Sunday, July 29, 2007

Minnan-Wong and Stintz's cackhanded website

The Globe and Mail mentioned this hacked together website cooked up by the aforementioned rightwing councillors - it's like a mix of "How'd they vote" melded with Conservapedia.

Even though I agree with how they voted on the land transfer tax deferral, believing as I do that taxes should not be levied merely on the basis of a budget hole and a taxing power but on the basis that the tax seems fair to those it is imposed on, I would prefer they had removed the "issues" boxes, at least in so far as they referred to councillors who voted the other way - it seems like putting words in their mouthes.

I would be surprised if a few websavvy types on the mayor's side of the fence, the kind of people who produce professional looking sites such as Spacing, didn't take a crack at representing the alternative view - Minnan-Wong and Stintz mightn't find that so funny.

China: no talking about AIDS

China has decided that talking about a medical condition in its country is not a good thing. After all, a code of silence worked so well with SARS, and everyone's already forgotten about the non-existent melamine contamination, right?

If Ontario adopts BC-like computer tax, we should probably do it differently.

I first saw this on Slashdot - on the first of August, British Columbia is to follow Alberta and Saskatchewan in introducing a surcharge on computer equipment and contracting Encorp to do the recycling. The problem is that there are recyclers and reusers in this sector already whose customers will say "why should I pay you when I've already paid the recycle tax". While I don't quite share the same hysteria over smelting the discarded equipment as this site, I completely agree with the quoted reusers who think they should get first crack at what is returned.

It also seems likely that even if a computer is transferred out of the jurisdiction or alternatively disposed of, Encorp gets to keep the tax anyway, if the province follows their current contract for bottle recycling.

Ontario is considering such a tax but should remember that reuse is above recycle in the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle hierarchy. That said I fully expect a similar cashgrab and corporate welfare arrangement to be replicated here - that's the easy option.

Wii-ly stupid

Another commandN hat-tip: from the makers of the Microsoft Surface parody, the Wii-Fit Parody.

Smitherman isn't helping

One of the more minor irritants of life in Toronto is the uniform nature of street vendor food which basically consists of various kinds of fried sausage. For a long time, Councillor John Filion has been pushing the idea of expanding this. All of a sudden Ontario Health Minister George Smitherman, in whose power it is to amend the necessary regulations (once again, the City of Toronto Act keeps us crawling to Queen's Park) decided to announce a relaxation at the Taste of Lawrence event but didn't invite the guy who had done the spadework to share the limelight. In a rare move by a pol, Filion turned the other cheek and welcomed the relaxation regardless - what's odd is that apparently Filion normally identifies as Liberal.

However, he appears to have been worried that the province are trying to relax the regulations before the City has hired the inspectors to police them and that the choice will merely expand as far as burgers as well as hot dogs. His moves to ensure an orderly and diverse expansion were noted in the Globe and Mail, along with the Minister's hissy-fit:
Smitherman waved off Mr. Filion's concerns as a tempest in a teapot, noting the regulations simply open the door to municipalities making their own rules after Aug. 1. Nor does he have much patience for what he calls Mr. Filion's "nanny state" objections to burgers being sold on the street.
This from the guy whose department is responsible for the original, highly nannyish regulations and who should at least notionally be interested in expanded food choices being healthy ones? No, he's just concerned that if the City doesn't move fast enough, new types of cholesterol carriers won't be available for voters on election day, October 10th, not least since the most concentration mass of vendors are in his downtown riding.

Microsoft "embraces" peer-to-peer downloading.

Not that we need the new client Microsoft is previewing, since a perfectly good one already exists, but that would punch a rather large hole in the movie and record companies insistence that torrents are evil and Microsoft has been busy touting its "unpirating" ideas which will mostly benefit these companies.

I suppose I could give someone of my bandwidth to Bill Gates in exchange for a faster download, but the download I want (Windows XP Service Pack 3) Bill won't give me so I guess he'll just have to live with me downloading patches directly. The thing to watch for will be peer-to-peer Windows Update sneaked in - that would drastically reduce Microsoft's bandwidth requirement.

Note to TTC: your surprises aren't that funny

Apparently TTC are making big changes to Broadview and Kennedy stations this week. But hey, why bother telling anyone on the Service Disruption page (which seems to be down anyway), even if it means people who didn't bother getting transfers to Kennedy now need one. Apparently the powers that be don't even tell the drivers.

Can we please hire whoever does passenger information at GO Transit? At least they seem to be trying. Meanwhile months after Adam Giambrone solicited ideas for the TTC website, no progress to report.

Should Toronto news helicopters be discouraged?

In Phoenix, Arizona two helicopters operated on behalf of KNXV and KTVK following a police pursuit collided killing all four crew.

In Toronto, Global, Rogers and CTV all operate news aircraft. The Toronto Police wanted a helicopter for years under Fantino's regime, which may have cut down the number of fatalities occurring during these same pursuits and assisted control of large events, but while moaners, er... "concerned citizens" refused to countenance it citing noise and cost, the media organisations have expanded their fleets without much notice being taken.

At the moment, the TPS seem to be able to get by for their own needs by borrowing York Region's helicopter, but to my mind it's time they had a hotline to Toronto Air Traffic Control with the power to close airspace to visual traffic such as private aircraft rather than having tellychoppers hanging overhead a crime scene causing a racket while officers are trying to deal with incidents for nuisance value alone, given that hopefully we will not see a repeat of the Phoenix incident any time soon. Given that helicopters are notoriously fuel hungry the environment might be better served by a shared resource rather than each network operating its own, if it's necessary to have such a thing at all.

This arbitration report concerning a 1998 incident involving two aircraft operating to provide information to Rogers is quite interesting, not least because the names of both pilots are still familiar ones on Rogers traffic reports to this day.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Was Brian Burke asleep for a month?

This seems like a portrait of blind-sided outrage, right?
Burke said he wasn't actually angry at the offer sheet, but rather the amount of money offered – Penner will go from making $450,000 a season to $4.25 million a year.

"I have no problem with offer sheets, they are part of the CBA," Burke said. "I think it's a tool certainly a team is entitled to use. My issue here is this is the second time this year in my opinion Edmonton have offered a grossly inflated salary for a player, and it impacts on all 30 teams and I think it's an act of desperation by a general manager who is fighting to keep his job."

The way it all came down also bothered Burke.

"I was not notified of this until an agent faxed it into us," he said. "I thought Kevin would have called me and told me it was coming. I thought that was gutless."
I mean, if someone had told him it was coming, he could have negotiated a new contract with Penner and avoided this unpleasantness. Someone like this guy:
Now, will Burke have to deal with an offer sheet for Dustin Penner? [July 3]
or maybe this guy:
If I was Kevin Lowe, I would sign Anaheim's Dustin Penner to a mammoth offer sheet. Brian Burke doesn't have the cap room to match. Burke would drop "F-bombs" from Ft. McMurray to Redondo Beach. Screw him. If Lowe thinks it would make the Oilers a better team; when then, let's be doing it. [July 7]
Well maybe he wasn't monitoring the Sportsnet or CBC but surely the Edmonton media, right?
A restricted free agent in the average salary range just below $4.9 million a year costs two first round, a second round and a third round choice. And they have to be your own picks. The others were in place.

Look out cap-heavy New Jersey and 31-goal scorer Zach Parise? Heads up cap-heavy Anaheim and 29-goal-scorer Dustin Penner? Look out budget-poor St. Louis and 27-goal-scorer Lee Stempniak? [July 7]

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Chilean soccer fans - get over yourselves or get out of town.

I was out of town over the weekend and while I had heard of the violent incident between Toronto Police and Chilean Under 20 soccer players and the subsequent diplomatic kerfuffle, I expected an investigation to closely query what happened to put our city's international reputation in the spotlight (drawing far more overseas media coverage than the tournament was getting I suspect) and the decision making of the police officers on the scene - this is not the first allegation of police overreaction at BMO Field.

However, on the way back into town, 680 News brought us their top story - a bunch of whiners protesting outside the 3rd place playoff game. Heads up boys and girls - Sepp Blatter refused to link this to any future Canadian bid for a FIFA tournament and if FIFA won't pick Chile over Canada we can't have been that far offside. But the infuriating bit was when protesters linked the incident with the policies of Augusto Pinochet:
"For many people, even for me, it was a kind of flashback to what happened to us," said Patricio Bascunan, president of the Casa Salvador Allende Cultural Society of Toronto.

He was referring to the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who ruled Chile with an iron first from 1973 to 1990. Many of Toronto's 10,000-plus Chileans, Bascunan said, came to Canada as exiles during Pinochet's regime.

"There are so many people here for political reasons. And we remember the repression of the police and the army," he said.

"The disappointment of the people is unbelievable. People say, `That reminds me what happened to me with the police in Chile. And I never thought it would happen here.'"
[Hat tip - Far and Wide]

Mr Bascunan, if you lived in Pinochet's Toronto you would have been "disappeared" for protesting this incident and the media would be forbidden to report what you were complaining about. Many of your compatriots living in Toronto are here because of Canada's grant of asylum to those who supported the Allende government.

This matter deserves and must get the fullest attention of the Police Services Board, and no doubt Ottawa has already "invited themselves" to the review given the diplomatic protest, but you honestly think you live in a Canada, even under the Harpocrite, which resembled the endemic corruption and disregard for justice that was perpetrated under Pinochet - there's the door. Don't let it hit you on the ass on the way elsewhere.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Who said the neocon bloggers had a monopoly on insensitivity and cowardice?

I'm with Kinsella on this one:
July 18, 2007 – Wow. "F*** you and your grief." Just when you think the blogosphere can’t get any more hateful, someone comes along to surprise you. Amazing.
In subsequent posts, Canadian Cynic, who describes him/herself as "progressive", demands Blogging Tories and hard-rightwing bloggers generally apologise for posts about Cindy Sheehan and for generally being dinks. Well, you could have done that before you decided to tell a mother whose son died that she wasn't entitled to express her grief as she pleased in her own country and before you stooped to the level of those who rant against Muslims and anyone who believes in even the slightest social interdependence.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Irish gay couples to get "separate but equal" rights, real soon now - Ahern

Do we thank the Greens for this? It will be interesting to see how the votes in the Dail go, and how soon the bill is introduced, especially since the FF-PD government refused to assent to Labour's "half-a-marriage bill" last year. There's probably enough votes to pass civil unions as a government bill, but the telegraph wires between Rome and the Nuncio in Dublin must be red hot and a "belt of the crozier" can't be ruled out.

An improvement in the status of LGBT citizens in Ireland can't come too soon, it seems.

St. Patrick's Day moves to March 15 - official

Just for 2008, due to the early fall of Easter and its superior place in the Catholic Church hierarchy of observed days. The first date proposed was April 1, and the distance from the usual date notwithstanding that would have caused uproar.

More from and RTE News.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

One Potter down, one Potter (and one Tolkien) to go

Saw "Order of the Phoenix" yesterday - not the best of the five but that's probably due to Imelda Staunton's nails-on-chalkboard portrayal of Dolores Umbridge (i.e. spot on) and the limited amount of time for Maggie Smith's Professor McGonagle.

I confess to being disappointed with the scenes in the Ministry, which seemed to be more about effects than plot much of the time, but it could be I need to re-read "Order" again - and a quick scan of "Half Blood Prince" before "Deathly Hallows" arrives early (one hopes) next week. I could have gotten the express shipping but I wouldn't have been able to read it this weekend, and going with the el-cheapo Amazon shipping meant I had an excuse to buy "Children of Hurin" too - for a mere $8.97 hardback!

Sid Ryan issues election literat... er... union press release.

While it's right to point up the hypocrisy of a Liberal government who railed against the Tory school funding formula in opposition while merely tinkering with it in government, one does have to wonder whether CUPE are ever going to get a fair shake with a repeatedly defeated NDP candidate at its head.

The NDP going after Minister Kathleen Wynne and splitting the anti-PC vote would be great news for her impending challenger in Don Valley West, John Tory. I imagine that as Wynne is one of the few LGBT MPPs, not a few NDP members will worry about opposing Wynne. But one seat for each major party in Toronto is the only way the 416 is going to get the love from higher governments in the way 905 does.

Toronto Star backs land transfer tax

A wrongheaded stance, in my view, but their right to be wrong, etc. What got my goat though was the reference to the property market last month:
The Toronto Real Estate Board is opposed to the tax, but it recently reported that June's sales volume was the highest ever for that month, with the average property selling for 5 per cent more this year compared to the first six months of 2006.
Well, yeah - it would when the tax hasn't come in yet, and I fully expect sales to be as brisk if not more so between here and the year's end - as long as closing dates precede 31.12.2007. A surge in consumption usually precedes the onset of a tax, and a decline in advance of a reduction. Don't try and book a moving truck this Christmas.

Toronto is providing at insufficient compensation things that are not its proper responsibility such as social welfare and does not have access to taxes directly linked to growth it creates. A Toronto success is really a federal and provincial success unless it can cause a property tax reassessment. Until the province stops doling out nickels and dimes and the right to tax in an inherently illogical fashion, our structural financial woes will not recede.

The reason Canadians won't get 10 year passports - money.

As I have noted before, the increased need for Canadians to use passports to avoid hassle at US crossing points brings into focus the poor deal they get for their money - a "five year" passport for nearly the cost of a 10 year US or Irish document. I put "five year" in quotes because in many cases the last 3-6 months are moot since countries demand that much validity remain on a presented passport on the date of entry, leading to an inevitable period "lost" since passports are renewed on date of issue not date of last passport expiry.

Now Passport Canada says that not only are they losing money with the current rapacious regime, they won't be able to issue RFID passports when they promised (not necessarily a bad thing) and they oppose 10 year passports because...
doing so under the current funding model would not save the agency money but rather see losses skyrocket to $106 million annually by 2012-13.
Here's the point - it will save Canadian citizens money. If Passport Canada can't balance the books even while gouging its customers, it should find ways to save money when countries bigger and smaller can manage to issue a 10 year passport without going broke.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

"I heartily endorse this event or product"

I wonder how much Krusty the Clown (no, not that clown, I mean this one) got for those... anyway, today I heartily endorse - the Toronto Real Estate Board's website against Toronto's new and throughly regressive tax grab.

Transferring land from one owner to another doesn't cost the city any extra facilities. Building new houses does, which is why development charges are fair. Ironically, one of the few exemptions for first time buyers is purchase new homes - which do add to the strain on city infrastructure. However, only the first $2,000 is exempt on new homes and the tax on an average priced house is about $3,890. If you bought a condo box a few years ago and need more room to start a family, well you better look for a crib that can hang off a balcony railing like a planter or something.

I had meant to write about Mike Smith's "if you believe in property ownership you deserve to have the government take your money away and spend it for you" spiel in last week's NOW, but just found it too depressing, especially with Gwynne Dyer's terrorism tutorial in the same week.

Monday, July 09, 2007

In the old days, laws were built to last

The Magistrate's Blog returns from holiday and Bystander is already on his game:
I have complained time and again over the Government's habit of passing new (and usually useless) laws every time that something alarms the tabloids. Now we have a serious, albeit bungled, attempt to blow up a lot of people and what do we read? The first man to be charged has been charged under the 1883 Explosive Substances Act. I rest my case.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Remember when Americans were insurgents?

I may safely assert that the insurgents are very few in comparison with the whole of the people
Vice-Admiral Lord Howe, 1775. 

I read with interest this review of General Sir Michael Rose's book "Washington's War" in the Spectator over the weekend, which highlighted perceived similarities between the conduct of the British campaign against the Americans with the coalition of willing's tactics in Iraq. Rose called for the impeachment of Tony Blair in January 2006 over the Iraq war and rejected the view that NATO bombing directly caused political breakthroughs in the former Yugoslavia in 1995 and 1999.

The review mentioned a Newsnight interview by Jeremy Paxman between Rose and former Bush legal adviser David Rifkin who put it that only "lack of stamina and lack of political will" stood in the way of victory in Iraq.
Paxman: There are going to be a lot of people in this country General, who are very distressed that a senior distinguished military officer arguing like that and knowing that the consequence may well be the death of British and American Service personnel.
Rose: Well I reject that completely, I mean it's the soldiers who have been telling me from the front lines that the war they are fighting is a hopeless war, that they cannot possibly win it, the British nor the Americans can win that war, and the sooner we start talking politically, as Mr Rifkin said the sooner we start talking politics and not talking military solutions the sooner they'll come home and their lives will be preserved. Far from sacrificing their lives, realism would actually save their lives.
Paxman: So admit defeat.
Rose:Of course we have to admit defeat! The British admitted defeat in North America and the catastrophes that were predicted at the time never happened. The Americans were defeated in Vietnam, the catastrophes that were predicted after Vietnam never happened, and the same thing will occur after we leave Iraq.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Is Reputrace trawling your blog?

I came across these log entries recently:

This is Reputrace's home page and at time of writing it has a "trace the threat" logo which seems quite threatening for what seems to be essentially a clipping service dressed up as security. Hopefully the visitors from OPG found things to their liking...

Reaction elsewhere ranges from cautiously intrigued to, well, nuclear.

When terror strikes, who do you call - Dyer or Smeaton?

Gwynne Dyer's latest in NOW, the filing of which surely, surely, predated the Glasgow airport attack:
It's safe to say that the driver of the car packed with explosives that was found in central London early Friday morning (June 29) was not a very impressive terrorist.

Driving erratically down Haymarket at 1:30 in the morning in a big, shiny Mercedes, crashing it into a garbage bin, getting out and running away: it all suggests that he didn't pay proper attention back in terrorist school.

Maybe he was just overcome by the fumes, but the other terrorist didn't do much better. He managed to park his explosives-packed car on Cockspur Street but he parked illegally, so it was ticketed and towed away.
Well, Glaswegians didn't have to wait long for someone to at least try to make a better go of it. However, Scotland was not found wanting.

A bit of a stretch to say this was Glasgow's "United 93" moment but his decision to run towards rather than away seems to have deeply resonated with people. Having spent an eventful academic year on University Avenue, I can attest that fan site says it all:
Those hapless al-Qaeda boys found out that Glasgow has no respect for international terrorism. Nobody gets between 10,000 Weegies and a £99 week in Ibiza booked on Thursday night through Barrhead Travel.
Meanwhile festival goers at T in the Park can be assured of "heightened security" courtesy of "BAA Agent Smeaton". If terror rears its head where you live, ask yourself -

Monday, July 02, 2007

Thinking about flying from Hamilton with Globespan? You might want to read this.

This news story, which relates to serious operational issues on the Liverpool-Knock-New York route, does not paint a pretty picture of Globespan operations, which is disappointing as Ireland-Canada services need the shake-up an Air Canada/Air Transat competitor would bring. The low-cost revolution usually means a minimum number of spare aircraft - if any at all - and the upswing in the aviation market means that fill-in charter aircraft are already busy.

Force majeure is understandable given the troubles at Glasgow, a Globespan base. But given those troubles and the seriousness of the damage to their New York 757, if Delta had spare seats on the New York-Shannon flight, Globespan should have been booking as many of their passengers on it as possible and not leaving them sit in New York indefinitely or be forced to pay Delta what was likely to have been a pricey one-way fare. This is how Ryanair behaves in Europe but being stuck in another continent is a bit more serious again and should give people pause when O'Leary proposes his own longhaul service.

iTunes 7.3 disaster for Apple?

Disaster being relative - the same kind of stuff at Microsoft would rate "minor inconvenience" compared to their disasters.

Apple have just pushed out 7.3 (as always use Software Update not web download!) but it seems to be mostly updates for iPhone and reports are appearing of some problems involving rolling back to 7.2. Activation issues abound too but given the unprecedented use of iTunes to activate phones, the volume of Day 1 activations and the porting of numbers from other carriers, that shouldn't be too surprising.

If you don't have an iPhone it might be best to hold on 7.2 for a while if you haven't yet done so. 7.3 adds yet another stupid Windows process that many users won't use, to go with iTunesHelper and iPodService we now add AppleMobileDeviceService and another couple of Mb out of my Windows memory.

I don't get why Apple can't just have one service for iTunes which invokes the iPod/iPhone services only if such devices are installed and connected - or better yet one service for all peripherals like printers and Blackberrys. Wasn't that what USB was supposed to be for, way back when? Will have to see if making the Mobile service Manual/Disabled will cause iTunes squawkage, since there isn't an iPhone in my near future.

Why do I trust Apple that I needed to download 7.3 immediately when for a MS update I'd usually read the release notes first? Damn those Jedi mindtricks...

UPDATE: Universal Music fires a warning shot at Apple. Apparently if Apple can get into AT&T's "walled garden", Universal might start playing hardball for a shot at Apple's.

ISPs add advertising to customers' web services

When you view content online you don't pay a subscription for, it has to be paid for somehow - the money you pay for your DSL or cable subscription doesn't go to the people who created it.  Web ads are a fact of life, which some people get around using Adblock or other utilities.  But what if you were reading a subscription site promising ad-free content, and suddenly you notice that there are ads appearing.  If you assumed that the content provider was trying to make money both ways you might be wrong.

My daily cartoon alerted me to a story (also covered by Slashdot) that Internet Service Providers (such as Redmoon/MoonOverAddison) are starting to use transparent web proxies and ad agencies like Fair Eagle to add advertising to content without the knowledge of the website you are accessing, despite the fact that you are already paying the ISP a fee to access the internet.  

This is yet another reason why Net Neutrality is important - to allow consumers to access services without hindrance from or now adulteration by internet providers.  I hope Redmoon pay a heavy price in cancellations and lawsuits sufficient to scare the bigger players into staying away from slimy business practices of this sort.

The Nelson touch?

Given the events of the first few days of his premiership, I've wanted to ask Gordon Brown: "all the waiting, all the manoeuverings via briefings and proxies - was it worth it?" This morning Paul Wells points out Janet Daley's column in the Telegraph in which she argues that these events could shape people's perceptions of PM Brown, much to David Cameron's disadvantage:
In a time of national threat we don't want cuddly; we want serious and stern. Charm might be nice when politics is becalmed and day-to-day living is secure, but gravitas is a whole lot better when there are unknown numbers of people in your midst ready to commit random mass murder. When a nation is in danger, it judges its leader (or potential leader) by his character, rather than his personality. So if the contest between Mr Brown's governing style and David Cameron's opposition is really to be, as my colleague Boris Johnson wrote on this page last week, between humourless Labour Roundheads and jolly Tory Cavaliers, then God pity the Conservatives. The last thing that the electorate will welcome now is the opportunity to be governed by prancing fops.
Before this week I would never have thought of a comparison between Gordon Brown and Horatio Nelson (although those pensioners who had their savings taken, sank, burned and destroyed by Brown might disagree) he did paraphrase a certain phrase which Nelson made immortal:
There was very little sense of he - Gordon Brown - being the star of this show: a lack of egotistical "hand of history on my shoulder", what-this-means-to-me insight into his personal feelings. Again, in the spirit of a wartime leader, he was saying that we all have our part to play: I will carry out my responsibilities and I "expect" (a headmasterly word he used in that first broadcast to the nation) everyone in Britain to do the same. [emphasis added]

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Ireland raises tax on plastic bag to 22 euro cents

For Canadians, that's about $0.32 for every plastic bag, which has reduced bag distribution by 90% since 2002.  The tax had been EUR 0.15 (C$0.22) but an upward bump in plastic bag sales led to this further hike.  No fear of that happening in Ontario or Toronto, as the plastic lobby's frequent wailings in the press seems to head it off any time it's proposed.

Google marketer to US Health Care - "worried about Sicko? We can help!"

Via Slashdot, an interesting ZDNet blog post which points to a Google staffer's a marketing pitch to the health care industry to counteract, through advertising, the possible impact that Michael Moore's Sicko will have on their business.
While legislators, litigators, and patient groups are growing excited, others among us are growing anxious. And why wouldn’t they? Moore attacks health insurers, health providers, and pharmaceutical companies by connecting them to isolated and emotional stories of the system at its worst. Moore’s film portrays the industry as money and marketing driven, and fails to show healthcare’s interest in patient well-being and care.
I'm not sure it's Evil, exactly (as in Don't Be Evil) but I'm not sure it's "not Evil", either.

Happy Canada Day!

Yesterday was James Bow's book launch for Fathom Five at Nicholas Hoare Bookshop, an excellent store at Front Street East and Church. Bob Tarantino gave an amusing preview of his book which will launch later in the summer. The impact and duration of the later Blogstravaganza will mean a light day today :)