It seems strange to me when people write about, ‘On Facebook’, or, ‘On Twitter’… or, ‘On Social Media’. I think it lends itself to the thought that people are above it. As if they have no responsibility for their actions and reactions, as well as what those reactions and actions cause.
In the same way, I’m not sure that ‘in’ social media is much better, because that lends itself to a thought of powerlessness – surrounded by.
Which is why I write, ‘using social media’, or, ‘using Facebook’, or… using whatever. These are tools, and unless Thoreau was correct about men becoming the tools of their tools…
We use tools.
So it may be semantic, but it might be powerfully so.
It drives me a bit nuts when I have to deal with some things in Trinidad and Tobago. When I signed up for electronic billing for Water (WASA) and for Electricity (T&TEC), not to mention Internet (Amplia), I foolishly expected a process that was not reliant on paper.
How foolish of me. I have to print these bills and take them somewhere to pay them, which isn’t really an electronic transaction at all – it just saves these companies money so that they don’t have to bill me for sending me a paper bill, and also, it allows me independence from the local post (TTPost) from sending me my bills late.
To add insult to injury, the bills don’t just print on one page – they require… 2 pages. Why? Because it’s the same bill that they used to mail to me… and experimentation has shown that, no, I can’t just go with one page. I require both pages to pay the bill.
I’m sure that there are educated people hiding behind this somewhere, but it does their education a disservice to come up with systems that are hardly intelligent. It’s reminiscent of the United States in the 1990s, when some people would not let their fax machines out of their clenched fists.
This goes beyond bill payment – which, of course, is cursed by lack of online payment options for the masses, causing people to lose hours of productivity so that they can stand in a line to create a paper trail. Nevermind the photocopies of identification that still go on.
On a trip to the bank today to deal with paying some maintenance fees, I half-joked to the teller that trips to the bank were like visiting another country. Stamp! Stamp!
Papers, please. Reason for transaction? What’s your dog’s mother’s maiden name? How long was your stay?
Last week, a woman stood before me, not long ago, modem in hand – trying to return it to bMobile – her 5th attempt, which she had documented well with her phone and envelopes full of paper. Why so much trouble? Did you need to ask?
It should be as simple as returning the modem, which they then check the serial number of – it then becomes clear that you’re no longer using it, or should, and be pretty much the disconnection of your account unless you have another modem you purchased yourself and they are already aware of it. But this is not the process.
All of these are symptomatic of people simply adding technology to a paper process – par for the course of a bureaucracy educated beyond it’s intelligence level.
One day, it may aspire to achieve to mediocrity. We’re waiting.
I’ve managed to avoid the deluge of end of year posts by people, as well as their bright and shiny posts of what they expect in 2019. After you’ve seen enough of them, you know the recipe and you can make your own – even if it’s not a very good recipe, even if it typically doesn’t stand the test of time.
A ‘New Year’ is just another date on the calendar for me these days – and truth be told, it has been for some time. So I spent this ‘holiday’ running some experimental code associated with the Anki Vector I picked up.
As a way of tracking what changes and what doesn’t, years are fickle. As an example, when it comes to code, the thing we sent that is furthest is still running 8-bit code, and it still seems to be working well. Looks like hunspell (that’s what you call it for pip) is the droid I was looking for, though the documentation on that… well…
Things that haven’t changed that much is the acceleration of technology – because it continues to accelerate, and documentation on it is simply horrible in some areas. I spent roughly an hour delving into replacements for PyEnchant, as an example, reading all sorts of the same thing that Google thought would be useful – and which wasn’t.
And this is, sadly, the sort of detritus that software projects leave behind. As a friend mentioned today, a lack of documentation is better than bad/misleading documentation – and when it comes to documentation, a lack of date tagging condemns people to whatever algorithm the search engine uses when college students are trying to find hardly known authors to plagiarize from.
It goes beyond that. There’s a trend where technology gets disposed of so fast that there is almost no documentation on any of it, or if there is, it’s dated and/or misleading.
This is why we’re not fixing things as much, those of us that have that mindset – because there are always a few people, statistically, that can fix things – remember repair shops? And then there are the people who pay to fix things. The way intellectual property – really, copyright – has gone in a legal sense keeps a space between people who would repair and the owners of copyright. And the contracts, threats about warranty… even more space, starving the ability for products to be supported by third parties.
Heaven forbid you reverse engineer something to fix it. That can get you in trouble with people have chain-linked bracelets and lawyers who love killing trees.
That’s where Open Source and Free Software were supposed to step in, at least in the context of software – but after a few decades, it’s all relatively young and the documentation is done largely in crayon hieroglyphics. The successful projects are documented, at least to some degree.
If there’s one thing that I’d like to see change this year, it’s people getting better at documentation. It’s as if they think what they do isn’t worth that investment.
A fair criticism of Anki is that they aren’t very good at organizing the information and updating customers when they’re doing pretty good things. Frankly, the beginning novelty of Vector and it’s potential is what seems to be allowing them not to pay as much for this faux pas. And too, I suspect, the project has grown faster than the company has – a testament to engineering. It has apparently sold well, a testament to their marketing. Yet when it comes to information on the product, it seems pretty hard to come by information users/expected are expected to have.
It’s amazing how those eyes are really the center of how we see Vector.
I installed the Alpha SDK, and I configured Vector – which involves getting the IP address of Vector. It’s not available through the app on the phone, and there’s a trick to it (in case you’re looking for it yourself) – you have to tap Vector’s top button twice, then raise and lower his arm. Vetor’s IP address will then be shown where his eyes are. To get back to normal operation, raise and lower Vector’s arm again. Sacrificing a chicken is optional. Be careful with blood spatter; Vector is not fluid-proof.
After that, it was a simple matter of firing Spyder up – part of the Anaconda data science platform for Python, but available standalone – and ran some of the example code, tweaking it here and there to get a feel for the capabilities of the Vector SDK Alpha.
This is where they shine – when it comes to sharing the code. And the SDK documentation itself, so far, is pretty good.
The Reality of the SDK.
I think I was expecting a bit more from the SDK, which is my fault and I acknowledge that. I had expected more in the way of interacting with the cloud itself – for example, renaming Vector’s wake phrase/word, or allowing behavior change during normal operation. That’s presently not there, which effectively gives Vector a multiple personality disorder – with blackouts where, for better and worse, the SDK allows the hijacking of Vector.
Imagine waking up and not knowing how you got somewhere, what you just did, and where that eyebrow went. That’s a fair anthropomorphization.
The SDK works through your wireless connection – the code/application has to be running on the same network as Vector, and your specific machine gets a certificate to run the code on Vector – a good security precaution or people would be hacking Vectors and checking out other people’s places.
It’s bad enough with the Alexa integration – I had an Alexa when they first came out but had enough creepy incidents with Amazon to get rid of mine. Still, the world of Amazonians wants it and it’s a good selling point for Anki, so I get it. That seems to be done well enough to please those that wanted it, so maybe they’ll focus on things other than that now.
In all, I’d like to transfer a version of what they have in the cloud into my personal systems and allow me to tinker with that as well.
Still, given what I have been playing with related to machine learning and natural language processing – it’s no mistake that I had the Anaconda distribution of Python installed already – I’m having a bit of fun playing with the SDK and testing the limitations of the hardware.
I’ve been considering a polarizing film over the cameras for better images, and have even considered mounting a light source on Vector for darkness, which would have the misfortune of not being able to be controlled through Vector (but it could be controlled independently through code). I plan to play with the lights part of the SDK to see what I can get away with.
You don’t get to fiddle with facial recognition code, but there’s Python code for that – such as PyPi face_recognition.
Overall – I’m happier with the SDK, which shows promise and a bit of effort on the part of Anki. The criticisms I have so far are of an Alpha SDK – which means that this will change in time.
They do need to get a bit better at the responsiveness, though – something I suspect that they are already aware of. To enjoy this level of success comes with painful growth. If only that were an engineering problem to solve.
So, I got an Anki Vector. My reasons for buying one were pretty simple, really – it seemed like a throwback to the 70s when I had a Big Trak, a programmable machine that had me often shooting my mother with a laser and harassing the family dog.
With Big Trak’s Logo-ish programming, there were tangible results even if the ‘fire phaser’ command was really just a flashing light. It was the 1970s, after all, in an era when Star Wars and Star Trek reigned supreme.
So the idea of the Anki Vector was pretty easy for me to contend with. I’ve been playing with the idea of building and programming a personal robot, and this would allow me to get away from ‘building’.
Out of the Box.
The Anki Vector needed some charging in it’s little home station, and I dutifully installed the application on the phone, following the instructions, connecting it to my Wifi – and while people said that they have had problems with the voice recognition, I have not. Just speak clearly and at an even pace, and Vector seems to handle things well.
The focal length that Vector’s camera(s) are limited to seems to be between 12-24 inches, based on it identifying me. It can identify me, even with glasses, after some training – roughly 30 minutes – as long as my face is withing 12-24 inches from it’s face.
It’s a near-sighted robot, apparently, which had me wondering if that would be something to work with through the API.
It is an expressive robot – it borrows from WALL-E in this regard, it seems. And while it can go to the Internet and impress your friends with it’s ability to use it’s voice to read stuff off of Wikipedia, it’s not actually that smart. In that regard, it’s Wikipedia on tracks with expressive eyes that, yes, you can change the color of.
Really, within the first hour, you run out of tricks with Vector at this time – the marketing team apparently wrote the technical documentation, which is certainly easy to read – largely because it doesn’t actually say much. I’m still trying to figure out why the cube came with it – somewhere, it said it helped Vector navigate outside of it’s ‘home area’ – but navigate and do what?
Explore and do what? Take a picture and see it where? There is a lack of clarity on things in the documentation. While petting Vector has an odd satisfaction to it, it doesn’t quite give me enough.
On December 6th, I tweeted to Anki and asked them about the API – because with the hardware in the Vector, I should be able to do some groovy things and expand it’s functionality.
Crickets for the last 3 days.
Without that API, I think the Vector is limited to the novelty part of the store… which is sad, because I had hopes that it would be a lot more.
Maybe that API will come out before I forget that I have a Vector.
I often cringe when I read what people share on social media. Aside from the inner proofreader that was so necessary as a youth, I run across things like, “TTPS: Illegal entry into T&T is a crime“.
If the goal was to make the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service look illiterate – mission accomplished. If the goal was to make The Morning Brew, a local program, look a bit foolish – mission accomplished. And it’s there for all the world to see.
If you watch the video, though, the headline is does not represent what was actually said – a distillation that demonstrates a lack of thought and consideration.
Who came up with this headline, and do they even understand their mistake?
This prompted me to immediately mock it, of course – pondering with a friend as to what else that is illegal might be a crime.
Murder is illegal, so is it a crime? Littering is illegal, so is it a crime? And so on and so forth – which amused me for a few minutes, but then it struck me:
There are people who may seriously be thinking in that way.
Words have a power all their own, and the way we all learn is not by reading dictionaries but through context.
So yes, I’m picking on this particular headline, which is unfair. In a world where all too often people share without reading the associated link, we’re implicitly showing people how to communicate by example. There could be a secondary school student right now writing an essay that may reach pull the ‘illegal’ and ‘crime’ thing out of their bag unwittingly… only to be openly mocked by an English teacher and their class.
Why? Because they made the mistake of learning from a media headline.
People ask me career advice now and then. Generally, people who do so can’t follow the beaten path.
There’s plenty of career advice out there for the beaten paths. The basic recipe is simple:
Maybe specialize further.
I’ve met a few people who this has worked for – which means going in debt with student loans sometimes, or having a tether to parents paying for things, or what have you.
The last part, ‘Profit’, is delayed until after people are repaid – bad news, parents are never repaid. In the context of the United States, which is hardly a data model for the rest of the world (but my experience), we have the rising cost of not continuing one’s education versus the toll of student debt. The fact that studies are largely done by people who followed the beaten path further confuses the issue at times.
How often do you hear a college say you don’t need to go to college? Of course they wouldn’t say that – and one could say that the student loan issue in the United States is akin to tossing out mortgages to people who can’t afford to pay the mortgages. It’s all very muddy water, and where once I had an opinion I just see a sea of biased data and biased opinions and have none myself.
My life, my work history, my education – they don’t fit the accepted model of education, ???, profit. I grew up working through secondary school in a printery, in a electrical motor rewinding workshop, and whatever odd jobs came my way. Despite this, and I would later learn because of a former Irish brother who had married a nun, I did not get expelled and managed to graduate – well.
My parents didn’t put me through college, and the debt I did incur toward not finishing college in the late 80s is something I paid off about 22 years later. The interest was bad, but I managed to settle with the Department of Education for pennies on the dollar. Incidentally, despite being what one might term a minority, I wasn’t African or Hispanic enough to gobble up any grants specifically for those minorities. Equal opportunity ain’t so equal.
My time in the Navy was so busy that I never seemed to have time for college classes or college credits. It’s hard to study full time in NNPS and work on college credits at the same time, or work in emergency medicine and pop off whenever you needed to; when people’s lives are at stake you don’t have that luxury. And getting yourself together after being discharged while attempting to support an ill parent just didn’t leave much room for college, or debt – or paying a debt which I still owed, and thus couldn’t continue college. A nasty trap, that, even with the military deferment.
And so I found myself back behind a computer again through some luck, working at Honeywell and proving my worth. It was a cool job, and I had convinced my manager to give me a book allowance where I read the most bleeding edge stuff I could find back then. It was awesome, if only for a while. Others, like Dr. VcG, tried to help round me out and did so a bit, but really, I was focused on just…. learning.d,
I was told that they would pay for my classes to finish a degree so that they could promote me, which I then began – oceanography – and I was to find out that they wouldn’t pay for classes toward that end. No, they wanted me to get a degree in something they were already paying me to do. Why on Earth would I need a validation for them to be promoted when I was already validating it every day at work?
There was only so much I could learn there, and changes to the company started taking the ‘play’ out of it all.
I moved from this company to that, building up references, building up experience, but most importantly to me, knowledge. My knowledge wasn’t validated by some group of academics, it came from the Real World. As time progressed, the economy went down as my age went up, and I found myself working for money instead of knowledge. It was not fun anymore, and I moved on… to where I am now, with a few interesting stops on the way.
Serial Specialist, the Neo-Generalist.
The beauty of software engineering when I started out is that once you could get a computer to do what someone else wanted to do, you got to learn about what they wanted to do. I got to learn about business, banking, avionics, emergency communications, data analysis, science, robotics, and so much more – and I have this knowledge, hard won, without following the beaten path and getting a bunch of letters behind my name.
It’s where all that knowledge intersects that the cool and fun stuff happens. The beaten path could not have given me that.
Frankly, in my experience, the beaten path is pretty slow – which some say is a reflection of my ability. I don’t know that is true. What I do know is that the real world, paying bills and keeping abreast of responsibilities required me to learn faster than I could get a formal education, and I did. Simply put, I had to. I loved most of it, I hated parts of it.
When it comes to the beaten path that I did not take, I point at it. It works for a lot of people, though the ‘works’ does seem increasingly dubious to me as far as a return on investment. Go study something if you have the opportunity or if you can create the opportunity. Get your education validated, but don’t stop learning.
You see, what I can tell you with a degree of certainty is that the world is as bad as it is because of those who rest on their laurels after getting a certificate or a degree. I can also tell you with certainty that the world is as good as it is because of the people who keep learning and applying that knowledge toward good ends.
We don’t need people who are ‘educated’. We have enough of those clogging up the system. We need more of those that are constantly learning, certificate or degree or not – those are the ones who create true progress. Speaking for myself, I pace myself to 2 books a week or more on topics that range widely.
The world is interesting in many ways. You can make it more interesting by knowing how interesting it is from different perspectives.
Learn how to negotiate. Get as much as you can even though you don’t need it – a problem I had – because you don’t know when you will need it.
And avoid working for idiots if you can. You won’t be able to, and sometimes it’s not obvious until later on, but ditch them as soon as you can.
If you think meetings suck, you’re probably doing it wrong or you’re stuck with people who do – so either do it right, or find a way out of those meetings.
Most meetings suffer a lack of definition, which is the core issue. Without that lack of definition, there can be no real actions to come from the meeting. There’s always at least one person who seems to be so out of scope that everyone else in the room doesn’t smack them only because it’s considered impolite.
There should be a set time. Everyone should show up on time, arguably earlier so that people can get out of it and move on with their lives.
Some people like transcriptions of the meeting. Ask at the beginning if they want one – and if so, guess who just volunteered? If not them, assign it to someone who knows how to listen and will halt things for clarifications.
This tongue in cheek, ‘20 tricks to appear smart in meetings‘ mocks the main problem of meetings: People trying to appear smarter than they are. They actually don’t for people who have more than 3 brain cells, so if at all possible, get the ‘must prove my intelligence to everyone people’ closed off in a meeting somewhere and treat it like a cage match with no bathroom breaks.
And then there is the tyranny of the clique – where a select few talk among themselves, not allowing anyone else into their conversation.
Avoid meetings, stick to a schedule and leave when the meeting is supposed to be done. Meetings are for people who like meetings, who like appearing busy rather than being productive.
Productive people meet. Busy people have meetings.
This comes in the way of an apology to readers outside of Trinidad and Tobago: I’ve written more in the past week about Trinidad and Tobago than I typically do and the reason behind that is simple: I felt it needed to be written. And in that, there is no real apology.
There are lessons here, though, when we look at the planet not as we see it, but for what it is – a complex network of networks that has existed before mankind and that will continue after mankind.
We live in an odd alien landscape that our senses can barely discern. We have gotten better at it, and through trial and error – arguably disastrous error – we have learned new things. If Clair Cammerson Patterson hadn’t tried to estimate the age of the Earth, he wouldn’t have ended up leading a campaign against lead poisoning, and leaded fuels. So many who don’t know his name have probably had their lives saved. That’s just one example.
There have been people doing similar things around the world, opening up new perspectives on the planet by daring to look, to ask questions rather than accepting… and we take them for granted. Many of us don’t understand what they do, which makes sense, but many of us don’t try to understand.
The planet doesn’t care about our effective collective apathy.
That we are given pause to consider such things is not enough, that we use the pause for introspection is still not enough. The world doesn’t care about our bureaucracies, or democracies, or our economies.
Humanity, to survive, needs to be more agile in it’s adaptation to the world. The increased population certainly doesn’t help; more humans means more agriculture and farming which we clear more natural land for without truly understanding all the implications. It means increased use of all the nasty -icides we use, it means more transportation using things that cough pollutants. Our medical technology assures we live longer, our business technology allows us to profit or lose from it more rapidly, and the person who works in the hope of retiring finds themselves working longer to retire because of socioeconomic circumstance.
The planet’s governments were not designed for this level of change. They don’t scale as fast as we procreate, a problem that China was quick to deal with, making people shudder at the implementation. In this way, perhaps, the Chinese ‘solution’ kept the population growth to a speed where the governance could adapt fast enough.
I don’t know, and really, I don’t think anyone does. There are opinions, I’m sure, but I’m not sure anyone actually knows. It’s apparent that there are at least some Chinese people who are not pleased with the way things are. In time, history books will tell us the ones that survived were right.
What we do know is that we can see events in our spheres faster than we could have 20 years ago, or 40 years ago. The world is awash with would-be citizen journalists documenting themselves and what they see, interpreting their world on the fly without a few moments introspection.
Governments around the world can’t keep pace with all of this. Trinidad and Tobago, since I have been writing about Trinidad and Tobago, is slow to adapt and change. It didn’t diversify it’s economy when it could have while oil revenues were high. It had brain-drain as oligarchal systems kept people from pushing things forward, forcing them to other places to become what they would become. Corruption that paid well came from such things, creating it’s own sub-economy while effectively stalling progress.
In this, there are parallels with other developing nations. There is nothing significantly different in the corruption aspects of developing nations, but where Trinidad and Tobago is different is that it could have been developed much further along with the oil revenues it once had. Instead, politics divided and conquered as politics typically does.
Whenever administrations change, we get reorganization. Reorganization within the same cavern of methodologies doesn’t actually change as much as politicians would have people believe, largely because politicians aren’t systems thinkers outside of politics.
We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.
– Charlton Ogburn, Jr. (1911-1998), in Harper’s Magazine, “Merrill’s Marauders: The truth about an incredible adventure” (Jan 1957)
So how do we get real change? It’s simple, really – we stop playing politics. We push on fixing the things we need to – foresight – rather than getting wrapped up in a blame game that politicians play so that they can be elected or re-elected.
And when they fail, we criticize by creating.
Many individuals have thoughts on how to do things. Being an expert on something limits what can be thought of within a narrow field when all too often innovation comes from intersections across fields.
Stop wasting time on politicians. Start using time productively toward solutions. When someone has an idea, challenge it – and if it passes, share it so others can challenge it and better shape a solution.
Or you can go on depending on politics. How’s that working for you?
Clogged waterways are the obvious issue when it comes to the flooding in Trinidad and Tobago – creating a hazard that leads to disaster. That we need to rein in use of plastics is a corollary; and yet even recycling is not good enough.
Trinidad and Tobago has a problem with illegal dumping, something which I have had to deal with personally on my own land in South Oropouche, something I have dealt with, and something that is seemingly low on the priority list of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service as they attempt to deal with more violent crimes.
I’d write an argument saying that littering itself is a violence of sorts, the seeding of waterways as time bombs, but it’s hard to make a relevant case for that when people are getting shot just about every day. The indirect seems far removed until communities get flooded out, and even then, it’s indirect.
The CSV data for rainfall published on Data.tt is easier to work with, though it only goes to 2015. By breaking it into decades, then running an average of precipitation as well as a standard deviation on each decade for precipitation… I came up with very similar results, indicating no real increase in rainfall over decades.
That’s strange. Maybe they have other data that isn’t public, but why that would be so boggles the mind.
In the media, there has been constant mention of ‘increased rainfall’. It seems strange that the one geographic point where they publish data doesn’t seem to have that increase.
Where is the data for other parts of the country that get quoted by government offices?
Dredging of Waterways
It’s generally understood that Regional Corporations are supposed to be dredging waterways within their jurisdiction. It hasn’t been happening as often as it should. That’s something anecdotal that gets mentioned in the local media a lot, but there’s no real data to support it.
It’s difficult to have data for things that aren’t done, much less when they weren’t done. Does anyone keep track of that aside from Regional Corporations?
Unplanned Development: Public Lands
One of the main problems of flooding anywhere in Trinidad and Tobago is the unplanned development – we know it as houses simply appearing on private or public lands.
When it comes to public lands, the government is responsible for dealing with squatting, both residential and agriculture. There’s evidence that this is not being done just about everywhere. Residences appear almost randomly throughout the country, which seems to be the reason why the government of Trinidad and Tobago attempts to build and lease houses… which they, through the Housing and Development Corporation (HDC), have trouble collecting money from.
Squatting takes place all over – sometimes on lands that are safe, sometimes on lands that are not.
Real estate prices make agricultural land unattainable for many who would want to participate in agriculture, I know of many skilled farmers looking for agricultural land – but socioeconomically, and legally, leasing land privately comes with it’s own problems.
This leads to squatting on public land for agriculture – because in Trinidad and Tobago, making something illegal isn’t the same as stopping it. Farming on squatted public land is a political issue when it comes to Agriculture because no one wants to take on poor squatting farmers over this, and so the government regularizes it.
Whether right or wrong in an ethical sense is beyond me. Whether it is right or wrong in a matter of public planning to avoid flooding is an issue for The Ministry of Planning’s Town and Country Division, and it’s uncertain that it is an issue for them as far as their mandate.
There is more to the agricultural aspect – it’s addressed in a later section within this article.
Unplanned Development: Private Lands
Land owners have very few tools to stop people from building on their lands other than very heavy handed approaches, or High Court matters that run into 6 figures as a matter of course. You might think you could simply go to the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service and report someone building on your land – and you’d be right, but the Police will not be able to do anything other than tell a landowner that it’s a Civil Matter. After all, the Police are not surveyors, etc.
This works out well for lawyers, and it also clogs up the Court with matters while people continue using land in ways that the landowner cannot stop, that the Ministry of Planning’s Town and Country Division does nothing about, and which affects lands in sometimes unpredictable ways. This includes issues related to flooding and landslides.
So unplanned development on private lands through squatting is an issue – but it’s also an issue when private land owners themselves either, (1) do their own unplanned development or, (2) Allegedly bribe officials to get their plans passed regardless of what will happening about the surroundings as well.
Given how slow the wheels of the Ministry of Planning’s Town and Country Division move, it should be no surprise that people try to lubricate it. Certainly, that would have an effect on assuring quality in Town and Country, but… that, too, is anecdotal and is not something people mention in a public forum very often.
After all, they might need something passed in the future.
Planned Development: Private and Public Lands
Having already mentioned the alleged lubrication of the wheels of the Ministry of Planning’s Town and Country Division in the context of private land owners, we are left with the public through the government of Trinidad and Tobago’s many child corporations, a sometimes toxic spill of acronyms on the natural landscape of Trinidad and Tobago.
Speaking from my own experience with hands in the soil, and with dealing with significantly more experienced farmers than myself, a farmer is supposed to know his or her land, which means knowing how the water runs and planning for dry season (ponds and irrigation) and wet season (drainage and irrigation). Let’s assume that every farmer understands this – that understanding can only be implemented on the land that they are using and how it immediately impacts them.
Runoff from fertilizers, weedicides, fungicides and insecticides impacts not only the area, but areas further down the waterways – and that, in turn, impacts natural ecosystems that may have actually helped avoid flood conditions in the past.
There’s no real regulation of what fertilizers, weedicides, insecticides and fungicides are used.
A Personal Narrative On Planned Development
I was personally impacted by the Pt. Fortin Highway. The planned road reserve had been through my land for decades, so it was not a surprise when it actually began. The acquisition of my land happened quickly – but payment from NIDCO is still pending after 6 years, where the government has to pay me interest for said lands still. That’s not so much the point here, though.
The project was halted because of allegations of corruption – so it’s hard to say that the incomplete drainage adjacent to the highway on my land and the land of others was going to be addressed or not, but the fact of the matter is that it wasn’t. In fact, there seemed to be little regard for drainage.
Because of that, when I was recently invited to look over things for the Diego Martin Highway Project that NIDCO has sent out Requests For Proposals (RFPs) on, I took the opportunity to look things over better. I found the document that the Ministry of Works and Transport’s Environmental, Health and Safety Unit prepared and sent to the Environmental Management Authority and was amazed at how horrid a document it seemed to be.
Here’s what I found, and what I said in so many words at a public consultation to assure it went on record. The sections refer to the actual document (and if anyone wants a copy, contact me).
does not have a finalized design or budget, which is of great concern: How can we comment on a design that is incomplete, and how can anyone gauge whether it will have a return on investment for the taxpaying community?
claims that it will improve drainage, which is important in the context of the flooding of October, 2018, and of the previous year post-Brett — but does not demonstrate knowledge of water flow issues from the Diego Martin River and tide information. I’m certain that someone at the Ministry of Works and Transport is trained in Fluid Flow, perhaps they could add to the report?
That cites rainfall in the area for only 3 years (184.108.40.206.1), but cites wind history for over a decade (220.127.116.11.4). Why is that? And given that there is wide international acceptance related to sea levels rising and we have seen anecdotally increased rainfall since 2014, I suspect that the original plans submitted in 2015 have not been updated with the most recent data. I’m sure that the 100,000+ that have been affected by flooding this year alone might have something to say about neglecting the statistics which have so affected their lives.
Mentions that it will not involve new crossings of watercourses (4.5) . It does not mention drainage into existing water courses, which will affect flow rates out to the Gulf of Paria, tide permitting. It later says that the limits of the proposed works are, to the West, just before the Western Main Road Bridge over the Diego Martin River. In the same section (5.1), it goes on to say that the limits are preliminary; I imagine they must be because there is likely to be drainage that affects the Diego Martin River itself directly along that Western boundary. This grey area is of concern given tides, occlusion, flooding elsewhere that must flow outward, and so on.Further, in 18.104.22.168.5, the Diego Martin River is mentioned in the topography and acknowledged as an issue with devastating flooding mentioned in 2008 and 2013.
The population dynamics, Section 5.3, Table 2cites data from 1990 and 2000. My calendar indicates that as of this consultation, these figures are 28 and 38 years out of date respectively. I imagine we might have different numbers now, but lacking scientific data – as this report does – I cannot say. In the report itself, it states that there was a 2.7% decrease in population in the area between 2000 and 2011. Certainly, the area may have matured and stabilized, but there is no real data cited in the report to support the recommendation other than anecdotal evidence which would indicate that there is less need for this project.Cited vehicle registration projections do not seem to scale with local population growth, either, and their inclusion adds confusion instead of clarity within the local area.
22.214.171.124.9, Surface Water Quality, refers to a test that has no date. When was the test done? Is it still relevant? By omission, the answer should be ‘no’.
Noise and air quality studies seem to have neglected the HDC development noted in the map which, were the map updated, would be shown as ‘Victoria Keyes’. Given the nature of Victoria Keyes, a group of 3 towers of 9 story height, it would seem this might be an important site to include in such studies (126.96.36.199.10, 188.8.131.52.11), particularly since mitigation strategies(184.108.40.206, 220.127.116.11.7.1, 18.104.22.168.1.1,22.214.171.124.2, etc.) mentioned will have an inconsequential effect on these towers as they are limited to at most 2 stories. Was the HDC notified about this during the consultation in 2015, did they participate? They are presently denying it.
The HDC development (Now Victoria Keyes) impacts also will include 2 ponds, waste disposal tanks and other things not noted. Again, was the HDC consulted? They would have had to have been, but there seems to be nothing that indicates such in the report.
126.96.36.199.2, Fauna, does not note the orange winged parrots that fly over the highway, among other things, including unverified sightings of piping guan – a critical species – adjacent to Victoria Keys. Orange winged parrots are very hard to miss; they fly over the highway at dusk and at dawn, as do other species. This information, therefore, is in question – after all, it was apparently only done over a period of 1 day in 2015.A day is simply not enough to view local species, much less migratory species which would take at least a year to take into consideration if this were really related to anything about the environment.
Aside from all of this, the loop to be done adjacent to Victoria Keyes – in this outdated document, ‘HDC Development’ – there are roadworks planned within 200 feet of at least one of the towers and infrastructure, which would imply that, assuming proper roads are being done, heavy equipment would be used that close to the towers and infrastructure that could cause damage to the buildings. In 2017, the media published an estimate of $2.5m cost per unit at Victoria Keyes, which means that a tower would cost approximately $200m – that seems like an unlikely thing that the government would want to damage given the need to reimburse.
If this is an example of how a Trinidad and Tobago government project is run, if it continues without addressing these issues, how can we not expect flooding?
In all, there is a lot that everyone can do to help avoid the situation. Becoming more aware, which hopefully this article is a part of, is the first step and is not even original – much of what has been written here has been written elsewhere or said elsewhere.
As far as the government of Trinidad and Tobago – certainly, we can be critical of the response to what is classified as a Natural Hazard (flash flooding) and we have seen more than once as a disaster, but are we ready yet to start discussing the preventative measures that the Government is seemingly failing to do through the shell game of government corporations?
Spread the word. Share this, or talk to people you know about it.