Saturday, March 27, 2010

Earth Hour Lights Up Need to Be Green

Tonight, cities and towns around the world will go dim for an hour, in show of support for our planet. I remember last year, I was chilling in front of the television, flipping channels, when I came across The Weathernetwork, which was covering the event live.

Immediately I ran to my balcony – I live on the upper floors of a high rise in Toronto, Canada – and I witnessed an amazing thing.

The usual Toronto skyline, with the CN Tower, bank towers, and other tall structures which light the night’s sky were dark – all except their airplane warning lights. It was an eerie darkness, as all I could see was the occasional flash of red warning lights, where there usually are well lit buildings. If you stared long enough, you could make out the silhouettes of the buildings. In the dim moonlight, my eyes started to get sore from the strain.

I looked down closer to home, and the neighborhoods around me were also quite dim. You could see the bluish flicker of lights emanating from windows, as people were watching television, but all the other lights in their homes were off.

Earth Hour – an event organized by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) – takes place across the globe, from Canada and the United States, to across the pond in Europe and elsewhere.

Although chances are you won’t notice much of a drop in your electricity bill from shutting off your lights for the one hour event, as people across your area shut off their lights, you do see a difference.

Last year it was reminiscent of when I was a kid up at the cottage in Georgian Bay. Sure we had electrical lights, we weren’t that far removed from the benefits of modern life. But when I was a kid, spending much of my summers up north, I could see something you don’t often get to see in the big cities – stars.

I am lucky living in an area where I can still see the stars every so often. But up north, the whole night’s sky is ablaze with stars. Here in the city, generally I see just the brightest stars, such as the Big Dipper cluster, the North Star, and occasionally a handful of others. But up north, you’d swear you were seeing the entire galaxy.

During the Earth Hour event last year, I could see far more stars than I had ever seen in the city before. It was spectacular. Maybe it was our reward for turning off our lights.
Reducing energy by cutting our lights for Earth Hour won’t prevent global warming – but it isn’t a bad way to start.

The whole genesis of Earth Hour, according to the WWF is to show our support for energy reduction in the fight against global warming.

Global warming is just a natural part of our planet’s life. Throughout all of time on this blue-green dot in the Milky Way, the Earth has gone through regular climatic changes. Due to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, our planet is constantly either warming or cooling.

Our planet’s orbit around the Sun is elliptical, meaning some orbits bring us closer to our gas giant Sun, which causes the Earth to heat and warm, while other orbits take us further away, creating colder periods, often resulting in ice ages.

For the past decade, our orbit has been one of closer proximity to the Sun, which is why we’re experiencing a global warming.

However, we are not completely innocent either – thanks to our love affair with the car, with heated homes in winter and cooled ones in summer, thanks to well lit homes at night, and even thanks to beer fridges for keeping the suds chilled, our use of fossil fuels to heat, cool and power our lives has put more Carbon-based elements into the atmosphere.

Carbon-based elements, such as Carbon Dioxide, acts like a blanket, keeping the heat our planet receives from the Sun around us, which creates a greenhouse effect. A greenhouse traps hot air inside it, keeping the area warm.

This trapped heat is in addition to the increases of heat we receive from our closer orbit to the Sun. The effects are devastating – our polar ice caps at both ends of our globe are melting at an alarming rate. As these ice masses melt, sea levels around the world rise, causing flooding in low lying areas.

Water pressures on the Earth’s crust increase as ocean and sea levels rise. This added pressure builds, until it is too much, and it is released with such force, earthquakes and tsunamis are the result.

Earthquakes and tsunamis change the global landscape literally – look at the devastation from the recent earthquakes in Hati. Plants and animals are displaced when their natural habitats are uprooted. People die in buildings that collapse, and lives are disrupted when homes, workplaces, schools and other buildings are destroyed.

Turning off the lights for one hour won’t make much of a difference – but if we take the time to practice energy efficient practices year-round, we can all make a big difference.

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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Canada’s Largest Transit System Continues to Suffer a PR Nightmare

Why does Canada’s largest public transit system have a constant customer relations problem?

Is it because the Toronto Transit Commission’s (TTC) chair was tossed out of the mayor’s race during a very public love triangle which went wrong?

Is it because of consistent fare hikes, making it one of the most expensive public transit systems in the world?

Is it because a rider caught a TTC ticket taker sleeping on the job?

No – it is none of those – and all of those reasons in a sense.

The problem is the TTC fails to listen to their customers – and like all companies that lose touch with the people paying for its products and services, eventually that’s going to cost it.

The TTC even announced it was paying thousands of dollars to hire third-party consultants to improve customer relations – showing that at least the TTC isn’t completely unaware of the problem.

Recent polls on several local news organization’s websites sum up the current problems with the TTC. The transit authority recently said it will invest billions of dollars to put up suicide prevention barriers on its subway platforms. They made this decision based on a report which says there were 18 subway suicide attempts last year. At a cost of $10 million per station for the cash strapped transit operator, we’re talking more fare increases, and possible route and service cuts to pay for a handful of crazy people that will probably find some other way to end their lives.

Not that suicide should be taken lightly – anytime a person is in danger of taking their own life, we as a society are obligated to act to prevent such a travesty. However, putting up barriers isn’t going to do anything but cost more money than we have.

Anyone willing to jump in front of an oncoming subway train will simply find another means to end their life. The answer to suicide prevention isn’t removing all possible ways to end one’s life – otherwise we’d all live in plastic bubbles. The way to prevent suicides is through education, communication, therapy, and if need be, hospitalization.

Most people that attempt suicide don’t really want to end their lives, they use it as a wakeup call to those around them that they need help. The few that actually do intend to go through with it are past the point of no return, and there really is nothing we can do for these individuals – regardless of all the barriers we toss in front of them, they will just find another way to harm themselves.

So it should come as no surprise that the surveys on the local news websites show an overwhelming majority of respondents opposed to the TTC spending billions of dollars on suicide prevention barriers.

And in typical TTC fashion, the TTC continues to muddle along its own path, completely oblivious to their customer’s concerns.

Which is why the TTC has an image problem – they just don’t listen.
Maybe the thousands of dollars the transit authority paid for third-party consultants won’t be all for nothing – if those consultants are worth the big bucks they are being paid, they should simply recommend the TTC listen to their customers and act accordingly.

But if the TTC doesn’t listen to its customers, they probably won’t listen to their consultants either. And so their customer relations problems will continue, ridership will decline, and there could be more violence on the locally called “rocket.”

All because Canada’s largest transit system just doesn’t listen.

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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Changing Face of the Boob Tube

War has been brewing between Canadian broadcasters and the cable and satellite carriers for years. At issue, who should pay for locally produced programs?

Yesterday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ruled in favor of the broadcasters, allowing them to negotiate charging a fee to carriers for inclusion of their signals in their channel line-up.

The ruling still requires federal court approval, and could be overturned by the court or appealed by the cable and satellite companies.

Broadcasters – including the primary television networks in Canada of CTV, Global and CBC – claim that unless they can collect a fee from television carriers, they won’t be able to produce local news and other locally produced programs.

CRTC reports confirm a loss in revenues, saying private Canadian TV broadcasters lost $116.4 million CDN in 2009, despite earning $8 million CDN in 2008 – that’s a huge drop of 93 percent.

Cable companies on the other hand had profits of $2.3 billion CDN in 2009, an increase of 11.9 percent from the $2.1 billion CDN they raked in, in 2008.

Though cable and satellite companies claim any new fees from the broadcasters will just be passed on to you and me – their customers.

Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Are Canadian broadcasters just poor money managers?

The answer – as with most things in life – isn’t that cut and dry.
The real problem isn’t the broadcasters or the television carriers fault. The real blame is our own ingenuity in technological advances.

When television first started breaking into our living rooms, channel selection was pretty limited. There were only a handful of signals available over the airwaves, sent via the Very High Frequency (VHF) band. Only channels two to thirteen could be carried on this frequency, which seemed like a lot, as not even half that many actually existed. Eventually, as television and radio stations began popping up all over the United States, the American Federal Communications Commission (FCC) re-allocated all over-the-air “bandwidth” to carry the load.

Amplitude Modulation (AM) and Frequency Modulation (FM) went to radio, while television stayed with VHF, and got an additional frequency – Ultra High Frequency (UHF), which carried television stations 14 to 83.

For those old enough to remember changing channels on their televisions long before remote controls existed – YES there was a time – there were two knobs on the boob tube. The primary VHF band, allowed you to tune in channels two to thirteen, and then you often would tune that dial to “U” (or some other similar symbol) and continue channel surfing on the other dial to get the few scattered stations on the UHF band.

As television caught on, more channels crept into the airwaves, and soon signals were being carried by cables buried deep underground. To get cable initially, you needed to purchase or rent a cable box, which allowed you to get as many as 60 to 99 channels depending on the cable box – again that seemed like way more than you’d ever need.

When digital television came out, the numbers of channels became a moot point.
Technology even solved the mysterious channel one phenomenon – channel one was never available on analogue-based systems as that frequency is actually reserved for emergency responders in many parts. But thanks to microchips, computer processors, and the completely electronic format of digital signals, digital television channels can be assigned any number, and the number of ‘em is just as endless.

This gave rose to the specialty channel boom – from the 24-hour all news networks, weather channels and other information-based programming, to the movie networks, documentary channels, there is even a channel called “Fireplace Channel” which – you guessed it, shows a roaring fire in a quaint fireplace 24-hours-a-day seven-days-a-week. Though you may start to question your sanity if you watch the Fireplace Channel for long.

And this is what is killing your local programming – not the ineptitude of broadcasters, or the greed of cable and satellite providers.

The more correct term for this phenomenon is “narrowcasting” instead of broadcasting – as specialty stations cater to very narrowly defined demographic groups. Sports channels run nothing but sports-related programming, catering to sports fans, while science, technology and nature channels cater to people interested in those specific topics, while the Fireplace Channel caters to – well – uh – er – we aren’t sure who THAT channel is for!

The point is, as television stations become more specialized, the television viewing market splits into fragments of individual viewers, each person watching the specific television stations which cater to each individual’s own interest.
I love science, technology and nature shows, found on stations such as National Geographic and Discovery. I also enjoy movies, so I get all the move networks.
You may like movies, but prefer classic cartoons, so you get Teletoon Retro.
Everyone’s individual tastes are different.

This is bad news for broadcasters, which cater to a general audience, trying to have a little bit of everything for everyone.

Why would I waste time even browsing channels which don’t typically cater to my specific interests, when I can tune right into channels that do?

So broadcasters in the traditional sense – the CTVs, Globals and CBC networks – are losing viewers, and that loss in viewers trickles down into less ad revenues, as the fewer people watching, the less likely companies will pay big bucks to promote their products and services on that channel.

Also, specialty channels offer a unique opportunity for commerce – they deliver the specific viewers interested in the specific types of goods and services for that station.

Think about it, wouldn’t, say a power tools manufacturer have a better chance of selling their products on a channel which specializes in home renovations, than on a broadcaster which may not even have a home renovations show?

As the television market continues to fragment, thanks to these specialty channels popping up all the time, traditional broadcasters will continue to lose money.

Just as the traditional broadcasters lose money, the television carriers earn more – because we are willing to pay more to subscribe to the specific channels we want to watch. That’s why the cable and satellite providers are raking in the big bucks, while the broadcasters are losing their fiscal shirts.

Allowing the broadcasters to charge additional fees to offset this loss in revenue isn’t going to make matters any better in the long-term. In the short-term, sure, any money you toss at a problem in the short-term appears to solve it.

But in the long-term, there simply won’t be enough viewers watching the traditional broadcast outlets. Unless the broadcasters begin narrowcasting, they will continue to bleed viewers until there is nothing left to but bone dust in the sand.

That’s the changing face of the boob tube.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

American Health Reforms Slightly Better, But Long Way to Go

Healthcare American-style – you still have to pay for it out-of-pocket, but at least you can’t be turned down so quickly.

That’s the gist of the newest social reform for the United States of America in several decades, and it’s all part of American President Barack Obama’s call for universal healthcare across his country.

Here in Canada, we’ve had free, basic, universal healthcare since the founder of the New Democratic Party (NDP) Tommy Douglas in made it so in 1962 – Medicare began in his home province of Saskatchewan and was later adapted across Canada by Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson in 1965.

However, the word “free” never seems to apply to Americans and healthcare. Although American President Obama has done something many past presidents have publicly wanted too, it still is a long way from ensuring all Americans have healthcare.

Quite the contrary – in many instances this new healthcare reform may actually cause more harm, than good.

President Obama’s healthcare reform ensures that companies which provide health insurance – in the States they are commonly called Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) – can no longer turn down people because they or their family members have extensive health-related issues. It isn’t uncommon for HMO’s to turn down applicants for health insurance, due to past or present illnesses and diseases.

This is good news for someone who couldn’t get health insurance before, now they can, and they can finally have some or all of their medical costs covered.

However, this new law mandates that all Americans must have health insurance. So those who didn’t have health insurance simply because they couldn’t afford it, now must fork over the money to purchase it, else they can be fined between $700 to $1,000 USD.

This is a very different concept from the Canadian healthcare system. Upon becoming a Canadian citizen, automatically you qualify for government-run health insurance, which covers most basic costs, such as ambulatory care, check-ups and routine tests and procedures.

In fact, President Obama’s healthcare reforms don’t really guarantee universal healthcare – all they do is establish fines for HMOs if they fail to cover someone, and fines for American citizens for failing to buy healthcare insurance.

Real universal healthcare must be provided by the state – anything else just – pardon the pun – passes the buck.

Instead of ensuring Americans have universal healthcare, the new rules penalize the poor who can’t afford health insurance.

What President Obama should have put forward – although he had enough trouble getting his current reforms passed – was a truly universal Medicare system. One where it doesn’t matter what you have – or don’t have – in your wallet, you know if you break your leg, you’re covered.

The way it stands in the States now – if you break your leg and you don’t have either money or health insurance, you might as well just hop home – no doctor will even consider looking at you.

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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Senior Robbed of $7,000 on Deathbed a Warning Call for Medical Facilities

So much for a nation of peaceful happy people – a senior citizen was robbed on her deathbed in a Toronto, Ontario, Canada hospital.

Cops in Canada’s largest city have released security camera images of two male suspects, who allegedly stole $7,000 CDN of jewelry from an unconscious seventy-year-old woman, just before she passed away.

The patient’s family had just stepped out for break from their trying ordeal, and returned to find all of the woman’s valuables gone.

A report says the woman died as police were interviewing the family.
Of all the low life things we human beings do to one another – of which sadly there are many – this is the lowest of the low.

Robbery victims feel a deep sense of loss for their stolen possessions, but far worse is the feeling that you have been violated. Someone has come into your personal space, and taken a piece of you away. It doesn’t matter if they stole the least valuable thing in the world, the psychological impacts of having anything stolen usually are the same.

Thieves that break into a home or business and steal under the shroud of darkness are weak, petty people, not worth the oxygen they consume. But thieves that enter a hospital, intentionally looking for incapacitated, sick and in this case, dying patients, unable to defend themselves are all of the above, and more. They are sick, sadistic, scum. They are the epitome of pure evil.

What kind of monster would even contemplate such a thing?

The suspects allegedly searched floor-by-floor within the hospital, until they found the palliative care unit (the section of the hospital specializing in medical care of senior citizens), according to local authorities involved in the case.

Clearly these two individuals planned to attack the old and the sick. They just happened to get lucky in that the woman was near death – making it unlikely that she would put up a struggle. She may not have even been aware anyone was in her room rifling through her things – she was unconscious at the time of the robbery.

Where were hospital security through all of this? Why were two complete strangers not questioned as they roamed around the hospital?

In our modern societies, we expect not only to be treated for what ails us when we go to a hospital, but that in the event we are unable to take care of ourselves, the staff of the hospital will.

This level of care doesn’t extend to just medical care, but to all levels. Think about it, if you were lying unconscious in a hospital bed, unaware of your surroundings wouldn’t you expect at the very least, that those around you would take steps to protect you from harm?

Robberies of this nature are rare – thankfully most people aren’t evil as the two who pulled off this heist – but that doesn’t absolve hospital staff from protecting their patients from factors not related to their medical conditions.

Some of the largest hospitals in Canada only have two security guards on per shift. When you are talking hospitals with over 1,000 patient beds, thousands of employees and thousands of people coming and going to see their loved ones, two security guards just isn’t enough.

Yes, nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff have some responsibility in ensuring their work location is secure for them and their patients, but they are often too busy tending to the medical needs of many people – demanding that they police their work areas is unreasonable.

In much of the westernized world we hear politicians talk a lot about their solutions to bring medical care to the masses. They talk about pumping more government funds into the latest medical equipment, adding more beds, even creating more jobs for doctors and nurses.

What politicians rarely talk about is protecting us when we are at our weakest. Chances are we ‘ve all heard a politician mention more funding for healthcare, but never for providing more security within that healthcare system.

The time has come for politicians and medical practitioners to raise the bar on patient safety and security within our medical facilities. We need to know that if and when we are unable to protect ourselves from evil criminal minds, those tasked with this enormous duty will.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

City Employee Endangers and Embarrasses the Residents

A city employee responsible for the lives of hundreds has been caught drunk on the job. The city employee – a bus driver.

A bus driver? Responsible for hundreds of lives? Bus drivers can carry about 50 people on the average city bus, and when you consider all they do all day is drive up and down their route, picking up and dropping off passengers, even if they just drive up and down their route once, they could have already transported a 100 people.

Though the real issue here that the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) employee – the public transit service in the city of Toronto, Canada – was drunk on the job, or at least had enough alcohol in her system that police seized her license.

Last Friday a passenger on the bus called 9-1-1 complaining that the driver was all over the road. Police stopped the bus in the city’s east-end and had the driver take a breathalyzer – she blew between .05 and .08. That’s not high enough for an impaired driving charge, but is enough to warrant a 72-hour driving suspension due to her blood alcohol level.

The 40-year-old driver is currently on suspension without pay pending investigations by both the TTC and her union.

Drinking and driving is not acceptable under any circumstances for anyone period. But when a city employee who interacts with and is responsible for the lives of numerous public lives is caught drunk on the job, it is far worse.

Not only did this bus driver potentially endanger the lives of her passengers, she put the lives of other drivers, their passengers, and pedestrians on the sidewalks around her vehicle at grave risk.

A city bus isn’t a Tonka Toy – have you ever seen one in an accident?

When a bus collides with a car usually the car is crushed like a tin can, while there is barely a scratch on the bus – even at low speeds. Buses are massive solid metal rolling structures. Driving one takes special training, and requires a special license in most metropolitan areas around the globe.

Although buses tend to be slow moving vehicles, if one gets out of control, it could wreak havoc – killing innocent people on the sidewalk, on the bus, or in other vehicles.

Not to mention that a city’s bus drivers are often the first and only contact visitors to a city have with city employees – having one driving drunk all over the road certainly doesn’t give Canada’s largest city the best public image.

The TTC should have – if they don’t already – a zero tolerance policy for being under the influence of non-prescribed drugs or alcohol while working. Anyone found to be working a regularly scheduled shift while drunk or drugged should be immediately fired, without hesitation.

Anything less is irresponsible for the safety and well being of the public, and the image of the city.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Happy Birthday Dot-Com

The dot-com era just reached its Silver Anniversary – 25-years ago yesterday the first dot-com on the Internet debuted amidst the beeps and buzzes of dial-up modem users everywhere.

On March 15, 1985, the Symbolics Computer Company registered, making history, changing forever the way we live.

Previously, to go anyplace in cyberspace you had to enter hard to remember Internet Protocol (IP) addresses directly, such as We have it easy now, just think of any company, and generally you can access it simply by typing the

These days, everyone is getting their own names registered as a domain name – there is even a trend among the ultra-nutty-types to register their newborn baby’s name on the Internet within a mere number of days of the child appearing from the womb. You don’t want your son or daughter to grow up not being able to have their namesake online – the horror!

But back in 1985, when big hair bands were rocking out on their synthesizers, while their fans were playing Pac Man, or trying to figure out the Rubik Cube, the Internet was the unimaginable stuff of science fiction.

Development of the Internet was slower than a dial-up connection on a party line, taking over two years to reach 100 dot-com registered names. Within ten years, that number had exploded to 18,000 registered names, in part due to dot-com boom.

Today there are over 80 million dot-com domain names, according to the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) which keeps track of these things. That doesn’t even come close to just how many registered domain names there are in total, when you consider all the dot-ca, dot-org, dot-biz, dot-tv, dot-gov, dot-this-that-and-the-other-thing . . .

Despite the bust of the dot-com boom in the late 1990’s when investors lost billions of dollars, the Internet has been one of the most steadily growing investments in our life time. Most of that growth has happened just after the failure of the initial dot-com boom, occurring within the past ten years.

Which makes sense – investors learned from their mistakes, and began investing in technologies which could actually be proven. Previously, many invested in what became known as vapourware – someone with a lot of drive and ambition sold them on an idea, which had not been turned into a solid product or service. When that idea turned out to be nothing more than just that – an idea -- that investor lost his shirt.

You can’t do business today unless you are on the Internet – all “real” companies have some sort of presence on the international network of computer networks.

Then again, there are always all those pseudo companies or people telling you about your long lost relative that no one has ever heard of, leaving you an inheritance in the millions. All you have to do is email your banking information to some complete stranger in some third-world country to claim your fortune.

As with all things in our world, just as there are honest people online, there are also dishonest ones too. Internet fraud has tripled over the past five years, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which reported over 337, 000 complaints of losses totalling almost $560 million last year.

However shady some are online, the virtual worlds we create for our entertainment and joy, our business and prosperity, and our friends and family are remarkable.

From surfing the net to catch up on our latest television shows, to participating in highly addictive online games, to just looking up how to cook a turkey or build a solar powered home, to checking out our bank balances, to buying just about anything imaginable online, to sharing pictures of your ski trip with your friends and family on a social networking site, the dot-com world – and all of its dot-brothers and dot-sisters – is fundamentally our world.

Happy 25 birthday dot-com!

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Monday, March 15, 2010

Nothing More Eye Opening then a Time Change

YAWN – Wake up!

Yeah, I know you are all tired, what with losing an hour of sleep thanks to moving your clocks back an hour for Daylight Saving Time.

That lack of sleep is responsible for an increase in traffic accidents the Monday following the time change in major city centers, as our bodies are still adjusting, according to many local cop shops, and scientists that study this sort of thing.
The scientists say if we actually did the clock change on Friday night (giving us Saturday and Sunday to adjust) instead of Saturday night (giving us only Sunday to adjust) our bodies – and vehicles – would be better off.

But there is a method to the madness and it tugs at your environmental heart strings.

Falling back and springing forward saves energy. Energy to heat, light and power our homes is directly connected to when we wake up in the morning and when we go to bed at night. For all but you night owls – you know who you are – most of us go to bed in the late evening and wake again in the early morning. While we’re under the covers, most of our lights and other appliances are turned off – unless you fell asleep watching the boob tube.

By moving the clocks ahead one hour in the spring, the average home cuts its energy use by about 25 percent.

Here’s how it works -- Daylight Saving Time adds an hour to the day – giving us an extra hour of sunlight, which in turn reduces the period between sunset and the average bedtime by one hour. That translates into less electricity used for lighting and appliances late in the day. We tend to use more electricity in the morning because it is darker, but that’s balanced by the energy we save at night.

As the days are longer, we tend to be home fewer hours during the day. Aside from the warmer sunnier weather promoting us to spend more time outside, studies show we tend to do more when the days are longer. These studies show we tend to prefer to do everything from housework to grocery shopping under a sunny sky – the increased amount of daylight actually motivates us on a subconscious level.

Maybe that’s the theory behind the term “spring cleaning?”

Also, as the days are “longer” we have more light later into the evening, meaning we can delay turning on our lights to see.

Need proof?

In the United States during the energy crisis of the 1970’s, Congress put most of America on extended Daylight Saving Time for two years to save energy. The American Department of Transportation conducted a study during this extended time shift and found it saved the equivalent in energy of 10,000 barrels of oil each day, for a total of 600,000 barrels in each of those two years.

Daylight Saving Time also keeps us safe. Makes sense, there is more daylight, so there are fewer car and pedestrian accidents caused by traveling under the darkness of the night. The same American Department of Transportation study found that about 50 lives were saved and about 2,000 injuries prevented, by extending Daylight Saving Time during the energy crisis in the 1970’s. The study says that amounts to about $28 million saved in motor vehicle accident costs.

Another reason we do it is because it is just a Canadian thing to do.

Despite Daylight Saving Time changes across the globe, the whole process was invented by Canadian Sir Sandford Fleming to keep the goods and people traveling by train across North America on time. Fleming created time zones which were first used in 1883 to standardize train schedules.

Train travel made time keeping obsolete under the old system where major cities and regions set clocks according to local astronomical conditions. Fleming may not be father time, but his standard or “mean time” and hourly variations from that according to established time zones was adopted at an international conference in 1884. Standard Mean Time – Sir Sanford Fleming’s invention is the way we tell time to this day.

So wake up sleepy head, springing forward is something we Canucks should be used too.


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Friday, March 12, 2010

The March of Technology is Killing the March Break

I remember way back when I was a kid in school, on a day like today I’d be a bundle of raw energy, just itching for the clock to buzz it’s last alert for the week – and for the next two weeks – as today marks the start of March Break across much of Canada.

Back then, all the school boards across the province were pretty much unanimous in their timing of the annual spring break. All the school boards in the province gave us two weeks off, all starting at the same time.

For me and my brother, the March Break meant two weeks of lounging around the house, sleeping in, and fighting over who got to watch what on the big TV in the living room.

Some did a typically Canadian thing – they packed up and flew to warmer climates, to enjoy a spring break away from the Canadian winter chill.

The March Break was a well deserved vacation – two weeks to rejuvenate and refresh our minds, bodies, and souls.

Even if you didn’t go anywhere or do anything really significant, it was a pleasant time to just take a break.

These days, March Break has been reduced to a mere week. Kids in school these days have such jam-packed schedules, school boards have become stingy in their allowances of time off.

One of the downsides to our technologically advanced world which surprisingly gets little coverage is the pressure it puts on educators and kids.

When I was a kid, they only had two computer classes – basic computing and advanced computing – and both were only offered as electives in high school. The computer classes were taught on what are now ancient relics, the original IBM PC running at a turtle-blasting speed of 4.77 Mhz. These days, if you find one of these monsters of a machine it would be best used as a paperweight than anything else.

Kids these days don’t get basic or advanced computing classes as electives – they learn this stuff as part of their regular curriculum. Many even learn some of the more advanced programs I use every day as part of my job: Adobe PhotoShop, Dreamweaver, and MS-Office.

When I did a presentation in school, I’d often have a handful of scribbled hand written notes, as I improvised much of what I said. These days, even the teeniest tiniest kids are creating highly graphical PowerPoint slide shows, with music, video and animated elements for their school presentations.

The computer revolution – contrary to what was thought at its onset – has not reduced the amount of paper used, it hasn’t created a society of typing mindless drones blindly following unimaginative corrupt business leaders (well that depends where you work), and it certainly hasn’t given us shorter work weeks, longer weekends, or more time off to pursue personal passions.

What the computer revolution has done is create a society which needs to be up and running from day one.

When I was a kid, the closest thing we had to a computer in the house was a typewriter – until the 1980’s when computers were just starting to make their way into the home. Back then, I released my creative juices building imaginary towns with Lego building blocks, racing toy cars down imaginary roads, drawing imaginary worlds, and filling them with imaginary characters using crayons, finger paints, paper and glue.

These days, kids blend their imaginations into technology – creating PowerPoints for school, well shot, edited and produced videos they upload to YouTube, or even just “texting” their thoughts to their friends over their Blackberry. Why a kid needs a Blackberry is still beyond me – when I was a kid, I’d be lucky if my parents gave me change for the pay phone . . .

Kids these days have learned how to blend technologies we never had before, into their daily lives.

But all of this – and more – has created a society where schools are forced to teach more than reading, writing and arithmetic.

Or more to the point, educators have had to embrace the new technologies, to teach the basics, or else the kids of today – which are literally born into the information age – wouldn’t understand what the teacher is teaching.

Sure, you can still use colored blocks to teach kids how to count, but they may lose interest, and stop listening unless those colored blocks were animated on a computer screen.

So why then, at a time when technology has put even more pressure on educators and kids alike, have many school boards cut the March Break down by a week?

Ironically it is the very same reason we need a break – the demands of technology.

It is the technology used by kids, and the need for educators to constantly stay one step ahead of kids by learning how to use these technologies, which means school years are all the more impacted to keep up with it all.

As the latest advances constantly enter our lives – three-dimensional HDTV systems are due out next week – that just adds to the wealth of technical-know how we’re expected to use.

I need a break!

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Thursday, March 11, 2010

Oscar – A Snob in Life and in Death

Although the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences sounds like a highly academic intellectual organization, their science is anything but.

Most will know “the Academy” as the organization which brings us the Oscar’s every year. Most winners thank “the Academy” for the honor.

Often embroiled in controversy for choosing best actors, movies, and other Hollywood-types based more on popularity than for talent, last Sunday’s show was supposed to have put much of that behind it. The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences changed how votes were cast and some of the categories to do just that.

However, as with many things from so-called “La-La Land” – the Academy has been re-writing its version of science, which has landed it in a different kind of controversy.

Usually, after the Oscar’s, there is much debate about who won and who didn’t. This year, the controversy is over who died. Well not exactly – more to the point, which famous celebrities who have passed on should be honored and which should be excluded – if any?

The executive director of the Academy apologized today for intentionally leaving out Farrah Fawcett from the segment which pays tribute to Hollywood celebrities who have died in the past year.

Numerous agents, publicists and other Hollywood insiders were honored along with several big name celebs – but the Oscars snubbed one of television’s greatest icons, forever to be remembered as one of “Charlies’ Angels.”

Michael Jackson – who isn’t a movie or television star, but one of music – was honored at last Sunday’s Oscar tribute. But other famous faces including Gene Barry (from both versions of “War of the Worlds”) nor Bea Arthur (the gravely-voiced strong woman behind “Maud”) were ignored.

Bruce Davis, the person who’s been heading up the “in memoriam” segment since it began at the 1993 Oscar’s says he thought about including Farrah Fawcett, but as she was more of a television star, he felt the TV Academy Awards would be a better place to pay her tribute – and they did. He said they included Michael Jackson because he was the subject of a movie documentary.

It is like being that one kid that was always last to be picked to play on the baseball team, because neither of the two kids choosing players for their respective teams wanted that one kid on their team.

Kids can be cruel – but that’s because they are young and don’t know any better. When adults do it, is just mean spirited evil ill will.

We’re not talking about deciding who is the best actor in a dramatic supporting role – this isn’t a contest about who died better -- we all die. When someone famous passes away, we expect they will be honored in front of and by their peers, because that is just the right thing to do.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences needs to either completely remove the memorial section from its Oscar awards, or stop using it to promote their own discreet social inner circle, and pay tribute to all famous faces that passed on.

Until then, the Oscar statues aren’t worth the gold they are plated with.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

High Rises and Bird Crashes

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a . . . WATCH OUT FOR THA . . .

As our cities grow larger and land is gobbled up so fast the only way to build is up, office towers, condos and apartment complexes are getting higher every year.

Not a problem, thanks to those magic metal boxes whipping us up and down these buildings. Problem is, migratory birds don’t take elevators – and because their visual acuity differs from how our human eyes work, when we humans design these buildings, often we just don’t take their point of view.

Today, two environmental groups launched legal action against a property management firm in Canada’s largest city claiming the buildings in the lawsuit are migratory bird killing complexes.

Ontario Nature and Ecojustice initiated legal proceedings against Menkes, claiming that over 800 birds have died after flying into three of its Menkes’ office towers. The environmental groups have filed the lawsuit under the Environmental Protection Act and the OSCPA Cruelty to Animals Act, claiming the buildings at 100, 200 and 300 Consilium Place have the most reflective glass windows in the entire city, leading to the high numbers of bird deaths.

At first thought, this story might appear to be just a media stunt, to coincide with this month’s Earth Hour event. Organized by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Earth Hour is an annual event where businesses and residents around the world are encouraged to turn off all their lights for one entire hour, to show their support for climate change. In the past, cities in the United States, Canada, Australia and others have all participated.

In Toronto last year, all the skyscrapers and even the world famous CN Tower turned off all but their hallway and airplane warning lights, creating an eerie dark silence rarely seen in the city.

This may be a media stunt leading up to Earth Hour – which takes place in Toronto on March 27 – but birds do die from crashing into buildings.

Migratory birds – birds which migrate through cities en route to their mating sites in the spring, winter homes in the fall – aren’t as adaptable to city living as local birds which call our cities home. Birds that don’t migrate, but live in our cities year-round seem to have grown accustom to our high rise buildings of concrete, glass and steel.

Migratory birds on the other hand, get easily confused by the lights, shiny and reflective surfaces, and will often crash into these buildings mistaking a reflection of a tree or a cloud in one of these buildings as the real thing, and heading straight for it.

Clear glass presents the greatest risk to birds, as birds can’t perceive it until they are already too close to slow down or get out of its way.

The City of Toronto does have a program in place to encourage property managers, residents and business owners living and working in high rises to be bird friendly – called Light’s Out Toronto.

Whether or not the property management firm named in the lawsuit is following the Light’s Out Toronto guidelines for making new and existing buildings more bird friendly remains to be seen – if the matter makes it to the courts this will be one of the issues raised.

There are a number of things in the city’s guidelines which can be done to new and existing buildings to make them more bird friendly – such as glass treatments to reduce reflections, night lighting schemes, and other building management and operations practices.

The real issue here – as with anything related to our environment – is learning to live with nature, rather than isolated from it.

As our cities continue to expand skywards, buildings have to be designed to be bird friendly – using less reflective glass, having distinguishable patterns throughout the exterior of the building so birds see it as a solid object, and using less lights at night to avoid confusing birds are just some of the answers.

Although the environmental groups initiating a law suit against a property management firm raises awareness of these issues, that’s about all it does.

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Canadians Were Played by their Prime Minister

Isn’t it ironic that during Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harpers thrown speech, sparking another session of Parliament, that he chose that moment to re-ignite an on-going debate to change the lyrics to the Canadian national anthem Oh Canada?

It is ironic if you take note that his thrown speech was delivered amidst all the hoopla surrounding International Women’s Day – which is today.

Last week, many private and government organizations made announcements about events and programs to coincide with the annual day promoting the economic, political and social achievements of the women’s movement.

Canada’s Governor-General, Michaelle Jean, said herself that she’s timed her visit to her homeland of Haiti to coincide with International Women’s Day, because wants to send a positive message to the women of her earthquake battered land, to empower them on their rebuilding efforts.

Many workplaces are also having special seminars, cultural, and social events, as part of International Women’s Day.

So why were we Canadians so blind-sided by the prime minister’s announcement last week by his government’s intent to investigate whether or not parts of the national anthem are sexist?

Maybe we were still in awe from the just concluded Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games which rapped up a mere days before the prime minister’s controversial announcement.

Or maybe that was the whole point?

Perhaps the media-savvy public relations handlers for Prime Minister Stephen Harper saw no harm in tossing a proverbial bone to the Women’s Movement, as they could bury it within the Thrown Speech, at a time when most of us were still being blinded by the numerous gold, silver and bronze medals our Canadian Team took in this year?

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has never really been very progressive when it comes to catering to special interest groups. He’s talked the good talk about reducing carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases, even setting realistically achievable targets and deadlines – but so far they are nothing more than words on a page, as his government has failed to implement these policies into action.

It appears the Canadian Prime Minister is acting much like an American president known as “the Great Communicator” for his ability to spin messages.

During the 1980’s American President Ronald Reagan – AKA “the Great Communicator” – spun his way through his administration’s major changes to American economic spending, militarization (the Cold War was still going strong), foreign policy, and education. Had he not been so slick and media savvy, instead of being one of the most respected American leaders of all time, he may have gone down in history as being one of the most controversial.

His economic policies were so radical at the time, opponents to his policies nicknamed them “Reaganomics” which the Reagan administration then turned on its head, spinning the negative out of the term so that “Reaganomics” actually made the American leader’s economic policies more palatable to those against it.

Just as Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has used the cloak of a thrown speech, on the heels of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, President Reagan used distractionary tactics to diffuse attention away from the real agenda of his government.

The image of American President Ronald Reagan standing along the Berlin Wall, in his silky smooth broadcast-movie-announcer-type voice saying: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” was one of the most memorable moments of his administration. Yet, around the same time as President Reagan was asking the then Soviet President Mikael Gorbachev to end the Cold War, the American leader was working on his “Star Wars” plan, which was an automated system of satellites and nuclear weapons which would be used to protect America from a nuclear attack by Russia.

Oh Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is nowhere near as slick as the former actor, turned American President. But make no mistake about it; Prime Minister Harper knows how to play us.

He certainly played us for a fool last week when he announced his intentions to investigate sexist lyrics in Oh Canada – just in time for International Women’s Day.

Prime Minister Harper has a habit of making such broad sweeping announcements around very public events, only to have done something completely different later on. He’s using the women’s movement to distract us from his real intents and purposes.

So the natural question to ask now is: so what is Canada’s Prime Minister going to do this session of Parliament?

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