Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Part of Apple’s Dictatorship Smashed By U.S. Court

This week, the American Copyright Office ruled that “jailbreaking” your iPhone doesn’t violate the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA), breaking Apple’s strong-arm tactics to keep iPhone applications – often called “apps” – under the computer company’s control.

Prior to the American government ruling, Apple’s iPhone wouldn’t allow you to properly install “apps” which Apple didn’t sanction.

Thanks to the American ruling, Apple no longer can use the DCMA to control what you do and don’t do on your iPhone. However, Apple still has the ability to deny warranty coverage on iPhones which have been set to run non-Apple approved applications, and may be able to sue iPhone users for attempting to reverse engineer their iPhone.

Whether Apple intends this sort of action is still up in the air, as the latest legal developments could be viewed as a precedent which would further erode Apple’s dictatorship-approach to the iPhone, and it’s other technologies.

What would have happened if Microsoft took the same approach to Windows-based Personal Computers? What if Microsoft only allowed Microsoft approved applications be run on Windows-based machines?

Chances are, we’d still be in the dark ages, running computers with teeny hard drives, barely any memory and the Internet – ROTFL – that woudn’t exist.

By allowing software developers the freedom to explore the digital wonders their minds can concieve, we open up a whole new technological universe. Apple claims its restrictions on its hardware and software maintains a high quality user experience, while minimizing the risks from viruses and malware.

Granted, having Big Brother watching over every single application which is in development may help prevent viruses and malware, but it won’t eliminate it completely. Smart phone malware is still relatively new, and potentially devastating. Clicking on a link in a text message from someone you think is sending you a link to their resume might actually download your complete address book to some hell-bent hacker who giddy with delight at receiving a new batch of victims, spams their smart phones.

And not all the “apps” denied approval by Apple are dangerous. Google Voice was never approved by the wanna-be computer gods at Apple, yet this proven technology by the largest search engine on the planet is in use by millions around the world.

Some smart iPhone users found a way to beat Apple at its own game, and figured out how to hack into the iPhone’s file system, unlocking the device so it would run “apps” which didn’t have an Apple-approved digital signature.

Unlocking of the iPhone to run non-Apple approved “apps” is ironically called “jailbreaking” as you are breaking the smart phone out of Apple’s jail.

Apple, not surprisingly, is advising users against jailbreaking their iPhones, claiming it may cause performance issues.

The only performance issues experienced by the estimated four-million iPhone users already using “apps” which Apple has not approved is the freedom to use their iPhone as they want too. 

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Box On Wheels – Recalled

I never did like the Nissan Cube hatchback. The vehicle looks like a box on wheels, but must appeal to some, because 51, 100 of them in North America have been recalled due to excessive fuel leakages during a rear collision.

The American National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says more fuel spills out during a rear-end crash than American standards allow. The vehicle is also known for being spun right onto its side in such a collision – though Nissan’s voluntary recall is only for the fuel problem.

One wonders just how safe this box on wheels really is, if an American safety standards test can toss it about like a tin can?

Maybe the NHTSA is giving the automakers a break? After all they have already endured far more recalls in the past two-years than in the entire history of the automobile. I mean safety isn’t really a big issue – that’s what air bags, seatbelts, and simply looking before you leap come into play.

It’s not as if Nissan is intentionally selling an unsafe vehicle just to make a buck.

Or is it?

The American government’s NHTSA has conducted the standard barrage of tests on the Nissan Cube hatchback, and concluded that the vehicle and its occupants can very well find themselves on their sides in the NHTSA’s standard 80 KM/HR rear-end crash test.

That’s just the car I want! Where can I line up?

Though I suppose anyone thinking this fashion trend box on wheels – it’s supposed to be a crossover between a minivan and a compact hatchback – might enjoy the ride from the side. The vehicle’s demographics are the young, hip and trendy recent college graduate crowd.

Whether or not those young, hip and trendy grads will survive their chosen vehicle-slash-fashion statement remains to be seen.

But hey, it only took Toyota about ten years to come clean and admit that deaths a decade ago were caused by poorly manufactured cars. Wait another decade and maybe we’ll know just how safe this box on wheels really is.

Sheesh – whatever happened to quality in today’s automotive world?

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Monday, July 26, 2010

What’s In a Face?

That may be the question of the future, as medical experts conduct more face transplants.

Today, the world’s first full face transplant recipient – identified only as “Oscar” – showed off his new face at a press conference at a Spanish hospital.

Last March, over 30 doctors at the University Hospital Vall D’Hebron in Barcelona, Spain worked on “Oscar” whose face was severely injured in an accident.

The surgeons transplanted the entire facial skin and muscles, including the nose, lips, cheekbones, even the complete mouth, including the palate and teeth.

The full face transplant took just over 24 hours of surgery, and months of recovery.

Partial face transplants had successfully been done previously in France, China, the United States and Spain.

Organ donation has always been a controversial topic, but now may be reaching new levels of complexity. When an organ donor provides a much needed heart or liver to a person in need, the chances of the donor’s friends and family recognizing him or her are seldom to none.

In fact, one of the golden rules of organ donation is the donor’s family and friends are never told the name of the person or persons receiving the life-saving organs.

But a face – a human face – is perhaps the most common way we recognize one another.

Imaging walking down the street only to be shocked to see your deceased best friend stroll past? The thought is enough to send ghostly shivers up one’s spine.

Is it right to transpose another person’s likeness – their face – upon someone else? If we were able to alter the original face, how much is enough – and is this even ethically correct? Should the family and friends of the donor be told who the recipient of the new face is ahead of time? Should the donor’s family and the recipient’s meet – and if so, do either party have a vote in whether or not to proceed?

As modern medicine constantly amazes with new ways to mend us, we as a society will have to tackle the complex philosophical and ethical questions about the nature and value of these modern medicinal cures.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bikes VS Cars – Ride or Drive

There has been much debate in the mayoralty races in Canada’s largest city regarding the best way to get around town.

Some local wanna-be mayors are in full favour of adding bike lanes to busy Toronto streets, while others are opposed.

Those for them say they make it safer for cyclists, as it provides a lane dedicated to their chosen mode of transportation.

Those against say it takes away a lane from drivers, adding to traffic congestion.
Cycling in Canada isn’t a year-round method of travel. There are those brave – some might say crazy – souls, that will peddle their way around town in -30C wind chills, through the snow-covered streets in our typically Canadian winters.

However, even these rare cyclists aren’t able to hit their bikes during an ice-storm – it’s physically impossible to get enough traction on a standard bicycle when the sidewalks, walkways and roads are pure sheets of ice.

Cycling in Canada sadly is limited to the warmer months – spring, summer and fall. And even in these months, the challenges of Canadian weather can force even the most die-hard cycling enthusiast into a climate controlled car.

Try explaining to your potential employer why you are soaked, as you slosh into your chair during a job interview.

But does that mean we shouldn’t be investing in alternative modes of transportation for our urban centers?

Cycling is good for the environment, is good for exercise, and takes up a much smaller footprint on our streets, meaning it is generally better for traffic flow.

On top of all that, cycling doesn’t require oil-based fossil fuels from environmentally uncaring companies like British Petroleum (BP). BP still hasn’t fully stopped their leaking oil well which began polluting thousands of miles of wetlands along the Gulf of Mexico back in April. Scientists say it could take decades before the area is fully restored to what it was before the oil spill.

Not to single out BP – though it isn’t hard to do as their lack of planning is quite evident in their mismanagement of their own product’s storage, refinement and transportation. Other oil companies have had environmental accidents – some resulting in disasters like BP. Prior to BP’s fiasco in the Gulf, Exxon was known for its mega-oil tanker leak the Valdez in 1989 where about 750,000 barrels of crude oil slunk across Alaska to California.

Yes, taking away a lane of traffic from cars will aggravate drivers – as it should.
If more of us got pissed off at the cyclist whizzing past us, as we sat idling in our gas-based polluting automobiles, then maybe more of us would switch to cleaner peddle-power.

Unfortunately, many big city dwellers just curse, swear, and sometimes intentionally cut-off cyclists because they don’t see eye-to-eye with them. Road rage between a driver and a cyclist is never pretty. But in many instances it can be prevented by having a lane dedicated to cyclists.

And that’s why we need more – not less – bike lanes in all our towns and cities.

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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Canada’s Largest City Running Out of Numbers

According to the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) – the Canadian government department responsible for managing everything communication – Toronto will run out of phone numbers in five years.

The original Toronto area code of 416 is almost completely used up, and the newest area code for the city – 647 – only has about 2.5 million numbers left.
Canadian area codes typically have 7.5 million unique numbers.

So yesterday, the CRTC says that the Canadian Numbering Administrator – yes there is such a thing – is looking into the creation of yet another area code for the country’s largest city.

What gives?

There are about 2.5 million residents in Toronto -- 2,503,281 as of the latest 2010 Statistics Canada numbers to be official. The entire Greater Toronto Area (GTA) which includes the municipalities immediately surrounding the city (including Toronto’s population) is about 4.4 million people.

DO the math – Canadian area codes have 7.5 million numbers – wait a sec . . . the CRTC says we are running out of numbers, yet the population hasn’t met demand?

Guess some people just can’t put down their technological toys – some of us have two or more cell phones. It isn’t all that uncommon to have a cell for work and another for personal use. Some even have a different cell for their car.

Some people even have an old style cell phone and a smart phone. They keep their old phone because – well – I don’t really know – but they do – OKAY?!?!?

Why someone needs more than one personal communications device is beyond me. Unless you’re leading a double life.

That might be fun . . . or not . . .

Though we can’t blame the lone mobile phone or our new dependence on the BlackBerry and other smart phones for our overuse of the telephone system.

Many people have more than one landline-based phone at home – say a voice line and a fax line. Some people even get their teenagers their own landline, so that they never have to hear what my mom always yelled at me when I was a kid: “get off the phone!”

Offices and other businesses account for a huge toll in the telephone numbers game. According to a 2007 study at the time, there were 75,500 businesses in Toronto. Each business can have multiple numbers – so an office with a few hundred employees could have a few hundred voice numbers – or more.

And don’t forget facsimile machines. Although instant messaging and email have quickly become the dominant person-to-person communications systems thank to the Internet, most businesses still have fax capabilities. And for every fax machine, there are . . . JUNK FAXES.

It’s remarkable – and sad – that in this day of environmentalism, thoughts of greening the planet, and saving forests by using less paper, some businesses still think the best way to do business is by blasting their unwanted advertising to the masses by fax.

Some business leaders just aren’t very good leaders.

On average, most Canadians have three phone numbers – work, home and cell. So multiply 2.5 million by three, and you get 7.5 million – exactly the number of unique possible phone numbers in a Canadian area code.

Cool math.

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

City of Toronto Spends Over $400,000 on Crap

It took just two months for Canada’s largest city to flush CDN$400, 000.00 down the drain. That’s the amount it cost to put a fully self-cleaning pay toilet in downtown Toronto. Two months and about 3,500 flushes later, it is now out of order.

Apparently, the automatic device that pulls the seat into the wall after each use for cleaning has malfunctioned, so the city’s first high-tech pay toilet is now broken.

What a waste of taxpayer dollars – granted having your own private air conditioned room to do your business sounds pleasant. And sometimes you can’t always find a clean public washroom when you need one.

However, it would have cost a lot less to hire a handful of cleaners to improve the city’s public toilets already available throughout the city, or even to simply slap on a new coat of paint to the older washrooms.

Granted, there is a certain “wow” factor associated with new high tech toys – and I suppose a high tech self-cleaning toilet is no exception.

And the city is hoping to recoup some of its costs through advertising in and on these things – they’ve partnered with Astral Media (which owns the Movie Network and other media holdings) to install 20 automated toilets across the city.

However, at a mere quarter-a-use, the unit has only made about CD$875.00, and is now going to cost some more coins to repair.

Maybe the city’s first automated public toilet is just a lemon, and this first repair is only a fluke. Or, maybe it is a sign of the poor quality of the product, and just the first of many costly repairs – to an already costly publicly-funded venture?

Either way, Canada’s largest city is in the hole.

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Monday, July 19, 2010

The Best Way to Green the Planet -- Mentally

A recent survey by Colliers International ranked the most expensive places to park.

Topping the list, is London, England where residents pay on average US$933 per month, while the average parking fees people in Hong Kong pay aren’t far behind – it came in second on the most expensive places to park list – at US$744.72.

Some places didn’t seem all that bad, residents in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario, Canada only pay on average US$116.94 per month to park their vehicles. The most expensive Canadian city? Calgary, Alberta at US$453.38 – and Calgary is the only Canadian location to make the top ten of the international most expensive places to park.

Today’s press will no doubt focus on how ridiculous it is to pay these prices for parking. They’ll probably do what journalists call “streeters” – those one-line sound bites from passersby on the street, getting reactions from angry drivers.

However, the municipalities which made the list should be congratulated, despite complaints from local drivers.

Whether you drive a Hummer in mid-town New York – the most expensive place to park in the United States – or a Lorry in London, UK – the most expensive place to park in the world – parking fees should be high.

Higher parking fees discourage people from driving in major urban centers, reducing the amount of vehicles in confined city spaces. Not only will this reduce commute times, thanks to the reduction in overall traffic, but all those nasty greenhouse gases spewed out from those vehicles is reduced too.

What a hassle – you say – how am I to go anywhere?

You’ll find a way.

We always do.

As more buildings a jammed into our already overcrowded urban areas, there are fewer and fewer spots to park. This generally increases the costs associated with parking, which is a good thing.

It forces people to think of alternative modes of transportation – such as taking public transit, riding a bike, walking, or if a car is absolutely required, car pooling.

Ironic how environmental disasters like British Petroleum’s oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico bring attention to the need for more green solutions, but what really brings about change is our own discomfort.

As parking spots in our urban centers are eaten up by newer developments, bringing even more people into the urban centers with cars and trucks, it constantly takes longer and longer to circle the block looking for a parking spot.

As those parking spots are increasingly rare, the cost to use them constantly increases.

Both the high fees and the hassle of finding a spot to park work on us psychologically, forcing us to think of other ways to get around.

Maybe the solution to our dependence on fossil fuels lies in our minds?

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Is BP Intentionally Stalling for It’s Own Good?

This morning, British Petroleum (BP) said it’s latest scheme to end the oil slick gushing into the Gulf of Mexico for the past 12-weeks is on hold, because of a leaking pipe.

If it isn’t one thing, it is another – for 12-weeks – that’s over three-months – since the April 20 explosion which killed 11 people on the BP oil rig, and has been unleashing a torrent of toxic oil into ecosystems stretching thousands of kilometres.

The latest efforts to repair the deep drilled oil well – so deep even military divers can’t get down there, only robots can handle the pressures at those depths – was supposed to be “the” fix to finally stop the oil.

Less than 12-hours after it began, this fool-proof fix made fools of us all.

Or did it?

Granted, BP’s stock price has ridden the ups and downs of this fiasco, the company has had to shell out billions of dollars, and even took a very public dressing down from the most powerful man in the world – American President Barack Obama.

However, as the old saying goes, any press, is good press.

Despite the negative comments hurled at BP for creating the world’s worst human-caused environmental disaster – even when compared to the Chernobyl nuclear accident in 1986 – BP has been consistently in the press for the past three-months.

That’s not all bad, because the more your name is out there, the more valuable your business is. Sure it isn’t good news, but that hasn’t stopped BP from making money.

And that’s why the question has been raised, that maybe BP is intentionally stalling it’s clean up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico.

What a horrible thing to say! To think that major, multinational company would intentionally do harm to the environment just to increase its value.

However it isn’t completely without basis, major multinational companies have gone to great lengths in the past to succeed, even when it means doing things not exactly kosher.

Just look at the Enron scandal, where the company intentionally mislead investors by over inflating it’s profits by $1 billion dollars in 2001. This lead to criminal convictions, suicides by executives, and the eventual failure of the company.

Or look at American Airlines, which has repeatedly delayed repairs ordered by the American government’s Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) regarding its fleet of aging MD-80 airliners. Some of these repairs could affect the lives of everyone on-board, as failing to repair cracks to pressure bulkheads could cause the cabin to depressurize, leading to the catastrophic loss of the plane.

Clearly, business ethics aren’t front and center in the hearts and minds of the world’s corporate elite.

So, is BP stalling to make the most of a bad situation?

Only the time will tell.

Meanwhile, the environment and those who live in the affected areas continue to suffer, due to BP’s continued negligence.

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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Ontario’s Eco Tax Not Even Managed

A new tax in Canada’s largest province is so poorly mismanaged, that one of the country’s largest retailers has had to issue a public apology for overcharging customers.

Ontario’s eco-fee (provincial politicians call it a “fee” instead of a “tax” because they snuck it through without any debate – public or otherwise) went into effect this past July 1.

The Ontario government claims the new “fee” is supposed to discourage people from purchasing products harmful to the environment, and it is supposed to be applied to the costs associated with recycling and disposing of the harmful products it is applied too.

Learn more about the fee.

However, it appears not only was this new tax – whoops I mean “fee” – brought in without any debate, there was no thought as to how to manage it.

Canadian Tire apologized today, for overcharging customers on a biodegradable shower cleaner sold in its stores. The large Canadian retailer says it will gladly refund the overcharged amount to customers who bring in their receipts.
Canadian Tire blames its computerized Point of Sale system for the error, and says it has since been corrected.

Why is an environmentally-friendly “fee” is being charged on an environmentally-friendly product? Isn’t the whole nature of the eco-fee to be charged on products harmful to the environment, to encourage environmentally-friendly product purchases?

Maybe this mix-up is because the provincial body charged with managing the eco-fee admits they don’t know what they are doing. Stewardship Ontario, admitted it doesn’t have a way to monitor or control how much retailers are charging.

This brought heavy fire from the province’s Environment Minister John Gerretsen, who warned the organization that if it doesn’t implement an auditing system to ensure correct and consistent fees are collected, he’ll end the program.

That’s government talk for – “hey, if you don’t do my job and make me look good, I’ll shut down the program, and you’ll be moved to another government program.”

(No one ever gets fired anymore.)

Seriously, isn’t it the Environment Minister’s job to create the policies and procedures for his own ministry?

Gee Mr. Gerretsen, wouldn’t it have been a better idea to discuss, debate and then decide how to implement this eco-fee BEFORE you put it in place? Don’tcha-think?

But no, you just had to get this tax into place as fast as possible, without any input from anyone other than your own closely guarded circle of – did you talk to anyone about this? Anyone at all?

Naturally, the opposition parties are coming down on the Ontario government over this mess. One politician even saying if elected he’ll kill this new tax right away.

When was the last time you ever heard of a politician canceling a tax completely?


Me either.

What’s worse, is now our politicians are using our passion for the planet against us. Instead of instituting green initiatives which really are environmentally-friendly, they are instituting policies which just pad their pocketbooks, using the environment as an excuse.

No wonder politicians get a bad rap, and jokes abound about just how far you can trust ‘em.

What will you do next Minister Gerretsen, paint a baby green, toss a sash on it reading “Earth” and then kiss it in front of the cameras for a photo op?

Just remember, if you do that – don’t use the lead-based paint.

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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Social Networking’s Invasion of Privacy Just Got a Whole Lot Messier

Today, computer software giant Microsoft announced that their latest version of MS-Office will integrate seamlessly with Facebook.

Previous versions of the world’s most popular set of applications – which include Word, Outlook, Excel and PowerPoint – have allowed users to connect to LinkedIn using a plug-in called MS-Outlook Social Connector. The latest version of MS-Office not only has this plug-in built directly into the interface, it pulls far more information from Facebook than it did from LinkedIn.

From pulling Facebook photos into MS-Outlook, so now you’ll know what the other person you are emailing looks like, to revealing all their status updates, news feeds, even their wall posts – so you not only know what they like and are up too, but who their friends are, and what their friends like and are up too – all of this – and more is now publicly available to anyone you email using MS-Outlook, or any of the other MS-Office applications.

Cool sounding at first, but then think about all the personal information being shared. Do you really want your boss to see the drunken photos of you that you posted after celebrating your last birthday?

What if you are looking for work – do you want potential employers to see you vent off your frustrations about your current or past employer thanks to having access to your newsfeed and status updates?

Think you are very social network savvy, and you are extremely cautious about what you post on Facebook?

Doesn’t matter – if a friend posts something which you just might not want the whole world to know, too damn bad – because wall posts and news feeds are now shown directly in MS-Outlook.

So that video of you doing an air guitar rendition of Stairway to Heaven in your underwear that your girlfriend posted on her Facebook, could now be playing on a colleagues computer. Worse – that colleague can simply forward the email to everyone in your office so even your coworkers without Facebook accounts will see you dancing in your undies.

Social networking has come a long way in a very short time. It wasn’t all that long ago that unless you actually knew someone personally, you’d never know that person at all.

But thanks to the information powerhouse of the Internet, just type a name into a search engine, and you can see what they look like, who they work for, their kids names, the kind of car they drive, and even some of their silly photos from real-world social activities.

And thanks to Microsoft’s new and more direct integration of Facebook – the most popular social networking site – you don’t even have to search for the information. It’ll just appear right in your MS-Outlook inbox.

Not that social networking is all bad. Knowing more about a client may earn you brownie points and make your job easier.

If you discover that a hard to read client has just come back from a business trip in San Francisco, for example, you could use that as an opening to try and break the ice. Seeing photos of that client, with a beautiful woman wrapped around him while on that trip may prompt you to ask about his wife and their shared experiences on that trip, only to find out, that he didn’t take his wife on that “business” trip.



Thanks social networking!

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Monday, July 12, 2010

America’s Not So Green President

Breaking news from CNN, the U.S. Interior Department issued a new moratorium to block deepwater oil and natural gas drilling today.

Big whoop.

If the American government really gave a damn about the environment, then we wouldn’t still be talking about the British Petroleum (BP) oil spill in the Gulf, which began April 20 – yes APRIL. An estimated 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of crude oil continue to pollute all the interconnected water and ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico EVERY DAY.

BP has yet to cap their leaking – more like GUSHING – oil well, and despite fines, harsh language, and personal meetings with American President Barack Obama, BP is taking a very lazy, don’t give a rat’s ass approach. Their latest scheme to stop the oil well is only being considered a temporary measure, which may or may not even work.

We live in an age of technological wonder. As you read this sentence, billions of emails, web pages, instant messages and text messages have been sent and received.

Yet in this world of instant everything, when it comes to our home, planet Earth, nothing is quite as fast.

Yes, eventually Mother Nature will clean up the mess left by the careless executives at BP that failed to prevent this disaster from occurring. Mother Nature takes her time – scientists estimate it’ll take about half-a-million years before all the oil is gone if it were just left there for Mother Nature to tackle.

Plants and animals affected by the oil won’t come back from the oil spill for another few thousand years after that.

The first Black American president often considered the most “green” because of his strong public image towards environmental initiatives is looking anything but green. His first attempt to initiate a moratorium on deep oil drilling was tossed out by a federal judge – yes a FEDERAL judge.

Now we sit and wait for the overly powerful oil and gas industry to take the latest deep oil and natural gas drilling moratorium to court. Will the American President be embarrassed a second time, by having one of his own federal judges toss it out?

Moratoriums aren’t even a real solution, they just are temporary bans, which means they are temporary quick fixes to long-term, real problems.

The long-term real problem – our dependency on fossil fuels.

When President Obama was recently sworn in, he gave a serious of very moving speeches, mentioning how his administration was committed to reducing what he called in all of these orations “America’s dependence oil and non-American fossil fuels.”

He enthused with great energy, how he was going to take the lead, in moving America away from this dependency. He talked about ensuring all federal government buildings had green power alternatives, and how Americans can harness the power of the wind, the Sun and the water to make America great once again.

He did what many politicians in many countries do – he gave great big moving speeches.

Unfortunately, he then did what many politicians in many countries have also done – failed to act on those great big moving speeches.

The BP oil catastrophe isn’t a time to back away, and let a room full uncaring oil executives tell you it just can’t be done.

NOW is the time President Obama should make good on those great big moving green speeches. NOW is the perfect time to take action, to really make America – and the world – a better place.

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Thursday, July 08, 2010

Those Sneaky Politicians Have Done it Again

Those calling Canada’s largest province of Ontario “home” may question just how publicly democratic the provincial government is, as they continue to pass legislation secretly.

Sounds more like a dictatorship than a democratically elected government – but that has been the Ontario government’s method of governance for at least two – that we now know of – policies.

First there was the controversial and ever hush-hush passing of a war measures-like act just prior to the G20 and G8 Summits held in the province. A new law was passed temporarily allowing police across the province to detain and arrest people without just cause, if they just happened to be too close for comfort during the summits.

That’s how a number of local residents got arrested during the gathering of the world’s most 20 powerful leaders in Toronto late last month. One person was just coming home from picking up a jug of milk for her infant son, and was tossed to the ground, handcuffed, and stuffed into a moving van by police, and held for over 48-hours in a temporary jail created especially for the anticipated increased numbers of detainees.

The law providing the police these sweeping – and highly questionable powers – was passed without any debate, and wasn’t made public until a handful of hours prior to the first summit (the G8) was to be held.

Then, just today the province lets us know about another new tax, which has already been in effect for exactly one week – yet there wasn’t any mention of it until today.

On the same day the province’s controversial Harmonized Sales Tax (HST) kicked in, a new eco-fee also took effect on thousands of everyday household products. We’ve been paying both since Canada’s Birthday on July 1 – happy Canada Day from the province of Ontario!

The new fee bumps up the price of aerosol containers, household cleaning products, even fire extinguishers – which you’d expect the province would encourage people to have through tax cuts or savings, as those actually save lives.

Stewardship Ontario is the government body in charge of the levy, and they claim the money collected by the new eco-fee will be used only for recycling of the products on the list.

Sounds like a similar scam being run by the City of Toronto, where retailers must charge a nickel for every plastic bag they provide you. The logic behind this fee is to encourage shoppers to bring their own bags, to reduce the amount of plastic bags going to landfill sites.

So far, the “bag tax” in Toronto has proven more of a nuisance than anything else, as the fee is so small, many simply pay it to bring home their groceries (or other purchases). However, since the introduction of the “bag tax” many checkout clerks have stopped bagging. This causes longer line-ups, as customers have to bag their own purchases, in their own bags.

I’ve certainly felt the pressure to rush my packing, as I fiddle with my purchases, trying to get them into my own bags, as an angry and impatient mob waits for me to finish.

Not a pleasant shopping experience at all.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty has the right idea, but just is going about it all wrong. Green legislation is a good idea – any sign the government is actually moving towards protecting our planet is a good idea.

However, just as the temporary military law-like changes were made for the G8 and G20 Summits, passing green laws without discussion or debate defeats the essence of what it means to live in a democratic society.

And when democracy itself is at risk, no good can come from that.

Drop the ego Premier McGuinty – we the people elected you into office, and we the people can just as easily NOT elect you the next time there is an election.

That is, unless you quietly change those laws too.

What the new Eco-Fee Is Applied Too
As of July 1, 2010, thirteen new categories, covering thousands of products have been added to this new eco-fee, including:
• batteries
• pharmaceuticals
• sharps and syringes
• aerosol containers
• antifreeze
• drain cleaners and other corrosives
• spot removers and other irritants
• fertilizers
• fire extinguishers
• fuels and other flammables
• fluorescents
• moth balls and other leachate toxics
• thermometers and other mercury containing devices
• oil containers
• oil filters
• paint and coatings
• pesticides
• pressurized containers
• metal powders and other reactives
• adhesives and other toxics.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Summer’s Heat Shows Vulnerability of Power Grid

A major heat wave has caused temperatures to rise along parts of North-Eastern North America – but hey, it’s summer time – that’s not new.

Nor is the fact that our ageing and antiquated power supply system fails when we need it most.

Every summer, there are days of excessive heat, followed by warnings from local power companies to cut back on air conditioning use during business hours, otherwise rolling brownouts or blackouts may occur.

The warnings aren’t followed, and what happens?

Hydro vault fires, power failures stretching vast distances, and some of the most heavily populated areas in North America go without electricity for hours.

That’s what happened yesterday in Canada’s largest city of Toronto, right at the start of the afternoon rush hour.

Thousands of people working in skyscrapers hundreds of floors high had to hustle single-file down emergency stairwells to escape the stale hot air, as the air conditioners ceased to function in buildings where the windows don’t open.

Once those thousands of people did manage to get down to street level, they were sucked into a flood of thousands more, wandering around, wondering what to do. Traffic lights were out, subways and streetcars were stopped dead, forcing pretty much everyone in the affected areas out onto the streets, causing chaos and confusion.

That is if you got down – hundreds in elevators across the city when the power went out were stuck mid-floor. One person even used social networking site, to “tweet” Toronto’s Mayor in a panic about being stuck in the elevator. The Mayor tweeted back emergency contact info, and eventually emergency services freed those in that particular elevator.

Memories of the major blackout in 2003, which darkened the United States and Canada along the North Eastern Seaboard for days returned.

Memories of summers past, with short, flashes of power outages (brownouts) and longer, blackouts lasting hours returned.

Despite our advances in technology, causing a constant increase in electricity demand – and a subsequent increase in the cost to consumers for that electricity -- our power grids continue to take a back seat to improvements.

Even though most high tech toys these days are mobile, we still need to plug them in to charge them prior to going mobile. Think about all our smart phones, cordless phones and laptops. Toss in our usual electric appliances like fridges, stoves, toasters and televisions, and it doesn’t take a genius to see we are completely at the mercy of the power company to keep us fed, informed and in touch with our loved ones.

Over the years, the costs of electricity in North America have continued to rise – about two percent per year since 1990.

Yet when we hit a couple of days when we the paying customer really need to use electricity – during a heat wave to cool our schools, offices and homes – the power company warns us to cut back our use, or the system will do it for us.

Granted, hitting this excessive demand isn’t an everyday occurrence. But then, it isn’t as if we haven’t hit these high levels of electrical consumption ever before. We average about two days every summer in North America when we do just that.

SO, why is it that despite all the technological advances, all the increases in power consumption and subsequent raises in electricity rates to us paying consumers, and all the previous days, every year, where we hit excessive demand of the power grid, that our power grid can’t handle it?

Shouldn’t our power companies have resolved these problems long ago? What the hell are they using the added revenue from constant price increases on? Why aren’t the power companies using the latest technologies to ensure these regular power outages every summer are ended?

Perhaps, because of our dependence upon the electrical grid to power our world, the power companies don’t feel obligated to improve their products or services – where else are we going to go to keep our homes cooled in the summer, lit at night and our tummies full?

Maybe now is the time to look at setting up our own individual solar and wind-power systems, to end the reliance on a faulty – and poorly maintained – power grid?

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