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The Optimist Realist Posts

Privacy Matters

Some things you should do if you value your privacy online:

  • Stop using FB Messenger, start using Signal: Facebook is a data-mining, advertising company with (some say) ties to the CIA. Stop communicating though Facebook or Google, or SMS. It’s not private. Use Signal or at least use the secret messaging function of FB Messenger which you can choose to enable when starting a new conversation.
  • Stop using GMail, start using your own domain email: GMail, Hotmail, etc. all read your mail to advertise and build a profile on you. That’s not a good tradeoff for providing email service. Get email on your own domain from Hover, Fastmail, or ProtonMail or use iCloud instead (if you use Apple products). Bonus points if you learn about and use PGP for really important communication.
  • Stop using Google, start using DuckDuckGo: Again with the profiling. You search, Google profiles you. Everything you search for, they know about. If you are okay with that, then you should have your head examined. Use DuckDuckGo instead. The search results are just as good, and they don’t track you. Ever.
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Stop Hating, Start Listening

My hope today is that everyone will drop the hate and anti-Trump or anti-Hillary rhetoric and talk to the other side instead of writing them off.

I believe in my heart that even the worst of Trump’s supporters have the ability to change. I’m talking about the ones that were attracted to him by the racism, sexism and all the other ‘isms. Dare I say it, even Trump himself has shown an ability to change over the course of the election campaign through dialog and through (he says) talking with his wife, and children. He has much work to do before I’d consider him a changed person, but that means only that we all have work to do to help him change too.

Attacking people for how they think and forcing change on them doesn’t accomplish anything. Working to learn about the roots of their hate and addressing the issues that brought us all where to we are at can lead to real change.

Consider where people grew up and the environmental factors that influenced them throughout their lives. Believe and offer the benefit of the doubt that they are fallible humans with the real potential to understand and change. Realize that they may be right and accept that you may be wrong.

Much to learn

As a Canadian and as a Torontonian looking south, this week has shown me that I have much to learn as well. I’m just as guilty of attacking those with other viewpoints as our American neighbours on both sides of the debate.

It’s been a real tough week of introspection for me and at the same time, it’s been very good for the soul for me to start questioning myself on things like how I reacted to the election of Rob Ford, and the problems we face in our city.

I’m one of the “fallible humans with the real potential to understand and change” that I talked about three paragraphs back. It’s been tough to admit that, but it’s also true. I’ve also realized that in some cases, I’ve been wrong and accepting that has also been difficult.

Sadness slowly turning to hope

Many tears have been shed since Tuesday in conversations with my wife, my friends and with myself. Mostly I’ve been terribly sad and upset by the hatred that I’ve heard around the office, out in public and also coming through in the posts on my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

At the same time I’m slowly feeling more encouraged by the number of great conversations that I’ve had over the last two days as the tone changes, and the rhetoric slowly fades from view in favour of exchanges of viewpoints and ideas. Minds are opening through real conversation and minds are being changed on both sides.

I’m finally hopeful. In a weirdly fucked up and backwards way, the election of Donald Trump has brought me the hope that we can figure this all out and make a better world for everyone.


We can’t all agree on everything and that’s fine.

Discord is good for our communities and our country; it is these differences of opinion which can lead to changes of opinion. With that comes real progress.

Discord is also dangerous. Screaming at, and writing off others because of their opinions, or shutting down in the face of disagreements, leads to both sides digging in and refusing to acknowledge the other. That, in turn, sows the seeds of division and perpetuates the cycle of hate.

Listen, learn and then maybe engage. Stop fighting. Rise above it and extend a hand or offer a hug.

At least in my social circles, we’re slowly starting to learn from each other and it’s so great to see. Spread it around.

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Where is the Hope?

We all need to come to grips with the fact that there are tens of millions of people in one of the richest countries in the world that feel hopeless.

They live in cities that were once beautiful places to live and work and raise a family. Those cities, like Flint, Michigan, are now empty places with lead in the water, factories in ruins and where there is no hope for a future. There are “Flints” all across the USA.

They live in ghettos where unemployment is so high it’s easier to count those with jobs than without. Where gun violence kills more in a single night than are killed in Toronto in a year. Where the only escape is gangs and crime.

Look where the election turned for Trump and you’ll see exactly where the pain is the worst. In Michigan. In Pennsylvania. In Ohio. All through the south. Once proud blue collar towns…abandoned and crumbling. Coal towns…dying and dead. People with no jobs, and no hope for a job. No future.

To those people, a vote for Donald Trump represented a vote for hope. To the millions that voted for him, Donald J. Trump is Obama 2.0.

Except this time, they hope, it’s actually going to be different. Obama promised change, but didn’t deliver. His eight years in office brought them nothing except another trade deal they see as the final death blow to their towns and lives and health care that can’t afford but are now forced to pay for under penalty of law.

Clinton offered more of the same Obama rhetoric combined with more of the same Bill Clinton policy of globalism and free trade that ruined their lives. Can you see why they walked into that voting booth and filled in the line or checked the box next to Trump/Pence?

Think what you want about Donald Trump. I’m not going to try to convince you he’s anything different from what you believe him to be. I agree he’s no saint, and if even half of what was said about him is true then it’s clear he’s not the kind of leader anyone wants. His views on women, immigrants and minorities and his abusive tone is disturbing to say the least.

But no matter what you think of Trump as a person, consider that millions of people across the country have lost hope to the point that they were willing to stand up at the table and push their meagre chip pile “all in” on the one person in the election who came to their towns and came to their cities and towns and told them, “I hear you. You are hurting. I’m going to fix that…we’re going to fix that.”

Watch this Trump video and tell me I’m wrong. Look at the faces of the people at those rallies. Tens of thousands were out at each rally over the last few nights, but their story was ignored by the media who instead showed footage of Clinton rallies with millionaire celebrities and singers. I’ve watched it over and over and it makes me emotional every single time.

Look at those people. Are they racists? Do they hate gay people? Do they believe they can treat women as objects? Maybe some are. But you can’t paint the whole lot of them with that brush. If you did, that would be bigoted.

The people in that video, and the tens of thousands at Trump rallies and the millions who voted for him saw a vote for Donald J. Trump as their only hope. Think about that for a minute. The worst candidate probably in the history of the USA was and is their only hope.

Are they right? Is Trump offering real hope or just more of the same story that they’ve lived through for the last 24 years?

Trump may be more of the same, and the disillusioned and demoralized will have lost even more faith in the government that they desperately need to give them hope. Or he’ll actually come through and bring everyone together to deliver on his promises to put them back to work building up the country to what it used to be.

The American Dream died under Clinton, Bush and Obama. Donald Trump says he’ll bring it back to life. Tens of millions made a bet that this self-proclaimed, foul-mouthed, asshole outsider can bring it back.

Here’s hoping.

p.s. If you are from Toronto, think about Rob Ford for just a minute. Consider the hopeless in our city. The ones living in public housing that is falling apart, riding buses across Rexdale and Scarborough where decent rapid transit to take them to their minimum wage job is still years away.

Remember how Rob Ford was the one person who went to their buildings and told them not to lose hope? Right. And the very people who failed the most needy and vulnerable amongst us turned around and literally tore Ford down, brick by brick until he was dead. And we were all secretly happy.

Shame on us all.


Choose Wisely

Over the past few months I’ve spent a lot of time watching the news, reading coverage and trying to understand what is going on south of the border. This has been a truly bizarre Presidential election, unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my 45 years on earth.

I’m a news junkie at heart and I love to really understand the full story so I can make a proper informed decision. Since both candidates won their respective nominations, I’ve joined Reddit groups for both sides (kudos to /r/the_donald for having the most entertaining subreddit), tuned into debates (the third one was the best), received emails from both major campaigns (note to both: stop asking for money for a change) and watched far too much CNN and Fox News.

I’ve come to conclusions about both candidates over their months of campaigning and I’ve come to genuinely appreciate that I don’t have to go into a voting booth to make a choice tomorrow.

I really hope that those who do have a vote, and also those who merely have a right to an opinion, have done their research and taken a proper look at both candidates. It’s easy to watch a few newscasts and assume that what you are fed by the mainstream news is the whole story.

It’s not.

For example, if you only watched Fox News for months, then you would have seen excuses made for Trump’s rude and dismissive comments and you would have seen some reporting on Hillary Clinton’s health and why that matters in the race to be the next US President.

If you stuck with CNN, then you’d be left thinking that everyone who supported Trump was a redneck, hate-filled bigot and that the Russians were out to get Hillary through hacked emails and fake Wikileaks emails.

That’s a shallow analysis of the coverage, but you get the idea.

The choice here is a tough one. Seriously. I’d probably write in Bernie Sanders if I had to vote tomorrow. Why I wouldn’t vote for Trump is probably obvious enough, although I’m probably closer to being willing to hold my nose and mark an X beside Trump’s name on the ballot than I would be to do the same for Clinton.

The reason for this is WikiLeaks.

I’ve spent way too much time reading emails, and looking at coverage of what is in both the Podesta and DNC emails. It’s not pretty to see what’s going on behind the curtain during these campaigns. I’m sure that if the RNC had it’s emails released that you’d see some similar stuff happening in their organization.

It’s really difficult to find good coverage of WikiLeaks that sticks to just the facts. But it’s important to read the emails yourself so you can decide what it all means and whether you think what was going on is okay for those who wish to be in charge of running the United States of America for four years.

So far, the best list of links to the important WikiLeaks emails I’ve found is this one.

That site does one thing — it has direct links to the various WikiLeaks emails, organized in categories so you can take a look at the emails yourself without having to either dig through pages and pages of subject lines. It’s also the best way to take in the information without a biased analysis to colour your opinions.

If you haven’t read the emails, then you can’t make a proper decision. It’s that simple. Go read the emails and only then can you form your opinion on what is and isn’t acceptable for either candidate.

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Things I Use: DuckDuckGo

“Did you Google it?” That’s a question that pretty much everyone would be able to understand and answer. To most people, that question means, “Did you search for the answer to your question online using Google search?”

Google offers a great search engine, and maybe even something akin to a general knowledge engine that can answer questions like, “how tall is Obama”, or “what time is the ballgame tonight?”

Trading your privacy for search answers

But the trade-off for users of Google is that Google takes all that data you feed into it and creates a profile of you that it then uses to push ads at you. It’s not just the Google search engine that feeds that data-eating monster either. Your email (if you use Gmail), your web browsing history (if you use Chrome) and a whole host of other things contribute to the creation of that profile.

Google knows where you are if you use an Android phone, or navigate with Waze or Google Maps. They know what music you like and what movies you watch. They know if you are sick because you search for information on symptoms. They know if you are in a relationship or have a family because they see different users from the same IP using different accounts.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Suffice to say, they know a ton about you. And maybe you are fine with that…or maybe not.

I’m not fine with that, and I try to avoid using Google services whenever possible to prevent Google from assembling that profile of me.

Google alternatives

There are a bunch of different services you can use that aren’t Google. Apple’s iCloud email is great and ad-free and Apple doesn’t scan your email to know how to advertise to you. Or you can get your own ad-free, private email at your own domain name through services like (where I work).

But search is a tough one. Google search is fantastic and over the years, there haven’t been many search providers than can match Google’s search.

DuckDuckGo search

ddg_full_horizontal-2xDuckDuckGo is now at a point where it’s right there with Google for 99% of the searches I do, including images and even news. When DuckDuckGo comes up short, it’s easy to re-do the search using Google Search, right from DuckDuckGo.

Additionally, most of the major browsers will now allow you to choose DuckDuckGo as the default search, including using it for the instant search dropdowns from the URL bar. Safari even automatically switches to DuckDuckGo when you enter private browsing mode.

DuckDuckGo has a few advanced features that Google doesn’t have, including what DuckDuckGo calls “bangs”. These are special searches that you can start by using a “!” and a keyword.

For example, you can search on Google from DuckDuckGo by starting your search with !g and then the search terms and it’ll open up Google and do your search there.

A full list of “bangs” is here. I often use !g for a fallback to Google Search, !maps for location searches and even !hover to do a domain search at

DuckDuckGo also provides “instant answers” for common searches like “15 inches in cm” or “24.99USD in CAD“. These give you the answer right up front without requiring you to click through to a website. In my experience, DuckDuckGo does a great job with these “instant answers”, often providing them in situations where I wouldn’t expect them to exist (like PayPal error codes).

We don’t track you

Or course, the most important part of DuckDuckGo is that they don’t track you. In other words, your searches aren’t tracked, and stored to build up a profile of you. Their policy in a nutshell is simple and succinct: “DuckDuckGo does not collect or share personal information.”

You can read the full text here and get a better understanding of why not tracking you is important and why you should care.

Once you’ve done that, switch over to DuckDuckGo as your default search engine for a week or two. I bet that you won’t notice much of a difference compared to Google.

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