Sunday, December 28, 2008

Don't ask the homeopath if you need a haircut

The November 14, 2008 edition of the Now EMC Ottawa-Orléans was kicking around my bag, and a couple weeks ago I got a chance to skim through it. This article on homeopathic flu remedies really got my goat and I wanted to write a letter to the paper's editor about it, but it was a bit late. Now it's really past due to respond in the paper, but I read the article again today and had to respond somewhere. So I'm doing it here, and I've spent all night to write out a full response (pardon any sleep-related errors). Click the article image for a closer view.

As my scribblings suggest, I have a great deal of problems with this article, and it's hard to figure out where to start. I could just embed a video of James Randi's critique of homeopathy, but that doesn't do this article justice. So I've put his video at the end of this post.

First, let me get out of the way the most obvious objections to the article:
  • The byline refers to her as "Dr. Irma Boyle," which in the context of medical advice, suggests an M.D., which Boyle does not possess. However, this unfortunate attribution was likely made by the newspaper editor.
  • Right off the bat in the third paragraph, Boyle suggests that "an oral homeopathic flu remedy" has the same effect as a flu vaccine. (If you're not already familiar with homeopathy and why it's a sham, see the YouTube video below, or read through the Wikipedia article)
  • In fact, the article and headline both suggest that a "remedy" can be used for "immunization." This is impossible, as remedies cure problems, whereas immunization prevents them from happening in the first place.
  • Boyle says "asking your doctor and getting information from the internet will give you more details on [the flu vaccine's] material chemical content." Repeat after me: DO NOT USE THE INTERNET TO SEEK MEDICAL ADVICE. If you have concerns about the flu vaccine, talk to a doctor. Preferably your doctor. Definitely a medical doctor. (Incidentally, this is not medical advice. This is criticism of something that closely resembles medical advice.)
  • It has obviously been a long time since Boyle has associated with real medicine, because she claims that "the flu shot is injected directly into your bloodstream." It isn't. It's injected into your muscle tissue.
  • She goes on to say frightful things about the flu shot, culminating in "it by-passes your natural defenses and weakens your overall immune system." Which is also patently false.
  • The four final paragraphs (only the last three are italicized) advertise Boyle's services. While it references her "free homeopathic flu remedy clinic dates and locations" (two locations and two dates are listed on her website), Boyle's appointments normally cost $200 for the initial visit.
Before I delve into the details of the above points, I'd like to share some gems about the claims made on Boyle's website, healthdynamics.ca:

On the "flu vaccination vs homeopathic flu immunization" page, Boyle cites "the Dolisos(Boiron) Research Letter," which contains a text block of medical-sounding gobbledigook about Influenzinum and Thymuline, which apparently "are homeopathic remedies that are used in the oral homeopathic flu remedy."
  • However, I am unable to find such a letter online. Archive.org doesn't have any entries for www.dolisos.ca after February 2007, and for www.boiron.ca after December 2007.
  • The only results for this letter that I can find in a Google search are other homeopathic websites with similar (if identical) references to this alleged letter.
  • Google Scholar returns no results for "influenzinum." Thymulin (evidently our esteemed colleagues at Dolisos zealously added an "e" to the name), being a hormone produced by the thyroid, has many hits in PubMed; the only reference to "Thymulin AND flu" appeared beacuse of references to "immunofluorescence."
  • Therefore, not only is there no evidence of this letter claiming clinical success in demonstrating the effectiveness of these two chemicals "in infinitesimal dilutions," but there appears to be no published research about these two chemicals at all!
This, while egregious to my sensitive sense, pales in comparison to what we find on another page. Under "List of conditions that can be treated," Boyle lists a litany of "conditions and disease that are treated with Heilkunst and Advanced Homeopathy at Health Dynamics. These include physical, emotional, mental, relational, financial, life, career and soul/spiritual issues, ailments, conditions and dis-eases." This is directly reminiscent of the snake-oil carnival vendors who would claim their potion would cure whatever ails you. But this isn't the egregious thing.

On the same page are listed thirty-seven benefits of Homeopathy and Heilkunst, including this tremendously unredundant sample:
  • Have more confidence – self, body, mental, emotional, physical, relationally.
  • Get yourself out there even more than you are and have the confidence and clarity to do so.
  • Speak and act with more confidence. Have a strong and clearer voice.
  • Be and feel more present in the moment.
  • Step into the world more.
  • Be and feel more present in your day to day life.
But that's still not the nasty bit. Following the glowing list of benefits are "more examples of everyday occurrences for which Homeopathy and Heilkunst can be used successfully." She goes on to explain a vaccination-related application that isn't mentioned in her New EMC article. In the article, the homeopathy remedy was touted purely as an alternative form of vaccination, but on her website, she suggests the remedies "before and after each shot to avoid the potential traumatic effect of the event and the toxins involved." Not to be outdone, she subsequently suggests "the use of the same homeopathic remedies to create natural immunity to disease for those patients who prefer to not take the risk of a chemical vaccination."

We're almost at the nasty bit. She talks about travel immunizations. The fact that people will use homeopathy to immunize themselves for travel is a serious public health threat. She cites the "successful treatment of Cholera during an epidemic popularized homeopathy on the European mainland 200 years ago" as evidence for the effectiveness of travel immunizations. I will note that this predates the development of the modern scientific method.

But this is the part that knocks my socks off: the part where she lies!

Here is what she says: "In one large-scale study in Brazil in 1974 more than 18,000 children were successfully protected with the homeopathic remedy Meningococcinum against Meningitis, with no notable side effects (Ref. British Medical Journal, 1987:294-6)."

Here (PDF) is the article referenced. British Medical Journal, Novemer 28, 1987, pages 294-296. The title of the article is "Vitamin A supplements and mortality related to measles: a randomised clinical trial." It refers to a study conducted in Africa, not Brazil. In fact, the terms "Meningitis," "homeopathy," and "Brazil" don't appear anywhere in the article. Nor, even, does "1974"!

A closer look.

All this fishiness warrants a closer look at this article.

Let us start from the top.

How qualified is Irma Boyle?


On the "Flu vaccination vs homeopathic flu immunization" page on her website, she draws out the alphabet soup: "Irma Ally Boyle DMH, DHHP, DynBC, B.A. Psych."
  • Let's start from the end. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology. On her "about" page, she also says she has a degree in computer science. I have no reason to doubt either of those (though she doesn't say where she got those degrees or when).
  • DynBC apparently refers to "Certificate in Dynamic Blood Analysis," according to Heilkunst.com. A Google search for Dynamic Blood Analysis returns only references back to heilkunst.com and homeopathy.com (which are effectively the same website), and some scientific papers. Unfortunately, the scientific papers are all in engineering journals, and are not of a medical nature.
  • DHHP refers to "Practitioner Diploma in Homeopathy and Heilkunst," a diploma received after the completion of a 4-5 year course of studies. This includes a module on Dynamic Blood, which seems to make the above diploma redundant.
  • Upon payment of annual fees to the Canadian/International Heilkunst Association at www.heilkunst.com, DHHPs can use the tile "Doctor of Medical Heilkunst" (DMH), making the DHHP also redundant. Kinda like saying "I have a Ph.D. in Economics, as well as a Master's Degree in Economics and a Bachelor's Degree in Economics! Three degrees!"
  • However, the website of the Canadian - International Heilkunst Association (whose website is actually at http://heilkunstinternational.com) recommends "To make clear that one is not a “Dr.” or “Doctor” as such. For example, using the title before the name generally denotes an MD. Avoid using the title of “Dr.” or “Doctor” (before your name) and specify exactly what type of doctor is designated."
And what, exactly, is Heilkunst? Best I can tell, it's an euphemism for "homeopathy," presumably that particular branch that jives with Canadian regulations on homeopathy. If you're not already familiar with Homeopathy, I again beseech you to take in the YouTube video at the bottom of the post.
  • The German word for "Homeopathy" is "Homöopathie," so it doesn't mean that. It doesn't remotely resemble that.
  • "Heilkunde" is the German word for "medicine". It definitely resembles that word.
  • "Heil" means "well-being"; "Kunst" means "art", so "Heilkunst" presumably means "the art of well-being"
  • "Heilpraktiker(in)" means "non-medical practitioner"
  • Therefore, in English, "Medical Heilkunst" seems to suggest "Medical non-medical practise."
  • But whatever the word might mean in German, the term is being used in English. What you need to know is that "Medical Heilkunst" is not English for "Medical doctor." Therefore, you should seek a medical doctor for medical advice. Not a Doctor of Medical Pixiedust. Not the Internet.
What does she say about flu shots?

Well first, let's look at what is known about flu shots from empirical data:
  • According to Health Canada, "an estimated 10-25% of Canadians may get the flu each year," and "an estimated 4,000 to 8,000 Canadians, mostly seniors, die every year from pneumonia related to flu and many others may die from other serious complications of flu."
  • Because of this, Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization encourages all Canadians over 6 months of age to get a flu shot.
  • The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care says that "Ontario is the only jurisdiction in North America to make the influenza vaccine available free to all residents."
  • It is free, and it is likely to reduce your chances to get the flu. The only reason an objective person would advise against getting a flu shot is if it is dangerous.
While she doesn't outright say it, Boyle certainly paints the flu shot in frightening terms. I've already pointed out and refuted her erroneous claims that "the flu shot is injected directly into the bloodstream" and that it weakens the immune system. She also point out that:
  • "Getting the flu shot means that your body is injected with substantial amounts of several viruses along with other toxic materials used to preserve the vaccine." (Okay, "substantial" amounts if you're used to dealing with homeopathic dilutions)
  • "Along with the virus material, the vaccine fluid may contain chemical carrying agents." (And your homeopathic pill contains lactose as a carrying agent. Lactose is also a chemical. As is water.)
She contrasts this with the wonderful and painless homeopathic "remedy" which has the following benefits:
  • It's not an injection, but "processed orally through the mucous membranes, as it would be if the virus were contracted naturally."
    • This dose provides "an extremely minute amount of the virus material alone," and "because the viral agent is so diluted, it's a lot less toxic and doesn't place strains on the body's filtering system (kidney, liver)." (This suggests that the flu virus is toxic (i.e. "Having a chemical nature that is harmful to health or lethal if consumed or otherwise entering into the body in sufficient quantities."), which is technically true (in the sense that water is toxic if consumed "in sufficient quantities"), but highly unlikely. The net result of a flu vaccination is to boost health, not harm it.)
Now, the article proceeds, that you've been presented with this frighteningly terrible flu shot, and this painless and riskless homeo-pill, "what would you like to introduce into your body"? Oh, by the way, the author has some free homeopathic flu remedy clinics and more information on her website.

Except the homeopathic stuff doesn't do as promised. Health Canada's "Evidence for Homeopathic Medicines" guidelines require homeopathic remedies to be diluted to at least 12CH. Which, according to this page, means one part per 1024 parts--Avogadro's limit. Simply put, beyond this degree of dilution are not likely to have a single molecule of the active ingredient present in the solution. Yet homeopaths claim that this still has remedial properties--indeed, that the more diluted something is, the better!

After 200 years of practise (older than modern medicine!), certainly you'd expect there to be lots of research showing how Homeopathy works.

Frankly, skeptics like Randi and me would settle for evidence that it works, much less how. Scientific literature on the topic of homeopathy returns this type of conclusion:
  • "Up to now, no research has categorically proven that homoeopathy has a specific pharmacological action, consequently it is not a proven scientific therapy. " (Mudry, A. "Is Homeopathy a Scientific Therapy?" Rev Med Suisse Romande. 2000 Feb;120(2):171-7 )
  • "Contrary to many claims by homeopaths, there is no conclusive evidence that highly dilute homeopathic remedies are different from placebos. The benefits that many patients experience after homeopathic treatment are therefore most probably due to nonspecific treatment effects. Contrary to widespread belief, homeopathy is not entirely devoid of risk. Thus, the proven benefits of highly dilute homeopathic remedies, beyond the beneficial effects of placebos, do not outweigh the potential for harm that this approach can cause." (Ernst, E. "Is homeopathy a clinically valuable approach?" Trends Pharmacol Sci. 2005 Nov;26(11):547-8. Epub 2005 Sep 13. )
The burden of proof is not on me to prove that Homeopathy is ineffective; the onus is on homeopaths to prove that their dilutions actually do anything. Nevertheless, criticisms by skeptics are often met with accusations of bias, and claims that skeptics aren't being open-minded. Open-mindedness, however, can have serious consequences when extended beyond the rational...

It is unfortunate that the New EMC was tricked into printing this homeopathic drivel as "health" advice, though I don't think the publishers will care. Ms. Boyle's article is a collection of FUD to promote distrust in evidence-based medicine while simultaneously peddling their overpriced sugar pills. If she has tricked herself into believing this stuff as well (which is questionable, considering the outright lies exposed above), then that is a pity as well.

And what, exactly is homeopathy?

For those who aren't familiar with how insanely impossible it is for a homeopathic solution to have any effect, please view James Randi's concise description of homeopathy:


If you can't believe his characterization, check out the Wikipedia article on Homeopathy, or browse a homeopathy book at the local library, and you'll see it's exactly the same as he describes it, only with a bit more pixie dust.

- RG>

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Police intimidate blogger?

zoom! of Knitnut.net has posted an entry in her blog, aptly titled Bank Street Bully, referring to a police officer who didn't like her photographing him handling a woman on Bank street.

Zoom recounts how she valiantly held her ground and challenged the uniformed officer's demand to erase the photos from her camera. While police can be useful to some people in some situations, the officer in this case was definitely overstepping--abusing, even--his authority by trying to coerce her into deleting the photos she had just taken of him.

I'm no stranger to complaining about police, but I've never really confronted nor been confronted by an officer directly about a serious matter (there was one time when I challenged an officer after he made a snide remark he made about me to another officer).

I have, however, photographed a few police-related incidents that have set off my spidey sense, which zoom!'s post has inspired me to post tonight.

The one most similar to that observed by zoom! happened this past June on Elgin street. I was chatting with Carver, a popular downtown panhandler/artist/philosopher (who, by the way, is not an alcoholic or drug addict, and is not homeless, contrary to many people's stereotypes of panhandlers!), when he noticed a native panhandler out cold up the block, being roused by a couple of cops and a paramedic. I took a few photographs from far enough away to not attract the police's attention.

This wasn't police brutally, mind you, but I didn't think someone sleeping on a doorstep is really causing anybody any harm. Which is why I was a bit surprised when the paramedic stepped back while the police arrested him.

I'm not sure who is the guy in the blue shirt, but he seemed to play a part in the incident; he may have been the complainant, or simply a concerned citizen. He followed the officers around the corner to their cruiser, against which they pressed him before putting him inside.

I innocently asked the officer what was going on, and the officer gave me a brief overview: that they were going to put him in a cell overnight "for his own protection" yadda yadda yadda.



The next incident is from August 2007 during the Montebello North American Leaders' Summit (the one where undercover police officers were caught acting as agents provocateurs in a crowd of otherwise peaceful protesters). I had just happened to be on Cartier Street, when I discovered an odd sight. A couple police vehicles and three OC Transpo buses.

Being once again unseen in plain view, I snapped a few shots of what I saw. The windows of the buses were covered by black garbage bags, and even a garbage-bag drape was installed across the aisle.

The buses were chartered by the Ottawa Police Service to head to the Montebello Summit, as the sign in the front window (closeup below) clearly and publicly indicates. While I was sufficiently unfond of what the buses likely contained at the time--probably Ottawa Police officers with riot squad gear--I know that public transit vehicles are used during protests to detain groups of protesters en masse, and I shudder at the possibility of what could happen to detained protesters if they were hidden from public view inside these buses (paid for by OUR tax dollars!).

I wonder what the advertisers on those buses (landroverottawa.ca and Ocean's light tuna italian salad, among others not captured in my photos) think about their ads being on potential mobile holding units.



In October, I was walking home when a pair of police cruisers somewhat forcefully pulled over an OC Transpo bus that had just picked up a pair of passengers on Gladstone at Percy.

Two officers boarded the bus, questioned a young black male who had just boarded, got off the bus and let it (and the youth) go on its way. I overheard one of the officers say something along the lines of "wow, he matched the description perfectly, but it's not the guy." Just imagine being that kid on the bus and having to sit through the rest of the ride with everyone staring at you because the police thought you looked like someone they want.



This last one isn't so much police, but it's certainly along the same lines. It's also along the lines of the oft-quoted saying:
"The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." (Anatole France, from The Red Lily, 1894)
After the City of Ottawa literally banned the poor from sleeping under a bridge earlier this year, raising the ire of CopWatch organizer Andrew Nellis (the aftermath of which I blogged about at the time), the National Capital Commission abruptly removed the shrubs in Confederation Park behind which homeless people sleep. I walked through Confederation Park every day for five years and never once noticed a homeless person sleeping behind a shrub--much less be bothered by it.

But in the name of shooing homelessness to some other quarter, the shrubs were removed from this previously enjoyable public space, leaving a grey concrete wall for passers-by to stare at.

O, how inviting this park is now. They should pave over the grass and cut down the trees, too, just to be sure it won't attract any undesirable people. (Or any people at all!)





- RG>

Saturday, December 06, 2008

$25B Bailout? Big 3 vs. Economics 101

The BBC has a video showing the real reason why the auto industry is asking for billions of dollars in bailouts from North American governments: nobody is buying their cars.

The video shows ports in Long Beach, California, where tens of thousands of brand new cars sit, unwanted. Twenty auto salesmen in one Mercedes dealership have lost their jobs. People simply aren't buying new cars.

And the Big Three understand this. When demand drops to zero, it's impossible to make supply more efficient to continue bringing in profits.

That's why, to earn profits, they've decided skip the whole supply/demand game, the whole sell-a-product-to-earn-money game, and instead go to the governments to give them money.

I say fuck 'em. This money should be used to invest in new industries, to build a more sustainable economy, not to line the pockets of dying industries.

People say that one in six Canadians has a job directly related to the automobile industry as a defence of such bailouts. This was used as an argument in 2003 when the Federal and Ontario governments each gave half a billion dollars to Ford to encourage them to build a plant in Ontario, creating jobs for Ontario workers. A plant which has since closed.

To me, one in six Canadians depending on the auto industry isn't a defence of bailing them out: it's a sign that we need to kick the auto addiction.

(Thanks to rgb for the link)

- RG>

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

HPVOoO Santa Claus Parade pix

You may wonder what a grouch like myself would be doing celebrating at the Help Santa Toy Parade. Isn't a parade a celebration? Is it appropriate for a grouch to celebrate anything?

Well, as much as I don't like Christmas, I found a great justification to celebrate the Santa Claus parade this year, as I told a few of the folks at the start of the parade: The better a job we do at promoting Santa Claus, the more elaborate the ruse is, and the bigger the fall will be when kids find out it's all a lie! Mwa ha ha!

Okay, so really it's because parades are a lot of fun.

And the Human Powered Vehicle Operators of Ottawa like doing parades. Richard usually gets his greenspeed tandem trike and 4x8' trailer out--which was extended longer for this float--and lots of others usually come out on their own machines.

Lane and Mark pose with the centrepiece of the HPVOoO float



Blackburn Pete had to cancel right before leaving his house on account of becoming a grandpa.

Anyway, Richard's server isn't working so he can't upload his photos, particularly the traditional end-of-parade group shot (and my camera battery was dead by the end so I didn't get a group shot). He didn't take too many photos, either, so I guess I'm the one who'll be taking photos.

Enjoy!

- RG>

Monday, November 24, 2008

A little bit of too much hope

Local transit and US politics take you for a ride.

I didn't realize it until the results were in, but I had a lot of emotional investment in the US presidential election. In 2004, I had assumed that George W. Bush couldn't possibly be re-elected, but the US electorate proved that, yes, they could be hoodwinked by deceptive campaigns and electoral tricks. My heart sunk below my feet after that election.

And despite repeatedly telling myself that I wasn't going to care who won the election in 2008, my spirits were greatly lifted when Barack Obama was elected and the eight-year curse was over. Despite the hackneyed slogan, it really was a sign of hope; that my jaded view of the world is a stereotype that doesn't necessarily reflect reality. The warm, sunny day following the election helped too!


This same hope had a resurgence at the local level when Ottawa Councillors Christine Leadman and Clive Doucet held a press conference called Light Rail Now to present their alternative to the City's monolithic and immovable plan. Here, the hope was that City Council might actually make a Transit decision that comes from their own ranks.

Two days later, that hope died. A joint meeting of Transportation and Transit Committees voted to not even consider the Leadman-Doucet proposal. To me, it was Bush '04 all over again, and I've been depressed since.

The Committees' recommendation isn't final until approved by Council, so there is still a chance. Finally, this morning, I managed to find a way of expressing my concerns, and fired off this letter to Council:

Dear Mayor and Councillors,

I was disheartened to learn that Transportation and Transit Committee would not even consider the Carling LRT corridor. The Parkway corridor has many problems which the Carling LRT corridor address (see http://www.transitottawa.ca/2008/09/light-rail-on-parkway-issues.html - note: not affiliated to me).

While on the surface Carling is not perfect, neither is the Parkway. This is why both need to be thoroughly considered and compared as potential rapid transit corridors.

Mayor O'Brien and Transit Committee Chair Alex Cullen have said on numerous occasions that it is important that Council appear unified behind a plan in order to get funding from upper levels of government. A plan is solid when it has withstood all criticism and serious consideration of the alternatives. If Council follows the Committee's recommendation, you will be dismissing criticism, not withstanding it. This is the blind faith that killed NS-LRT in 2006.

At Committee, Councillor Cullen said many times that the Staff plan has undergone vigorous consultation. However, all four options presented earlier this year included the Parkway corridor, all four options included $1.5B in bus investments, and no option considered rail to the East, West, and Southwest suburbs. It is misleading to the public and to our Federal and Provincial partners to claim that the public "chose" these. When consulted, the public loudly opposed the Parkway corridor, yet they are not being heard.

Please, Councillors, I urge you to give the Carling option fair consideration. If the parkway corridor is proven to be truly better, Council and the City will be able to stand unified behind it.

- RG>

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Elgin St. Swap Box Rescue

Back in August, El Maks installed a Swap Box outside the Bridgehead on Elgin (the same one I discussed in this post). Here's a shot of it from August 8:

Inside was some relatively uninteresting things: a tarot card, a couple of pills, and some creased postcards of Santorini.

A month later, it was still in pretty decent condition, and was joined by a charismatic Planters peanut can (which was playing the part of an ashtray)

Inside in September was some even less interesting stuff. A tampon, some pens and cutlery, and an STM ticket which was still in there most times I checked.

While I did my best to keep refilling it with interesting things, it was usually pretty close to empty most times I saw it, and, in keeping with the broken windows theory, it fell into disrepair. This is what I saw of it today:

With the equipment I had on me I did my best repair attempt. As with the last time it was busted, it reassembled fairly easily, but I didn't have any paperclips out of which I could fashion a glue gun, or (more reasonably) small staples to reattach the hinges on the door. Nevertheless, duct tape is always a versatile weapon, and I made good use of it. Behold, Swap Box 2.0!

Now with 10% more Swagger!

I refilled it with some emergency Swap Box supplies I kept in my pocket, took some photos, and congratulated myself on a jorb well done.

Long live the Swap Box!

- RG>

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Underprivileged? No. Smug? Yes.

So it looks like I haven't posted at all in October. I guess life happens, eh?

I had a great time working at the polls during the recent election. The big pile of forms, envelopes and ballots that had to be sorted just right was thrilling. It was like my coming out as a bureaucrat.

In fact, I even compiled a list of corrections to the elections manual based on the questions and problems I encountered through the day. There were a number of problems with it. For example, when gathering the items on a list of materials we'd require at the end of the night, we spent five whole minutes looking for an envelope that didn't exist. Also, there was no central list of what to do at the end of the night: it was all "go from this set of instructions to that one over there and follow them." Quite confusing, even for a logic puzzle solver like myself.

I e-mailed Elections Canada to let them know I've got this feedback, and I offered to write it up if they would give me an address to forward it to. The response I received, in full (albeit within 24 hours), was "We acknowledge receipt of the electronic message you sent to Elections Canada on October 16, 2008. Your message has been forwarded to the appropriate directorate." How nice of them to accept the input that I haven't even sent them yet!

I've been really busy since then with various commitments, but I've got some breathing room now.

I was very disappointed this morning to find not 25-35 cm of snow on the roads (as forecast), but mostly clear roads with a smattering of wet stuff on the sidewalks. I was looking forward to the adventure of riding in the snow again, but it'll have to wait for another day. (Hopefully a month or two off)

Other things are also going well. A few things have broken, or I've otherwise determined the need to replace things, and it's been quite painless to get them fixed. For example, the belt holster for my phone broke and I was so disinclined to deal with the people at the Bell World store (who conned me into buying the thing) that I'd rather spend the $30 elsewhere to get a new one than to have to deal with those fucks. In the meantime, I'll just stick the holster in my pocket.

A better example of something breaking is my sunglasses. When I got a new prescription earlier this year (hmm... same time as the new phone...), I had to choose between getting new frames and new lenses on my sunglasses, or just replacing the lenses on my five-year-old shades. New frames would allow me to update the style with new glasses, but replacing the lenses would be much cheaper. Since I was also buying non-sunglasses, I chose the cheaper sunglass option.

Then a couple of weeks ago, the frames started to fall apart. I wasn't quite sure what to do. My worst fear was that I would have to buy new frames and lenses, and toss the expensive lenses I had purchased earlier this year. Very expensive. Then I got an idea: I could try getting another pair of the same model as my current shades.

I called up the Lenscrafters at Rideau Centre and asked them if they had any of these five year old model. They were very polite and very helpful. They did a bunch of looking around for me and concluded that, while the model wasn't marked as being discontinued, there were no more of them in any Lenscrafters in the country. They suggested I try on the internet, and they gave me all the details that I would need to make sure I get the right ones.

With this information, I looked on the internet for the shades. According to places that didn't have them in stock (including the manufacturer), they cost about $235 new. Yowch. So I went to the next obvious destination--eBay. There they were, the only ones, available from a place in California for 90 bucks plus shipping (this was while the dollar was still at about 90 cents. Then, the icing: they had them in different colours. Okay, "colours". By replacing my gunmetal model with a black matte, I could get the best of both worlds: cheaper (by replacing the lenses earlier on, and subsequently replacing the frames at much less than retail), and still get a bit of change in style. Still a costly item, but much cheaper than it could have been.

So fast forward to this week. The shades arrived in the mail and I swapped out the lenses. Only they didn't quite fit. Grr! It was clear that when they had installed the lenses the first time five years ago, they removed some of the sweep in the frames to accommodate them. I did not want to bend my frames and risk breaking them.

I would have to go to the Rideau Centre to take them to Lenscrafters.

I hate going to the Rideau Centre. It's so big and commercial and unfriendly. There are so many people, yet so little personality. Give me the charm of Elgin or Bank street any day. On top of that, since it's a place I don't go often, there are likely to be a few things that I want to photograph, but I forgot my camera at home today.

I took them into Lenscrafters, expecting to have to leave them there for a few days while they fixed it. Instead, they took them behind the glass and did the work right there in minutes. Best part? They didn't charge me for it at all!

So what does this have to do with the title? On the way back out, I saw the welcome mats outside Miss Tiggy Winkles. The one in the front annoyed me so much that, with my one free hand, I fumbled my phone out of my pocket, pried it out of the holster and aimed it in the general direction of the mat to take a photo of it (hence the atrocious quality):

It says "WE WORK WITH THE UNDERPRIVILEGED (Our children)"

Anyone who displays that slogan outside of their house--whether they mean it honestly or in jest--ought to be shot. If you're rich enough to afford that mat, then either your children are privileged as fuck or you're gloating at how poorly you treat your children. If you children aren't privileged, then you're a neglectful cad for wasting your money on a stupid novelty mat instead of something that will help in their development (or at least get them a toy that's a bit more fun than a bloody welcome mat). If you want to spend money to show appreciation for your children, buy a damn "my son/daughter is an honour student" bumper sticker (or some, uh, prescription sunglasses :P ), but calling them "underprivileged" is just insulting to everybody.

- RG>

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Deconstructing the latest transit noptions - Intro and Part I: Parkway?"

Earlier in September, CBC covered the latest level of "options" presented to the City, in a story headlined East-west line to be built 1st in Ottawa's rapid transit network. CBC has a PDF of the four options here.

I received an e-mail five days ago saying that consultation on the Transportation Master Plan update at ottawa.ca/ottawatalks would be over today. I had been wanting to do a detailed post about this latest plan, so I figured now would be the best time to do it.

The site Ottawa.Econsultations.ca has a public-consultey forum on Rapid Transit Implementation Scenarios. They don't have a link to the City's documents on the matter (Click on the blue links along the left.). They don't even have the maps, just a "brief description of each scenario", then ask you to choose which one you like best and comment. They describe the differences between the options thusly:

"Scenario 1 (Tunnel & LRT East) – This scenario is based on constructing LRT from Blair Station to Tunney’s Pasture Station in the first phase of construction.

"Scenario 2 (Tunnel & LRT West) – This scenario is based on constructing LRT from Baseline Station to St. Laurent Station in the first phase of construction.

"Scenario 3 (Tunnel & LRT East & South) – This scenario is based on constructing LRT from Blair Station to Tunney’s Pasture Station and from Bayview Station to a station in Riverside South Centre in the first phase of construction.

"Scenario 4 (Tunnel & LRT East & West) – This scenario is based on constructing LRT from Baseline Station to Blair Station in the first phase of construction."
As with the last round of "options", most of the comments (which, admittedly, I only glanced at) are focused on the differences between the four options, along the lines of "Option X has component A, while the others don't, so we should choose Option X [which also happens to have components B through H]." However, the parts common to all options are just as important, and I'll get to that in Part II of this analysis, and the differences in Part III if I get the time.

Many of the comments discuss the relative merits and detriment of running rail along the Ottawa River Parkway. Here's my armchair analysis of that question.

Rail on the Ottawa River Parkway: Yes or No?

Under a 'temporary' agreement with the NCC, OC Transpo buses currently use the Ottawa River Parkway to connect between the Transitway segments along Scott Street and South of Carling. The City wants to continue to use this corridor for its rail plan, which would involve putting down tracks between the Parkway's two pairs of lanes, or North or South of them.

The NCC and area residents are pretty strongly opposed to this, because they don't like the idea of rapid transit in or near their neighbourhoods (ironic, since proprety values tend to be higher near rapid transit). They also think that rail in this corridor would reduce visual and physical access to enjoying the greenspace (also a weak argument, as it's much easier to cross two rail tracks when one train passes every three minutes than to cross the current four lanes of constant motor traffic). Europe has many examples of rail lines--even in urban areas--where the rail has grass growing along it, and you can only tell there's a rail line there when the train goes over it. This contrasts with the North American view of rail, where you can't put it up without six-foot fencing to keep pedestrians off. Funny that you don't see such fencing along Hunt Club Road or Baseline!)

Councillor Clive Doucet doesn't like the Parkway corridor option mainly because he thinks rail should go along Carling. One reason for this is that along Carling it would run along multiples neighbourhoods, providing better transit access to more people (a goal I agree with). Another reason is that Clive believes the City will only be able to get provincial and federal funding for new transit corridors, and not for converting existing bus corridors to rail (an argument I don't give much gruff, given the provincial and federal politicians' apparent eagerness for the City to develop a plan for them to throw money at).

Detractors of the Carling option say that transit on Carling would be anything but rapid. I've taken the 85 so I can understand where this comes from, but the Transitway running along Scott street isn't as slow as the 18 on Scott street, which is a good analogy to rebut that criticism.

City Staff, the Mayor, and Transit Committee Chair Alex Cullen, on the other hand, say that the Ottawa River Parkway was part of the overall plan "chosen" by Council (despite the fact that the same corridor was in all four "options", and the same trio quashed most discussion on council about anything other than the four "options"), and that the Parkway is the best option.

I suspect the best option would be a variant of using the Byron/Richmond corridor, but the three corridors (Parkway, Byron, and Carling) would have to be studied in greater detail to see which one has the best value for money. I would have loved this growing up just a couple of blocks from Richmond Road. The trainophobic residents of Westboro are strongly against rail transit going anywhere near their residences, and insist that if it were to happen, it would have to be buried underground (making it prohibitively expensive). Their opposition to this and the Parkway corridor means that LRT will be built in other parts of the City first, and they will be stuck with second-class transit access until future phases of the plan (whenever the heck that will be).

The variant I like was informally suggested at a Friends of the O-Train meeting earlier this year. It would involve going straight after leaving the current Dominion bus stop, and traveling along the North edge of the residences (okay, a tricky point there) before crossing to Richmond at Cleary. You'd have to buy and tear down the little strip mall there (back in the day there used to be a Beckers there; I think the 23-hour sign shop might still be there), and/or the (former?) house on the Northwest corner of that T-intersection (which is not a likely option. It would continue along Richmond before turning South toward Lincoln Fields where the Transitway currently goes.

This would allow Transitway traffic to remain uninterrupted on the Parkway while it is being built, and it would give you new Transitway stations near where Dominion is (providing access to Westboro proper), at Woodroffe (providing a close connection for Carlingwood, Our Lady of Fatima church, YMCA, and Park Place retirement condo), and another one further West. Whenever I took the 95 downtown from Baseline, I would always regret the long stretch between Lincoln Fields and Westboro where nobody could connect to the Transitway. I also regretted this every day growing up as I waited at Westboro station to connect with the 18 or the 2, because the five trips per hour among the two routes was timed so that they were always 15-20 minutes apart. (I got much relief when Dominion station was added, as well as with the introduction of Rack & Roll).

But here's my take on the Westboro-Lincoln Fields problem: the City (I think it was Cullen) says that they don't want to study alternatives to the Parkway because it would weaken their bargaining position with the NCC. I think that's just as stupid as the earlier non-decision (among the first set of four "options") to summarily dismiss a rail option out to the suburbs, insisting that it would be prohibitively expensive.

If the City really believes this is the best option, they should (fairly) analyze the alternatives and prove it! Show us the cost projections of each alternative. Show us how fast you can move people, and how many people are served. Don't simply cover your eyes and ears and accuse non-believers of blasphemy!

Coming up: Part II: The commonalities--"noptions"--in the latest choice.

- RG>

Saturday, September 27, 2008

What the hell is at 7am?!?

I've got a couple of longer, more analytical topics to write about (and time to write them this weekend), but I've been particularly tired and cranky lately.

For the last four or five days, no matter what time I get to sleep, I found myself inexplicably awake at 7am, whereupon I try and fail to return to sleep, and only approach restfulness right as I need to get out of bed.

It took me a couple of days to realize that it was the same time each morning, and now I suspect that someone (i.e. a neighbour or delivery person outside) or something (i.e. a computer or fridge or something) makes a noise at 7am which I don't remember hearing because I was trying to get some bloody sleep!

While my sleeping hour varies, I usually aim to get the same number of hours, ending between 8:30 and 9:30am. If I don't get enough sleep, I'm a bitch to be around most of the day unless I spend a lot of energy to act otherwise. This unexplained noise (which was back again today--Saturday) has certainly put the "circa" back in "circadian rhythm".

Grr...morning people...

- RG>

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Your Councillor Cannot Hear You Blog

[Update 10:43am: Councillor Hume responded to say that he can see my blog and he has always been able to. Councillor Jellett responded to my e-mail to councillors saying that he had been able to click on all the links in that message (including a YouTube video) except for http://blogawa.ca. Councillor Chiarelli also responded, though he did not comment on whether he could access the pages. I phoned up Councillor Holmes' office, and while the staff person I spoke with most recently on the issue was not there, another staff person was able to access my blog. While I still believe there is something wrong, I am no longer able to accurately describe it. Since my councillor's staff seems to now be able to access these sites, I'm sufficiently satisfied. - RG>]

I had a generic rant lined up to post this morning, in response to a number of comments that I did not come across as grouchy, but I delayed it to give it a sobre second reflection.

Good thing that I did, because the present topic makes me genuinely livid: My councillor cannot read my blog. Not even if she wanted to.

As part of City Hall's "responsible use of technology" policy, Facebook, Twitter, eBay, blogs (indeed, anything remotely resembling blogs, such as Globe and Mail pages with interactive content) are all blocked by the City's Internet servers. I had long been aware of this, though not to its extent: a number of people I know at City Hall have told me that they can't access blogs and discussion boards--including those where members of their respective professions collaborate on the cutting edge best practises in their fields.

I was even told on one occasion that the website of Citizens for Safe Cycling--a well-established Ottawa community association--was blocked by City servers. Now that is just outrageous.

The reasoning behind this policy likely stems from the fear of City staffpeople running eBay businesses on the City's time. The eBay example was the subject of a recent Auditor General's report and made some appearances in the news a while back, but the general principle has applied for years in the City of Ottawa as well as in many private businesses. But if a staff person misuses a technology, you reprimand that staff person--you don't take away that technology from everybody. Imagine the inane results if one staff person spent the whole day talking to their boyfriend on the phone, and all of a sudden, nobody at the City would be able to dial a phone number starting with the digits 7-2-8!

You don't overcome bad management with bad policy. Yet it seems to be common practise, as I've found myself repeating this statement too many times in the past week.


Now, while I've known about Staff not being able to access the Internet 2.0, I had just sort of assumed that this ban did not extend to Councillors' offices. Based on my understanding of basic democratic principles, it was beyond the realm of possibility.

But I learned tonight that the impossible was possible. I was told tonight that as a "compromise" with Councillors, one computer is available on the second floor of City Hall that is unfiltered--and this one computer must be shared by the 200 or so people who work there. All internet access in Councillors' offices is filtered.

Councillors and their staff are not hired by the City manager; they are hired by the people. Thus, they should not be beholden to the censorship that is used to "protect" taxpayers from unnecessary staff waste. If my Councillor wants to surf the internet for blogs and porn all day, they should damn well have the right to, and it'll be up to me and other voters to decide whether to re-elect them--just like Councillors have the right to only attend 40% of Council votes and win the next election with 30% of the vote because so many people run to oppose them *cough*shawnlittle*cough*.

Much--perhaps even most--of grassroots community organizing these days takes place in blogs, on Facebook, on YouTube and with similar types of interactive websites. Lots of information gets posted on them which is useful to Councillors, their staff and City staff alike.

By allowing this censorship to apply to them and their political staff, Councillors are not only shutting out their internet-savvy (yet community-minded) constituents, but they are setting themselves up for failure in future elections for being out of touch.

I myself have suffered from this draconian policy. I had long been posting photos of the construction of the now-named Corktown Footbridge on a different blog, pedbridge.blogspot.com. In the runup to the opening ceremony, someone from Councillor Holmes' office called me up and said they were making fridge magnets for the opening event, and asked if they could use one of my photos. Naturally I would be granted a stipend for producing the work. I directed them to my blog so they could choose their preferred picture, and when they said they couldn't see the photos there, I directed them to the Picasa album where those photos and more were posted.

At the opening event, I learned that they hadn't been able to access those, either, and someone in the office eventually ran to the bridge and took his own photo which now graced the magnet.

Councillors should have full, uncensored access to the Internet in order to properly, fully, and fairly represent their communities. (Frankly, City management should also stop treating staff like babies, and should remove the ban on their legitimate access to blogs and forums; but I don't elect city staff, so that fight will wait for another day.) It is a democratic atrocity that not only are Councillors' internet connections censored, but that which is and isn't allowed through is decided by the bureaucracy.

I will be forwarding this complaint far and wide--including to Council--and I for one will be grossly disappointed if Council does not respond with outrage and stand up to this backward policy.

If not, well...I'll have no choice but to say nasty things about them on my blog!

- RG>

Friday, September 12, 2008

I'd love to grouch, but the story's too good

For the last few nights, I've had this big report to write. No, not for work (I'm lucky enough to be able to leave my work at work) or school (my sentence at university expired last year). It's one of the many volunteer projects that I tend to take on as part of my fetish for masochistically-mind-numbing committee work. You know, policy review, procedural harmonization. The more bureaucratically complex it sounds, the more I want to dig my fingers in and pick it apart.

Okay, so I can be a little strange. ;D

Anyway, this story actually starts this past Wednesday, the first night this week where I'd have time to work on the report. I have no idea why, but I was absolutely exhausted at the office. When my work day ended, I went to Bridgehead in search of a second wind. That didn't help.

Nor did the Gravol. You can tell someone is wiped when they take Gravol to try to fight fatigue. Eugh.

I got home at six and fell straight into bed. I woke up at midnight, and didn't have a clue how to deal with it: my body was in sleep mode, and didn't want food, even though I hadn't had dinner; meanwhile, I had just woken up from a six-hour slumber, so I couldn't simply go back to sleep. But I also wasn't lucid enough to write that report. I eventually got five more hours of rest before waking up for work.

After work, I finally got a chance to sit down for the final stretch of my report, and I was very disappointed to discover that I couldn't edit the document due to a very nasty read-only bug.

After overcoming that hitch, I was able to edit my document again and resume "report"ing. I worked on it until Bridgehead closed, then went home, heated up some leftovers, and continued until late into the night.

At 3 am, I celebrated the finished report, did a victory dance in my head, then stayed uncontrollably awake for two hours.

My boss had grumbled yesterday that I had been late every day this week, so I really didn't want to be late again today. Constrained by the late hour, I was forced to take an abbreviated night of sleep, and one thing my circadian clock can be said to have in common with--say--English teachers is a distaste for abbreviations.

(As an aside... In case you haven't noticed, sleep deprivation--or "sleep deprivity" as I once accidentally dubbed it in a jet-lagged moment of genius--tends to exacerbate my eccentricity. Despite not consuming alcohol or narcotics, I've managed to freak out quite a few people at late-night parties with this 'talent'.)

I eventually got to sleep, and reluctantly woke up this morning in a vain attempt to get to work on time.

And I would have, had I not lost my freaking wallet!

I searched my apartment high and low. I searched the usual places, I searched the unusual places.

I remembered that the last place I had seen my wallet was last night at Bridgehead, when I stacked it on top of my bags on the patio shortly after sitting down. What few neurons were willing to fire contemplated the possibility that I had left it there.

I might have forgotten it there last night because I was tired, right?

No, wait, I was tired on Wednesday night. I'm tired now because I was awake and alert too long last night.

Wait, last night! Yes, that's it! I'm tired now because of last night; I must therefore have been tired last night!

It is thus perfectly reasonable that I left it there last night in my defatigated stupor! Q.E.D.

I dropped my bike off at work and popped over to Bridgehead to ask if my wallet had turned up. Nope.

Well if it isn't there, then where could it be?

I looked again in my bags, and realized I had lost it. My wallet, too. :P

While it was likely to turn up again, I phoned to cancell my debit and credit cards as a precaution, while simultaneously trying to find ways to be productive as my still-grumbling boss watched on through the eyes the back of her head. While on hold, I thought about what a coincidence it was that I had the great idea just a couple of days ago to write down all the important details on the cards in my wallet in case I might lose it, and how much greater an idea it would have been if I had actually done so.

I was able to recite my card number from memory, having entered it so often on the bank's website. This was a bittersweet accomplishment, as I would have to get a new one. Unfortunately, I was already at work, and I would need two pieces of identification to get a new card from the bank--not the easiest thing to do when your ID is in your missing wallet!

I knew where my passport was at home, and the guy on the phone helped me brainstorm other pieces of ID.

"Would a photo of me in the newpaper work?" No, he replied, to my chagrin. I managed to identify a suitable second piece--but they were both still at home.

Luckily, I had forgotten my wallet at home one day last week, which taught me to stash a bit of lunch money in my office lest it happen again (A second lesson was which of the places I frequent on Elgin street were and weren't willing to take a rare IOU from a loyal customer; in the case of those that weren't, I suppose I should say "frequented"). But it being Friday, the ten dollars in the small manila envelope would not stretch very far as I wait for the banks to re-open on Monday.

Despite being tired, groggy, grouchy and behind in my hours at work, I agreed to my dad's offer to meet for lunch, who covered the bill (thanks again, Dad!). This turned out being a good idea, as the ride out to our meting place gave me time to think, and sitting at the pub helped me relax. Dad and I chatted about various goings-on, and he commented that many of my recent blog entries were not as grouchy as before.

On my way back from lunch, I recontemplated my obstacles, and concluded that stopping by home to get my I.D. and visiting the bank for a new card was the way to go. I was pleased to find my documents where I expected them to be, and there was no line at the bank. The extra trip only added twenty minutes to my lunch break. I'd still have to deal with all my other cards and stuff, but not until I was absolutely sure that I had lost my wallet--I still have one of those old red-and-white OHIP cards that doesn't expire and I'd hate to have to get a new one.

Back at work, I decided to look one more time in my bags, this time actually taking things out to look beneath them, instead of whatever my defatigated doppelganger did this morning. And there was my wallet! What a relief; my frequent customer cards were safe!

Now my only problem was working five more hours at work, trying various things to keep me focused (and remembering to NOT take Gravol this time!).

The main thing on my desk today was preparing a couple of letters of refusal. This was a cathartic exercise, wherein I vigorously researched creative ways to say "no" while maintaining a polite and professional tone.

One was not so much a letter of refusal as one that said "yes, but...". Those ones can be even more fun--if time-consuming to get right.

In the end, I got my work done, clocked out, and went to Bridgehead.

For all the things that could have gone much worse today, everything really turned out pretty well. I'd be hard pressed to grouch about it!

----

Epilogue:



While typing out this blog post at Bridgehead (which is about to close), a pair of young men tried to impress the girls they were with by jumping up and slapping a street sign in an attempt to impress their lady friends. In so doing, they knocked apart the swap box on the post.

They walked away, and I corrected it. Maks did a good job of building this one; the box joints on the top piece mercilessly fell apart, and easily snapped back together with a bit of pressure.

As the patio got quieter (and the crowd on the street rowdier), I moved inside, and overheard a gentleman talk to the server about a bracelet he got from the swap box which gave him some sort of energy or something. It sounded spiritual, so I tuned it out.

But when the man turned around, I noticed that the bracelet in question was one which I had placed in the swap box! I told him of the bracelet's origins, and he told me of its continuing story:

[continued from outside, as Bridgehead has now closed]

Apparently, this gentleman had once been fairly overweight and had done a lot of work to get himself down to his current, average size. About three and a half weeks ago, he was in a slump and knew that it was [then] or never to lose that last bit of weight.

Finding the bracelet in the swap box gave him the extra motivation to start jogging.

Interestingly enough, the bracelet--an orange "livestrong"-style rubber band with the words "i count" on it that I had picked up from a convention (my vulgar attempt to slice out the letter "o" on another copy and paste it back together had failed) was actually an advertising gimmick for some brand of step counters--an exercise tool. The phrase "i count" was a reference to counting one's steps.

It's quite the coincidence that it had this very effect, even though I had planted it in the Swap Box on its own!

Now to go home and sleep.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Cool new Wikipedia feature: Unified Login

I was checking out a definition on Wiktionary, one of Wikipedia's sister projects, and I logged in to correct a typo.

After logging in, I was taken to the usual "return to the page you were on before logging in" page, but this page also included a link, saying, "To use this account on other Wikimedia wikis visit Special:MergeAccount. I had never heard of it before, but it looked to be something very useful for people like me: a unified login across all WikiMedia projects (including Wiktionary, Wikibooks, Wikimedia Commons, as well as Wikipedias in other languages).

Sure enough, it was. And it was quite a painless procedure, so long as your username and e-mail address are the same across the Wikis (the password does not have to be the same on each Wiki).

Since you have just logged in, you merely have to enter your password on your primary wiki. Since most of my edits are on en:Wikipedia, but I was logged in to en:Wiktionary which had a different password, I entered my Wikipedia password.

It then cross-references the different Wikipedia projects and shows you a list of those on which you have an account that matches the given parameters, and with the click of one last button, you can unify your accounts.

And you're done! If I wanted to log in to a Wikimedia project where I haven't been before, I can now use my Unified login and not have to register from scratch. Now that is a useful feature!

It determines your primary account by looking for which project you have the most edits on (or if you are an Admin or Sysop on one of the projects). You can see which projects you have edits on by entering your username at the User Contributions Tool. I have the most of my edits on en:Wikipedia--613 edits!



- RG>

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Frustration with french numbers

I'm going to admit right off the bat that this is a fairly petty gripe, but it's a genuine one.

In my day job, I occasionally take credit card orders over the phone from people across the country. This includes francophones.

While I'm conversant in French, it takes me a great deal of effort to precisely record a name and address spoken to me in the language.

But when it comes to taking the credit card numbers, I feel like I'm running to catch a bus that has already left the stop.

When I take credit card numbers in English, people typically pause after each set of four numbers (sometimes every two!) until I repeat the numbers or otherwise indicate that I'm ready for the next set. I don't know if they do this because I'm subconsciously giving them cues to do so, or if it's just convention in English, but they almost always pause.

In French, the person quickly reads out the numbers with a slight pause, but continues without waiting for a confirmation from me. But the part that makes it worse is that it is apparently the convention to read each set of four numbers like a pair of two-digit numbers. That is, in English, "1234" would be "one two three four", whereas in French it is "douze trente-quatre" [twelve thirty-four].

And the nineties are the worst (and every card in French seems to have at least one pair in the 70s or 90s). While I'd like to write down numbers as fast as they give them to me, I can't because of the blasted nineties.

"Quatre..."

Okay, four...

"-vingt..."

Scratch that, eighty...

"et seize."

Er, ninety six.

Even worse is when I get a combination like 3096, which reads "trente, quatre-vingt et seize." While it is understandable that it isn't "trente-quatre, vingt, et seize", it takes a bit of processing time to figure this out--time that's required to listen to the next four numbers!

It's times like this, when I'm reminded at how fluent at French I am not, that I slightly regret having moved from Montreal at age three (my parents' decision, of course) and leaving French immersion after grade one. Oh, well; those times aren't too often.

- RG>

Sunday, August 17, 2008

These are the people in my neighbourhood...

My apartment is hot and stuffy. Right now, and in general too; my apartment generally has poor air circulation.

Right now outside, it is cool and refreshing.

One might suggest I open up the windows and let the air flow as best as it can.

If only it were so simple.

Most of the air flows through the house North-to-South, meaning that the LAST room to get any fresh air is my (South-facing) bedroom. Perpetuating the mugginess and warmness.

But just enough wind goes the other way for the marijuana smoke from my neighbours' balcony to blow straight toward my windows. This triggers my asthma, allergies, and my highly-sensitive anger reflex.

So, were I to leave my windows open overnight or while I am out for the evening, I run a pretty good risk of my apartment reeking of burnt shit when I wake up or return home. Not to mention the equally high chance that I'd be woken up in the middle of the night by my neighbours' terrible, blaring music and loud banter.

I need a lot of good sleep, and I am not a happy grouch when I don't get my beauty sleep.

- RG>

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The doctor as ringmaster

I'm a fairly healthy guy; I ride a bike, I try to eat remotely healthily and not do stuff that would mess with my insides.

But despite that, I still have to go to the doctor every now and then, as much as I hate doing so.

I hate it even moreso when I'm only feeling a little ill, but sufficiently ill that I know I must see a doctor to get it fixed. Like this time. My asthma has started to act up after almost a year of not bothering me, and my inhaler was out of juice. It wasn't bothering me very much, but if I did get an asthma attack, I would need a working inhaler.

I've had asthma for over twenty years, and it was a lot worse back in the day than it is now. I am used to getting a refill from the pharmacy, and seeing the doctor when my prescription ran out. This particular inhaler I had gotten over two years ago, and it was the last of three refills. So you can imagine how long ago I had last seen my doctor for my asthma.

In fact, "my doctor" had left the practise a year or so ago, and while I had sent in paperwork to get transferred to one of the other ones in the practise, I had never actually seen this new doctor.

Nor would I see her this time.

When I called to try to get an appointment, I was told the next available spot was two weeks away--not a wait I'd like to make. My alternative was to come in for the 'urgent care' walk-in, which usually means an indeterminate amount of sitting in a waiting room to see the doctor of the day. My work schedule didn't really have time for that, either. The person on the phone suggested I come in as early as possible to avoid a long wait--ironic advice, given that fatigue is another one of my complaints, and early mornings do not help with this.

Fast forward to this morning, and I managed to up early enough to head over there and expect a tolerable wait.


During the visit, I remembered that waiting was not the thing I disliked most about visiting the doctor. It's the complete and utter lack of privacy.

Let me walk you through the standard trip, which I witnessed as many other patients came in during my wait:

[Patient walks up to receptionist]

PATIENT: Hi, I need to see someone about my [details of ailment] (Alternately, "I have an appointment with Doctor so-and-so at ten-thirty for my [ailment]")

RECEPTIONIST: Do you have your health card?

[Patient hands health card to receptionist. The receptionist types some information into the computer.]

REC: Are you still at [Full address], and is your phone number still [Phone number]?

PAT: Yes.

REC: Okay, please have a seat.

[The following epilogue was also common:]

PAT: How long is the wait?

REC: Well, it takes about 13 minutes per patient, and there are [number usually between 8 and 12] patients ahead of you.

[Patient sits down]
So already at this point, everybody else in the waiting room, having exhausted the supply of medical pamphlets to occupy their attention during the wait, have heard your address and phone number, your doctor, and whatever's ailing you. You feel like an animal in a circus.

Then comes the coup de grace. The nurse pokes out from behind the door, and proceeds to call your full name into the crowd, making sure that everyone heard it clearly, in case it was theirs--even though you yelped "yes" at the sound of your first name.

As someone who cherishes his anonymity while in public, I always hate this part of the visit. Here people have been staring at you in the waiting room for as much as an hour or more, they've heard you describe your ailment to the receptionist, and finally they can name you.

But you'll live with it. At least you're out of the waiting room--a bit early, too, it seems--and you won't have to meet them except perhaps a cursory glance as you leave the clinic after you're done with the doctor.

...and you are skirted into the triage room. The nurse takes you in to take some details from you, then releases you back into the waiting room to the audience of people who now have enough information about you to start writing your biography. Getting called in half an hour was indeed too good to be true.

After another wait the nurse comes back and calls you out (pun intended if paranoia is one of your ailments) and you can finally see the doctor, hoping as you walk through the waiting room that everybody keeps their eyes and ears to themselves out of mutual fear for their own privacy.


Now don't get me wrong. I appreciate very much the fact that I have access to a doctor, and that there are a lot of places in the world where people can wait whole days and still not get the chance to see one.

But we live in a society that is highly protective of people and their privacy, and we have stringent privacy laws, too. Our society is also protective of younger women, who can make up a significant portion of doctor visits in practises that aren't inundated in geriatric patients. We're overprotective of them on the pathways and on the streets; so why doesn't anybody get the idea to not read out their name, address and phone number in a crowded room of people?


When my name was called, another patient, an older gentleman in a suit (whose dress was that of a fairly important businessman or politician) seemed interested and looked at me as I took the walk of shame to the back rooms.

Turns out, I recognized his name, too, when it was called. And my inkling was right; over 400,000 hits on Google confirms that he is a fairly important businessman or politician.

For the sake of his privacy and mine, I wouldn't think of tracking him down, but I really wonder if he shares my privacy concerns.

At least I can take consolation in the fact that, important as he is, he's stuck with the same wait that I am.

- RG>

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Metal railroad-spike bicyclist figurine from OFM

I picked up this little trinket at the Ottawa Farmer's Market earlier this year. It's a little metal bicyclist figurine. The cyclist's torso and head are an old railroad spike. This particular piece is mounted on a piece of driftwood.

I had wanted to take a photo of it before buying to show to my many cyclist friends, at least a couple of whom I think would be interested in buying them, but the artist didn't allow me to take a photo of it (and his many other works) on his table. So I bought one and can now photograph it to my heart's content!

For this photo, I set it on the metal stairs of my fire escape, to match the industrial nature of the figurine's construction:


I quite like it.

- RG>

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Yay, le changes!

So I got a message from the folks at Blogawa inviting me to contribute to their feed. It seemed like a decent idea, with only one catch: I had to add a link to blogawa on my blog.

In theory, not a big problem, except my blog template was from back when you had to manually edit the HTML of the template to add stuff, and that was never fun. I seem to recall that I had a list of links back in the day; I'm not sure what ever happened to those.

Luckily, it wasn't too hard for me to upgrade to the modular style of blog template, where I can add and remove stuff fairly easily. Add a few links, tidy things up a bit, and she's done.

I'm still very much exhausted from Bluesfest, so I probably won't be posting much while I recover from that. In the meantime, feel free to partake in the many other entertaining links in my list of "Influences & Confluences".

- RG>

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

New Flyer mechanic humour

When you ride a bike instead of the bus, you get to see little gems like these:

OC Transpo bus with letters rearranged to say New Lyer
OC Transpo bus with letters rearranged to say L NewfyThe first one reminds me of the City's "Rail transit plan".

- RG>

Monday, June 30, 2008

The trio that is driving transit ... into the ground

Imagine my surprise when I opened the City section of today's Citizen. My surprise was perhaps multiplied because I had actually spent money to buy this edition, Bridgehead's copies having been filtered away.

Crossing five of six columns on the page C1 was the image of three City managers--Mona Abouhinedy, Vivi Chi, and Nancy Schepers--in a Transitway station. They are dubbed "Three Wise Women of City Hall".

The article, which continues on the second page, rotates between patting these women on the head for being successful, reassuring the reader it's not a gender thing (cough cough), and offering unrelenting worship for their meticulousness.

Pity.

I've come to expect the Citizen's reporting to fall short of where I'd like it go, but such a one-sided story seems to be an endorsement of an apparent flawlessness in the City's Transit "vision". What room is there to criticize the plan if Staff have looked at every detail?

I use the word "vision" loosely, despite the media's relentless reference to a Transit "Plan". A plan, however, would contain detailed costing, timelines, and ridership estimates. In acknowledgement that this is absent, City of Ottawa Press Releases--and even our dictaphobic Mayor--refer to it as a "vision". Which is like calling it a "daydream".

The closest thing to criticism in this article is for the trio's predecessors, who are referred to only as "two white guys" (Rajean Chartrand and Peter Steacy). Bay Ward Councillor Alex Cullen, who chairs the City's Transportation Committee, praises the ladies, saying they differ from their predecessors in that they are not "'over-controlling' of information surrounding their plan, particularly on controversial matters." Indeed, they're not.

These three prefer to merely ignore information they don't like, lest they be accused of controlling it. Council complicitly refuses to insist they provide it.

I speak not of hyperbole. I spoke at length with Vivi Chi at one of the many Open Houses on Transit which have earned these three praise for "openness" in the article. Interestingly, and to their credit, both Nancy Schepers and Alain Mercier had taken the bus to this Open House at Lansdowne Park (I have yet to find a reference to Vivi Chi ever stepping on a bus). Mercier complained at how difficult the transit connection was from OC Transpo headquarters, though I don't think he went so far as to realize that this might be the reason only eight members of the public had been at the Open House there a few days prior.

Now, never minding that the alleged "openness" did not extend to allowing alternate options from being presented at these Open Houses--leaving Councillor Wilkinson to be treated like a blasphemous traitor for parting from canon, despite her proposed map being nearly identical to one of the maps on Staff's own easels.

No, my beef with Ms. Chi--as with most of Council--has to do with buses. Thankfully, the Citizen has started to refer to this proposal as a "bus and rail plan", instead of blindly parroting the popular myth that it suggests that four billion dollars to be spent on rail.

I saw early on that this transit "plan" calls for 63 kilometres of bus Transitway ($900 million), plus $600 million in buses and other bus-related infrastructure. This would be built in the suburbs, to the far reaches of Kanata/Stittsville, Barrhaven and Orleans. When Staff presented the four "options" to Council, they mentioned this bus investment once, briefly, then said they would not raise it again because it was common to all four "options"!

The various reports provided by Staff scarcely mentions this bus investment. One reference in section 3.2 early of one report is explicitly referred to as a "planning assumption" (i.e. not justified; the conclusion of no logically-explained argument).


So I asked Ms. Chi about the blue lines on the map which represented the unbuilt bus Transitway, playing stupid. She told me that Transitway is cheap because all you have to do is lay down some asphalt and you're done. Cheap? Nine hundred million dollars is
cheap?!?

I asked why we couldn't simply do today with buses what she plans to do with rail--namely, turning express buses around at Hurdman and Lebreton and forcing people to transfer to a platoon of Transitway buses. She said she was convinced that people will endure a transfer if and only if it is to a "higher order" mode. That is, people will transfer from the Transitway to a Light Rail train because the train is "higher order", but a bus-only trip requires a single-seat ride.


I then asked her why we couldn't build these suburban connections as rail instead. I can't remember which of the common excuses she recited, but the two I've heard before and since were "it's too expensive to build rail to the suburbs" and "there isn't enough density".


But that aside, I asked for her justification for building 63 kilometres of Transitway in the suburbs. What is the cost-benefit? Why were the existing reserved bus lanes insufficient? What is the need? How is busway justified, when the population "isn't dense enough" for rail?


I asked this because of the City's clusterfuck on Woodroffe. Some time ago, a good chunk of Woodroffe Avenue was widened from two lanes to four, with the outer lanes being reserved for bus traffic. As this was a bus facility, these lanes were built with Transit money.


Then, in 2004, for some reason unknown to me, the City built segregated Transitway lanes along the stretch of Woodroffe from West Hunt Club to Fallowfield. This, of course, was also built with Transit funding. Bus riders noticed few differences: the buses along this stretch went no faster than they had been going before (as there was no less non-bus traffic than on the reserved bus lanes), the people who accessed the #95 at the stop in the middle of this stretch could no longer do so, and about 30 seconds were shaved off by the Eastbound bus ride by no longer having to cross at Fallowfield.


Suburban car drivers, however, noticed a vast difference. They now had four lanes, not two, to sprawl through the greenbelt into Downtown.
All paid for with Transit infrastructure funding!

The $900 million investment in Transitway is really a misdirection to repeat the Woodroffe Effect in all our suburbs, making our beloved Staff's "Transit vision" into a "rail and bus and road-widening" plan. Councillors Doucet and Chiarelli acknowledged elements of this argument as they voted--rightly--against it.


But I did not take this for granted that this was a singularly malicious and intentional action on Staff's part. I assume that Staff had done their homework and had come up with a good excuse for this. After all, the
Citizen article says that this trio are "unassuming, exceedingly meticulous and professional", they are praised for "openness, frankness and honesty" and for having "provided as many details as possible at this stage of the process, including costs"--not counting what the women say about themselves.

So, in her defense, what did Ms. Chi's workbook have to say in defense of this busway investment?

"
We figure," she said, burning those two words into my mind, "that people in the suburbs would want to upgrade to a Transitway in the next 25 years." I was floored. The last bit is paraphrased, but I assure you that nine-hundred million dollars of infrastructure investment is being justified with "we figure."

She wasn't even going to give me the courtesy of some bullshit brushoff excuse, like a reference to Chamin Appuhamy, the baby who was killed when the car carrying him was struck by a bus while stopped in a bus lane. Well, credit that to her "openness and honesty". And credit must go to Council for being so explicitly and willfully blind to not notice this!


Councillor Cullen still says it will cost another $4 billion to convert these currently-unbuilt busways to rail, despite Staff having since focused the estimate to $1.5 billion since the $4 billion figure was first floated. No estimate, however, has been provided for the cost of building rail to the suburbs without first building busways. Councillor Leadman had produced an easy-to-follow report (which seems to have disappeared from the internets) for which she sought out these details for herself, despite Staff's insubordinate refusal to assist her in its preparation. (To top it all off, Staff have told Councillor Leadman that they plan on building these bus connections in the first five years of the plan,
before solving the downtown mess!)

After a community association meeting, I asked my councillor, Diane Holmes, why she wasn't following Councillor Leadman's lead by insisting that Staff provide a costing out of extending rail to the suburbs. Councillor Holmes said that it would cost too much to build out that far. Funny--how does she know this when
staff hasn't provided Council with a cost estimate? I mean, they looked at a fucking bus tunnel, for crying out loud! How can rail to the suburbs be less worthy of consideration than that?!?

All this to say that these women's success is most certainly not a "gender thing". These three women--"two of whom are visible minorities", as the politically-correct article helpfully points out--are clearly able to pull the wool over Councillors' and citizens' (and Citizen's) eyes not only as good as, but much better than the "two white guys" who came before them.

Taxpayers, unfortunately, will be left with nothing but a Mess Transit Plan.

- RG>