Norm Rukavina, 1937-2019

In the spring of 1980, the year I turned 14, Greyhound Lines, a bus company in the United States, ran a “Thank You Canada” special to mark our country’s role in the Canadian Caper that had seen U.S. diplomats in Iran rescued with the help of the Canadian Embassy.

By purchasing a Thank You Canada pass, Canadians could enjoy unlimited bus travel in the United States for a month.

For reasons I never have completely understood, my father proposed that he and I should take advantage of this offer and take an adventure together. And so we did. I must have missed a month of school; he must have missed a month of work; and my mother must have been convinced to stay at home with my three brothers as a temporarily-single parent.

And what a grand adventure it was.

We took a Canada Coach Lines bus from Hamilton to the Greyhound station in Buffalo where we bought our passes. As far as I can recall, we didn’t have a plan, other than to see where the bus would take us for 30 days.

We started off by heading west, from Buffalo to Chicago, through Des Moines, Omaha, Salt Lake City, Reno, and Sacramento. We had to switch buses a number of times, but we never stopped moving, never spent a night in a hotel until we got to San Francisco. Those were the days when smoking was allowed on buses, and so my enduring memory of that mad transcontinental dash is of the pungent cocktail of cigarette smoke and bathroom disinfectant.

The rigours of sitting on a bus for three days put Dad’s back into spasm, and so our time in San Francisco consisted of a lot of hobbling around. Until we got to Golden Gate Park and he decided that we should rent bicycles: his theory was that riding a bike would either disable him completely, or solve his back problems. Miraculously, it solved his back problems, and he was fine for the rest of the trip.

From San Francisco we went south, bypassing Los Angeles and stopping in San Diego for a night or two; from there, having reached the end of the U.S., we turned back east, stopping in Tucson, El Paso, San Antonio, and Springfield, spending a few nights in every city, usually at the YMCA or a cheap hotel. We ate a lot of chicken fried steak. We never did laundry. And we saw corners of the United States of America that we never would have seen otherwise.

I think, in the end, we were gone for 21 days, not quite wringing every last drop of our 30 day entitlement out of the pass, but coming pretty close.

The trip was, by times, grueling and uncomfortable and scary. But it was the best trip of my life, and the best gift a father could give his teenage son: 21 days of undivided attention in a “wherever the wind will carry us” spirit.

It is not an exaggeration to say that trip changed my life, and laid the groundwork for an approach to travel, and an approach to life, that has been far more fearless, confident, and improvisational than it might have been otherwise.

Whatever possessed him?

My father died yesterday, at the age of 82.

Dad out for lunch

Options for Watching the Legislative Assembly Stream

The official wrapper for the live video stream from the Legislative Assembly of PEI is here.

But you have options:

There’s a standalone page here (it’s what gets embedded in the page above).

There’s a M3U8 playlist file here (you can feed this to a video player l like VLC to watch the stream outside of a browser):


Open a Network stream in VLC

Opening a Network stream in VLC

Legislative Assembly video playing in VLC

As a special bonus move in VLC, select Preferences > Video and then uncheck the “Window decorations” checkbox:

Minimize window decorations in VLC

Once you do this you’ll have a tiny window with the video that you can tuck away in the corner of your desktop:

VLC video tucked away in the corner on my Mac desktop

Selecting Video > Float on Top from the VLC menu will make sure your tiny floating window stays in the foreground when you’re using other applications.

Life in the Aftermist

The salvation of any Island family with needle-averse children in recent years has been the “flu mist,” an alternate form of the yearly influenza vaccine that gets squirted into the nose rather than needled into the arm.

For Oliver the coming of the mist was transformative; flu vaccine time was still an anxious time of the year, mostly because being in a hall filled with other people about to get a needle is like sitting in the waiting room of a particularly brutal airport. But the anxiety was manageable, and thus not a source of seasonal dread.

So much so that we secured permission from Dr. Heather Morrison, Chief Public Health Officer, to allow Oliver to continue to receive the mist into adulthood.

Which is why, when it was announced in September that the flu mist would not be available in Canada this season, due to shortages, my chest tightened.

After confirming with Dr. Morrison that the mist was out, we decided to follow her advice to look into receiving the flu shot from our family doctor, a setting where we could be more in control of the environment, and where Oliver would be more comfortable.

Fortunately we have a family doctor, and our family doctor has an exceptionally talented nurse, Cheryl, who Oliver’s known for many years, and with whom he has a good relationship.

So we made an appointment for this morning.

I chatted with Cheryl on the phone before we came into the office to establish a shared understanding of the challenge ahead.

And then casually mentioned to Oliver, after breakfast, that we had an appointment with Cheryl to get the flu shot (reminding him of her excellent bedside manner, and problem-free blood draw this summer).

And we headed into the office for 10:00 a.m.

About 10 minutes before giving Oliver the shot, Cheryl came out into the waiting room and applied some numbing cream to the injection site; once Oliver’s arm had a chance to numb up, we went into an exam room, Oliver hopped up on the exam table, and he got his flu shot.

No fuss, no muss.

Well, some preemptive muss. And a lot of hang-wringing and worry on my part and Catherine’s.

But Oliver rose to the occasion. Cheryl rose to the occasion. And Oliver’s been vaccinated.


Marking up blog posts with carbon emissions data

On Monday my friend Ton posted a brief update on his blog:

Arrived in Brussels for Edgeryders SF authors and economists meetup. Looking forward to it.

Like a lot of blogging, this post concerned travel: in this case, a train trip (I’m hopefully assuming, given the distance involve) from Amersfoort to Brussels).

I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of surfacing the carbon impact of our daily activities; travel, especially, is important to focus on, both for its significant contribution to total emissions (48% here in PEI) and because travel is something that we have atypical agency in reducing (it’s easy to decide not to fly to Europe; deciding not to heat my home is harder).

Anecdotal evidence from my personal experience suggests that paying continuous partial attention to consumption can have a positive effect on reducing consumption: even absent any other drivers, the mere fact of observing, it seems, is helpful.

Which leads me to an idea.

HTML has a helpful extensibility that allows data to be embedded in web pages using “data attributes.”

What if Ton’s post embedded the carbon impact of his travel, and perhaps his mode of travel, turning this:

<p>Arrived in Brussels for Edgeryders SF authors and economists meetup. Looking forward to it. </p>

into this:

<p><span class="emissions" data-co2="7.5" data-travelby="train">Arrived in Brussels</span> for Edgeryders SF authors and economists meetup. Looking forward to it.</p>

(the CO2 emission of a train trip from Amersfoort to Brussels are estimated to be 7.5 km by EcoPassenger).

To the casual reader of the blog post, nothing would change.

But with a little JavaScript, a curious reader could pull out the carbon impact of the activities described in the post:

var emissions = document.querySelector('.emissions');

Adopting this as a standard practice would be beneficial for two reasons:

  1. For the blog author, forming a habit of documenting the climate impact of travel could be helpful in understanding more about (and coming face-to-face with) the accumulating effect of travel habits.
  2. For the researcher, being able to extract climate impact data from blog posts could prove a useful data surface, and could spur the development of browser-based tools that could use this information in interesting ways (i.e. change the colour of the browser toolbar based on the carbon impact of a post).

To experiment with this, I’ve started by marking up a blog post of my own, adding two chunks of “carbon markup”:

<p><span class="emissions" data-co2="1460" data-travelby="airplane">We flew Charlottetown-Montreal-Vancouver today</span>; we didn't leave Charlottetown until 4:00 p.m. and we're in bed in Vancouver at 11:00 p.m. Such is the wonder of the rotating Earth.</p>


<p>We found our way to the SkyTrain, <span class="emissions" data-co2="0.067" data-travelby="transit">navigated to the Yaletown station</span>, walked up the hill to Burrard. And are now ensconced inside The Burrard.</p>

I can then extract the carbon impact of that post’s travels with this JavaScript:

var emissions = document.querySelectorAll('.emissions');
var total_co2 = 0;

emissions.forEach(function(trip) {
  total_co2 += parseFloat(trip.dataset.co2);

alert("Total CO2 from this post was " + total_co2 + " kg.");

which displays:

Alert showing total carbon emissions of 1460.067 kg,

I’ve no idea whether this methodology is the best methodology, but I like the fact that it’s simple and doesn’t take much expertise to inject into a post; it would certainly be possible to add structured metadata to a post using JSON or XML, but that would add a perhaps-unnecessary level of complexity. And for this to work, it has to be easy.


High water in Venice today was 144 cm

When we opened the door to our apartment in the Cannaregio district of Venice on December 3, 2010, here’s the scene we were greeted with:

High water on our street in Venice, December 3, 2019

Historic water level data from Venice shows that at 8:00 a.m. that day the water was at 131 cm.

An hour later the water level was at 136 cm — the high water mark for the day, and the third-highest water level recorded in 2010 — and it was starting to come in our front door:

Water under our door in Venice on December 3, 2010.

By 12 noon the water level had dropped to 84 cm and the street was empty of water (that’s Catherine and Oliver under the umbrellas):

Our dry street in Venice, later the same day

High water in Venice today was 144 cm as the city received its highest tide in 50 years.

Driver’s Licenses Don’t Want to Be Free

In the middle of the April provincial general election campaign here on Prince Edward Island I was having a chat with a friend: he related the story of the incumbent Liberal MLA coming to his door to look for his vote and, when learning that he would not be receiving it, he asked why.

My friend suggested he start by looking at the Liberal plan to make driver’s licenses free, a plan funded by revenue from the carbon tax.

This policy amounted to a kind of reality Gerrymandering where, instead of rearranging district boundaries to suit their political needs, the Liberals instead attempted to rearrange the universe such that an incentive to drive could be construed a carbon mitigation action.

I’ve said many times since that Liberal government was defeated that this move was the root cause of their downfall: Islanders are not stupid, and while we won’t look askance at funding for a rink in the district, an outright attempt to convince us that up is down and down is up is seen through for what it is.

The truth of this was reinforced at an October meeting of the Special Committee on Climate Change where every reference to the driver’s license foolishness was greeted universally with a hearty ironic guffaw. I think I even detected some ironic sighs from the Liberal benches.

All of which leads me to be extra-especially happy with the announcement that the government will reinstate fees for driver’s licenses, and instead use the $5 million in funds to support active transportation projects.