Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Bigger, Better Canada Appendix I: Details and Maps [MUt3.1]

Proposed larger settlements (green circles) and infrastructure extensions (black lines) in the larger Development Corridor.


When I was in secondary school, I looked around at the global economic powerhouses and noticed a trend.  The ones I identified were the United States, the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and China.  I noticed that they were big countries, and had something that Canada did not: population density.  I hypothesized in my young mind that certainly Europe could become a larger global player if they formed some sort of economic union, and felt vindicated when I later discovered that the European Union was indeed a thing, though it had been conceived long before I had any such idea.  So I thought to myself that certainly Canada could become a larger economic power if her more northern climes were developed.  How?  My thought process was that, if a temporary tax-free zone were established, surely private industry would step in and establish the necessities.  It was awfully short on details, but in fairness I think I was 16 when I had this idea.

Naturally, when I found out about the concept of the Mid-Canada Corridor, I was quite excited despite having had the idea several decades too late.  This is the reason I was so disappointed after writing my last post.  There was so much more detail that I wanted to share, but I couldn't decide on how to present the information to you fine be-monocled, top hat wearing readers and still maintain some semblance of flow.  I had, in my opinion, given a hand-waving argument about available resources and given no specific detail on how it would be accomplished (not unlike my 16 year old self's argument).  Luckily, the authors of "Mid-Canada Development Corridor ... a concept" had given this thought and drawn many a pretty map.  Here, I shall share with you some maps and thoughts I didn't want to include in the last post.  It may look like a long post, but at this point in its composition, I assume it will be graphic-heavy and very a very readable length.

The two maps above are the economic impetus for the development of the corridor outlined at the top of this post.  You will notice that the mineral- and fuel-bearing rocks are quite complimentary.  I have heard how resource rich Canada is, but I had no idea that this was the extent of it.  Each of those minerals and fuels are economically important in their own way, and the exploitation of each would certainly bring wealth and prosperity to the region as well as the entirety of Canada. These two maps I view as the reason to establish the Corridor, or at least the economic reason.  Below, I feel the method of development may be established.

The road coverage as of 1967 certainly leaves something to be desired, but the rail networks seem to offer reasonable coverage of the Corridor, albeit mostly with single track.  Air transportation has excellent coverage of the Corridor and would be an ideal way to ferry people quickly.  With this ability to move people via air and freight by rail (and as I've previously stated, rail is great for freight), it seems reasonable to assume that settlement could be established easily enough.  It is also interesting to note that the Lakehead-produced report suggested use of cargo hovercraft to deal with over-land transport of lighter goods where there are no roads or railways, which is wonderful in all sorts of ways.

Easily one of my favourite written sections from the book.
That said, I feel that the aluminum airship (established with a large R&D contribution from the US government) could play a pivotal role in the development of the Corridor.  Recent articles from Gizmodo and the crew at Stuff You Should Know have touched on airships.  The article from Gizmodo discusses the development of an aluminum-based rigid airship which requires no runways and is capable of carrying 66 tons.  The SYSK podcast linked above discusses the ludicrous fuel efficiency of airships, capable of  crossing an appreciable fraction of the Earth's circumference with the same fuel it takes for a fixed wing aircraft to simply reach cruising altitude.  And, while we're here, welcome to Vodka & Equations!  It's the blog that scoffs at cargo hovercrafts while heaping praise upon modern-day dirigibles.

The last thing that would help development of the Corridor immensely is water.  Primarily, water is kinda, sorta necessary for human life.  One of those limiting factors when you're considering human settlement.  You will notice that the proposed corridor should have plentiful water resources, and should do nicely for providing drinking water so long as we don't treat it like Lake Erie.  I will also take this opportunity to draw your attention to the undeveloped hydroelectricity potential.  In keeping with the theme of things I've proposed which have, in fact, been discussed decades previous, it would appear that I was right in suggesting that Ontario should have potential hydro projects near James Bay should they prove necessary.  As previously noted in this blog, hydro power delivers phenomenal energy return on energy invested (roughly 100:1 according to whatever source I was reading).  Qu├ębec and other places uses such large energy sources to run aluminum smelters because of the incredibly intense energy demand because it is plentiful, reliable, and comparatively inexpensive.  It is terribly convenient that metal ores can only be smelted near hydroelectricity sources, and we happen to have both those things right there.

Another issue I'd like to briefly touch on is that of the native reserves in Northern Canada.  This is a wild guess on my part, but I feel as though part of the problem with the delivery of services, and thus the low quality of life, to many reserves is the fact that they are so far away from the major urban centers.  Perhaps if the Corridor were developed they would have an easier time getting social services and our reserves wouldn't be so horrific?

The picture at the top of this post indicates with green circles smaller established areas which could be dramatically expanded to serve further settlement, and I will briefly [with tongue firmly planted in cheek]  point out that it is awfully self-serving for a Lakehead publication to suggest Thunder Bay as a region of dramatic expansion.  The thick black line indicates possible extensions to existing infrastructure.  It also features existing usable road and railway, but I sincerely doubt that it is possible to pick out such small details.  Hopefully with these details outlined, my previous post will seem more feasible, at least economically speaking.  There's a lot of potential up there, we just have to seize the opportunity.

Oh, and I'm sure some switchgrass plantations wouldn't go amiss.  Those are great for all kinds of things.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Bigger, Better Canada [MUt3]

We can do it, but we'll have to go North.  Pack your snowshoes.


I've often described Canada's economic system as being "a kinder, gentler capitalism."  We have no doubt benefited from having a dominant superpower and its domestic market as a customer for our vast natural resources.  We have come from a group of fur trappers, loggers and miners to being an advanced economy as well as loggers and miners, thank you very much.  That said, for as much land as we have, Canada is only a nation of roughly 35 million people, leaving us as one of the least densely populated countries on the planet.

Historically, Canada's accomplishments have always looked best on a per capita basis.  We tend to punch above our weight as a people, and has given rise to the functional principle.  We are not a superpower, nor does it currently look like we will be one in the future.  That said, Canada may contend with the world leaders in key functions.  This is evidenced by our presence in things like the G7 nations, and our participation in world leading scientific and technological endeavours.  For example, you may take the Canadian Light Source pictured below.  It is a synchrotron light source (an excellent example of a big science thing).  I could go into the vast technical details, but it is extremely useful in a wide variety of applications from biological imaging to even construction materials.  Canada has one of only a handful in the entire world (which are this good), and it is the best used in the world based on access given to researchers and industrial partners/clients.

The Canadian Light Source, big science thing extraordinaire.

Our accomplishments are many and impressive.  I firmly believe that this is due to our unique combination of capitalism and kindness.  We grew out of a country whose winter alone would kill us unmercifully were we to not work together and take care of one another.  Our social programs help to ensure that many of the economically disadvantaged may prosper and thus contribute to an impressive economy.  Now imagine if there were more of us.  A lot more.

When Wilfred Laurier began his settlement of Western Canada, he envisioned a Canada numbering 60 million.  We... well, your monocles may drop in surprise at this, but we have thus far fallen short.  Currently, a good number to strive for would appear to be 100 million.  For the gaming-savvy, a variety of achievements might be unlocked at this level.  Canada's density poses a problem, because our markets are so few and far between and building the infrastructure to go between these urban centers is cumbersome and costly.  Militarily speaking, it also means that large sections of the country could be conquered by simply marching through it.  Services like health care and even internet in some cases are hard to deliver because there isn't enough of a market to warrant building the facilities.  Even economically, we have a very limited domestic market when you consider our economic output.  When a Canadian company wants to make something, it has to ensure that someone else will buy it.  It is hypothesized that a domestic market of 100 million people would begin to make us more independent of the rest of the world, and a people as economically prosperous as us would make for excellent consumers.

We are heavily concentrated at the bottom of our country, apparently clinging to the United States.  The article from the Globe and Mail linked in the paragraph above (and here, if you're lazy) makes excellent points on the matter, but I feel it falls short on an action plan.  The suggestion is that we massively boost immigration before developing countries reach economic prosperity and begin to experience shrinking populations.  These new Canadians would then go to existing cities, achieving a density which would alleviate our problems of sprawl and unlock tax bases which could fund truly inspiring projects.  However, this still leaves our major urban centers few and far between, and there's also the issue that these new Canadians would need something to do.

 To the north of our largest settlements, there exists mid-Canada.  It is not the far North, where trees refuse to grow and you have to be wary of the bears.  It is not the South, where the factories thump and farms flourish.  It is a land south of the permafrost, rich in natural resources and potential.  It is a vast corridor of potential wealth waiting to be unleashed.

As a centennial project [from which I am heavily borrowing], researchers at Lakehead University suggested the "Mid-Canada Development Corridor."  This has happened if only to a small extent in the intermittent period.  Fort McMurray is an example of what the corridor could offer, but larger and more extensive.  The idea would be to establish permanent settlements along mid-Canada that could take advantage of several natural resources to provide a diverse economic base and fuel development before other economic activities arise.  The hope would be that these larger communities would follow the example of settlement in Northern Ontario.  Roads were installed, logging camps were made which cleared out land and created income, eventually developing into permanent settlement.  Our nation's capital, Ottawa, originally started as a logging settlement.

This region of Canada is currently short on roadway coverage.  That said, there is good air and rail coverage.  This means that people may be carried by air until roads catch up, and there appears to be an extensive rail network which can provide efficient rail freight transport.  The majority of this corridor is the Canadian Shield and is rich in a variety of minerals as well as untapped hydroelectricity, which has a fantastic EROEI and would do very well for fueling both development and potentially the smelting of ore.  The only real exception to this is the Tundra and Northern Alberta and Saskatchewan, where the primary resource are oil, natural gas, or both.  As an interesting note, it was proposed that these settlements could follow the example of Siberian communities which have gas-heated greenhouses to supply fresh produce in the winter.  That said, with enough timber around it might be easier to use rocket mass heaters for those greenhouses.

By developing this corridor, Canada would unlock both vast swaths of natural resources which currently sit untapped, as well as the pseudo-magical 100 million tax base to further fuel our development.  Remote communities would not be so remote, and could be better served.  Perhaps some countries would take our claims to the our Arctic archipelago more seriously.  Better yet, if our per capita wealth keeps pace as we continue to nurture and encourage every single Canadian, we could become an economic heavyweight and become a major player on the world stage.  A nation as great as ours basically owes the world more Canadians.  And then there's the fact that we already produce the world's best hockey players, and a larger population would allow us to be even more selective.  Think of the hockey.

If nothing else, think of the hockey we could have.


Update (2014-09-22): Part 2 of my Mid-Canada Ramblings may be found here.

N.B.  This may end up being a living document for a couple days.  I keep forgetting to add important details.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Washroom Graffiti: A Bellwether.

As long as we've been humans, we've been putting stuff on available walls. Source.


This will be a comparatively small post, but it's back-to-school season and I've been thinking about this particular phenomenon a lot.  Naturally, I'd love some [G+] feedback below because I am genuinely curious to hear your thoughts, but I assume the comments section will be a barren wasteland as per usual.

When I attended the University of Ottawa, for better or worse, I did not spend a tonne of time in Morriset Library.  However, when I had those marathon study sessions with my friends, or when I spent many consecutive days in there to study or work on a project, washroom visits became a necessity.  I would also like to pause here and congratulate my alma mater on keeping a proper coffee shop (i.e. Second Cup) in its main library.  While visiting these stalls, as with many stalls, one would find graffiti.  I'd say that I never gave it much thought, but frankly, the Morriset washroom graffiti was legitimately thought provoking.  Catalogued within those stalls were actual philosophical or moral debates, rebuttals below the original post and often in a different colour.   Sometimes they would be motivational slogans.  Often, because it was and is a bilingual institution, the commentary was in both English and French.  And once in the washrooms in the Marion basement men's room, there was a zig-zag line which was subsequently decorated with functional groups and ultimately the IUPAC name of the molecule which this drawing had become.

This picture is now everywhere on the internet, so I can't be sure of the original source.  But still, hilarious.

As with most interesting phenomena I come across, I discussed this with my friends.  That was the time at which I realised that this was not par for the course.  Having now attended Western University, I have also discovered that the overwhelming majority of graffiti at other institutions is not necessarily of the same calibre and is mostly homophobic slurs paired, ironically, with oftentimes vast and elaborate depictions of the male genitalia.  That said, it has been reported that there can be [extremely] encouraging messages left in the washrooms of Carleton (pictured below).  This raises several questions.  I wonder how much of Carleton's graffiti is more up-beat and how much is philosophical, as it seems to be a happy place, albeit an intellectual black hole as far as the anecdotes are concerned.  As I write that last statement, I can already hear the heated retort that "... well at least I don't speak French!"

Seen at Carleton by Rebecca Hay, artist and founder of the Just One Thing mental health initiative.

Digressions aside, this raises further questions for me.  Ottawa, Carleton, Wilfred Laurier, and Western are known by outsiders as: snooty and miserable; happy and a cognitive wasteland; happy party school; happy party school.  Their graffiti is thought provoking, motivational, homophobic slurs, and homophobic slurs respectively.  But what is the story elsewhere?  I highly encourage you to leave a comment below (so that all may peruse), with the perception of your school and the predominant graffiti you encounter.  Finally, should you find yourself looking at an institution at which to study, go to the washroom and enter a stall.  It could tell you a lot about the place.


Monday, September 1, 2014

"This could get ugly," or why Russia scares me.

Satellite imagery showing Russian tanks in Ukrainian sovereign territory.  Source.

I'll start by saying that this post might in fact be needlessly alarmist.  I'll also say that I might be hopelessly overreacting.  However, this blog was created as an outlet for my thoughts, and I plan to leave this post up in perpetuity in order to document my reactions and feelings from late August 2014.  Now, on with the hysterics.

On the 21st of August 2014, NATO released satellite imagery of Russian tanks in Ukrainian sovereign territory.  This was after an outright annexation of the Crimean peninsula almost immediately after the conclusion of the winter Olympic games in Sochi.  At the time, I likened it to the Nazi annexation of the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia.

Pictured: Hysterics.

In fact, I was so concerned about the situation in Crimea that, while high on pain killers the next day, I kept demanding updates on the situation in Crimea from a very patient nursing staff.  In both cases, the invading country cited a need to assimilate an ethnic minority and to protect them.  An excellent rebuttal to this was provided by a research associate who exclaimed "Seriously?  Why doesn't Ukraine march in to claim the ethnic Ukrainians in Saskatchewan?  That's a terrible argument!"

The western world has responded with economic sanctions.  In the face of this most recent incursion, threats of increased, more serious sanctions have been leveled.  I am not certain that sanctions will be enough, as Russia functioned just fine as the Soviet Union for several decades without help from the outside world.

I'm also reminded of a rant I had about five years ago at the Black Tomato in Ottawa.  Excellent beer selection on tap, should you find yourself in the Byward Market.  I had just been prodded on the subject of Russia, and I immediately launched into several reasons why I didn't trust the governing regime.  They came quickly and easily to mind.

Viktor Yushenko, third President of Ukraine. Source.

Yushenko was a politician aiming for the presidency of Ukraine on a platform of aligning Ukraine more closely with the West as opposed to its historically close ties with Russia.  The pro-Russian opponent won the election, but soon thereafter widespread allegations of election fraud abounded.  Ukraine actually underwent what is known as the Orange Revolution in the wake of the fraudulent election which ultimately saw Yushenko take the presidency.  However, Yushenko did not escape the election unscathed.  See his cheeks in that picture?  Those pock marks are the result of dioxin poisoning.  Mysterious circumstances surround this, but the perpetrators were pro-Russian if not actually Russian.  Also, on the topic of election fraud, here's a paper on detecting election fraud, and how the 2011 Russian election fits a model for systematic stuffing of ballot boxes.

Alexander Litvenenko.  Source.
Alexander Litvenenko was once an agent of the Soviet Union's spy agency the KGB.  After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, he became involved in the nation's security forces (or something, honestly I'm not really clear on it).  Then what happened?  Suddenly he became critical of the leadership, and was allegedly dismissed on direct orders from Putin.  Not long after, he defied an order not to leave the country and sought asylum in the United Kingdom.  While there, he became a journalist and started hurling accusations of corruption at the new Russian government, potentially attempting to blackmail some of the higher up officials.  Whatever the facts, it was bad enough that somebody wanted him dead.  That party got what they wanted.  Litvenenko ultimately died of Cold War-style polonium poisoning, leaving him the shell of a man you see above.

So admittedly one could never make a case against Russia on these two cases.  Anyone could have been the one to poison either of them, and not necessary due to Putin's actions.  However, one can begin to notice a trend.  You're critical of Russia, and things start going poorly for you.  According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Russia is currently the fifth deadliest place to be a journalist.  What's above Russia on that list?  Iraq, Philippines, Syria, Algeria.  So a couple active war zones.

The other cases that came to mind that night in Ottawa?  There's the issue that Russian fighters keep entering Canadian airspace and require an escort.  To wit: Russian aircraft thrice entered Finnish airspace last week.  Also?  That time that Russia cut off the gas supply to Europe due to a pricing dispute.  It's worth noting that the Ukrainian president which signed the deal that ultimately made the gas flow once more was indicted for abuse of power as a result of signing that deal.

I'd also like to point out that NATO appears to be chomping at the bit.  NATO was the authority who released satellite images of a Russian incursion into Ukraine.  NATO was also created as a mutual defense scheme to deter attack from the Soviet Union (or any other aggressor, but it's doubtful any other world power would choose to pick a fight with NATO).  Ukraine has also made an emergency decision to attempt to join the treaty organisation, and has asked for its assistance in driving Russian forces from its territory.  This is in stark contrast to their anti-NATO position which they have more or less solidly held since 2002.  But for now, the international community appears happy to stay with sanctions.

Frankly, I'm not sure Putin will cave to external political pressure.  He has proven himself to be an exceedingly strong leader and thus has a history of getting what he wants; I'm not sure anything short of military force will remove Russian military vehicles from Ukraine.  On the other hand, maybe economic sanctions will work.  Or will economic sanctions make Russia increasingly desperate?  We shall see.  Hopefully we'll laugh about this in five years, and my friends will be reading this article aloud as a method of amused derision.


P.S.  I really hope that was an appropriately placed semicolon.

Update: Russian fighters circle Canadian frigate en route to NATO exercise in Black Sea, reminiscent of Cold War-style behaviours.

Update (2014-09-11): Russian forces withdrawing!  WOOOOO!