April 2014


 

Kind of a strange title, I’ll give you that. But I don’t know how else to cram a bunch of things together that might not necessarily belong.

In two days I’m heading off to Paris to get married, then travelling down the Rhine over twelve days, wrapping up in Vienna on my birthday. I’ve gotten most of the things done that I need to—no easy task when also faced with a barrage of engineering exams. Seven of them, to be exact. Yet still, I feel the need to crank out one last post to both of my readers before I take off, even though I should probably be organizing our trip.

Why the hell am I thinking about the Distant Early Warning line at such a time? Well, I had spoken too soon in the earlier post where I’d assumed that I had missed the boat on a co-op position. I snagged a summer student position with Defence Construction Canada, which is the public corporation that manages construction projects and maintenance for the DND. This is the organization that played a major part in constructing the DEW line during the cold war. Now, I grew up at the tail end of that period, and I was also obsessed with aviation, so naturally this is something that fires me up.

I have to remind myself, since entering college with people a generation after me, that a lot of people might not even know what a cold war is or why establishing a line of radar stations across the arctic is an impressive feat. I don’t remember a lot of specifics from before the cold war ended, but I do remember the exact day the USSR collapsed, and recall the general vibe of the era. I was 8 or 9 when the USSR fell, and was at home with my grandmother. That side of my family is Russian—doukhobours who immigrated to Saskatchewan in the early 20th century. They spoke Russian up until my mother’s generation, and even then they learned a little, and might even still be able to pick up some words here and there. Given that, my grandmother had the news on when it happened. I remember watching her become riveted, and had no idea why.

I thought it was boring. There were a million other better things on TV than a bunch of old people in suits talking about stuff a kid didn’t even understand. The weather was crappy outside and we were a little stir-crazy, and this was before everyone had twenty televisions in the house. After an hour of this—okay let’s get real, it probably was ten minutes—I spoke up. I protested. What’s the big deal? Why are you watching this? Whatever it is, it sucks!

My grandmother just gave me a solemn look and said that it was “important.” This did nothing to help me understand it, but the sheer gravity did strike me. I shut up. And obviously, I remembered.

Even now, it’s only just striking me what exactly I had witnessed—the opening phrases of a tired narrative’s epilogue. An eight-decades-long modernist experiment crumbling, the driving force behind so much industry seizing and buckling and falling in a hail of rust.

The DEW line was of course built give advance warning of Russian bombers and ICBMs coming over the arctic circle. If you can believe it, we actually used to think that was likely to happen. And it was. The only thing that stopped such things from happening was the never-ending chess game of weapon buildups and countermeasures. Even now, we’re still reminded that a countermeasure like the DEW line is viewed as a de-facto weapon—the NATO missile shield proposed a few years back was enough to get Russia going again.

At that point, Canada’s air force looked quite different to now. The height of the cold war brought us sleek, fast-as-hell interceptors with internal weapons bays, designed for the sole purpose of scrambling within minutes to deliver long-range A-A missiles to take down Russian bombers or ballistic missiles, or equally as fast (and sometimes at the expense of manoeuverability, like the “Lawn Dart” CF-104) nuclear strike aircraft. My all time favourite was the CF-101 Voodoo, which came with a bizarre situation regarding its nuclear weapons. Obviously the politics surrounding nuclear weapons in Canada was complicated, and ended in Diefenbaker’s fall. Canada never officially acquired the nuclear missiles carried by the Voodoo, instead claiming that they remained property of the United States. We tend to think that Canada never really entered that game, but apparently we had jets carrying these things.

The terrorism narrative younger people brought surreal measures with it for sure, but I think we’ve already forgotten just how bizarre and intense the cold war actually was, and it dragged on for decades.

After all that, what was the point again? Well, my new employer, I guess. They’re currently in the process of decommissioning the DEW line. That’s nowhere near what I’ll be doing, but it’s still really cool to be involved with DCC. I lucked-out big time with this one. I could have ended up testing dirt . . . no offense to my friends who are pretty much all testing dirt for their work term. And if I am lucky enough to continue on with DCC, maybe there’d be a chance to see one of these radar stations being dismantled, or at least talk with someone who knows about it. I think it would be important to be able to witness the physical end of something that had such a huge impact on us all during that time.

With so much military hardware ready to go off at a second’s notice for decades, we’re still here. We no longer worry about mutually-assured destruction or build bomb shelters. We’re now legitimately afraid of pipe bombs filled with nails made in someone’s basement—and they’ve killed more people than nuclear weapons ever did when they were at the height of fashion. It’s crazy to think about.

 

Enough of that though. I’m off to Europe to get married and unwind after a crazy year in college. I’m going to make a solid effort this time to write about it—the last time I travelled, my writing was garbage and I put it in the round file. Hopefully it’ll turn out, but even if I never write anything good again, at least I’ll have the greatest wife in the world!

 

 

Oh yeah, it would be asinine to write the words Distant Early Warning without bringing Rush into it. It’s one of my favourite songs, and I love Alex Lifeson’s Floyd Rose equipped Les Paul in this video!

 

 

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So I fired off a knee-jerk tweet after reading a column on a local news website, and I figured I should expand a little. The column was about strata properties (I think in the USA they call them “homeowner’s associations?”) and, to be fair, was somewhat honest about how to know whether or not they are a right fit for you. Of course, since the person writing the column is quite involved with their own little political setup, the net message there was still overly positive.

When I bought a strata property, I didn’t think much of the politics. The reason is that my dad owns one and has never bothered with the process at all, and hasn’t needed to. It’s like the strata was a separate hobby for the old people who had nothing else to do. That is why I didn’t see a problem with the system, despite the ubiquity of strata horror stories. As for my situation, it doesn’t start in some dingy hall during general meetings. No, it’s far more sinister.

 

The Swimming Pool Interrogation

The retired ladies love our 70s kidney pool, and not necessarily for the sheer joy of lying on a concrete slab in the sun. As a young person who has just moved in, this is probably your most vulnerable position. You’re half naked, don’t know anyone, and just want to test out this pool to see if it really is worth the extra you pay on your monthly fees. The demographic here is stacked against you—as I said, they are mostly retirees. Nevertheless, they waste no time in flattering you and pretending to be interested in who you are. Once they warm you up, they’ll mention council-related matters. Oh yes, I totally agree, we need to fix the fences. Oh, I didn’t know that X problem was made worse by the previous council’s attempt to fix it. Wow. How interesting.

 

Then they start shit-talking the guy down the hall who was on last year’s council. And I mean they tore into him with some of the most vile language I’ve heard from “nice” old ladies.

 

Then comes the request for proxies. The proxy vote is at the root of the strata oligarchy. More on that later.

 

I play my cards pretty safe. That is, I don’t extend myself into any of this nonsense until I know what’s actually going on. What these people don’t know is that I know the guy they’re talking about and have heard the other side.

 

Later on, my fiancée goes to the pool while I’m at work. She’s the most charismatic girl in the world, so obviously she got on their good side right away. And once that happens—once these bitter, nasty people feel comfortable with you—they show their true colours readily. This time, they’re whispering to my fiancée about the two lesbians who had moved in. The things they are whispering are homophobic and wrong, and basically amount to that they shouldn’t be allowed to show affection in public. I guess people are free to have their own opinions, but strata law relies on sophomoric interpretations of the word “democracy,” more often simplified to the elementary-school phrase “majority rules.” If the majority are wrong, does the fact that it’s a majority make it right?

 

“Democracy”

 

My first attempt to vote in a general meeting began with 10 minutes of waiting in an Eagles hall before I realized that I had to go to the property manager and register. Once I did that, I was told that I could not vote because my account had been in “arrears.” Since my strata fees are automatically withdrawn from my bank account, this is absurd. But there was an inexplicable statement showing a charge of ten f-ing dollars, the description of which simply read “Levy.” I had no idea what it was for, and still don’t, but it was ten dollars and I wasn’t that concerned about the actual money. I even had cash to pay it right there—but no. The property manager denied me the right to vote because some bogus charge foisted upon my account for sudden and inexplicable reasons, which he then refused to allow me to even pay!

I left without saying anything mean or disgruntled, stopped by the gas station and bought a pack of cigarettes (I don’t actually smoke, except in times of extreme duress), and went home.

 

Later, I find out how voting actually works. Voter apathy isn’t seen as a public problem here—it’s actually the core of the oligarchy and encouraged. The one or two people actually in charge are pretty good at going around to collect proxy votes from people. When I first moved in and they did that to me, I thought it was nice—I had no time to deal with their meetings, and the person was giving me a chance to still (kind of) participate in a vote. Then I started to notice things and put it all together. The pool. The parking garage. The mailbox. The oligarchs—who are of course unemployed and have the time to do this—haunt those hubs and interrupt your day to get your proxy. When it’s time to vote, the oligarch has more proxies than there are actual voters, and there’s no hope of ever being in “the majority” that’s ruling.

The root of voter disenfranchisement seems to be how much of a life they have. Busy, young professionals seem to lose out the most, and incur most of the wrath of bad strata. I know very successful business owners—well-known, popular citizens who contribute a lot—who end up being badgered and harassed on a weekly basis by their strata, which is run by unemployed, retired, or underemployed people. And unlike myself, these guys often do get involved and try to change the strata, but end up having to give up because of the abject awfulness of The Majority.

 

The Philosophical Deadlock

 

To me, here’s where it gets interesting. The problems with common property are also general philosophical sticking points, and for some reason, I find those incredibly fascinating. It brings to light the issue of justice vs fairness, which in the philosophy world aren’t at all the same. As a side note, the engineering world hates philosophy, and so for the past two semesters I’ve had to pretend I’m not interested in it. However, when faced with this question, I can’t help but out myself as the well-rounded thinker I am.

 

Speaking of which, the justice vs fairness problem is also present in college, and in a big way. To me, “fairness” is a less-loaded way to say “equality.” We all know what that means, right? The specifics don’t matter—you’re a person (or student, or strata lot owner, or union member) who is fundamentally indistinguishable from the one next to you. You are equivalent. There is no you, but a metaphysical stand-in created by the notion of equality. Justice is not the same thing—what is right is not always what is “fair.” Justice is a reference to a set of societal norms and expectations, most of which aren’t always conducive to “equality” 100 percent of the time. These are far more realistic and important—and more in-line with our collective morals. This is how the law (usually) works. Judgment is key—without judgment, justice is not possible.

Good judgment is not easy to find. Fortunately, in the absence of good judgment, we have the blunt instrument of equality. No thought is required. This is a life saver for college instructors who hate philosophy and having to exercise their own judgment—when faced with a possible dilemma arising from a student’s grade and legitimate reasons to adjust it, they can easily whip out that machete and say “Nope. Can’t help you. It wouldn’t be fair, you see.” And all you can do is shrug and say to yourself, “yeah, I guess the guy is right. It wouldn’t be fair,” and deal with it.

Here’s an interesting one: where does my example of the lesbians at the pool fit in? Can there be overlap between justice and equality?

In some ways, I want to say that it still isn’t a case of equality because the offence of discrimination to our cultural norms is fairly precise and rooted in ideals of personal freedom. Outlawing discrimination in a wholesale manner based on ideas of need or equality doesn’t have the same flavour as the former description. The kind of just society we take for granted—private property, freedom, protection from discrimination–doesn’t come from a robotic, thoughtless process stemming from logic that amounts to A=B=C=D.

Did you ever screw up an algebra question and end up with something silly like 1/3=0?

It doesn’t make sense, does it? At the risk of sounding like a Randroid, that’s the logic of equality. The reason previously marginalized people have rights is not because someone said “we are all exactly the same.” It came from the fact that discriminating or harming someone on the basis that they’re not the same as you deeply offended our ideas of a just society.

This brings me to the problem with common property. We have a terrible attempt at collectivism here—it is outlined in poor language that cannot be supplemented with real-world judgment. The genetic origin of this is unclear to me—I don’t know from which tradition or social norm they base the laws. These orphan-laws give absolute power to a strata on the shaky basis of equality—they demand community at gunpoint. There are literally no limits placed on what these groups can do if they play-act “democracy.” But the truth is, strata corporations get away with things that any other democratically-elected component of society would never be able to.

 

The TL;DR On Strata Property

 

Strata properties are a good way to get that first home under your belt. For sure, it’s better than paying somebody rent in most cases. Now, the experts with their newspaper columns will spout off boring tips and caveats that we all know. I won’t get into those. But the problem with those boilerplate caveats is that even if you followed them all, you could still end up with a nightmare. Personally, my big mistake was simply assuming that I would be dealing with rational, intelligent people and that there was always a way to work out solutions that made sense. This is not possible. With strata property, you will be subject only to what is written down, and any attempt to change or interpret those written commandments will be futile.

The biggest factor that I can see though, is the life-stage of those in the development. If the place you’re looking at has a majority of people in your demographic, chances are it’ll be fine. If not, you’re screwed.

Make sure you know who is actually living there and don’t assume that you get the vibe of the place just by reading some minutes and walking around. There will always be more under the surface, and unless you do your homework on the other owners, it’ll be too late by the time you stumble upon the real dynamic.

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

Once again I’m finding it necessary to reiterate the fact that yes, I actually still am alive. I may even still be a writer—I guess we’ll see soon enough.

That’s it—24 weeks of 35 hours-per-week-plus-homework craziness. It’s hard to believe that the first half of my engineering technology program is done. I don’t even remember what I did with the extravagant amounts of time I must have had before this. Kind of a sobering thought, really.

If anyone reading this has/is considering one of these programs and is on the fence, I’d say just do it. When you look at all the cool stuff you get into versus the cost and time, it’s totally worth it. Now, on r/engineering, most of the guys will say otherwise and that you should just get a big engineering degree. Sure, if that’s what you’ve set out to do, by all means it’s obviously the best way. But I don’t think everyone interested in engineering necessarily wants or needs to get to that level. For myself, when I read the conversations about students fretting over turning town awesome jobs with huge companies because they want to “do research” or get a phd, my eyes glaze over and I start thinking about more interesting things like gear ratios or cats. Some of us just want a cool job and the scope of a technologist still has plenty of room to go pretty far. Not only that, but if you find you want to become a P.Eng after the fact, it’s easy to continue on with university.

The reason I mention this is because I wish I had done it a decade ago. When I was that young, I still believed the crap people had taught us about how everyone is meant to do this or that and that precious snowflakes should just follow their passion—as if 19-year-olds actually have a clue what that really is. And I think people still believe that, because in the few job interviews I’ve had, a sticking point seems to be the drastic shift in my career goals. If I had been pushed a little harder to look at programs like this, I would have realized that I liked it a lot and wouldn’t have to deal with that issue. It certainly was not at all on the radar back then. I didn’t even know it existed.

Ah yes, the co-op issue. So I didn’t end up with one. I’m on my own until January of next year—whether I find something I can count as a work term or just continue slaving away in the health racket, it’s a bit of a blow.

I used to get job interviews for fun in the health industry. I knew what I was doing, have a reputation here built around it, and had no problem taking control during an interview the way you’re supposed to. In career change land, not so much. Like I said, it looks like being an author is actually hurting me here. These are two worlds that definitely do not get along. I understand why, but the stereotyping is frustrating and something I don’t know how to navigate quite yet. A major reason I didn’t end up with a co-op position is that I can’t really move to where most of the work is. In that regard, not successfully competing in a tiny job market isn’t that big of a deal. But this is why I would plead that anyone thinking of doing this just stop hesitating and do it now—it’s so much harder to do when you have an adult life and can’t pack up and go to a camp for 8 months. I’d love to do it, but it’s just not feasible right now.

Anyway, yes, I’m still a writer. Already I’m starting to look past the current projects I have on the go—mainly a sequel and my serial. I’m thinking about diverging from dieselpunk after I finish those. Two things are getting me going these days when it comes to fiction:

 

  • The way Canadian literary fiction makes me thankful I have a calculus textbook now, because calculus a hell of a lot more interesting
  • Hard SF is full of really great writers, but seems stuck in the 90s.

 

Don’t get me wrong—being stuck in the 90s is awesome. But it’s those little gaps that make me want to write. It’s why I wrote dieselpunk before it was even a thing.

Dieselpunk is on its way to better things. I think it reaches a point where the rate of reproduction outgrows the artistic values that made me write it, and that even when I continue to write in the genre, it won’t necessarily be recognized as such. My vision of it isn’t going to change, but collectively it will.

 

Canadian literary fiction drives me up the wall. How did we go from Leonard Cohen to this? I’m seriously considering trying my hand at it again. It’s like being in a room with all the picture frames placed cockeyed and such. A lot of people would agree—this idea is nothing new. But I don’t get why a lot of writers trash literary fiction, focus on their own little corner, and don’t try to add anything to it. This is something that has constantly bothered me about the genre writing scene. I guess it’s fine to like what you like and stick to that, but I’ve never been able to limit my writing to one area.

Hard SF doesn’t bother me the way the above does, but there are definitely gaps to be filled. I have no idea if I’m capable of addressing either of these things, but hopefully I’ll get to try.

 

That is, after I wrap up some diesel projects of course!