i.e. airbag and seatbelt) warning light came on which isn’t covered by the recall, of course. The dealer wanted $100 to read the error code (which takes them about 5 minutes to do) and then quoted that it would be another $200 to $500 to fix the problem. Thanks to the internet and my fantastic neighbor Sandy, I did it myself (with A LOT of his help). So I had this epiphany that everything comes at a cost, and all these wonderful safety thingees are indeed wonderful, until they break, then they are insanely expensive to fix and you have to have a high income to maintain them, or forgo them, or try and figure out how to fix them yourself. With however many lines of code in a new vehicle (1 million? 2 million?) most of us are rapidly losing our ability to fix things ourselves, even if we want to.

Then we had a plumbing issue. Which reminded me that there is PEX and copper and ABS and PVC and Poly B and CPVC and about 1 million adapters for each, and then another million to adapt one standard to the other, which makes about 14 million parts in the hardware store … and never the one you want. And if the house wasn’t plumbed properly with shutoff valves, you have no water while you’re scrambling around trying to fix it.

I am becoming an expert at finding ‘work-arounds.’ “It’s not optimal, but it’ll do” is my new mantra. Well it’s always been my philosophy, I just used to kid myself that I worked to a higher standard. Admitting it is half the battle, right?

So now, like Henry David Thoreau, I basically never, ever want to ever buy anything new, ever again. Because there is a price you pay when you do, and it’s not just that upfront cost, which includes the immense impact that ‘thing’ has had on the planet to get into that box, wrapped in that plastic bag, with all of those Styrofoam inserts and endless other things that just end up in a landfill.

So I have begun the descent to ultimate, hardcore, EXTREME simplification. I kidded myself two decades ago when I moved off grid that this was what I was doing. In actual fact with the necessity of purchasing inverters and charge controllers and phone systems and satellite internet systems and, and, and, …. I was not getting off any bandwagons.

But I’ve finally seen the light and it is me, living in the dark, foraging in the woods, drinking from a pond wearing clothing fashioned from feed bags and sandals made from old tires. Well, with the cost of used clothing at thrift shops I’m not sure I’ll ever have to go that far. And I do enjoy renting a video once in a while, and man, having the solar panels charge the batteries and pump water into our pressure tanks, then turning the tap and having cold, clean, wonderful water pour out … well, that’s pretty awesome. But that’s it though, nothing else new.

Ever meet one of those guys who says “cassettes are awesome!” or ‘do you realize you can get VHS tapes at thrift shops for like 5¢ each now?!” (but you just have trouble seeing what’s happening one the screen because the resolution is so low). Well, that’s going to be me soon. My daughters keep giving me their old iPods as iPhones now are basically iPods, but I just haven’t been able to motivate myself to put my music on them. And I think I’m finally comfortable saying it’s not going to happen for me. When the CD player breaks, I’m just going to sing way more. Poor Michelle.

When I back the manure trailer up at my neighbors’ barn I have to channel my inner trailer ball sense, because I, alas, don’t have a backup camera. My tailgate is beat all to rat crap where I regularly plunge the trailer tongue into it, when I miss the target. And at this stage in my life, I’m pretty okay having a banged in tailgate on my truck. In fact, I would not want to own a truck that didn’t have such a thing.

I know what you’re saying … “Cam is just saying that because he’ll never own one.” Exactly. I accept my lot. I cannot bring myself to participate in an economic system that is destroying the planet, making a lot of people miserable, and forcing everyone to keep buying stuff just to stay in the game.

Living off-grid and growing a pretty large volume of food, this is not a tough transition for me. When you do a little research on the likelihood of a CME in the next decade, or the Cascadia fault letting loose on the west coast, or some fiat currency scenarios in the next economic collapse, I think it’s possible that many people who would rather not be forced to go through a radical simplification, will be joining me.

It’s a tough path to follow, because the other one, the one that bombard us with a billion images a day showing us how awesome all this ‘stuff’ is, well, it is a pretty sexy one. I get it. It’s cool. It’s awesome. Until it’s not. And for me, now, it’s not.

So I’m off to the toolshed … (well, it’s actually a woodshed where I also store tools) to build a proper way to organize all my tools, because every spring it starts out amazingly clean and organized and by December when I have to crawl to the shelf at the back to get the Christmas tree, it’s turned into a death-defying obstacle course of sharp metal points and sticks repeatedly impaling me. I just love hand tools. So low tech. No upgrades. No error codes. No warning lights. Heck, they don’t even come wrapped in any packaging. Make yourself happy. Go use a shovel or a hoe.

The Pace of Change is Just Too Much

I read my local ‘day-old’ newspapers the other day and learned about the closing of The Guelph Mercury (in Ontario) and the “Nanaimo” Daily News (in British Columbia). These are newspapers that for more than 100 years provided local residents with independent news and editorial about issues of importance and relevance to them. The Mercury’s readership had dropped from 22,000 to 9,000 and they could no longer afford to print and publish it.

This follows a trend throughout North America of our traditional news organizations laying off staff and reducing service as they struggle to remain profitable. I love reading a local, hard copy, printed newspaper, but I don’t buy them. I just read out of date copies I salvage from friends and family. So apparently I’m not helping the cause. The one thing I’m not doing is getting my ‘news’ on-line. If I can’t find a newspaper I’m just as happy to be on a news blackout. Michelle would prefer a permanent news blackout for me, as it would result in way fewer ‘rants’.

So in the space of what, 10 years, we’re seeing the whole news providing model turned upside down. I know some people have switched to get their news on-line, but in most cases traditional news organizations have had trouble “monetizing” or making money from their on-line efforts. It’s tough to charge for something if there’s the perception that you can get it for ‘free’ somewhere else. Whether it’s as good remains a highly debatable issue.

When you start looking at “disruptive technologies”, things that radically change an existing way of doing things, you have to kind of wonder. Capitalism is ‘creative destruction’, which tears things down and builds new things, and we’ve all benefited from that. But now things seem to be happening at a faster pace than ever before, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing.

Everything just seems a little out of whack for me right now.

Economies apparently are ‘hanging in there’, but oil is ridiculously cheap. If we hit ‘peak conventional oil’ in 2005 as the IEA said we did in 2005, how is it possible that the very life-blood of the world economy can be so inexpensive? Something’s not right here.

I mentioned in a recent blog about the perception from someone who took our workshop here that most of us didn’t use the internet for banking a decade ago. And now, many of us have shifted everything on-line. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to use a large financial institution and not do everything on-line. Banks seem intent on punishing luddites like me who like to have a ‘passbook’. I say it’s because I like to have an ‘audit trail’ of my transactions, but really it’s just something that started when I had a paper route when I was 10 and got excited every time I made a deposit and my bank book got updated. Man, not only will kids today not be able to get a passbook updated, there probably isn’t a local paper for them to deliver anyway!

Let me be the first to acknowledge that this just sounds like a rant from an old, first world male about how everything ‘was better in my time.’ I DID walk a mile out to the road in my subdivision to get the school bus. I DID ride my bike 12 miles to high school some days, without a helmet, on roads without paved shoulders. The fact that I made it past adolescence seems like a miracle some days. I understand that ‘nostalgia’ can get you longing for the old days. Heck, I long for the days when I could cut firewood in the bush all day a decade ago, and not wake up with my hands clenched in a permanent arthritic curl from the chainsaw and axe handle.

But I believe the pace of change today is unprecedented and unhealthy. I think our basic gravitational grounding is becoming unglued and it’s difficult to stay balanced. There is no one to blame, it’s just how humanity has chosen to evolve. The problem is now that those who want it to slow down, who want more balance have trouble getting there. The system requires 110% focus and devotion, and if you want to get off the train, it seems there aren’t any doors for you to jump out. Oh, and the windows are locked.

As we continue to discuss sources of income here at Sunflower Farm, I just keep coming back to growing food. It just seems to be an amazing, low tech, simple way to eek out a living. Big farmers spend the winter attending shows and training seminars on the latest technology from seeds to planters. They are awesome and I am grateful to them for growing most of our food. I spent the winter cutting firewood and organizing my tool shed, which ends up in a jumbled heap of disorganization by the end of each growing season. At some point I end up stepping on a rake that had been thrown in at an impossible angle, with the resulting blow to my unprotected head, which rapidly declining reflexes don’t allow me to prevent. I mean really, can I be that stupid? I’m just grateful to see what a great NFL color commentator Troy Aiken is, even after his numerous concussions. It gives me hope that I’ll be coherent several years (or months) from now.

If you enjoy this blog you have Michelle to thank. If it had been left to me I’m sure it would have been abandoned long ago. With the number of different platforms we have used, and the number of times each one of those has gone through a major upgrade which has forced a complete relearning of the basics, I just would have walked away. I remember selling computers in 1985 and finding that customers who came into the store inevitably had more expertise than me on their particular product, because I was trying to stay current on the 5,000 products in our line. I started my own electronic publishing business in 1987 and stayed on top of the software that I used for the better part of 3 decades. But I am now advancing towards simplicity in every way I can. Whether society as a whole chooses to follow me voluntarily or otherwise remains to be seen.

Each day I grow closer to unplugging from ‘the matrix’. Shovels and hoes don’t crash. You plant seeds. You water them. You weed them. They nourish you. They don’t need upgrading to the latest version for them to work on your current browser. Then you read books when the sun goes down.

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And now some reminders from Michelle! Don’t forget to sign up for our spring workshop. The date is Saturday, May 7th and we still have some spots left. Or, if you can’t come to our workshop but appreciate the work that goes into this blog and the costs associated with it, feel free to leave a tip in the jar at the top righthand side of this page. Your donations are very much appreciated! And Jasper thanks you too!

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Shorting the Whole System

I am amazed with the interest in the movie “The Big Short” among people I know. I was in fact amazed that someone thought the book was worth making into a movie. Clearly their hunch paid off because it seems to be doing quite well.

 

I loved the book. I had caught bits and pieces of the story of these traders since 2008 but Michael Lewis put it all together in a digestible form. It is brilliant.

If you’re not familiar with ‘shorting,’ it refers to the practice of betting against a stock or market, or perhaps betting that something will fall in value, as opposed to what most of us do when we buy stocks, which is to hope they go up. The traders in the movie were responsible for other people’s money and well in advance of the crash of 2008 they started to ‘short,’ or bet against the market.

In hindsight this sounds all pretty basic. Well, yea, obviously, why wouldn’t you bet against it … it was obvious it was going to correct in a big way. Well, it was to some people, but not the majority of people, including many of the people who had money invested in their funds, it was not. The years before the crash saw a huge run up in stock markets that looked like it was never going to end. So these traders took a lot of abuse from people who were watching other people make a whack of money in other funds. Or at least this is my recollection since I read the book years ago.

So they were pariahs for a long time, until they weren’t…at least to the people who stuck with them. Then they made a movie about them, after a book.

I was thinking about this concept in preparation for our upcoming workshop.  Many of the things I recommend would appear to go against conventional wisdom. Why would you heat that way, it’s not that convenient? Why would you bother doing that, isn’t that growing and storing food thing you do a whack of work?  Yup, I get it. It’s all a lot of work and a stupid idea … until it’s not. And then it’s going to look quite brilliant that you took these precautions.

I feel like with many of the things we do with a ‘preparation’ mindset, we are really missing the mainstream boat. We are ‘shorting’ the mainstream. A lot of this has to do with us realizing that the constant pursuit of money just leads to spending it, which isn’t the best thing generally for the planet. So from that perspective we feel good about it. From a prepping standpoint though I just think a lot of what we do makes a lot of sense.

I talk about this in my books and it’s the concept that nothing I recommend really has that big a downside. Investing in a solar hot water system is only going to save you money in the long run. Sure, it’s cheaper and easier to just keep using fossil fuels in the short run as you might right now, but having your own independent hot water system removes one more expense from your budget, which is a good thing, and reduces your impact on the planet (if you care), and makes you that much more resilient to a disruption in the extremely complex, capital intensive structure which delivers that fossil fuel to your home.

All the things we talk about are based on participation in the whole capitalist economic model. The types of food you purchase to put away and many of the things we recommend are based on being able to purchase these items now. We live in a time of extreme plenty. But ultimately, you are going to the effort to do these things in a bet that there may be some interruption to that big complex machine that could be fairly disruptive to your well being. You’re shorting the system.

The great thing about my direction … let’s call it ‘the little short’… is that you probably won’t have people yelling at you to change your course and keep on the whole “make money/buy stuff/have to keep working to buy more stuff’ treadmill. Most people would like to remove themselves from that economic model if they could, I just show you some techniques to speed up the process. And to be more resilient should things go a little sideways.

We’ve changed the date of our spring workshop to Saturday, March 23rd. Be sure to register as soon as possible so that we can reserve a spot for you. Come and learn how to short the whole big picture thing!

LINK for information and to register for the workshop here

 

The Great Canadian Universal Healthcare Parking Fee Crisis

Recently one of our American readers (hi S.C.!) asked us to write about our Canadian universal healthcare system. It has sort of been in our news of late so I thought I would use the request to answer her questions and rant about our system.

We have a universal healthcare system whereby every Canadian citizen is covered and no one pays anything personally. It was created in the mid 1960’s after a long and arduous battle between those for it and those against it. It’s just a brilliant concept where, like any insurance program, you spread risk. Everyone contributes and you hope that it’s not your house that burns down (or you who gets sick) but if you do, you are covered. It is funded from general government revenues like income tax.

I remember when I first began working (many long years ago) I paid an OHIP Premium. The OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Program) managed healthcare in my province and it was partially funded by the federal government, partially by the province and individuals contributed a small amount. It was mostly symbolic but eventually some government decided to appeal to voters by eliminating that minimal payment.

I am a huge believer in and supporter of our universal healthcare system, but not having people contribute to it or be aware of the cost of it, is just an inane concept. What it boils to is this; the costliest system that Canadians encounter on a regular basis, IS FREE and so for many people it has no value associated with it. Having a charge affixed to something equates to value for most people.

Healthcare is starting to use up an increasingly large part of our government’s resources. In Ontario it uses 40% of the budget and we spend $50 billion a year on healthcare for a population of 13 million. The percentage of the spending government devotes to healthcare grows each year. The federal government a decade ago signed a health accord and agreed to increase funding to the provinces by 7% each year, for the last decade. Now think about it. Has the economy been growing by 7%? Has your saving’s account been paying you 7% interest? Of course not. I believe the doubling time for a 7% increase is about a decade. So basically Canadians are spending double on healthcare what we spent a decade ago. Really? How do you think that’s going to work out?

Most Canadians have never seen a bill for healthcare or for their share of the cost of the system. If the system wasn’t already so overburdened with bureaucracy, I think that every time you leave the doctor’s office or hospital you should be presented with a statement that itemizes the cost for the treatment you received.

When I ran in the last provincial election as the Green Party candidate, there were several All Candidates Meetings where (mostly) older citizens expressed concern that they couldn’t afford the parking fees at hospitals, which have been rising quickly since it’s one of the few ways that hospitals can generate revenue. This topic is now regularly covered in the media, this crisis of healthcare parking. I can only shake my head. Our system has doubled how much money it requires in about a decade, and we think parking is a problem? TVO’s “The Agenda’ just did a show on healthcare where they demonstrated that 1 percent of the population uses 33% of the healthcare budget, and the next 4% uses a third … so essentially 5 percent of our population uses 2/3 of the healthcare budget.

http://tvo.org/video/programs/the-agenda-with-steve-paikin/high-care-high-cost-patients

(Just watch the first 2 minutes of this video.)

Half of the population uses only 2% of the healthcare spending. I am unbelievably grateful to be in that 2%. I am also incredibly grateful that the system has been there when members of my family have moved into the upper healthcare consumption percentage.

As our population gets older they use a much higher percentage of the healthcare system.

I know what you’re saying, “So Cam, you are being very negative about the whole enterprise and you’re not offering solutions.” That is correct. In Canada if you say we need to start charging people to use the system it’s anathema (the absolute worst thing you can suggest) to hardcore universal healthcare supporters. Somehow we have to convince Canadians that our healthcare system is a huge privilege, it’s not a right or a given. We have to start using it only when we actually need it. And we have to start being honest about the system. It’s not sustainable and no one will talk about it.

The deductible for my household insurance keeps going up and my agent keeps reminding me that insurance is for a catastrophic event. I believe that Canadians need to stop going to the doctor to get their blood pressure checked when they can buy their own machine for $50 and do it themselves. They need to stay out of the emergency ward when they have a cold.

Any politician who suggests we have to start being honest about the tsunami of a healthcare crisis that is coming will not be elected and this is proof to me of the deficiencies of democracy. When you’re honest with the electorate you don’t win. We aren’t even talking about rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, and it seems to me that would be a good starting point.

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The Technology House of Cards

I am a dinosaur.

I started selling microcomputers in 1982, bought one of the first Apple Macintosh computers off the line in 1984, started my own electronic publishing business in 1987 and kept pace with technology until a few years ago. Heck, I even used to set up and administer websites. Look ma, I love technology. But no more.

Michelle has taken over that part of our lives and I grow food. I put seeds in the ground and tend them and deliver food to people.

I realized I’m a dinosaur when I read an article about how automakers are starting to phase out CD players in cars, because people don’t use them. Or at least young people don’t use them. I tried to get into the whole ‘iTunes’ thing, but I just never got it. I think it was probably because I always got my daughters’ hand-me-down iPods when their batteries were giving up the ghost, so I just got frustrated and couldn’t be bothered.

The Guardian recently published an article about how people in the IT crowd were terrified about the potential for havoc caused by hackers. I guess it’s kind of like how climate scientists are terrified about feedback loops, but really, who trusts experts? Because really, putting our entire financial system and critical infrastructure like power grids on-line where they are so vulnerable to hacking, well, that’s just the way things go. Accept it.

When we moved off the grid 17 years ago our radiophone system was complicated and our internet was dial up so we couldn’t use the phone at the same time as the internet. So we didn’t do much with it. Maybe 12 or 13 years ago we got satellite internet but it was still wonky and slow and it took us (the “royal us,” in other words, Michelle) a few years to be confident enough in it to start trusting it for things like on-line banking. It’s always disconcerting when you’re doing stuff on-line and the internet craps out in the middle of the transaction. So where DID that money go? Do we have it, or does the bank have it, or is it just gone?

So I believe I can safely say that like most people we really didn’t start trusting the internet to begin migrating a lot of their key activities to the internet until about a decade ago. So in just about a decade, we have taken all the activities that humans developed over millennia, like exchanging physical goods with physical cash or something approximating that, to putting all these life supporting, essential activities into binary code, as electronic bits on this human created enterprise, called the internet.

When I see the confidence many people have in this whole bizarre concept I am quite terrified. This really hit home recently when I spoke to someone in the computer industry who seemed quite gob smacked that humans, in particular North Americans, are so blindly trustworthy to believe that nothing bad could happen to their ‘stuff’ when it all exists in the ether… as electronic bits floating around on electronic networks. Many (or most) of us have seen glitches in the matrix with our stuff, whether it’s payments or bills or whatever, and we just blindly keep trusting more and more of our essential activities to this technology juggernauts.

It’s all good … until it’s not.

And I know what you’re saying… ‘Well I couldn’t resist. My employer direct deposits my paycheque electronically into my account, and many government departments won’t deal with me unless it’s electronic, and a lot of businesses seem determined to force me to migrate to doing things on-line (you know, because they make more money when I do.)”

I try not to push our books on this blog too often, but I think people need a re-set sometimes, and that’s the reason I wrote “The Sensible Prepper.” People need a reminder that having a backup plan is not a bad idea. Indeed, it’s increasingly becoming a really, really good idea. It is not a ‘guns and ammo’ survival book. It is a logical plan with lots of tips for you to implement. The kind of tips for which there is no downside. Sometimes you just need a gentle reminder and some logical pointers on where to start. You can order the book here:

 

 

One thing that I would strongly like to recommend is that you always keep a hundred dollars in your wallet and $400 or $500 in cash at your house. This might make me sound like a crackpot, until it doesn’t. Cash machines go down some times. Interac machines go down. Computer networks go down. People’s accounts get hacked and their identities get stolen and things can go very badly sometimes. If you don’t keep cash in your wallet because you’re worried about being robbed and losing that cash, then you aren’t looking at where the real threat is.

But hey, that’s just old food growin’, wood heatin’, book readin’, CD player usin’, cash usin’ Cam talkin’, so don’t pay any attention to me. I hear Apple has a new electronic payment system you can use on your smartphone. Woo hoo, gotta go get that app!

Stop Making Sense

I think Stop Making Sense was the Talking Heads album with “Once In a Lifetime” about a dazed and confused guy, which is how I feel after spending a weekend in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and more specifically at The Survival Expo (August 8 & 9).

The GTA is like this death star monstrosity of humanity that keeps growing and expanding by the day. It’s where I left to move to the middle of no-where and after 17 years away it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to go back. Oh sure, I have a grandson there now, so there will be more trips, but I’m beginning to find the madness of a big city overwhelming. The traffic and pace of life is horrific, and how people behave in it often surprises me.

I’m also left to analyze “The Survival Expo” itself which was great. It wasn’t what you’d expect; at least it wasn’t what I had expected. The attendees seemed to be people who just wanted to make themselves less dependent on essential infrastructure. Both of my ‘off-grid’ workshops were full and many of the 100+ people who came to them, along with many others, stopped by my booth to discuss their plans.

We had made posters of the covers of our books, “The Sensible Prepper” and “Little House Off The Grid.” Little House Off the Grid features an aerial photo of our house taken by our neighbor Mike while he flew overhead in a helicopter. Mother Earth News always uses this photo when they post our off-grid story and I can’t tell you how many people stood at my table at Survival Expo and said, “That’s what I want to do!” You know sometimes it’s really nice to hear that. Especially in the middle of the summer heat when the weeds are winning the war in the garden. I can never be reminded enough that I’m ‘livin’ the dream.”

While there were guns and ammo dealers and potential customers, there was a real cross section of people I didn’t expect to see. I spoke to 4 doctors who were getting started on their path to independence. That made me take pause.

As so often is the case in my life multiple themes converged and I had just started reading a book by Michael Lewis called ‘Boomerang, Travels in the New Third World.” It’s his take on the economic collapse and a really great perspective on what went on in Iceland and Ireland and Greece and Germany. I kept reading stuff and saying “Yes, that’s exactly what I thought was going on.” It really seems amazing the mass delusion from 2000 to 2008 when people across the world thought this easy money bubble and growing wealth based on money for nothing would never end.

It didn’t end well and the only way we got out of the mess was by printing a whack of money. Magic money. “Quantitative Easing” we called it so it sounded more official. But it was still money for nothing. And now we’ve used up that trick and there’s really nothing left in the arsenal. So what do we do next time?

I asked a lot of the people who stopped at my table what had brought them to the show and many talked about this low level of anxiety they had that something was up. Something was amiss. The inflated stock market was artificial. Something was about to happen, like there was a glitch in the matrix.

Which brings me to my final intersecting and seemingly unrelated theme, which was “The Matrix”, the movie by the Wackowskis whose latest endeavor is “Sense 8” on Netflix. I won’t try and explain the series, but the opening theme is fabulous. It has that House of Card’s coolness factor with great music and fast changing images.

Every time I watch it I think of what a marvelous and diverse place this earth is. I think of how amazing the variety of geography and humanity is. And then I start thinking about how when I was born in 1959 the planet had 3 billion people. And then in 2000 the planet had 6 billion people. The population doubled in 4 decades. And now it’s 7 billion plus.

And this gets me thinking that’s an awful lot of people added in an awfully short amount of time. Each one of those individuals needs to be fed and kept warm and employed and there are just billions of transactions and interactions everyday. And there’s no template for the whole thing because we’ve never had this many people before. Not even close. Which begs the question, how can we possibly keep this all organized in any logical, smooth running way? Which was the other response I got when I asked people why they were at the expo. They would say things like, “Well with all the stuff you see going on in the world right now makes you kind of think that maybe we can’t keep a lid on it much longer.” I certainly hope they’re wrong, but I respect their point of view.

Which makes me wonder if someone has this all figured out, how it might all play out, and if governments might be thinking that things could conceivably go off the rails at some point and that they need a plan to deal with it. Heavens knows the American military seems to be awfully concerned about climate change and the wars that could erupt because of food shortages and water shortages and a myriad of other potential results from a warming planet.

And so I was pleased to be able to provide these individuals with a framework for a path they may want to take to have a “Plan B” for some of these scenarios. I’ve spent a lot of time working through the process here at Sunflower Farm and I think we’ve got it down fairly well. And when I suggested that they purchase my book, “The Sensible Prepper,” I had no problem, after listening to their concerns, suggesting it might we worth the investment on their part. I am, after all, a salesman. You don’t have to live off the grid to have a strategy for an unknown future. We know there will be turbulence. Heck, there’s often turbulence with just a couple of us interacting … ramp that up to 7+ billion and what else could you possibly expect?

I believe you should just put a lot of love out there into the universe and towards all the other travelers on spaceship earth as we navigate an exciting, challenging future. And have a “Plan B”.

 

Here are the links to the books I mentioned;

How Did You Do It?

I just read a great article in The Guardian about how scientists sometime use science fiction to help them find direction in their research. It also talked about how some of the best science fiction writers were in fact scientists, like Isaac Asimov.

This got me thinking about one of my favorite movies of all time, which is “Contact.” Jodie Foster played the main character and it is based on a book by Carl Sagan. I’m old enough to remember seeing Carl Sagan on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and talking about the “billions and billions” of stars. Johnny then mocked him about that line for weeks afterwards, in a fun kind of way.

I took my two daughters (then aged 13 and 11) to see Contact because Jodie Foster plays such a strong role as a scientist determined to make contact with life on other planets. The three of us thought it was so great we dragged Michelle to it a few nights later. I don’t think I’ve ever paid to see a movie in a theatre twice, other than “Contact.”

Michelle recently began using our daughter’s old iPhone and one morning she showed me some video she had just shot and posted on Instagram just panning around the house. The sound of the birds was outstanding. The quality of the video was amazing. All from a box in the palm of her hand that I’m sure has significantly more processing power than NASA had to put a person on the moon. And I thought about that big honking video camera I used to lug around when our daughters were small children that made me feel like I was a news cameraperson because it was so big. Now when we watch those videos we cringe at the poor quality… especially compared to what an iPhone produces.

As I read The Guardian and other publications and see what incredible technological feats humans are up to, I am constantly reminded of a comment by Jodie Foster’s character, Ellie Arroway, in the movie. A news reporter asks her what she would ask an extraterrestrial, if she met one and could only ask one question. She replies, “Well, I suppose it would be, how did you do it? How did you evolve, how did you survive this technological adolescence without destroying yourself?”

It is a profound concept, written by one of those great minds like Aldous Huxley or George Orwell, who really nailed how the future would play out.

We have these marvelous machines, this amazing technology, we’ve mapped the human genome, somehow we’ve been able to feed 7 billion people, we have backup cameras on our cars and smart phones we can talk to, and video conference with our loved ones on the other side of the world, but still, somehow, we seem to be on a collision course with our mortality by ignoring what the scientists who invented all this cool stuff we use everyday are telling us about climate change.

I don’t believe there is a technological fix to the mess we’re making of our atmosphere. I don’t believe we’ll figure out a way to remove all the extra CO2 that we’ve pumped out, and I don’t believe we can geo-engineer ourselves out of this mess.

I just don’t understand how a species that is so darn smart can be so darn stupid.

I think those of us in the developed world simply need to live with less. Less energy. Less travel. Less stuff. And with all the money we save from this, we need to make ourselves energy independent using renewables and stop giving our money to companies that use fossil fuels to make our heat and power. Michelle and I have done it and it’s pretty awesome.

But then again, maybe I’ve got it wrong. Maybe they’ll be a last minute “Hail Mary” fix and everything will be all right. I have to admit in the last month there has been a huge change in the amount of press climate change has been getting in the media. As I go through the day-old and week-old papers I get from town for free there is a huge amount of coverage on how putting a price on carbon in Canada is a given. It’s just a question of when and how. Angela Merkel at the G7 pushed to have western economies de-carbonized by 2050 but certain countries got scared and pushed it back to 2100. And then there was Pope Francis’s long-awaited encyclical on the environment, in which he warned of ‘serious consequences’ if the world does not act on climate change. So that’s a great thing. I mean, he’s the Pope!

Regardless, Carl Sagan knew the right question to ask that other civilization from another planet. “How Did You Do It?” And best of all, he left the response ambiguous. It’s never really answered.

This always reminds me of a great quote from Gilda Radner one of the original Saturday Night Live cast members, whose character Rosanne Rosanadana always ended one of her rants with “It’s always something.” (I provide this for our younger readers since SNL started 40 years ago and I watched it from the first show … I’m so old!)

Gilda Radner said, “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity.”

Stop the High Tech Roller Coaster – I’m Getting Off!

My Dad has a friend who is a techno-luddite. Well, Luddite infers that she is anti-technology. It’s more that she just can’t be bothered with having a computer, or a cell phone, or anything like that. Can you imagine? You’re reading this, so you probably can’t.

I must admit though I am finding myself increasingly envious of people who have made this choice. It’s starting to look like it might be the best one. And this is the case on so many levels.

I’m plowing through a batch of my dad’s old “Economist” magazines. They are heavy going and I find myself skipping to the later pages which just have book reviews and cool scientific stuff. But the July 14, 2014 issue has a big section on cyber security. And it’s terrifying. Do you know how much energy some people on the planet put into hacking into the computers of the world? And do you know by extension how much energy and money companies and governments spend to prevent their systems from being hacked? The mind boggles.

What I find most mind-boggling is that so much of our critical infrastructure, like the electricity grid, now seems to be connected to the internet, which allows people to hack into it from outside. I’m sure those who control the grid work very hard to protect it from this happening but really, who thought it was a good idea to hook up the support systems of modern life to a computer network that allows people to create havoc from a computer keyboard on the other side of the world?

And of course, now there is the ‘internet of things’ as the appliances and things we buy like fridges, cars and furnaces, are all getting hooked up to the internet, so we can, you know, control our fridge while we’re at work I guess. There hasn’t been a confirmed case of anyone hacking into a car and crashing it, but can that be far off? Even Dick Cheney had to have special capabilities built into his pacemaker so someone couldn’t hack into it, since he was one step from the most powerful office on the planet.

The December 13, 2014 “Economist” has a review of a book called “Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World’s First Digital Weapon.” Stuxnet was the program designed to disable Iranian nuclear centrifuges. The mind boggles.

I’m re-reading a great book that was given to me by a friend from Chicago called “Immoderate Greatness, Why Civilizations Fail” by William Ophuls. It’s a great book because it’s small, which means he writes concisely to get his point across. He notes, “As civilizations encounter emerging limits, they will of course make every effort to innovate their way around them.” In our case we do this by adding layers of complexity, and by thinking that printing money can mask reality.

It’s similar to the theory of Joseph Tainter in “The Collapse of Complex Societies” which is that as societies begin to run into natural limitations, such as food or energy, or droughts or other events that make growth impossible, they add layers upon layers of complexity thinking that these are solutions. We have clearly run into the natural carrying capacity of the planet. We probably reached it 5 to 10 decades ago. And now that we’ve used up the easy to find ancient stored sunlight in fossil fuels, and now that planet is starting to tell us 7 billion is way too many people to be using up the resources on the planet, we seem to be following in all the footsteps of advanced societies that have collapsed in the past.

Which brings one back around to the James Kunstler mantra, that we have to simplify our lives and economies. We have to get smaller. We have to get more local.

I am able to live a typical advanced civilization lifestyle off the grid because of the technology in my solar panels and inverters. I am able to plug into the matrix from my laptop using a modem sending my digital bits to a satellite in space and then back into the internet on earth, in milliseconds. I marvel at the wonder of it all daily.

But I am increasingly moving to earning an income growing food on a very low-tech, non-complex level. I do not own a tractor. I do no use fossil fuel derived chemicals and fertilizers. I would miss the internet and satellite TV, but I think I could get by pretty well without all these things. We have a whack of fiction on our bookshelves that I have yet to get through.

The challenge though is that the system does everything it can to try and prevent you from unplugging from the techno-matrix. It becomes increasingly difficult to obtain information from organizations unless you have internet access. When I tried to open a new bank account recently you get a sense they pretty much don’t want to ever see you, they just want to you to do everything online. You know, where you access your account through the internet, along with all those other people who might be trying to access your account too. If you want an account where they update a passbook each time you make a transaction, they charge you an additional monthly amount. Sorry, but I like those passbooks. They provide what accountants call an “audit trail” so when their systems fail I ‘ve got a record of how much of my money they have.

Then again, if their systems fail on a big enough scale, how much ‘virtual’ money you have sitting in a ‘virtual’ pixel based whack of silicon and metal will be pretty much useless. Then it just comes down to what’s in your root cellar. No hacker has yet infiltrated my root cellar. Last fall’s potatoes and onions are still doing exceptionally well. I can relax.

 

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Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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