Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Help make Calgary better

If there are things about Calgary that you like or don't like, the Vital Signs survey is a great way to get your thoughts and opinions on record. I think every Calgarian should participate. You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

My take on the transit park and ride fee

Time to weigh in on the transit 'park 'n ride' fee. So here's the story:

Calgary Transit decided to implement a $3 fee in March '09 to park your car in a transit Park N' Ride lot. This money was expected to raise upwards of $6 million to improve service and lot security. Transit users were outraged and the city eventually compromised by eliminating the fee on evenings and weekends. The logic behind that was nobody in their right mind would pay a $3 fee on top of the $5 (return) transit price to go downtown where off-hour parking rates plummet to $2 or $4 flat rate in many cases. The city complained that this compromise would lose them $1.5 million. There was also a move afoot to maybe reduce the fee to $1 to appease transit riders. That move evaporated. Meanwhile, riders have opted to park in nearby neighbourhoods or in mall parking lots if possible to avoid the fee, which would add $60 per month to use transit on a daily basis to go to work. Transit also offers a monthly parking pass for $60, but "does not guarantee a parking stall if a lot is full." Helpful.

First of all, what the city doesn't get is this - consumers are all fee'd out. There's a user fee for everything now and it has a weighty psychological effect on people. There are situations when fees are tolerated and this usually has to do with visible improvements in service or value. A case in point is the airport improvement fee. Rather than ask airlines to pay extra to use the airport, the airport charged actual airport users to help finance the expansion. Expectations are also that said fee would disappear once the improvements are paid for.

But in the case of transit parking fees, the fee was invented (apparently) to increase revenue, with no visible improvement in service or value. One day the lots are free, the next it costs $3 to use them. What I don't understand is how other major cities in Canada can charge similar amounts for transit fares, give better service (my opinion only), yet not charge for parking and still get the job done. Another thing I don't get is how the city expects ridership on C-Trains to improve if by 9am on a workday, there are no parking spots left. So if transit isn't making enough money with their existing ridership, maybe they should look inward and figure out why. Interesting ridership fact: Calgary's C-Train has more daily riders than Toronto's subway.

Calgary fare: $2.50 Length of train system: 48.8km
Vancouver fare: $2.50 to $5.00 depending on # of zones. Length of train system: 49.5km
Edmonton fare: $2.50 Length of train system: 15.2km
Toronto fare: $2.75 Length of train system: 68.3km
Ottawa fare: $3.00
Montreal fare: $2.75 Length of train system: 65.3km

Now, if transit had built massive parking structures to accommodate a huge increase in ridership, guaranteeing a parking spot no matter when you arrive, a temporary $3 fee to help finance the structures might have gone over much better.

Those are piles of 50..... nose hairs

Think of a web site that could potentially cause the most injury, aggravation and anxiety.

Still thinking?

I have it for you.... it's the (beta version) of the Universal Record Database:

"URDB is an open, participatory database for world records. We welcome you to get involved, whether discussing records, beating records or setting new ones of your own. This project is in its infancy, with many features coming in the months ahead. Help us build a community as we collectively push the limits of what mankind can do."

What have they got so far? How about 'fastest completion of 5 cartwheels'? Or 'largest nose hair collection'? Maybe 'longest comment thread on a Facebook status update'.

Pure gold.

Online Encyclopedia of the obscure

Awesome new site called Atlas Obscura. As the site says, "A compendium of the world's wonders, curiosities and esoterica."

It's a young site, so it still needs a lot of material. But users can add new material themselves. That's awesome.

Here's a sample:

"When CEO Jon Karlung secured a former nuclear bunker below 100 ft. of Stockholm bedrock as the site for a data center, he thought it might be fun to live out his fandom of 1970's sci-fi in the design of the place."

Some panoramas for you

Speaking of that road trip (last post), I took some of the pictures and stitched them into some panoramas.

Here's a panorama of the North Saskatchewan River west of Nordegg. I had made a bigger one that went 360 degrees, but the distortion was too much. Here is a panorama of a lake along the Icefields Parkway.

Icefields Parkway trip

Took a drive up north to Rocky Mountain House, then west past Nordegg and into the mountains to hook up with the Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Banff. We took that road south to Banff where we stopped (again) at one of our favourite places to eat - the Waldhaus Pub.

Pictures are posted on Facebook.

Monday, June 29, 2009

It'll leave you breathless

Still ranking up there as one of my favourite music videos of all time - Svefn-g-englar by Sigur Ros.

and supervised by the band with direction from Agust Jacobsson, it features the Perlan special-needs theatre group acting out a simple but beautiful play.

Map of remoteness... or connectedness if you like...

Here's a map based on a model which calculated how long it would take to travel to the nearest city of 50,000 or greater by land or water.

This map makes it look like the largest area of truly remote land sits within Canada.

A Web Side Story

Yes, you guessed it. It's a modern take on West Side Story.

It's clever.

Yes, that's an iPhone in Maria's hand.......

"Higher..... higher......... a little to the left...... yeah, that's it"

This is a trailer for Gimme a Hug - a short documentary from the Protect the Sharks Foundation. It shows something rather unexpected (based on stereotype); sharks showing a different side than normal.

There's go to be a catch. They're drugged. Or well fed.

I'm kidding. Who knew........ sharks like to be caressed.

What we do to our planet

Did you know that there's a vortex of floating plastic in the Pacific Ocean twice the size of the state of Texas? It's a particularly bad situation because as the plastic is affected by weather and UV, it disintegrates into smaller and smaller pieces. Notice I didn't say 'biodegrades', because it doesn't. These pieces are entering the food chain, killing marine life and the situation gets worse by the day.

Luckily, somebody cares about this and is mounting a project to try and get rid of the plastic over the next few years and recycle it into diesel fuel. Project Kaisei will study the effects of plastic pollution and try to figure out how to capture, detoxify, and recycle it into diesel fuel. Out of work fishermen will troll the ocean for the trash and use it to make fuel for their boats. They’ll also be making a documentary of the process for National Geographic.

We're toast

It's official (according to the Westboro Baptist Church). God hates the world. It's too late to change his mind. You're all going to burn in hell.

No point in changing then..... Carry on.

If you want to see more on these folks, start here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

"The deal with my bike is it gets me in a lot of trouble"

This guy's got balls, I'll give him that much. But not very bright. Not only does he fail at getting his speeding ticket squashed, he makes a complete ass of himself in the court parking lot afterwards.

I have a good friend whose nickname is Squid and this guy sullies the name.

High tech boil

Who said kettles and teapots have to be boring?

Not me.

"Hooker chic"

I had the pleasure of ushering a gig that was only at Loose Moose for a short stint.

The show in question is Raunch - The Rise of "Female Chauvanist Pigs". It stars Alice Nelson (pictured) and Jacqueline Russell and is directed by Kelly Reay. The show is an almost hour long statement about society's effect on women. It makes this statement using puppet shows, dance routines, commentary and history lessons and does so with humour, unbridled enthusiasm and a little bit of raunch. Inspired by the works of Ariel Levy, this two woman play is a force to be reckoned with as it shines the light on how media is having an effect on how girls dress, think, act, modify their bodies, play and perform. No topic is off-limits in this play. If you aren't engaged in conversation after watching this performance, you're dead.

Watch for Raunch at a Fringe festival near you this summer.

Interview with Andrew Phung of Loose Moose

In my continuing series of interviews with Loose Moose Theatre company members, I bring you my chat with Andrew Phung.

Andrew is one of those performers that quickly becomes a crowd favourite, as his characters are current, approachable and have the right touch of vulnerability. He is a geek like me and a lot of fun and I can't wait for you to meet him.

Ladies and gentlemen - Andrew Phung.

In case you missed any of my past interviews, they can be found here.

Creature Comforts getting Americanized

I know I've mentioned my love for a UK-based clay-mation show called Creature Comforts. It's where they go around and talk to average Janes and Joes and put their voices to clay-mation animals. It's outrageously funny.

Up until now, the voices were heavy-accented Brits, making it a little bit challenging sometimes to understand everything. Now the creators have started on an American version.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Aaaah choo!

The government of Australia put together an ultra slow motion video of people sneezing as part of a PSA for getting a flu shot. Why would you put slo-mo sneezing as a motivator to get a flu vaccine? Oh..... you'll see.

Yeah, it's going to change the way you look at sneezes forever.

Abra... cadabra

I have the Stumble Upon tool bar installed in Firefox, but I usually keep it out of sight until I want to use it. The funny thing is, the tool bar kept coming back on its own at apparently random intervals and I could never figure out why.

I also use a screen capture utility to create the photos I add to my blog posts and the key combination to capture is Ctrl+Shift+F11. The key combination to make the Stumble Upon tool bar appear is Ctrl+F11. Every time I capture a screen shot - the tool bar comes back. Or goes away.

Mystery solved.


Because pandas have become more popular in Bangkok's zoo, nobody goes to see the elephants anymore. Elephants are so passé.

No problem - paint the elephants to look like pandas. Problem solved.

Poor elephants.

Aitch takes on Em jay

I wasn't going to post anything related to Michael Jackson's passing.

Until I saw this awesomeness starring my favourite [choke] actor. Say it in your head...... in his voice...

"Reports are in that Michael Jackson died of cardiac arrest."

"Sounds like...... his heart....... couldn't beat it."

From moronail.net

Friday, June 26, 2009

She'll look back on this with...... disdain for her grandparents!

Olivia is learning how to walk using the new gizmo we got for her.

It won't be long now.

The video is up on Facebook.

Picture hosting test

This is just a test of hosting a panorama on Photobucket that I took a few years ago. Seems to work great.

So, this is a view of Calgary's downtown from the top of the cliff at Crescent Heights.

Full size here.

Hoover Dam can't handle traffic anymore

I had no idea they were building a bypass bridge over the Colorado River beside the Hoover Dam.

But umm...... they are....

Government - protecting us from what exactly?

Remember how Australia was going to censor the internet country-wide in an effort to protect kids from porn? It never stops there. And so it continues. The government will now block web-based games deemed unsuitable for anyone over the age of 15 (regardless of whether you're 15 or older). The block also means you won't be able to download or buy (online or in stores) games that meet the criteria.

[sarcasm on] It's a good thing we have government. We'd be subject to all kinds of crap without them hey? [sarcasm off]

Lego fun snacks

That's funny.

"Lego fun snacks.

When you eat them, you'll shit bricks."

Thanks to Darlene for this one.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Good conversation starter

A good friend of mine posed a rather interesting question to me that I found rather thought-provoking. She said, imagine my dream home as a blank slate, all of my 'needs' are taken care of, so no need to worry about pots and pans and bed and clothes etc. Aside from my loved ones, what 5 things would I need / want to have in my home to make it perfect?

Isn't that a great question?

My answer was: Art that inspires, a multitude of various lighting options, a great sound system with lots of music, great neighbours and a touch of nature.

Fun Calgary fact.... OK, fun if you're a parking lot ownerOK

Here's a fun fact about Calgary: We have the most expensive parking (on average) in the country.

It gets worse - according to a survey from Colliers International, in North America we're second only to New York City. We pay almost double the national average - about $460 a month to park your vehicle.

What's this?

Best A&W TV ad ever.

For the $1.50 Mama Burger.

Goodbye glasses?

Stem cells from your own eyes might be used in the future to repair whatever is wrong with your eyes in the first place.

In Australia they're harvesting stem cells from the eye and cultivating them in a contact lens, which is then placed on your eye for a few days. Within days, your sight improves, in some cases, very dramatically.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

You use it, but you don't even know what it is

That thing you use to browse the internets?

Yeah..... that thing. It's called a browser........

[shaking my head]

Is it an election and nobody told me?

Sure, this is going to sound biased coming from a vocal Liberal, but it seems to me that the federal Conservatives in Canada are scared. Why do I say that? Because I keep seeing ads on TV and in my mail box telling me that Michael Ignatieff, the leader of the Liberal party, is a scary man with scary ideas, with no vested interest in our country because he spent a lot of time abroad. Yes he did. He served various academic positions around the world, including Cambridge, Oxford, various schools in London, UC and Harvard and finally U of Toronto.

They even have a web site devoted to the attack. It's not even election time and the Conservatives are trying to smear their main opposition. Why would they need to do that?

Because they's scared......

Time for your close up

If you're into seeing what things look like close-up, then go to Daily Motion and do a search on "zoom into". There are a bunch of videos that zoom into things like a tooth (shown), steel, plastic, hair, skin, a piece of corn.....

Yeah. A Piece of corn.


When I'm in charge - there will be naps.

Huge discussion in Calgary about airport tunnel

OK, the history as I understand it is that there has been a plan on the books for at least a decade to expand the Calgary airport with a new runway (a) that runs parallel to the existing north-south runway. This new runway will be longer and wider to accommodate the newest international aircraft (in other words - Airbus A380 and others of its ilk). The runway will essentially go where Barlow Trail used to be, which will cut off what's left of Barlow Trail from direct access to the airport (c). This is a big deal because it forces traffic east of the airport, which includes a dozen or so hotels dependent on airport customers, to go around the west side of the airport via Deerfoot Trail, which is congested enough as it is, being the main north-south artery of our city.

The Calgary Transportation Plan officially indicated the new Airport Trail which connects the Deerfoot to the airport would tunnel (b) under the new runway so it could connect with points east. What nobody seemed to bother checking was the cost of such a tunnel and who would be on the hook to pay for it. The airport folks figure it's not up to them to pay for Calgary roads, new runway notwithstanding. That has left everyone else looking at each other saying "I'm not paying for it." But there's a big drive from interested parties lobbying that the tunnel must be built or the sky is going to fall.

Having had a chance to look at the big picture, I don't even know why we're bothering to consider a tunnel at all. Although extending Airport Trail to the east side of the airport may seem very convenient, the existing Country Hills Boulevard (d) could easily connect points east to the airport with a little road expansion - which it desperately needs anyway. Of course, nothing is going to make it easy getting to the airport from the east side of Calgary unless the roads on the east side of the city are improved as well. There were also concerns that any future LRT line connecting to the airport would need a tunnel under the runway as well, but it seems that there is no agreement on where the LRT line to the airport would be coming from anyway. Some have indicated the smarter choice would be to build an LRT line coming from the west, from the Deerfoot, assuming a high speed rail station will be built in that area in the future. I'm not holding my breath on that plan either. My two cents - the LRT line to the airport should be getting built...... NOW! In which case a tunnel may be justified.

So - Karl's compromise - if you care, is to abandon the tunnel idea and get cracking on improvements to Country Hills Blvd and other roads to the east as a means of access. If you look at the map, it won't make much of a difference.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

They probably have no idea what they're talking about

Some things the salespeople at the big box electronic stores won't tell you.

"If you tell a salesman you're going to buy a TV, he's going to want to sell you a DVD player to go with it. Once he sells you the DVD player, he's going to want to get you to buy an HDMI cable, too."

Truer words were never spoken.

Video mash-up smorgasbord

I challenge you to find something stranger than this on the internets. Marco Brambilla created a piece of video art called Civilization, which incorporates many distinct movie clips from various eras to create something beyond description. I think you could watch it a few times and still not catch everything. The screenshot doesn't begin to do it justice.


There appears to be more room at the Big E trough

ASCAP (American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers), believes that every time your musical ring tone on your cell phone goes off in public, you're violating copyright law by "publicly performing" it without a license. They want their cut from the mobile phone companies. The mobile carriers argue that the owners of the musical compositions are paid for each ring tone download, but ASCAP claims that it's owed another royalty for the public performances (such as when your phone rings in a restaurant). Even if this were viewed as a public performance, that would also put you in jeopardy for playing your car radio with the window down, or having the radio on in a store.

Luckily, the chances of ASCAP winning this battle (based on the law) is slim to nil. EFF has more on this story.

Karl's PSA to the world: Don't tweet from the tub.

The Twitter phenomenon seems to have claimed its first casualty (discounting everything that's happening in Iran right now). A 17 year old girl who was tweeting in her bathtub died from electrocution when it appears her laptop was dropped into the water with her.

The moral of the story, is that anything in excess is dangerous to your health.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Almost as good as the newest iPhone

I downloaded and installed the 3.0 version of the operating system for my iPhone 3G. Among the highlights of the new OS include copy and paste functionality (which works great); shake to shuffle tunes in the iPod app (very nice); rotate functionality among more apps - including a landscape layout keyboard - which makes the keys bigger (Yay!); Notes sync (Double Yay!); a built-in memo recorder; and a few other features which I don't seem to care about yet.

I waited to install the update for a few days because I had heard through the grapevine that folks were having trouble during the activation phase because of server overload. Mine went without a hitch. Because I have the 3G phone (not the new 3GS phone), I miss out on the compass, video recording and voice control. No biggie.

Let's see what the internet thinks

Sometimes, you just wonder if you're the only one that feels a certain way about a particular topic, or if the overall rating you're reading about said topic is shared 'internet-wide'. For example, I've been hearing good things about the latest version of Windows - Windows 7. But what does the internet think? Well, that's exactly what the site whatdoestheinternetthink is for. I plugged in 'Windows 7' and got a 99.2% positive rating. As opposed to Windows Vista, which got a 70% negative rating.

For fun, I plugged in my name and got the pictured outcome - "Conclusion: Even the internet is not quite sure about karl plesz, according to Google."

LOL! I'm an enigma.......

Toxic neighbourhood

While running errands today, Darlene and I were passing through Ogden (a neighbourhood in SE Calgary). While we were there, I recalled an area that has been evacuated called Lynnview Ridge. More than 100 houses and condominium units located on a former refinery site were found to have higher than normal levels of lead contamination in the soil and hydro-carbon vapours entering homes. Some homes still stand in Lynnview Ridge, near the site of the old Imperial Oil refinery. In 2001, most residents took buyout packages from the company after the contaminated soil was discovered. In 2007, the company demolished much of the neighbourhood and began remediation work. The Alderman representing the area said he saw an X-ray of the site and was shocked to see what remains underground. "What came as a surprise to me was the amount of refinery structure under the ground. It seems like it was cut off at ground level and all the stuff that was underground was left there."

There are plans to build a golf course and sports fields where the homes used to stand. What struck me about the site was that whole streets and lots now sit empty, fenced off. The homes are gone, basements filled in. Then, very abruptly, the homes continue again. I thought to myself, I wonder what the people who live in those remaining homes must think. One has to assume these folks turned down the buyout offer. I could never imagine what possessed them to stay. All I kept thinking was that the remaining homes must be just as contaminated as the lots that were levelled. I wonder if those that remain fully realize the chances of their homes ever selling for a decent price, given that it could take up to 100 years for the hydrocarbons to be completely released from the soil.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

What is it - edition 8

Here comes the latest edition of "What is it?".

So..... what is it?

I'll save you some time - it's not a computer. Let's get that one out of the way right now.

How to start an argument..... with a geek

10 statements to provoke an argument with a geek.

My fave? “I don’t see what’s so bad about DRM!”

Kitchen coolness

Here are some neat kitchen items I found.

The double-sided peanut butter and jam knife idea is awesome.

I also liked the D-cell battery salt 'n pepper shakers.

Sleeping in the tattoo parlour

(In reference to the girl (pictured) who went to the tattoo artist, asked for 3 stars, fell asleep and woke up to this....)

[update - it turns out the whole story was a lie - the girl asked for every one ]

High definition slow motion video

High definition video isn't just exciting to watch at normal speed, but also in slow motion. Especially when the video has been taken at 1000 frames per second.

Awesome quality stuff from this sample reel.


Imagine really famous people as seen without their moustaches.

Well, now you don't have to imagine anymore.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

On. Off. Repeat as necessary...

It turns out that it's a myth that turning a light bulb on and off repeatedly will shorten its life. At least it's not true for incandescents, but it does somewhat apply to CFL (compact fluorescents).

Read more here.


Celebrities before they were famous.

Pictured is Robin Williams.

Phishing..... not fishing

How good are you at detecting a phishing email versus a legitimate email?

Try this handy quiz to see.

More hilarious tees

And yet more fun tees from Mental Floss.

In case the text is too small to read:

"I'm no rocket surgeon."
"You say tomato. I say tomato. Doesn't make much sense when you read it."
"Pluto - Revolve in peace."
"Simple as 3.141592."