Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Urban Sprawl is no joke

Did you hear the one about the councillors and mayor who thought about reconsidering their motion?

They actually claimed that potential lawsuits over a major Official Plan amendment was 'new information'!

(If anything, it would be news if there weren't OMB appeals on an OP amendment!)

There's another "Hold The Line" rally at City Hall (Lisgar entrance) tomorrow at noon. Let's try to get council not to flip-flop on these big decisions just because developers want to make even more money building far-flung developments that cost taxpayers an arm and a leg to service!

- RG>

Reminder: Email your councillor about the anti-speech by-law!

Council's agenda tomorrow includes a few important items, including the suggestion to reopen the urban boundary decision, and also George Bédard's 'nuisance by-law'.

Here's a letter I just fired off to Council. If you haven't already, please send one yourself (in your own words):

Dear Mayor and Councillors,

Tomorrow's Council meeting looks like it will be a marathon one. The nuisance By-law, proposed by Councillor Bédard, is a small but powerful item. I feel that it is far too powerful and broad for its intended goal.

You have heard opposition to this by-law from the Defense Counsel Association of Ottawa, as well as from the Centretown Citizens Community Association (whose area includes Elgin and Bank streets). Both say that this by-law crosses the line. The by-law technically outlaws such spontaneous activities as the Sens Mile, and even Christmas Carols, not to mention the threat it poses to political speech such as demonstrations.

I live on Gladstone Avenue near Bronson, and I knew when I moved in that it can get noisy at times. I've made my share of noise complaints under the existing noise by-law, which were successfully dealt with. After 1am, these complaints aren't handled by by-law officers but by the police, so a new by-law is redundant. The activities that Councillor Bédard describes in the report are already covered by criminal law.

I ask that you reject this motion, or at the very least refer it back to transportation Committee for further consultation and input from the public.
Misc updates:

- Mark Ertel, President of the Defense Counsel Association of Ottawa, has expressed the DCAO's opposition to the by-law, saying they'll try to have the by-law struck down when it gets used.

- The CCCA voted to oppose this by-law at its February meeting.

- The Panhandler's Union is examining its own strategies (I correspond with them but I'm not directly involved)

- It looks like the motion may be referred back to Transportation Committee, where more people can submit input after all this new opposition. This is much better than being approved!

Misc. references:

- Previous two posts on the topic: Honey, get my picket sign and Public speech ban by-law gets a step closer

- Text and background of motion: http://ottawa.ca/calendar/ottawa/citycouncil/trc/2010/02-03/07-ACS2010-CCS-TRC-0003.htm

- Agenda for tomorrow's Council meeting: http://www.ottawa.ca/cgi-bin/docs.pl?Elist=14495&lang=en

- Student leader arrested for 'causing a disturbance by swearing': http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Ottawa+student+federation+president+charged+with+causing+disturbance/2519096/story.html

- RG>

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Race to lunch on Elgin

I went to Wendy's today to try their new fish fillet sandwich, which I had seen advertised between online clips of the Colbert Report.

Harvey's (my fast food restaurant of choice) hasn't had a fish sandwich in years, and I haven't had a McDonald's Filet-o-Fish in five and a half years.

I also haven't been to Wendy's very often. It's the next rung up from McDonald's in my list of 'corporations I probably shouldn't frequent'. I used to enjoy it, but more recently the food would taste rather bland.

Then I remembered that the taste I get at Wendy's isn't just from the food.


The last time I was there, the girl at the cash was a young black girl whose eyes and face wore an expression of despondency. Her white colleague, a female maybe mid to late 20's, wearing a crisp managerial-type outfit, made smalltalk at her, completely oblivious to the black girl's utter lack of interest.

I think the black girl could see what I see.

Of the various traditional fast food places on Elgin street, Wendy's is the only one where the staff are nearly all of black or southeast Asian ancestry.

At Harvey's, they're almost all white except for the two managers, including Sammy (seen here shaking hands with Jean Chrétien). The recently-opened Quizno's is also very white bread. I haven't been inside the McDonald's recently, but peeking through the window on my way back from Wendy's today I saw a white guy behind the counter. Haven't been to Subway recently either so can't comment on that. There are no Tim Horton's on Elgin, but most of the ones downtown are staffed by visible minorities who barely speak English.

Meanwhile, look at the prices. McDonald's, Wendy's and Subway are lower on the budgetary spectrum, while Harvey's and Quizno's are definitely more expensive. There are also ethnic eateries like Shawarma and pho/bubble tea places, plus pizza places and non-fast-food places that are hard to compare because many of them are family owned and run.

I haven't done enough observation of the customers (Ottawa is pretty vanilla), so the most I can go on is the counter staff.

Clueless white guys

Andrew Nellis (who like me is white) told me a good story once of a trip to a suburban breakfast place with a black friend of his. They sat down and the staff never approached the table. Never gave them menus, asked for their orders, or so much as acknowledged their presence.

Andrew's friend told him that it was because he was black, and they should probably just go someplace else.

Andrew, being the hardcore activist he is, was upset by this and wanted to put up a fight. Stage a campaign, make a fuss, and so on. But his black friend told him that if he were to fight every time he encountered racism, he'd do nothing but. This shocked Andrew, as it did me when he relayed the story.

It's a good story of how easy it is to be ignorant of racism, sexism, homophobia, and discrimination against the poor when you're in the majority.

Just one clue

That's why I'm so bothered by this observation of the Wendy's staff. I've gotten as far as observing that there's something different going on, but I otherwise don't know what to make of it.

Is it because these are the lowest-paid jobs in the service sector, and these people are the only ones who will take it?

Are the other places discriminatory in their hiring practises?

Is there a correlation between race and poverty? Like, do they only apply to the lower-priced places because those are the only places where they shop?

And assuming I did figure out where this discrepancy came from, how should I respond? Actively boycotting Wendy's and Tim Horton's won't work; that would only encourage them to stop hiring minorities. (Not that fast food is good for your health)

I don't think the problem is with the fast food places; I suspect this is just a manifestation of a greater social problem that causes minority youth to be poorer and less well educated.

But it's really hard for me to know any of this because I'm a well-educated middle-class white guy who hangs around with other well-educated people and professionals who are mostly white.

Not that it matters at this point, but the fish fillet sandwich was unspectacular. A bit smaller than I'd hoped and the sauce bland.

- RG>

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Cuphelder™

Have you ever had this problem? You found a perfectly good mug for holding things, but didn't have anything appropriate to be held by it?

Stationery and drinks have being-held-by-a-mug as only a secondary function (to writing and being drunk, respectively), and have so many problems when being held by mugs: pens and pencils, for example, don't fit completely inside mugs, while drinks can spill easily out of them.

With this revolutionary invention, you can pack those makeshift items away along with your worries--introducing the Cuphelder™!

Of simple design, the Cuphelder™ is fashioned from a 36-inch long strip of double-wall corrugated cardboard, rolled into a fist-sized spool, and is specifically designed for being held by mugs. Shown here is the 'tall' model.

The Cuphelder™ fits easily into all standard size cups and mugs, and will also protect your mugs during transportation from the many hazards of being left empty.

Don't get left stuck the next time you are in need of something to be held by a cup--get yourself a Cuphelder™ today!

Not available in stores. Always wash mugs thoroughly after using the Cuphelder™. Not for use in undergarments, cups, canteens, flasks, steins, or other non-mug beverage containers. Keep away from flames and cats.

- RG>

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Bureaucrats and Cockroaches

At work, my boss and I have many things in common. It seems that one thing we have in common is we're both self-hating packrats. She was telling me today how she had gotten rid of two boxes of carbon paper in a recent housecleaning, but kept a third.

Why, I asked her, would you ever need carbon paper--especially a whole box of it?

"Well, you know, if it's the end of the world and you need to issue an invoice because you're selling somebody something, or you need to get a signed contract..."

Because, of course, when civilization goes to shit, and machines don't work anymore, the only thing holding it together is the ability to make sure to get a receipt for your bartered goods.

I guess in the land of no photocopiers, the one with the most copies rules.

Now to go find a box of carbon paper...

- RG>

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Public speech ban by-law gets a step closer

Jon Willing has pointed out on the Ottawa Sun blog he shares with Sue Sherring that the City's Transportation Committee has approved a motion to ban various forms of nuisance on City streets.

I discussed this proposed law in a recent post.

Unfortunately, I couldn't attend the meeting and don't know how controversial it was (if at all). It will go to Council sometime soon.

Meanwhile, the Citizen reports that a student politician at the U of O was arrested for the crime of "causing a disturbance by swearing". So why the hell does the City even need a by-law?

Perhaps this bogus charge against Seamus Wolfe is to coax the City into having an alternative (but equally fuckheaded) punishment--a fine instead of criminal charges--for speaking one's mind. What we in the criminology field call "net widening".

I had originally thought this cartoon I drew was disingenuous because it refers to the police instead of bylaw, but Wolfe's case unfortunately shows you can get arrested for swearing.

On the bright side, the same Jon Willing blog post announced that the Panhandlers Union settled their suit with the City, which was related to Andrew Nellis' arrest on Mayday 2008. See this post and this post for contemporary details.

While acting out that cartoon might work, I'm thinking of a protest where a bunch of people stand every ten feet along a street and all chant "fuck" in sequence down the street. (like the "telephone" party game but with shouting instead of whispering) Damned if I have the time for it, though.

- RG>

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Getting Better

I'm continually surprised by Dell.

I purchased a Dell Vostro laptop under the Small Business section of their website a couple years ago, and it's my main machine. I bought it under the Small Business section because you could (and still can) get it with Windows XP installed, and the Vostro because it was cheap, and it was advertised as a machine that does not have all sorts of junk programs pre-installed (which, for the most part was as advertised).

Since buying it, while I've had some troubles (partly because I keep it in my bike bag), which originally made me think not well of Dell.

But in almost every case, I've been able to solve--or at least diagnose--the problem. Instead of hiding behind liability bullshit like Apple does--threatening to cut off your warranty if you try to service it yourself, and designing machines to make it nearly impossible to open up--Dell publishes step-by-step instructions for taking apart your machine. And they'll also sell you parts.

When my laptop was still under warranty, I had sent it in and they swapped out the hard drive because mine was no longer working (I had been able to salvage the data), all without any cost to me.

Non-fatal laptop crash

A few months back, my laptop crashed--as in, I had been balancing it on a glass of water on the kitchen table, and it fell and literally crashed on the ground. It kept working (the Colbert Report video I was streaming didn't stop as the laptop laid in the small pool of water, even), but the hinge on the top broke.

I searched the support manuals that came with my laptop and found a phone number for "Hardware Warranty Support". This was at 9pm, and my laptop was a good couple of years out of warranty. Nevertheless, I spoke with a human, and even though my laptop was out of warranty, he found me the part I'd need, how much it would cost, and whom to phone in the morning to order it. (I ended up having to make a few phone calls and get forwarded along a few times, but each step along the way they told me the phone number they were forwarding me to in case I got disconnected)

Eventually, I spoke with Juan, who sold me the hinge I needed for $10 or so plus $15 shipping. I also picked up a new keyboard for fifty or so bucks, since mine was acting up a bit and if it konked I'd be S.O.L.

To my surprise, the hinge that came was not only compatible with my laptop (which I'd expect), but they had noticeably improved on the design! New hinge at left, old hinge (broken) at right.

This latest time, I bought a new power cable (with a 6' extension so I don't trip on it any more at the office) and speakers. At some point in an earlier repair, there was something wrong with the left speaker, or maybe I didn't realize what it was and, well either way I made it worse.

The pair of $50 or so internal speakers arrived yesterday, and I installed them tonight. I had been worried that the problem might actually be related to the sound jack and that I had wasted my money on the new speakers.

So, for the moment of truth, I chose an album that I knew I would notice if the speakers were still imbalanced: Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which I had ripped it from my original cassette and saved both Mono and Stereo copies in Audacity. And it just so happened that the first song that played was "Getting Better".

Sure enough, music is coming out of both speakers nice and clearly.

It now costs around $150 to get a new Dell with Windows XP instead of whatever they're selling now (and I might actually give in and switch to Windows 7), but I think my next lappy will be another Dell.

- RG>