The lights are back on

Those of us that live in Toronto have been going through a tough week. There was an ice storm on the weekend, followed by large scale power outages. I live on the edge of a ravine surrounded by old trees. It is a lovely place to be in the summer, but it won’t be the same next year.

As the storm progressed, I was lying awake listening to the crack thump as trees all around my house were losing branches and then the power went out. I know the house isn’t overhung by any large trees, so that was my cue to snuggle back under the blankets. The next morning I got up, looked out of the window and the devastation to the tree canopy was widespread and serious. As I watched, more and more large branches were falling and those that were hanging in, were bent over with the weight of the ice. Into the parka and a walk around the neighborhood showed this wasn’t going to be a quick fix. In my area alone I counted 15 downed lines and one transformer that had been knocked over by a tree fall.

That was four days ago, and the temperature has been brutally cold. We have a fireplace, so we were able to just about keep one room tolerable. Our lighting has been Coleman lanterns and our cooking has been a venerable old Coleman camping stove. I’m really glad that I did some camping years ago, as the gear has come in very useful over the last few days. I cannot image how the line crews were able to work in the cold, but work they did, and late on Christmas day our power came back on.

I had a chance to chat with the crew that was working outside my house, and they were tired but cheerful, and a nicer bunch of guys you couldn’t imagine. That is the good side, now for the not so good.

My local political types have been invisible. Never ones to miss kissing a baby or getting their mug on any photo op, during this crisis they were nowhere to be found. Ditto the Hydro communication people. I know their crews were working their asses off – I saw it, but as far as letting people know what was happening and when their area was going to get some attention, that was sadly missing. The only feed that was any way effective was the Twitter feed. Now a word of advice to the idiots in charge of communication – not EVERYONE uses Twitter you morons. Not only that – but the people that are vulnerable, the sick and the elderly are even less likely to use Twitter.

I’m not a communications professional – but even I could have done better than this miserable effort. Local radio would maybe have been a good idea? The lack of information was and continues to be an issue. Once a day updates – are you kidding? If I know my power won’t be back on for three days, I can make plans. Using electoral role information to follow up with the elderly – gee now isn’t that a stunning thought. My neighbor is a centenarian – maybe check on him? As it happens he was away, but I didn’t see anyone coming to check on him, other than local neighbors. The elderly are not always able to go to a “warming centres”. Electric wheelchairs don’t work too well in snow and ice and phones as well as hydro were out.

The front line crews were stunning, but they were let down by the rest.

Equality of opportunity

The UK’s OFSTED, which is in charge of the public education system has turned down two applications to extend the grammar school system.

Grammar schools are “stuffed full” of middle-class children and do not improve social mobility, the chief inspector of schools in England says. Sir Michael Wilshaw told the Observer the selective system was not the way to make up ground on other nations.

Hmm, time to call bullcrap and let loose the dogs of critique. The purpose of the education system is to get kids to be law abiding, capable, productive and well rounded citizens and allow them to be the best they can be. That’s it in a nutshell. It is called equality of opportunity. Each and every kid should be encouraged to reach their own potential.

There are lots of ways of doing that, Back in the 60’s, there was a test called the 11 plus and based upon the results you were streamed into a high end academic stream (usually targeted toward University) other academic streams and trade stream or streams depending upon the size of the catchment area. They were usually different schools – the Grammar school being the top end of the academic stream for the general public (there was always a private system for those willing to pay). The idea was that you grouped the kids that had similar paths together. Was it a perfect system – no because some kids are late developers.

That was replaced in the early 60’s by a social experiment called the “comprehensive system” which still persists today. The idea was that you mixed everyone together and then provided to the individual needs of the kids as needed, so mixing academic with trade, but the bottom line was that the ones that really didn’t care to be educated consumed most of the teachers time and the bright ones suffered. It was a social experiment that tried to generate equality of outcome rather than opportunity.
Grammar schools died off, or mutated or, as in the case of my school, opted out and joined the private school system, which was a huge loss. Yes, you got equality of outcome but it was the lowest common denomination outcome.

Now there is a resurgence in streaming and the government is fighting it tooth and nail, and I don’t understand why. The statement from Wilshaw just shows that the middle class in the UK, who have always been aspirational are using the system as best they can for their kids. What is needed isn’t to throw out streaming, it is to figure out a way of encouraging the kids from lower income families to participate, and that has always been the problem. It is the parents who don’t see the value of an education that are the issue, not the system.

Public transport

Except in the City of London in England, the majority of public transport systems seem to have the aim of turning a 30 minute journey, nice and warm and listening to tunes you like by car into a 2 hour torturous assault on the senses. In London – the Tube is the only really viable mode of transport, but that is mainly because the capital is gridlocked above ground,

Too hot, too cold, noisy, crowded, smelly, slow. We all have stories of the person next to us, with the objectionable personal habits and overabundance of garlic, or if not a main route journey, you can’t get there from here without 4 changes and hanging around on street corners for an hour, and that is no fun in Canada in winter. It is egalitarian transport at its worst. At rush hour, incredibly crowded and at other times, buses run with little or no passengers.

The defenders of this will claim other, but it is a simple truth. If you have a choice, you don’t take public transport.

Not only that, but whether you use it or not, you are paying for it. Public transport is very expensive to run, to the point that most systems are not even close to break even on operation, never mind capital expenses, and rely heavily on subsidies from government of various levels, which in the end means your taxes pay for it.

In Toronto, the public transport network consumes 18 percent of the cities operating budget and a whopping 56 percent of the capital budget, and there are other subsidies from provincial and federal levels to the capital costs.

So there you have it. A system that no one uses unless they have to, that costs an arm and a leg to run for both riders and non-riders alike.

Affluenza

Wow, I thought the twinkie defense was pretty creative.

The latest legal shenanigans are from the defense team of Ethan Couch, a 16 year old Texan who has just been convicted of killing 4 when driving drunk. Not only that – but the beer that they got drunk on was shoplifted, and additionally it isn’t the first brush this kid has had with the boys in blue. Apparently in a fit of “whatareyouthinking” the judge in the case accepted the premise that the kid wasn’t responsible for his own actions as his parents, who apparently have lots of money and no parenting skills, have never set any “limits” on the little monster and are willing to pick up the tab for putting the little shit into a drug and alcohol treatment facility.

Its a twist on the underprivileged defense, where the accused is given a lighter sentence because his formative years were such that he was disadvantaged from the get go – so drunken father, drug addled mother etc etc.

But lets be clear here – translation of Affluenza is “spoiled brat”, so what the judge has done here is give this little creep a probationary sentence slap on the wrist with the admonition of naughty naughty don’t do this again. We know this happens – drunken fratboys with well to do parents get into trouble and their parents use influence to mitigate the offence, but it is a double standard that shouldn’t exist.

How many times have you seen where someone is called to account and the first words out of their mouth are “do you know who I am?”. Yes, we do know who you are, you are a worthless lump of flesh that has robbed a family of any possibility of a future, and should be paying a price for it, not heading off to rich cretin rehab.

Vaping – starting the journey – part 2 – the tradeoffs

So you have decided to start Vaping and look on the internet for some information and there are millions of pages, most of which are completely unintelligible. Vaping, like pretty much any subject has its own terminology and it can be pretty overwhelming for a beginner.

When I started to Vape, I went through a fair few devices (and dollars) over a very short time as I wasn’t clear on what I wanted and had a few false starts. I no soon as got a set up, than I found out its shortcomings and out came my credit card again. Hopefully this article will help you to duck out on some of my mistakes and have you up and vaping easily and converniently.

There are a few things to consider before you pull out your payment card.

Convenience

How much hassle are you willing to put up with to vape?

Discreteness

How much are you willing to stand out from the crowd when you vape?

Cost

How much are you willing to spend on your new habit – both in upfront and on-going costs?

Let us look at the first which is convenience.

e-cig

cartomizer e-cig

There are really two main types of vaporizers – you remember what an vaporizer is from the previous article – it is the thing that turns your e-liquid into a vapor.

The first are the disposable cartridges which you tend to buy by the pack – just like cigarettes. To introduce you to some of the terminology – these are called cartomizers.

These are the most convenient, as they are a tube filled with e-liquid with a built in coil. You pull em out of their package, plug em onto your battery and vape. Once they are empty you throw them away and get out a fresh one. You don’t have to clean them, you just use them and throw them away. Each cartridge is supposed to be the equivalent of about a pack of smokes – but I’d tend to say that is a little overly optimistic and you would be better off assuming half a pack. They are about the size of the filter on a king size cigarette and many of them are actually made to look like a filter.

Pros

Easiest and most convenient – no mess, no fuss

Cons

As they are disposable devices, the per unit cost isn’t very high (about $2 to $3 each), but they are an on-going cost, so over the long run they are the most expensive approach to vaping,

The types of flavor that is available is somewhat limited.

refillable vaporizer

refillable vaporizer

The other type of vaporizer is a re-usable, and they are more expensive to purchase up front, but the on-going cost is less as you clean them and use them again. There are many many types of reusable, ranging in cost from $10 to over a hundred, but this is a beginner guide, so I will concentrate on my personal favorite, which is the Kanger Pro Tank Mini (rough cost about $18). This is relatively easy to clean, is made of metal and glass and the parts to rebuild it if you need to are very easily obtainable. Quite frankly all you should ever really need are some replacement coils and even then a coil can last for months. The replacement coil packs are about $8 for 5, so again – not a big outlay.

Pros

Lower on-going cost

Usually a better quality item

You are not restricted in the e-juice you use as you will buy it separately to fill up the tank

Cons

Higher up front cost

More hands on – can be a bit messy until you get the hang of it.

Lets look at the next – Discreteness

Be really honest with yourself here – are you a person that doesn’t want to stand out from the crowd, or are you happy having people ask you what you are doing. When I started vaping, I used the small devices that look just like a cigarette, and most people didn’t even notice I was vaping rather than smoking. I progressed to using reusable vaporizers and bigger batteries, and now people come up to me and ask what I am doing, so it is nowhere near as discrete. If you are going to hate that? The trade-offs are if you are going to use the small discrete devices, then you won’t have much available in the way of battery power, so you will be recharging your unit more often and because the device is smaller it tends to have less bells and whistles such as adjustable voltage etc. A lot of the bells and whistles are limited value, but having adjustable voltage is nice, and I”ll cover that in a later article.

Finally Cost

When compared to the cost of smoking, especially over the longer term, there is a significant saving to be made, both in terms of dollars spent on cigarettes vs vaping supplies and hopefully in longer term cost savings by being more healthy. That being said, there are some upfront costs to Vaping that can quickly add up. Using my personal story as a benchmark, I went through three different set-ups of devices/batteries over the first month for a total cost of over $300 of which I can say at least $150 was a complete waste.

Let me tell you about it and hopefully you can avoid my mistakes. I started out looking at the smaller cigarette lookalikes and went and got the kit from Green Smoke. I bought their best kit which came with three batteries and a set of cartomizers that were mainly tobacco flavor = this ran about $100 or so. This worked reasonably well to start off with, but I was soon getting a bit peeved by the amount of cartomizers I was throwing into the bin, and also I was continually having to recharge the little batteries. I was finding each battery was good for about half a day before it needed recharging and the cartomizers were lasting about half a day also. On the plus side, I was off the evil weed, so a net saving of $5 a day and breathing a whole heck of a lot better.

So onto step two. I ordered a Kanger EVOD  starter kit. It was a basic kit that consisted of two Kanger EVOD batteries, two EVOD Clearomizers and a battery charger. Here we go again – more terminology. A clearomizer is the next step from a cartomizer. It consists of a unit with a coil at either the bottom or the top with some wicking material and a tank to contain your eliquid. You can get them in various sizes of tank, and the tradeoff is smaller footprint vs having to fill it up more often. It was pretty cheap at around $39, and I also ordered a bunch of juices at my nicotine level of 24mg. This came in the mail and I was a happy camper. By buying your own juice and using a refillable, I reckon the daily cost is now around $1-3 depending upon how much I vape.

To be honest, I could have stopped at that point. I had a unit that worked well, was still small (about the size of a medium cigar), it vaped really well (better than the cigarette lookalike) and I could shop around for a variety of flavors of juice.

On the plus/minus side it wasn’t as discrete as my original e-cigarette, as it looked like a long black tube rather than a cigarette copy, but I found that I didn’t care that people noticed. In fact I was getting less dirty looks as it was pretty obvious to anyone with any visual acuity that I wasn’t smoking. It was also a different experience, as this was not an automatic device – to Vape you had to press a button rather than just taking a drag. Again – this wasn’t something that bothered me.

I was also finding that going through my collection of juices, that I was getting away from Tobacco flavored juices.There are just so many juices available once you go away from pre-filled cartomizers.

Now after a few weeks I noticed that some of my juices were working better than others, so I did a bit more research and found out that depending upon the resistance of the coil in your vaporizer, some juices need a little more “oomph” from your battery. It isn’t that they are bad at the voltage you have – it is just that they could be better.

So out came the credit card again – and this time I ordered another kit that consisted of two variable voltage batteries and they happened to come with a Kanger Pro Tank Mini cartomizer. Total outlay for this purchase about $55. Now we were cooking. The new cartomizer was much better built – it was glass and metal, rather than plastic and was easier to clean as it came apart completely. The Kanger VV Batteries came with a little dial on the bottom, so you can play with your voltage. They are about an inch longer than the EVOD batteries – but still not large, and as I was not trying to be discrete I got these in stainless as they just looked cool. I went at it by trial and error – started low on the voltage scale and just wound it up slowly until it tasted right, and I was a happy camper again.

rechargeable battery

rechargeable battery for vape

The final step in my purchases to date was to buy an itaste MVP from Innokin. I got this at a bargain basement $36 cost and really bought it for two reasons. I wanted to have a device that supported variable wattage, rather than variable voltage (if you want to know why – ask me) and I also wanted to be able to go longer between battery charges. This gadget is shaped like a small brick (1″ x 1.5″ x 3,5″) so it definitely isn’t stealthy – but it has a honking big battery that lasts me two days.

So that is the journey so far. What would I buy again and what would I skip? I’d skip the cigarette lookalikes completely. Once I upgraded, these have sat on the shelf. All of the rest of the kit I use on a daily basis, but if I had to pick, I would go with a couple of the VV batteries, the MVP and a few of the Kanger Pro Tank Mini clearomizers. I like having a few juices on the go at any one time, so one clearomizer just wouldn’t cut it for me, and the Pro Tank Minis just work extremely well. The MVP would be my  main battery, with the others being used when I wanted to go with a smaller form factor.


Vaping – starting the journey

For those of us that are trying to use Vaping as a replacement to smoking, the initial learning curve is pretty steep.

You are presented with an array of jargon and devices, and picking where and how to start is bewildering, so here is the Newbies Guide to Vaping.

Lets start at the very beginning.

What is Vaping? Well, the easiest way to describe it is to compare it to smoking. When you smoke, you light up a cigarette (or cigar or pipe) and then inhale the smoke from the burning tobacco. When you vape, you heat up a liquid and inhale the vapor. How? well read on.

All personal vaporizers (PV’s) work broadly the same way and consist of three things:

  1. Liquid – most commonly called E-liquid or juice. This is what you will be vaping.
  2. A device to turn your e-liquid into vapor which goes by a whole host of names, but just to keep it simple , lets call it a vaporizer
  3. A power unit to provide the electric current to make your vaporizer work.

When all put together the size and shape of the various units run the gamut from looking very like a cigarette in size to something that looks like a light saber. I’ll give a brief overview of what each part is, and then in follow up articles go through each in a bit more detail. I said this is an introductory article – so lets hit the high level first before disappearing down the rabbit hole of details.

E-Liquid

This is usually a mixture of four components. PG (Propylene Glycol), VG (Vegetable Glycerin), flavorings and nicotine.

Both Propylene Glycol (PG) and Vegetable Glycerin (VG) are non-toxic organic compounds and generally considered safe for consumption. In fact, they are widely used as food additives. First, let’s talk about PG-based e-liquid, because it’s the most popular of the two. This kind of e-liquid is runnier than the VG variety, and is more easily used by some of the types of e-cigarette. The watery nature of the juice also means that gunk doesn’t build up on the heating element of your e-cigarette as fast as it does when thicker VG liquid is used. PG is a tasteless odorless substance, so it doesn’t alter the flavor of the e-liquid in any way. PG also produces a stronger throat hit, similar to that of tobacco cigarettes.

VG is a considerably thicker solution than PG. On its own, VG has a slight sweet taste which also makes the e-liquid sweeter and makes the flavors a little difficult to detect. You also get less of a throat hit when using VG. On the upside, VG e-liquids produce significantly more vapor. I like mixes that are high in VG, but its all personal preference, and when you are starting up – try a few different ratios to see what you like the most.

Flavorings are what give your e-liquid its taste. Most of these are based upon food flavorings and there are a bewildering array of flavors available to e-cigarette users. Most smokers start out with a so called tobacco flavored juice, but soon branch out into other flavors. I’ll give you fair warning now, the “tobacco flavors” are somewhat hit and miss, so if you are looking to completely match the flavor of your Du Maurier Light then you probably won’t be delighted, but don’t be discouraged, you will soon find that you don”t miss the “wet ashtray” flavour.

Nicotine

Ahh – the heart of the matter. You can buy (at least until the government and nanny state steps in) e-liquid at a variety of levels of nicotine. Just like cigarettes where you can get ultra light, light, regular and strong, you can buy your e-liquid to match your needs. For the purpose of this introduction, consider that 24mg nicotine level corresponds to s strong cigarette, 18mg to a regular cigarette, 12mg to a light and 6mg to an ultralight. You can even buy liquid with no nicotine at all.

Vaporizer

There are many many different devices on the market, but they all basically work the same way. They have a coil of wire wrapped around some form of wick. The wick sits in your e-liquid ( a little like the wick on an oil lamp) and when you press the button on your battery, the coil heats up the liquid in the wick and creates vapor. How it achieves this is where a lot of the complexity comes in and a lot of the weird terminology that you will read as you get more into vaping. I’ll cover off types of Vaporizers in a follow up article, but basically there are two broad categories – disposable and reusable. The first comes pre-filled with your choice of e-liquid and when it is empty you throw it away, the second is a more hands on type of device where you need to keep it filled with e-liquid.

Power Unit

All PV’s (Personal Vaporizers) follow the same basic form and have a power unit which contains a battery whose job it is to provide current to heat up the coil in the vaporizer. Most of them are rechargeable, either by plugging the unit into a charger or taking out the batteries and recharging them separately.

The power units usually fit into two broad categories, automatic and manual. The automatic power units provide power to your vaporizer when you suck on the vaporizer, the manual units have a switch which you press.

…and that is it for the intro. Hopefully at this point you have a basic understanding of what Vaping is. The next step is to figure out what is right for you. To do this, you need to decide a few basic things as all of the devices are trade-offs. I’ll talk about the trade-offs in the next installment.

Save the children

This phrase gets trotted out as a last ditch measure when reasoned arguments have failed, and usually by someone looking to ban or control something.

The latest one is “ban e-cigarettes and save the children”.

The argument runs that e-cigarettes will be targeted at children, this will lead to them all taking up smoking tobacco and this will lead to them all being addicted to cigarettes and dying. Therefore ban e-cigarettes.

Oh for goodness sake, this is bogus and I call bullshit.

Lets try another one and see if this one works better – encourage smokers to use e-cigarettes and save a life.

A penny spent

So Toronto’s Mayor is a Crack smoking drunk and that is by his own admission.

At least he is attempting to watch the wallets of the people of Toronto. I’ve just seen the proposed budget for the City for the next year, and frankly I’m stunned at some of the items there.

Lets look at a couple and both are related to Transit – first in the Operating Budget – there is a line item for $1.7 billion dollars for the operation of the TTC and second in the Capital Budget where there is a line item for $6.3 billion over 10 years to address infrastructure and ridership growth. So – what this is telling me is that the TTC costs 1.7 billion a year more than is covered by fares, and that each additional rider is going to cost even more. Normally when one runs a business, you have your operating costs and captial expenditures and these need to be covered off by your income. In the case of the TTC, and this is even supposing that the numbers are close, that its expenses are exceeding its revenues to the tune of $2.33 billion a year.

In terms of Toronto’s total budget, that is nearly 18% of the total operating budget goes towards transit, and that is more than Police, Fire and EMS combined, and a whopping 56% of the capital budget. For goodness sake, somone needs to look at this seriously and ask how this lunacy continues from year to year

Vaping – my journey so far

In October, I decided that it was time that I tried to give up smoking, and the way I was going to try was by Vaping instead.

For those of you that aren’t clear about what Vaping is, you are inhaling a vapor that consists of Propylene Glycol, Vegetable Glycerin, some flavorings and nicotine instead of the smoke from burning tobacco.

As is my usual process, I did some research on the subject to:

a) See if it had any likelihood of success, based upon my habits

b) See if it was swapping the frying pan for the fire, or whether there were significant health benefits by changing one habit for another

c) See what was involved. Smoking is relatively simple, you buy cigarettes, you light them, you smoke them. Was Vaping going to be something that was relatively simple or was it so complex that I would give up in pure frustration.

The first thing that I considered was when I smoked, how I smoked and what was it that kept me smoking. Obviously there was the nicotine addiction, but that, at least in my mind was the least of the issues. According to studies, you can get over the jitters of going cold turkey from nicotine in about three days, so that was short term pain. The ones that I thought were going to be more difficult were the habits and the linkages. When I talk about habits, there are little rituals that you go through when you smoke, and having that cigarette in your hand. It might not seem like much – but over 40 years – those habits get pretty ingrained. When I talk about linkages, that is the coffee……smoke, drink…..smoke and there are lots more. Those are pretty tightly linked and with one goes the other. Would Vaping be an adequate substitution?

I decided that at least with Vaping you would have some form of device to fiddle with – so unlike the patch – which lets face it is pretty non-interactive, you could at least substitute Vaping habits for smoking habits, and it would also fit into the linkage too. I have a coffee, I can vape. I go out for a drink – I can vape.

So far so good. Now onto the health benefits. It is pretty clear from a mountain of evidence that smoking is bad for you. For some people it is extremely bad, for some not so much. I’ve known people who developed a smokers cough after smoking for a year and I’ve known people who smoked for a lifetime that didn’t, so the results aren’t even but generally it simply isn’t a good thing to do. There are literally thousand of chemicals in cigarettes, including tar, cyanide and nicotine just to name three.

I’m pretty sure that Vaping isn’t health risk free either. The evidence is much more sketchy, and there is no doubt that the number of chemicals is reduced, but simply inhaling vapor probably has its down sides. There are also people that have allergic reactions to either PG or VG. For them Vaping isn’t a viable substitution, but as I don’t have any allergies that I know of, and Vaping being seemingly the lesser of two evils by a long way, it seems to me that it is a good step forward. Yes, giving up is the best solution, but if that isn’t in the cards, then this would seem to give some really worthwhile health benefits. Ok  onto step three – how do you vape and is it realistic to see it as a smoking replacement.

Now this is where it gets really complicated for a newbie Vaper. There is a lot of information out there, and it is confusing.  I did a lot of research and made a few mistakes but in a follow up article I’ll go through that and try to put out a bit of a guide. What I can tell you – is that I did decide to give it a try, and yes, you can vape with very little additional complexity, but you do have to plan forward a bit more. Unlike smoking, you can’t pop down to your corner store for Vaping supplies, but it is easily doable and I’m now smoke free for 3 months.