Recent Key Decisions & Events: Feb. 19, 2017

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Hello Ward 4!

I just wanted to bring everyone up to speed on some recent decisions made, and what the impact is to the community, if any.

The Off-Leash Dog Park pilot project that ran last summer, and into the fall/winter due to the weather, was recently reviewed by Middlesex Centre staff and Council. The pilot program was hugely successful in many ways, but there were many negative impacts at the Kilworth River Flats.

  • A child was bitten by one of the dogs using the area.
  • Dogs were routinely getting into area residents’ backyards, necessitating a lot of trespassing by area residents and non-residents alike in order to retrieve their four-legged friends.
  • The traffic and parking issues that were inevitably going to happen did, in fact, happen, and perhaps were worse than thought they could be.
  • And several other issues.
  • As a result, Council voted to formalize the off-leash dog parks in Ilderton and Arva, but to end the River Flats off-leash dog park.
Large Tree Map Example

Large Tree Map Example

I’m using Highcharts.com’s tools to put together a budget visualization webpage. This will use a large tree map to show residents where their money is going, and I will also put together graphs to show the current budget in comparison with past years. I think it will be a nice addition to the presentations and spreadsheets normally provided to, well, everyone.

The variance for the new commercial plaza at Tunks Lane and Glendon Drive was approved, and that should be moving forward. I don’t have a timeline on when site servicing will begin, but I imagine there will be work on the site this spring or summer. All indications are that a Foodland and LCBO are part of the plan, but as written in the Middlesex Banner no confirmations have been provided.

I have been making an effort to act as a mediator between MXC staff and South Winds in order to try and speed up the negotiation process for Edgewater Estates, which has to have the agreements in place before the new pumping station and force main can be built, but neither party has taken me up on my offer.

As a result of some MXC residents being surprised with conditions on their recent severance applications, I made a motion on January 25 to have staff come up with a standard list of conditions that severance applicants can expect to see when the recommendation comes before Council, and also to standardize on whether MXC would share in any additional costs as a result of those conditions (e.g. MXC taking a 6m x 6m corner of a property to improve sight lines). We’re waiting for that report to come back.

D’Lux Auto Spa opened this past week in Komoka! I wish them all the best and success in their venture.

Automated External Defibrillator

Automated External Defibrillator; Image Courtesy AEDsToday.com

You may have seen a Woodstock Sentinel-Review story about Councillors in Zorra Township and Thames Centre bringing forth motions to ask the Province of Ontario, Ministry of Education, and Thames Valley District School Board to develop a policy to ensure all school can accommodate automated external defibrillators (AEDs), and for the TVDSB to install AEDs across all its schools. I’m happy to say that, in working with Thames Centre Councillor Kelly Elliott, I’ll be bringing forth a motion on March 8 to join the chorus and ask for the same things. It’s incredibly odd that the TVDSB, from all the information supporters have been able to gather, is the only school board in the province actively preventing AEDs from being installed in schools, despite the costs being covered by other means.

I think that about covers it! As always, if you would like to get a hold of me, the Middlesex Centre website has my email address, cell phone number, and links to my social media accounts.

Have a great Family Day, and don’t be shy to say hi!

What to Expect in 2017 from Middlesex Centre

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Well, in a highly unexpected twist of circumstances (1, 2, 3), I was appointed Ward 4 Councillor in Middlesex Centre on November 30, 2016. You can see the municipality’s press release here.

During the months of November and December, I had the opportunity to hear from many residents already on a number of issues. Some I am supportive of, others I’m not. That is the nature of discourse, and perfectly reasonable. I wanted to highlight a few key measures I voted on during my first few meetings, and what to expect from the Municipality of Middlesex Centre (MXC) and me during 2017.

  • There was a vote to ask a consultant, Nigel Bellchamber, to participate in the interview process for the new Fire Chief. I don’t have any against Mr. Bellchamber, but it seemed there were already too many people involved, and Mr. Bellchamber had already provided a great report on what our firefighters and District Chiefs would like to see in a Chief. I voted no on spending additional money to hire Mr. Bellchamber, but the vote passed to ask him to join the hiring process.
  • Council voted to approve spending $30,000 from the Delaware Hydro Reserve Fund (no impact to taxes whatsoever) to help pay for a new floor at the Delaware Community Centre. We’re hoping that will be ready before Canada Day.
  • Rob Clarke Auto’s expansion was approved, and they have already started building two additional bays. It’s very nice to see a local business, located in Kilworth, grow!
  • Council voted to freeze water and wastewater rates for 2017. No, they aren’t going down, but the cost cutting measures taken in 2016 have enabled us to freeze the rates for this year. It’s a welcome reprieve from multiple years of increases.
  • Staff produced a report on whether fees for paper bills should be enacted. They found no evidence of other municipalities charging a fee for residents to receive paper utility bills, and therefore recommended MXC not being doing so. Council approved the recommendation, but it’s worth noting that water/wastewater bills will be sent out monthly going forward.
    • Yes, moving to a monthly bill increases mail costs a bit, but will also help families manage their budgets more easily. The more families that move to receiving their water/wastewater electronically, whether through Canada Post ePost or email directly from the Municipality, the lower our costs will be overall. You’re welcome to call the municipal office and get signed up for email bills, or use your online banking site to sign up for ePost.
  • We had a very contentious issue over online/phone voting for the 2018 municipal election. I was happy we used this system for voting in 2014, however the extensive research I have done on online voting, the discussions I have had with web development professionals, and even my attempts to design (on paper) a truly secure system that provides all the benefits of a paper ballot have all led me to have a very specific set of thoughts on the matter. Unfortunately, questions I asked like whether or not InteliVote’s code had been audited independently, could not be answered during the debate on December 14, 2016. The vote to continue using InteliVote passed, with me voting no only because I wanted answers to my questions first.
    • It’s worth noting that, at this time, MXC has not voted to introduce other voting systems, like ranked balloting. Given the dearth of contests in the 2014 election, I don’t think it would have benefited us. Hopefully there’s more competition in 2018!
  • I have fielded multiple, valid complaints from residents on the quality of snow maintenance so far this winter. The up/down temperature cycles haven’t helped, but you can easily see inconsistencies in how sand or salt has been laid down, how close (or far) to the curb the plows are getting, and so on. I’ve been actively engaging with staff to ensure your concerns are addressed, and so far it does appear things have gotten better during the last plow. I absolutely want to hear from you, and so does staff, if you have concerns regarding snow maintenance.
  • Lastly, I voted no to continue using our own closed meeting investigator. I wanted to opt for the Ombudsman instead, however I was not able to convince the rest of Council that this was, in my opinion, the right thing to do. I have heard from residents that choosing our own closed meeting investigator makes it look like we’re seeking preferential treatment, and that such a person can be dismissed at a whim if we don’t like what they say, like the integrity commissioner that was recently dismissed (which ultimately started the chain reaction that led to me ending up on Council). If you feel similarly, I implore you to speak with the Mayor and your Councillor and ask them to stop spending $1,000 a year on a service we have not used.

What to Expect in 2017

  • I’m going to be asking staff to do some homework later this year to see if we can lower the minimum water and wastewater usage rates, and what implications that will have.
  • I will help staff to find, and make suggestions on new measures, to continue to cut costs. I’m not out to slash and burn, but always looking at things critically to determine whether products/services we purchase, or services we provide, can be done at a lower cost.
  • I’m going to hold multiple sit-downs at local restaurants where you can come and sit down, enjoy a drink, and speak with me face-to-face. Expect the first one to happen before the end of March.
  • I’m confident that Edgewater Estates will be approved to move forward, and the construction of the new sewer line to Komoka will finally begin. Once that’s done and in service, the Kilworth Treatment Plant will be decommissioned, relieving many residents of awful smells throughout the year.
  • I have two residents, in particular, who are seeking relief from various bylaws. One, I am assisting to allow them to plead their case; the other is in clear violation of the Infrastructure Design Standards, and not allowing the developer of their subdivision to hand over control to MXC, but doesn’t seem to care. You can’t please everyone.
  • The new Ilderton Skating Park will begin construction.
  • MXC is replacing existing vehicles with three fully electric vehicles. I’m really excited about this! They will be shared by two departments, Public Works & Engineering and By-Law Enforcement & Building Inspections.
    • January 11, 2017: I previously stated we were buying two vehicles. This was incorrect.
  • We will receive a report from staff on the result of the off-leash dog park pilot program.
  • Finally, the website is undergoing a bit of a restructuring to make things easier to find. I’ve offered my assistance, providing advice where I can, given my role at a web development firm in London and experience building my own websites over the past 15 years.

Overall, you can expect to get regular updates like these from me, at least monthly. I want everyone to be in the loop on decisions being made that impact Ward 4, and the rest of MXC. If you have any questions at all you can reach me on Twitter, Facebook, email, or phone 226-448-6774 (please leave a message if I don’t answer). My contact information is also on the municipal website.

Designing with Empathy Using VR

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We are in a very exciting time, as usual, for technology. Virtual reality has risen from the ashes thanks to Oculus’ successful Kickstarter campaign a few years ago (and subsequent acquisition by Facebook), Google Cardboard, Samsung’s GearVR, and HTC & Valve’s Vive. Not to mention augmented reality platforms like Microsoft’s HoloLens, Meta, and LeapMotion.

The problem? Well, maybe not a problem, but certainly the short-term focus has been on gaming. Almost all of the applications to be released at launch, and shortly thereafter, are games or fun things to do. That’s fine, because it helps generate excitement and sales, which will hopefully lead to long-term platform sustainability. And while there are people talking about other applications, I feel like we need to start seeing some development on them.

One application I’d really like to see more focus on, and development for now, is building and public space design (architecture as a whole, if you will). I would argue that it hasn’t been good enough for decades now for someone to simply design a building, have engineers execute on the design, and then marvel in the result. The more people I meet, the more I realize how inadequate our buildings and public spaces are. If you were to try to get around your neighbourhood or the nearest downtown core in a wheelchair for one day, how would you fare? Not well, I’d bet.

I want to see a near future where designers are not only dreaming up crazy cool spaces, but also experience them the way others do before unleashing their vision on the rest of us. Where an architect will design the first few floors of a building, then plop themselves down in a mock wheelchair of sorts, strap on a VR headset, and wheel themselves around the building. From outside into the building, moving between floors, and determining how easy it is versus the ability to do so on two feet.

Perhaps more importantly, interior designers should be doing the same. I have worked in many workplaces that I feel would be completely unnavigable in a wheel chair, or even crutches! Why? Because an overwhelming majority of able-bodied people own the buildings, design the spaces, and then work in those spaces everyday. Unfortunately we don’t all have the fortune to have full use of all four limbs all day, and it’s high time that we all feel like our abilities are being considered when new building plans are being drafted, or interiors are being renovated, or our public spaces are being built and re-built.

Designing with empathy in mind is a good start. Living the experience yourself is the next step. Virtual reality can put you in the middle of a war zone with a plastic gun, and it can also show you how the world around you has been designed assuming you have four functional limbs, or that you have 20/20 vision, or that you see a full spectrum of colours that others cannot. Being more compassionate at how others will use the things you design and envision will make you better for it.

Letter to MPs Jim Flaherty and Bev Shipley

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The iPod tax/tariff issue that has reared its ugly head over the past few months, after the federal government introduced a “streamlined” set of tariffs, still isn’t over. I’ll spare you all the details and developments that have arisen since the issue was initially revealed by economist and professor Mike Moffatt, but suffice to say I thought it prudent to email my MP, Bev Shipley, and Minister Jim Flaherty about the issue. Below is the email I sent, and the responses I’ve received thus far.

Wed, May 29, 2013 at 10:43 AM

Subject: MP3 Player Tariffs & End Use Certificates

Good morning Mr. Flaherty and Mr. Shipley,
I write to you because, unfortunately, this matter of the so-called “iPod tax” is still entirely unresolved. Mr. Flaherty, you recent testified to the FINA committee, and unfortunately did not directly address Mr. Brison’s question. As seen here in Mike Moffatt’s most recent piece for Canadian Business magazine:
http://www.canadianbusiness.com/blogs-and-comment/flaherty-provides-more-questions-than-answers-on-end-use-certificates-and-the-ipod-tax/
I must say that I concur with Mr. Moffatt. Your answer to the question, “Can you confirm if the tariff exemption for iPods under 9948 will depend on a requirement to collect end user certificates? Yes or no?” was not sufficient.
Mr. Moffatt poses additional questions that I would really appreciate, and frankly expect, answers to. They are:

  1. Have any Canadian retailers collected end use certificates on sales to Canadian consumers?
  2. Is it true that the CBSA informed importers that end use certificates were not required for televisions and other consumer electronics? If so, why?
  3. What is the purpose of end use certificates for consumer electronics sold at retail?
  4. How will the CBSA audit end use certificates for consumer electronics sold at retail? Will those audits involve the CBSA contacting individual consumers?

And to add my own, I purchased two iPod Touch devices roughly two years ago from Best Buy. I was not asked to complete end use certificates for those devices. Should I have been asked to do so by a Best Buy employee? If not, how do those iPod Touch devices then qualify under the tariff exemption under 9948? If I should have been asked to complete the certificate, it seems CBSA has been misleading electronics wholesalers and retailers for several years now, putting it potentially at the liability of lawsuits.

I eagerly await your response, and I hope you’re both having terrific day.

The response I received from MP Shipley’s office one day later.
Thu, May 30, 2013 at 2:04 PM

Dear Mr. Silva,

On behalf of Mr. Shipley, I acknowledge receipt of your email. Thank you for writing to your Member of Parliament.

Mr. Shipley appreciates hearing your comments on this matter and will follow up with the Minister’s office regarding review and response of your correspondence.

Thank you again. Please do not hesitate to contact Mr. Shipley should you have other questions or concerns on any federal matter.

Sincerely,

Sarah Brown
Parliamentary Assistant to
Bev Shipley, MP
SW Ontario Caucus Chair
Lambton-Kent-Middlesex
613-947-4581

And, oddly, I received a PDF of a scanned physical letter just three days ago from Minister Flaherty’s office, mostly with the same message as the initial response from MP Shipley’s office. I know that the MPs are all sitting in the House for rather long hours at the moment trying to wrap up a great deal of business, but I’ll definitely be following up soon. I’m not going to let the summer recess give either MP Shipley or Minister Flaherty an opportunity to let this go by.

The Fallacy of the Cloud

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As part of my efforts to formalize much of the IT experience and education I already have, making it easier to present and qualify, I took the opportunity of the recent Christmas/New Year break to start going through Rackspace’s Cloud University (CloudU) curriculum. I actually took the time to read all of the material provided for the 10 lessons, eschewing the hour long webinars. I also passed the final exam and obtained the certificate (you can see my badge on the right).

Much of the material, concepts, and decision points discussed were very familiar to me having researched and written extensively about cloud computing during my time at Info-Tech Research Group. However, one thing kept jumping out at me about the information compiled by Ben Kepes of Diversity Limited; this thing about a supposed lack of system administrators required for those organizations choosing to deploy their infrastructure in a public cloud (i.e. Amazon AWS, Rackspace Cloud, GoGrid, Flexiant, Joyent, CACloud, etc).

Mr. Kepes and I are both members of the Cloud Computing Standards Forum on LinkedIn, and share several connections, so I took the opportunity of being a 2nd degree connection to take a look at his profile. As I suspected, Mr. Kepes does not have an IT background. As far as I can tell, his experience with computers does not go to the depth required to actually go about deploying any cloud infrastructure, whether public, private, or hybrid, and so I’m no longer surprised about his conclusions.

In reality, he’s way off the mark. He consistently talks about how IT professionals will need to adapt their skills in order to ensure they’re still relevant to a business that chooses to deploy some, or even all, of its infrastructure in a public cloud. That’s true, but he assumes that not doing so will directly result in those same IT professionals losing their jobs.

Fortunately, he’s wrong. Smart, and very insightful, but wrong. The type of scenario Mr. Kepes is actually referring to is moving to a managed services provider… the kind of company that will not only host your infrastructure, but will also perform much of the system administration for you. In reality most public cloud providers, including the ones I mentioned above, don’t offer that level of service. And if they do it’s at a premium, minimizing the cost reductions a business is expecting to achieve (rightly or wrongly).

No, unless you’re training the Receptionist to configure a fresh Linux or Windows machine to run the application (effectively making them an IT pro as well!), SysAdmins are still very much a part of the future. One “skill” that moving to a public cloud minimizes/negates is how to size and buy a server. I don’t know any IT pro that’s ever put “server buying/sizing” as a skill on their resume, but this is one big step in the application deployment process that will no longer be required, or at least minimized, as public cloud infrastructure is increasingly utilized.

So, for all it’s worth, don’t believe everything you read about moving to a public cloud. It can absolutely be very beneficial, especially for web-based apps that you still want to control for yourself (e.g. SharePoint, Cynapse, an IP PBX/phone system), but don’t expect to reduce your IT staff because of it. Your employees still need computers of some sort to connect to those cloud-hosted apps, and therefore a corporate network is still required, and someone needs to maintain that network. And your employees’ machines need maintaining and support. And those cloud/virtual servers don’t configure themselves, nor do the applications you install on them. Even companies that adopt SaaS solutions will inevitably finding themselves stuck for skills to help them integrate everything.

You will, however, get out of the server-buying business, and therefore reducing your electricity costs, and capital expenditures. That’s fine, because buying servers is not what IT professionals enjoy doing all day, anyway. There’s nothing wrong with asking your IT staff to become more strategic partners to the business, and no doubt you’ll find many eager to do so. Just don’t expect to get rid of them simply because you’re not buying any boxes for the server room.