watching The X-Men

Basically the way this works is there is a set of characters in the original movies, and then there are some younger versions of the characters in the First Class movies (except for Wolverine, who remains a constant).  I like the X-Men First Class (younger versions) sequence better.  I find the movies funnier, more clever and with more interesting character dynamics.  I also appreciated the Star Trek callouts.

X-Men (2000) – watch
X2 (2003) – watch
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) – X-Men 3 – this is terrible.  skip.

X-Men: First Class (2011) – X-Men First Class 1 – watch
The Wolverine (2013) – I haven’t seen.  Doesn’t have good reviews.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) – X-Men First Class 2 – watch
Deadpool (2016) – I refuse to view this
X-Men: Apocalypse (2017) – X-Men First Class 3 – watch
Logan (2017) – Wolverine 2 – Supposed to be good, but harrowing.  I haven’t seen.

Timeline

The timelines of the two overlapping X-Men can be a bit confusing to sort out.

First Class is in 1962.

Days of Future Past is in 1973 (mostly).
In my opinion, Days of Future Past alters the future so that the terrible The Last Stand never happened.  In Days of Future Past they also make it look like Mystique is saving Wolverine from Stryker, but clearly he is eventually captured, because we see him imprisoned in Apocalypse.  (Presumably they had to do this to keep some integrity in the timeline.)

Apocalypse is in 1983.

It’s not clear to me exactly what years X1/2/3 are set in.  Looks like they are more or less set in their release years, sometime in the early 2000s.

Conclusion

More movies are coming of course.  The next one in the First Class sequence is apparently Dark Phoenix.

watching the Marvel Cinematic Universe

In my opinion, there are basically two standout movies from the various phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) so far: the first Captain America (Captain America: The First Avenger) and the first Guardians of the Galaxy.  You can watch both as standalone (and in any case Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t really fit with the Avengers movies anyway).  The first Iron Man also has its merits, but suffers from some pretty extensive misogyny.  If you watch any Avengers at all, watch Age of Ultron.

In fairness, these movies are a complicated combination of competing factors.  I am more interested in the interpersonal dynamics, but for legitimate reasons of fan interest, the movies pretty much have to contain aspects of fan debate and set-piece battles.

The fan debate items are things like:
“What happens if Thor’s hammer Mjölnir hits Captain America’s vibranium shield?  (Answer: A sort of giant shockwave) or
“Can The Hulk lift Thor’s hammer Mjölnir?” (Answer: no)

Unfortunately one of the main fan debate items, and one which is also cinematically cost-effective, is What happens if character X fights character Y?  Which means we end up with a lot of engineered situations of Avenger fighting Avenger.

The set piece battles are similarly popular with fans, but end up basically just being a jumble of people doing super power things until the bad guys inevitably lose.

The MCU is currently broken up into three phases.  They have various Avengers, plus Spider-man, but not the X-Men (due to obscure studio licensing issues).  The X-Men is a completely separate universe cinematically.

Phase 1

Iron Man (2008) – Iron Man 1 – watch
The Incredible Hulk (2008) – I didn’t view it
Iron Man 2 (2010) – skip
Thor (2011) – skip
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – Captain America 1 – watch
Marvel’s The Avengers (2012) – Avengers 1 – watch

Phase 2

Iron Man 3 (2013) – watch but skip the set-piece battle
Thor: The Dark World (2013) – Thor 2 – I didn’t view it
Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) – Captain America 2 – watch

[ Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) – Guardians of the Galaxy 1 – watch but it really doesn’t fit with the rest of the Avengers movies; you can watch it standalone ]

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – Avengers 2 – watch
Ant-man (2015) – skip

Phase 3

Captain America: Civil War (2016) – Captain America 3 – watch but skip the battle at the end
Doctor Strange (2016) – I didn’t view it

[ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) – skip – long sequence in the middle where they are captured on and then escape from the ship is cringe-worthy and celebrates gratuitous violence ]

Spider-man: Homecoming (2017) – Spider-man reboot 3 movie 1 – I haven’t seen

There are a few sequences you could watch, for example Iron Man 1 & 3, or Captain America 1, 2, 3.

Conclusion

There are lots more movies lined up.  You can see the current plans at e.g. https://marvel.com/movies/all

They are basically positioning everyone for the Avengers Infinity War movies (the battle for the Infinity Stones) in 2018 and 2019.  That will close a 10 year cycle of movies, I’m not sure where they will go after that.

high-speed rail versus highways

Now that the latest Ontario High-Speed Rail proposal has come out, we are getting the usual Serious Journalism about rail.  Which means some combination of intentional and unintentional concern trolling about rail, particularly around costs (call it “concern costing”).  A particular attribute of this kind of analysis is it always looks at rail in isolation as a standalone service, as if decades of subsidizing driving didn’t exist.

Here’s what a better comparison of Ontario high-speed rail versus highways that included more context might look like:

Measurement High-Speed Rail Highways
Est. deaths over 10 years 0 3000
Est. injuries over 10 years ~0 30,000
Est. expenditure over 10 years $20 billion? $26 billion
Est. direct revenue over 10 years ? $0

So just to be clear, spending $26 billion on roads to get zero revenue and kill 3000 people is a no brainer, but spending maybe $20 billion on rail to get some unknown millions in revenue and kill zero people needs Very Serious Analysis.

Estimated deaths over 10 years is from Ontario road deaths: Did drivers do better or worse in 2015? It applies to highways under OPP jurisdiction. Estimated injuries is just a direct 10x scaling of deaths.

Estimated highway expenditure is from Ontario budget 2017, at the bottom of Investing in Highway Infrastructure.

No one really knows yet how much the train will cost, or how much revenue it will bring in.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t examine the viability of High-Speed Rail. I’m just saying we should place it in context with our expenditures on highways. If you’re not asking the exact same questions about highway “viability”, then it’s not a level playing field.  If you’re not talking about the fact that you’re introducing HSR into an environment where driving has been massively subsidised on multiple fronts, including cost of gas, cost of highways and cost of parking, then it’s not a level playing field.

May 2017 consultations

A variety of consultations closing in May 2017.

Federal

Provincial

Municipal

comments on proposed Elgin Street redesign

Ottawa Transportation Committee is meeting on May 3, 2017 to consider the staff report including proposed designs.  Here’s what I wrote to the committee:

COMMENT

Dear Councillors Egli and McKenney:

I am writing to you as chair and vice-chair of the Transportation Committee, about the Elgin Street redesign that will come before the committee on May 3, 2017 (ACS2017-TSD-PLN-0007 Elgin Street and Hawthorne Avenue Functional Design Study).  I support the report recommendations, namely (1) that the functional designs in the report be approved as-is and (2) that the speed limit be posted as 30 km/h.

I want to emphasize particularly strong support for the speed limit reduction to 30 km/h, and the language of the report “Designed for lower operating speed” (page 14).  Using design to lower the speed of vehicles in the downtown core is the single most important intervention that council can make to provide a safer and more pleasant experience for pedestrians and cyclists, and to make an even more liveable Ottawa.  This is particularly important given the presence of Elgin Street Public School.

I also want to express my support for the particular design intervention of raised intersections.  I very much hope this means that the crosswalks themselves will be continued across the street at sidewalk level (“continuous sidewalks”) across the side streets (I am using the language from NACTO guide “Pedestrians at Multi-Modal Intersections” http://nacto.org/docs/usdg/pedestrians_multi-modal_intersections_perkins.pdf ).  To me raised intersections and continuous sidewalks are a very significant design improvement that helps ensure lower operating speed.

I hope as well that the committee will recommend careful monitoring of speed and multi-modal level of service after the redesign, to ensure high levels of service are being achieved for pedestrians and cyclists, and to ensure that the design is keeping speeds below the 30km/h target.  If the data indicate that speeds are higher than 30km/h, I expect the city to continue to modify the design until speeds are 30km/h or less.

In my submission to the Elgin Street consultation I had recommended either no parking, or parking on only one side https://manifestomultilinko2.wordpress.com/2016/06/30/rebuilding-elgin-street/

While I am pleased to see some reduction in parking, I will just echo Councillor Chernushenko (page 25):

I am concerned that the proposed 90 spaces, although less than the current parking supply, is a half-measure that will ultimate prove a disservice to the same businesses that are in favour of more parking, as the renewal of Elgin Street will not be as complete as it might have been had fewer such parking spaces on the street itself been included.

I would particularly emphasize the fact that the report states (on page 18) that there are currently 3749 parking spaces within 2 blocks of the area (including 850 underground parking spots at City Hall http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/transportation-and-parking/parking ).  It seems to me the city could be more ambitious than cutting 32 parking spots out of 3749, particularly given the substantial downsides of on-street parking for traffic flow and safety, including circling cars and dooring of cyclists.

I look forward to the Elgin Street redesign.  I am pleased to see the city following Complete Streets design principles and emphasizing streets designed for safety, with improved levels of service for pedestrians and cyclists.

Thank you,

Richard Akerman

CC: Councillors Fleury, Chernushenko and Leiper
ENDCOMMENT

 

As a side note, on the topic of the 850 underground parking spaces at City Hall, here’s how many were free on Sunday April 2, 2017 around 10:30am.

IMG_9284-9284-20170402-6S - Version 2

procrastination, anxiety, and dialogue with your past self

Often procrastination is viewed as a problem of organisation, and a typical approach is to try to provide a system for prioritizing and tracking tasks, in the model of Getting Things Done.  There are all kinds of methodologies related to this kind of organisation and priotization model, and certainly they may help those who really are procrastinating because of a lack of structure in their work planning.

But what is often not addressed is that there are people who are procrastinating because of anxiety, not because of lack of organisation.

Tim Urban did a TED talk in 2016 called Inside the mind of a master procrastinator that really resonated with me.  But what I found even more interesting (since I am more of a text than a video person) is his blog posts exploring procrastination in more detail:

I really admire Tim Urban for being able to be open about this issue, in a society that values productivity perhaps more than anything.

I particularly like The Eisenhower Matrix, which gives a better way to think about task priority

It’s basically four quadrants.

Eisenhower grid

Although this looks like a classic productivity tool, Tim Urban has actually figured out that it has some subtle factors when you take into account how people think and behave when procrastinating.  In general, procrastinators mess up these priorities.  They will do Quadrant 1 (Important, Urgent) when a deadline forces them.  Otherwise they will do either Quadrant 3 (Not Important, Urgent) or particularly occupy Quadrant 4 (Not Important, Not Urgent).

If I apply an anxiety perspective, Quadrant 1 (Important, Urgent) gets done when the anxiety about the deadline overcomes the anxiety about the task.  Otherwise, aversive strategies move the anxious procrastinator either into Not Important, Urgent or Not Important, Not Urgent.

Disastinators

Procrastinators who are no longer able to use deadlines as motivation Tim Urban describes as “Disastinators”, stuck forever in a corner of useless tasks (e.g. unpleasurable obsessive web surfing or other maladaptive coping strategies) in Quadrant 4.

This is basically being paralysed by anxiety, doing meaningless things.

Eisenhower grid avoid stuck

One of the keys to getting out of Quadrant 4, if stuck there because of anxiety, is to deal with the anxiety itself, rather than the tasks.  In other words, an anxiety-based procrastinator may need emotions management and mental strategies a lot more than time and priority management (and may in fact be acutely and painfully aware of both the exact priorities and the time constraints they are facing).  This is a really important insight.  If it’s anxiety that has you stuck, no amount of productivity techniques will help change the outcomes.  The procrastination is anxiety-driven, the solution is addressing the anxiety itself.

And the highest priority things (Quadrant 1 & 2) may be the most anxiety-generating, which is why anxious procrastinators if they do anything at all, may churn out Not Important but Urgent items, or be stuck in endless Not Important, Not Urgent activities.

You May Be Missing Your Hopes and Dreams in Quadrant 2

Tim Urban makes a second really important observation, which is that even people who are high-functioning may do just the Urgent things (Quadrant 1 and 3) and never make it to the things in Quadrant 2 (Important but Not Urgent).  But Quadrant 2 covers a lot of things that are at the core of improving your life.  Depending on your personality, many things may be in Quadrant 2: relationships, health, new skills – basically all of your aspirations.  And as you busily do Quadrant 1 priority items, you may never find time to do the things that bring meaning to your life.

Tim Urban describes this as “delegating to future you”.  Learning that language, meeting that girl or boy, making that new career… all always safely in the future.

Dialogue Between Past Self and Future Self

Here’s where I would like to add some value to the already-excellent analysis that Tim Urban did.  One thing that happens with procrastination is a really dysfunctional dialogue across time.  It may be across minutes and it may be across decades.  It’s the dialogue between past you and future you.

Procrastinators load a lot of tasks onto their future self.  And whether it’s “I’ll just surf the web for five minutes” or “I’ll do that next month”, eventually the future self becomes the present self, and is basically thinking “I can’t believe Past Me stuck me with this task, there’s so little time left, why didn’t Past Me just do it then?  You suck Past Me.”

And since there is no past you and future you really, just present self, this means procrastinators basically feel angry at themselves a lot.  For some intense procrastinators, all the time.

I think it might be possible to surface this dialogue in a healthier way.  There are two aspects: first, gratitude to your past self, and second, empathy with your future self.  This can start out small, but the key is to verbalise it, either internally or (depending on the people around you) out loud.  Did you put out your clothes the night before so you could get ready quicker?  “Thanks Past Me.”  Did you take some time to sort medication into daily slots so you don’t forget what to take each day?  “Thanks Past Me.”  Did you do the laundry yesterday so you have clean clothes today?  “Thanks Past Me.”

Similarly, when facing a task, you can try (this is hard) to empathize with your future self (who is, after all, you).  Writing that report today is a gift to your future self tomorrow, who will be less anxious and angry, who won’t have to struggle to complete too many piled-up tasks.  Doing even a small important task today means that future you won’t face the same anxiety and won’t have to fight whatever aversive behaviours and compulsions the anxiety may trigger.

This is a way to try to make your internal dialogue kinder across time, rather than (inevitably anxious) future you having to deal with the tasks that (inevitably anxious) past you avoided.

You can also, when necessary, forgive your past self.

Just as importantly, a healthier self-dialogue and addressing anxiety directly may open up the space so that you’re not always either dealing with crisis tasks in Quadrant 1, or obsessively avoiding anxiety-making tasks by huddling in the corner of Quadrant 4 (the “Stuck Here” quadrant).  It may open up the possibility that you actually make time for present you to do things in Quadrant 2, whether it’s learning photography, or going to a party, or whatever it is that will advance your life in important ways.

I hope this is helpful.