Who votes for these people? — Part I

Sometimes, I wonder why certain people or parties are elected. No, I’m not talking about the election in Alberta.  I’m talking about subways, subways, subways! It was brought to my attention over dinner last night that our mayor is enjoying (or at least has) a 47% approval rating from Torontonians. The question was raised about who supports this guy (no weight jokes, please).

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Status update: You read it here first

This time, at least it’s an opt-in process. Unlike with Beacon, automatic face-tagging, location tracking, profiles being exposed to search engines, giving Facebook’s partners access to personal details, and so forth, this time, Facebook gives users a chance to say “Sure, you can track/reveal these details about me” rather than assuming you want to share unless you say otherwise. Or, rather, at least Facebook’s business partners are giving you that choice, even if the thing you’re giving consent to is obscured. Continue reading “Status update: You read it here first”

Grass ain't green

You may have heard about a Robert and Brenda Vale’s book Time to Eat the Dog?: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living in which they claim that dogs have a greater (negative) environmental impact than SUVs and/or read a criticism of it (which itself contains flaws) ((I haven’t read the book.)). I’d long wondered about things such as dog pedicures, hotels, vaccinations, etc. and someone had already crunched some numbers to give a ballpark figure. After watching a neighbour turn on his sprinkler system while it was raining last week, I thought I’d finally do a calculation I’d similarly meant to do for a long time: look at the environmental impact of a well-manicured lawn. As it turns out, someone has again already done the calculation. However, one thing from that page really stood out: “Lawn mowing contributes 5% of the total United States GHG’s, according to the EPA“.

So the next time you think that green lawns are better than concrete jungles, just remember that each sliver of manicured grass is like a vampire fang extending out of the earth, draining precious resources.

I am Customer. Hear me ring!


A fair numbers of people are under the impression I don’t own a cellular phone. I do. ((I’ve had one for a decade, now. I’m just very bad at answering calls and haven’t figured out this “voicemail” business, so I usually don’t give out my number.))  In fact, as of September, I’ve been the unhappy owner of an Android phone that’s more “special” phone than smartphone. The reasons for my discontent, as I’ve alluded to in a past blog post, lie in both hardware and software. Two weeks ago, I noticed that a minor software update was available for my phone (version 2.1 to a more recent version 2.1) and I thought that it might at least help reduce the number of random crashes/reboots I was experiencing. I expected to be no worse off, in any case. Instead, this software update managed to sour my opinion of both WIND Mobile and Android.

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Sad sign of the times

On my way back from Boston, the bus I was taking had a food stop in Syracuse.  My two choices for hot food were Dunkin’ Donuts and Subway.  Having tried an all-day breakfast item from Dunk’s on the way to Boston due to a long line-up at Subway and been non-plussed, I quickly made my way to the end of the queue for Subway.  There, I was greeted by a plaque that seemed to capture several things that seem to be wrong about society today.

Subway Sign
Subway Sign

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Let's scrap the long-form census!

The status quo for Canadian censuses is that one-fifth of households complete the “long form” of the census in its entirety and the remainder are given a much-abbreviated version of it.  The completion of the long-form census, until now, has been mandatory for those to whom it has been delivered under threat of fine and jail.  Census information is important to all Canadians; it is used by different levels of government, businesses, historians, scientists, and others for reasons as varied as planning infrastructure to creating employment opportunities.  The current governing party of Canada has decided, unilaterally, that punishing its citizens for failing to fill out some survey is unfair and that the penalty be abandoned.

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You're obsolete!

Isn’t the pace of technological advancement remarkable? For less than the price of a month’s worth of kitty litter, one can buy an 8GB microSD memory card that is smaller and lighter than a penny. That’s enough to store the text of all English Wikipedia articles as of March 2010 with room to squeeze in a minimal install of Apple’s current desktop operating system ((2 GiB is sufficient for a bootable disk image of Mac OS X 10.6)).  And that’s just one month’s worth of kitty litter.

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Obscene scene modes

I don’t know how many of you own a digital camera, but they sure seem to come with a lot of “scene modes” nowadays.  You know the ones: portrait, dusk, backlit, night, sports, landscape, macro, indoor/party, fireworks, snow, beach…  but what if I want a night photo of fireworks at dusk on a beach such as seen in the Beaches in Toronto on Canada Day (assuming nobody is holding a strike)?  Okay, Mr. Smartypants, so the answer is you probably want “fireworks” mode, but while most people may find the decisions made by the fully automatic settings to be sufficient, sometimes additional human intelligence is required.

Obscene Scene Modes
Obscene Scene Modes

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The Gospel According to the Scientific Method

In the beginning

My first encounter with the scientific method was in grade 4. Purpose? Check. Hypothesis? Check. Procedure? Check. Results and possible sources of error? Check. Conclusion? Check. Congratulations!  You’ve just done science! The approach seemed elegant and had rigour. Scientific rigour, if you will. The beauty of it all was that an 8 year old can grasp it.

Flash forward to the present. I hear phrases such as, “Oh, I don’t buy the results of that study” or its equally-evil twin, “Yeah, it’s true. I read it somewhere.” Do you see what I see? Alack! A lack of understanding of the tenets of the scientific method. Or perhaps some laziness in speech — that is more forgivable.  However, it often seems as though it is the former.

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