Saturday, December 31, 2005

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Bush defeated on ANWR

The Senate handed GWB a defeat on drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a critical caribou habitat. Opening up the vast Alaskan wildlife refuge for oil exploitation would place the herd of caribou at risk. The Republicans, manipulative buggers, had inserted the drilling provision in a defense appropriations bill. Maybe the path to energy security lies in reducing the grotesquely inflated consumption of North American consumers? Just a thought.

Should this man be Prime Minister?

A number of my co-workers are Tory supporters. They believe Stephen Harper is the victim of the news media. These Tory supporters are critical of the hidden agenda charge that is sometimes levied against Harper. "Why are people 'afraid of Stephen Harper', especially in Ontario?" is the question that was posed to me.

Ontarians believe that Harper is not being straight with them. Harper portrays himself as a moderately conservative politician; basically a similar but non-corrupt alternative to the Liberals. This hidden agenda allegation is a valid and astute observation of Stephen Harper.

The agenda is a radical transformation and attack on the government, on the scale of the vicious and radical restructuring of the provincial government in Ontario. A Harper majority government will not simply be a caretaker "non-corrupt" version of the Liberals, but will involve the dismemberment of many government programs that conservatives despise.

His hidden agenda can be extrapolated from his past statements and associations. First, he is undoubtedly anti-environment. His fierce oppostion to Kyoto, plus his association with the oil and gas industry should firmly entrench his status as an anti-environmentalist. Check out his Wikipedia bio here.

Second, he is openly hostile to the federal government in general. He has suggested in the past that Alberta should build a firewall seperating itself from the rest of Canada. This has prompted legitimate questions about his patriotism, and committment to govern on behalf of all Canadians, rather than just conservative Albertans.

Third, he is hostile to the values that many Canadians share, such as universal health care and worker's rights. He is the former leader of the National Citizen's Coalition, a conservative special interest group which campaigns against unions and universal health care. Coupled with his masters degree in economics, it suggests that he would govern as a radical fiscal conservative, regardless of the middle of the road values that Canadians share.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Le Parkour

Radio One had an interview today with a practitioner of Parkour. This sport originated in France and is a type of urban adventuring; a type of dangerous-looking steeplechase praticed in cities. Holy mackeral, these people have guts of steel. I like the idea of urban adventuring - making use of the city in a creative way, but frankly I am unwilling to risk my 30-something ass in such a dramatic way.

Toronto has a local parkour group with much tamer-looking stunts, pictured here.

Thursday, December 15, 2005


A family member R, has specifically asked that certain family members not give him gifts. At first my reaction was disdainful - that sounds pretty cheap; he obviously said that so as not to create any obligations for him to exchange gifts.

On further consideration, it's a ballsy. Christmas can be quite crazy; it makes sense to simplify and not give a lot of unnecessary trinkets. Christmas ends up being an internal struggle. You want to avoid the situation where someone buys a gift for you and you didn't get anything for them. How embarassing! Heaven forbid! And for those you are giving gifts to, you don't want to appear cheap

R's directive on gift giving is straightforward and refreshing. Fuck the local retailers anyway. I am not responsible for WalMart's or the Bay's profit margins.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

EcoBunk Awards

Toronto's ecorati were present at the 15th annual EcoBunk Awards on Thursday. EcoBunk is an annual roast of some of the worst greenwashing and anti-environment advertisements of the past year. The ads ranged from the horrific and absurd hunting gear ads from Gerber Gear (example above) to the merely cynical (GE's PR campaigns).

This was my first EcoBunk and I'm told the tone was a littler happier than in the dark and dreary Mike Harris years, when much of the show was spent bashing the Harris government.

SUV's came in for some hard knocks, and rightly so. For next year's EcoBunk awards I would nominate Volvo's new V8 SUV which currently bills itself as providing "intelligent transportation for families that value performance, safety and the environment." This is of course, an oxymoron - an environmentally friendly SUV. I doubt I will ever buy a Volvo after seeing that particularly cynical and disingenuous piece of advertising

CBC Radio One host Bob MacDonald was an emcee at EcoBunk this year. Gord Miller, Ontario's Environmental Commissioner was sighted in the audience. NDP federal candidate and retiring Senior Campaigner Gord Perks presented one award. Also in attendance was local councillor and federal NDP candidate Olivia Chow.

Friday, December 09, 2005

London Congeston

CBC's Linden MacIntyre interviewed Nicky Gavron today on The Current.

Gavron is the deputy mayor of London in Ken Livingstone's administration. In 2003, their administration introduced a congestion charge in the downtown core. Each driver wishing to enter Central London must pay the charge which is directed towards transit programs. The £8 charge has reduced traffic in the downtown core by 30 per cent, according to Gavron. Additionally, the city has supported transit by strictly enforcing buses-only lanes.

"I used to think that if you change attitudes you change behavior. I now know that if you change regulations you change behavior, said Gavron.

She is also pushing for greener technologies for heating and cooling to reduce domestic energy use: "We want to overcome market failure and and stimulate markets".

She remarked that London has a lot to learn from Canadian initiatives such as the EnerGuide and loan structures to promote efficiency.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Google Transit - Coming Soon?

Google has a new service, but currently only for Portland, OR. This service lets you key in two locations, just like with their popular maps offering, and then generates a route, complete with schedule, walking time, total time, and price.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Linux & Lentils

Part community center, part professional group, and local coffee joint - the LinuxCaffe is open for business at Harbord & Grace. David Patrick opened his cafe seven months ago. Barista is a radical job change for him, after his work in the film industry. But he already had the IT experience needed to run the cafe.

Run the cafe? That's right. The cafe is stock-a-block with laptops and servers running various distributions of the open source O/S kernel Linux. The shelves are full of quality technical books related to IT, programming, and Linux. The sound system runs on Linux. And the cafe hosts a wireless access point for its customers covering the cafe and southern part of Bickford Park.

The food is sourced from suppliers within walking distance and picked up with a wagon. Paninis, soups, and wraps are the steady favorites.

I order hot lemon tea with lentil soup, seasoned with 'Spike', a celery salt based seasoning, and the soup comes with fresh slices of baguette. Good comfort food on a cold December night.

Great place to spend a quiet evening surfing the Net and writing software.

Hours (from the LinuxCaffe site):
Monday - Thursday
7ish to 7ish
7ish to 11ish
10ish to 11ish
10ish to 5ish

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Beer Hunter

It's Saturday 6pm and you need liquor. Quick, what do you do? has a map of Toronto beer & wine stores with real-time updates. This site is put together by BadMath, a local Toronto design/development shop.

There are an increasing number of 'Google mash-ups', sites that leverage Google's map and earth imaging technology in innovative ways. For example, this site which allows you to view the storm track of hurricanes and cyclones.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Quirks special on climate change

CBC's science program hosted a special show on climate change today. Download and real media stream available here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Corporation

In his 2004 book, The Corporation, Joel Bakan provides a searing indictment of the corporate form. His thesis is accessible, concise, and devastating
1. The corporation enjoys the powers and rights of a person
2. The personality of the corporation is generally that of a sociopath: amoral, egotistical pursuit of self-interest
3. Since the corporation is a creation of governmental laws and treaties, it is time to re-establish control over this entity.

The book is well documented and footnoted, but not as dull or lengthy as Fast Food Nation. The story of the Bolivian city of Cochabamba is particularly chilling. In an effort to employ market solutions, to a public policy problem, the government of Bolivia privatized the water system of Cochabamba. The water company raised rates to up to three times the previous rate, and even charged peasants for water they drew from their own wells. In complicance with its contract with the company, the government prohibited people from even collecting rainwater and local river water. After a bloody confrontation between citizens and police, the water system was de-privatized.

Urban Vancouver has an interview with Bakan. The movie of the same name has their own site with a Get Involved Link.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Drive Clean program to be adjusted

Ontario's Drive Clean program is being adjusted to target older cars. 4-5 year-old cars will no longer be tested - testing starts after a car is 5 years old. Light-duty trucks (read SUVs) older than 20 years old will now be tested.

The maximum limit for repairs will be increased from $450 to $600. 600? This is of course, a bizarre subsidy to the worst polluters. Your car fails the test? Fix it or get it off the road. It's not the government's job to make it easy for you to drive. Can't afford it? I can't afford an i-Pod - is the state going to cap the costs of an i-Pod for me?

It's reasonable to exempt 4-5 year old cars. This change is likely due to pressure from research by the Hamilton Spectator and others showing that the vast majority of 4-5 year old cars passed their test with flying colors. This research is giving strength to claims that the billion or so-dollars that Ontario vehicle owners have spent on Drive Clean was 'wasted'.

Reforming and cutting the fat in the Drive Clean system will reduce the program's vulnerability to political attacks. Drive Clean is a powerful and revolutionary idea because it channels the responsibility and costs of curbing pollution on the individual, not the state. The claim that 98% of cars pass Drive Clean, therefore the program is a waste, is a specious argument at best. The 2% of cars that fail are the problem; they are exactly what the program was targeted against.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Larry David special on Climate Change

Larry David, one of the creators of 'Seinfeld' is hosting a special on climate change. The special will air on Nov 20 at 8pm EST (TBS). It's about time somone injected some common sense humor into a serious topic

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Profile of a sunny afternoon

If you spent the afternoon outside today, it was a blissful November afternoon. Half the city was walking around outside at about 3pm, or so it felt. There was no Christmas rush on anyone's face yet. What else could you ask for?

New subway line for Toronto?

Pressure is building to build a subway to replace the aging Scarborough RT. The TTC needs to replace the obsolete rapid transit system by 2015. The RT carries 43,000 riders a day, which is more than the Sheppard subway and more than the ridership to York University.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Sausage of Hardwood

Just installed a tongue-in-groove mix of hardwood from Timeless Materials in Guelph, ON. This company salvages wood from condemned factories and barns in Southern Ontario and re-mills the wood into flooring. Each board is a different wood, kind of like sausage (everybody likes sausage). As long as you distribute the different varieties sufficiently randomly it looks good. The spouse and I wanted to use recycled materials if possible and we were able to get this stuff for slightly more than a new batch of hardwood. Pretty exciting that the wood may be from a hundred year old building

We just finished oiling it with Tung oil and are very pleased with the results. The Tung oil was rosemary-scented and non-toxic. It gets applied using a brush and three coats were enough to protect the floor Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 24, 2005


On Saturday I visited the Toolworks drop-in workshop and learned how to remove my bike's bottom bracket. Or rather we tried to remove the bottom bracket but were thwarted by the cold-weld effect of ten years of riding in Vancouver and Toronto year-round.

My scheduled maintenance activities are.. let's see... nothing. If something breaks on my bike, or the tires are completely flat, I will grudgingly get out my tools and patch the problem. That's why it's great to have a local resource for bike repair.

Toolworks is run by the Community Bicycle Network and is a program where you can drop in and use a full set of bike tools for $5/hr or get access to tools and mechanical advice for $10/hr. A number of bike maintenance activities require specialized tools. E.g. crank removal, brake cable adjustment, enormous adjustable wrenches for extra torque.

I stopped off at a nearby bike shop and got a replacement bracket and will try again in 2 weeks. It was fun to hang out with people who ride in Toronto a lot and work on our bikes together.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

89.9 <-- This is Not a Government Plot

One of my right wing acquaintances, a gentleman we'll call RW, keeps fuming about the government and how his gas costs keep going up.

Look RW, the current gas prices are the result of free markets. You love free markets. Pay your 90 cents a litre and stop complaining dude. Check out the prices for gasoline in Europe

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Hundred Mile Diet

The hundred mile diet picks up steam. Series of stories at the Tyee. Basically the idea is to eat foods grown within 160km of your home to reduce fossil fuel use. Today's Globe has a story on the concept.

I prefer to think of food in a more continuous curve of fossil fuel consumption. E.g. Kiwi fruit=very high fossil fuel consumption. Grain from Alberta medium fuel consumption. Locally grown apples, very low fuel consumption. I have been trying to get the Spouse off Kiwi fruit. Buying fruit from the other side of the planet is just plain madness in this day and age.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Tsunamis and Mangroves

Now that the terrible images from the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 have faded, it's time to consider ways to alleviate the devastation when future tidal waves strike. Perhaps cutting down mangroves at an accelerating rate is not the best long-term policy. Girlscientist has an excellent summary of the environmental issues surrounding the tsunami last year.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Sprawl moves to Simcoe County

Looks like Simcoe county is shaping up to be the next battleground in urban sprawl issues. The Neptis Foundation is looking into proposed developments in this area, one of which is for 100,000 people.

Why build way out in Simcoe County? Are these retirement villages we're talking about? Or more commuter sprawl. Since the province will end up footing the bill for highways to support this kind of development, they need to look it more closely.

This may be the leapfrog effect that environmentalists warned about when the McGuinty government proposed the greenbelt plan - development jumping over the Oak Ridges Moraine and moving farther out. Same bad planning, different place

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Squishy conservatives

It wasn't long before the wailing started. Our loyal opposition party is blaming big government for high gas prices even though taxes have not been raised one cent in years. Said Tory leader Stephen Harper, " Canadians have seen nothing other than 100 days of inaction from the government. Rather than continue to rake in record-high revenues from record-high oil prices, will the government simply cut gas taxes for consumers?" [Globe and Mail]

Perhaps instead of screaming for the state to fix gas prices, Stephen should educate consumers about the law of supply and demand. A former economics student should know better. Higher prices will lead to greater efficiency and send signals to consumers.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Urban Splendor

Autumn is the most spectacular season in Toronto, and we're enjoying a lovely sunny time here in the Big Smoke. I walked past this fabulous late summer garden at Artscape. (Queen West and Crawford) This is what I dream of turning my front lawn into

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

This is What Climate Change Looks Like

This is what climate change looks like. Without significant action on CO2 emissions, the fate of New Orleans will be repeated in many places over the coming century.

Climate change is expected to bring with it rising sea levels and more frequent weather patterns. The waves of destruction that immersed New Orleans could soon be washing over parts of Florida and cities all along the coast. Entire countries will soon face annihilation - low-lying coastal nations such as Bangladesh and Tuvalu

For too long we have allowed short term economic wants dictate decision making. A short term economic analysis shows that New Orleans is a great place to build a business. It has a fantastic port, access to the Mississippi river, and the Atlantic.

A long term analysis would conclude that building a city of 3 million in a soup bowl 3 meters below sea level in a hurricane-prone area is fundamentally unsound. Let's get it right on CO2 emissions before it's too late

Monday, August 29, 2005

Urban Ecosystem

Our world is changing with a speed that is difficult to grasp. Land and resources are gobbled up and discarded at a staggering pace. Toronto artist Kendall Anderson documents some of our urben detritus with his photography site, Invisible Threads

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Death to the Oil Furnace

My neighbor replaced his circa 1973 oil furnace with a high-efficiency natural gas model. Older oil furnaces are a nasty, dirty business. The new model will save on CO2 emissions, and provide less oil money to Ralph Klein's government. And that can only be a good thing...

Carbon coefficients of each fuel source

  • fuel oil: 161.44 pounds of CO2 per million BTU
  • natural gas: 117 pounds of CO2 per million BTU

data from EPA's Global Warming Research Center

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Best coffee cup in town

This is the best re-usable coffee cup in town. Lightweight, inexpensive, it holds 14 oz of java & is a great replacement for two daily paper cups of coffee. $2.75 from Mountain Equipment Co-op

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Environment on radar screen

Today's Globe suggests that the environment rather than more tax cuts, is on the agenda for the federal government's upcoming fiscal update (mini-budget). Said Ajax-Pickering MP Mark Holland of Canadians' increasing concern over environmental issues,

"It's having major impacts - on quality of life in terms of smog. I think it's
an immediate and pressing problem. It's a pressing problem for our health, a
pressing problem for the environment and it's a pressing problem for
sustainability. And when you take a look at gas prices where they are - our
reliance on petroleum is no longer sustainable."

Good to see the green message is getting through to the Liberals - they need to act effectively to reduce smog and meet our CO2 reduction committments. It's fine for backbenchers to raise these issues but the environment has clearly not been at the top of the Liberal decision-makers' agenda in recent years.

Is It Safe?

..It's not safe to be outside today