Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Censorship on the Chinese Information Highway

China is a country with a long and controversial past when it comes to what it always calls “protecting its citizens,” especially on the Internet.

The Chinese government has been known to block Internet addresses and domains which it deems unfit for the public to see. During last year’s Olympic Games, the Chinese government blocked access to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) websites, after the Canadian broadcaster revealed that parts of the opening ceremonies which were supposed to be live, were pre-taped.

So when the government of China says they are censoring something to protect their citizens, it is questionable as to what exactly they are protecting – their citizens, or their own reputation.

China’s government is taking censorship to a whole new level, thanks to technology. Effective tomorrow, all computers sold in mainland China must come with a program called Green Dam-Youth Escort.

This program—at a cost of over $6 million in developmental fees paid for by the Chinese government – is being mandated by government law to be installed on every computer sold from July 1 onwards. By filtering keywords, Universal Resource Locators (URLs), image recognition, and contextual phrase recognition, the application is supposed to make the Internet safer for children, by blocking access to banned sites.

Problem is, those who control which sites are banned and which aren’t are those in the Chinese government – so despite the government’s claim, this program will most likely be used to block all Internet sites which don’t mesh with what the Chinese governments political views.

The Green Dam-Youth Escort program, developed in China, by a Chinese software company, is also full of security holes, which leaves anyone using the application vulnerable to hackers, viruses, Internet worms and other malicious electronic attack.

North American and European business leaders have sent letters directly to the leaders of the Chinese government, asking them to reconsider their mandate. Even governments are getting up in arms over China’s increased censorship of the Internet. The U.S. Department of Commerce sent a letter to the Chinese government, listing several concerns.

The Green Dam-Youth Escort program doesn’t just block access to certain web sites, it actually can crash an Internet browser completely.

A Harvard University researcher posted on YouTube a demonstration, showing how the Green Dam-Youth Escort program freezes a web browser, whenever you type the letter “f” into the location bar. This happened after the letter “f” became associated via the browser’s auto-complete list with the “falundafa.org web” site, which is has ties to Falun Gong – a religious sect banned by the Chinese government.

Falun GongImage by Raideres via Flickr

Falun Gong has no links to pornography, but because they believe in values which the Chinese government doesn’t agree with, they are blocked by the software.

Clearly the government is increasing its ability to control the Internet – they can update the software’s list of banned sites at anytime, just like your anti-virus software updates itself all the time with the latest security patches.

Though unlike your security software, which protects you from electronic harm, China’s Green Dam-Youth Escort software is only protecting the Chinese government’s shady reputation from being exposed to those who matter most – it’s citizens.

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Nothin’ More Canadian than Tim’s

Tim Hortons CaféImage by luismontanez via Flickr

Stand-up comics often make real-life observations funny – and one of those real-life observations is the predominance of donut shops in Canada.

“They are like McDonald’s in the States,” I remember hearing one say years ago. “There has to be a donut shop on just about every corner up here.”

Many of us Canadians would agree, often telling co-workers we’re heading off to “Tim’s” and asking if we can get them anything. Or you may hear someone saying they are taking a “Tim’s break.”

Former Toronto Maple Leaf hockey star Tim Horton’s has become a name known more for coffee, donuts and “Timbits” than for his stick handling. “Timbits,” are tiny donut-like treats, usually round, with a donut filling of some kind, for those outside of Canada.

See, for as long as most can remember, Tim Hortons has been their local donut shop. They really are everywhere, even on many Canadian military bases, including one on the Canadian base in Afghanistan.

There are other donut and coffee shops all across Canada as well, but Tim Hortons is the only chain to really become part of the Canadian experience.

Maybe it’s because it is named after a former hockey legend, or maybe it is because of their Canadian maple donuts, or maybe it is just good marketing, but if there is one company which has managed to sneak into the symbolism of our country, that company would be Tim Hortons.

That’s why there wasn’t a donut shop more Canadian than Tim’s – at least until 2007 when American burger joint Wendy’s bought the company.

Guess American’s don’t love donuts as much as us Canucks – because Tim’s is becoming Canadian once again due to poor sales in the States. Tim’s has always been in Canada, but when Wendy’s bought the company, they became an American subsidiary. Tim Hortons announced today that they would be forming a completely separate Canadian company for them to merge the American one into again. The company will still operate under the Tim Horton shame on the Toronto and New York stock exchanges, so investors have nothing to worry about.

As Americanized as the world becomes, with McDonald’s popping up everywhere, American celebrities outshining local ones, and even American political interest growing with the so-called Obama-mania spreading outside of the American borders, there are still some things in all countries which will remain unique, and let you know you aren’t in the U.S.A.

In the United Kingdom, symbols such as the old-style British architecture, fish and chips wrapped in newsprint, and round-abouts which are bound to make North American driver’s dizzy differ Brit’s from Americans. In many Asian countries, the roads are filled with bicycle traffic, instead of cars, letting you know you aren’t in Kansas anymore.

For us Canadians, it is donut shops on every corner, being excessively polite, and our passion for hockey and strong Canadian beer which differs us from our American neighbours to the south.

Oh, that and our inclusion of a former hockey player’s name into our lexicon which has come to mean a coffee break of sorts.

Only in Canada, eh?
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Friday, June 26, 2009

The King of Pop and an Angel – Two Cultural Icons With Checkered Pasts – But We’ll Never Forget

Days after actor Ryan O’Neal finally got a “yes” to a question he had been popping for over 20-years, his long-term love interest, Farrah Fawcett closed her eyes for the last time.

O’Neal had originally proposed to his girlfriend many times, but always managed to elude marriage. Maybe it was because she was once bitten, and now twice shy – she was married once previously, to Six Million Dollar Man star Lee Majors in 1973. She even appeared in four of Major’s movies about the bionic man. She had finally agreed to marrying O’Neal, from her hospital bed if need be.

LOS ANGELES - APRIL 10:  (FILE PHOTO) Actors R...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Known for her penetratingly deep blue eyes, and her trademark golden blonde hair, Farrah Fawcett became an icon at a time when pretty blue-eyed blondes where not normally taken at anything but face value. Legendary television producer Aaron Spelling changed all that, and created a star, when he cast Fawcett as one of a trio of breath-taking beautiful women crime fighters in Charlies Angels.

Fawcett was only on the television show for one year, but had already made her mark as a cultural icon. Women everywhere wanted to be as empowered as she was, and men just wanted to be with her. Teen girls would role-pl

Michael Jackson, cropped from :Image:Michael J...Image via Wikipedia

ay Charlies Angels, and teen boys would salivate over her now famous poster, of a twenty-something Fawcett in a tight red bathing suit.

Meanwhile, years after the Jackson Five singing group had a hit, one of its kin jumped out of nowhere, and suddenly was very much here. Michael Jackson’s first successful solo album Off the Wall in 1979, created four chart-topping hits, and it won Jackson his first American Music Award. Even more importantly, it caught the ear of music legend Quincy Jones, so much so that Jones produced Jackson’s next album, Thriller.

Thriller came out in 1982, and enjoyed what is still the record for the most successful album of all time – staying in the top pop charts for 37 straight weeks.

Thriller’s mini-movie-like video, won two Grammy Awards, and MTV declared it the best video ever. Directed by renowned filmmaker John Landis, the video had Michael Jackson, and veteran horror film actor Vincent Price in the lead roles.

Michael Jackson ruled the music scene in the 1980’s, inventing a dance

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 27:  (FILE PHOTO) (L-...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

move called “the moonwalk,” and taking home 13 Grammy Awards, while selling over 750 million albums worldwide.

Both Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson died yesterday, from two separate unrelated causes. Fawcett had been battling anal cancer since being diagnosed with the disease in 2006. Michael Jackson died of an apparent heart attack, possibly brought on by a growing dependence on pain killers.

Growing up in the 1980’s, with Charlies Angels on the tube, and Michael Jackson on the radio was a very special time, far different from today’s technologically-driven global village.

Back then, big hair, boom boxes, and bright pastel neon colors were all the rage. Television and radio set the trends – there was no Internet, no YouTube, no Facebook, no Myspace, and the only thing that “twittered” were the birds.

So it was only natural, that a bright, blue-eyed blonde with a killer body, and a hand gun drove the world wild. Farrah Fawcett’s likeness appeared on lunchboxes and even for a short time as an action figure. She, and the other “Angels” making up the cast of the hit show Charlies Angels moved women’s liberation to new heights. Although the critics claimed it was pure sexual fl

Michael JacksonMichael Jackson via last.fm

uff, depicting hot women, in skimpy outfits, many women wanted to have the knowledge and power that those sex symbols had.

This was the 1980’s, and crime fighting shows were hot and setting the trends. Men stopped wearing socks, after the stars of 1980’s Miami Vice revealed they had no use for ‘em. Other crime shows appeared on the dial, Hunter, Magnum PI, even Star Trek celebrity William Shatner got in on the action, with a short-lived cop drama called Tj Hooker.

But by far, the most successful mystery-crime fighting show of the 1980’s – one which spawned a recent movie franchise – was Charlies Angels.

What Farrah Fawcett did for television, Michael Jackson did for radio.
He inspired a whole generation to moonwalk their way to school, wearing one studded white glove. Michael Jackson was a musical genius, bridging the gap between black soul and white pop music. His concerts were legendary, as his musical rhythms bled into each other, like the perfect disc jockey mix.

Almost every song Michael Jackson penned in the 1980’s became an instant hit. We’ll never forget catchy tracks like Beat It, Billie Jean, and the duet with ex-Beatle Sir Paul McCartney The Girl Is Mine.

As iconic as both artists were, they both had their less than stellar moments. Perhaps it’s true that those with a special gift are eccentric.

Farrah Fawcett struggled immediately after leaving her hit show Charlies Angels, black listed as being difficult. She managed bit parts in television and film, and eventually won critical acclaim for her portrayal of an abused woman in the play The Burning Bed, which she also starred in the made-for-television version. These roles got her taken seriously again as an actress.

Until one faithful night, when she appeared on David Letterman’s late night talk show. She appeared to be stoned as she mumbled and stumbled her way through the interview. Letterman ended the interview early out of fear that she would completely crack and go nuts on his show.

Michael Jackson went through marriages and divorces – one of which was to Elvis’ daughter to Lisa Marie Presley. He had three kids, though there still are doubts whether they are biologically his, and underwent numerous plastic surgeries, supposedly to make him look more like his idol – Dianna Ross. He become a secluded mystery man, never venturing outdoors without a customized surgical mask, which always matched his outfit.

Rumours circulated, and even a few arrests and court cases, into allegations of Jackson’s sexual interest in young boys. He invited young boys to his home, the Neverland Ranch, and even paid out $20,000US to one family, so that they would drop the molestation charges. He alienated some of his closest celebrity friends, including spats with Brooke Shields. He bought the rights to all the Beatles music pissing off friend and co-song writer Sir Paul McCartney. He even creeped out Cher, who simply adored him for his magical dance moves.

In the end, despite their weirdness, they both left the world a better place – which is something we all should aspire too.

Farrah Fawcett proved that not all hot blonde bombshells are dumb, and Michael Jackson left us with beats which will forever and ever get stuck in our heads.

We lost two icons from the 1980’s, but we will always benefit from the way they helped shape the world we live in today.
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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Toronto Media Garbage Chasers

A dumpster full of waste awaiting disposal.Image via Wikipedia

When I was a journalist many eons ago, there were ambulance chasers in every newsroom. These are people whose eyes light up when they hear of a horrible fatal car crash, their hearts quicken when they get word from the police about a big fire ablaze somewhere, and they are almost ecstatic with glee when they get a story involving multiple deaths.

Since civic employees walked off the job in Canada’s largest city four days ago, the local Toronto news media has invented a whole new type of media hound – the garbage chaser.

These are reporters that wander the city’s streets, looking for massive amounts of litter. With the labour dispute in Toronto – both the inside and outside workers unions are on strike – many city-run services have been gaboshed, including garbage collection.

Without trash collectors in place, even the city’s own public garbage bins on city streets are off limits. They have been wrapped in plastic wrap, to prevent people from using them. Despite warnings from the mayor, people are still tossing their litter on the streets, there just aren’t any other spots for it.

Unless you do what one report suggests, and keep your household waste in your fridge, to keep it – ahem – preserved.

Now many reporters are following the trails of the latest breaking story – no not the labour negotiations between the city and the workers – that’s too obvious! They are following the trail of trash.

Nope, not the people dumping their waste illegally – if caught they could face a fine of almost $400, and repeat offenders could end up in jail.

Just the trash – unsightly candy wrappers, bits and pieces of discarded food scraps, paper, bottles, tin cans – other people’s waste.

“Oh, look!” exclaimed one television reporter, as she zoomed her camera onto the latest media fascination. “A piece of lettuce, there’s some fruit, I think it’s an apple.”

Thanks for the always riveting, sitting on the edge of your couch coverage!

I actually like this reporter, I’ve seen her do some hard investigative stuff in the past, and think her employer is wasting her talent on soft puff pieces – such as chasing garbage. She’d be an excellent person to cover something really important – say the negotiations between the city and the staff.

The trash is building up, it hasn’t reached the disgusting mile-high pile stages which it did in the last city strike back in 2002, but it is getting there. And usually Toronto is one of the cleanest cities in the world, with litter properly in its place, so it is newsworthy to a degree.

That degree is worthy of mentioning on the news, maybe one or two lines – but to actually send reporters out to cover the small piles of garbage forming, is a waste worthy of the trash bin.

If this strike continues for long, and the piles become the six-to-ten foot high stink bombs that they were back in 2002, then I could see reporters going out to get images and video. But even then, they should do more than just go after a garbage pile.

“News is about people” – I remember telling a junior reporter I was mentoring many years ago. “So don’t come back to the newsroom until you’ve talked to at least three people involved in the story.”

That was good advice back then – and it still rings true today. Unless of course, the garbage is talking. Then I’d be interested in what it had to say.
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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How Technology Mastered Us

Mobile Phones in Tokyo's SubwaysImage by mikeleeorg via Flickr

As the phone rings, I get my fingers ready to dial the extension of the person I’m trying to reach. I’m almost always thrown off these days when a living, breathing human being actually answers the phone. When that happens, there is usually an awkward silence, because it’s so rare in today’s high tech world.

“Oh!” I exclaim, “you’re real! I’m sorry, I thought you were a machine.”

Whatever happened to those days – when telephone calls were between two or more living, breathing human beings?

I just got off the phone from that call I was making, and sure enough I get the automated attendant asking me to enter the other party’s extension. I enter it, and after a few rings, I get his voice-mail. I leave a message and hang up. Absolutely no human contact whatsoever -- yet the telephone originally was designed to bring people closer together.

I remember a slogan from an old AT&T television commercial in the 1980’s – reach out and touch someone. The series of commercials won awards in the advertising industry for its moving portrayal showing tearful eyed family and friends reaching out and touching their loved ones over great distances.

That was back in the 1980’s, just as personal computers were starting to pop-up in our homes. And the Internet – unless you were working in some secret American military base in deep cover, or a professor at some big university fighting to make that secret public, forget about it. Home computers in the 1980’s were considered top-of-the-line if they had a hard drive – most only had those big flimsy 5.25-inch floppy disks.

Looking back to those days, it always amazes me as I consider how far we have come.

These days, I know nine times out of 10 when I call someone, chances are I’ll be greeted by an automated voice-mail system. So I instinctively have my 30-second-or-less message ready to go in my mind’s eye, and I know to either enter an extension or wait for the beep.

Technology has trained us well.

The other day I was at a bank machine in the city’s downtown core. An elderly woman who probably didn’t venture downtown too often was getting frustrated at the machine, thinking it wasn’t working correctly, because it wasn’t beeping when she pressed the buttons.

In many large city centres, some banks have disabled the tones given off by their bank machines in outdoor spaces, to reduce crime. Apparently, some people can actually nab your PIN by listening carefully to the tones.

I waited patiently behind this sweet old lady, as she ran back and forth from the tellers to the bank machine, having one of the tellers come out and explain this to her.

The old lady was trained by technology to automatically think that if the bank machine didn’t “bleep” out the numbers as you entered them, the machine had to be broken.

We are a highly adaptive society, and when a new piece of technology emerges, we learn its teachings quickly.

I remember reading about some teenager that won about half-a-million dollars in a contest to determine who the fastest text messager was.

I have one of those smart phones, and it sure has a bigger keypad from the cell phones I’ve had in the past. It is even on that 3G network, so it’s supposed to be fast – though I hear 4G is already on the way.

Even still, when it comes to sending text messages, I’m all thumbs. I use that T-9 predictive text system, which guesses most of the time the correct word I want, based on my typing habits over time. But I still constantly find myself having to erase and start words over again, simply because just as I start to get up to speed, I realize I’m “texting” too fast, and I hit the wrong combination of keys.

But a young kid in her teens – she might have even been in her pre-teens, won a large sum of money, for being able to do this.

She was trained well by technology too. She knew all the short forms commonly used to speed up the process.

That’s the problem with today’s technology – it is making the world a faster, easier place, but we’re losing that human element. We’re losing the very things which make us human, as we ourselves become more computerized, in our constantly evolving high-tech world.
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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Politically Correct – Or Politically Inept?

Doug ElniskiImage via Wikipedia

A rookie politician in Canada’s western provinces is learning how to be politically correct, after two separate poorly chosen statements.

The Edmonton-Calder Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta (MLA) Doug Elniski, apologized yesterday, after posting his speech to graduating grade nine kids: “ladies, always smile when you walk into a room, there is nothing a man wants less than a woman scowling because he thinks he is going to get sh*t for something and has no idea what.”

Elniski -- a Progressive Conservative member, was anything but conservative, continuing the blog posting: “men are attracted to smiles, so smile, don’t give me that ‘treated equal’ stuff. If you want Equal, it comes in little packages at Starbucks.”

Elniski, who’s only been an MLA for about a year, also got into hot water during the local Pride Parade, celebrating gay and lesbian rights and achievements.

During the parade, he “tweeted” live text posts on Twitter, a popular online instant messaging site allowing visitors to say in 140-words or less, whatever they want.

Elniski’s posts included one saying: “I am surrounded by bumping and grinding lesbians,” and then he said: “that guy has size-14 stilettos.”

Both comments offended some members of the gay and lesbian community, for being narrow-minded.

Elniski says he didn’t mean to offend anyone with any of his posts, noting that what was posted in his speech which he claims to give at grade nine graduations was a joke he got from a comedian, and that he had fun at the Pride Parade, and was just trying to convey his enthusiasm.

Regardless of what has been said, a bigger question remains – what will he say or do next to endanger his already threatened political career?

Love them or love to hate them, politicians are made or broken by the very things they say and do. That’s why it is often called being in the “public’s eye.”

The job of creating policies and programs to enable citizens to have meaningful lives is no small task. But end of the day, despite all the paperwork, proposals, policies, programs and laws a person creates, what we really judge our politicians for are their public personas.

Look at U.S. President Barack Obama, he’s still got a rock star-like following globally, because of his slick, purposeful, and highly engaging personality. Any other person in his position in the White House, during this economic depression would already be under attack by pundits and the public for not turning the economy around. Not President Obama, he’s got us Obama-crazy, very much like John F. Kennedy did in the 1960’s in the States, and Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau did during his leadership of Canada in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Prime Minister Trudeau did give Canada the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (it was officially signed into law in 1982 by Queen Elizabeth II) – but most of us don’t remember that. When we think of Prime Minister Trudeau, we think about the stories about him being a ladies man, the pondering politician paddling in his canoe, and how he’d tell reporters to f*ck off on more than one occasion.

Just as it was President Kennedy that inspired Americans to jump into the space race, promising in one of his speeches that “we’ll put a man on the moon.”

Maybe we should put Elniski on the moon – with the lack of gravity it would be a whole lot harder for him to put his foot in his mouth.
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Monday, June 22, 2009

Megacity A Megamess – Toronto is on Strike

Canada’s largest city is facing its second city-wide strike in under a decade, as both inside and outside staffers walked off the job as of 12:01 this morning.

Local 416 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents 6,200 of the City of Toronto’s outside workers went on strike, as labour negotiations with the city failed.

The union representing the city’s additional 18,000 inside workers – CUPE Local 79 – also went on strike, in part to support their outside colleagues, and also – as it so happens – their union talks also hit a brick wall.

Both unions have been in negotiations for over six-months to renegotiate their collective bargaining contracts, which expired December 31, 2008.

The last time city employees went on strike was back in 2002 – also in the midst of a summer heat wave. A day after the first day of summer, Toronto is experiencing its first taste of real summer-like weather, with temperatures about 27C, but with the humidex it makes it feel more 31C.

The hot and humid weather will only add to the misery of the strike, as trash piles bake. Garbage collectors, parks and recreation employees, paramedics, city run pool staff, and the ferry service between Toronto’s mainland and it’s neighbouring communities on the islands all ground to a halt.

Inside workers on strike mean the city’s daycare centres are closed as are municipal offices – though local politicians should still be on the job.

Toronto police and fire services are not affected by the strike, nor is the city’s public transit system, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). Ambulance services are reduced due to the strike, and so are low priority calls to 9-1-1.

What an irresponsible and completely avoidable mess for one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities.

In an economy worse than the Great Depression, people with good paying jobs which not only provide them with a solid and steady income, but benefits most private-sector employees could only dream of, should be humbled by the very fact that they have jobs, let alone going half-cocked over a measly 18-unpaid sick days (which is one of the big burning issues for the outside workers).

The world’s largest company, General Motors, has slashed its workforce by thousands, and continues to announce layoffs on an almost regular basis. Other major companies around the world have had to let go of valuable, long-term employees because of the failing economy.

Unions do good things for their members. They fight the good fight; ensuring workers are compensated fairly, treated equally, and have safe and secure places of employment. However, sometimes, unions make unreasonable demands which fail to take into account the whole picture. They see bigger and better things for their members, without really considering the consequences to their member’s employers, the company’s customers, and the public’s safety.

Where has CUPE been these past few months – a Turkish prison? They should be thankful that employment slashing hasn’t hit their members the way it has hit the auto sector (which is also highly unionized).

And although they are in a legal strike position, isn’t it just as equally irresponsible to put people in harm’s way by stopping the collection of garbage during a heat wave? Garbage collection at any time of the year is a vital service, but becomes all the more of an issue as the humid conditions create a more hospitable environment for cockroaches, rats, seagulls, pigeons, racoons, and infestations not as common in the winter months. And all of these become a real health risk as they can spread disease.

Labour leaders aren’t solely to blame – part of the problem lies with the city as well. History has a tendency to repeat itself – just as in 2002 we had a summer of heat, humidity and garbage piling up on city streets. The city saw this coming. They know when their contracts end. The city knew from the strike of 2002 what negotiations are like what some of the key issues would most likely be, and what tactics the union would deploy.

Both the union and the city failed to act responsibly, and now Canada’s largest city is a city without the basics most modern civilizations enjoy.
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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Shuttle Sabotage? NASA Investigating

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLA. - All is quiet on L...Image via Wikipedia

Bitter employees, willing to do whatever it takes to send their message of anger and hate abound in many offices these days – but who would have ever thought that rocket scientists – the guys that put a man on the moon – could stoop to such levels?

No one knows if a rocket scientist, or anyone else working for the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) in the States is to blame for the two delays of the Space Shuttle Endeavour this month – but they are investigating the possibility, in addition to the technical faults.

With NASA’s finalization of the final Shuttle missions, as the aging fleet of spacecraft is being retired in 2010, fear, anger and frustration are to be expected. The final Space Shuttle mission is currently set for May 25, 2010.

Almost everyone fears change – that’s just a normal part of being human. And big changes are coming to an organization which has been known for its unwavering, highly structured mentality.

As the fleet of Space Shuttles is retired, by its own estimates, NASA will be shedding between 3,000 to 4,000 jobs at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. In this economy, even a handful of job losses could easily push even a model employee over the brink.

It isn’t uncommon for good employees to go sour during periods of transition in a company or organization. We’ve all heard about the story about the person caught on the security camera, urinating in the coffee maker at the office because he didn’t get his promotion. But there are many other stories of corruption within the workplace, some far more reaching.

Like the vice-president of a telecommunications company that leaked a change in the company’s direction, causing the stock price to tumble so quickly, the company never recovered, and it had to file for bankruptcy protection.

Sabotage at NASA is rare, but has happened in the past. In 2007, a subcontractor intentionally cut wires on a computer box on a Space Shuttle Endeavour mission, but the fault was found and corrected without affecting the flight.

NASA will begin laying off employees after the final Shuttle mission. But with each delayed launch, that final mission gets extended. This leaves the space agency open to possible internal attacks, as those concerned for their financial well-being do what they feel is necessary, to keep a pay cheque coming in.

NASA top-brass have been very vocal over rumours about sabotage by their own staff. Space Shuttle Deputy Program Manager LeRoy Cain said they trust their own people and do not think anyone on any Shuttle mission would do anything which would hamper the flight of the space craft, during his briefing after the second delay of the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

Still, the cause of the hydrogen fuel leaks which have grounded the Space Shuttle Endeavour remains a mystery, and will keep the Shuttle on the ground at least until July 11, as NASA investigates the cause.

NASA expects to find a technical fault, but as they edge ever closer to retiring the Shuttle program, moving to the new Orion space craft which is still in the testing stages, and handing out pink-slips to thousands of employees, everything – and one – are suspect.
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Friday, June 19, 2009

Cold War Replay -- But This Time The Risk Is Real

Movies, as they often do, reflect the mood and public perception of the time. There’s a great scene in the 1983 movie War Games, with a very young Mathew Broderick and Alley Sheedy, trying to convince the reclusive inventor (played by John Wood) that his computer isn’t playing a simulated war game, but actually is calculating real missile launch trajectories to win a nuclear war.

It isn’t until Broderick’s character teaches the computer how to play Checkers that the computer realizes, just as in a game of Checkers; no one would ever win a nuclear war.

Problem is North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il doesn’t appear to understand this concept, as his continued nuclear missile tests form the basis for a new Cold War.

Kim Jong-ilImage via Wikipedia

Yesterday, the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Daily reported that North Korea had long-range nuclear missiles which they are going to be test firing towards Hawaii between July 4 and July 8.

Ironic, just as Americans will be lighting fireworks to celebrate their nation’s birth on the Fourth of July, North Korea may be sending off their own version of a firework – only this one has a long-range Taepodong-2 type nuclear warhead, which has a range of up to 6,500 KM (about 4,039 miles.)

Politicians and diplomats from Russia and China are trying to open a dialogue with North Korea, to stop the continued tests, but talk appears to be cheap. The sanctions by the United Nations Security Council imposed after the last North Korean nuclear rocket launch on May 25 don’t seem to be working.

Japan is particularly concerned, as any rockets fired towards Hawaii must pass over them – posing a grave risk to all inhabitants should th

PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA - OCTOBER 3: South Kore...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

e missile fail to reach its destination.

The country’s leader Kim Jong-il isn’t worrying about the risks associated with these nuclear missile tests.

And here lies the real risk – Jong-il’s lack of concern for the people in the countries around him – or even perhaps for his own citizens -- makes him a very dangerous person.

The real “war” in the Cold War of the 1980’s was a war of words. Each side would verbally threaten the other through use of the mainstream media. Messages were sent by each side, threatening to use nuclear weapons – but in the end, thankfully both the “Ruskies” and the Americans were smart enough to realize the consequences of launching an all-out nuclear war.

Jong-il’s war isn’t one of words, but of actions. The more global leaders talk of sanctions, and diplomats attempt to cool the tensions with discussions and dialogue, the more nuclear missile tests North Korea conducts and the more nuclear-grade weapon materials North Korea produces.

However, when you’ve got nuclear weapons of mass destruction – and you can’t get more massively destructive than a nuclear blast – actions are not the wisest thing to take.

Stronger measures must be taken against North Korea’s nuclear missile program by all world leaders. The United Nations is on the right track, but something more must be done. Otherwise, the face of planet Earth may one day be as barren as Mars. And we have yet to find life on Mars.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

Surfing the Net in Canada – Watch Where You Click

A proposed new law is being introduced in Canada’s House of Commons today, which would grant police the power to force your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to hand over all records of your online activities without a warrant.

Imagine having someone go through all your personal emails, chat room conversations, website histories, file transfers and surfing habits, without your knowledge, and for reasons which may or may not be justified.

The proposed law, a Bill called “An Act Regulating Telecommunications Facilities to Support Investigations,” gives Canadian law enforcement agencies unprecedented sweeping powers to dig up all this dirt, without justifying their reasons.

Simply cut off a cop on the highway, and next thing you know, they b

reak down your door because you downloaded last summer’s block buster movie off the net.

Supporters of the Bill – including police forces across the country – say situations like these aren’t likely, because they will only use these new rights to investigate criminal activates. They say the Internet has become an easy and important tool by criminals, pedophiles, terrorists, drug dealers and scam artists.

However, Canada’s Federal Privacy Commissioner and other privacy watchdogs are very worried about this proposed legislation, because it allows police to have carte blanche access to your complete online life, with nothing more than a hunch.

Currently, law enforcement agencies must obtain a warrant – by providing reasonable and probable grounds to a judge to get that warrant – just to listen in on your phone conversations, or to search your places of work or residence. They don’t presently have any rights to access your online usage from your ISP.

Police and other law enforcement agencies across Canada have been demanding this type of law for years, to help in their criminal investigations.

Granting law enforcement agencies the right to gather this information from ISPs isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but allowing them to have this information without a warrant is.

Being a police officer is a tough job, but being a cop also means having a certain element of power and responsibility.

Placing the responsibility in those that have the power is a dangerous combination – that’s why the proposed Bill is a bad Bill. It allows police to regulate themselves in terms of what prompts them to order an ISP to hand over personal online information.

You could be out at a restaurant with a group of friends, one joke taken the wrong way by a police officer in earshot, and that cop goes off and starts searching through your online life – and you may never know about this, especially if there is nothing incriminating against you.

If the police and other law enforcement agencies want to have laws allowing them to access the personal information of suspected criminals online – fine. But giving them unfettered access, based on what may just be a best-guess, is a step closer to living in a country like China, where the government regularly blocks Internet access under the guise of “protecting its citizens.”

Like when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reported during last summer’s Olympic Games that some of the ceremonies broadcast “live” from China, were actually pre-recorded and edited by the Chinese government. Within hours of CBC reporting that story, the Chinese government had blocked all CBC sites within China.

It would take a long time, and many more similar Bills proposed and passed in Canada, before such a controlled online world were to happen. But this Bill is the first step towards just that.

Is that the type of society we want here in Canada?
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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fresh Eggs Or Foul Stench?

There’s a scene in Sasha Baron Cohen’s movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, where his chicken accidentally escapes on a subway in New York City. The hilarious scene shows Baron Cohen in his Borat character, chasing after the bird, in and around the ankles of spooked city dwellers.

That scene could very well be played out for real in Canada’s largest city of Toronto, if the local politicians allow chicken coups in residential areas. Currently any form of raising livestock in your home is illegal – as it should be.

A cock and a hen roosting together.Image via Wikipedia

Granted, the city isn’t going to allow Torontonians to cut off the bird’s heads and cook them up for dinner – the chickens are supposed to be used for providing fresh eggs daily – but you just know that someone, will get their axe and swipe away at Chicken Little.

For most of us, we choose where we want to live based on our own personal beliefs, values, and lifestyles. For those who like to get up at the crack of dawn, to the sounds of a rooster, the smells of manure, and the hard physical work of living the farm life – awesome for you.

As cities and towns across North America continue to sprawl into farm country, we’re losing our most valuable source of food – the farm. Farmers do hard work, so that lazy city stiffs – like me – can enjoy a good, well balanced diet.

Then there are city stiffs – like me – who chose to live and work in urban areas like the suburbs or right in the city. Although we may wake at the crack of dawn, the noise we hear is usually traffic, and the smells may be of smog, or that funky neighbour down the road that never seems to bathe.

Most city slickers couldn’t imagine taking care of livestock. Sure we have our domesticated pets, our cats, dogs, fish, even the odd turtle or lizard. But we’d never, not in our wildest dreams see ourselves raising animals for food production.

That’s just too complicated – you have to make sure you do the right thing, or the food you produce could be toxic, and the waste from the livestock – that’s a whole other matter.

Feed your chickens the wrong things, and you could be eating eggs which will later have you rushed to the hospital for a good ‘ol fashioned stomach pumping. Nothing like one of those first thing in the morning!

And what about that guy – you just know he’s out there – that’s going to kill his chicken for dinner? In an urban setting, where the foulest things we produce are consumer-grade waste, how is this person going to dispose of the remains of the chicken in a safe and ethical manner?

Cities just weren’t designed for farming. We don’t have the resources, and we certainly don’t have the know-how to do it right.

We’d all love to have the freshest milk, eggs, vegetables; even the freshest steak would be nice. But to live in certain lifestyles, you must give up the benefits of others. That’s life.

Toronto isn’t the first city to contend with allowing local residents to farm their own food. New York, Chicago and Vancouver already have these programs in place. Whether these programs are serving the public good, or – pardon the pun – fowling our cities, remains to be seen.
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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Canada’s Largest City About to Stink

Can you smell it? The stink of rotting garbage in the summer’s sun? Soon residents of Canada’s biggest city – Toronto – may be smelling that foul stench, as outside city employees – including garbage collectors – are gearing up for a strike as early as next week.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 416 which represents Toronto’s outside workers isn’t after wage increases – they want better job security and for the city to payout the past sick leave it owes to the union’s 6,200 members.

Local 416 includes all outside workers – from those parks and recreation staffers that take care of the lawns, gardens and water parks in the city, to ambulance attendants, and garbage collectors. Ironically, the inside workers union is also gearing up for a strike, which could make getting any city-run services next to impossible.

If a garbage strike were to hit Canada’s largest city, it wouldn’t be the first time. Back in the summer of 2002, under then-Mayor Mel Lastman, the same union went on strike, leaving stinky garbage piling up all over the city for the 16-days of the strike.

We also happened to have a heat-wave that fair and smelly summer, and as the rotting garbage baked under the hot summer’s sun, rats, cockroaches and other – ahem – forms of wildlife started taking roost in the mess, adding to the problem.

That was the summer the Pope came to Toronto, for World Youth Day, which was the main reason the city became squeaky clean so quick. Politicians didn’t want Canada’s largest city looking and smelling like a garbage dump for the Pope and the thousands coming from around the world to participate in the festivities.

This summer we won’t be so lucky. The Pope isn’t planning on coming to Toronto this summer, so unless we have another form of divine intervention, a strike could last much longer.

Ambulance attendants and paramedics are considered emergency workers, so they can’t legally go on strike. But there will be work-to-rule style shortages, meaning fewer ambulances on Toronto’s roads.

The question which came up during the strike and probably will arise again – should trash collectors be essential emergency services?

We don’t often think about garbage collection as an essential service, we simply toss our trash and recyclables into the correct containers, put them out first thing in the morning, and when we come back from work at the end of the day, they are magically gone.

Problem is – as we witnessed during the strike of 2002 – if that “magic” doesn’t happen, rodents, bugs, even birds all zoom in on the mess, bringing viruses and disease which can cause a major health hazard to humans.

At a time when the World Health Organization (WHO) is labeling the H1N1 Swine Flu a global pandemic, is it really wise for the powers-that-be in Canada’s largest city to allow a labour disruption which may increase the threat from this deadly flu?

Labour unions are not evil groups of people, plotting to destroy society. Without the labour movement previously fighting for equal rights, fair wages, and safe working environments, we’d all have real reasons to hate our jobs.

But sometimes, the best labour leaders need to take a reality check and open their eyes to see what is going on around them, and whether or not it really is in their members – and the publics – best interest to go on strike.

CUPE’s leaders aren’t oblivious to the nature of the global economy, nor are they blind to the fact that Swine Flu is a real concern in developing nations, because of poor sanitation.

If CUPE’s leaders encourage and allow their members to go on strike at this point in time, they aren’t looking out for anyone’s best interests. Just because a garbage collector is on strike, doesn’t make him or her any less susceptible to catching the Swine Flu, should our city turn into a giant trash heap.

Making garbage collectors emergency workers, forbidding them to strike isn’t the answer. What is the answer is having responsible leadership at both the management and union side of the negotiating table. Leaders acting responsibly, by taking a long hard look at what is going on in the world around them, and how their actions or inactions may make that world a whole lot less stable is what we need.

One thing we don’t need in a global economic depression, riddled with H1N1 Swine Flu, is another garbage strike.
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