Tuesday, May 04, 2021

A Little On Workspaces and Design

This morning on CBC, there was a brief segment on "what will workplaces look like after COVID".  They brought in someone from one of the big architecture firms to talk about this, and the first words out of her mouth were something to the effect of "more emphasis on collaborative work" <blah blah blah> ... after that I tuned out.  

Here's the thing. I've been hearing the "collaboration" argument used to justify cramming more workers into less space for years. The result has been a one-size-fits-all dystopian hellscape of so-called "open concept" workspaces that are noisy, have no privacy for workers, and are basically breeding grounds for adult-onset ADHD problems. 

In my opinion, the "open concept office" is one of the greatest failures of the 20th century.  It "saves money" by cramming more people into less space, but with no regard for how the individual needs to work, or the nature of the work that they are doing.  

However, it takes away from people a myriad of things that contribute to being productive in the workplace, including personalizing their workspaces (yes, this is often much more important than you think), recognizing different working styles that people may have, and so on. Banging away on "collaboration" is missing the point - collaboration isn't some magical elixir that's going to make business better, or make the workplace better. 

In a 25 year career in software development, I experienced multiple types of workplaces, and some worked better for me than others. Some I liked, some were absolute trash. The work I did often involved long periods of time for deeply focused concentration - as in close the door, and get lost in the problem I was trying to solve.  The last thing I needed was the kind of constant distractions that happen with the pervasive noise and activity in a cubicle farm or "open concept" environment.  

Thinking about the different kinds of work that were going on in that company, there were clearly departments who benefit from having individual offices, and there were other departments which would have benefited from having more open environments, and still other parts of the operation where combinations were needed because of varying workloads.  

There's a point here:  businesses need to get away from what I will only kindly call "one size fits all" approaches to workspaces and working.  When you are designing a workspace, talk to your stakeholders, and design the space for how they want to work. Understand both the nature of the work itself, as well as the workflow that is going on, then design for that.  

Additionally, you need to pay attention to the human needs - not just the shape of the chairs, or the height of the desks, etc., but also the very human need for people to make their workspace at least somewhat their own.  If you're expecting someone to be at their desk all day, it's utterly unreasonable to insist that they not personalize their space at all (a practice that has become increasingly common as walls have slowly dropped in height to barely be enough to keep your neighbour's lunch from landing on your desk, and the concept of "hoteling" or unassigned seating has become fashionable. 

While these more recent trends no doubt reduce the "cost per employee" in terms of space, they do very little or nothing to improve the working conditions for employees, and have a hidden cost in terms of lost productivity.  

After spending the last year mostly working from home, many workers are going to return to their former workspaces and ask themselves "what kind of hell is this from?".  For the last year, workers have had direct control over their workspaces, and while we might all be a little tired from constantly using Zoom, Teams or other conferencing tools to communicate with our peers, many have had a level of control over their work environment that they haven't had for years.  Businesses should not expect them to give that up. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others (The Alberta Edition)

 In KenneyLand (aka Alaberta or Bertabama), it seems that there are two sets of rules at play.  

First, let me introduce you to the saga of GraceLife Church in Parkland County.  This organization has been holding services and ignoring public health orders since Fall of 2020.  The province has seemingly been unwilling to do anything about it until recently - in fact, it took until just after Easter (we'll come back to this point in a moment) for concrete steps to be taken.  Steps that the government had to take if they were going to enforce anything with a rising third wave of the pandemic. 

Friday, April 09, 2021

48 Hrs In Alberta Politics

 The last couple of days in Alberta have been interesting ... not good, but interesting.  

It all starts with a bunch of rural UCP MLAs putting out a joint letter complaining loudly about the return to a much stricter set of restrictions to control the spread of COVID-19. 

In public, Kenney tried to paper this over as "legitimate debate", saying that his party supports differences of opinion.  Then there's what happened behind closed doors.  Not only did Kenney threaten to call a snap election in caucus, but he also threatened to boot out MLAs who violated public health orders - a non-subtle reference to the Christmas travel scandal a few months ago. 

All of this paints a very interesting political picture.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

The Vaccination Rollout In Canada Is Being Botched - Deliberately

As a third wave of COVID is about to clobber Canada, I want to talk a bit about why this is completely unnecessary, and likely as not has more to do with politics than it does anything else. 

Since Canada has no capacity of its own to produce vaccines, especially not something as sophisticated as the Pfizer mRNA vaccine, the Federal Government took the step of over-procuring - basically signing contracts for far more than we actually need with multiple vendors, and hoping that enough would come in from each of them to be useful.  More or less, that plan has worked out fairly well.  There have been hiccups resulting from production capacity problems in Europe, and more recently some squawking from European states over exports, but nothing insurmountable. 

The point being that vaccines are here, and they are being distributed to the provinces. 

So, why is it being so painfully slow to get vaccines into people's arms?  

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

... and Kenney Called The NDP "Ideological"

 So, today the Kenney government took the wraps off its proposed K-6 school curriculum: 

https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en

*I can't guarantee how long this link will be viable, so screenshots will be used to illustrate points.

Kenney bitched and moaned at every turn about the curriculum revision that the NDP was working on.  What is in this is even more ideological than anything that he could criticize in the NDP's efforts.  This isn't just a "step backwards" in terms of educating future generations, it's a walk off an ideological cliff.  

Especially in the areas of Social Studies, this curriculum is like stepping back into the 1960s era - an era when the only perspective on Canada's history was defined by British colonialism. Any perspective from indigenous peoples was carefully sanitized out of the picture (and yes, at that time, the "60s Scoop" was forcibly separating native youths from their families and shipping them off to residential schools).  

I can't wade through the entirety of this curriculum to identify all of the absolute nonsense it contains, but there is a lot of bias lurking in it, and the biases come out early.  Consider the following elements from Grade 1 and Grade 2 social studies:  

Grade 1 Social Studies

Grade 2 Social Studies

First, consider the questionable assumption lurking in the grade 1 element that the indigenous societies on the Canadian prairies were "primitive" (unsophisticated to a European's eyes).  The curriculum then goes on to talk about earth worship spiritualities as part of the belief systems of indigenous peoples.  There is a not so subtle bias playing out here of portraying the indigenous as "primitive" or "simple".  

Then in Grade 2, we get a declaration that monotheistic religions have common origins.  Again, a subtle but of priming going on here and it's nasty.  In Grade 1, we prime students with the idea that earth worship is "primitive", and then in Grade 2, we start making declarations about "common roots" for the 3 Abrahamic faiths, but quietly ignores the fact that other faiths arrived at monotheistic models independently.  To a grade 2 student, the logical conclusion to draw would be that the Abrahamic faiths are "more correct" than those "primitive" earth worship faiths.  

Yes, this is an example of bias - and it's a fairly subtle one - one that should make us all very wary of the intentions of the authors of this curriculum plan.  Public schools are not places we should be indoctrinating students with ideas about the "correctness" of any faith - explicitly or implicitly.  If you want to talk about different faiths, that's fine, but it has to be done on a level footing, not with all kinds of subtle priming going on to lead students to particular conclusions. 

... and just in case you're thinking that I'm "reading too much into this", let me introduce part of the "sex education" portion of the curriculum: 

Grade 6 Sex Ed

You're not misreading this - we literally have 'abstinence-only' being imposed here.  This is in no way complete or comprehensive.  This ignores reality, and it clearly comes out of the religious right's toolbox of bullshit.  It's basically saying "don't have sex until you get married, or you will become diseased with something awful and incurable".  I won't go on about how this ignores sexual orientations beyond heterosexual, or gender diversity, because the minute you jump down the "abstinence-only" hole, you're already well into Bible-land.  

Educators I have chatted with briefly are also critical of this curriculum for over-emphasizing memorization, and doing far too little to encourage integration and critical thought.  This is also not a surprise - Kenney is an anti-intellectual with a serious amount of difficulty with the idea that anyone might be able to think beyond him. 

I'm not going to say that I am in any way surprised by this bullshit.  Kenney and the UCP were telling us exactly who and what they are from the get-go.  Albertans voted for this government in droves, many thinking that "oh, they won't be _THAT_ bad".  No, they're _THAT_ bad, and worse. This curriculum is an insidious piece of trash that will put Alberta at the back of the house when it comes to academic achievement.  


Saturday, February 20, 2021

No, Conservatives, Texas Power Grid Collapse Wasn't Because Of Wind Turbine Failures

 Texas had a record breaking cold snap this past week as a result of the Jet Stream slumping way south of where it normally sits, and allowing a huge mass of arctic air to drop temperatures down into the range of -20C.  For a state that rarely sees 0F, that's shockingly cold.  As you have seen in the news, the power grid in Texas basically collapsed in the face of record cold and snowy conditions.  

In the wake of this, we have had numerous figures blaming this power disaster on renewable energy sources like wind turbines. Factually, even CNN is pointing out that this is utter nonsense.  Anyone who lives in a more wintery climate (like Alberta for example) is used to -20C or colder temperatures not affecting much of anything.  

So, why did the Texas power grid collapse so violently?  DailyKOS published an analysis this week which walks through the combination of policy going back to the days of electrification in the 1930s, ego, greed, and what ultimately is a fundamental failure to safeguard the public interest by Texas politicians. 

Mechanically, the basic statement is that Texas has never bothered to spend the money needed to prepare their infrastructure for winter conditions, even in the wake of a 2011 weather event which resulted in rolling power outages. 

While it would be an enjoyable exercise to talk about the relative ease with which the technical problems could be solved, the politics are much more informative, especially with a conservative disinformation campaign gearing up to discredit "green" energy in the public mind. 

Texas' woes really started when the state decided to "go it alone" by not allowing its grid to interconnect with its neighbours.  This arose out of some conservative paranoia about "federal regulators".  As a result, the Texas power grid basically stands as an island in the North American power grid system.  It has minor interconnects with its neighbours, but none are adequate to do more than the most trivial of load balancing, certainly not enough to hold the grid up if a major collapse starts.  

Isolationism, combined with a deep rooted skepticism about climate change (funded by Texas-based oil companies), meant that a lot of executives in the Texas energy industry decided that taking protective steps to avoid blackouts was an unnecessary expense.  When a 2011 winter storm resulted in recommendations to winterize, those ideas quietly disappeared off the radar after a couple of more normal winters. 

Here in Canada, we are getting fed a steady stream of right wing propaganda that "renewables are unreliable".  Yes, there are days where the wind doesn't blow (although residents of Lethbridge, AB  might contest that); there are overcast days where solar isn't going to be as efficient, and so on.  I think we all know these as "self evident facts".  Yes, you need a range of generation options right now.  Nobody with any sense is saying you don't. 

However, politics being what it is, people with very deep pockets are pouring huge dollars into convincing you that renewable energy isn't the way to go.  Why?  Because their profits depend on burning fossil fuels for as long as possible.  They know, just as well as you and I do when we look at the hard science, that the bill for burning hydrocarbons for energy is coming due. They want to maximize their profits as long as possible. So, they pour money into disinformation spread through PostMedia, Fox News, and wherever else they own control. 

The "right" mix of energy sources is largely going to be a matter of engineering decisions, not political.  Arguments like those being put forth by Danielle Smith and other writers for PostMedia do us no favours by choosing to lie about the reality of what happened in Texas.  


Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Alberta's Administrative Penalties Act: Justice More Expedient, or Justice Denied?

 In July 2020, Alberta passed a bill which makes sweeping changes to what it euphemistically calls "Administrative Penalties" (basically anything you might get a ticket for) and the way that they are handled. Bill 21, The Administrative Penalties Act, dramatically changes the scope of what police or other enforcement officials can do when they hand out tickets.  

First of all, a ticket is no longer a "summons" to appear in court.  It becomes an "administrative penalty", which is extremely broadly defined:  

Definition of Administrative Penalty

So, basically, this is just about anything up to, but not including being imprisoned. When you start considering that can include impounding your vehicle, seizure of property, imposing restrictions on your driver's license, etc., that's a lot of potential consequences. 

This legislation is a lot more slippery than merely giving police enormous powers over your life. 

A Little On Workspaces and Design

This morning on CBC, there was a brief segment on "what will workplaces look like after COVID".  They brought in someone from one ...