Reporters in Politics

I frequently write things that people in the government IT community probably find hurtful. I do it deliberately, because I think the issues should be aired.

As I semi-jokingly tell my family, with reference to my former career as a government IT consultant: “I want to make sure I never work in this town again.”

At this point, I’m pretty sure that I have succeeded.

Reporters in Politics

Bill Tieleman has a very even-handed write-up on the troubling rush of journalists into the BC Liberal Party’s tent over the past few years.

In fact, Tieleman’s take is so even-handed it displays the same fault that he’s bending over backwards to not describe: he’s avoiding saying hurtful things in order to retain future relationships.

But the question isn’t whether Darling or Johal were biased toward the BC Liberals. It’s how much their years of hard-earned fairness will help their new party sell some dubious claims — even about issues the two journalists may have ripped them on in the past.

Tieleman is a communications expert with a professional interest in remaining a respected member of the club of communications experts, and he very carefully avoids impugning the motivations of any of the subjects of this article, while larding out praise for his subjects’ “hard-earned fairness”.

Similarly, journalists have a professional interest in maintaining good relationships with their fellow professionals, the communications and PR staff (and their bosses) in the organzations they report on.

Why would they not?

The exit ramps of journalism are few and far between: corporate PR, and government communications. For a very few well-known press celebrities, like Jas Johal or Steve Darling, perhaps a direct leap to politics (with a winning party, if you still want a pay-cheque, n’est pas).

In these tenuous times, it is perhaps too much to ask, but I’d like my journalism to come from folks who aren’t so chummy with the people they report on. And I don’t just mean “I’d like a job later” chummy. I also mean “we’re all just blokes doing a job together” chummy. The kind of chummy that leads to events like the Press Gallery dinners in Ottawa and the Correspondents Association Dinner in DC, where the press and their subjects mingle and share comedy stylings and even the most egregious policy decisions can be played for a joke (remember George W. Bush looking for WMDs in a “hilarious” bit from 2004).

I don’t think many journalists write the stories that will never let them work in this town again.

In fairness, not many of them can afford to. It’s probably not a coincidence that some of the harshest takes on BC government policy and politics come from journalists and professionals who are safely retired.

Precarious employment has a way of disciplining folks, no matter if they are blue collar mill workers or white collar journalists: you’ve got to go along to get along.

It used to be that free speech only belonged to those who owned a printing press. Now it belongs to those beyond the reach of the marketplace: are you secure enough not to care what anyone thinks of you? Write away. Otherwise: you know the party line, stick close to it.

Playing With Pain

For the past year, I have been fighting a running battle with my body. The battlefields have been my wrists and back. By and large, my body has been winning.

When sports commentators talk about a player “playing with pain” I think it’s natural to think about the pain in the moment – that play, that sprint, that quick turn on the grass, the game on the line. What doesn’t get talked about is the psychological effect of the pain, day after day, on the player. At practice, at home, at rest. How it changes their relationship to the game.

Playing With Pain

They love the game. Clearly. It’s what they’ve spent their whole life perfecting. But now, every interaction with it is colored by the overlay of pain. Do your warm-ups, work through that early pain, now feel the pain on each play. Good play or bad, it doesn’t matter. It hurts to do the thing.

No matter how much you love something, if you are given a negative stimulus every time you do it, you’ll stop liking it so much. This isn’t psychological weakness, it’s just conditioning. It’s how we train pets; how we try to stop smoking.

I used to take up my work every morning with enthusiasm. Now I take it up because I must, my enthusiasm is very attenuated. And I cannot figure it out for sure: am I not liking the work, is my ennui related to the actual tasks; or have I been conditioned, slowly but surely, to not like it? It’s very hard to tease those apart, because the conditioning works so very deep down in the stack of consciousness, and I’ve been playing with the pain for what feels like forever. I can’t remember what it was like before, anymore.

Anyways, I have a good chair. I’ve gotten a better keyboard and mouse. I ice my wrists every night. Sometimes things are better, sometimes they are worse, but drip, drip, drip, the reinforcement is mostly negative.

I’m only 300 words in, and it hurts.

I’ll stop now. Experience with repetitive strain, magic solutions? Hit the comments. Unfortunately, the only thing that has worked for me so far is not using computers.

LNG eDrive is a Massive Subsidy

Update: Commenter cpnet notes that in EAO documents the proponent estimated a plant power usage of 1,500,000 MWh / year, which is three times larger than my guesstimate. The EAO document notes it is a very conservative (large) estimate, but at the outside it would imply a subsidy three times larger – about $45,000,000 per year compared to the old LNG power pricing deal. It’s probably somewhere between.

The British Columbia government’s new “eDrive” rate for LNG producers is going to be creating new jobs at an ongoing cost of $138,000 per job at the electrically powered Woodfibre LNG plant in Squamish.

LNG eDrive is a Massive Subsidy

Let’s do the math, shall we? Here’s the input data:

Now the math:

  • 2,100,000 tonnes of LNG times
  • 230 kWh of electricty is
  • 483,000,000 kWh per year of useage. Which can also be stated as
  • 483,000 MWh per year. Times
  • $28.68 per MWh in eDrive subsidy equals
  • $13,852,440 per year in foregone revenue for BC Hydro, which for
  • 100 permanent jobs is
  • $138,524 per job

If we want to create 100 new government-funded jobs:

  • Why are we paying $138,524 for each of them; and,
  • Why are they freezing methane, and not teaching kids or building transit or training new engineers.

Government is about choices, and this government is making some batshit crazy choices.

CloudBC: All your clouds are belong to us...

The CloudBC initiative to “facilitate the successful adoption of cloud computing services in the British Columbia public sector” is now a little over a year old, and is up to no good.

CloudBC: All your clouds are belong to us...

Like any good spawn of enterprise IT culture, CloudBC’s first impulse has been to set themselves up as the arbiter of cloud vendors in BC, with a dedicated revenue stream for themselves to ensure their ongoing hegemony.

The eligibility request currently online1 for CloudBC is a master-work of institutional over-reach:

  • Only CloudBC approved services2 can be sold to the BC public sector.
  • Approved services will add an ‘administration fee’ to all their billing3 to the BC public sector and remit that fee to CloudBC.
  • The fee4 will be 2%.

And in exchange for that 2% of all cloud services, CloudBC will provide what in return?

Well, they’ll set the eligibility list, so the BC public sector will be literally paying for someone to tell them “no”. Setting the list will include a few useful services like FOIPPA reviews and making the vendors cough up promises to follow various international standards that nobody reads and few people audit. So that’s something. But mostly just more reasons to say “no”.

I misspent some hours reviewing the agendas [Part-1, Part-2] of CloudBC for the its first year in operation, and among the interesting tidbits are:

  • The request to vendors was supposed to be released in October 2015, but was actually released in fall of 2016.
  • Negotiations with Microsoft for Office 365 and what was dubbed the “Microsoft opportunity” were started in summer of 2016, but shut down in spring of 2016: “decision to communicate that CCIO5 will not pursue the deal as presented by Microsoft”
  • Taking the website live was targeted for June 2016, but as of writing it remains “under construction”.
  • Spring 2016 plans include contracting with a vendor for a “CloudBC digital platform”, so we’ll at least have an expensive under-utilized web presence “soon” (no RFP exists on BC Bid).
  • CloudBC was budgeted $1.6M for year one, and managed to under-spend by about 20%. Getting almost nothing done has it’s benefits!
  • An office and several staff have been seconded, so from an institutional existence point-of-view, CloudBC is off to a roaring start.

When I first heard about CloudBC, I was pretty excited. I naïvely thought that the mandate might include promoting, for example, cloud infrastructure inside BC.

Our FOIPPA Act requires that personal information of BC citizens not be stored outside the jurisdiction or by foreign-controlled corporations. That makes using cloud services (usually hosted outside BC, usually owned by foreign corporations) a hard lift for government agencies.

Wouldn’t it be nice if someone did something about that? Yes it would. cough

While setting up “private cloud” infrastructure is anathema (it’s very hard to find success stories, and all signs point to public cloud as the final best solution) in BC there are some strong incentives to take the risk of supporting made-in-Canada clouds:

  • Thanks to FOIPPA, the alternative to made-in-BC cloud is no almost no cloud at all. Only apps with no personal information in them can go on the US-owned public clouds, which is a sad subset of what government runs.
  • There are other jurisdictions and other technology domains that need non-US sourced cloud infrastructure. Seeding a Canadian-owned-and-operated PaaS/IaaS cloud industry would open the door to that marketplace.

“Just” getting the FOIPPA Act changed would be the cheapest, “simplest” solution (ignoring the humungous, intense, non-negotiable, insuperable political issues). Since that’s unlikely to occur, the alternative is DIY. I thought CloudBC might be that initiative, but turns out it’s just another enterprise IT control-freak play.

  1. Search for ON-002797
  2. “As only Eligible Customers with a written agreement in effect with the Province will be permitted to use the procurement vehicle established by this Invitation, including the CloudBC Marketplace, the Province intends to establish and maintain a list of Eligible Customers on the CloudBC Marketplace for use by Eligible Cloud Providers.”
  3. “CloudBC Framework Agreements will appoint and require the Eligible Cloud Provider to collect and remit as agent an incremental Administration Fee to be paid by Eligible Customers with Contracts in order to fund the CloudBC operations administered by the Province.”
  4. “An amount equal to 2% of the fees for all services provided”
  5. BC Council of Chief Information Officers (CCIO)
  6. All your base are belong to us

Geomatiqué 2016 Keynote

This week I had the pleasure of presenting the morning keynote at Geomatiqué 2016 in Montreal. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about symbiosis of technology and culture: how new technology is generating new norms to go along with it. We humans are enormously adaptable, so princples that were sacrosanct to one generation become unknown to the next, and back again.

Geomatiqué 2016 Keynote

On the chopping block for our generation: privacy.

Not that privacy is any human absolute. I doubt a hunter gatherer had a lot of personal space and privacy: the smaller the group, the more fevered the gossip-mill. On the other hand, the abolition of privacy within the context of an industrial-sized polity will truly be something new under the sun. It could be fine, in its way; it could also be Nineteen Eighty-Four realized.

Anyways, the talk is mostly a survey of technology trends, with some philosophizing at the end. Unfortunately, no video at this event, but if you’d like me to deliver this talk to your organization, drop me a line.