Monday, January 31, 2011

No go zone

Friday, January 28, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• In 1973, Johnny Carson caused a three-week toilet paper shortage in the U.S.

• A research study cited in the Montreal Gazette, "found that one new Walmart supercentre per 100,000 residents meant an average weight gain of 1.5 pounds per person [and] boosted the obesity rate by 2.3 percentage points, meaning that for every 100 people, two who weren't obese ended up in that category after a superstore opened.”

• Those blue things in your blueberry muffins may not be blueberries, or even fruit.

• Tutankhamen's tomb will be permanently closed to the public at the end of this year, as it has been severely damaged by humidity, fungi and dust brought in by its 1,000 daily visitors.

• Researchers have found that handsome men and beautiful women tend to be cleverer, with IQs averaging about 14 points above the norm. No more dumb blonde jokes.

• Of U.S. states, Wyoming tops the list for speeding tickets issued. It is also the state with the smallest average penis size.
How about that?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

6 1/2 minutes of mayhem

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The surveillance society takes off

You may be aware that the U.S. is patrolling the longest formerly-undefended border in the world with Predator drone aircraft.

In addition to cameras and surveillance equipment, Predators can also be armed with two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles or other munitions. No word on whether the ones cruising our border carry this kind of ordinance, yet.

Now, drone aircraft are being used by police departments in Texas, Colorado, Maryland, and Florida. The Texas cops used one recently for a drug bust. The unmanned airplanes are also being used for photographing accident scenes, searching for missing persons, and so on. Police must currently get FAA approval for flights, but by 2013 rules should be in place to allow routine flights up to 400 feet above ground level without such clearances.

Despite their obvious value to the authorities, all this makes me a bit uncomfortable. It seems the appetite for new and better ways to keep an eye on citizens knows no bounds. Even now, in most major cities, you are on some video screen or other most of the time as you go about your business in the downtown areas.

Almost all stores and shopping centres from Mac's Milk to the Eaton Centre have video cameras everywhere. All government buildings are blanketed with cameras. Airports are, of course, video intensive areas. Hotels have video surveillance in their corridors and public areas. Taxis, elevators, police cruisers, office buildings, parking garages, and even public toilets now feature video cameras. More and more cities are installing video cameras to monitor street activity.

In 1999, it was estimated that the average citizen of London, England, could expect to be "captured" by 300 video cameras each day. We assume that this number has only increased in the past dozen years. More recent estimates of the number of these cameras in the city range from 500,000 to 1.4 million.

Doesn't it all seem a bit spooky? The proponents of this stuff say that if we haven't done anything wrong, we have nothing to fear from all these hidden eyes. But privacy is unquestionably under assault on all sides, and we seem to be sleepwalking into a new world that is very different from the one we knew.

Should we just smile for the camera?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Oh yeah?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• While adults tend to get less happy as they age, their happiness improves after they bottom out in their mid-life crisis. This phenomenon is called the U-bend.

• In a survey of more than 188,000 passwords, the most popular (by a huge margin) was "123456" followed by "password." Tough to guess those, eh?

• Without telling you, major grocery brands are putting up to 20% less product in the package, a stealthy way to increase profits without raising prices. Read those labels!

• Starbucks' new Trenta size drinks are larger than the volume of the average stomach.

• More than 1 million Americans have been fatally shot since Martin Luther King was murdered in 1968.

• The UN wants you to eat more insects.
How about that?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Angus goes to Ottawa

What could an honest man accomplish in government if he had the courage to buck the system?

Angus McLintock, hero of Terry Fallis's novel, The Best Laid Plans, and its sequel The High Road, achieves much by relying on common sense and a lack of concern for the opinions of others, including the leaders of his own party.

In an era when the PMO controls all utterings by party members, including ministers of the crown, backbencher Angus is an unstoppable bulldozer who unfailingly acts in the best interests of the country, requiring him to regularly go wildly "off message." As we all know, the Ottawa scene is overpopulated with toadying adherents to the party line, eager to trade integrity for favours and career advancement.

Plenty of these populate the pages of Fallis's novels, and all are either brought onside or brought down by our hero's principled approach and disregard for personal consequences.

We are introduced to this septuagenarian, Scotch-loving, skinny-dipping, Scotsman as the reluctant Liberal candidate for a riding that has voted Tory from time immemorial. Angus has a few conditions for allowing his name to stand: No lawn signs, no public appearances, no media interviews, no door-to-door canvassing, no attendance at debates/all candidates meetings/coffee parties/etc., no web site/blog/podcasts, no contact with campaign workers, and no obligation to be in the country during the campaign.

From this improbable beginning, a political star is born.

The books are laughing-out-loud funny. The Best Laid Plans won the Leacock Award for Humour.

You can listen to Steve Paikin's interview of the author here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A planetary perspective

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

You look marvelous

Monday, January 17, 2011

Friday, January 14, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• People who get eight hours of sleep appear healthier, more rested, and more attractive than those who stay up all night, according to a study by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Wow, that must have been a Eureka! moment.

• eMail spam is way down, dropping steadily since August.

• The wristwatch is becoming an historical artifact, replaced by the smartphone and other electronic devices.

• Aspiring gourmet chefs without time or talent are about to be rescued by technology. According to PSFK, "Researchers at Cornell University are building a 3D device that will literally print food. The ... Solid Freeform Fabrication Unit (FU) will allow users to fill it with liquefied food ingredients and program it to make different delicacies, all at the touch of a button." Sound appetizing?

• And in other 3D news, Apple has just been granted a patent for a new display technology that will produce 3D and holographic images on screens without needing users to wear special glasses.

• If you thought texting while driving was over the top, here comes online shopping via your car's dashboard, a new innovation from Mini. No, seriously. Better put 911 on speed dial.
How about that?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Who's trading with whom?

These cartograms, courtesy of FedEx, display metrics by changing the area of each country. There are plenty more on a variety topics here.

The first one shows how much trade each country does with the U.S. As you might expect, Canada, Mexico, China and Japan are the big players here.

This one shows trade with China. Quite a different picture, as Canada and Mexico shrink into insignificance, while the U.S., Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan dominate.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Great Rollback --- Dispatch #3

News this morning that the state of Illinois has hiked its income tax by 66%, in the face of budget deficits.

At least 40 American states are projecting revenue shortfalls this year.

Legislators are beginning to wake up to the reality that deferring payment of today's expenses to some undetermined future date is unacceptable.

Canadian federal and provincial finance ministers please take note.

A virtuoso performance

If you love music, you must listen to this performance of Somewhere Over The Rainbow by Tommy Emmanuel, the Australian guitar master.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

This is progress?

Canadian mascots and symbols have changed over the years.

During World War I, our imagery evoked nature's limitless bounty, our steadfast allegiance to the mother country and, apparently, our desire to kill all living things and display their corpses.

World War II had Johnny Canuck taking on the Nazis with a cool demeanour and amazing acts of derring-do, such as jumping from an airplane without a parachute.

Ookpik arrived in 1964, and stuck around through Expo 67. Native symbol or '60s weed smoker? You be the judge.

It's 1975, and Captain Canuck is bursting out of his underwear. Wait a minute, look at that chin. Is that Mulroney?

The 2010 Winter Olympics, Canada's moment on the world stage. We need a symbol of our confident new selves. After all, we want to "own the podium." Here comes Quatchi!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Goodbye Rosie

Geraldine Doyle, the face of World War II's Rosie the Riveter, died a week ago in her hometown of Lansing, Michigan, at the age of 86. Replacing male workers who had joined the military, women picked up the tools and changed the workplace forever.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• 73% of Americans believe their country is the greatest in the world, according to a recent Gallup poll.

• There is an explanation for your perception that you always pick the slow line at the grocery store/bank/hamburger joint.

• The baby boom generation is in a funk about approaching old age, according to Pew Research Center.

• Seven in ten Canadians say, "Call it Christmas”, while three in ten prefer “Holiday Season,” according to an Ipsos poll.

New research indicates the existence of "collective intelligence" in groups. Rather than being based on the intelligence of individual members, it seems to be related to such factors as their skill at reading other people’s emotions, their levels of participation, and their willingness to take turns speaking. The proportion of women in the group was a predictor of collective intelligence.

• Google is actually the name for a number with a million zeros.
How about that?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Echoes down the corridors of history

The American civil war is 150 years in the past, but that bloody conflict continues to reverberate in today's U.S. politics. The battle of the Plains of Abraham was fought more than 250 years ago, and those musket shots still ring today in Canada's House of Commons.

On paper, Grant accepted Lee's surrender, and Wolfe triumphed over Montcalm. The reality is not so apparent.

In his blog Flotsam & Jetsam, Sam Smith asks "Who really won the civil war?"

Quoting from his latest post:
"Right into the present the South enjoys a disproportionate influence on our politics and values. When was the last time you saw a politician afraid of what New England might think?"
The Canadian corollary might ask, "Can anyone recall a decision made in Ottawa that didn't give great weight to the way it would be perceived by the Province of Quebec."

One might even say that negative signals from Quebec will stop the show, 10 times out of 10.

Quebec is a wonderful province, adding a distinctive coloration to the Canadian mosaic, but it has successfully intimidated Ottawa with an implicit, sometimes explicit, threat of separation over many decades. Therefore, it always gets its way. Clever, eh?

Almost 30% of our 28 Prime Ministers came from Quebec, a reflection of both major parties' desire to keep Quebec in the fold. La belle province continues to have a disproportionate influence, despite electing most of its members of parliament in recent decades from the Bloc Quebecois, a party with the stated aim of taking Quebec out of confederation.

Quebec calls itself a nation while accepting $16.6 billion annually in transfer payments from other provinces. Meanwhile, it is the only province or territory to operate its own provincial pension plan, opting out of the Canada Pension Plan. It introduced a user fee for visits to the doctor, in contravention of the Canada Health Act, the federal legislation that sets the rules for provincial healthcare systems. The list goes on.

Montcalm need not have taken the loss so hard.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A DIY adventure

Man, this looks so much like one of my handyman projects. You put it all together, wire it up, flip the switch and...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Hi Jack

Monday, January 3, 2011