Saturday, September 26, 2015

Lies parents tell their kids

The funniest thing I've been reading lately is the reddit thread on lies parents told their kids.

Almost ghost town

I've read that only about 30% of the original residents of the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans have moved back since hurricane Katrina unleashed her wrath.

If you'd like to see what that area looks like today, go to Google Maps and zoom in on New Orleans. The ward is east of downtown, just south of the triangular main outfall canal. Go into Google Streetview and roam the streets north of N Claiborne Ave to see the remnants of the neighbourhood yourself. A bit of rebuilding, but a lot of total destruction. It looks like the aftermath of a world war.

"You're Frida Gomam?"

CalgaryNEXT? NEXT!!

I was quite surprised to find out that The Calgary Flames were proposing to situate a new multi-use sports facility at the west end of downtown as part of a multi-use sports, entertainment and residential complex. At first glance, the proposal sounds somewhat feasible, but on closer inspection, the CalgaryNEXT idea is flawed for many reasons.

First, being situated right next to the Bow River on a known flood plain isn't the brightest of ideas.

Second, the proposed land is quite contaminated with creosote and who knows what else. I don't believe Calgarians truly understand the level of contamination that exists on the site. Based on my limited conversations with people, I have heard that there is significant toxic pollutants even leaching into the river at this point. The company responsible for the mess isn't around anymore. So who is going to pay to clean this up. In my estimation - we are.

Third, the only public transit access to this area is via one LRT station. There doesn't appear to be any plan for significant parking at the new site, and even if there was, the road network in and out would not handle the number of vehicles trying to get in or out of that site. I don't see every visitor taking LRT. So, the site would not be very welcoming to the masses.

Fourth, the Flames already have a long term lease on the Stampede grounds that they would have to break. Who pays for that?

Fifth, the current venue, the Saddledome, would be re-purposed. For what we're not exactly sure.

Sixth, I have yet to hear that the Calgary Stampeders Football Club was looking for a new venue to replace McMahon Stadium. Not only that, the University doesn't even know what it would do with the newly reclaimed land.

I have a much better idea.

Build a new arena at the Stampede site, not far from the current arena. This is only a basic plan, but I would consider tearing down the Big Four building at the west end of the Stampede grounds. Build the new arena there, along the entire western edge of the grounds by McLeod Trail. This puts the arena closer to both LRT stations. Keep using the Saddledome until the new arena is ready, then tear it down to reclaim the space. If the Big Four is not a good site, perhaps the entire 4 block space bound by 12 Ave SE, 6 St SE, 14 Ave SE and Olympic Way SE could be used. It's empty.

There are a few reasons why I think this plan is more practical.

First, there is no need to break the lease with Stampede.

Second, I think the whole planned Stampede grounds expansion northward toward the East Village was dependant on there still being a large entertainment / sports complex on the grounds. Keeping the arena here would also support the plans for many new bars and restaurants along 4 St SE.

Third, there would still be room for parking.

Fourth, the Convention Centre would still be able to make use of the floor space at the arena, when necessary.


Things I learned lately - 26 Sep

  • Mexicans are the biggest drinkers of Coke in the world. On average, Mexicans drink 745 Coke beverages a year.
  • There are only two countries in the world where​ Coca-Cola is not sold. Cuba and North Korea.
  • A total of 6 million components from 550 suppliers in 30 countries come together to form a Boeing 747.
  • A decade or so ago, it was predicted that solar power would cost only 50 cents per watt by 2030. That price point has already been reached.
  • In 2009, there were 523 coal power plants in the US. More than 200 of those have been shut down.
  • 35 million people visit Central Park in New York every year.
  • New York City processes 2,000,000 pounds of recycling material every day!
  • It is estimated that about 14,000 - 17,000 men, women and children are smuggled illegally into the US every year to work in the sex trade or in factories, farms and bars as forced labour.
  • The human eye is only capable of seeing about 2500 stars unaided. Under perfect conditions. Which is one sextillionth of the number of stars out there (we think).
  • Margarine is banned in all public institutions in Wisconsin. Nothing but butter in schools, prisons, etc.
  • The Winkel tripel projection map is a much more accurate depiction of the world. Unlike the Mercator projection map that Google Maps uses, the Winkel doesn't make Alaska look as big as the entire continental US, or Greenland the same size as Africa, or Europe larger than South America, or Antarctica dwarfing all other continents.
  • In California, "This burrito is dank" doesn't mean it's cold and wet. It means it's darn good.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Robot rides a bike

Someone designed and built a small robot that rides a (small custom) bicycle by itself.

It can pedal, steer, balance and brakes with its feet.

What's it like where you are? "90 degrees..."

Dopamine Makes You Addicted To Seeking Information

Do you ever feel addicted to email or texting? Can you ignore your email if you see that there are messages in your inbox? Have you ever Googled something and 30 minutes later realize you've been browsing a long time, and now you are on a tangent? These are all examples of your dopamine system at work.

Dopamine is created the brain and is critical for thinking, moving, sleeping, mood, attention, motivation, seeking, and reward. You may have heard that dopamine controls the “pleasure” systems of the brain. The latest research shows that dopamine causes us to want, desire, seek out, and search. It increases our general level of arousal and our goal-directed behaviour. Dopamine makes us curious about ideas and fuels our searching for information. It is the opioid system that makes us feel pleasure.

The dopamine system propels us to action and the opioid system makes us feel satisfied and pauses our seeking. If our seeking isn't turned off at least for a little while, then we get into an endless loop.

The dopamine system is stronger than the opoid system. We seek more than we are satisfied. The internet, twitter, and texting gives us almost instant gratification of the desire to seek, which leads to a dopamine induced loop. We start seeking, we get rewarded for the seeking which makes us seek more. It becomes harder and harder to stop looking at email, stop texting, stop checking our cell phones. To make matters worse, our brains show more stimulation and activity when we ANTICIPATE a reward than when we get one. The dopamine system can sometimes keep saying "more", seeking even when we have found the information. During a Google exploration we know that we have the answer to the question we originally asked, and yet we find ourselves looking for more information.

When something happens that is not exactly predictable, that stimulates the dopamine system. Think about these electronic gadgets and devices. We get emails, tweets, and texts, but we don’t know exactly when or whom they will be from. This is exactly what stimulates the dopamine system. It's the same system at work for gambling and slot machines.

If there is a small, specific cue that signifies that something is going to happen, that sets off our dopamine system. So when there is a sound or visual cue when a text message or email arrives, it enhances the addictive effect. The dopamine system is most stimulated when the information coming in is small. It doesn’t full satisfy. A short text or tweet sends our dopamine system raging.

This constant stimulation of the dopamine system can be exhausting.

Now you can better see how Australia compares to the US

Things I learned lately - 19 Sep

  • Costa Rica only uses fossil fuels to generate at most, 10% of its electricity. The rest comes from renewable sources like hydro and geothermal. There are times when all of it comes from renewable, for many weeks in a row.
  • The dirtiest place on an airline is the tray table.
  • Photography was banned in Afghanistan from 1996-2001.
  • The yellow colour in traditional American mustard comes from turmeric.
  • A Florida-based firm wants to create a 'community on the sea' for 40,000 wealthy people. They would  circumnavigate the world on the $10 billion Freedom Ship, complete with hospitals, schools, shops, parks and even a small airport. At 25 storeys high and a mile long - four times longer than the Queen Mary II - the 2.7 million-tonne vessel could never enter a port. Instead, it would circle the globe once every two years, anchoring offshore major cities to allow residents to enjoy some of the world’s top destinations.
  • In Hong Kong there is an 800m long outdoor (covered) escalator system that climbs 135m from Des Voeux Road Central, passes through narrow streets and ends at Conduit Road. The daily traffic exceeds 55,000 people. The total travel time is 20 minutes, but most people walk while the escalator moves to shorten their trip.
  • There are 500 different species of bacteria living in your intestine, numbering about 100 trillion in population.
  • The company that spends the most on R&D is Volkswagen.
  • Diamond is not the hardest substance anymore. Ultra-hard nano-twined cubic boron nitride is.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

"What's your ETA?"

I like to send text messages to friends of mine, at random times of the day, that just say "What's your ETA?"

I love knowing somewhere across town somebody is frantically rifling through emails and text messages, in their underwear, trying to figure out what they agreed to do with me.

They write back, "What!?

And I write back, "Yeah, we're all seated. Better hurry.

Then they write back, "Where!?"

Then don't respond. Ever.

~Tig Notaro

Why I don't trust the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

  • There has been virtually no parliamentary debate on the pros and cons of the deal.
  • The TPP has been negotiated in secret. The negotiators and advisers are forbidden from talking about it.
  • Our MPs do not have access to the text.
  • Many chapters and articles of the TPP will continue to be secret 4 years after the deal goes into effect. 
  • The TPP is entirely influenced by business lobbyists at the expense of the public interest.
  • Patent protections will likely be extended, further delaying cheaper generic medicines.
  • Observers expect Canada to lose the battle to hold on to food supply management.
  • State-owned enterprises like the CBC and Canada Post could be restricted and subject to rules which force them to lose their public service mandates in order to become profit-driven organizations. They would also be prohibited from sourcing services from local or national sources exclusively.
  • The TPP allows corporations to sue countries if their regulations interfere with profit. That means that if we try to pass a law protecting the people and a foreign company says it affects their profits, they can sue us. 

For crazy cat ladies, this is one stop shopping

Teaching Center

What would it be like if we had the same reverence for teachers as some folks have for athletes?

Like this, I'm guessing.......

Hella fish

Things I learned lately - 12 Sep

  • Anywhere south of the SF Bay area, the term 'hella' is annoying. As in - "It's hella hot".
  • Despite what you've been told, you aren't 'left-brained' or 'right-brained'.
  • June Gloom/Grey May/No-Sky July are southern Californian terms used to describe a weather pattern that brings low-lying clouds and mist during the early summer months.
  • "It's pretty gnarly out, dude. It's double overhead today!" is a reference to the quality of the surf.
  • Geneticists have discovered that there is much more information coded into our DNA than previously thought. Twice as much.
  • The thermal sleeve you can put over your coffee cup is called a 'zarf'.
  • Ryan Island is the largest island in the largest lake (Siskiwit Lake) in the largest island (Isle Royal) in the largest lake (Lake Superior) in North America.
  • The launch code for the nuclear ICBMs pointed at Russia was 00000000.
  • Recognizable images of the faces of unpictured bystanders can be captured from modern, high-resolution photography by zooming in on subjects' eyes to see the reflections in their corneas.
  • There are more deer in the UK now than at any time since the last Ice Age.
  • The House of Lords has a rifle range.
  • The French call a walkie-talkie a talkie-walkie.

Friday, September 04, 2015

This isn't my Canada

I write this post as a Canadian who believes in and desires fair government.

There used to be a time, when no matter who was running the country, Conservative or Liberal, the ruling party listened to Canadians. They introduced legislation that was aligned with their own platform, their own ideology, sure. But they still had the decency to respect the opinions of others. When a law or bill was introduced, it was discussed. When a policy was being formed, all parties were invited to the table and their concerns actually taken into account. Even when the ruling party had a majority, they still listened to the opposition and they tried as much as possible to compromise. Bills usually saw some amendments, that took the needs and concerns of the other parties into account. Because when you get right down to it, the ruling party never has the support of every Canadian. In fact, they rarely have the support of a majority of Canadians. They only have the support of those who voted for them. And that support is conditional. It's conditional on the idea that a government, once elected, will do what is right for all Canadians, not just those who share the same ideology. Our country was great when this was the case.

Even more importantly, the federal government should be the power broker for the rights of its citizens. I expect my government to always create policy that will help ordinary citizens, not giant, profitable corporations. Most especially, not giant, profitable, foreign or multinational corporations.

Our current government does none of these things. When bills are introduced, they are given little to no time for discussion. When discussion is allowed, the time spent is extremely limited and the opportunity is pure gesturing. There is no allowance for a serious, thorough debate. Experts that might not agree with the party ideology, are not invited to the table. The government is not interested in compromise. They are simply interested in their way. This is not what governments are supposed to do.

I understand that majority governments have earned their mandate with a majority of seats, but that doesn't give a government of any political stripe, the right to ignore the wishes of the remainder of the people. In many cases, and especially now, the rest of us, those that didn't vote for the ruling party, make up the majority of the population. The current government passes bills that favour corporations, not consumers. Is this what government is for? No. Government is supposed to represent OUR interests first.

I believe it's time to send a message to Ottawa that our voices are not being heard. I'm not suggesting that you vote for another party. I'm suggesting that you hold your MP accountable to your needs and your opinion. It's time to stop voting with tradition. It's time to stop voting like your parents do or did. It's time to stop voting because of hatred, or because of something some party did 30 years ago, or because of something someone's dead father did. Elect someone with the same values as yourself who will truly represent you. But even more importantly, elect someone that will also listen to those who didn't support them in the last election.

I think it's time that Canada explore mixed member proportional representation, in a fashion similar to Germany. If you don't know how it works, you can read up on it here.  I find it interesting, that the only political party that doesn't feel that we need to explore a change, in the way we elect representatives of the people, are the incumbents. They even claim that Canadians don't want a change from first-past-the-post. Yet unaffiliated polls show quite the contrary.

This time, when you go to the ballot box, and I hope to hell that you make the effort to do so, don't vote based on family tradition or a dislike for something or someone that happened decades ago. And always remember, if you vote for something or someone new, and they don't work out, you only have to tolerate them for at most four years, before you get to vote their ass out the door. You might want to remind them of that when they come to your door asking for your support.

You always had the power.

Use it.

Perrette mini-sips

I think we called them sip sacs too.

Anyway, a blast from the past for anyone who grew up in the Montreal area in the 1970s.

Extra points for the mention of Belmont Park.

Ahhhh good old flavoured sugar water. Nothing a kid needs more.

For those not familiar, Perrette was a Quebec convenience store specializing in dairy and beverages.

Things I learned lately - 4 Sep

  • Republican candidate Scott Walker is actually suggesting putting up a wall across the US / Canada border. Out-Trumping The Donald!
  • Qantas' Sydney to Dallas service is the world's longest commercial flight at 8,568 miles (13,790 km).
  • The French had no official word for French kissing… until now. It's "galocher".
  • Amazon's original name was to be Relentless - and the URL still redirects to the company website.
  • A man's walking pace slows by 7% for wives and girlfriends but not for other women, and increases if walking with another man.
  • There's a twins-only military unit in Russia.
  • A can of tuna (in oil), something to poke a hole in the can, some thread and a match is all you need to make an emergency candle.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger has 369 screen kills to his credit.
  • It is possible that more than 32 million people in the world today are descended from Genghis Khan.
  • The 'blue meth' depicted on Breaking Bad is really just rock candy.
  • The Japanese government wants to lend the US half the cost of building the first "Super-Maglev" train, reducing travel time between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. to just 15 minutes (from one hour).
  • Julia Louis Dreyfus is still the youngest (21) female cast member to ever join SNL. Anthony Michael Hall is the youngest male cast member (17).
  • Americans go to great lengths to darken (tan) their skin. In Asia and India people go to great lengths to whiten their skin.
  • John Williams, the composer who scores many films, has 49 Oscar nominations to his name.
  • Teen users of FB have gone down 25% in 3 years. FB users above 55 are up 80% in the same period.


I just finished another book by Kim Stanley Robinson. You may have heard of some of his other works, the most famous likely being the Mars trilogy (Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars). This time I read Aurora. The thing that I love about his sci-fi stories is that he takes as much effort to reveal the political and social elements of the characters as the technical details of the story's technology. Aurora is no different.

This book tells the story of a mission to Tau Ceti, where there are some promising planetary bodies, possibly suitable for establishing a new human colony. Their ship is like an ark, complete with all they'll need to establish a new civilization on another world. But they have no idea of the travails they will endure. The ship's computer is like the anti-Hal (a nod to 2001 fans), a quantum computer that is quite capable, but still having a lot to learn about human nature. It's a wonderful story that I believe would be well adapted to a movie too.