Friday, December 30, 2016

What those who have everything buy each other

If you want to see how the rich shop, check out this Neiman Marcus 22016 Christmas book. For example, "Experience England’s countryside like dukes and duchesses as you and seven friends stay in a trio of country estates for one week. Luxury trip purveyors Mowbray & Windsor will tailor an exclusive itinerary kicking off in London and then transporting you via helicopter to your first stop, 900 year old Alnwick Castle. Home to the 12th Duke of Northumerland, your day will end in a grand dining room with a feast prepared by Michelin-starred chef. Onward, to Wilton House for polo lessons and an impressive collection of new and vintage motorcars at the home of the 18th Earl of Pembroke. The last stay of your week will be at the home of Winston Churchill, Blenheim palace. Built in the 1700s, you will be greeted by its current resident, the 12th Duke of Marlborough and enjoy tours, tapestries, art and some of England’s finest food and drink.

With the purchase of each English Estates package, Neiman Marcus will donate $20,000 to The Heart of Neiman Marcus Foundation. ($700,000)

Reflecting on 2016 and looking ahead

I think if 2016 taught us anything, it proved that too many people will give in to their hate and their fear of what they do not understand. Many voters in the US election and the UK Brexit vote joined in a chorus of vile and hateful speech against anything and anyone. And just like at another pivotal time in the past century, people were willing to either embrace the hatred, or just plain ignore it in other people. In our recent past, they too did this just for the sake of choosing something different, or to send a message to the establishment that they were not happy.

If I could broadcast a message to the world, it would be my hope for people to temper their decisions, their acts, and their words, with kindness and empathy. Don't fear the unknown, but learn to understand it. Don't rely on the opinions of others, find your own truth, based on facts from all sides. But always know that your position is not 'right', it is not 'best', it is only your position. If you disagree, you can disagree with respect. It's not necessary to insulate your position with vile and contempt toward others.

When in doubt, choose kindness. Not only is it a wonderful thing to do, it suggests how others should treat you. And with repetition, it can be even more contagious than hate.

Just in time for marijuana legalization too!

Things I learned lately - 30 December

  • The ugly sweater party trend can possibly be traced to a 2001 gathering in Vancouver.
  • George Michael was James Corden's first carpool karaoke, long before the talk show, for Comic Relief.
  • If you look closely at Kevin O'Leary's financial history, you see that he is no more a genius investor than Donald Trump. He lost billions of other peoples' money.
  • People in Japan put an order in for their favourite Christmas food weeks in advance. I'm talking of course about KFC. You won't find turkeys in Japanese stores typically, so KFC is the go to holiday meal.
  • The Wahlberg brothers own a burger joint, Wahlburgers. There are 2 locations in Toronto as well.
  • Casamigos Tequila is partly owned by George Clooney. Other celebs own liquor brands too. P Diddy - Ciroc Vodka; Drew Barrymore - Barrymore Wines; Jay Z – Armand de Brignac Champagne; Drake – Virginia Black Whiskey; Marilyn Manson – Mansinthe; Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt – Miraval Rose; Kyle Maclachlan – Pursued By Bear Wine.
  • In Bruges, Belgium, there is a 3 km long beer pipeline under the streets connecting the Halve Maan brewery to its bottling facility. It carries 1000 gallons per hour. The cost of the pipeline was crowdfunded and the most generous donours get a bottle of beer a day for life for their contribution, the rest getting a case per year for free.
  • Astronomers suggest it is possible that anywhere from a third to half of the stars we see are part of a binary or multiple star system.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas Seeds!

I think it's time to modernize the Christmas present myth a bit, considering how smart kids are these days. I mean seriously, are they really buying the whole 'Santa comes down the chimney' explanation for how the presents get under the tree? I think not. Never mind that most of us don't have chimneys anymore, and if we do, they're 4 or 6 inch stacks coming out of a furnace or wood stove. Plus, how does Santa get to every house in one night? Do we really think this ruse is going to work much longer? I sure don't. But I have an idea.

We make use of an already accepted fact of biology. Trees have seeds. Some even have cones filled with seeds. Those cones fall off the tree and grow new trees. So how about this: Christmas tree ornaments are just the pine cones that hold the seeds of your presents. They're already the right kind of tree. Santa uses his magic to convert them to presents on Christmas Eve as they fall off the tree. No chimneys required. No impossible space and time warping travel around the world. This solves a number of logistical problems too. If your child didn't get the present they were hoping for, you just explain that one of the seeds was defective and it didn't transform properly. Those ones become popcorn, so sprinkle a little of that around the tree too. Also, if your child wakes up in the middle of the night and sees only a few presents under the tree because you haven't finished placing the rest, just tell them that the transformations have started, but they pause any time a kid looks at the tree.

Just don't forget to put a few ornaments and some popcorn in your stockings, otherwise you'll have some new questions to answer.

See? Genius.......

Friday, December 23, 2016

Happy Holidays from the Solo family....

"If you don’t have it, then there’s no point in pretending"

"I think the biggest misconception is that everybody has to learn (math). That seems to be a complete mistake. All the time worrying about pushing the children and getting them to be mathematically literate and all that stuff. It’s terribly hard on the kids. It’s also hard on the teachers. And I think it’s totally useless.

To me, mathematics is like playing the violin. Some people can do it — others can’t. If you don’t have it, then there’s no point in pretending."

~Freeman Dyson (mathematician and physicist)

The littlest nope ever

What a view

If you've ever wanted a grand tour of the International Space Station, have I got a treat for you.

It's not the grandiose, spacious environment depicted in any of our sci-fi movies though. This place is crammed to the rafters with experiments, gear, cargo and waste.

The best spot, you see right at the beginning - the incredible cupola.

Do yourself a favour and watch this full screen in HD.

The Frozen-themed WestJet plane getting de-iced....

Things I learned lately - 23 December

  • A Russian reality show launching in 2017, called "Game2: Winter", will see 30 male and female contestants seek to stay alive in wilderness populated with bears and wolves for 9 months. The prize is $1.6 million. Organizers boast that everything is allowed, including rape and murder, and contestants will reportedly be required to sign a waiver acknowledging such. An ad reads: "Each contestant gives consent that they could be maimed, even killed. 2,000 cameras, 900 hectares and 30 lives. Everything is allowed. Fighting, alcohol, murder, rape, smoking, anything." Russian criminal procedures will apply and police are free to arrest anyone who commits a crime on the show.
  • Queen wanted the song Bohemian Rhapsody to be the first single from A Night at the Opera. But their record label EMI, did not like the song and preferred You're my Best Friend. Queen refused and also wouldn't entertain a request to edit the song for radio. Once they realized EMI wasn't cooperating, a leaked copy somehow made it into the hands of UK DJ Kenny Everett, who teased listeners with snippets of the song, because he'd been told not to play it. Listeners begged him to play the whole thing, which he did - 14 times over 2 days. This created a problem, because now many fans wanted to buy the single, which hadn't even been released yet. A similar situation happened in North America on all RKO radio stations. Suddenly, the song EMI said would never get any airplay was all over the radio and creating quite a buzz for Queen.
  • Red dwarf stars burn for such a long time (about a trillion years) that we don't know what happens to them once they use up all their hydrogen, because none have burnt out yet, and probably won't for another 900 billion years.
  • The story about the War of the Worlds radio broadcast in 1938 causing mass panic in the US, was totally fabricated by the newspapers, who had a bone to pick with the new 'radio' medium and were trying to stir up trouble.
  • In France, traders are under no obligation to provide change. The law states that it is up to the customer to provide exact change.
  • France is the largest country in the EU (by area).
  • The perfume capital of the world is Grasse, France.
  • The Arc De Triomphe in Paris WAS the world's largest triumphal arch until 1982, when North Korea deliberately built a bigger one.

Friday, December 16, 2016

I wonder how many will get this....

Hydrogen versus battery powered cars

There are still some folks who think hydrogen powered vehicles are a viable alternative to battery powered vehicles. I thought so too, until I did some research. I took the time to assemble the list of pros and cons for each option.

Electricity infrastructure everywhere
More efficient use of energy, resulting in better fuel economy (mpge)
Can pre-heat/cool cabin while charging to save battery power
More vehicle choices so far
Adding 5 superchargers costs $250,000
Running cost of electricity for 500 km trip is $10
Best well-to-wheels GHG emissions

Refuel takes 6+ hours, best case 30-40 minutes using supercharger
Battery manufacturing has big environmental footprint, needs lithium
Batteries are heavier than hydrogen storage
Best range is 400 km (Tesla), but average is still 150 km
Battery life still not great, maybe 5-8 years, then needs replacing at high cost

Better range than most battery powered cars (Honda Clarity 640 km)
Refuel in 3 minutes
Hydrogen storage weighs less than batteries

Hydrogen infrastructure yet to be built, will take decades to complete
Running cost of hydrogen for 500 km trip is more ($30)
Adding hydrogen pump to gas station would cost $1.5 million
Need energy (and water) just to make hydrogen, transport it, then store in car, then convert back to energy - half as efficient
Can't tell when it's leaking
Hydrogen is extremely flammable and burns with an invisible flame
Fuel cells have shorter lifespan than batteries, contrary to expectations

So the issue in a nutshell, is that the hydrogen option is way too inefficient, dangerous, and the infrastructure can't be ready for a long time. Meanwhile, batteries are here, they're getting better and cheaper all the time, and we can put the output of solar and wind right into them, in our cars.

Now if only we could get them to charge faster.........

Traffic snakes

Here is the most amazing and informative video I've seen yet about traffic and how it works. It also correctly explains how to drive properly to prevent unnecessary traffic phenomenon, like the 'traffic snake'. Which, of course, will never happen.

Which is why self-driving cars will save the day. No more monkeys driving cars!

What your parents' daily trip to school was like

"Anything you practise, you'll get good at"

I don't know exactly where he was, or who asked the question, but Denzel Washington was being asked what he thought about the 'fake news' situation. Here was his candid response:

"If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you do read it, you're misinformed."

Journalist: "So what do you do?"

"That's a great question. What is the long term effect of too much information? One of the effects is the need to be first, not even to be true anymore. So what a responsibility you all have. To tell the truth, not just to be first. We live in a society now where it's just - first, who cares, get it out there, we don't care who it hurts, we don't care who we destroy, we don't care if it's true. Say it. Sell it. Anything you practise, you'll get good at. Including BS. OK? But you heard me? It makes sense?"

Here's some of that video.

Things I learned lately - 16 December

  • There is a Chrome web browser extension that will change every picture of Donald Trump to pictures of kittens, on the fly.
  • 1000 people showed up for an anti-carbon tax rally in Calgary lately. Which was organized by Ezra Levant's The Rebel Media group and featured Conservative leadership candidates. So I think what they meant was 1000 people attended a federal Conservative leadership rally, under the guise of an anti-carbon tax rally.
  • The 100 block of South Leamington Avenue in Chicago, has seen, in the past year alone, at least 15 people hit by gunfire in nine separate shooting incidents.
  • In an effort to combat homelessness, Portland Oregon has passed a law that raises corporate taxes on companies whose CEOs make significantly more than their employees. Companies will see a 10% increase on their tax rate if the CEO makes 100 times the average employee, 25% increase if they make 250 times the average salary. The goal is to help decrease the homeless population, which accounts for roughly 1,800 people sleeping on the street each night.
  • Google, already the world's largest corporate buyer of renewable power, plans to buy 100% of its energy from renewable sources in 2017.
  • By 2025 there will be no more diesel vehicles in Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens.
  • In the US, almost 77% of inmates are re-arrested within 5 years of release. In Norway, only 20% of inmates re-offend.
  • Daimler is planning to invest $11 billion in electric cars.

Friday, December 09, 2016

If not pipelines, then what?

I'm going to play devil's advocate for a while. Feel free to play along with me. Just to be transparent, I am totally for sustainable, green energy. But I also try to be a realist. Our dependence on fossil fuel isn't going to change overnight. Let's continue.

There are a lot of people saying 'no' to pipelines now. I believe that I understand why. I feel though, as if some of these people are ignoring the present while stating a case for the future. Take a look at this map of existing pipelines.

There are a lot of pipelines in North America. Some of them leak. Most of them do not. I wonder aloud if saying no to another pipeline, or saying no to replacing an existing pipeline is practical, given all other factors. I am at least thankful that our own federal government said no to a pipeline that would have broke new ground, while allowing upgrades to existing ones. I also applaud efforts against a new pipeline through sensitive lands in North Dakota.

I don't like the idea of pipelines carrying environmentally unfriendly product across the landscape. But what are the alternatives? Rail? Based on what we saw in Lac Megantic, that's a recipe for disaster too. I've been told that a lot more oil is being shipped by rail in the last few years precisely because of the lack of pipeline capacity. This significantly increases the risk that we could see another rail disaster. So I guess the question we need to ask ourselves is, do we want the risk of a pipe that could leak and damage an ecosystem, or the risk of a train that could derail and damage an ecosystem, or worse - kill people?

Some would argue that neither is OK, and we should stop creating new transport methods for fossil fuel period. But is that even doable right now? We still depend on fossil fuel both for the products we use, fuel for our vehicles, heat for our homes, energy to create electricity, etc. There is not only a market for oil and gas at home, but also in emerging markets overseas. Our economy wouldn't be able to withstand a lack of growth in this industry without a corresponding increase in growth in another. That's how economies work. Just the contraction of the fossil fuel industry due to the collapse in oil prices, took a major toll on our economy, and put a lot of people out of work. There were few if any jobs for those people to transfer into. This is partly why people are afraid, that saying no to oil, is saying yes to another recession.

So as long as we depend on this industry, not only to keep things moving, power flowing and plastics forming, we can't just say no. If we are serious about transitioning to an economy that relies much less on fossil fuel, we need to establish a new entrant in the marketplace. This has yet to happen. Some governments are trying to get the money needed to begin the transition, by putting a price on carbon and using that revenue to fund green technology. People are protesting that too. I would find this contradiction hilarious if it wasn't sad. People don't want oil, but they don't want us to fund our way out of it either.

Canada has fallen behind on wind power, partly because energy consortiums insist that energy from wind can't be stored. This is pure nonsense and has been proven as such in other jurisdictions. But the utility companies rule the game and the people have yet to protest that.

We continue to rely heavily on coal for electricity, the most emissions-dense and pollution-dense method of generating it. Although governments plan to phase it out, they're also agreeing to make concessions for some provinces. But nobody is protesting that.

Our governments continue to subsidize fossil fuel using our tax dollars. Incredibly, there are no protests about that.

There has been no movement whatsoever on exploring geothermal as a source of heat and energy on a mass scale in Canada. An unbelievable untapped source. No protests to be found.

There has been no movement whatsoever on exploring solar as a source of heat and energy on a mass scale in Canada, unlike in other countries. No protests there either.

We could even be reducing the demand for energy in Canada by doing easy things, like making our houses and offices more efficient. But we're not, except in very limited developments. Why aren't people protesting home energy waste? Don't people realize that we have the technology and materials know-how to build homes that could be heated by a single space heater?

We could be reducing our demand for fuel by abandoning large, gas guzzling trucks and SUVs, which are enabled by our incredibly low priced gasoline and diesel (compared to Europe). I don't see protests that our gas is too cheap, enabling bigger-than-necessary vehicles. I don't see protests about gas-guzzlers either.

I could go on, but I think I've made my point. If you want to stop more pipelines, then you have to stop the need for more pipelines. Which means that we need to motivate our economy to go green first. You can't decide not to eat meat if nobody's growing vegetables.

I can so relate to this fake stat

Mug warming

My office is cool. I wanted to say that my office is cold, but I was brusquely corrected by my neighbours at work in the Shipping Department that my office is not cold, and that if I want to see what cold is, I should come outside and work with them for a few hours. It's currently -31C with windchill as I write this, so no, I will not be joining them outside.

But back to my story. My office is cool. As a result, my coffee mug is cool. When I make a coffee in my mug, the coolness transfers to my coffee and cools it down. I'm not too keen about that. So I pre-heat my mug. I pour hot water from the coffee machine in to warm the material my mug is made of. Once the mug is nice and hot, I empty the hot water and then make my coffee. This same shipping crew now accuse me of being 'fancy'. At least, that's the word they use when I'm around.

I argued that even a thermos' instructions say to pre-heat a thermos before using it to store hot liquids, so what I'm doing is not without precedent.


Fake stats, but they sound true

Things I learned lately - 9 December

  • A fake tweet suggesting that Star Wars Rogue One was re-written, re-shot and edited to include anti-Trump messages has started a boycotting campaign against the movie. #Fakenews #GullibleRepublicans #Trumpisgay
  • Those recessed light fixtures in an office ceiling are called troffers.
  • 60% of transgender Americans have avoided public bathrooms for fear of being harassed
  • Amazon Go, the Amazon of grocery stores, uses an app and a bunch of sensors and AI to track your items as you pick them off the shelves, then you just walk out. No lines. No registers. Paid automatically. First store to open in early 2017. 
  • Audi is the first automaker to launch vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I). Select Audi cars built after June 2016 come with a timer that will tell you when the light will change when driving in Las Vegas. Audi and Las Vegas linked 1,000 traffic lights to the cars. The timer in the instrument cluster counts down the seconds until the light turns green. This should expand to other cities throughout 2017 and beyond. Many automakers are exploring V2I, as well as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V), to collect data on traffic flow, accidents up ahead, and climate conditions. V2I talks to traffic lights or sensors embedded in roads. V2V, just like it sounds, is cars talking to each other about conditions ahead. This can inform drivers about what to expect so they can make decisions in advance, like changing their route before hitting traffic. V2I and V2V can also help self-driving cars in the future by giving them more information about their surrounding environment. The 2017 Mercedes E-Class is the first to come with V2V. The car transmits road conditions ahead to Daimler's servers, which then relays to other E-Class cars on the road.
  • 10% of Vancouver commuters bike to work and half of all vancouver residents' trip are by bike, walking or transit as of 2015.

Saturday, December 03, 2016


A headline came out lately, "Sexual assault more likely in Canadian military than in general". Since I spent 20 years in the military, I felt like weighing in on this topic.

The history of women in the Canadian military has not been without issues. In the 1960s, there were no women in combat roles. The only time you would see a woman in uniform was in the role of a cook, clerk, a member of a military band, technician, basically anyone whose job is NOT to point a weapon at the enemy.

My trade was essentially Communications Technologist, and my first 'posting' in 1981 was an Army unit, so there were very few women, probably less than a dozen in a unit 300 strong. As any man will tell you, if you work in a predominantly male work environment, the testosterone level can get pretty high. It wasn't unusual to see pinup posters and other manner of lewd content on walls, inside vehicles, on toolboxes, etc. Women were treated with considerably less respect than one would experience in public. It was a rough, male-centric environment. That's an observation, not an excuse.

Not long into my stint at my first Army unit, we prepared to embark on a rather major exercise involving pretty much the entire Army, gathering in Gagetown, New Brunswick. Because of the sheer scope of the exercise and all of the logistical work that needed to be done for an exercise of this magnitude, the Army brought in the Reserves to help. There were a lot of women in the Reserves. This meant that all of a sudden, there were a lot of young women attached to our unit, which was a very new experience for everyone. For the most part, the younger, single guys didn't mind. In fact, many of them took advantage of the situation and nature took its course. The older, mostly married men, who were typically in supervisory roles, did not appreciate this change very much and treated the women as unwelcome outsiders, and certainly not as equals. I'm positive that once the exercise was over and the women returned to their Reserve units, the leaders breathed a sigh of relief, as things would return to normal. But not for long.

On our next major exercise, two years later, female reservists joined us again. This time, it was the elder, senior managers in the highest ranks that resisted. While everyone was tasked with setting up their tents and digging their latrines and trenches, the women were told not to lift a finger and the men were ordered to do the heavy lifting on their behalf. Needless to say, this didn't go over very well. The women were insulted, the men were incensed. It created an air of animosity that some people were able to see through, but not all. Once again, when it was time to go home, the men were happy for status quo. At least the only trenches they'd be digging now were their own.

The biggest permanent change came when the government decided that women were given the opportunity to enter combat roles with men. This coincided with a newly introduced harassment in the workplace regulation for all Federal employees, which includes the military. Now, not only would we be seeing more women in Army units, now even in combat roles, but the way in which men were used to behaving was no longer acceptable, according to official regulations.

There was push back. Even some leaders didn’t know how to explain to their people what was not acceptable and why, because they didn’t even understand themselves. I recall one incident where we were being briefed on the new rules. One guy wanted to know, if he asked for, and got permission, to tell a lewd or off-colour joke, then it should be acceptable to tell the joke. The person giving the briefing was stumped. I got up and said, “Use your common sense. If you feel the need to get permission to do something, that's a red flag right there. It’s probably not a good idea to do it, even if you ‘get permission’.” I went on to explain that few people would vocally object when asked, even if in their hearts they did object, because of peer pressure. Nobody wants to be a stick in the mud, especially the newly integrated women.

This is an important message that just wasn’t getting out. Too many people were trying to find loopholes in the new rules to continue behaving as they had always done before.

This mentality never really went away completely. I would venture to say that the general attitude in the military was better in 1990 than it was in 1980, and that it’s even better today, now that women in all roles are no longer a novelty. But leadership never laid down the law and made it clear that nothing other than a harassment-free workplace, and everyone treated as equals, would be acceptable. Leaders also were seen to abuse the power of their rank where women were concerned. This sends a powerful message to the other men and women. Reported incidents were often swept under the table, especially when the offender was being ‘groomed’ for fast track through the ranks. I am even aware of an incident where a military male raped a civilian female off base, and the situation was turned over to military police and the military justice system, which did nothing. Admittedly, this was in the 1970s, but I would be amazed if this kind of protection doesn't still exist today, even if it is to a lesser extent.

So, the blame rests, in my humble opinion, squarely on the shoulders of leadership. Just as it does in the RCMP, various police forces, and any other male dominated work environment. Based on the most recent lawsuit headlines about the military trying to sweep various members' experiences under the carpet, things still have a long way to go.

Poor Leafs fans.....

Not sure I like being called a car salesman

Anger over Google's new effort to censor online harassment using artificial intelligence has inspired a new set of racist code words meant to foil the internet giant's plans to make the web safer for targets of abuse.

n-word=google; Jew=skype; Mexican=yahoo; Asian=bing; Muslim/Arab=pop rocks; gay man=skittles; lesbian=fishbucket; trans=durdens; liberal/dem=car salesman; conservatives=reagans; libertarian=a leppo

Ship elevators are a thing

At the Three Gorges Dam in China, instead of a traditional 'lock', they have a ship elevator.

It's not really Stats Canada, but it's still funny

Things I learned lately - 3 December

  • My Sweet Lord was an immediate hit but also a controversy. George Harrison was accused of copying its melody from the Chiffons’ 1963 song He’s So Fine. Eventually, the United States district court ruled that Harrison was guilty of subconscious plagiarism, and Harrison developed an extreme paranoia about songwriting for many years. 
  • When 911 emergency phone number first came out, it was referred to as "nine-eleven". They changed it to "nine-one-one" so that certain people wouldn't waste precious time looking for the eleven button.
  • 6 million Americans have stopped paying their car loans.
  • India's total installed solar electricity generating capacity is now more than 10 GW. That would be as if all of Alberta's electricity was powered by solar. Or that car from Back to the Future....
  • Pete Christlieb from the 'Tonight Show' band plays sax on Deacon Blues and FM by Steely Dan.
  • There are about 30,000 roundabouts in France, more than any country in the world.
  • From 1066 until 1362, French was the official language of England.
  • France was the first country with a public transport system. In the 1660s, 'five floor carriages' were a system of horse-drawn carriages circulating at a fixed time and linking various Paris areas.
  • If you slide a fork behind a nail head on a wall, with the handle sticking up, you can slide a picture frame wire over the fork handle. Let the fork guide the wire down and behind the nail head. Then just remove the fork. 
  • French construction firm Vinci, worth 35 billion Euros, briefly lost 20% of its share value due to a purely fake press release by someone, claiming the CFO was sacked and the company mis-stated earnings.