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Thursday, November 26th, 2015
2:58 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "'Newcomer high' under fire in Toronto board review"
Kristin Rushowy at the Toronto Star writes about the tensions in Toronto education, with shortages.

Even though its enrolment remains strong, Toronto’s one-of-a-kind high school for new immigrants could be forced to move into Danforth Collegiate and the building sold, under an option now being considered by a review committee.

The potential plans for 10 high schools in the Toronto-Danforth/East York area were unveiled Monday night at a public meeting — on the eve of the federal government’s announcement of plans to settle a wave of Syrian refugees in Canada, which had some questioning such a move for the city’s unique “newcomer high.”

“We are like family, and I think if we move to Danforth, I’m wondering if we will have the programs at Danforth?” said Greenwood student Zahra Afshar, who is 17 and a member of the accommodation review committee.

She came to Canada almost a year ago from Afghanistan, knowing only a few sentences in English. Now, in her second semester at Greenwood, she can carry on a conversation and is taking academic math and other subjects. She said many extracurricular activities — including the “conversation club” which she attended Tuesday after school — are a highlight, and extra help is always available.

“What I like at Greenwood? I like everything,” she said, from the way the teachers talk to students to “how they respect us… if I have a problem with my lessons or homework, the teachers are saying ‘you can do that,’ and they help me with my homework and everything.”

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2:52 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "Bombardier declines meeting with TTC about streetcars"
The Toronto Star's Tess Kalinowski reports about the latest stage in the TTC-Bombardier confrontation.

Bombardier’s absence went unremarked at Monday’s TTC board meeting. But transit officials were already aware that the Montreal manufacturer had declined its request to appear there and publicly explain why it has failed to deliver on Toronto’s $1.25 billion streetcar order.

The company’s refusal wasn’t about whether to address the issue in public or private, said spokesman Marc Laforge in an email to the Star. Company officials have had many discussions with TTC officials and there are legal considerations, he said.

“We told the TTC that we are more than willing to engage into discussions with the chair of the board and other board members if they want to, with (CEO Andy) Byford and the project team,” he wrote.

Those discussions could extend to all the delays, including those beyond Bombardier’s control and those caused by the TTC, he said.

“At the same time . . . the board has authorized the TTC’s general counsel to commence a claim or legal action against Bombardier. The contract signed with the TTC sets forth an exclusive dispute resolution process providing for confidential and without prejudice discussions between TTC and Bombardier in an effort to settle the dispute,” he wrote.

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10:04 am - [PHOTO] Carpet of autumn leaves, Jones Avenue, Toronto
Carpet of autumn leaves #toronto #autumn #leaves #jonesavenue

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Wednesday, November 25th, 2015
2:36 pm - [BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Centauri Dreams looks at the massive flares of red dwarf TVLM 513.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper suggesting that M-class red dwarfs have less massive protoplanetary disks than other stars but more massive planets.

  • The Dragon's Tales notes new research suggesting that Earth's grat oxygenation event was preceded by another.

  • Geocurrents looks at Fiji's Kiribati-administered Banaba Island.

  • Language Hat is skeptical about the idea that computer programs could automatically reconstruct ancient languages.

  • Language Log notes research about hesitation markers in Germanic languages.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes Richard Posner's criticism of anti-abortion obstacle courses.

  • Marginal Revolution comes out in favour of Syrian refugee admission.

  • Johnny Pez wonders what it is with white men.

  • Towleroad notes a Cook Islands ban on same-sex couples renewing their vows.

  • Transit Toronto notes the ongoing removal of many streetcar stops.

  • Window on Eurasia suggests Russia will work with Iran to undermine Saudi Arabia by supporting Shi'a, and argues current mindsets suggest Russia will remain a threat to Ukraine and its other neighbours for some time.

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11:41 am - [LINK] "What If Trump Wins?"
Thanks to Facebook's Alex for sharing Jeet Heer's article in The New Republic looking at the consequences of Donald Trump winning the Republican Party nomination. His conclusion, that the precedent of Goldwater's 1964 nomination suggests the Republican Party will be permanently altered, is frightening to me.

Barry Goldwater’s nomination tore the party in half because he was the avatar of a wider conservative insurgency that displaced the moderate Republicanism of President Eisenhower’s crowd. For the moderates, Goldwater was a frightening figure not only because he adopted extreme positions (opposition to the Civil Rights Act, an unwillingness to disavow the conspiracy-obsessed John Birch Society), but also for his habit of making reckless remarks, like suggesting the Pentagon “lob one into the men’s room at the Kremlin.”

Before Goldwater got the nomination, GOP notables and his rivals had attacked him in the fiercest possible terms. Richard Nixon, who was in between presidential runs that year, described Goldwater’s opposition to civil rights as a “tragedy.” New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who was a candidate, said, “Barry Goldwater’s positions can spell disaster for the party and the country.” Pennsylvania Governor William Scranton, another presidential hopeful, called Goldwaterism a “crazy quilt collection of absurd and dangerous propositions.”

The hostilities played out on national television during the convention in which Goldwater was selected in San Francisco. Rockefeller and Scranton tried to exert a moderating influence on the platform, only to be met with heckling and catcalls. Eisenhower said the ruckus of the convention was “unpardonable—and a complete negation of the spirit of democracy. I was bitterly ashamed.” The former president also said that during the convention his young niece had been “molested” by Goldwater-supporting hooligans. The disarray of that convention anticipated some of the rowdiness of Trump events, as in the recent roughing up of a black protester in Birmingham, Alabama, which Trump himself egged on and justified.

Goldwater’s campaign had a profound impact on the racial composition of the Republican coalition. As historian Geoffrey Kabaservice notes in his 2012 book Rule and Ruin: The Downfall of Moderation and the Destruction of the Republican Party, “Many progressives and moderate Republicans did not want to participate in the Goldwater campaign in any way, shape, or form. The party’s African-American supporters were a special case in point. … African-Americans comprised only one percent of delegates and alternatives at the convention, a record low. Even so, there were some ugly incidents when Southern whites baited the blacks with insults and racial epithets and, in one case, deliberately burned a black delegate’s suit jacket with cigarettes.” Baseball star Jackie Robinson, then the most famous black Republican, said, “I now believe I know how it felt to be a Jew in Hitler’s Germany.”

[. . .]

Goldwater’s hard-right stance on civil rights alienated African American voters from the Republican Party in an enduring way. In 1956, 39 percent of the African American vote went to the Republicans, in 1960 it was 32 percent, and in 1964 it plummeted to 6 percent. Since Goldwater, the Republican presidential candidate has never gotten more than 15 percent of the black vote, and usually far less. A Trump nomination could have a similar effect by alienating Latinos, and perhaps all non-whites, thereby making the Republican Party even more monochromatic going forward than it already is.

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11:39 am - [URBAN NOTE] "LCBO should have pot monopoly, too: union boss"
While I approve of the idea of marijuana legalization, and even think that government licensing is a good idea, I am not at all sure about the suggestion, as reported by Sarah-Joyce Battersby, that the LCBO should be given a monopoly over marijuana sales in Ontario. I am pretty sure the users I know would not approve of the disruption of their links with their existing suppliers.

Stocking weed alongside wine at the LCBO is the best way to protect public health, say addiction experts. But for marijuana advocates it’s more of the same prohibition.

In a statement released Monday, the union representing LCBO workers said the provincially owned stores are the ideal place to sell marijuana, should the federal government legalize it.

“If they do legalize it, then it’s a drug,” Warren (Smokey) Thomas told the Star. “So we think that, like alcohol, it should be controlled.”

Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said secure warehouses and staff trained to check ages are some of the reasons the LCBO should be the sole source of legal pot in the province, as it is with most alcohol.

The scheme would also generate revenue for the government to combat the potential social costs. But marijuana advocates say those social costs and the spectre of public danger are overblown, and government-run sales would continue a prohibitionist regulatory approach.

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11:34 am - [URBAN NOTE] "Eglinton West station to become ‘Cedarvale’ because of Crosstown LRT"
I approve of the proposal, as reported by the Toronto Star's Tess Kalinowski, to give the TTC's Eglinton West station a more locally meaningful name.

The TTC has opted for Cedarvale as the new name of Eglinton West station where the Crosstown LRT will intersect with the subway.

But the Eglinton (at Yonge St.) and Kennedy stops, the other two interchange stations on the LRT, will retain their utilitarian handles.

The TTC has naming jurisdiction on only those three of the 25 Crosstown stations. The light rail line is being funded by the province and built by its agency Metrolinx.

Councillor and TTC board member Joe Mihevc put out the call in his ward for station name preferences at Eglinton West. Of 43 responses 22 supported Cedarvale and 21 wanted Allen Rd. The latter group, however, tended to be from a broader area, whereas the Cedarvale supporters were more local, he said.

Cedarvale, lends some local charm to the stop.

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11:33 am - [ISL] "Sinking into Paradise: Climate Change Worsening Coastal Erosion in Trinidad"
The Inter Press Service's Rajiv Jalim notes how rising sea levels and climate change are combining to accelerate erosion in Trinidad.

As unusually heavy rainfall battered Trinidad’s east coast a year ago, a lagoon here was overwhelmed, flooding a major access road to the island’s south-eastern communities. As the flood waters poured over Manzanilla beach, they washed sand away, caved in sections of road and collapsed a seawall at a tourist beach facility. Further damages were also incurred with the flooding of homes and agricultural plots.

The coastline of Trinidad is under threat as seas rise, storms grow heavier, and as sand is washed away. As iconic coconut trees are lapped by an encroaching sea, some of the dangers of climate change are becoming clear.

Seas in the region have been rising by more than 2 millimeters every year — though scientists are still trying to pinpoint the role of climate change in accelerating local beach erosion.

“On Manzanilla beach the sea is definitely getting closer to the land, but the primary reason may not be land deformation or sea level rise,” said Keith Miller, a senior lecturer and researcher at the University of West Indies.

“The Atlantic swell causes longshore drift and beach sediments move southward,” Miller said. “Research has been done to suggest that the sediment source has dried up to some extent, so material is being moved along the beach, but there is less material available to replace it.”

In addition to the problems on the east coast, Trinidad’s south-western peninsula is experiencing rapid erosion. Despite being sheltered from the open ocean, satellite images have shown large portions of it being lost to the Gulf of Paria.

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11:28 am - [ISL] "Sable Island horses, walruses to be discussed at meeting"
CBC News' Jennifer Henderson reports on the latest studies into the biological history of Nova Scotia's Sable Island. Apparently, before the famous horses appeared, the island hosted a large and genetically distinctive walrus population exterminated by hunters.

Brenna McLeod Frasier, a biologist and research associate with the Nova Scotia Museum, says accounts from early explorers suggest there were as many as 100,000 walrus in the Maritimes, including in the Bay of Fundy, Sable and Magdalen Islands.

The walruses disappeared by the end of the 1700s.

"People were hunting them for their tusks which were almost like an ivory similar to an elephant ivory," says McLeod Frasier, who is also an educator with the Canadian Whale Institute.

"They also wanted the hide and their blubber. The walrus had a lot of blubber which could be rendered down to an oil which could be used for various products," she said.

McLeod Frasier has taken DNA, tusks and jawbones from 278 specimens found on Sable Island in recent decades to conclude the mammal here was different from the walrus found today in the North.

"Our Maritime walrus, as we have 'tagged' them, were larger and more robust animals. They were also genetically distinctive," she said.</blcokquote>

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11:26 am - [ISL] "Woodleigh Replicas sale pushed with $10K cash incentive on Facebook"
Yet another tourist attraction of the Prince Edward Island of my childhood, Woodleigh Replicas in Burlington, is on the market still, seven years after it closed.

P.E.I. real estate agent has turned to social media — and a hefty cash reward — in the hopes of finding a buyer for the former popular tourist attraction Woodleigh Replicas.

Allan Weeks posted an offer of $10,000 cash for anyone who helps him sell the property, which he co-owns with his brother, to Facebook last week. It's since been shared more than 2,000 times.

"This is a pretty high promotion of $10,000," Weeks said.

A cash-deal between brokers usually runs between $1,000 and 5,000, he said.

Woodleigh Replicas, located in Burlington near Kensington, featured small-scale stone replicas of famous British castles and landmarks. Many of the buildings are still located on the 19-acre property.

The site, the CBC notes, has been pre-approved for building lots.

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11:23 am - [URBAN NOTE] "Why New York Subway Lines Are Missing Countdown Clocks"
CityLab's James Somers reports on why New York City's subway system lacks the countdown clocks of Toronto's network. The answer? The technology behind it is almost astonishingly primitive.

The reason there are no realtime countdown clocks on the F line is that even the tower operators don’t know which train is where. All they can see is that a certain section is occupied by a certain anonymous hunk of steel. It’s anonymous because no one has a view of the whole system. A hunk comes into one section of track from somewhere else; the tower’s job is to get it through their section efficiently. The next tower they pass it to will likewise not know whether it’s an F, say, or a G. When there are incidents, trains are located by deduction.

This complex—of towers, signals, switches, and track sections—is responsible for a disproportionate share of the costs and foibles in the operation and maintenance of New York’s subway system.

The equipment is old and breaks all the time. In fact it’s so old that the MTA can no longer buy replacement parts from the manufacturer; it has to refurbish them itself. Some of the controls for the interlockings are originals from the 30s. Much of the wiring is still insulated with cloth, instead of rubber; ten years ago the entire Chambers Street interlocking caught fire. Salt water from Hurricane Sandy did damage to trackside switches and signals that is still being repaired.

Inside the Signal School there is equipment from every major era, since it’s all still active in various parts of the system. As a demo, Habersham at one point flips an old-style switch on the big replica track. It lets out a giant pneumatic wheeze, as though the tired station itself were sighing. Even the little toy train that he used to demonstrate signaling basics is falling apart; there was so much rust and dust on the tracks that at several points another MTA employee had to help it along with his hand.</blcokquote>

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8:44 am - [WRITING] "The entire board of the Organization for Transformative Works has resigned"
This is noteworthy. From the Daily Dot's Cynthia McKelvey:

Following a controversy around its most recent board election, the non-profit group that runs the fanfiction hub Archive Of Our Own (AO3) announced on Sunday its entire board had resigned.

Now the leadership of the Organization for Transformative Works is up in the air.

Andrea Horbinski, a current member of the seven-member board, was up for re-election to two open board seats, but she came in last in the members election. The membership, made up of roughly 8,000 fans who paid a $10 membership fee, voted for Matty Bowers, Atiya Hakeem, Alex Tischer, Katarina Harju, Aline Carrão, and Horbinski in that order.

During a public board meeting on Sunday, the OTW board appointed Horbinski back onto the board to fill an unfinished term on a third open seat not included in the election. Horbinski voted in favor of the motion to re-appoint herself to the open seat, rather than abstaining from the vote. The board meeting came to an abrupt halt after several OTW members voiced their opposition to the decision, pointing out that other candidates got more votes than Horbinski in the election.

OTW board members work on a volunteer-basis only. In addition to running AO3, OTW also runs a legal committee, a fandom wiki site, the fansite preservation project Open Doors, and an academic journal.

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6:04 am - [PHOTO] First snow, backyard
First snow, backyard #toronto #dupontstreet #snow #winter #dovercourtpark

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Tuesday, November 24th, 2015
11:55 pm - [DM] "Some notes on the Turkmen, Turkey, and this diaspora's future"
I've a followup at Demography Matters to this afternoon's post in the Syrian Turkmen, predicting the imminent mass migration of ethnic Turks from Syria and Iraq to (for starters) Turkey.

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9:37 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "City unveils designs for $19.7 million Fort York pedestrian bridge"
blogTO let me know that the proposal for a pedestrian bridge at Fort York cancelled by Rob Ford in 2011 is on again, courtesy CP24's Chris Fox.

The city has unveiled the design for two new pedestrian bridges that will traverse a pair of rail tracks in the west end, connecting Stanley Park with the Fort York historic grounds and the nearby waterfront.

The $19.7 million Fort York Pedestrian and Cycle bridge will actually consist of two separate stainless steel spans, one that will run above the Georgetown rail corridor near Strachan Avenue and another that will run above the Lakeshore rail corridor further south.

The project will also see the areas surrounding either bridge developed into parkland.

Construction will begin in the spring with a targeted completion date of spring 2017

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8:34 pm - [LINK] On the latest from KIC 8462852
KIC 8462852 has been the subject of extensive speculation and research since the discovery of the mysterious debris disk in orbit. The latest NASA press release on the subject suggests

A new study using data from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope addresses the mystery, finding more evidence for the scenario involving a swarm of comets. The study, led by Massimo Marengo of Iowa State University, Ames, is accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

One way to learn more about the star is to study it in infrared light. Kepler had observed it in visible light. If a planetary impact, or a collision amongst asteroids, were behind the mystery of KIC 8462852, then there should be an excess of infrared light around the star. Dusty, ground-up bits of rock would be at the right temperature to glow at infrared wavelengths.

At first, researchers tried to look for infrared light using NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, and found none. But those observations were taken in 2010, before the strange events seen by Kepler -- and before any collisions would have kicked up dust.

To search for infrared light that might have been generated after the oddball events, researchers turned to Spitzer, which, like WISE, also detects infrared light. Spitzer just happened to observe KIC 8462852 more recently in 2015.

"Spitzer has observed all of the hundreds of thousands of stars where Kepler hunted for planets, in the hope of finding infrared emission from circumstellar dust," said Michael Werner, the Spitzer project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and the lead investigator of that particular Spitzer/Kepler observing program.

But, like WISE, Spitzer did not find any significant excess of infrared light from warm dust. That makes theories of rocky smashups very unlikely, and favors the idea that cold comets are responsible. It's possible that a family of comets is traveling on a very long, eccentric orbit around the star. At the head of the pack would be a very large comet, which would have blocked the star's light in 2011, as noted by Kepler. Later, in 2013, the rest of the comet family, a band of varied fragments lagging behind, would have passed in front of the star and again blocked its light.

The paper, "KIC 8462852: The Infrared Flux", is available here.

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4:21 pm - [BRIEF NOTE] On the Turkmen of Syria, Turkey, Russia, and ongoing complexities
Friend of the blog Jussi Jalonen recently noted on Facebook that the Turkish shootdown of a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 on the Turkish-Syrian border, the pilots successfully escaping in parachutes only to be shot dead by Syrian Turkmen Brigades in Syria, underlines the complexities.

The Syrian Turkmen are a substantial ethnic minority, apparently concentrated near the Turkish border, amounting to the hundreds of thousands. How many hundreds of thousands? Might it even be millions? There's no firm data, it seems, much as there is no firm data on the numbers of Iraqi Turkmen. What is known is that these Turkmen minorities are numerous, that their zones of inhabitation overlap at least in part with that of ethnic Kurds, and that they are politically close to Turkey. As Vox's Zack Beauchamp noted, in the particular case of Syria the Turkmen are opposed to Russia.

he Turkmen arrived in what's now Syria centuries ago, as various different Turkic empires — first the Seljuks, then the Ottomans — encouraged Turkish migration into the territory to counterbalance the local Arab majority. Under Bashar al-Assad's rule, the mostly Sunni Muslim Turkmen in Syria were an oppressed minority, denied even the right to teach their own children in their own language (a Turkish dialect).

However, the Turkmen didn't immediately join the anti-Assad uprising in 2011. Instead, they were goaded into it by both sides. Assad persecuted them, treating them as a potential conduit for Turkish involvement in the Syrian civil war. Turkey, a longtime enemy of Assad, encouraged the Turkmen to oppose him with force. Pushed in the same direction by two major powers, the Turkmen officially joined the armed opposition in 2012.

Since then, they've gotten deeply involved in the civil war, receiving significant amounts of military aid from Ankara. Their location has brought them into conflict with the Assad regime, ISIS, and even the Western-backed Kurdish rebels (whom Turkey sees as a threat given its longstanding struggle with its own Kurdish population). Today, the Syrian Turkmen Brigades — the dominant Turkmen military faction — boast as many as 10,000 fighters, per the BBC, though the real number could be much lower.

The Turkmen role in the conflict has put them directly in Russia's crosshairs. The Russians, contrary to their stated goal of fighting ISIS, have directed most of their military efforts to helping Assad's forces fight rebels. The Turkmen have clashed repeatedly with Assad and his allies in the north — which led to Russian planes targeting Turkmen militants last week.

Turkey was not happy, and called in the Russian ambassador to register its disapproval. "It was stressed that the Russian side's actions were not a fight against terror, but they bombed civilian Turkmen villages and this could lead to serious consequences," the Turkish foreign ministry said in a description of the meeting provided to Reuters.

Could, as Beauchamp suggests, the Turkish attack have been a warning to Russia to avoid attacking Turkey's ethnic kin? It's imaginable, at least.

All I can add is that there's a tragic irony here. At least in part in an effort to diminish the negative consequences from Russia's support of armed ethnic kin against their parent state in Ukraine, Russia has now come into conflict with Turkey's armed ethnic kin as they fight against their parent state.

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2:30 pm - [LINK] "The tawdry fall of the Postmedia newspaper empire"
The National Observer's Bruce Livesay describes the continuing decline of Conrad Black's lost Postmedia empire.

Postmedia is a national media giant with nearly 200 papers, magazines and websites. Its dailies reach 6.3 million Canadian readers every week, with some of its best-known papers including the National Post, Vancouver Sun, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Regina Leader-Post, Winnipeg Sun, The London Free Press, Ottawa Citizen and Montreal Gazette.

But Postmedia is also a ship taking on water, due to both self-inflicted and industry-wide wounds.

Of the self-inflicted variety, Postmedia was pilloried last month in the run-up to the federal election after its Toronto executives ordered 16 of its major daily newspapers to run editorials endorsing Stephen Harper. (Postmedia did the same thing last spring during Alberta’s provincial election, forcing its papers there to back Jim Prentice’s Tories).

In a surprising move, John Honderich, chair of Torstar Corp., which publishes Canada’s largest daily paper, The Toronto Star, devoted an entire op-ed page article two weeks ago heaping scorn on Postmedia’s decision, decrying “the negative impact this affair is having on the newspaper industry in general. At a time when the relevance and impact of newspapers are under attack, this doesn’t help.”

Then there was the stunning resignation of Andrew Coyne as the National Post’s editorials and comments editor. Coyne quit on the eve of the election – although he remains a columnist with the paper – when his superiors told him he was not allowed to publish a column dissenting with their endorsement of Harper. Coyne, who declines to discuss the matter, tweeted his disapproval of the censoring, saying “I don’t see public disagreement as confusing. I see it as honest.”

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2:28 pm - [LINK] Dennis Perkins at Vox on the decline of the video store
In his thoughtful essay at Vox, "I worked in a video store for 25 years. Here’s what I learned as my industry died.", Dennis Perkins shares interesting insights.

The independent video store where I've worked for 15 years is finally dead. After 28 years in business, we succumbed to the "disruption" of Netflix and Hulu, bled to death by the long, slow defection of our customer base. Once we announced our closing, the few who remained mourned — then we locked the doors. Our permanent collection is gone: boxed up and shipped off to the local library.

Videoport, of Portland, Maine, lasted longer than most. It was better than most. It owed its longevity to a single, engaged owner, to strong ties to the local film scene and a collection that put others to shame. I was proud to work there, alongside a staff that paired film knowledge and exceptional customer service skills like few other places I've known. We were a fixture in town, until we weren't.

It hasn't been so long since independent rental joints had the opposite problem. Before Videoport, I spent 10 years working at Matt & Dave's Video Venture. In retrospect, it's hard to believe that our downfall came at the hands of a buyout by a major rental chain. Suspiciously well-dressed guys with clipboards started dropping in; soon enough, we were gone, one of the estimated 30,000 video stores in America gobbled up by Blockbuster or Movie Gallery or Hollywood Video, each eager to dominate the booming VHS rental racket. If only those chains knew that within a decade, they'd be goners too.

I spent 25 years of my life in an industry that no longer exists. Maybe I'm not the most ambitious guy. But that time has provided me with an up-close look at not just how the industry is changing but how people's tastes, and the culture those tastes create, have changed with it.

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2:26 pm - [LINK] "Google Strips Down Google Plus"
The Wall Street Journal's Alistair Barr writes about the controversial changes to Google Plus. As only an occasional user, mainly via my phone or other Android devices, I do note the reduced complexity of this social networking service. Was it necessary to do this?

Google Plus began in 2011 as the company’s answer to Facebook FB -1.00%: a social network that could help hundreds of millions of people stay in touch — and help Google, a division of Alphabet Inc.GOOGL -0.88%, collect valuable identity and interest-based data about them. But the result was a complex, confusing service that tried to act as a central hub for many other Google products. Ultimately, few people spent much time on it.

The new Google Plus is about connecting around common interests rather than people. It focuses on just two features, Google said: Collections, which let users follow streams of content on topics like surfing or niche types of photography, and Communities, which let groups of people with the same interests join up and discuss topics like Game of Thrones or painting.

A key difference between the new Google Plus and its earlier incarnations is that it’s now possible to follow a member’s posts about a specific subject without receiving that person’s posts on other topics.

Gone from Google Plus, or on the way out, are the Hangouts messaging service,a tool for organizing events, and the ability to share your location. Photo uploading still works, but the ability to tag people by name is limited. These features mostly survive as standalone products, some of which are successful, such as the new Google Photos storage service.

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