Wednesday, February 27, 2013

It's a scam...

My review of the 2013 Mercedes Benz B250

In a previous blog post, I described the process by which we decided to buy the B250. Now I'll take some time to give this car a proper review, from the perspective of a regular consumer and lover of cars.

There's just something about Mercedes. It's a symbol of class and refinement. I've had close encounters with them throughout my life, but I've never owned one. I had originally seen the old B200 at a car show, but was only mildly impressed, as the model seemed to lack the luxury and refinement that I'd seen in other Mercs. The new B250 takes care of most of those shortcomings in style.

It's kind of hard to classify the B250. It's not an SUV. It's wagon-esque, although it stands slightly taller than a usual wagon. Some people have compared it to the Toyota Matrix. Sorry - that's like comparing a Mazda Miata to a BMW Z4. They're not in the same league. Its taller stature makes it easy to get in and out. As I've mentioned before, the seats are comfortable and adjust in every manner you could imagine, which Darlene loves due to her fybromyalgia. Most people I've invited to sit in the car have said that the exterior dimensions mask the interior size. As my friend put it, it has that 'Tardis effect'.

The B250 only has a 2.0L 4 cylinder turbocharged engine, but those crazy Germans have managed to eke out 208 HP and 258 lb-ft of torque. So, it's got some pep. The engine is mated to a 7 speed, dual clutch automatic transmission with manual shift mode and paddle shifters. How much pep does it have? It'll do 0-100km/h in 6.8 seconds, not bad for a little hatch.

The B250 is loaded with safety features. I think something like 11 air bags. Traction control. Stability control. ABS. Brake assist (primes brake pressure in preparation for emergency braking). Blind spot assist (tells you when cars are in your blind spot). Lane keeping assist (vibrates the steering wheel if you drift out of your lane). Attention assist (vibrates the steering wheel if you show signs of fatigue).

The B250 is loaded with fuel saving features. ECO start/stop (turns engine off at lights like a hybrid). A default (but not permanent) ECO throttle and transmission behaviour that delays rapid starts and up-shifts fast. An ECO display that rates your driving style for economy. So what does all that result in? Supposedly 7.9L/100km city and 5.5L/100km highway. My first drive to work, mostly highway, averaged 7.1L/100km. That should improve post-break in. If you don't want the economical personality, you can switch to Sport mode, which removes the throttle delay and allows the engine to rev much higher before shifting. Then there's full on manual mode, where you shift with the paddle shifters.

It's chock full of luxury features. Panoramic sunroof. Heated seats. Dual zone climate control. Leather - real * or fake. A decent stereo, but a better one is available. Parktronic * - it parks itself with sensors to detect how close you are to obstacles. Rain sensing wipers. Bi-Xenon lights *. LED running and fog lights. Memory (14 way) electric seats *. Ambient cabin lighting. Headlamp washers. Heated windshield washer fluid nozzles. The passenger mirror tilts down in reverse. The mirrors fold in when you shut down the car (if you want). The mirrors are heated. Rear view camera *. [* = options]

The rear seat is a 60/40 split, which forced me to relocate my grand-daughter's child car seat to behind the driver so I could fold down the 40 part without the child's car seat interfering. This isn't an issue as I can see her very well in the rear-view mirror. The (non-power) hatch is not entirely effortless to open and close and I found it odd that the FOB doesn't pop the hatch. But this isn't a big deal for me. The car is equipped with run-flat tires (not something I'm positive I want to use again), so the spot left for the emergency spare is empty and available for extra small item storage. There are convenient grocery bag hooks on either side of the cargo area, a nice touch. Unlike many luxury cars, the tonneau cover is standard.

This car looks like a Mercedes. We opted for a car optioned with chestnut brown real leather and Calcite White exterior. My wife swore she would never own a white car, but even she admitted that this colour combination was classic Mercedes in the tradition of 1960s and 1970s vintage Merc sedans. It looks great on the B250. The combination of Bi-Xenon and LED running and fog lights look spectacular at night and the interior ambient lighting reminded my wife of a 5 star luxury hotel.

But what is it like to drive? Before I get to that, let me tell you how it parallel parks. Automatically, if you like. It does so brilliantly too. I managed to get into what for me would be a tight spot and the car's computer and sensors handled it perfectly. On leaving the spot, I drove, but let the sensors guide me as to whether I was getting too close for comfort. Now on to the driving. The view is fantastic. I've never owned a car with such great visibility all around. It almost makes the blind spot assist unnecessary. The default throttle delay takes a little getting used to, but once the delay expires, it goes. If I need a more sporting behaviour, I can always switch to Sport mode. It's been a while since stepping on the gas really pushed me back into my seat. And it feels good.

[Darlene's input] "Normally I never care about what we purchase as a vehicle. That's been true for over 25 years. I always looked upon our car as something to get us from point A to B, with total disinterest in what kind of car it is. For the first time I'm enjoying the ride and feel like I'm in the lap of luxury. The 14-way seat adjustments on the passenger seat now allow me to travel without agony from painful pressure points on long trips where I never could before. I highly recommend this car!"

[Update 6 April 2013] Now that the car has over 5000km on it, I thought it was time to update the situation. The mileage, good as it was, keeps getting better. The lifetime average now sits at 7.5L/100km and on some trips to work, on mild days, I'm getting 6.7L/100km for a 40km trip that is mostly highway on many hills. I imagine that on a long highway trip I could do much better, which is amazing for a non-hybrid car. The 7 speed transmission makes all the difference. One thing I can tell you is that you'll never really feel the power that this car has if you keep the driving mode in ECO. It upshifts too fast to give the engine any kind of workout. I find myself using the paddle shifters when I accelerate onto highways just so I can feel what the engine can do at higher revs. I like the feeling. My grand-daughter loves the car because she has 2 sunroofs to look out of and she sits a bit higher on the back seat than a typical car which means that she gets to see out the windows. I love the panoramic (dual) sunroof too. I haven't closed the blinds on them since I got the car. My iPhone paired with the B250 via Bluetooth like a dream. It's so nice to be able to answer the phone without touching it. The rain-sensing wipers work great. What an awesome feature that is. I've been asking people I know to estimate the value of the B250 and they're guessing in the $55,000-$60,000 range. That makes me smile. Not even close. Not even $45,000. That's right.

[Dislikes] Not many. I have had an issue a couple of times where the engine oil low sensor is triggered when in fact the oil level is fine. Always at highway speed. When you drive in bad winter weather and ice builds up on the front, it interferes with the sensors that detect oncoming obstacles. No biggy. I really wish they had made remote hatch release available on the FOB.
[Update to engine oil low indication: It turns out that I was experiencing RFI (radio frequency interference). After experiencing the indication enough times, I noticed a pattern. It always happened within a few feet of a truck height sensor on the highway before a weigh station. I'm not the only person who had the problem and a computer update fixed the problem.

[Things I didn't know this car could do until I read the manual] If you press further down on the brake at a stop, 'HOLD' appears in the display and you can let your foot off the brake pedal. Stepping on the gas instantly releases the brakes. There is a 'REST' button in the climate control cluster. If you shut off the car and remove the key, pressing REST will keep the heat and fan going until either the battery gets to a certain threshold or the engine has no residual heat left.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Almost connected

After Darlene and I had met in 1987 and got to share our past histories with each other, it became clear that there were at least 2 other opportunities where we had been close enough to each other (geographically and in terms of the venues we visited) that there was a high probability to cross paths at an earlier time. I find this fact absolutely fascinating, considering that she only spent a few years of her life in Kingston.

Do any of my readers have similar stories of barely missed connections before you met your mate?

Chris Hadfield's space kitchen

Canadian astronaut and current ISS ambassador to the interwebs, Chris Hadfield, shows us how they can make sandwiches in zero gravity. It requires some mods to be sure. Fortunately, they have 'space scissors'.

I'm feeling lucky

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Things I learned lately 24 Feb

  • There's a very good chance that all or part of your future smartphone will be built into a pair of glasses a-la Google Glass. We're already most of the way there and this new phone format would respond to voice, head and hand gestures, with a display just above one (or both) of your eyes.
  • Seoul will blanket the city's public outdoor spaces, sidewalks and transit with free wi-fi by 2015.
  • Dubai's Metro is the longest fully-automated (driverless) system in the world. Seating is divided into 3 'classes', Gold (1st class); Women & Children class; Silver (economy).
  • Some Japanese road signs have built-in 'heat maps' that show where traffic congestion exists in real time so that drivers can avoid those areas if they choose to.
  • Ubuntu (one of the many flavours and arguably one of the most popular distributions of Linux) now makes an Operating System for phones.
  • The average American teenage girl (13-19) send about 4050 texts per month.
  • A new trend in Asia involves putting fake braces on your teeth.
  • There are now 3 big players separately trying to blow up the cable TV industry. Google, Intel and Sony. Watch this space.
  • The Vandals, a Germanic tribe, sacked Rome in 455. More than a thousand years later, their reputation still hadn’t improved, when in the 1660s their tribal name was embedded with a secondary meaning: “willful destroyer of what is beautiful or venerable.”

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Mike, I have questions

Mike Duffy. You were an OK TV journalist, but you're not doing very well as a Senator.

After being found out for claiming benefits for living in PEI but working in Ottawa, but not spending a lot of time in the province you supposedly represent, you scrambled to get a health care card for that province. Once the questions started coming your way, you ran from the cameras like the politicians you used to critique on your TV show. Then the whining started. "Everyone is paying too much attention to this story instead of the important issues." Well Mike, if fraud isn't an important issue, then I don't know what is. The whole country knows you actually live in Ottawa. Nobody in PEI can vouch for the fact that you live there. You even admitted that you don't even live in the house you claim as your primary residence because you "have to live in a city to be close to medical services". So now that you're going to pay the money back, I have some questions for you.

You blame the claims forms for the mix-up. You say they're confusing. Yet when asked how much you'll be paying back, you indicated that this is something 'the accountants' will look into. So I wonder, if accountants dealt with the claim, did they find it confusing too? Do you habitually use accountants that are confused by standard government claims processes? Now that you're paying back the money, you're essentially admitting that you aren't entitled to it. I mean, if you are entitled to it, there should be no need to pay it back, even if it is 'distracting' people from the important issues. So if you're not entitled to claim the money, are you entitled to be the Senator for PEI? Maybe you should resign. Because we wouldn't want to be distracted anymore from those important issues.

P.S.: Pamela Wallin. You're next.

Package delivery training

So much ammunition

Stood in line at a Canada Post outlet today and watched while a person tried to cash a postal money order for $300. They were told they could not cash it at this location because the outlet didn't have enough money. The person trying to cash the money order was quite upset and refused to leave (to try another outlet) until the woman behind the counter could contact the next outlet and confirm that they had enough cash to cover the money order.

It just keeps getting better.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The back story behind taking cocaine out of Coca Cola

(condensed from an article at The Atlantic)
When cocaine and alcohol meet inside a person, they create coca-ethylene, which works like cocaine, but with more euphoria. So in 1863, when Parisian chemist Angelo Mariani combined coca and wine and started selling it, his Vin Marian became extremely popular. The chief rabbi of France and Pope Leo XIII loved the stuff.

Dr. John Stith Pemberton in Atlanta Georgia set out to make his own version, called Pemberton's French Wine Coca and marketed it as "a most wonderful invigorator (sic) of sexual organs." But as it took off, a prohibition on alcohol was passed in Dr. Pemberton's county in Georgia (34 years before the national prohibition). The French Wine Coca was now illegal because of the alcohol, not the cocaine.

Pemberton replaced the wine in the formula with sugar syrup. Coca Cola debuted in 1886. It quickly caught on as an 'intellectual beverage' among well-off whites. When the company started selling it in bottles in 1899, minorities banned from segregated soda fountains suddenly had access to it.

Middle-class whites worried that soft drinks were contributing to exploding cocaine use among African-Americans. Southern newspapers reported that "negro cocaine fiends" were raping white women, the police powerless to stop them. By 1903, the makers of Coke bowed to white fears, removing the cocaine and adding more sugar and caffeine, even though cocaine wasn't even illegal until 1914. 

Coke still contains coca — but the ecgonine alkaloid (which forms cocaine) is removed from it. Perfecting that extraction took until 1929, so before that there were still trace amounts of coca's psychoactive elements in Coca Cola.

Wait... what?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Facts about the seahorse

By Ze Frank.

Watch here.

The Beatowls

SOTD - This is not a love song

Nouvelle Vague are a French cover band that sound like a parody of themselves. Probably why I like it so much.

Another rant against Canada Post

It may seem like I'm picking on Canada Post a lot lately, but they're giving me lots of ammunition.

This time it had to do with holiday hours of operation on Family Day. We tried our best to find out what time they were open (if at all) on Family Day and had no luck getting any information. We checked online. We tried calling the drug stores that host the outlets and either didn't get through or were told the outlet was open when in fact it was not (not yet anyway).

I went to the outlet that was supposedly open and found 3 people waiting in line, wondering why there was nobody behind the counter. I looked around the store for an employee and after finding one was informed that the outlet opens at noon until 4pm. No sign. I made a point of letting those in line know and then spoke to another employee at the customer service desk on the way out. I was told that this is a Canada Post issue as the drug store has no control over hours of operation and are not allowed to post unauthorized signage at the outlet.

I made my way to another drug store with a postal outlet and was pleased to discover that this one was open from 10am to 2pm. Signage everywhere indicating that fact too. So either they're not following Canada Post's own rules or the 'no unauthorized signage' rule is a convenient myth.

The underlying point here is that these guys need to get their act together. I don't care if you change your hours on holidays. I don't even care if each outlet has its own hours - not very consistent, but whatever. At least find a way to get those hours posted online so people don't waste their time and money getting to your outlet only to find that it isn't open.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Things I learned lately 17 Feb

  • Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond stories, also wrote Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
  • To improve your child, praise their effort, not their result.
  • Reduced portions is the key to weight loss and frugal spending.
  • A 10 minute nap is better than a 30 minute nap overall.
  • To avoid senility, don't (completely) retire from working.
  • Demonstrations of anger lend credibility to complainers.
  • Hand gestures increase the brain's ability to remember things longer.
  • Nostalgia fights loneliness.
  • Writing about your feelings fights depression.
  • The 400,000 residents of Tallinn Estonia now get to use their transit system for free. This decision was motivated by concerns about pollution and noise and will encourage residents to drive much less. The decision to make transit free was voted through via a referendum.
  • You can now buy a good desktop 3D printer for $2200. This allows you to fabricate any type of plastic object. All you need is a CAD model file.
  • In Japan, they have competitions on who can plane the thinnest slice off a piece of wood. They're getting 9 micron thick pieces, which look like crate crepe paper.
  • A student in NJ has made a business of delivering emergency supplies of condoms to those needing them at the last minute. His business is called 'Condom Ambulance'.

Friday, February 15, 2013

5 facts about chocolate

Just in time for Valentine's Day.

In case you were about to feel guilty regarding your chocolate indulgence.


So you might have heard through the grapevine - I bought a new car. If you know my history, you might be thinking, "Didn't he just buy a new car like two years ago or something?" Just over two, yes. So here's what happened.

In November 2010, I decided to get a car more suited to an 80km (both ways) commute every day. We selected a hybrid Civic that had sat on the dealer lot for almost a full year. We got a great deal on the car, as the dealership was desperately trying to get rid of it to make room for new inventory. I wasn't sure if the hybrid Civic was the exact right choice, but it sure was the right price.

First, the positives. Like most Hondas, this car was ultra reliable. In the 27 months I had the car, it cost $3000 in total, which includes 2 complete sets of high priced tires and rims. The gas mileage was beyond reproach. I averaged 5.2L/100km in summer and 5.8L/100km in winter. That basically means I was able to squeeze 800 km out of $40 of gas on a good day. The efficiency of the car was inspiring. I wish all cars had the energy re-generative abilities of a hybrid. The car indeed changed the way I drove. On one memorable short trip from Crowfoot to my house, I managed to hyper-mile my way to a 2.5L/100km mileage result. I could never maintain that, but it felt good.

The negatives. Gutless. I have never driven a car with such anemic power. Especially when the hybrid system has no extra power to offer as a boost (when the hybrid battery is low). So the fun factor is almost completely removed from the experience. The trunk is far too small to be practical when it's your only car. I barely had enough room for a stroller and a box of emergency road-side goodies. Groceries often had to go in the back seat. A back seat that doesn't fold down because that's where the hybrid battery is stored. Seriously Honda, you guys need to figure out how to move the battery elsewhere. This is not an IKEA-friendly car. Oh well, live and learn. The hybrid experiment is over and while the hybrid concept is sound in this car, the implementation is lacking.

So. What to get as a replacement? I had to revisit my original wish list of characteristics for a car. Fun to drive. Economical on gas. Luxury trimmings. Cargo friendly. Comfortable for Darlene's neuropathy. I went through an exhaustive search for candidates and narrowed it down to 3 based on countless reviews, both written and video, plus visits to online user forums. Here was the list:

1. Mercedes Benz B250
2. BMW X1
3. Acura RDX.

In the beginning, I was favouring the BMW. I mean, who doesn't want to experience the 'ultimate driving machine'? The reviews were very favourable. The Germans have had their hand forced and they have begun to build very modern, very efficient engines in anticipation of a German law requiring more efficient cars by 2016. Mate that engine with an 8 speed transmission stolen from a 7 series and you have a recipe for a very fun, yet efficient car. It's a wagon, let's be serious. But BMW won't call it that because wagons are no longer cool. On paper, I should like the BMW best but I was expecting Darlene to pick the reliable Acura, especially due to its larger size. The Acura was the most boring of the 3 candidates in terms of options, but not too boring. I threw the Mercedes in the ring because it had a similar German pedigree of efficiency and was a completely redesigned car from the outgoing B200 with an added $7000 worth of options thrown in for free as standard equipment. The Mercedes was also the only offering that isn't all-wheel drive. I kind of wanted to try all-wheel drive this time, but it wasn't a deal breaker.

When we went testing, the BMW did not pass muster for comfort. Darlene's fibromyalgia dictates a comfortable seat with adjustability so that the front edge doesn't dig into her thighs. The BMW seat failed miserably. I thought I would be crushed by the news, but after sitting in the driver's seat, I was reminded why I was never truly impressed with BMW at any car show I ever went to - the cockpit felt claustrophobic to me. Could I sit comfortably in this seat for 9 hours on a road trip? Maybe not. Strike one.

The Acura didn't fare much better. I had no problem with it, but this seat was not comfortable for Darlene either. This surprised me. In fact, Darlene showed me how something was protruding into the passenger foot well, preventing her from being able to spread her feet apart much. I don't know what that big bump on the side of the foot well was, but it was definitely not passenger-friendly. Strike two. Uh oh....

The Mercedes surprised both of us. For starters, the seats are very comfortable and fully adjustable, even the angle of the seat forward and back. It has a great, bi-turbo 4 cylinder engine. Plenty of power. Very torque-y. 7 speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Beautiful luxury trim. Panoramic sun roof, which really lends a feel of roominess and brightness. Parks itself. Lane keep assist. Blind spot assist. Rear camera. Plenty of other toys too. Classic Calcite White paint. Darlene said she would never own a white car, but this colour looks very classy on the Mercedes, so she was sold. Chestnut brown leather reminiscent of the classic Mercedes sedans of the 1960s. We found a car that had most of the options I wanted and none of the ones I didn't. We put a deposit down on it so it wouldn't get sold to anyone else.

All the reviews of the B250 said the same thing. Owners of the old B200 made a list of things they didn't like and Mercedes listened. They redesigned the B series and gave it a dash of fun while making it even more efficient and luxurious. Finally, a car that checks off every item on my list.

So, we welcome a cultured young German into our family. Which makes me feel all "Ich bin stolz auf mein Erbe". I'm looking for good German female name for the car. The post title is Gord's suggestion.

Bring on the first road trip....

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Do your kids a favour

Here's why you should send your kids to university somewhere other than their home town. For the experience. They need to experience how another part of the country or world lives. They need to be immersed in another culture, where people think, talk, dress, eat, play and politic in a different way than they're (and especially you're) used to. If your home town is Calgary or Edmonton or some other prairie city or town, the city I'd most highly recommend you send your kids to university is..... Montréal.

Yeah, I know what you're thinking. Karl's from Montréal, so he's biased. Probably. But hear me out. I know a busload of people who have sent their kids to Montréal to further their education and they all came back unrecognizable people. If they came back at all. I acknowledge that sending your kids to university anywhere will result in a change - just their maturing alone will create a noticeable difference.

But these youth who go to Montréal have an advantage. They have 4 universities to choose from. They'll learn how to speak French. The way real French people speak French, not that crap they might have learned in school. They'll discover what real poutine is. They'll be immersed in a real hockey culture and how it's akin to a religion. They'll know why the typical Montréalais is considered a foodie. They'll buy alcohol in the grocery store. They'll eat duck paté on fancy biscuits. They'll rent bikes from automated vending machines. They'll soak in the bohemian vibe of Le Plateau Mont-Royal. They'll discover what a world-class symphony orchestra is. They'll have so many music venues to explore they'll be overwhelmed with the choices. If they're lucky, they'll experience a world-class jazz festival and probably get to see a lot of it for free. Same goes for the comedy festival. They'll realize that it's possible to live without a car and not miss it one little bit thanks to an effective transit system and an amazing Métro. They'll know what snow is. I'm not talking about those little squalls of snow you'd see in Calgary, I'm talking about snow banks several feet over your head. They'll notice how people dress to go out on the town - with style. They'll greet friends and family with a European-style kiss on both cheeks. They'll watch Formula One race cars scream around the track on an island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. They'll be allowed to drink if they're 18. They'll eat the best smoked meat in the world. And bagels too. They won't even get ready to hit the nightlife until minuit, because the action continues until 4am. They won't be brainwashed with talk about separation as fear-mongers would have you believe. They'll be tainted with the idyllic dreams of young Quebécois who feel that education should be free, or at the very least accessible to everyone (like it was for their parents and their parents before them). They'll watch the trees turn into a vibrant palette of bright reds and oranges and yellows in fall. They'll visit the Basilique Notre-Dame and the Oratoire St. Joseph just to breath in the history of the place. They'll pour real maple syrup on breakfast in log cabins in the spring and pull maple taffy over the snow. They'll sip espressos in cafés looking out at cobblestone streets and buildings older than Canada itself. They'll mingle with every culture and heritage and racial background in sight and they won't just express their thoughts, they'll share them, soaking up the smorgasbord of ideas and fears and desires. They'll witness people who drive with purpose and who will invite total strangers to their parties.

When you hear their stories, you'll want to go too.

Let me tell you the story of my people

Prairie jewel

Commander Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, took this picture of Calgary at night from the ISS

That big dark spot in the NW quadrant is Nose Hill Park. The bigger dark spot in the NE quadrant with the island of light in the middle is the airport. The huge bright spot in the centre is the downtown. Okotoks is way at the bottom.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Nenshi's take on the pipeline

Interview with mayor of Calgary Naheed Nenshi about the XL Pipeline.

What the heck is going on with Canada Post?

A friend of mine lives on a street in Calgary where only one side has a sidewalk. He hadn't gotten any mail at his home in over a week and couldn't figure out why. One day, he finds a piece of paper in his mailbox announcing that the carrier has suspended delivery while there were 'unsafe conditions'. He thought maybe it had to do with him waiting a few hours before shovelling his walkway, so once he cleared the snow and picked up his mail from the nearest depot, he assumed everything would go back to normal. A few days later, the next-door neighbour asked him if he'd gotten any mail lately. He said not for almost two weeks. The neighbour hadn't gotten any either. That's when he realized it wasn't his walkway causing the problem and called Canada Post..... again. He was told that the reason delivery was suspended is because their side of the street wasn't cleared by Calgary Roads and with the lack of a sidewalk, it was deemed unsafe to deliver mail on that side of the street. He was also told that if he had a problem with that, he should contact the city.


Meanwhile... My mail carrier keeps putting mail addressed to 4323 in our mailbox (4223). I'm OK with dyslexia, but the postal codes, which are supposed to help with sorting the mail to its proper destination, aren't even the same. Some of our mail goes to other homes too and we're lucky we get most of it back.

We think.

I need a.... uh.... ummmm

Friday, February 08, 2013

Things I learned lately 8 Feb

  • The basement where The Oregonian was once printed in Portland is now a fibre optic exchange for the internet. Fitting.
  • There is no evidence that viking helmets had horns on them. The hats suddenly got horns thanks to creative writers in the 1800s.
  • There was no such thing as a Brontosaurus, even though paleontologists claimed there was back in the late 19th century.
  • Germany plans to power itself on 80% renewable energy by 2050. They're at 25% now, an increase of 5% in one year.
  • Doctors seem to have forgotten what was once a commonplace assumption, that emotions (and stress) are deeply implicated in both the development of illness, addictions and disorders, and in their healing.
  • Canada has 200,000km of coastline.
  • The Alberta town of Canmore uses some of the money it collects from speeders to reward drivers seen driving under the speed limit in the form of a lottery. The prizes are $250 gift certificates to the local business of their choice.
  • The VW Beetle of the late 1950s only had a top speed of 68mph (109km/h). The new 1959 Austin Mini had a top speed of 72mph (116km/h).
  • Moscow is having the snowiest winter in 100 years.
  • Disney doesn't just plan on making 3 new Star Wars movies. They plan on making a lot. Possibly one  for each major character.

Best wine bottle holder ever

Isn't this the cutest wine bottle holder ever?

"I am your father"

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Fall in Central Park

This is one of the most beautiful videos I've seen online in months.

Maybe it's not about who has the most toys

How many of the things you own would you be willing to share with neighbours if they were also willing to share their like items with you?

That's the question I think we need to start asking ourselves as a society if we're going to preserve our resources for future generations. It's a radical new way of thinking, some might even label it socialism. I prefer to think of it as community sharing.

It's already started with cars. Car sharing services have popped up all over the world as a way of making cars available to people who might not be able to afford a car of their own and especially to deal with the reality that many of us who own cars are leaving them parked in one place or another for 90% of the day and night. Not all of these services are run by mega-corporations either. Neighbourhood co-ops make use of vehicles owned by regular people.

But why stop at cars? Let's consider other shareable items too. Do you own a circular saw? Have you ever needed one? Would you lend it to a neighbour if you could also get access to other types of tools that they and other people own and vice versa? Why should everyone who could use a circular saw have to buy one if they're only going to use it 10 minutes out of every year? (Neighbourgoods is a web portal for sharing stuff between neighbours) What kinds of things could a community share? Tools? Music? Movies? Networks? Spouses? I'm just kidding about the last one of course, but what about sharing skills? I'll fix your fascias if you fix the neighbour's sink. I'll pave your driveway if you help fix 5 neighbours' computers.

This kind of sharing not only reduces the costs of living in a community, it brings the community together and brings tremendous value to the items and skills we have to share.

First instrument I ever learned to play

Monday, February 04, 2013

FIPEL, a new kind of light 'bulb'

New field-induced polymer electroluminescent (FIPEL) light bulbs being developed by Wake Forest University researchers might be the perfect replacement for compact fluorescent light bulbs, which aren't panning out due to their disposal issues among other things.

FIPEL light bulbs are unique because they are made of plastic. Researchers used a nano-engineered polymer matrix to convert electricity into light. The device is made of three layers of molded polymer blended with a small amount of nanomaterials. The result is a shatterproof material and a glow that creates a bright white light similar to sunlight.

Plastic FIPEL bulbs don't need mercury. FIPEL bulbs are estimated to last anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 hours, depending on brightness settings. They can be recycled too.

Wake Forest University is working with a company to start manufacturing FIPEL technology, which might be ready for consumers as early as next year.

You.... compliment me

When you just need a compliment and you need it now.

Best Macbook decal ever

Sunday, February 03, 2013

What the frack are those lights?

See that big blob of lights on the far left edge of the picture of the US at night from space? That's in North Dakota. That's not a city. And those lights weren't there six years ago.

What you see is an immense new oil and gas field — nighttime evidence of an oil boom created by a technology called fracking. Those lights are rigs, hundreds of them, lit at night, and/or the fiery flares of natural gas. 150 oil companies have come here, drilling up to 8 new wells every day on what is called the Bakken formation. Altogether, they are now producing 660,000 barrels a day — double the output two years ago — so that in no time at all, North Dakota is now the second-largest oil producing state in America. Only Texas produces more, and those lights are a sign that this region is now on fire.

Six years ago, this region was close to empty. The USGS knew there were oil deposits underground, but they were 2 miles below the surface. Only recently the industry developed a way to get that oil at practical cost thanks to fracking. When oil comes to the surface, it often brings natural gas with it and 29% of the natural gas now extracted in North Dakota is flared off. Gas isn't as profitable as oil and the energy companies don't always build the pipes or systems to carry it away. For at least one year drillers are allowed to just let the gas flare. There are now so many gas wells burning fires in the North Dakota night, the fields can be seen from space. Locals call North Dakota "Kuwait on the Prairie".

(Condensed from NPR)

"Cracklin' Rosie, you're a store-bought woman...."

That lyric always gave me pause, not realizing what it meant. Store-bought woman? What store exactly? Well, as it turns out, it's the liquor store. Cracklin' Rosie refers to Rosé wine, very likely Sparkling Mateus Rosé wine.


Yoga bear

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Things I learned this week 2 Feb

  • The back flaps on a bra are called wings.
  • Google TV, Microsoft, Comcast and Verizon have all submitted patents to create TVs and DVRs that will watch you as you watch TV. This is all to do with targeted advertising.
  • An Upper East Side financier's wife asked the 25 year old nanny if she would consider donating some of her eggs so the wife could have kids (the wife was unsuccessful with her own eggs). It would have earned the nanny a $30,000 cash bonus on top of her $100,000 per year salary if she accepted. She declined.
  • The Michelin man's name is Bibendum.
  • The Android robot's name is Bugdroid.
  • Norway is going to test the viability of using Thorium as a future nuclear fuel. Very exciting. This could change everything. Thorium is estimated to be 3-4 times more abundant than uranium.  Vastly more power can be generated from a unit of thorium vs. uranium. Its waste can be re-used as nuclear fuel, and less waste is produced. Thorium plants are considered meltdown-proof.
  • George Lucas had published a Star Wars novel a year before the movie was released in 1977.
  • An Iowa court ruled that it's OK to fire an attractive woman because they are an irresistible attraction that could threaten a marriage even though they have done nothing wrong.
  • In 1890, they sold Grove's tasteless chill tonic to make your children as 'fat as pigs', because that was desirable. It outsold Coca Cola at the time.

Friday, February 01, 2013