Is the broken ODSP system finally hitting the mainstream?

If you’ve spent any time on the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), or its partner program for the mostly non-disabled (Ontario Works), you’ve very quickly become aware of two rather important–and probably unsurprising–problems. Problem the first: the Ontario Disability Support Program has a disability. And problem the second: Ontario Works, rather, doesn’t.

Randall Denley, in a Jan. 5 column, argues that, in addressing the social assistance system, “The first thing is to get the welfare changes to one side and focus on the disability income shortfall.” However, the social assistance rates he cites suggest his conclusion is wrong.

As he puts it, “Under the optimistically named Ontario Works welfare program, the most a single person gets is $706 a month. People with disabilities get a lordly $1,138.” Sure, $1,138 is too low, but should we focus on those getting that amount rather than on those getting $706?

We got to the size of the gap between the two programs when Mike Harris, premier at the time, cut Ontario Works rates by 21.6 per cent. Since the Liberals have been in government provincially, they have only increased the dollar gap by making increases for the two programs on a percentage basis (with a minor exception: when Ted McMeekin was the minister in charge, he added a small amount to benefits for singles on Ontario Works).

Denley also buys the line peddled by Ontario governments of all stripes – Liberal, Conservative and NDP – that Ontario Works (OW) is a program for people temporarily in need of financial support. But for the 2014-15 fiscal year, the average time on OW was 27 months. Half were on it for more than 15 months. When I was a welfare supervisor in Ottawa in the 1990s, I saw many files going back 10 years. I even saw some going back 20 and 25 years. Short-term, my eye.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It should. The systems are interchangeable In one way, and one way only. Neither system is sufficient to allow a person to be entirely independent, let alone survive long enough to actually find away to get themselves off that system. The key difference? ODSP tries–and fails–just a little bit harder.

I’ve made mention of the gap between the two systems before. I’ve said they both needed a good solid fixing before. But now, I’m not the only one who’s at least paying lip service to the problems. Several places in Ontario are now tossing about the idea of introducing a basic income to solve most of the problems caused by the two systems, as well as a few the two systems aren’t designed to either cause or deal with. No one seems to have any idea the form this pilot project will take, if it takes any form at all, but there are no shortages of ideas or things people would like to see.

The Green Wood Coalition’s paper on a Basic Income Guarantee in Ontario was to be presented to a Social Services Ministry consultation event in Cobourg Wednesday evening.

Written by spokesperson David Sheffield, who also was scheduled to make an oral presentation, it supports Senator Hugh Segal’s recommendation that “the Government of Ontario immediately raise the Ontario Works rate for a single individual to $1,320 per month and raise ODSP rates by at least $500 per month.”

At this time, a single person on Ontario Works gets $720 monthly (and this just went up) and someone on the Ontario Disability Support Program typically gets just under $1,200, Sheffield said in an interview prior to his presentation.

“It is the position of Green Wood Coalition that eliminating poverty is an urgent health, human rights and social justice issue that requires action on the part of the municipal, provincial and federal governments. As a street-level, charitable organization that uses a community model of caring to walk alongside people living with poverty, mental illness, addiction and other disability, in Port Hope, Green Wood Coalition has observed, first hand, the detrimental effects of poverty on individuals and families.

Of course, what isn’t mentioned in this or any of the other articles is that about $500 is very close to the difference between what a person on ODSP gets now and Ontario’s current minimum wage–a wage that was just increased this year because, according to Ontario’s government, living costs too much. They’re right, and if they implement something even remotely like what’s being discussed here, that will put a very large dent in a lot of people’s problems. Taking care of the lower classes is supposed to be the new lliberal thing these days, at least if Ontario’s liberals take their marching orders from our new Prime Minister (he’s borrowing some of her staff, so they ought to), and this would go a few miles towards handling that. Which is why I’m surprised this government’s even talking about it, given they’ve been rather not at all interested in doing anything about it before now.

Equally surprising is the fact this is getting media attention. It should, of course, but lack of interest from the people who matter means not a whole lot for the media to cover, unless they’d like to cover a protest that doesn’t end up accomplishing much. It’s a very nice change, and if it keeps the issue from being swept under the rug as previous incarnations of this same government have also been known to do, I’ll drink a shot of cheap alcohol in their honour–I can’t afford anything with actual class, sorry.

I’m trying not to be too hopeful here, but initial signs are that ODSP’s broken might actually be trying its best to enter the mainstream. If it gets there, it’s about damned time. If it stays there, amazing. And if it fixes things, there will be no one happier than me–yes, despite the fact I’m still trying my best to get the hell off this program as quickly as humanly possible. So I’ll thank the government kindly if they don’t break everything in the attempt. That would be just a little bit awesome. Now, let’s see if they’re up to it.

Long overdue changes: CAPTCHA goes away, proper email notifications happen.

This will please some of the more accessibility-minded folks who come across this thing for reasons known only to them. For ages, since the reinstall of 2014, I’ve run this site with several antiproblem features in place–up to and including CAPTCHAs on just about anything where user input might be expected. This came with its own set of problems, and that was meant to be a temporary fix while I made damn sure the issues that caused the reinstall of 2014 didn’t reoccur. I figure just about 3 years is temporary enough. And so, with the issues of 2014 well behind me, I pushed the CAPTCHA be gone button. It’s been running sans CAPTCHA for a stretch, now, and nothing’s broken, so we’ll just be staying away from that for the foreseeable future.

And since I was in here messing about with things anyway, two more very minor things have happened.

  • The old daily email notification system has been retired. The page was horribly broken anyway, and my own testing showed it fell over more often than it did what it was supposed to. The 3 of you using that system will still get your emails, but that’s all she wrote.
  • In its place, I’ve fixed and reimplemented the ability to receive individual posts by email–just in case, you know, folks still aren’t entirely sure what this RSS thing’s all about. For those who know and would prefer it, the RSS feeds are a little bit more noticeable now.

In short, stuff was broken. It now, probably, isn’t. Unless I need more caffeine, at which point oops. And just like that, this thing that sucks probably sucks a little bit less. Next time, perhaps I’ll look twice before I hit the red button.

A job for me, but not with thee. Or, how to guarantee you don’t see my resume.

It’s been a few years since I’ve done the job market thing. Since leaving college, I’ve pretty much lived there. That’s brought back some things that used to annoy me about job searches. Admittedly this isn’t most employers–and so far, I’ve not seen it from any of the supposedly average to good employers, but for the ones who I’ve seen it from, I’ve put together a few things I strongly recommend you don’t do if you expect me to actually do more than toss your job advertisement in the trash before I get past the second line. And because it’s what I do, have a thing in list format–because 3:00 AM is not the time for an essay.

  1. Gmail. Don’t bother. No, seriously. You are a professional employer, presumedly. This means you have something that vaguely resembles a professional working environment. If you can afford to pay me to do your IT work, you can afford $10 for web hosting. Most of that web hosting comes with at least one email address. There’s no excuse for on a job ad.
    • If you’re using Hotmail (now instead, just don’t bother posting your job ad. Seriously, you need more help than I can provide.
  2. Know the language. Or, if nothing else, hire someone to proofread you that knows the language–if you need suggestions, I’ve got a few. I’m not suggesting you suddenly develop a university level degree in English. But if I need to read your ad to get the point, then read it again to make sure, you’re doing it wrong.
    • This becomes significantly more important when one of your requirements is that your IT geek know the language. I’m your IT geek. I’m not your editor. If you need an editor, I’ve got names.
  3. Be specific. “IT Help Wanted” is an awesome title for a job ad. It’s also very probably the most generalized request you are ever going to see in the history of ever. What kind of IT help do you want? Tech support? Someone to handle your sysadmin stuff? Or do you just need a guy what knows what a gigabyte is so you don’t go buying an external hard drive when what you actually need is a better machine? Seriously, the possibilities are endless and I’m qualified to do most of them, but I’m not going to apply without a bit more info.
  4. Stay off of Kijiji. Not kidding. Qualified IT people, if that’s what you’re looking for, don’t hang out on Kijiji. The reasons may or may not have something to do with the first two points above. I lived on Kijiji before I started college, and most of what I’ve seen are people who know just enough to know they want to pay someone. which is awesome. But you’re looking for me. I’m not looking for you. And you won’t find me on Kijiji because see points 1 and 2 above.
  5. wording is everything. You’re not looking for a rock star, or you wouldn’t be posting to a job site. I’m not looking to become a rock star, or I wouldn’t be looking on a job site. Remember my “It Help Wanted” example from earlier? Use that. It’s not perfect, but I’ll read that before I’ll read your “Rock Stars Wanted!” posting. Especially if you have no idea–or, at least, you don’t give me the impression you have an idea–exactly what you’re expecting me to bring to the table.
  6. Know your market. Okay, so you want someone who can handle all the Linux things because holy scary as hell and the guy you had left on no notice. I get that. I’m qualified to do that. Call me. Unless, that is, you’re offering minimum wage. Then, I’m sorry, I’d love to help, but I’m just too gosh darned busy. I’m a believer in the often proven theory that you get what you pay for. If you can find someone who’ll do the things for you at minimum wage, congratulations. I’m happy for you. And if it breaks, you get to keep both pieces.
  7. Lastly, please, please, please for the love of all things holy, get a website. At least get a domain name. It’s 2017. You’re looking for people who presumedly know how to do a few things online. I can’t speak for John Q. Techy, but if I need to show up at your door with resume in hand, I’m probably going to slide you down to the bottom of the list after the half dozen other jobs I need to review and possibly apply to who’ll let me do that online. And then I’ll very probably get busy with something and you’ll be forgotten. That’s just how I roll–because, to borrow a phrase from everyone’s favourite Prime Minister, it’s 2017.

since exiting from the college scene, I’ve fired off a lot of applications. If a few more people had done some of these things here, I’d have very likely sent off a couple more. What it boils down to is my impression of you and your reputation. If my impression of you is you haven’t put a whole lot of thought into your advertising, I’m not putting a whole lot of thought into letting you know I’m here. And if you’ve developed a frequent history of doing this thing, I’m very likely to skip over your job ads. Since that doesn’t do either side of the equasion a whole lot of good, someone had best make sure their HR person has a look at this. In the meantime, I think I hear another job ad calling.

In which I’m not completely turned off of hockey. Leafs, don’t kill it.

I’ve been a Toronto Maple Leafs fan for ages. Don’t ask, because I don’t know. I grew up watching the games–you know, back when the team had names like Clark, or Sundin, or Tucker on the roster. I’ve seen them play actually good postseason hockey. Hell, I’ve seen them actually make the postseason. But in recent years, I quit the team by about the end of January. Why? To make a long story short, we suck. But this year, despite the fact I haven’t been able to watch much hockey by virtue of academia pretty much owning my life, I find myself not just staying interested but actually trying to coordinate my schedule so I can catch 10 minutes of the game just for kicks.

It completely baffles some folks when I tell them. But I do it mostly because we might actually make something of this band of rookies this time around. Do I think we’ll make the playoffs? Hell no. We’re good, but not that good. Not yet. But provided things don’t fall apart between this year and next, we could potentially get that good. And that’s where Leafs management comes in.

Every general manager in recent years–and by recent, I mean 2004–has come in with an idea. They test out that idea for a season or two, get bored with it, rip it apart and start over. Then they either leave or are told to leave because the team’s imploded, someone new takes over, and the old GM’s efforts are blown away and the process starts from square 1. And the end result of all of that tinkering and reshuffling is we’ve only made the playoffs once since 2004, it was in a shortened NHL season, and Boston dropped us out of the playoffs in 7 games. In short, we suck.

This year, though, we actually have a team I don’t mind watching on game 82, even if that game 82 won’t be pretty. Yes, we should be doing better than we are. Yes, we probably could have won an extra game or two if John Q. Player had been where he should be. But when half your lineup is playing its first or second full NHL season, you’re going to have those moments. I’ll complain, and loudly, if these same things happen with the same players in another year or two. But for right now, I’ll take it.

This Leafs management seems to have a clue or two. They’ve put together something with more promise than I’ve seen in Toronto in way too long. Besides, they got us Austin Matthews. But I’ve seen this act before. The challenge will be if these same people are still here in a year or two, and if they’re still not bored with what they’ve got. Translation: they built it, but let’s see how long before they break it.

For the first time in several years, I’m actually interested in hockey beyond the first few months. For the first time since 2004, I’m actually interested in the Maple Leafs beyond the first few months. I like this feeling. I like this team. Leafs, please, don’t kill it. You’ve done that enough already.

2016, reviewed.

You’re supposed to do this on the last day of the year, but I’ve never been one for following the rules. Which probably partly explains how it is I’ve never been married–well, aside from the fact that just no. Still, it’s over, it’s done with, and I’m still breathing, so let’s see how I did.

The major thing in 2016 was already written about, though due to things related to web hosts that I’ll write about later it might have snuck under the radar–I survived college. I walked out of my geek in training program having successfully put skills on paper, and walked right into the job market. I submitted more applications for jobs in 16 days than I submitted in pretty much the entire 3 years before that. At least one of these things is probably going to pull me in. In the meantime, 2017’s got a few more that might just interest me.

I finally started getting the rest of my crap together after the way 2015 ended. Ending the year single sucks, but it didn’t kill me. And actually, it made putting the boot to the rest of what needed to happen just a little bit easier. Reconnecting with people I let slide because of academia and relationship complications happened, which pretty much guaranteed the summer of 2016 looked a hell of a lot prettier than the summer of 2015, and opened the door to meeting a few people I wouldn’t have met had things stayed pretty much the same. Whether or not some of those meetings end up being bad for people who aren’t me is still very much to be determined, but that’s what 2017’s for.

2016 wasn’t all sunshine and roses, though–and no, we’re not discussing the racist sexist they elected on the dark side of the Canada US border (by the way, brilliant move, guys). Small parts of it sucked on a personal level as well. Specifically around the end of October. That would be when, after coming back from celebrating a friend’s birthday, I ended up having my ID among other things stolen from me. Neither I nor the friend who was with me were hurt, and the guy responsible probably had a headache when he woke up the next morning, but I’m still working on replacing things that had gone missing that night. To protect the innocent, details are being kept out of the public eye, but people who should know already do.

I moved, again, in 2016–out of the apartment I was sharing with my now ex-girlfriend, and into a nice little apartment within walking distance of places that could potentially be useful. Places like a local beach, which also has the advantage of being connected to at least one hiking trail–this proving to eventually be a good thing, on account of in an effort to further improve the summer of 2016 over that of 2015, me, my cousin Trish, and her husband Roger officially launched Trail Trio. That’s been eating up the time that wasn’t already being stolen by academia, and I wouldn’t have it any different. It’ll be much more interesting now, seeing as we haven’t been out doing much since before Ottawa was whacked with the snow stick, but I see us testing winter in the not too distant future.

Lots of other, little things happened in 2016, but I’m fairly sure these are the important pieces. As for 2017, this is the first time in a while I can safely say I wouldn’t mind a little bit more of the same. I saw some doors opening near the end of 2016, and they look promising. I’m planning to give a few of them a shove in 2017 and see what waits for me on the other side. And barring complications, I’ll actually remember to note the things down somewhere this time.

By no means was 2016 perfect. But overall, I have to say 2016 was a good year for me, and significantly better than was 2015. If things are half this good the next year or so, I don’t know that I’ll have much to complain about. Which I’ll take, because I really need to spend more time mocking other people.

Ontario pats itself on the back for $18.

Things have been happening while I’ve been drowning in academia. Some of those things have been awesome. Some of them have been questionable. And some of them have just been sad. The sad is brought to you buy Ontario’s government, who’s spent the better part of 13 years taking sad to entirely new levels.

I won’t recap the far too many problems with the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), mostly because it’s already been done several times. And every time, there’s a new one to add to the list while the old ones are hauled out into the spotlight for the province to proudly announce that some day real soon, now, we’ll get it done. In this year’s edition of some day real soon, now, Ontario would like us to be thankful for an extra 18 bucks.

Ontario is increasing social assistance rates for people receiving support from Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

This fall, new rate increases announced in the 2016 Budget come into effect, including an additional:
•$25 per month for single adults receiving Ontario Works
•1.5 per cent for families receiving Ontario Works
•1.5 per cent for individuals with disabilities who receive ODSP.

The rate increases come into effect in September 2016 for ODSP and in October 2016 for Ontario Works.

Which, for those folks fortunate enough to be told they don’t need to rely on their parents to pay 95% of their rent, works out to a very impressive $16.65–which, in keeping with the spirit of generosity, the government rounds up to $18. A gold star moment, if you’re Helena Jaczek, who has some incredibly low standards to live down to in that department.

You might notice that the $18 we get on ODSP is slightly less than the $25 a single person walks away with if they’re on welfare instead. You would be forgiven for thinking that’s part of the problem. It’s not. A single person on welfare receives significantly less than a single person on ODSP, so the $25 actually works out to be *slightly* more effective than the $18 handed out to ODSP recipients. The problem is that in both cases, at the end of the day, the increase amounts to a very generous pile of not a whole lot.

Welfare isn’t designed to allow people to get away with not working. The intent of the system, the success of which can be debated for the next 20 years with absolutely nothing settled, is to be a temporary stopgap for people who’ve fallen on hard luck and need something to tide them over while they get themselves back to work. ODSP, however, is primarily for people who can’t work–or, at least, probably shouldn’t be working–because they have an actual, honest to goodness disability, and holding down a job just isn’t adviseable. There’s some debate over what constitutes a disability, but regardless, that’s what ODSP’s for. Secondarily to that, and something they could use to improve on, they’re there to help those disabled folks who *can* work to actually find something that vaguely resembles gainful employment. In either situation, the program is supposed to be there as a way for the disabled to gain some version of independence–to get their lives on track and, if at all possible, get to a point where they can be relatively productive. The program falls short, and has fallen short for years. The extra $18 doesn’t change that fact.

In 2009, there was a campaign put on by disability advocates and local politicians, encouraging regulators to do the math and determine if they could live on what was then the current going rate for welfare and ODSP payments. Members of the provincial legislature did so, and were surprised–surprised, they’ll tell you–to learn they very probably couldn’t. In 2010, I did a very basic version of that math based on what was then current information for both ODSP and Ontario’s minimum wage. I shared it with the provincial government, who wasn’t entirely all that interested in hearing it–or doing much about it at the time. In 2016, I did that math again. The result is a nearly $600 difference between what a person making minimum wage earns and what a person at the top end of ODSP earns ($1710 versus $1128). What this breaks down to is, based on a 37.5-hour work week, $11.40 per hour for a person earning minimum wage (as of October 1, 2016) versus $7.52 per hour for a person on ODSP. That’s factoring in the Ontario government’s extra $18.

The government’s all too happy to shout from the rooftops when they think they’ve hit on something that might buy them a few votes next year. And with the politically correct croud, being seen to be doing something for those poor disabled folks might just be enough to do it. But before they pat themselves on the back too much for their generosity, someone might want to point out to them that even relatively thrifty-minded disabled folks are still hitting food banks, or borrowing off parents who can’t afford to support two households, or foregoing groceries because paying for electricity in freaking December is just a bit more of a priority. Whoever replaces Helena Jaczek as minister of social services next year may want to put that on a post-it note in their office for the next time someone suggests congratulating themselves on squeezing out an extra $18. And Helena may want to dig up some better excuses than I’m used to receiving.

Academia says goodbye, all the crazy says hello.

TLDR: I need to do this more often, I’m out of practice, and still brain fried by academia. I also may not be finished.

So I thought things would slow down once I was done with college things. And then I was done with college things, and haven’t stopped since. Which may or may not explain why the last time I did more than keep this site online was before the semester started–and why I’m just now making a vague attempt at solving that problem now.

It was 3 years in the making, but on the 15th of this monthI sat down to write the last ever exam in the last ever course of the last ever semester of my college program. And right on schedule, I walked out of that exam room and straight into the job market. No, there were no offers of crazy high paychecks yet, but since finishing my course I’ve already tossed off half a dozen applications–and half of them have already poked at me, soI’m officially on notice to be available when the calendar turns over. From September to December it’s been a healthy dose of crazy topped with insane and lightly sprinkled with chaos. In other words, perfect. And somehow, despite its best efforts, it did not kill me.

I traded one crazy in for another when exams were over. On top of applying for jobs, I got the hell out of Ottawa. For reasons both related and not to academic things, I needed a vacation. So I’ve been doing the small town thing–which, naturally, means we haven’t stopped since I got here.

I’ve always said I couldn’t live here, despite the fact pretty much my entire family’s essentially right here. Places like this just really aren’t my thing. But that makes my occasional ventures into Crazyville and all the holy hell that comes with just that much more enjoyable (*). And doing it over Christmas basically means close your eyes, hold your breath and dive in, because once we start we do not stop until the guy doing the driving hits the floor. And then that’s only so the next in line can take his place. In the weirdest possible way, quite probably entirely to blame on how I was raised, visits like this end up helping me relax despite the fact they should just about kill me. But, when I return to Ottawa, I’m pretty damn sure I’ll sleep for a week.

I’ll probably do a 2016 in review post one of these decades, but suffice it to say it’s been just a wee bit all over the place. I don’t expect it to get a whole lot calmer in 2017, though I do expect it to get slightly more affordable. That by itself will make inflicting that kind of brain damage on myself more than worth it. Which, in turn, will probably motivate me to take another stab at doing the academic thing next year–I’ve been informed in no uncertain terms that having taken this program just made a few other things about ten times easier for me, and since I like easy, yes please. The end of my academic plan, if it goes the way I’m hoping, essentially guarantees me a foot in the door just about anywhere. Useful, when you’ve got people suggesting places like, say, Edmonton are good for you.

Long story short: I am officially no longer a geek in training. However the first person to declare me an expert is going to receive an essay on why there are, in fact, no such things as experts–particularly in all things geek. In the meantime, if some aspiring project wants to hire me and is willing to actually, you know, pay me…

(*): I always find visits with family to be enjoyable, though usually after I’ve had a few days to recover back in Ottawa. It may or may not be related to the fact that by the time we stop, we’re all about 45 seconds away from passing out where we’re standing, at which point 5 hours of sleep feels like about 5 minutes. I wouldn’t trade it for a thing–but in the new year, I’m gonna want a vacation from my vacation.

Hell has frozen. #ODSP has employed logic.

Every once in a while, the stars align in such a way that somebody somewhere actually gets an idea that doesn’t completely suck. It’s not very often that happens with the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), so when it does, it ends up being somewhat of a historic occasion. In this case, they actually might have done something that could possibly be called logical–I know, I know, but please try to hang on to your everything.

For literally years, people on ODSP have received a monthly drug/dental card when they’ve received their other, albeit not entirely significant, benefits for the month. This card covers certain dental care procedures, as well as some prescription drugs (*) to deal with other issues. The problem with the system, and the thing that didn’t make sense to me, is the prescriptions these cards covered were virtually entirely governed by the Ontario Health Insurance Program (OHIP). OHIP, for the painfully curious, is Ontario’s healthcare option for people who otherwise don’t have their own health insurance (Yes, healthcare idealists, we can still purchase private insurance if we can aford it. Deal with it.). It’s far more restrictive than most other insurance packages, but when you’re flat broke, poor, unemployed or otherwise unable to make off with something better, it gets you through in a pinch. But the two systems sort of semi-working together creates just a wee bit of nonsensical confusion and, well, the poor saps stuck sorting it out are usually the people who need the drugs.

Problem the first: These drug cards only last a month, then they expire–usually on the day you’re expected to get your hands on a new one. Which is awesome, until you end up dealing with–let’s say–a Canada Post strike, at which point you and the poor suckers who work the ODSP offices get to perform an emergency backstep because suddenly you’re out of benefits. Every office, at that point, tends to come up with their own way of handling it–some offices will require you go pick them up, which is awesome if you can get there. Some will just decide your benefit card from the previous month is still valid–at which point you hope like hell you or they can manage to communicate that to the people who need it communicated with (good luck, at least in Ottawa).

Problem the second: Some places like to hold on to your drug/dental cards. Let’s say you’ve done the prescription thing for whatever reason of the week. You wander off to the pharmacy to scoop them up on your way to do the life thing. Awesome. Pharmacy decides now would be a fine time to let you know that by the way they’ll just be holding on to your drug card for you. Good idea, right? Sure, as long as you don’t use any other services that require you present it. And then there’s the matter of the afore mentioned Canada Post strike, or potential for the same. Assuming you’re one of these people who’s ODSP office has decided your card for last month is still valid because mail stoppage, that does you no good if your pharmacy is holding the card from last month and you need it for a service you’re starting up this month. Of course if your ODSP people have no clue what they’re doing it does you no good anyway, but you know, can’t plan for everything.

So the solution they come up with–and as usual with Ontario’s government, public details are just a tad nonexistent–is to tie the benefits you receive directly to your health card. Awesome. Awesome, and way the hell overdue. The devil, of course, is in the details, but if it eliminates the need for people to sift through more paperwork at the start of every month, and if it can even cut down just a touch on the supposed administrative costs ODSP would like to have us think are bleeding the system dry, it can only mean good things for us. And tying the thing to the Ontario health card means–again, in theory as there’s nothing publicly available on the subject–that the problem of the monthly renewal dance is potentially a thing of the past. In theory, as long as your health card hasn’t expired, then neither have your benefits. And since prescriptions aren’t actually covered by anything attached to ODSP anyway, but are instead covered by the same people who issue you a new health card every so often, this makes my head hurt just a little bit less. Who knew ODSP could actually find a strand of logic under all that nonsense. I think the temperature in hell just dropped a couple degrees. Now if they can just avoid screwing it up the second the system changes, that would be amazing.

(*): If someone could actually explain OHIP’s prescription covering process to me, that would be wonderful. They’ll cover brand names for certain drugs, but not the generic versions. They’ll cover the generic versions of other drugs, but not the brand name. And they don’t necessarily cover all of the types of drugs that would make sense–certain types of, let’s say, more effective migraine medication as an example. I don’t get it. which, I suppose, is why I don’t work in–or do any work whatsoever for–government. Now if government in general and OHIP in particular would just decide it’s in their best interest to work for us, that would be amazing. Hey, ODSP’s trying–clearly, miracles do happen. sort of.

PS: ODSP, do not make me regret that last sentence. Please? I don’t have nearly enough vodka.

Captive audience indeed. Para Transpo hits bottom…hard.

It’s no secret that I’m rather less than a fan of the Para Transpo system run by the city of Ottawa. You might say if someone paid me to use the service, they’d still be paying and I’d still not be using. But even if I wouldn’t touch them for fear of catching something, I still expected them to do a halfway decent job of taking care of the people who didn’t have that option. Not so much.

A Para Transpo customer wants the city to provide more training to a bus operator who she says hurled insensitive statements at her and damaged her special mobility equipment. The incident began Aug. 1 at around 8 p.m., as Ruth Hurst waited for her scheduled Para Transpo ride home after her weekly handcycle class at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Hurst, a quadriplegic, has limited use of her legs and arms. She can walk short distances and stand briefly, however she still uses a wheelchair, which she had that evening along with her $13,000 handcycle. The ordeal began when the driver arrived, she said. “He came out of the bus and he said, ‘I don’t even want to deal with you,’ ” Hurst said. “And he snatches up the bike by the cables, and with that he shoved the bike at this other lady who was standing beside her van.” The manhandling of the tricycle-like vehicle damaged the front wheel’s fork and some cables, Hurst said. The driver subsequently refused to help her load the handcycle and strap it down in the bus, she said. It was ultimately another member of her handcycle club that volunteered to help her load the trike and her wheelchair onto the bus.

And this from a guy who’s supposed to be getting paid to do the things he’s insisting that someone else do for him instead. Now, if it were anyone else the solution would be simple enough–just don’t use Para Transpo. But this is one of those cases, and I wondered if this would happen, where she doesn’t have a whole lot of choice and the driver knows it. Ruth is exactly the type of customer Para Transpo should be working to take care of. Instead, she would almost have been better off going solo–and as it turned out, she pretty much was.

Once on-board and en route to her home in Kanata, Hurst said, the driver was relatively calm and quiet until he dropped off the only other passenger on board. “As soon as the bus driver dropped the man off, he started up again, saying, ‘You’re the worst person I’ve ever had to deal with. I hope I never have to pick you up again,’ ” Hurst said. “I’ve only seen him twice in my life and both times he was ranting and raving,” she added, referring to a brief experience she’d had with him a few weeks prior. “When we got to the house, he didn’t open the door to let me out. He just paced up and down, yelling for quite a while, which was disturbing,” Hurst said. “I told him to be quiet and to call his supervisor if there was an issue — clearly there was an issue — and he stomps to the front of the bus, snatches the phone off the cradle and he yells at the person, ‘She told me to shut up!’ ” The operator didn’t lower the bus or untie her handcycle and wheelchair from their safety straps, Hurst said. “He didn’t do his job, basically.” Eventually, he lowered the ramp but still refused to help unload Hurst’s equipment, she said. “I had to struggle to untie everything myself and to unload everything, and I got the wheelchair unloaded, came back, got the handcycle unloaded and the guy was sitting at the back of the bus doing crossword puzzles from the newspaper. And I thought, ‘This is just wrong.’ ”

So, let me just summarize here for the hell of it. She calls Para Transpo because she needs help getting her from A to B. Clearly she does, as she’s in a freaking wheelchair. Clearly, being in a wheelchair means she’s going to need help with the extra gear she’s come with. It’s not rocket science, here. Instead, the service who’s primary function is to help people who can’t be completely independent forces her to give being completely independent her best effort–and let’s just not give too much attention to that whole safety thing.

When your customers don’t have a choice, you pretty much have the room to do exactly what you please exactly when you please and exactly how you please. And this driver took full advantage of that and then some. For the and then some, we go straight back to the article.

After getting inside her home, Hurst said the operator remained parked outside for more than an hour, sitting in the driver’s seat and looking into her house. “That was disturbing.”

So, to recap, customer who can’t get from A to B independently calls the service who’s supposed to be there to help people who can’t get from A to B independently. Service figures she’s perfectly capable of getting herself from A to B independently. Service is not entirely receptive to hearing that, duh, she can’t get from A to B independently. Service doesn’t much feel up to giving a damn. And that’s what you get to do when your audience is captive. Maybe possibly next time, though, go a little easier on the crosswords. I hear they’re bad for you.

Para Transpo has found rock bottom. Here’s a pro tip, folks. You’re supposed to be making yourselves look like a something that the people you’re hoping to expand the service to include will actually want to use. I’m no expert on, you know, playing nice and junk–I fix computers and let other people fix the people who run them, but if I’m sitting where you are, I’m maybe taking a look at the too many levels of wrong this is. And then I’m running like hell in the opposite direction. Quickly. Could we maybe give that a try?

So how did you spend your summer vacation?

I’ve managed some kind of personal best–three months or so without having done more than respond to a few comments over here. Well, that and do the usual updating for security reasons and, um, malware prevention reasons. So why have I been quiet? Simply put, I need a vacation from my vacation.

College kicked my ass. so much so that I’ve lined up to do it again in a week and change. so I thought I’d take the summer off and let my brain recharge. apparently, if you’re me, that means you get a poke from a long-time friend a week or so after the dust settles who asks if you happen to by any chance know Linux. I tell her I may have heard of it, and she lets me in on a possible something I might be interested in. This possible something, as it happens, involves setting up an Asterisk phone system for a small startup based in the US. That project ended up branching off into a few other areas of Linux administration, primarily for the same company, and it’s kept me largely out of trouble. Needless to say I’ve had my hands full, and every minute of it has been essentially exactly what I just finished doing the month before I started. And now they’re talking about the possibility of developing a system based on exactly what I just set up that they can potentially sell to businesses who could use a halfway decent system without being whacked over the head by a price in the millions and a contract with Microsoft. So that’s apparently a thing.

When I haven’t been busy with that, which hasn’t been very often, I’ve been busy catching up on all the things I couldn’t catch up on because I pretty much lived at the college. Things like, say, a social life. I’ve been to see the family a handful of times, been actually managing to meet up with some folks I’ve been meaning to do that with for a while, and started sort of reconnecting with one or two people I’ve had to let go of for life reasons. And in and around all of that, I’ve gotten myself mixed up with a completely different sort of project locally–you can sort of see what it looks like over here. That project’s still very much in the initial stages, but the brains behind the operation has plans, so this has the potential to be either incredibly amazing or wickedly embarrassing–and I’m having just a wee bit of difficulty figuring out if I care which. So basically when college does start up again I may just be looking slightly forward to the break.

I had plans for this summer. They mostly involved being lazy. Instead I’ve been up and all over the place. and this is why I just about never make plans. It’s been fun, and I’d do every minute of it over again in a heartbeat, but now I need a vacation. So how was your summer?

I read the comments. I have no shame.

So. Comments all over the place used to be all the rage. Still are, if you’re in to posting pictures of the not quite so fancy dinner you’ve thrown together in 5 minutes and figure someone might take half a minute to complement you on how amazing the arrangement is or something. But actual, constructive and worthwhile comments are going out of style in a hurry.

Take a lot of news/current events sites as an example. On its face, with the exception of your various opinion columns, if you’ve read a newes story somewhere you probably won’t find anything new or interesting reading the same story somewhere else. For the Canadians who trip and land on this thing by accident, the crack Ford story comes to mind as a perfect example. In case you’ve forgotten, either because you’ve been busy or what’s the point, the Toronto Star was the first actual news place (insert snarky comment about the Toronto Star and news not belonging in the same sentence here) to actually come up with the story of Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor. Everyone else, regardless of their opinion on the topic–or the man at the center of the topic–was basicly reporting on the Star’s having reported on the story. The differences, and they were minor, had to do with the particular tilt that additional reporting took–oh, they might have found one or two people who were willing to talk to them and not the Star (see previous snarky comment), but the meat of the story stays the same. The major differences came when you got to people’s reactions to the story.

Sometimes, largely depending on the story being written, the most interesting and often times informative part of the article I’m reading wasn’t actually the article, but the comments that went with. Sure, there were the usual trolls, but more often than not they were either ignored or backed into a corner courtesy people who have even less of a tolerance for BS than I do. Which again, made for interesting reading at the end of the day (I can already hear at least one person who much prefers books to current events snickering in the corner… and I know where said person lives).

For the sake of being honest, I’m about as lazy as they come. If there’s a way that I can accomplish a task while having one less window open, I’ll find that way. I also follow a lot of these news sites by way of RSS feeds–multiple websites, one interface, easy scrolling. Which makes it either really freaking easy or really freaking annoying to stay relatively on top of things. And if the sites I’m following do what a lot of sites are starting to do now and put the full content of their various articles into the RSS feed itself, that’s even better for a lazy geek who is lazy. Of course the down side to doing that, then, is you’ll need to give the lazy geek a reason to click over to the site and see what else you’re holding out on me for. Hence, comments.

All that having been said, there are still some news sites (I’m looking at you, CBC and CTV), who decide nah, let’s require people drop by to have a read of the same article they’ll probably find somewhere else because hey, we got it from the Associated Press. which meant that, sure I’d click, and I’d even read the article if I hadn’t seen it posted somewhere else first, but then I’d stick around to see if I was the only person who thought braindead politician of the week could use a gag until he finds his filter. And that’s how I’d spend an hour or two–more, if I was bored and otherwise behind because life can be cruel that way.

At some point recently, the CTV in particular decided to say nope to comments. I’m not sure if that also means they’ve scrubbed previous comments, but that would just about be standard operating procedure. The reasons are usually just as standard–trolling, people are using Twitter and Facebook more, etc–but usually boil down to the sites would rather not have to deal with people who disagree with the news story they posted, so here, go vent your everything on Twitter for people who haven’t even read the story to see.

Again, from a strictly content-related perspective it makes no nevermind one way or the other to me. Whatever they’re posting I’ll probably read in the National Post, or the Ottawa Citizen, or any number of places who actually want their content to be read and don’t much care how they do it. But every time I see an article about this or that site shutting down comments, especially when they immediately throw out the usual reasons listed above, my first thought is usually along the lines of why would you give people a reason *not* to read your particular version of that article?

Yes, comment spam is a problem. In just the short time since this site’s been with its new host there were over 100000 spam comments attempted. Yes, okay, trolling can be a problem–one of my most popular posts, now over three years old, has had its share of trolling. It’s what you do about it that matters–very often, ignoring and/or deleting it is enough, since the offending trolls probably won’t come back after they’ve vomited in your shoe. slamming the door shut and bolting it until the bad people go away just seems like a not entirely thought-through reaction based more in the mindset of people aren’t agreeing and we don’t want to interact with them.

This site has always had comments. They’ve rarely been used, but that doesn’t necessarily mean tomorrow I’m going to decide hey, that was fun, but see ya later. Why? Because sometimes, even the ranblings of an internet nobody who does this thing less and less often lately are worth an opinion–and people are full of them. Also, because probably against the advice of just about everyone on the internet, even if I don’t actually respond to a comment I read every single one–probably easy to do given I don’t exactly get that many. Because as much as I started this thing for me, if I wanted it to be for me and me alone I’d hardly have started it on a public-facing platform. Most of what gets posted here is probably useful to perhaps 1 other person. That one other person may drop a comment saying so. On the other hand, the extremely technical post that took me two hours to write–if we include testing, because I probably hadn’t done it before until just before I wrote the post–might catch the interest of a surprising number of people who don’t comment directly on the post, but who’ve read it, probably posted the link elsewhere, and therefore started a discussion–and probably brought more eyeballs to the post itself. Either way, I–and the people doing the discussing–win. I’m not going to close off one possible avenue of discussion because you decided instead of dropping a comment you took the link and circulated it to your mailing list, or posted it to Facebook, or whatever.

Do I think it’s awesome when people show up and call me out because I dared to question their favourite politician’s intelligence? Damn right. And if they do it in a way that doesn’t scream troll, or “please institutionalize me before I hurt myself”, they might even earn themselves a response that’s slightly more than mocking the nutters. Because that’s how things get done, even in 2016.

If you don’t want to be criticised, then don’t do something worth criticising. Or at least, if you’re going to, don’t do it in public. And if you write an article that people disagree with, show up and explain why you wrote the way you did–provide backing evidence if you need to. What you don’t do is stick your head in the sand until it blows over, then decide okay, that’ll be enough of that whole people having opinions thing. Because people are still going to have opinions. the difference is if they want you to see them, they’ll email you (I’ve done this). And if they want other people to know your facts are fiction, there are more than a few ways for them to do so–and most of those ways, to the surprise of no one, you’ll have even less control over (also to the surprise of no one, I’ve done this). Being part of the conversation is great, but you’re not part of the conversation if you kick the conversation off your lawn. And hey, maybe if the people behind the articles would spend more time reading and engaging with their audience, comment sections might not suck as bad as some of them do. There’s nothing wrong with reading the comments. I’ve done it for years, on this site and others, and for that I have no shame. The shame is reserved for the folks who instead decide to flip the off switch. They can do a whole lot better.

So this is what free time looks like…

It’s amazing what happens when you’re having to do all the things. Like, for instance, you’re undoubtedly going to realize you’re running out of room for things. That is my academic life. So when the end of April hit and another semester ended up falling away behind me, this meant all the things that were put off because lack of time during the school year… well… now get to show up front and center and in a big way. so while the time off school’s been nice, today is the actual first day in which I’ve been able to say–and mean–I’m on vacation.

The thing about academia is even when you’re done, you’re not really done. I had exams the last week of April–which clearly did not hurt nearly as bad as I thought they would, but even while that was underway I was fielding questions about my next steps. Would I be coming back for the spring semester? How about the fall? If I’m coming back in the fall, what services will I need access to–hint: exactly the same as I just got finished using. And now that I’ve had time to catch up on all the non-academic things, I’ve geared up to start that whole process all over again. Why? Because clearly, I am insane.

The official last bit of final semester (*) paperwork was submitted this afternoon, in the form of the application to have the government continue to pay for said final semester. That officially signified that the vacation, if you’re me, now has clearance to actually do something useful. Oh, there’ll still be trips back and forth to the college over the next few months I’m sure–it may be 2016, but folks still have this thing with doing as little possible online–but the actual work part of all of this can now sit and spin until I’m good and ready to care about it. And that will be… ahem… a while.

While I’ve got the time, this means some overdue personal projects can finally get some attention. Like the overhauling and updating of a resume that hasn’t seen much of an update in a few years. And the casing out of places that might could possibly want to hire me. And somewhere in there, because I have been informed that failure to do so may result in my head becoming detached from my shoulders, there will be trips to see people–mostly because I was informed either they’d pay for my way down there or they’d come and get me, and you don’t generally back away from choices like that if you like breathing. Since I’m rather fond of breathing, as soon as paperwork and other people’s loose ends are squared away, I have travel plans. Considering the year I’ve had, they’re not entirely unwelcome.

Between that, and the fact I’ve still got a fair bit of unpacking to get done post-move, I fully expect I’ll still be far too busy for my own good. But, this is the kind of busy I can live with. And in the meantime, I can maybe possibly become aquainted again with what free time looks like.

Not entirely unrelated: If you know anyone who needs a geek and will pay well, I’m available…

(*): Yes, it took me long enough, but September of this year marks the start of my fourth and final semester in this program. There’s an optional cybersecurity extension program I can go for if I qualify, but I will be finished the program I was aiming for–and therefore significantly more marketable than I was even 10 years ago, and I was pretty freaking marketable 10 years ago. Now there’s just the matter of the upside down economy, but, you know, small progress and all that.

Why you could not pay me enough to use Ottawa’s Para Transpo.

Having at one time been responsible for helping someone who essentially depended on Para Transpo if conditions were severe enough that she couldn’t get around on her own, I had more than enough reason to become far too familiar with the system’s inner workings–which had the added benefit of being supported by information I’d obtained from other people with first or second hand experience before me. What it largely comes down to, then, is how in this or any other parallel universe are people expected to function with something that broken?

A little background, for the curious. Ottawa’s bus company, OC Transpo, does its best to make the majority of its mainline bus routes accessible. And more often than not, barring a driver who’s had the misfortune of being born dead from the neck up, they get it right. But even they can’t always help road/sidewalk conditions. So if it’s been a particularly nasty winter, which living in Ottawa we see an aweful lot of, people who are a lot less mobile than me have one of two choices. They can fight with Para Transpo, which OC Transpo also runs when they think of it, or they can stay home. And if you’re being paid not to stay home, your only real option then is that first one. Which makes stories like this one always the fun sort to read.

A disabled woman whose scheduled Para Transpo rides have been suspended for a week says the service should allow more flexibility for riders.

Ginette Bastien is a public servant who relies daily on the service to get to work. Para Transpo suspended her scheduled daily trips because, Bastien says, the service feels she cancelled her pickups at the last minute too many times.

During the suspension she must call each day to request a ride, and hope one is available. Unlike regularly scheduled trips, she will not be guaranteed a ride.

Now, in theory I can sort of see where Para Transpo’s coming from. In theory. However, also in theory, I can sort of see where communism’s coming from as well–and, well, we know how well that worked out. People get sick. It’s kind of a fact of life. And if you happen to be a disabled people, you’re probably going to be sick a little more often than most. That’s the way of life, sucky as it is. And sure, it would probably be absolutely wonderful if you could plan for such a thing in advance. But anyone who’s ever woken up in the morning and felt like something the dog dragged inn, chewed on for 5 minutes then left hanging knows better. Except, apparently, the folks at Para Transpo.

Now, I will say this much. On the occasions where the system works, the system works relatively well. However, to make the system work, you essentially have a minimal amount of room for actually having an honest to goodness something that vaguely resembles a life. From the article:

Scrimgeour added those suspended from regular bookings can book Para Transpo’s services a day before or use Para Transpo’s Taxi Coupon Program. Regular OC Transpo’s buses are also accessible to Para Transpo customers who can travel independently, he said.

Which is true, provided the stars align in such a way that:

  • you call early enough the day before, the definition of which changes depending on how many other people need to be doing exactly the same thing you’re doing,
  • they can find room in the next day’s on-demand schedule to slide you in in such a way that you can get where you’re going and back without being required to be out for 6 hours for a one-hour appointment,
  • the driver you get assigned to knows 1: where he’s picking you up from and 2: where he’s dropping you off (you’d be surprised how many drivers don’t actually know their way around the city),
  • and

  • you don’t mind your ride potentially getting you there late for your appointment and, assuming you’re not waiting 6 hours for your return trip, showing up early to pick you up–then potentially leaving because you weren’t ready.

Most of this I’ve either seen or experienced or, in some cases, had relayed to me. Plus fun things like dropping a person in a wheelchair at entirely the wrong building, while the attendant meeting said person is waiting at the correct one with no idea what’s up (this was before everyone and their cat had a cell phone). In short, you’re probably slightly less likely to develop a migraine if you schedule all your trips on a regular basis, usually several weeks in advance, and almost never have to cancel for any reason beyond things like weather. However, to do that, you’d pretty much have to give up on ever deciding to do something like, for instance, have any kind of actual social life outside of your job, or medical appointments, or what have you. Where someone can call up John Q. Person at half past after-hours and see about meeting him somewhere for coffee, unless Jane Q. Wheely’s having a day where she can actually do something on her own, that same conversation’s going to involve picking a hopefully not entirely too obscure time for the day after tomorrow, then hoping she’s on the phone early enough (they still haven’t figured out online booking) that the time she said she’d meet said friend for coffee isn’t already occupied by someone who forgot to schedule the doctor’s appointment he knew about for 6 months. I can’t imagine there are a lot of Para Transpo users who are overly enthusiastic about that system. Which is precisely why I need to resist the urge to snark on the occasions someone’s been surprised by the fact I both don’t and won’t use it.

In fairness, it’s entirely possible they’d accept someone like me if I bothered to apply. And a few years ago, not knowing then what I know now, I considered applying. But seeing how they work in practice and the criteria they base that practice on (PDF), I have a very strong suspicion that one of two things would happen. Either I wouldn’t be accepted on account of I’m what they’d consider too independent–which, for the record, would be the first time that’s ever worked against me–or they’d accept me, but I’d end up giving up on them because my daily routine–particularly when I can manage to afford to do more than sit at home–can’t be appropriately pigeon-holed into some kind of narrow scheduling margin they can work with. Very likely, however, it would be that first one.

“Persons with a disability would generally be considered eligible for Para Transpo if by
attempting to use OC Transpo’s regular fixed-route transit service, their health would be
severely endangered or the attempt would likely lead to bodily harm”.

While I may not always do things the supposedly safe way, I would probably rule myself out of this part of their criteria in approximately 10 seconds, provided they didn’t catch me on an off day wherein I’ve been drinking for a day and a half already. I’ve been told I can handle myself better in some ways than a fully able-bodied sighted person, though I’m not entirely sure how much stock I’d necessarily put in that. Still, it would be more than enough that they wouldn’t touch me. The second part of that criteria, however, is a maybe.

It goes on to say
“A person with a disability, who does not qualify for Para Transpo’s door-to-door service
in the summer months, may still be eligible for service during the winter”. An example
of a person who would be eligible for Para Transpo on a winter-only basis may be a
person who is visually impaired who can navigate the regular fixed-route service except
when there is ice and snow on the ground.

A case could probably be made, if I wanted to push it, that that would apply to me. I can do it, sure, and have done it pretty much effortlessly for as long as I’ve lived in Ottawa, but it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to get someone to see the possibility that blind geek plus Ottawa winter equals not necessarily the safest thing in the history of ever. But here’s why I don’t push that.

Winters up here in general, and this one in particular, can’t be planned for in advance. By the time there’s the potential for possibly unsafe weather, the service would do me absolutely no good. A situation where the service might possibly have been an option for me came up last month. In the span of a day, Ottawa was subjected to 50 CM of snow. By the time we had word it was coming, and quickly, it was well past the latest possible time I could realisticly expect to arrange a ride home and not have it take 6 years to happen. And at the end of the day, it wouldn’t have done me any more of a favour than what I ended up doing instead–I took one look outside when classes were over that day, then got hold of Uber for my lift home–and still beat the worst of it. It cost me $9, but I knew where my ride was, I knew when my ride would get here, and more importantly, I didn’t need to be able to predict the near future to obtain it.

In short, Uber filled the role Para Transpo thinks might be adequate for me better than Para Transpo has for probably anyone. And there are people who need Para Transpo to fill that role a whole lot more than I do. If Para Transpo can’t do it for them without provoking small migraines, and this is supposed to be their primary customer base, you could not pay me enough to use them. Not even if you somehow managed to collect the money Para Transpo’s saying they’re owed.

New: ReCAPTCHA now exists where it didn’t before.

It’s common knowledge I hate spammers. It’s equally common knowledge I hate captchas. Enter reCAPTCHA. Yes, it’s still a captcha, but it virtually eliminates any and all of the reasons I hate captchas. Particularly, the thing is perfectly accessible–at least insofar as my testing goes. And now, it runs live on this website. Which, at end of days, means I should start seeing a significant decrease in the number of spam hits to this often neglected thing–without, as it happens, impacting the 2 of you who comment on every 500th thing I toss up here. In short: Where’s this been all my life? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go coax a Windows VM to do what it’s supposed to.

Update: I win at captchas. I fail at HTML. And this is why I shouldn’t geek while distracted.

Toronto schools figure out kids can get hurt, move to ban it.

Ah, Toronto. That lovely little nowhere place where bad ideas go to get themselves one last kick at the can. That place that brought us joys like, you know, rob ford, and the idea of separating the city from the rest of Ontario–it never was actually explained, by the way, how one would go about separating a city from a province while said city resided rather firmly within the geological vicinity of that province, but as we learned from Quebec, such details are pithy little things that needn’t concern the gods who declare it so. And now, Toronto’s back with another brilliant brainchild.

You see, while the rest of us were busy living our lives and handling things that matter while avoiding the clumsy hand of good intentions, Toronto schools were coming to terms with the fact that kids will play at recess. And during that play, kids will undoubtedly end up hurt. And as it has become politically correct to do, one school has applied an opposite overreaction to what it believes to be a problematic action. Kids playing tag leads to kids getting hurt, you say? Then by all means, ban tag.

A Toronto Catholic elementary school is under fire for its decision to ban kids from playing tag.

The downtown school put a stop to the popular chase game — and any recess rough housing — after several several injuries. The Toronto Catholic District School Board defended St Luke’s decision, saying some injuries resulted in bleeding and this was no ordinary game of tag.

Yes. Kids will get just a little overenthusiastic. It happens. Kids will also get hurt when being a little overenthusiastic. Again, it happens. You know what also happens? They learn that maybe they might not oughta have done that. This is also, I thought, what they had staff assigned as recess monitors for–that and making sure little jimmy doesn’t turn around and pop someone in the nose for stealing his favourite swing, but that’s a whole other issue.

Look. I get the theory behind the idea. And as theories go, it’s about as good as any other I’ve come across. But unless we start mandating we put kids in bubble wrap until they turn 18, policies like this aren’t going to accomplish much. The kids who are going to do it will do it when they’re away from school–and hopefully where their parents can keep a closeish eye on them just in case. And the rest probably won’t care as long as it’s not aimed at them. In the meantime, Toronto needs to find a more creative way to deal with kids being kids. Like, maybe, explaining to them why maybe it might could not be the hottest idea in the world to run full-tilt into the kid you’re chasing. Unless of course that would take too much effort.

In which I discover that sleep really is overrated.

There are moments, often far too many, wherein I don’t sleep much. some call it non-24. Some call it me just being weird. I don’t care enough to call it either way–I call it mostly powered by caffeine instead. And now I discover a likely explanation for how I ended up like that and, rather, why it doesn’t necessarily suck if you’re me.

I always feel like I’m being more productive on days where I don’t get all that much sleep. There were a few times in the last couple months where I’ve decided to put sleep on the backburner because I had this or that project that needed doing instead. Now, granted they were projects that weren’t yet expected to be done with, but you know. So because I’d be up anyway, I’d often decide to hell with it, stay up, do that, then get some other junk done around the house while I was already up far too late to be healthy. Apparently that’s not abnormal. I don’t know necessarily that the whole of the article applies to me, of course, but there were a few things that I’ve had people closely associate with me.

According to an article by the Wall Street Journal people who sleep less show some interesting characteristics, “Not only are their circadian rhythms different from most people, so are their moods (very upbeat) and their metabolism (they’re thinner than average, even though sleep deprivation usually raises the risk of obesity). They also seem to have a high tolerance for physical pain and psychological setbacks.” People who sleep less tend to go on the fast lane, they talk fast and are always on the upside of life. They have a different attitude towards getting things done.

The high pain tolerance thing is interesting–and definitely applies to me, much to the dismay of a few I’m reasonably sure. To listen to my family, so does the talking fast. The rest I just chalk up to not really giving a damn. Except that being thin thing–that’s one that I’m assuredly not, though you’d think I would be given how much not staying in one place I’ve managed to accomplish.

So. For all those times people have heard me insist that sleep is highly overrated and thought they’d like to have whatever it is I’m smoking, now you know. And now I should probably go about the business of disinfecting my apartment while I still have the energy. And while I do, a relevant video–which apparently doesn’t allow embedding, go figure.

sleep? who needs it?

Education: 1 James: 0

Up side: It hasn’t been 4 months since the last time I looked at this thing. Slightly less up side: Academia and I have become incredibly close over the last couple months. to the tune of I may have to tell the next person I’m dating that I can’t marry her on account of I’m married to the college.

I’m in semester 3 of a 4-semester program, and it’s not slowed down for more than 5 minutes since I started. Which is awesome, if you’re me, but slightly less if you’re other people who may want to hear more than the occasional 4 words from me. But on the bright side, I’ve discovered exactly why I wanted this program in the first place–they grade me on my ability to do sysadmin related things. Which, well, I may or may not have had a small amount of experience with before my webfaction migration. Professor says make me an email server, to which my almost immediate answer is give me 5 minutes with Postfix. This is probably the most fun I’ve had at any level of schooling ever–and this stuff people actually want to pay me for. Since when is that a thing?

My time not spent in class is spent toying around with Ubuntu, usually for something exceedingly school related–like, say, the above mentioned mail server, or messing with windows Server 2008 because apparently someone somewhere thinks I want to get paid to set up and fix MS Exchange servers for a living. And that’s the way it goes until April, after which everything becomes optional until September.

Things I’ve had reinforced since this semester started, in no particular order:

  • If you thought being a Windows user was an exercise in headache, spend an hour as a Windows sysadmin. Particularly spend an hour sysadmining a new Exchange server. I have not seen something fail so hard in my life, and I’ve seen a lot of fail. And when it fails, you are not fixing it with a reinstall–unless you’re reinstalling your OS. In short, pray it doesn’t fail. You’ll thank me later.
  • Thoroughly tested does not necessarily mean working. If you’ve tested the hell out of your VM networking setup at home, then bring it into the school environment having passed all your tests, it *will* implode. And sometimes, it’ll look pretty while it does it. Go in with a plan C, because plan B will probably blow up right after plan A did.
    • This is doubly true if you’ve got multiple network cards to play with–VMWare likes to break them both if it disagrees with something you’ve done to one. Then good luck figuring out which one.
  • There are 80000000 ways to accomplish the exact same task. If you decide to do it the overly complicated way, there are 80000001. But if you break something doing it the overly complicated way, there are about 45000000000 possible points of failure.
    • Things you should not do if you get to that point: send your lab partner an email that just says “I broke it”. Your lab partner is very likely to congratulate you and keep working on what he’s doing. Particularly if your lab partner is me.
  • The world really and truly does run on caffeine. I thought it was a myth, even when I was working night shifts handling my 7500th call because the latest Windows update tanked something. Then I came to college. Nope, definitely not a myth. There be people there who consume far more caffeine than I ever have, and I thought I had a lot. Some of it’s justified–the workload will kill a lesser being, and some of these people have families, jobs, and actual social lives to attend to when they’re done. And some of us just don’t sleep. Ahem. *cough* Hi.
  • And lastly: Whatever you do, however and wherever you do it, do not ever dev on the prod box. It is going to break, and break horribly, and when it does, they will hear your frustration down the hall. And some of us, having warned you it would happen, will probably be laughing as we head off to refill our caffeine.

This semester’s not done yet, and I’m already starting to formulate vacation plans and junk for when it is, but it’s things like this that are why I picked this program. It’s also things like this that are why other people tend to hear a whole lot less from me when I’m in the midst of said program–or, in terms of last summer, recovering from having been pasted to the wall by this program. Education is kicking my ass. But if I come out of this mess with even a little more than I had when I went in, it’ll be worth it. Now, about this caffeine thing…

The road to hell is paved with helpful people.

We’ve all seen it, whether we’re blind or otherwise disabled or not. We’re in the middle of something, and all of a sudden we’ve got an extra pair of hands–or sometimes two–we weren’t planning on. Some well-meaning soul has decided we could use that extra pair of hands, for reasons known only to them, even while things wouldn’t go anymore perfectly if you paid them. You almost feel bad about turning them away–after all they were, as they’ll tell you if you’ll let them, “only trying to help”. But if you don’t, you’ll have a whole new problem to deal with–these same well-meaning people guessing at what you’re doing and how you’re doing it, and in the process, that thing you thought should only take you 10 minutes is now making quick work of the better part of half an hour.

This, I think, becomes even more noticeable if you happen to also be blind and trying, for instance, to avoid small armies of people while getting yourself from A to B. At least, it’s more noticeable if you’re me. To the tune of this happened at least three times throughout the course of yesterday–when all I was doing, as it happens, was going to and from class… Which I’ve done for ages, now.

It’s the first week back to class for most people, so naturally everything gets several different flavours of chaotic. And my schedule this term has me either coming or going right when the not quite so organized chaos is potentially at its worst in some places. But because I’ve been doing this for ages, the fact that there are more people trying to squeeze themselves down every hallway in every direction than should even be possible doesn’t overly concern me–provided, that is, they’re not standing in the middle of that hallway staring at their phone and therefore oblivious to the fact they’re about to be warned of my approach by way of a stick across the knees. On my way to class, I had two particular very well-meaning people stop me for the sole purpose of asking 1: if I knew where I was going, 2: if I knew how to get there, 3: if I needed help to get there, and 4: if I was really, really sure I didn’t need help to get there–this after one of those people kept themselves a few feet behind me and called out directions to the door of the building, which… Well… I was rather already heading for, though perhaps not exactly how he invisioned it. One of them even offered to guide me directly to where I was going, just in case. Which I suppose seemed like a good idea at the time, right up until they needed to ask someone else for directions to an area I conveniently enough have to walk right past to get to my classes. They meant well, and I didn’t end up late for class, so in that respect even if they couldn’t help, they didn’t hurt.

The problem shows up, though, when people skip the asking and get right to the helping. Now, I like to think I know my way around campus enough that I can hit most places fairly easily. There are a few tricky spots, mostly on account of I rarely go there, but for the most part I’ve ended up being the one giving directions. Still, when it gets chaotic, I occasionally need to find me a spot out of the way and wait–not necessarily for people to get out of the way, but so I can figure out more accurately where exactly people are. Let me explain largely how I work for travel purposes.

Everything, if you’re me, becomes a reference point. And I do mean everything. Walls, furniture, rooms I’m walking past, people–if it’s there, I can probably use it. If you’re coming out of a hallway behind me, I can easily use the direction you’re heading in to figure out where I should be going. And I’ve done this thing too many times to count–to the point now that I almost do it subconsciously, and have probably done it more than once without realizing. So if I’ve decided to occupy a spot out of the way for half a second, it’s probably because in a section of the campus where there are something like 2 or 3 very closely aligned hallways, I’d prefer not to have to guess at which one and spend the next 5 minutes undoing what I just did because I guessed the wrong one. I don’t need to do that very often–I can usually cruise right on through without breaking stride, but there are days.

On one of those days, it was slightly busier than usual–I think the college was doing some sort of open house session, possibly. There were probably three times the people there that there’d normally be. Again, no big thing–I do it so often now that people are just another indicator of where I am and where I’m going. But there’s one particular place at the college where there are two almost identical hallways that will take you to very different parts of the campus. Those hallways are at a slight angle from each other–you could come out of one, lean a slight right turn, and end up down the other while being half asleep. So if you’re approaching that spot from another direction, it’s very easy–and I’ve seen too many people do this just by not thinking–to aim for one hallway, miss, and end up down the other–only realizing it when they actually stop talking long enough to look at the rooms they’re passing. On this day, that spot on campus was rather full of people doing it didn’t look like much. Most of them were trying to push past the rest of them, who were seeming to be content with just taking up space. I was doing my usual navigational trick, ducking in and around small clumps of people wherever I could invent me a hole. Some kind soul thought they’d do me a favour and direct me out of the majority of that group of people and toward the other side of that intersection. There was just one very small problem, and it took me a stretch to realize it was staring at me. The hallway he directed me to and the hallway I actually needed to find were two entirely different–and, arguably, completely unrelated–things. So I get to where I know my classroom should be, come to find out instead I’m walking into a small cafeteria (bright side: I now know where I can go to hide if I want food and no one to find me). Then there’s the small matter of the obligatory few minutes figuring out where in the hell I am and how in the hell I got there. Eventually, I managed to answer both questions, then figured out how I’d be getting back to where I needed to be–which was easier this time, given I was already in the same general area, and the majority of the people who would have been otherwise in my way the first time had cleared out, so that was the end of that. Again, I didn’t end up being late for class–though in this case, that may have had more to do with the fact the professor was, but if that had been my first actual exposure to campus, things could have probably ended up going a lot differently and very quickly.

There’s a rule I like to toss at people when they get surprised their help didn’t produce the expected results. For every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction. If you already know exactly what you’re doing, or where you’re going, and someone comes along to offer help, things get complicated before either of you catches on–mostly because they know what you’re trying to do, but if they can’t wrap their head around how you’re doing it, they’re going to do it their own way–and their own way is going to probably not give you the results you’re after. And this is why, as much as it gives some folks I used to run with a headache, I don’t often opt for accepting the volunteered help–whether or not they’ve asked first before volunteering. I know where I’m going. I know how to get there. You might even know the same thing. But I know the way that gets me there in about 5 minutes. If you take a different way because, for whatever reason, you don’t know mine, I may not have any idea where we’re going–it depends on how creative I’ve been with my wandering the place ahead of time. Which also means if you decide that no, you actually don’t know how to get where we’re going, or if it turns out the way you know doesn’t work out for any number of reasons, not only have you actually not been helpful–but I may not necessarily be able to undo it and get back to doing what I know eventually works. It’s no slight against the helpful–sometimes, it’s actually incredibly useful. But often, some might say far too often, the road to hell is paved with helpful people. And if you’re already having a day, it’s an incredibly short drive.

That’s one way to fix a housing chrisis.

So if you’ve been paying any attention to the news in certain parts of Canada, at least, you’ve become aware the price of your average decent-sized house has rather, well, exploded. In Nova Scotia, they’ve discovered a solution. If you can prove there are aboriginal artifacts on your property, and that there’s the potential for an aboriginal group to make a land claim against your house (they do that up here every so often, apparently), you can convince the Nova Scotia government that your property is worth a whole dollar.

Normally, a brand-new seaside home on the outskirts of Antigonish, N.S. could easily fetch as much as $400,000.

But after homeowner Mike MacDonald stumbled upon a Mi’kmaq axe on the two-acre property, he was quickly able to convince the Province of Nova Scotia that his new home was now effectively worthless.

“Such a property would be considered very valuable under normal circumstances,” reads a decision by a Nova Scotia appeal tribunal.

But with the artifacts throwing the property’s future into limbo, “the value will be set at $1 until the future use of the Mi’kmaq artifacts is determined,” it read.

The rock-bottom assessment — which MacDonald only obtained after several appeals — frees him from paying any property taxes on the beachfront land.

Well now. That’s the housing crisis solved–at least in Nova Scotia. Who says the aboriginal people don’t do us any favours?

Support for windows 8 ended on Tuesday. downgrade to Windows 7 now.

Microsoft does this far too often to be healthy. They’ll release a halfway decent version of Windows, give it a year or several to run its course, then push out a flopper as a replacement. The flopper goes flop, Microsoft realizes perhaps they might not oughta have done that, so they come back with a slightly less floppy version. Meanwhile, they’ve pulled support for the not-so bright idea, while the version of Windows it was supposed to replace… goes on relatively untouched for a while yet. It happened with that thing that came out before Windows XP–yeah, you know the one. It happened with Vista. And now, it would appear, it’s happening with Windows 8. Effective this past Tuesday, Microsoft killed it. So if you were running that in the hopes of holding out until windows 10 fixed its multiple issues, you’re out of luck. Bright side: they’ll still support Windows 7 for the time being–and that, at least, lacks some of the things Windows 10 needs fixing. Not-so-bright side: you didn’t have plans for this weekend, did you?

Looks like Microsoft pulled support for Internet Explorer 8, 9 and 10 at the same time, but you weren’t running that anyway, right? Right. Carry on. Now if you don’t mind, I’ll be over here not upgrading my OS.

For $294 million, ODSP gives us… business as usual.

The Ontario Disability Support Program ((ODSP) and I haven’t been on friendly terms for as long as I’ve been barely living independently on what they toss me. The reasons are plenty and exceedingly detailed, but can probably very easily be boiled down to a few somewhat key factors. And those can be summarized approximately this way. The Ontario disability Support Program has itself a disability.

When you approach any government at all with the expectation that they might actually be able to do something semi-useful to help you, it’s almost a necessity that you make ready with a plan B, C, D and E just in case–because assuming that help actually comes in the form of something you can do decent things with, getting it to you is going to take far too long, be far too complicated, be far too little and come attached to far too many restrictions to end up doing you or them any amount of actual good in the long run. Unless they decided instead that nope, at which point it gets even more fun if you’re you.

ODSP finally has madness like this down to a science. And it’s all brought to you by the brand spanking new case management system that does pretty well nothing you expect it to do and not very well while it’s at it. For the $294 million price-tag their new system comes with, we have a front row seat to all manner of disfunction from all manner of levels. This new case management system, the money for which could have probably gone and done some good in just about any number of far more productive ways, now makes it possible for the fine folks over at ODSP to do the following things even better than they have in years previous.

  • Babysit an entirely dependent woman’s bank account while communicating as little as possible with her caretakers, then cut her off completely when they think she’s socked away too much money
  • Knock a significantly less dependent woman off ODSP for daring to do a little work for herself
  • Force recipients to repeatedly prove, by way of medical documentation–even for conditions that won’t be changing any time soon, that yes, they’re still broken and yes, they still qualify for support and yes, you should still pay them–and then manage to screw up the review process
  • That is, when the system–or the staff who run it–isn’t accidentally making the payments you keep having to requalify for disappear for reasons no one seems capable of knowing

And all it cost the province–translation: people who actually work for a living–for the pleasure was over a quarter billion. Not bad, if the government says so itself–which it does, as often as it can get away with. But on the bright side, we now know why people on ODSP don’t get to afford pithy little things like, you know, paying the rent. I wonder where a disabled program that could really use a little extra money could pull it from. For that kind of cash, we could use something a little bit better than business as usual.

Geek training, now with actual geek tools.

College is awesome, if for no other reason than while I’m not being paid, I’ve still got plenty to keep me occupied during a day. And now, the stuff I have to keep me occupied just became a whole lot more relevant. I’ve been taking this program for pretty much exactly a year, now, but the thing about this program is it’s taken that long just to get to the parts most people who go through it are more likely to use once they’ve found someone who’ll pay them. Not necessarily by choice, but definitely by design–there’s just that much actual background material that needs covered before you get there. You can’t, for example, throw up a web server on a Linux machine if you don’t know how to make Linux do your tellings. Well, you can, but I’m not supporting you. So the first year and change was pretty much this is how you make the things go. Now comes what I like to think of as play time.

The entire reason for me taking this course is to put the skills I already have on paper. I’ve done the Linux administration thing. I’ve done the website maintenance thing. I’ve done the hosting thing. But that’s been a thing I do when I can find both the free time and the spare money–both of which have rather recently come into some shortish supply. So the first half of the program was spent largely covering ground I’ve already covered on my own time and fighting with the occasional professor for reasons far too well known to anyone who’s done the college thing from the perspective of someone with a disability. It’s been fun, but not quite what I signed up for. From this semester onward, though, it gets interesting–and, very likely, significantly easier if you’re me, considering the difference between me and a certified geek is, well, not much.

For instance, one of the courses I’m taking this year is rather self-explanatorily called PC Troubleshooting. Essentially, while there’s a relatively small theory component to the course (there’s only one two-hour lecture a week), the entire point of that course is you walk into the lab, the professor hands you a computer, and your task is to 1: find out what’s wrong with it and 2: fix the damn thing. While all the while being very thankful your professor isn’t quite mean enough to make you nearly relive one of the stereotypical tech support experiences in the process. If you’ve been reading for half as long as the site’s been online, 1: congratulations–I’m impressed, and 2: you probably know on some level this used to be that thing I’d get paid to do, only not in the hands-on sense quite so much–I’d do the finding out what was broken, but then I’d usually be sending someone else with the parts to fix the broken (call center work has its advantages). So this has the potential to be very similar, minus the paycheck.

In another instance, this semester’s Linux course has a component that will involve you setting up and configuring web and email services. Now, I wouldn’t call myself an expert in the area, but I’ve rolled my own in both cases. I’ve also handed a large portion of that rolling to legitimate hosting software when I’ve needed to–see also: 4:00 AM phone calls because person A needs a new email address. I’ll probably learn something, but I’m expecting this to largely just be that thing I’ll do while half awake and walk off with a decent enough grade to matter. Which means I can give just a little more attention to that component of the program that requires I be able to do the same thing on a Windows server. Because, you know, Windows is precisely what I’d want running my business resources.

We’ve sat through the geek training. And while I’ve discovered not for the first time I suck at the theory portion (this is why me and school weren’t on speaking terms for several years), it’s the practical aspect that will probably concern an employer more than anything else–and I’ve got that covered. Now, we get the actual geek tools. And this, right here, is exactly what I came for. Now, about plans for summer…

Dear CBS. Don’t you dare break my Trek.

I’ve been a Star Trek fan since I have no idea when. Too young to have seen the original series on its first run, I could never get into it on any of the other times I saw it–dear lord but I tried. But since the launch of “The Next Generation”, I was kind of a little bit all over it. I think that got me interested in the kinds of things that now interest me–technology, space travel, that kind of thing.

some of the later series started to lose me, mind–I couldn’t get into “Voyager” until nearly halfway through, and let’s not even discuss “Enterprize”. The more recent movies, though, didn’t even warrant more than one viewing–I’ll rant about that when I’m feeling more ranty and have the brainpower to go with it. Still, every new series or movie gets at least a quick look from me, because–hey, that’s my thing. Which is why CBS saying they’re starting up a series of their own caught my attention.

Of course they won’t release any actual info on that series yet beyond who might be involved (Can we get a hint, guys?), but a guy can hope, right? And what I’m seriously hoping for is they don’t break the series in the same ways they broke the newer movies. There are way too many things I really hope they don’t go overboard on in this new series (hint: special effects should be the background, not the entire point of the show), and there’s a metric ton of potential for the whole thing to implode on itself, but like any good Trek fan, I’ll probably watch the thing anyway. At least until it threatens to cost me sanity points. In the meantime, CBS, don’t even think about breaking the series. It may be 50 years old this year, but you don’t water down a good thing. No matter what the movie producers tell you.

And speaking of movies, I think I may consider giving this one a pass. If only because again with the special effects before the plot. I keep saying it wasn’t broken, guys…

In which education kills brain cells and eats sleep schedules for lunch.

So. I might have mentioned it’s been wicked crazy if you’re me. I might have also mentioned that I rather love that it’s been wicked crazy. The problem with education getting wicked crazy, though, is it tends to pretty much force everything else to the back burner. If you’re me and it’s getting pretty near the end of the semester and you’ve still got a nifty little stack of things that need sorted through, doing or just handing in because you’re an idiot and neglected to do so, that kind of eventually starts to include things you’ve been relatively good at holding together–or, at least, faking it ’til you make it in any event. Which, conveniently enough, is how I ended up turning in a paper I’d written in 3 hours… at 6:30 this morning. It’s a hell of a ride, and I’m definitely going to need the 3 weeks I’ve got coming to me after tomorrow’s exam, but this course is exactly where I need to be. I’ve always considered myself mostly a geek in training, though not in any real way that would have ended up with getting me paid–not for lack of my grasping at any straw going. But these classes are a halfway decent excuse to put that training into something that vaguely resembles real practice while adding to it with a logical end goal of an actual paycheck. Even if that process accepts payment in student loans, brain cells and what’s left of my already not quite together sleep schedule. Still, the only loose thread I have to tie up on this semester is tomorrow’s exam, so that’s a thing. I’ll take it. Now about that vacation…

So what’d you do over the summer? Oh, you know. Relaxed, took it easy, discovered a planet…

For about 5 minutes, I would sincerely love to trade all kinds of places with this kid.

Tom Wagg was 15 when he spotted a tiny dip in the light of a distant star during his week-long placement at Keele University. After two years of further research, astronomers have confirmed that he witnessed a mystery planet passing in front of the star.

Follow the site for long enough, and you’ll pick up on the extreme geek factor. This includes a huge interest in science fiction, but also in both present-day and futuristic space discoveries. So I was a little tiny bit jealous, perhaps, when I read this. I always wondered if we’d actually see something akin to realistic space travel in my lifetime, and they sure as hell are trying to answer that question with a definitive hell yes. But in the meantime, you go, Tom. And if you ever want to trade places with a college geek, let me know. Now, about those theoretical real-life impulse engines