Weekly Churn 011: Fuck Utopia

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. This week got away from me, so it’s being posted on the Monday instead. Sandra Newman recently wrote in The Guardian about how the literary genre of the utopia has been largely abandoned in favour of its shadow genre, the dystopia. For some reason she believes this shift to be in part the result of the Soviet Union under Stalin being the only real-world utopian project people have had to examine, and in part the result of cynicism and nihilism run amok, a surrendering to conservative criticisms of liberal and left-wing idealism. She also believes that this shift causes such a surrender, enacting a vicious cycle in which we come to believe that any hope for a better world is lost, or that change for the… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 010: The Devil You Know

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. My friend Adam Greenfield was recently interviewed for the Danish magazine Politiken Byrum and has posted the interview on his website. Adam’s work has heavily shaped my thinking on urbanism generally and “smart cities” specifically. Since I’ve been learning about the Quayside project I’ve been trying, and mostly failing, to put my thoughts on the subject into words, even going so far as to have a whole library of books piled near my desk trying to put something together. The closest I’ve come so far is this earlier post about how the language of the business world can have a negative impact on how we think about governance. Thankfully, Adam’s recent interview is pretty direct, and aligns with my own views very closely. Here in Toronto… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 009: Catching Up

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. On a personal note, my father is doing better. He had his surgery, and while the outcome is not entirely what we’d hoped, he’s doing better and should have improved quality of life in the long run. It was a stressful time, and I’m glad I was able to be there for him. A few years ago I would not have been able to, and given how stressed I still am five days after getting home, I can only imagine how difficult that would have been. I’ve gotten back to reading. I’m just shy of 200 pages into The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, by Shoshana Zuboff. It’s a fantastic book, although I’m not sure… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 008: Halifax

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. I’m still in Nova Scotia. I’ve been staying at a very modest hotel in Halifax for nearly a week while my dad is in the hospital. I came down to visit my father because he needed an angiogram and I’ve become paranoid about medical stuff. Instead of having a simple out-patient test, they admitted him and he’s been waiting for heart surgery (stents, not open heart) since Wednesday. It’s scheduled for tomorrow afternoon. I’ve been trying to get some work done from this hotel, but mostly I’ve been freaking out in slow motion, getting very little sleep, eating a lot of crap and watching a lot of television. I’ve also gotten to know Halifax a lot better. There’s a really great independent bookstore here called Bookmark,… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 007: A Quick One

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. I’m in Nova Scotia right now visiting my father. His health has not been good and he’s having some tests done in Halifax next week. This sort of thing would not have been a source of anxiety for me a year ago—not a significant source of anxiety, anyway. After my mother’s death following routine gall bladder surgery last fall I’ve become extremely paranoid about medical matters, and even little things can make me very upset. To give you an idea of what I mean, the first time my partner got a cold after my mother died I cried for like an hour because I was suddenly terrified that she would die, too. It’s a special kind of helplessness. On top of this anxiety about my father’s… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 006: Blank Pages

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. I’ve spent a lot of time staring at blank pages this week. Or not blank so much as unyielding. For a while now, and by “a while” I mean a few years, I’ve been working on a story called “A Fire in the Snow,” or maybe just “Fire in the Snow.” It’s the first project I’ve worked on that integrates some of the experiences I had working in northern Saskatchewan. At it’s core it’s just a scary-monster-in-the-woods story with Lovecraftian overtones, but it’s also about how men bond at work when that work is dangerous and isolated, and in a very small way it touches on the damage that settlers have done to First Nations communities—something that I think is important to address in stories about… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 005: Public Policy and Innovation

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. If you follow me on social media you might have heard some of this before. There’s this company called “Alphabet” that Google created, a kind of umbrella corporation to house all of its different experiments and subsidiaries without overtly drawing a line between those entities and Google’s worsening international reputation. Or at least I think that’s what it’s for; maybe it’s a tax thing, I don’t know. Anyway, one of those Google sister companies is called Sidewalk Labs. They are in the smart city business, and are looking to develop “Quayside,” which is part of Toronto’s eastern waterfront. There are a lot of problems with Sidewalk coming to town; some are related to consultation and democratic practice, some are related to trust and reputation issues. There… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 004: The Worst Is Yet to Come

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. Today is my mother’s birthday; she would have been sixty four this year. Computers are dumb, no matter how much we like to pretend otherwise, and some of the conveniences that programmers and device manufacturers have added to them have unintended consequences when we are faced with what is both catastrophic and inevitable. At fifteen minutes after midnight my iPhone suggested that I call my mother and wish her a happy birthday. The computer doesn’t know she’s dead, but the people who made it somehow didn’t anticipate this very human development, nor, apparently, that I’d be unwilling to remove her entry from my address book, or at least unwilling to do so after only six months. The relentless stupidity of technologists in the face of how… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 003: Haunted

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. What are the things that haunt you? I was thinking about that on Monday when I saw this story about Rosie, the corpse of a white pointer shark abandoned in a vat of formaldehyde. The images of Rosie are quite bracing; she floats suspended in murk, silent, motionless, appearing no less lethal than she would have in life—her stillness may even amplify that effect. Dom Krapski writes that seeing Rosie surrounded by “crap” spoils the haunting experience, but Gary Moore’s photographs leave me with a different impression. The stuff in the tank intensifies that haunted feeling for me. I can imagine the tank being cleaned out by human hands, but it is not possible for me to do so without me also imagining the shark slowly,… Continue Reading

Weekly Churn 002: Comics

Ahoy! This is the Weekly Churn, where every Sunday I post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and thinking about over the previous week. This week I thought a lot about comic books. I swear most Weekly Churn posts aren’t going to be as long as this one. I’ve been a comics nerd for as long as I can remember. I don’t know what my first books were; likely some Garfield collections. I have a distinct memory of asking my father for one at Harley’s grocery store and him telling me that I could get colouring books cheaper somewhere else. I was an Archie fiend for years, first glomming on to Dan DeCarlo’s depictions of Betty and Veronica, and then slowly acknowledging that Harry Lucey’s work was superior, although there have been a number of other fine artists to work on Archie over the years. I can’t say I’ve ever… Continue Reading