Email letter from 2019

By Kurt Cagle
January 20, 2009 | Comments: 1

Dear Kate,

You've been away for awhile (hope you're having fun in Japan) and I wanted to let you know what's been happening around here the last few years.

The economic situation around here's improving pretty steadily now here in Victoria, not as bad as it was in the first half of the decade. There for a while, every time that things seemed to be improving, the markets would tank again, and there'd be a lot of gloom and doom and people would find themselves out of a job yet again.

A few people starved, and a lot of people (including yours truly) lost a lot of weight as we cut down considerably on the pre-processed crap because the cost of making it went up compared to food produced locally. Yet even as the big grocery stores went out of business in the early 10s lots of their stores ended up becoming homes for farmers markets.

I miss a few things - we don't get oranges this far North as often as we used to, and coffee and cocoa have become considerably more dear. Shipping has gone way up on them and because a lot of the cacoa growing areas were overfarmed in the last decades, but overall I'm not hauling around an extra fifty kilos of fat due to lack of exercise and processed fast food - can't argue the beneft of that.

Oil's done its dance up and down several times now, and like an earthquake, the first couple of shocks and aftershocks were the worse. Canada never did become as dependent upon oil as the US did, and the tar sands and offshore deposits helped considerably when the political situations in much of the world turned pretty grave in 2012. Saudi Arabia became a net oil importer then (Mexico did in late 2009 which touched off the Mexican civil war) and not surprisingly, it finally fell to Shi'a forces shortly thereafter, creating a mad scramble for oil that looked like it would bring the world past the brink.

Funny thing happened, though. Wiser heads prevailed. The Depression had slowed demand for oil a lot, and with the Obama presidency in place and a lot of people watching the slow motion train wreck both in the Middle East and in our own backyard, we did what we needed to, both above and below the 49th parallel. Gas taxes went way up and stayed up to levels that were familiar to us here in Canada, but that were a real shock in the US, and not surprisingly, demand for oil dropped.

A lot of the big interstate highways had a lane (in some cases two lanes) converted to rail use, with high speed mag-lev trains zipping between major cities along the same arteries that cars had taken a decade before, and a lot of older trains were reactivated. Some drilling in sensitive areas was undertaken, but with considerable oversight, and oil companies were charged fairly punitive charges for environmental damage.

With gas now at $14 a gallon, a lot of getting around up here has shifted to a mix of old and new. Bikes, both manually powered and electrically enhanced, are the preferred mode for a lot of people, as are wider human/electric triads - think a large, enhanced tricycle with room for small kids or groceries, powered by electric motors and people power. Most of the travel around here is now down to a max of about 50km/hr. There are still cars and trucks on the road, but a lot fewer of them now than there were even a decade ago.

Finally, newer technologies - wind and solar, obviously, but also geothermal and wave action - made possible a new distributed grid of power that was generated by tens of thousands of individual generators, coordinated through intelligent stepping stations. Solar storms in 2012 were another big factor in all of this - during the summer of 2012, at the height of one of the heaviest recorded solar outbursts in the last two hundred years, the old grid finally collapsed in both the Northeast US and California under space weather effects and excess usage, and it was only the fact that we had been starting to deploy the new grid at all that kept enough people in power to avoid a total economic collapse.

We're powered here primarily by wind and wave action power - imagine one of those snake toys, a series of links connected on to the next, that sits in the powerful currents in the Juan de Fuca strait. The kinetic motion of the snakes get translated into electrical energy, which in turn feeds into local grids. A lot of distributed power is like that - no one single energy source but lots of alternatives. The US and Canada also worked on a set of distributed energy system protocols that replaced a lot of the old privatized networks that had failed so badly; it means that if you have a local power source, you make a profit on the amount beyond which you use internally - your mom and I made about CDN$3500 off the solar film panels on the roof last year, over and above the initial installation costs.

It's kind of funny. In a way, we now have more power than we know what to do with, even without as much oil being used. It's actually what powers the Internet grid throughout much of Victoria and Saanich. Technically, we're part of the UViv iGrid - a lot of universities became the logical focal points for new Internet grid setups in the mid 10s - they typically had grids evolving from the start of the century, and when LTE grids over TCP/IP and HTTP became the dominant wireless forms, it pushed most of the telecoms out of business.

Now most 'phones - including the new implanted sub-vocalizers that can actually convert subvocal signals into words without having to formally speak - are tied directly into the local iGrid, subsidized for the most part by power generation. Granted, they're only called phones because of habit - most are more powerful than the laptop I had in 2010, and since they're able to offload a lot of their processing to the iGrid, they fit nicely in a pocket, especially when tied to specs, wireless earpads, spider gloves and virt keyboards. I still cart around my aging dinosaur of a laptop when I'm feeling nostalgic, but again production, distribution and environmental costs keep most of them pretty pricey, and I like what specs do for localized computing.

Ubiquitous computing has had some interesting impacts. The paper magazine and big newspaper industries are dead - distribution costs again - but after a particular nasty shakedown in the publishing sector in the early 10s, paper book publishing seems to be on the rise. Local publishing is also on the rise, though both are definitely specialty markets. In most cases, this is because print-on-demand services have become both more localizable and more specialized. The uVic bookstore, for instance, can create a POD paperback of a best-selling novel for about $25, and a lot of people, especially the older crowd (which I am fast becoming, alas) prefer having real books in their library.

However, most people just use libReaders if they don't want to read it on their specs. Most of the tech books, essays, web-productions and novels I wrote in the last decade were published directly to electronic form. I set up a publishing company - I think I told you this in the last letter - that also lets your mom and I publish and promote a lot of interesting talent. It's a niche, of course, most of the innovation is occurring in the blended media space, but its something I, dinosaur that I am, prefer to do.

I've also been pretty busy lately teaching classes. You know I finally got my PhD in '15, through one of the first accredited online doctoral courses in Canada. I'm now on the staff at O'Reilly University out of Sebastopol, Ca., the UVic here in Informatics, and Columbia University. Of course, that doesn't mean as much as it used to - with the exception of UVic classes, most of what I teach is done virtually, and I spend more time setting up the courses than I actually do in front of students - most of whom aren't at their respective campuses either.

You've seen this phenomenon. A big part of the reason for drop in oil consumption was the fact that online meeting technology finally reached a point where it was superior to bringing people into the same building across an entire city, heating or cooling that building and all its support functions, pay for onsite computer systems and send them home at the end of the day.

The Depression forced a lot of people out of work, and as the economy improved, it was easier for a lot of companies to just hire virtual - especially with strong Federal incentives to do so. That, combined with an increase in support of artisan-type work rather than mass-produced (and expensive to distribute) goods meant that by today the "cubicle farm" of a decade ago was ancient history (and good riddance, if you ask me). I never did like that model.

Standardization on user portfolios helped a lot with that too. Most of North America and much of Europe's health care is now on HL7 v5, which has had the inadvertent effect of bringing universal health care without setting up an exclusive single payer system. It also meant that when I went down to Seattle for a cancer checkup, they had the same record formats and could access my Canadian records from our local hub. Health care insurance has also become distributed and localized, as most of the HMOs and insurance companies went under by 2010. Like everything else, basic care gets subsidized by localized power production, but if you want to go beyond that, be prepared to spend some cash.

Your sister's wrapping up high school, though she's already doing some college-level work in mathematics. A lot of what she's doing now is working with simulations and group thinks - she came up with one in particular the other day that I thought was quite clever - a group-thinks economy with about three hundred participants that traded Pocky and game cards. She's already got some bids on the project from virtcompanies in Singapore, Chiba and Tel Aviv, but she wants to refine it a little more before she sells it. She's also going to her prom at the local high school next week, and reminded to ask you if you know what happened to that "little blue number".

Mom says hi. She's off on her latest novel/world - a sequel to the mouse series that did so well and that she sold to an animation group out of London. She's part of a production cooperative that collectively have done quite well for themselves.

Anyway, need to wrap this up. Give my love to the clan,

Your dad


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