Thursday, December 30, 2010

War on the penny: take prisoners!

It's been a few years since I've actually bothered to take home the pennies I get in my change. Usually, I'll ask the clerk for no pennies, I'll leave them on the store counter, or I'll use the leave-a-penny tray. This is an informal version of the rounding that would take place on cash transactions if the penny were eliminated.

You see, I'm one of the 55% of Canadians who support eliminating the penny from circulation, and my response to receiving a penny in my change is downright civil compared to many.

Pennies drop on the ground and nobody picks them up anymore, that's how little value they have. The one-cent coins cost more to produce and distribute than their face value is worth.

But I think I've been doing it wrong. In order to help catalyze the elimination of the penny, I shouldn't be refusing them access to my pocket, I should be welcoming them.

More specifically, hoarding them.

The more pennies are removed from circulation, the more need to be produced to fill the gap. That will drive up the government's cost of keeping the penny, and in turn help along the case to eliminate it.

Seeing that I'm a natural hoarder, I can't believe I didn't think of it before. And once the penny is formally given the pink slip, they'll be a nostalgic collector's item to give to grandkids, like a $1 bill. Or I guess the $2 bills. Hm, maybe I should collect some fivers too, just to be sure.

- RG>

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bad saxophone music hurts my head

So let's say I've got this "friend" who has a genuinely good point on a couple of issues, but she only really cares about those issues. And she's a true believer in them. She has a somewhat wide audience and makes a lot of noise about her pet issues. Admittedly, not too many people take her seriously, but she likes to think they do.

Every now and then, she makes dramatic, sweeping generalizations to support her causes, and cites her two--well, I can't decide if they're sacred cows or a pair of one-trick ponies.

Anyway, she makes sweeping generalizations that support her cause, but only ever uses her handful of causes to support those generalizations. And whenever somebody brings an example of a similar case that falls under that generalization, she uses her platform to totally shit on that similar case. I guess it's a way to not always talk about her couple of issues.

Occasionally, someone will point out a major flaw in her argument--either it's based on a false premise, or the generalization is so broad that it goes way beyond the scope--sometimes to the point that she labels innocent people as malicious villains. (As you might guess, I've been this 'someone' on more than one occasion)

When this happens, she'll sometimes issue a quiet apology, but then will erase all trace of the error--by censoring the criticism, erasing the apology, and sometimes even the original argument. A surprising feat, really, in the age of information.

Unfortunately, one of these one-trick ponies (I guess this is the third, though this one has been dead for a while--and not beaten recently. If a fourth comes up, it'll be the apocalypse) is when she goes on about how much she values honesty, integrity, and sticking to one's word. Which kind of goes against the whole 'not admitting mistakes (or not for long)', 'censoring criticism', and censoring oneself after the fact.

In my mind, he's a hypocrite and a fucking coward, but what can you do?

What can I do?

- RG>

5 Examples of Americans Thinking Foreign People Are Magic

There's a great article on from October called 5 Examples of Americans Thinking Foreign People Are Magic. Got the link from the depressing hanzi smatter blog (which I got to from a slashdot comment. It tells people what their stupid Chinese tattoo really means).

This is a pretty solid article, and it's only long from the snarkily-captioned images.

But bring the superstition from a foreign culture, and suddenly you are in business. You can apparently still convince a shockingly large portion of the population that you can see the future if you're doing it with Tarot cards. They come from the gypsies after all. Of course, these same people would slap you if you offered to tell their fortune from a standard card deck.

Despite being pretty stupid, feng shui got particularly hot in the 90's, with Donald Trump, Oprah, and firms like Salomon Smith Barney hiring feng shui consultants to maximize their chi. Of course, this is the equivalent of a Chinese Executive pinning 4-leaf clovers all over his office.
Unfortunately, our homegrown homeopathy (not mentioned in the article) breaks the trend: it was invented in a different culture--in time, not in geography--and people still flock to it.

Pity, that.

- RG>

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

City flip-flops on tunnel length

I'm not as hellbent against Ottawa's proposed transit tunnel as Ken Gray is, though many details and options were glossed over in the decision to go with the current transit strategy. This is a slight improvement over the previous plan, which was entirely mired in secrecy, to the point that Councillors had to sign a non-disclosure agreement just to see the contract they were approving.

Citizen blogger David Reevely has been reading the City's Interim geotechnical report (which I haven't read). Apparently, as reported in an article posted to the Citizen's website this afternoon, they want to shorted the length of the tunnel by almost one-third from the current 3.2 km.

That would bring it to about 2.5km. Which is what was originally proposed in 2008 for the tunnel. At some point since then, the length of the proposed tunnel was extended 0.7km to bring the end of the tunnel closer to Lees station. At the time, it was cited that this would make it logistically easier to extract the TBM, and would be less disruptive than if the tunnel had to make a steep climb up near Laurier. City staff said the cost difference wouldn't be significant.

Now we're hearing the reverse.

We've been told time and time again that the price tag on the rail project is a "very conservative estimate" that will come down as details are worked out, and that the project includes a $100M contingency to cover unexpected increases in cost. This was the party line repeated time and time again by then-Mayor Larry O'Brien and then-Transit Committee Chair Alex Cullen--neither of whom were re-elected.

Now we're hearing that the geotechnical parameters of the tunnel exceed those of the "very conservative estimate."

While it might be tempting to think this apparently new recommendation came about because we have more information, how new can that information be if the original proposal suggested the same thing?

- RG>

Lol, we all do this, don't we?

On the weekend, as I was preparing to leave the house for the day, I turned on a light to get something out of a cupboard.

Just before I stepped out the door, I had a sense that I had forgotten to pack something, so I went back into the house. There I found the light, still on, scorching a cushion that had fallen on it (and blocked its light).

I promptly turned off the light, and suppressed the urge to worry about what would have happened if I had left for the day if I hadn't.

- RG>

Saturday, December 11, 2010


My uncle gave me this desk, which was my childhood desk growing up. In a recent de-cluttering exercise I decided it no longer fit in my apartment, so I'm getting rid of it. I want it to go to a good home, because it's a nice desk. I'm also too lazy for stuff like Kijiji.

As you can see, it has a map of the world on it. As best I can tell from the countries, the map dates from around '63.

It's 40" wide by 20" deep by 30" tall. It has seven drawers, three on each side and one in the middle. I've got some looseleaf held together with a binder clip in one of the drawers for perspective.

It's a nice desk, but I've switched to a larger desk with a keyboard drawer and hanging files. Much as I'd like to keep this desk, it's really just acting as an oversized container for stationery and it's in the way.

Woodsy's got dibs on it, but if anyone else can give it a good home, let me know. I don't want it to go to the dump.

[Edit: it is safe and sound in a new home.]

- RG>

Thursday, December 09, 2010

And you already thought I was sick...

I didn't find my phone, and ended up spending the better part of two days switching over from Bell to one of the new carriers.

(The main hitch with the transition was that my address with Bell was a PO box, buit the new provider's form required a street number, so the records didn't match. After waiting on hold for half an hour, I got in touch with a upper-tier CSR who found a solution and waited while I called Bell to implement it. To Bell's credit, they were prompt and polite when I called to switch--and effectively cancel--my account)

I've gotten another BlackBerry after having experimented previously with alternatives, and because I'd be able to restore my backup from my previous phone (even though my most recent backup was a month old and so all of my current schedule had to be rebuilt from my emails and memory, which typically is the other way around)

Like previously, I don't have a data plan, but my new phone has wifi, which occasionally works (consistently at home and work--you know, where I usually have a computer on--but not at hotspots. My phone kept rebooting itself whenever I tried to use the Royal Oak's hotspot at lunch yesterday). The upshot is that I'm typing this in bed on my BlackBerry, which I guess is kinda cool, if tedious.

The reason I'm in bed is that for various reasons--including, I suspect, pushing myself too hard--I have been sick this week. I took the day off to try to get some rest, and some Bell workers outside have been performing a life rendition of a "soothing Nature sounds" cassette, rendered in backhoes and jackhammers.

Vengeance for switching providers, I guess.

Now to head off to work to catch up on my self-destruction.

- RG>

Sunday, December 05, 2010

City Council governance notes

There are a whole bunch of governance-related recommendations to City Council, including a number of additional reports linked at the bottom of that 66-page one. These are recommendations like establishing a Transit Commission and a Board of Health, and restructuring City Committees and how they run their meetings.

I'm still going through it all, but there are a couple of interesting, sometimes ironic, elements:

- The report says the clerk's office spoke with outgoing members of council for their feedback on what to fix in the upcoming term, but not all incoming members. However, many mentions are made of discussions with the incoming mayor, but none with the outgoing one. (Probably a good thing--he's 'fixed' enough already!)

- For all the talk about creating a Transit commission, the only thing that will effectively change is that instead of being a committee of 9 Councillors, it will be 8 councillors and 3 citizen appointees. For all the desire for OC Transpo to be "fixed", the report talks a heck of a lot about how much won't change.

- The governance report expounds the City's goals of public input, yet the recommendations are not being heard at any Committee (including Committee of the Whole) where members of the public will be able to speak to any of these recommendations.

- Interestingly, the Ottawa Community Housing Corporation wants to add an additional community-member seat to its board, in order to allow retiring Councillor Peggy Feltmate to continue her activities. If I read things right, this will put the representation of councillors to non-councillors on the board at 50/50.

- The feedback from Advisory Committees includes recommendations from something referred to as "EDAC", without any references to the full name of the committee. Ironically, this is the Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee, whose job it presumably would be to ensure that people can understand what's going on at City Hall.

- The Advisory Committee (AC) feedback document contains a lot of duplication, since each committee wrote them separately based on a joint meeting of AC chairs and vice-chairs. I'm pretty sure that these joint-AC initiatives were instigated by the Pedestrian and Transit Advisory Committee, yet there is no feedback from that committee listed here.

- There is a draft petition policy, meaning that petitions you may have submitted to Council in the past had no official standing. The new policy comes with some pretty stringent standards:

Petition Requirements
  • The petition must be addressed to the City of Ottawa/ Ottawa City Council and request a particular action within the authority of Council.
  • Petitions must be legible, typewritten or printed in ink (no pencil)
  • The text of the petition must be listed at the top of each page for multiple-page petitions. Pages should be numbered and total number of pages indicated.
  • The petition must be appropriate and respectful in tone, and must not contain any improper or offensive language or information.
  • Each petitioner must print and sign his or her own name. A paper petition must contain original signatures only, written directly on the petition.
  • Each petitioner must provide his or her full address.
  • For electronic petitions, petitioners must provide name, address and a valid e-mail address.
  • The petition must clearly disclose on each page that it will be considered a public document at the City of Ottawa and that information contained in it may be subject to the scrutiny of the City and other members of the general public.
Submission of Petitions
  • Petitions containing original signatures should be sent to the attention of the City Clerk by mail or delivered in person to Ottawa City Hall or and City of Ottawa Client Service Centre.
  • Petitions may also be submitted to the Mayor or any member of City Council.
  • Electronic Petitions may be submitted electronically the attention of the City Clerk at
  • All petitions that meet the above standards will be presented to Council at its next regular meeting, or the meeting at which the subject of the petition is to be discussed.
  • Standing Committees cannot formally accept petitions. Petitions received at Standing Committees will be forwarded to the Clerk and presented to full Council at its next regular meeting, or the meeting at which the subject of the petition is to be discussed
  • Council has the discretion to accept the petition, and Council’s decision is final.
It's nice that they're accepting electronic petitions (easier to manage on their end, too!), but I wonder what happens to all the petitions that were started before this policy comes into force? Will this mean that petitions that would have previously been received (albeit without formal protocol) will be outright refused and can't even be submitted informally?

The report is a thorough, if dry, review of the City's existing and proposed governance structure. While I'd recommend it for people who participate in municipal affairs, I don't think it's required reading, unless you work in City Hall yourself. It's more of a theoretical framework than a practical guide of how you can participate. Read the main recommendations (summarized in bold at the beginning of the governance review document) and skim over the document for items of interest, including the attachments.

There are some curiosities, like the ones listed above, but for the most part it's housekeeping. Yes, things will change, but that's a given with any new mayor and council.

- RG>

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Mayor Watson: Where are my Timbits?

City Council's swearing-in ceremony was on the evening of December 1, 2010, held at Shenkman Arts Centre in Orléans. Much ado was made about Jim Watson's decision not to have it catered, but instead to get Tim Horton's to provide free snacks.

Since it wasn't open to the public, I made sure to take lots of photos. Here are some highlights of the night:

My one time going to the suburbs and our car got into a fender bender. Remarkably, the car that hit us from behind in stop-and-go traffic had two occupants. A rare suburban non-SOV.

Shenkman isn't that bad a place, once you get there and inside.

As I took a seat, I thought I passed our not-to-be-named former mayor. Thankfully it was just a decoy.

Sally Robinson on the piano accompanying the warm-up choir.

Look, two guys with turbans! The crowd is really representative of Ottawa's vibrant multicultural fabric! Just kidding, it was mostly white guys.

Ever wondered what it would be like for a perky, hyper children's entertainer like Marie Soleil to MC an inauguration ceremony? Neither did I, but we all found out anyway.

Singing cop was hella loud. Kudos for holding that last note and all, but it hurt my ears.

Great speech by Algonquin chief. "Welcome to our territory. We'll talk."

The official mayor's robe.

Philistines in the audience laughed at the soldier's ceremonial stomping as he delivered the Mayor's chain of office. (Seen here stomping after the about-face to exit.)

Councillors sworn in all at once. Four oaths total instead of 48 (two in each language).

Egli is pronounced Keith Egg-lye (as the MC pronounced it), not Egg-lee as I'd have guessed. Didn't get a chance to ask Hubley if MC's "Hubely" was correct. [Edit: it was, as time and the commenter below confirm.]

Couldn't photograph Doug Thompson. Reflection of his white hair oversaturated every attempt.

Musical Interlude with French folk singers/dancers dragging out their set with three (albeit catchy) songs. Rick Chiarelli shows his only sign of interest the whole night; otherwise was pouty.

Jim Watson is crazy mad about Katie Holmes. No, wait. He's angry. No, I think it's just the long exposure.

New trick: Point & Shoot camera + Tripod + Binoculars = half-decent telephoto shots.

See what I mean? Pouty. And this was when everybody was supposed to be singing along to "this little light of mine." Diane and Keith have the spirit.

Jan Harder's shoes were the talk of the evening.

David Chernushenko, Maria McRae, Katherine Hobbs applauding. Peter Clark slouched the whole night, blocking any decent photos of Diane Holmes.

Congratulations, class of 2010. Katherine Hobbs salutes you. Or she's saluting the lighting techs. Ironically, of course.

The refreshment table, provided by Tim Horton's. Those flat discs, by the way, are NOT timbits. I am disappointed that Jim Watson didn't live up to this promise. Aside from coffee, everything else was sugar-based. Sorry, diabetics!

Shenkman centre has a nifty art exhibit of metal fish made of tuna can lids (and similar materials). Tempting to add the treasure label to this post.

To be honest, this actually worked better as a venue than City Hall would have. City Hall isn't big enough for this many people, and these folks will be spending enough time there. As for the catering cut, I'm not a wine-and-cheese guy, but this was pretty chintzy. Note to visiting heads-of-state: Canada's Capital is B.Y.O.B.

Fuck! I lost my phone!

I lost my phone today. I last saw it while I was at my office, or possibly when I was stopping over at home before a meeting at 1pm.

It's not in any of my pockets.

It's not in my panniers.

It's not at my office.

It's not a home.

It's not in a car, in a bar, on a train, or on a plane.

It might have fallen out of my pocket in a lane.

I guess this is my opportunity to switch from Bell, who are a bunch of fucks, though I'll stick with a Blackberry to avoid the poison apple.

My last backup was a month ago, though. Which is good that I backed up, but sucks that I've lost everything since then, as well as my unsaved voice notes (many!) and the microSD card in there.

I'm going to have a hell of a time retrieving my various scheduled events and reminders, because my phone is where I kept them. Also any contacts and memos-to-self that I added since the last backup.

And I'll have to do it quickly, because I've been invited to the swearing-in ceremony for Council, and I'm hungry for timbits.

- RG>