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Category: Aidan Coward

Earth Hour

Author: Aidan Coward

Earth Hour is an international event where individuals and businesses turn off their non-essential lights for an hour to promote awareness of environmental causes and “as a symbol for commitment to the planet.” To date, over 7,000 cities and towns participate. Earth Hour does not focus specifically on any environmental issues in particular, but aims to foster discussion on a “broad range of environmental issues”. The event is highly publicized, recognizable and has partnerships with multiple organizations and corporations in order to further its goals.

While Earth Hour has an admirable sentiment, it runs into the same difficulties as other campaigns based around awareness: that it doesn’t actually achieve much. This situation is compounded given how much effort is invested and the amount of publicity is is given. In the case of Earth Hour, people participate in a short-term and shortsighted event with no potential for significant change. One could make the conclusion that it provides an example of humanity working together towards a common goal, yet it is insignificant, with no meaningful changes in behaviour beyond a trivial action.

The organizers of Earth Hour recognize that it is a symbolic action. Unfortunately, it is also an empty one. The organizers also state that it is not an energy reduction exercise. This leaves the event in tough spot. Not only does it openly lack meaningful short-term effects, it also suffers from a lack of long-term effects. Publicly voicing that one is participating in such an activity is unlikely to change anyone else’s mind about the issue, especially when there is no definite issue being brought up, merely a large host of problems that are labelled to be environmentally related. Significant change requires a significant investiture of effort far beyond one hour per year. One must commit to act in a way that perpetuates the world one wants to see exist and all the posturing in the world will not achieve this. Regardless of the intentions of the organizers of Earth Hour, it has yet to move beyond a self-congratulatory event with little to no actual results.

A danger of the continued existence of “awareness” campaigns such as Earth Hour is that they promote relatively meaningless efforts that accompany very little, if any, actual change regarding the issue at hand. They also perpetuate the incorrect notion that one can effect meaningful social change with minimal effort. How many awareness campaigns actually push people to change the world in a way that will eliminate or reduce the problem addressed? While there is a place for large-scale public statements, they are certainly not to raise “awareness” of something that has already been discussed to death in the public sphere. Participation in such a campaign may make one feel good about one’s actions, but how useful can they be if they don’t have any real impact on the issue targeted by the campaign? Events such as Earth Hour don’t point at anything in particular to work on and so just serve as empty promises of change that have no direction.

Copy-pasting a Facebook status or sharing a touching photo may make one feel that one is making a difference, but as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. Instead of passively requesting that the world change around you, look for what you can do to make the world closer to how you would like to see it. Consider volunteering with a campus or community organization that works for change or start something if nothing currently exists.


Open Source Software

Author: Aidan Coward

Open-source software is based on the premise that the elements that make up the software you use — the source code — should be open to anyone. This does not only include being able to read the code, but also to change or distribute it without restriction. This form of software is behind many large projects, including Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, and the OpenOffice and LibreOffice suites.

The most significant benefit to the student regarding open source software is that it is free, with no conditions or fine print. This means you can share it with anybody or make as many copies as you want without any potential legal repercussions. There are no financial costs associated with obtaining or using this software other than the internet bandwidth required to download it onto your computer. One does not have to agree to any terms of service and potentially “sign away their soul” in order to use a program.

Another benefit to students is that large open source projects almost always have excellent documentation on the program’s behaviour and functionality. They usually also have forums for users to work with each other to solve their problems. These resources are provided free of charge — an obvious perk to those of us who don’t have enough money to pay for school, let alone computer support. Again, this wealth of assistance is not perfect, and one must occasionally puzzle together a solution based on the information from multiple forum posts that are only somewhat related to the problem at hand. There are certainly times when it is most effective and efficient to pay for a product that has on-call support to save yourself time, stress and effort.

The open-source community is known for having a large group of experienced users that are willing to help fellow users in need. However, this very same community is also known for being elitist and belittling to those with less knowledge or experience. One can be talked down to if their question is considered to have an obvious solution or is clearly mentioned in the documentation of the project. Part of open source software is the ideology behind it and individuals that do not buy in to the ideological aspect can be less respected.

One of the benefits of open source software is that the programs often have very fast development cycles because they lack bureaucracy. As a result, software bugs are often fixed faster than with traditional methods of software development. However, this lack of central authority can result in a lack of clear direction for the project if the developers do not agree with each other. Since open-source projects are often hobbies for the individuals running them, some bugs may take much longer to fix if they are not considered interesting or critical to the use of the program.

While bugs are usually identified faster in open-source software, the bugs are publicly identified and visible to the entire world until they get fixed. There is also no obligation, apart from pressure from the community, to report bugs. This can result in malicious users taking advantage of the flaws in the software to steal personal data or damage your computer. The organizational structure of open source software also presents a disadvantage here, as there is no one individual or organization that can be easily held accountable for the damages caused by these flaws. Many open source projects are provided without a warranty of any kind, further distancing themselves from any official legal accountability regarding the effectiveness or reliability of their product.

Open-source software provides flexible and accessible tools to the student at no cost. However, one must judge these benefits against the possible difficulties that users may experience in working past flaws or inconsistencies in the program.

Privilege in Admissions

Author: Aidan Coward

It is often said that the education system is a meritocracy. Unfortunately, this merit has a cost that not all are able to pay.

When applying for university, one is judged by high school marks and extracurriculars. One must devote a lot of time to achieve high marks. This becomes more difficult if students do not have access to tutors or if their parents cannot help them with school. If the students need a job to be able to afford to go to university, they have less time to study. This severely disadvantages low-income students in university admissions. For competitive programs, schools rely on extracurriculars to evaluate the students. If someone barely has time to get the marks and money required for school, extracurriculars aren’’t accessible and these students are blocked from many programs. The situation persists during university.

Another matter entirely is being able to afford higher education. Attempts to fix this situation include government student loans and many scholarships and bursaries. Government loans merely delay the shackles of debt on anyone who relies on loans to go to school. Scholarships are primarily based on grades and volunteer experience (towards those who can afford to work for free). Bursaries exist, but often have limitations which exclude international and inter-provincial students.

Bus Pass Referendum

Author: Aidan Coward

As part of the coming Feds elections, a referendum regarding the continuation of the university-wide bus pass through Grand River Transit (GRT) will be in progress. It was prompted by an increase in the cost of the bus pass, already significantly less expensive for students than if bought individually and even cheaper than if standard fares were paid. By cancelling the contract, GRT will not have the resources to justify the current coverage around the university and would likely provide lower-quality service to the student community, an obvious disadvantage. If the bus pass is cancelled, either students will have to pay more for less service from the GRT, or arrange their own transportation to and from campus. Currently, the bus pass is an excellent service and should not be taken lightly.

Fall Reading Week?

Author: Aidan Coward

Many Ontario universities have a fall reading break after midterms as part of their fall academic calendar. These schools include McMaster, the University of Toronto, and Western. According to Metro News, the University of Waterloo has examined it as an option in 2011. However the university and Feds declined to implement it.

For first years, the change from high school is significant. The often-reduced class time and increased autonomy is a big difference from secondary school. More information is covered in less time, and there are less opportunities to gauge academic progress. If one falls behind, there are no professional development/activity days to spend catching up. Read the rest of this entry »