Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Although Canada brags about its free trade deal with the US, we still pay duties on a lot of stuff. If I understand duties in a general sense, the concept is that some of our industries need to be protected in order to survive. So as a country, we made an agreement with the US that if a consumer wants to buy a product from the US and we have such an industry in Canada, the consumer has to pay a duty, which one presumes is given to the industry to compensate for the fact that the product wasn't bought from them. The idea being that we should be buying from our own back yard.

Except that this concept is flawed on so many levels, I can't count them all. But let's start with the example where the thing I want to buy is actually for sale in Canada. Let's say that I want a new set of bed sheets. The Canadian linen industry makes bed sheets. So if I choose to buy from the US, I'm hurting the Canadian linen industry. So I buy American and pay a duty which is presumably paid to the Canadian linen industry to compensate them for a lost sale. Sounds fine. But let's ask the bigger question. Why did I choose the US product? Was there something special about it? Was it so much cheaper that even with the duties, it still worked out to less money? Was it a style, or quality, or fabric, or brand not available in Canada? The concept starts to break down here, because ultimately, the linen industry is getting rewarded for not making the products I want. That makes no sense.

Where things really start to get stupid is the wide-reaching general categories that products fall into. It's one thing to say that I'm buying American bed sheets, which is something Canada makes and I therefore have to pay a duty. But there are many specialty products, like mattress toppers made of various materials, that are only for sale in the US. The problem is that this product falls into the same category that protects linens. So again, if I want a specialty mattress topper, I'm going to pay extra for it simply because our own industry doesn't make it. Reward for inaction.

I think it's time to re-evaluate this strategy. If an industry wants to survive, it shouldn't expect to be permanently propped up by its government. It has to learn to survive on its own merits. If you want to last as a linen company in Canada, you need to learn to make the products we want. If you don't, you shouldn't get a red cent.

Your night vision

When your eye has to "adjust" to the dark, what is actually happening is that the retina is activating its night-vision mode. This requires chemically recalibrating the neural networks in the eye to turn on the "scotopic vision" circuits, which are normally off during the day and which take around 20 minutes to activate. The night vision receptors (the "rods") are blue-sensitive and don't work in color, which is why everything at night looks "blue".

And there are no night receptors at the high-resolution center of the retina, which is why it is difficult to read in the dark. The rods are very sensitive to light fluctuation, which is why you can see the stars twinkle at night, but only the ones you are not looking at (because there are no rods at the eye center).

Bill Murray

I love this Bill Murray clip, showing scenes from a lot of his movies.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

NHL and I no longer BFFs

Apparently, I'm not doing my part to support NHL hockey. When I lived in Montreal, I used to go to live hockey games featuring my beloved Montreal Canadiens. It's hard to do that now, living in Calgary, especially since my team of choice doesn't come out here much to play Calgary's team. I love watching the Habs play, it's the only sport I spectate, and I am satisfied to watch them most Saturday nights on Hockey Night in Canada. Or at least, I would be satisfied if the Toronto Maple Leafs didn't own the airwaves west of the Quebec border.

So if I was just depending on the CBC, I might get to watch a few games per year on Saturday nights, plus the smattering of Canadiens games that TSN used to carry. Fortunately for Habs-fans-living-outside-of-Quebec, the french version of TSN, RDS, had the rights to broadcast almost every Habs game throughout the entire season, which I could add as an a-la-carte channel to my cable lineup. Don't even get me started on the fact that we don't get RDS in HD on Shaw cable. So I had to watch my games in little blurry squares.

Well, last year Rogers bought the rights to NHL games and suddenly the whole hockey-on-TV landscape was made unrecognizable. There are now more players in the game. Habs games are broadcast on RDS, TVA Sports, CBC, City-TV and various Sportsnet channels. There's only one problem. Outside of the Habs' region, their games are blacked out unless they're picked as national broadcasts. The NHL completely re-wrote the rules regarding distribution and broadcasting and fans of teams living outside of that team's home region are screwed.

According to my sources, the NHL would rather that if you live in Calgary, you should become a Flames fan and watch them instead. Not going to happen. Not only is Montreal a better team, it has a storied history, the best record historically in the entire league and is the team of my childhood home.

There is a way I can watch more Habs games this year, but it would cost me $200 to do it. My cable company can sell me a subscription to NHL Centre Ice (NHL CI), which gives me access to most of the games unless they are being broadcast nationally. It's a huge money grab by the NHL though, because for example I can't watch a Habs game on NHL CI (because it's blacked out) if it's being shown on another network nationally. Which means that if I want to see the most games, I need to subscribe to every channel that shows hockey games nationally. What's the matter NHL? Isn't $200 enough to grant me unrestricted access to my team of choice?

Oh wait, I can't even get NHL Centre Ice because my cable box isn't compatible with an mp4 video stream. So here's a giant double middle finger directed at both the NHL and my Shaw cable provider.

The good news is that Rogers did fulfill their promise of offering much more hockey choice than CBC did. This season, between CBC, City, Sportsnet and Sportsnet 360, I'll get to watch 28 Canadiens games in HD, which is probably 20 more than I would have gotten with CBC the old way. But I want more.

Things I learned lately - 25 Oct

  • Lockheed Martin may be a year from building the first compact fusion reactor. Fusion reactors are a big deal because they are 10 times smaller than fission reactors, safer, more efficient and fuel can be obtained from the ocean and lithium deposits.
  • There's some great DC Comics superhero movies coming out over the next few years: Batman vs Superman (2016); Suicide Squad (2016); Wonder Woman (2017); Justice League Part 1 (2017); The Flash (2018); Aquaman (2018); Shazam (2019); Justice League Part 2 (2019); Cyborg (2020); Green Lantern (2020)
  • As of now, all state-run universities in Germany have no tuition. Not even for foreigners.
  • In Italy, cash still accounts for 75% of all purchases. In Sweden, 80% of all purchases are made electronically.
  • With Google Express, you can shop from a variety of stores in the same order and have stuff delivered to your door same-day. All for $95 per year. Orders above $15 are delivered free. Stores participating vary by location but include Staples, Whole Foods, PetSmart, Walgreen's and Costco. Currently, Google Express only operates in major US cities.
  • Pay attention to people's feet. If you approach two people in the middle of a conversation, and they only turn their torsos and not their feet, they don't want you to join in the conversation. Similarly, if you are in a conversation with a coworker who you think is paying attention to you and his or her torso is turned towards you but their feet are facing in another direction, they want the conversation to end.
  • Your actions affect your attitudes more than your attitudes affect your actions. "You can jump and dance FOR joy, but you can also jump and dance yourself joyful."
  • When a group of people laugh, people will instinctively look at the person they feel closest to in that group.
  • The reason that orange juice tastes awful after you brush your teeth is that toothpaste contains lauryl sulfate. This substance both binds to your sweet taste receptors, making your tongue less sensitive to sweet, and they eliminate some phospholipids, which make more bitter receptors available. The net effect is to deaden the sweet taste of the juice and heighten the bitter taste.
  • The name Jack derived from John thanks to the one time popular suffix -kin. The suffix -kin, simply indicated little, so Robin Hood’s Little John would have been named Jockin, which later gave rise to Jenkin, then Jakin, and then Jack. Similarly, we have Little Henry becoming Henkin, which later gave rise to Hankin, which was then shortened to just Hank.
  • Suzi Quatro was the first female bass player to become a rock star, before The Runaways, Heart and Joan Jett. 


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Let's put that in context, OK?

I've been seeing a number of reports coming out from the anti-drug lobby about how marijuana smoke contains up to 5 times as much tar as a cigarette and therefore is more unhealthy for you than smoking cigarettes.

The part they leave out is that a typical marijuana smoker isn't smoking 20-25 joints per day. Also, if you smoke pot using a vaporizer, almost all of the harmful byproducts are left out of the smoke, because it's not burned.

Just sayin'.......

The Colorado 420 sign kept getting stolen

This is my response to this week's tragic events in Canada

An open letter to anyone who is considering running down, opening fire upon or otherwise putting a Canadian soldier into harm's way:

Unlike yourself, who might be following an ideology or have to convert to one to participate, the soldier you so readily attack is welcomed to enlist and defend their country no matter what faith they subscribe to, in fact, they are welcome even if they are without faith.

Unlike yourself, who might seem to be defended and supported by a rag-tag pack of rats, but who would forget you as soon as send you to your death for an exciting, albeit misguided cause, my brothers and sisters who don the uniform know in their hearts that they can rely on the support of everyone in the military, every level of police service, every legionnaire, veteran, and dare I say, every decent citizen of this great country.

You are most welcome to meet us on the battlefield, at any time or place, where we will meet you with no mask to hide our identity, as we do not fear that others would know who we are. Because we are proud to serve our country and defend its citizens, no matter what they believe in, from enemies without and within. We are especially happy to facilitate the meeting with your maker that you most eagerly await. My suspicion is that you will be disappointed in what you find on the other side.

And finally, unlike the selfless Canadian soldier, you will be remembered as a coward. And then, you will promptly be forgotten.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

What are we wrong about?

"That what is self-evident to one person can be seen as silly by another should give us pause about the reliability of common sense as a basis for understanding the world.

How can we be confident that what we believe is right when someone else feels equally strongly that it's wrong — especially when we can't articulate why we think we're right in the first place? Of course, we can always write them off as crazy or ignorant or something and therefore not worth paying attention to. But once you go down that road, it gets increasingly hard to account for why we ourselves believe what we do.

Consider, for example, that since 1996 support among the general public for allowing same-sex couples to marry has almost doubled, from 25 percent to 45 percent. Presumably those of us who changed our minds over this period do not think that we were crazy fourteen years ago, but we obviously think that we were wrong. So if something that seemed so obvious turned out to be wrong, what else that we believe to be self-evident now will seem wrong to us in the future?"

~Duncan Watts' book Everything is Obvious (Once You Know the Answer)

Elsa needed help from professionals

Elsa should have just joined the X-Men.

Be sure to watch it through to the very end.

It's true. He's 63.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Things I learned lately - 18 Oct

  • The Sunswift eVe solar-powered car broke a 26 year old speed record for electric vehicles at the Australian Automotive Research Center in Victoria. eVe is now the fastest solar powered electric car to complete a 500km course. The 1988 record was an average speed of 73 km/h; the Sunswift eVe reached 100 km/h average over the 500 km.
  • The sound made by the Krakatoa volcanic eruption in 1883 was so loud it ruptured eardrums of people 40 miles away, travelled around the world four times, and was clearly heard 3,000 miles away. Imagine being in Boston and clearly hearing a noise coming from Dublin, Ireland. Travelling at the speed of sound, it takes a noise about 4 hours to cover that distance.
  • Pope Francis says guardian angels exist.
  • It has been proven that cell phones do not cause gas station fires. Static discharge when you touch your vehicle is the culprit.
  • In Norway, university is free.
  • Oregon is about to vote on the legalization of marijuana.
  • Global solar electricity output has gone from 1.5 Gigawatts in 2000 to 136 Gigawatts in 2014.
  • Depending on the country you live in, the biggest obstacle to large-scale adoption of solar power is no longer the cost, but the threat or actual fees governments are allowing energy utilities to charge people who are getting their power from the sun. The traditional companies are successfully arguing that their business will suffer if people go solar.
  • Peanut allergies may be related to the act of roasting the nuts.
  • Soon, Europe will no longer require airline passengers to put their mobile device into airplane mode at any time during a flight.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

A true Tesla loyalist - in the arctic!

There's a guy in Norway, who lives 219km north of the Arctic Circle, who owns 7 Tesla cars. He's even driven them in -40C weather with no issues.

“We found out that it’s a super winter car,” says Jens. “It’s so fantastic. It’s much easier and better than an ordinary car.” He likes that you can heat the Model S remotely via an app, so that there’s no ice or snow on the car when you’re ready to drive it. He also says the winter range is almost the same as the summer range. In December, he and Røsnes took the Model S to an ice hotel in Sweden, 200km from Narvik. The temperature dropped to -40 degrees Celsius. It was so cold that the trains couldn't operate and the diesel in the buses froze. But the Model S was just fine.

“These cars, they were made for the temperatures, for the snow and the ice that we have,” says Røsnes. She has a farm outside of Narvik that is flanked by a fjord and a glacier. The house has a steep uphill driveway that most cars can’t negotiate in 15cm of snow. “With the Roadster, it just goes on and on,” she says. “When you think it’s going to stop, it just goes on.”

Røsnes, once a devotee to the internal combustion engine, is now a Tesla loyalist. “I feel good because we are really helping something,” she says. “This is the new world. These are the new times.”

Goodbye gauges

2015 Audi TT new instrument display does away with gauges.

The HD LCD screen is in navigation mode here.

Reply all

Monday, October 13, 2014

We'll call it the Plesz Citizen's Rule

There should be a new rule.

However long the government takes to complete a service with you, for example however long it takes for you to get your passport from the time you submit your application, and the time it takes you to get any kind of certificate,  you should be able to add up all those delay days.

And whatever that number is, if the government ever claims that you owe them money, you should be able to make them wait that number of days.

Old phones

Vancouver 2014

After more than a year and a half of owning my B250, I was finally able to give Brunhilde a proper work out via a nice drive from Calgary to Vancouver. We left at 5 PM on Monday, destination - Kamloops. I love night driving, but night driving on the TransCanada through British Columbia is a harrowing experience. Luckily, they are twinning more and more of this highway. We weren't too thrilled with the free breakfast that came with our hotel room in Kamloops, so we went to the highly rated Hello Toast. Then it was on to Vancouver on the Coquihalla highway, now with an increased speed limit of 120 km/h (75mph).

The 88% humidity on the coast takes some getting used to but we were gifted with some great weather while we were in Vancouver. We saw sun most of every day and never experienced any rain until the day we left. Highs of 18C helped too.

The Wedgewood Hotel upgraded us to a one bedroom suite with a balcony. For the touristy stuff, we took a drive to Steveston, the former site of some major fish canneries until 1992. Now it's a quaint seaside village with shopping and eateries. We also went to White Rock to sit by the water. On another day we headed to the North shore to take a scenic drive along Marine Drive from Horseshoe Bay through Dundarave, Ambleside, West Vancouver, North Vancouver and on to Deep Cove. While in West Van, we stopped in at the biggest Whole Foods store I've ever seen. Of course, with the sun shining, we had to make the obligatory visit to English Bay Beach. We also checked out the VanDusen Botanical Garden. It was probably more spectacular in May and June, but there was still lots to see.

Back at the hotel, I watched the Habs beat the Leafs. This was not long after enjoying a couple of "steamies" (hot dogs, Montreal-style) at La Belle Patate. The next day, I had an amazing smoked meat sandwich at Dunn's. Gee, am I in Vancouver or Montreal?

I learned something new on this trip. There are Palm trees here in Vancouver. Not many, but I spotted a few in both Dundarave and at English Bay. I wonder if these are the most northerly Palm trees in North America.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Back in a week

White Noise goes on vacation.

Things I learned lately - 5 Oct

  • Science is concluding that our water is older than the sun itself.
  • SpikeTV is purportedly developing the Kim Stanley Robinson Mars trilogy into a TV series.
  • It is estimated that the total parts and manufacturing cost of a new iPhone 6 is about $230.
  • In March 2012, the average taxi made 1424 trips per month in San Francisco. Now an average cab makes 504 trips per month. This is attributed mainly to the success of new companies like Uber, Sidecar and Lyft. To me, it speaks to the fact that consumers will pay more for quality, reliability and being able to manage their rides with modern technology.
  • More than 300,000 people marched in New York City to demand action on climate change along with events in 2700 other cities totalling somewhere around 570,000 people marching.
  • Stupid used to mean 'be amazed or confounded, be struck senseless'.
  • The more stressed out a person is, the easier they are to hypnotize.
  • Oral sex was illegal in Canada until 1969. Insert your own joke here.
  • Primacy and recency: People most remember the first and last things to occur, and barely the middle. When scheduling an interview, ask what times the employer is interviewing and try to be first or last.
  • Once you make the sales pitch, don't say anything else. This works in sales, but it can also be applied in other ways. My boss at an old job was training me and just giving me pointers. I was working at a gym trying to sell memberships. He told me that once I got all the small talk out of the way and presented the prices, that the first person to talk will lose. It didn't seem like a big deal but it actually worked. Often there were long periods of awkward silence as the person tried to come up with some excuse, but usually they bought.
  • If you ask someone a question and they only partially answer, just wait. If you stay silent and keep eye contact they will usually continue talking.

Friday, October 03, 2014