Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Are you Being Served?

This week Calgary was buried in snow causing major transportation problems. The drifts in some areas were chest deep for several days as they waited for city crews to clean them. It was lucky that no emergency services were required in those areas since neither ambulance nor fire trucks would have been able to penetrate the massive drifts.

Most interesting to me was the news that private citizens can not hire someone to clean the public street for them. I heard one resident who owned a bobcat wishing they could clean their cul de sac but couldn't because they didn't want to be fined. In Calgary it is against the law to hire a private firm to clean your street.

Upon first blush this seems like a senseless and dangerous law. It is explained that the reason is to avoid liability issues if private equipment breaks a power pole or knocks off a fire hydrant. Most people begrudgingly accept this rationale as I did, though only for a minute.

Have we become so indentured to our institutions that we imagine that its difficult to hold a person responsible, but an institution can be? A real person with real wealth can't be held accountable for their actions but the city, which has no wealth of its own is considered a better risk? We mistakenly imagine that the city does have wealth but it does not. Its citizens do but the city does not. We give to the city the rights and obligations of a wealthy and responsible person but it is neither of these things. It seems that the law has flipped the natural order of things much to the dilution of human dignity.

When people prefer to give responsibility to an institution over a person, they can hardly complain when they wake up some day and realize that their institutions no longer serve them.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

My Science Project

One of the hallmarks of science is the ability of others to repeat experiments. Not to create consensus for it's own sake or for force of argument, but rather to ensure that experiments are done correctly. With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to look at temperature data recorded in my neighborhood, that is used in calculating global temperature means.

Example 1, Banff Station
51.2 N 115.6 W 403711220000 rural area 1888 - 2009
(I went to this exact spot)
Here is the official temperature data. Under NASA GISS protocols, this station is considered a rural station because it contains less than 10,000 people. Technically correct when the station began recording, Banff was a sleepy village visited by intrepid train travelers. Over the course of the century, the ski hills opened, the Trans-Canada highway opened and the town began to attract year-round visitors. The international airport in Calgary opened and funneled international tourists into the town as well. What started as horseback traffic at the turn of the century grew into 5 million visitors a year.

I don't know what the heat signature is from 5 million people. I can only imagine that 25 Saskatoons, in a small valley like Banff, generates heat. Whether it's hotel air conditioners or thousands and thousands of RVs generating and reflecting heat, or millions of automobiles racing around on new 4-lane superhighways and interchanges, the heat signature around the recorder is totally different than it was at the turn of the century. Is it possible to factor these changes out? There may be generalized computer models whose accuracy is determined by how well we understand all the variables. Since this knowledge is still imperfect, the models are highly suspect. Certainly no one has made even an attempt to "correct" the data for this particular micro-climate at this particular recording station (and currently, this may not even be possible.) It seems to me that there are enough questions regarding changing the environment of the data recorder to rule out constructing a temperature trend from this data. Despite the obvious problems, this station forms part of the global temperature data.

Example 2 Calgary INTL station
51.1 N 114.0 W 403718770000 593,000 1881 - 1990

If you look at this data, you will see an increase that begins around 1970. Savy Calgary residents can easily tell from this graph when the OPEC crisis happened! Thats when oil prices soared and Calgary's urban development boomed. A picture is worth a thousand words so below is a before and after of Calgary in 1969 and later in the year 2000.

Pictured above is Calgary in 1969 before massive city expansion.

Pictured above is Calgary in 2000. Note the heat sink now called the downtown core that has enveloped the Calgary Tower. For a top down view see the picture below. I've coloured in the city expansion in the last 40 years in blue. Notice how not only did the core become a massive heat sink, but the location of the data recorder became completely surrounded by development. I placed the location of the data recorder myself but with the coordinates given and Google Earth, you can easily do it yourself.

With what you have seen, it seems pretty obvious that separating increased heat from the local environment is very difficult indeed. Clearly the post 1970 temperature increase in the Calgary data is an effect of urban development. But how much? Some non- zero amount that is closer to 100 percent than zero percent.

As in the first example, it seems hard to believe, but this data is part of the data set that is used to declare that the global temperature is increasing.

I use these examples not because they are the two bad apples of climate data, but because they are the climate recorders who's local environments I can verify for myself. In fact there are many really bad data recording stations out there whose data has been compromised by local building regardless of whether they are considered urban or rural stations. For a collection of really bad stations and further links to a project to visit all the weather stations to investigate local conditions that may affect climate data, see here.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Balance of Terror: The Logic of Obama's War

In the original Star Trek episode "Balance of Terror," the Enterprise is deciding whether it is in their best interest to attack an invading Romulan ship. Their decision means potentially engaging the Federation in an intergalactic war, or retreating which would show weakness which Spock claims would precipitate the same result since weakness would be seen and exploited.

Kirk: Are you saying we should fight to prevent a fight?

Spock: ...If the Romulans have retained this martial philosophy then attack becomes imperative.

Bones: War is never imperative.

Spock: It is for them Doctor.

As Obama sends 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and exaggerates the mission creep started by Bush, I found myself thinking of this episode. It's a wonderful twist created by the writers to have Spock voice the logic of war. Kirk's question of fighting to prevent a fight couldn't shatter that logic any more effectively. In the episode, Kirk is eventually convinced by Spock's logic and fights and beats the Romulans and the Federation somehow escapes a long and protracted war.

Obama continues Bush's logic of fighting to prevent a fight. From Obama's speech:
"This danger will only grow if the region slides backwards, and al Qaeda can operate with impunity. We must keep the pressure on al Qaeda, and to do that, we must increase the stability and capacity of our partners in the region."

Inside the logic of war, I suppose this makes sense. Step outside and this logic collapses. The terrorists behind 9/11 were Saudis who learned to fly in Florida with Saudi money. The presence or absence of failed states was irrelevant as far as preventing 9/11 goes. It's true that terror cells operate in the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but failed states are not a necessary condition for terrorism. Terror cells operate in the most so-called civilized states in the world including the United States. While some would argue that America is a failed state, there is no debate that it produces its fair share of Unabombers and DC snipers and Timothy McVieghs. The IRA killed 1,800 people in the UK but didn't need a broken third world state to do it from.

So if Afghanistan is just one of many worldwide failed states, and if terrorists don't really need failed states to operate from anyway, fighting to prevent a fight starts to look not just unethical, but illogical. There's no such thing as fighting to prevent a fight. That's like killing your neighbor's child to prevent it from being killed. I guess if you've won the Nobel Peace Prize, killing your neighbor's child is just collateral damage.

Only in the logic of war could this seem just.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Let's Go!

That's right, the annoying Grey Power commercials are ending according to company president, Catherine Smola.

Grey Power invites us to contemplate the injustice of having to pay the same insurance premiums as the heroine when you've clearly earned the right to pay less. I'll tell you what I've earned, the right to yell at the driver in front of me who is treating a busy intersection like a drive-in movie. "C'mon already lets go!"

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


The biggest news in the battle over hearts and minds that is climate debate, is the so-called Climategate story. The Climate Research Unit of East Anglia University was hacked and thousands of emails from prominent man-made global warming scientists (IPCC contributors) was released to the internet. After frustrated efforts of those requesting information and data under the Freedom of Information Act were stymied, a hacker inside or outside the government-funded institution used their own freedom to access the information themselves. While the CRU admitted that the data, documents and emails had been stolen, it is difficult to be sure of the accuracy of said files. Certainly the emails regarding resistance to FOI requests are consistent with their actions.
I obtained a copy of the thousand or so files and confirmed for myself what has been printed elsewhere. A good overview of a selection of documents can be found here.

Today, the CBC didn't question the validity of either the hacked information, or the IPCC, or the CRU or the scientists involved or whether man made global warming was proven with misleading data. Instead, the CBC 's only climate related news was that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere had increased from a per year rate of change of 19 molecules per 10 million molecules of atmosphere to 20! See story here. The story also incorrectly states that "CO2 is the main greenhouse gas," (it trails water vapour by an order of magnitude!) Congratulations CBC, don't report the biggest science scandal in years but instead propagate misinformation. The worst part is that I pay for this news service. I suspect British taxpayers have similar complaints.

If ignorance, misinformation, and news censorship is the best other mainstream media outlets can offer, then I guess everyone pays for it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Best kind of Revolutionary

Much praise this week for Harley Hotchkiss, local businessman, who donated 40 million dollars of his money to the University of Calgary brain research institute that he started in 2004 with a 10 million dollar gift. From a conversation with Mr Hotchkiss last year, Gena Rotstein summarized his philanthropic philosophy:

"Your priorities are family THEN job. Your job will provide you with he means to support your community financially, but your family is what connects you to that community.

You don't have to be wealthy to be philanthropic. (Mr. Hotchkiss's first philanthropic activity was flooding the community hockey rink and coaching the kids)

When you are ready to give, it should "hurt" a little. If your donation doesn't make you consider giving something up (even if it is a latte a week) then you are not giving enough.

Philanthropy should be about building community, not just giving money."

As another 5th of November passes by, it's worthy to recognize those revolutionaries who are living and leading by example. I'm not sure he or anyone else would consider Hotchkiss a revolutionary but actually, he's the best kind. He doesn't proselytize or intimidate or guilt people into action, he doesn't exaggerate omit or fib in making his case. He merely evaluates what he can do and does it. It is the nature of his own contribution that compels imitation. It is the results of his actions that inspire others to do likewise.

These days, that is revolutionary.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Shoving Obama's pretty words in his guilty nose.

I found it completely unsurprising that White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs defended Karzai's de facto rule in Afghanistan. Without wincing, Gibbs claimed that Karzai had a majority "even if you took out all the fraudulent votes." That's the impossibly low standard we've come to expect from the Bush/Obama government!

For background, Karzai installed several warlords in his government, avoiding the letter of the law by having these warlords register their local armies as "private security officers." In addition to these henchmen, Karzai paid for 10,000 tribesmen to 'oversee' local elections. These men had no uniform and used their private weapons. Not the greatest foundation for a free and fair election but it gets worse. The Orwellian named "Independent Election Commission" was run entirely by political appointees and allies. Nearly 1500 of the 7000 polling stations were designated in no-man's lands that were too dangerous to travel to and were unsecured. Intimidation, violence, government censorship and bribery undid this election even before the ballot boxes were fraudulently stuffed or lost.

Abetting the massive fraud was the United Nations. American Special Representative to Afghanistan, Peter Galbraith, whose resume includes uncovering Iraqi genocide of Kurds and successfully negotiating the Serb-Croat treaty, witnessed vote fraud on a massive scale but was fired by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for demanding action regarding the fraud . An interview with Galbraith is here.
from the London Telegraph Oct 4 2009:

Mr Galbraith said: "As many as 30 per cent of Karzai's votes were fraudulent, and lesser fraud was committed on behalf of other candidates.

"The fraud has handed the Taliban its greatest strategic victory in eight years of fighting the United States and its Afghan partners."

Calling the poll a "foreseeable train wreck", he said he had tried to prevent fraud by demanding polling stations not open in insecure areas where they could not be monitored or observed.

A spokesman for the UN in Kabul said the mission "has not, does not and will not turn a blind eye to fraud". That may be the intentions of those working on the ground but for those higher up the chain within the UN this seems woefully untrue. As has been seen with the UN's panel on climate control, political expediency always trumps truth for the UN. Senior UN officials cherry picking facts generated by staff seems to be business as usual at the UN.

In light of the scale of voter fraud and after much international pressure, a "run-off" poll was slated for November. Notice it was charitably called a run-off, ostensibly so that one candidate would have at least 50 percent of the vote. The very terminology starts to legitimize those involved. Abdullah Abdullah, the remaining candidate running against Karzai complained that as long as the election was being run by the same people that perpetrated the original fraud, there was no point in people risking their life to take part in a sham vote. Today he announced his refusal to take part in the November run off since Karzai refuses to purge the election commission of his allies.

And so today, British and American officials lined up to congratulate Karzai. Obama once again acts in complete opposition to his "freedom and democracy" rhetoric just as Bush did before him. America's mission creep in Afghanistan takes another ironic turn as it now finds itself no longer fighting for a free Afghanistan but rather on behalf of a fraudulent Afghanistan regime. The first premise was debatable but the second is now irrevocably true.

-from Obama's Nobel Peace Prize winning speech at Cairo University, June 4 2009:

"That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why I am not getting the H1N1 Vaccine

Each year, a vaccine is produced to combat seasonal influenza. The most likely strains are assembled and downtrodden. When administered, your immune system fights this weak version theoretically building the antibodies necessary to fight the strain. Study after study shows the flu vaccine reduces your chance of dying of influenza by 50 percent. Seems irrefutable.

The problem with these studies is that they measure people who chose to get the vaccine against people who don't. People who chose to get vaccinated are by definition concerned with their heath and more likely to take care of themselves. In the United States where vaccines are paid for by heath insurers, these studies are splitting the two groups into income brackets which naturally demarcate health. In other words, the studies compare healthy people to unhealthier people. You would think that any study worth its salt would eliminate this obvious problem by doing double blind experiments with vaccines versus placebos. But because the vaccine is presumed to work, it's considered unethical to give some a vaccine and others a placebo!

Some have challenged the results of this circular logic. In 2004, Lisa Jackson, a researcher with Group Heath Research Center in Seatle, studied medical histories of 72,000 people aged 65 and older. She found that outside of flu season, the baseline risk of death was 60 percent higher for the those that did not get flu shots.

This confirms the so-called "healthy user effect" demonstrating that healthier people tended to get the flu shot. In fact, the degree that they were healthier accounts for all of the supposed efficacy of the flu vaccine studies!

When Jackson presented these results to the Journal of the American Medical Association, they were rejected on the grounds that the results were akin to "suggesting the earth was flat." Other evidence is just as confounding. For example, just 30 years ago, few to none of people over 65 got a seasonal flu vaccine. Today nearly 75 percent get vaccinated, yet we don't see a decrease in influenza deaths to any degree that would indicate that the vaccine works. These obvious facts contravene sacred beliefs and are summarily ignored. It's possible that flu strains become have more infectious and lethal over that period and that lethality has exactly matched increasing rates of vaccinations but there is no evidence to support that claim. What seems most likely stems from the mechanics of the vaccine itself: those with good immune systems respond well to both the vaccine and the flu. Or more simply, the vaccine does nothing.

If a drug statistically appears to do nothing, then I will skip a step and not take it!

Important Post Script: I do not count myself among those who believe that certain vaccines cause autism or any number of other scientifically untenable claims.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Business News

Congratulations to the French for their court's successful prosecution of the Church of Scientology for fraud and levying a fine of nearly a million dollars. I have no illusions that other branches of this criminal organization will be prosecuted. I think Microsoft could avoid some of it's legal hassles by registering itself as a religion rather than a public company.

Congratulations also to the conservative splitters of the Anglican church who were upset over part of their church treating people equally. Luckily for them there is always a place for intolerance, fear, and hate with the Catholic Church who welcomed them with openish arms this week.
Since this is essentially a business story, it reads better as if it were in the Report on Business:

Shares of Catholic Church (TSX-OMG) were trading sharply up today as investors welcomed a new deal to buyout Anglican (B) preferred shares in a 1-1 stock swap. In the third quarter of 2007, Anglican Ltd. a junior player in the competitive religious service providers market, announced it's intentions to keep its liberal income trust (TSX-ANG.un) separate. The emergence of recent income trust rules outraged the parent company with VP operations Bishop Martin Devon suggesting that "if Anglican Ltd could not keep its assets unified, debt obligations might make operations difficult." Despite this spin by senior executives, it was widely reported by Bay Street insiders that differing management philosophies had undermined it's business model.
Investors speculate that The Catholic Church, a fully integrated religious service provider, plans to keep the successful Anglican brand. Investor relations VP Cardinal Louis D'Anglois suggested that "owing to some accounting practice harmonization, downsizing of administration would be limited during the next two quarters."

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sewedge Sludge Opportunity

The town of Canmore is currently seeking a new home for it's yearly 3,000 tonnes of sewage sludge. Until recently, it was shipped to Bowden correctional facility where it was converted to compost at a cost to the municipality of $420,000.
One project on the table is a possible deal to mix it with lime dust at Exshaw and use it for mine reclamation, the lime neutralizing any bio-hazard.

3,000 tonnes of sewage sludge seems too precious for land reclamation.

Ideas anyone?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Oldest Living Organisms

Wonderful slide show of the oldest living organisms on earth. Includes a few things I've never seen or heard of.

Here's a lovely shot of my favorite BORG otherwise know as the trembling aspen. This grove is actually a single organism that can transport moisture and nutrients through its underground root system from rich sites to poor sites. If you attack it by hacking off branches, it defends the larger hive-self by sending up new connected shoots to ensure it's survival. A worthy foe for Chronos.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Last gasp of Summer.

Last weekend Suz and I climbed up local landmark Heart Mt. From the Trans Canada, the name seems fairly arbitrary since it's wonderful shape can't really be seen. This picture is taken on the north side of the valley close to Exshaw just east of Canmore.

From the valley, the northwest ridge looks pretty intimidating but when it's right in front of you, the footholds and handholds appear much more forgiving. In the two pictures below I'm appreciating my new Vasque boots while I pick my way up a tricky section.

About two-thirds to the top is a shear face that tests the nerves a little though more so on the downclimb. Suz had no problem getting up first and then offering good advice while I struggled up. On our way down, I downclimbed this section more easily and helped Suz out returning the favour.

I was quite pleased not just with the view but with our accomplishment as well. While Heart Mt is considered an easy to moderate scramble, it is a good test of my shoulder mobility. It was exciting to do a climb that relied more on hand holds. There are many mental blocks for me still to put my shoulder in a vulnerable position in spite of it's strength. Our success here went a long way towards putting those fears in perspective.

Suz grabs a bite at the summit (7005ft) and enjoys that last hurrah of the season. Grotto Mt and the Bow river are seen in the background. Round trip time was six hours.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Nobel Prize awarded, New Coffee Machine!

Congratulations to Canadian Willard Boyle for sharing the Nobel Prize in Physics for his co-invention of the charge coupled device. A fascinating story of the discovery is worth reading here. The CCD is of course the chip that converts light into a translatable electrical signal. The applications have ranged from medical imaging to astronomy to the ubiquitous digital camera.

Telus announced today that they will be supporting the iphone finally. Telus has been using the CDMA 'standard' which was incompatible with the iphone. CDMA represents half the North American market but just 1% of the rest of the world. We can thank the government protected monopoly for having an antiquated telephone system. More importantly though, Suz and I can definitely see an iphone in our future. Living where we do, Telus is the only provider with coverage in the mountains so we have been very much beholden to CDMA until now.

Our friends Karen and Don recently upgraded their coffee machine and generously gave us their old one. For the last two years, I have be using a bodum . I've relished the results of having the water and the bean seethe for a lengthy socializing period, but the bodum daily clean up was always unsavoury. The new Hamilton Beach is a drip style method which is stored in a heated reservoir. To serve, one simply pushes the cup to the dispenser a la coffee shop. Magnifique!

My brother brought this wonderful location to my attention. Clearly signs of an ancient civilization. Or perhaps relics of an alien outpost.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Not all who wander are lost

Last week I joined the Cochrane Search and Rescue team. For the next 2 months I go through a rigorous training and certification process. I'm excited to learn some new skills and use what skills I've acquired from years of bush work.
This weekend was rope and knot skills taught by the high-angle rescue team. Many new skills and techniques for me and many new knots to practice. As many of these skills were ones I was prepared to pay to learn in a climbing school, volunteering my future time will be an equitable trade.
My previous rants about poorly equiped people wandering into the middle of nowhere will likely come to an end now that I will soon be looking for them!

The Bow Valley became barbecue flavoured this week due to a rich smoke that wafted in. Weather conditions cooperated enough for the continuation of the Mt. Nestor prescribed burn (Mt Nestor is seen in my header banner.) The intent is to create a firebreak for our community as well as pine beetle control. It will also mimic the natural forest cycles that fire fighting has stalled. New mountain sheep habitat will be created. Berries will proliferate here drawing bear activity away from the populated Bow Valley.
My only disappointment was that I didn't get a chance to see it before it burned. Mt Nestor was on my list of climbs this fall but hip flexor tenderness has forced me to eliminate a few trips and this one got the axe. The view from the summit will be reduced but as I've often cautioned, environmentalism is often confused with anthro-centric aesthetics.

Smoke fills the Bow Valley as seen from Mt Yamnuska

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Obama v Khadafi: If you see a difference, You lost the battle of the hypocrites.

Obama spoke to the UN yesterday calling for a 'new era of engagement.' Like all Obama speeches, it sounds good but means little. Here's what the 'New Era' has meant in America, the country he has the power to change.

-excused CIA operatives from prosecution for violations of the torture conventions signed by the US. Went even further by offering the torturers legal support in case of international prosecution.
-refused to prosecute those higher up the chain of command for drafting illegal interrogation methods.
-refused to prosecute or even investigate constitutional violations such as illegal wiretapping, falsification of evidence and obstruction of justice in Department of Justice or CIA
-continues to violate habeus corpus, holding prisoners without charges.
-continued illegal Iraq war
-escalated Afghan War
-when Pakistan refused US troops movements, Obama authorizes illegal predator drone attacks within Pakistan. Since Jan 2009, 152 civilians in Pakistan have been killed. Western press remains mute.
-funnels hundreds of millions of dollars to Honduran coup while State Department claims to have suspended minor funding. American pattern of supporting non-left coups in Latin American continues while it uses democracy as a justification for invading other countries.

Obama may not speak like the condescending retard George Bush, but actions speak louder than words. Claiming you want to "look forward not backwards" as Obama says, is a sugar coated way of consenting to injustice. George Bush acted as though the application of law was discretionary. It appears that Obama is of the same mind. So much for the New Era.

In a classic case of 'feel fair and talk foul' and 'talk fair and feel fouler' as Tolkein wrote, I actually found it interesting comparing the speeches of Obama and Khadafi. Khadafi was universally ridiculed in the press for his rambling 90 minute oration. Laughing at him though, made it easier not to answer some of his angry questions. Why if the UN is always talking of democracy, is the UN itself not a democracy? He refers of course to the only limb of the UN with power, the security council which excludes 185 of the 192 member nations! He also questioned Western characterization of Islam as being anti semitic when it was Western Europe that tried to exterminate the Jews. When Europe was cleansing itself of Jews, Arab nations were providing them with refuge. Khadafi went on to champion the causes of the developing world.
This may seem hypocritical considering Khadafi was responsible for state sponsored terror. I just don't see a difference between the Lybian version and the American version. Compared to his own actions, Obama's speech was just as hypocritical.

"Handsome is as handsome does" says the Gaffer.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Greyhound Monopoly; do not pass 'GO,' do not collect 15M

Re: Greyhound Cutbacks

Greyhound this week issued an ultimatum that it would need 15 million dollars to continue servicing unprofitable routes. The company enjoys this position of demanding money for being unprofitable by virtue of its inside deal. In exchange for a government protected monopoly, Greyhound services small communities mandated by the government.

For those of you who have always wondered why public transportation is so expensive look no further. Government protected monopolies created a deficit of transit competition that makes private transportation one of the cheapest options to the chagrin of environmentalists. Curiously, there is a direct correlation to cost per distance of a given mode of transportation, and whether or not its users bear the entire cost. In the US, the cheapest mode of transportation (apart from walking or bicycling) is the airplane at 13 cents per passenger mile followed by the automobile at 23 cents per mile, Amtrak is 56 cents per mile and lastly transit at 70 cents per mile. Of special note is that users pay all the costs of flying while transit at the bottom is heavily subsidized and monopolized. While it stings to have to pay the many airport service fees, at least the costs of air travel are borne by the users allowing efficiency to best evolve the network.

Ending the monopoly inefficiencies would go a long way towards a public transportation system that could be cheaper and more attractive to single occupancy drivers. As with many parts of our economy the problem is not the market. It's that there is no market.

Randal O'Toole has a good article that touches on this at the Cato Institute. The summary and first page appear dry and a little boring but it's a pretty interesting article. Non-libertarians (I include myself here) may need to park the odd sacred cow at the door to let him complete his argument but it's worth doing.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Not so Lonely Mountain II

I usually enjoy planning hikes and climbs. The maps get spread across the floor, the dog-eared books litter the table and a path is worn between google earth and the coffee pot. However, when a friend comes out hiking, I always feel a little pressure to find the perfect trip to suit their expectations. So it was when Captain Orange confirmed that he would have a day in August to throw himself at whatever the mountains might offer. Knowing him as I do made the job of planning pretty easy. Something difficult with just a hint of the unknown thrown in. When I discovered that getting to Bow Peak involved a sketchy fording of the Bow River which might actually be too strong for safe passage, I realized this was the place for us.

From the Google Earth screen capture, I've drawn our route which begins on the icefields parkway, skirts some marshland then crosses Bow lake as it falls into the raging Bow River. If the river had been too strong, our backup plan was to cross the highway and climb Cirque Peak but the fates approved and allowed us to pass.

In the picture Mike makes the crossing which was about knee deep but with a pretty strong current that required one to take the task serious least you be carried down the rapids. The route then meanders up a drainage that contained a magical mixture of flowers, gentle waterfalls, glades and grass. For the better part of forty minutes we barely made any progress as we constantly stopped and admired it all while we made futile attempts to capture it with photographs.

We finally climbed above the treeline where Mike found some good granite to do some scrambling. Much of the rock in the Rockies is weather beaten limestone which tends to confine technical rock climbing to small areas of 'good rock.' In the picture here, this outcrop was an unusual granite that proved to be a good warm-up along the way.

After gaining the saddle between Bow Peak and Crowfoot Mt. we enjoyed the view of the valley as we surveyed our best route up . The funny thing about the mountains is that things look differently from different angles and different altitudes. From the saddle, what appeared to be gravel sized rock turned out to be a jumbled mass of rock sized between a living room and a rubics cube! An unfortunate characteristic of these boulders was that none of them seemed to be stable. Every foot placement and handhold caused each rock to wobble and slide a bit. It gave one the impression that you were about to slide down the pitch with several thousand tonnes of rock grinding you up like a canary in a cement mixer. In the picture above, I can't hide my displeasure with the sensation in spite of my rational understanding that these were not actually going to tumble down the pitch.
From the video you can get a sense of the endless boulders. But with determination and many brief rests, we won the ridge, a precarious knifeblade of decaying rock and massive stacked blocks.

While I chose a line that had a drop merely on only one side, Mike tip-toed across the blade of the knife interrupting his puffing with the occasional awed-imbued laugh. Of course you only need one side to fall down so I'm not sure why I felt safer but the mind is a funny thing. It did allow me to get some good shots of Mike on the ridge line. This picture comes close to expressing the sensation of space that being on a thin rope of land at the top of the earth creates. The ridge finally ended at the summit (9401ft) where we wrote our names in the summit register and drank in the view. As great as summits are, I often feel compelled to leave them. I have an acute sensation of how much effort I am from being safely on the ground. Lingering on a summit feel as bit like a game of chicken to me though it was a tough sell to convince Mike that we should probably make our way down.

By the time we made it off the steepest section and back to where we could hike out, the conversation had tapered off through tiredness. Though when it came time to cross the lake, a lively debate ensued as to whether the sun had melted the glaciers enough over the day to raise the level of the water and make our crossing more difficult. Examining our pictures from the morning we comically realized we crossed in a different spot. I prefer to imagine that the Fates opened a gate for us in our morning crossing and were now trying to close that gate by raising the water level. The rain that began to fall as soon as we closed the car doors certainly amplified the sense of Fortuna's blessing.

It was a great day with so many awe filled spectacles that each new one drove the next one out of my memory: torrential rivers, delicate flowers, stark valleys, pristine lakes, distant glaciers, accomplishment, adrenaline. Lung-burning serenity is one of many fleeting sensations in the mountains. Experiencing such fleeting moments with a good friend I think helps them endure.

more pics

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Ding-alinga dit-dit, dit-dit dee.

A long standing riddle that has vexed me for years is the origin of that stereotypical "asian"riff in music. It has always amazed me that 9 notes could have come to explicitly refer to Asia, even though there doesn't seem to be a known source that everyone refers to. There really aren't many musical cliches and I've always been fascinated how this one came to be. Especially when it hardly sounds like Chinese music in the first place!

This problem had great longevity since it's difficult Googling sounds. But thanks to Luke Lalonde for finding this link, the entirety of this matter has been laid bare and this question is now solved.

Link contains music terms but is very accessible.

Friday, July 31, 2009


I returned from the bush this week to our new place in Canmore. My time in the bush was marked by fewer bear encounters. I still had a few bears follow me around for uncomfortable lengths of time. The lack of bears was certainly made up for by a surplus of blackflies, and noseeums. I spent about a month camped in a marshland know as Musqua (see pic below.) From 5:30 AM until noonish, the bugs were pretty unreal necessitating appropriate attire around the head. In the picture is my black fly battle dress whose main purpose is to keep them from biting ears and eyes, and also to keep them out of my mouth. Its about as important as footwear in this part of the world.

By afternoon, the sun draws moisture up into massive cumulus clouds with accompanying winds to keep the bugs at bay until 7PM when the noseeums come out. You can tell when they're out because you look at yourself and realize there are hundreds of them crawling on you and then suddenly you realize you've been bitten several dozen times and they are starting to itch like crazy. Going into your tent at night involves rubbing your clothes vigorously all over to kill the nearly invisible gnats before you bring them into your tent and destroy any chance of sleep.

As you can see, I brought a camera with me to the bush this year, an unusual thing for me. I have a few pictures posted elsewhere but yet to post them in my public galleries. My emblematic short music video made from my hand-held still camera is posted at youtube . My days are pretty long and I carry plenty with me all day: food, warm clothes, rain gear, 4L of water plus all my work related gear. Because of this, even a little camera feels like extra weight I don't need so I only brought it with me a couple times. In spite of that I still caught a few interesting moments.

Usually, returning back to the city is a harsh transition. Canmore is a pretty gentle adjustment though. Looking out the window right now I have an uninterrupted panorama of trees and mountains.

At left is a shot I took of our place from the slopes of Mt Lady MacDonald. Our place backs right onto the mountains. Below is a collage of the inside of our kitchen/ front room. Its not as cubist as the picture hints at. Perhaps our favorite feature apart from where it is, is our first spare room. We now hope to lure friends over with mountain adventures and a proper place to crash.

Enjoying gin and tonics on the deck

Monday, May 11, 2009

STV: nice if you don't think about it too much.

Tomorrow, the BC electorate go to the polls. Included on their ballot is a referendum on whether to change to a Single Transferable Vote (STV) system. This new system would mean making electoral districts larger and with several elected candidates. The new ballots would mean rather than voting for one candidate in your riding, you would vote for up to seven candidates in a super riding. On the ballot, you rank your ordinal preference and the votes are counted. But each district has a different percent required to win (from between 12.5% to 33.3%) if a candidate gets that amount, they are the first to be elected, any "excess" votes get transferred to the next on the list in proportion to the excess until the district has selected its candidates. Proponents of this system argue that in first past the post, you end up with elections where for example 10% of the electorate vote for the Greens, but 10% of the legislature is not made up of Greens. Critics of this system argue that the complexity in tabulation require a computer to spit out the results with no paper trail or obvious correspondence between votes cast and votes received. Complexity is the least of it's problems.

Problem 1 Electors are failing with current workload.
I believe this system has several main flaws. Those that believe the distribution of parties is the biggest problem with government, don't actually observe government. The scandals committed by politicians of all ideologies runs the gambit from gross incompetence to outright criminal. Yet every politician who was ever jailed, everyone that rose to his or her level of incompetence was dutifully elected. Our worst politicians were all vetted by the public. Clearly, the public does a poor job of looking into the people they elect. The trend over the century as governments become more powerful with larger and larger budgets is greater voter apathy, indifference and ignorance. This is a problem in any system to be sure. With STV, in a 7 candidate riding, each party will run 7 candidates forcing an already lazy electorate to compare 30 or more candidates.
Is this even remotely realistic to assume that the electorate could possibly weigh this much information? Seeing that we do a failing job at filtering out the incompetent and the criminal when there are only 3 or 4 candidates, I think this is a no-brainer.

As pathetic proof of my argument, surveys on voter knowledge revealed a full 85% of the Ontario electorate had little or no understanding of proportional representation during their own referendum. Yet these same people would be charged with increasing the amount of information they would weigh under the new system!

Problem 2 More parties in government create less representation not more.
This seems like an oxymoron to most people but it is the law of unintended consequences in action. Under STV, proponents argue that smaller parties will get a voice in government. This sounds true until you examine how it works in practice. The more parties with elected members, the less likely there will be 50 percent majorities to form government. So how would governments form? By forming coalitions thereby including the smaller parties that were once shut out. The problem is the disproportionate power a small party has when it can make or break government. In the last parliamentary crisis, the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc formed a coalition to oust the Conservatives. I voted Liberal and had nothing but contempt for the NDP and Bloc platforms. But what parts of the Bloc and NDP policy would have made there way into legislation in a coalition with the Liberals? These deals happened after I had cast my ballot. I was sold a bill of goods that were then radically changed. I was so misrepresented, I sent a letter to the party canceling my membership. My vote ended up being a vote for someone else (transferred if you will.) This was a perversion of representation. Without provisions for ensuring that parties can't hijack their voters intentions, leaders vying for power will make a mockery of representation by political deal making. With STV, the electorate can look forward to more of this. Negotiations between parties vying for majority status horse trade policies and projects in the interest of those that elected them. But the point is that the people who voted for them never had the opportunity to vote for or against those policies. Concessions get made not on their own merits but because they are politically necessary for getting majority votes for legislation.

The nice idea of having a small party in legislative branch is offset by the problems of top down deal making in the administration branch. When people imagine the consequence of STV, I'm not convinced, they think this far ahead.

Problem 3 Smaller parties finally get representation.
Advocates of STV would consider this a good thing. Existing parties currently shut out of government need to look past their own self interests. I'm not sure how they will welcome the Jesus's Wrath party that elects a dozen members that hijack the political process for their own social engineering. The current system favours the center of opinion. It rewards the middle of the road. People may think this leads to unresponsive legislation and to our detriment, the status quo. They're right, it does. But it also means that change is predictable and life is sort of stable. The extremes are trimmed off and if you want to look around the world, this is an undeniable good. I believe that if an idea has merit, a majority of people can be convinced. If a majority can't be convinced then perhaps it deserves to be on the fringe. As much as I deride the average person, bypassing the majority rarely leads to justice. By suggesting that ideas most people don't like ought to be acted upon for their own good, is even more contemptuous of people than I am.

Problem 4 "Ought's" pushy brother "Is"
What this all boils down to is a judgment that the results of our elections don't look like what they ought to. Like when a better team loses to an inferior team one might think about how you could tinker with the rules to make sure the better team is more likely to win. That way, the results of the contest would be more representative of the teams. Of course one has already concluded what the result ought to be. Proportional representation advocates do the same. They conclude what the results ought to look like then fix the rules to get that outcome. Without examining the realities of how voter fatigue already contributes to bad government, without understanding how political necessity hijacks voter intent in coalition building, without understanding how the center is actually preferable sometimes to the fringe, one will be subject to the tyranny of "IS." The best of intentions for creating the world the way it ought to be are so often railroaded by the reality of how things actually are. Sure it would be nice if every party no matter how small got to have its "say" in the legislature. The reality is that at the end of the day, one group has to govern. We should pick that group in such a way that takes advantage of society's best qualities, and limits its worst. STV seems to ignore that there are such qualities in society and hence becomes a victim of those qualities.

Friday, May 01, 2009

After 25 years of work, Ford presents: the Accord

So I saw an ad for this 2009 Ford Fusion the other day making a pretty big deal about the fact that it had such amazing fuel economy. Working from the supposition that whatever claim is being made, the exact opposite is probably closer to the mark, I looked into it. I also wondered whether the Ford was as efficient as an 80s import.

2009 Ford Fusion 3.0 litre hiway: 30MPG

(from Ford's website)

1985 Honda Accord hiway: 29 MPG

Ford is all excited about making a car that Honda made better 25 years ago? And this is the one auto maker that isn't inches from bankruptcy? Okay, thats my last post about cars.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Endangered Species

I copypasta'd the BIG 3's 2009 SUV models into a lovely collage. When you see them all together its hard to imagine that this industry is surviving in its present form. I doubt enough debt holders will bite on the equity swap proposed by GM to keep it out of bankruptcy. Now, I don't know much about marketing, perhaps excess product differentiation is the key to selling cars, but 30 models of SUVs from 3 companies seems pretty stupid.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Socotra: Greatest island on earth

This little island off the coast of Somalia is only 100km by 40 yet hosts the most diverse terrain and plant life. The debate over whether life exists on other planets seems pretty inconsequential knowing I will likely never set foot on this island.