2012-12-18

The Fatal Weakness of the United States Constitution Bill of Rights

Americans love their Constitution and beloved Bill of Rights. However it has one fatal weakness in that it's provisions are unrestricted without the requirement that such rights as freedom of assembly and speech and the right to bear arms be exercised responsibly. This leads to the inability to restrict hate speech including the desecration of funerals by lunatics claiming to be acting on behalf of god, as well as the inability to prevent the unfettered ownership and use of weapons, including the use of military assault weapons to kill innocent children.

What the American Bill of Rights needs is a "reasonable limits clause", such as is provided in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

1.The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

2012-12-12

An Atheist Celebrates a Secular Christmas in a Multicultural Canada

So why would a non-Christian celebrate Christmas.

Well first of all from a religious point of view Jesus Christ is not just the Christian Messiah but also considered to be an important prophet amongst both Muslims and Jews so there is no reason they cannot celebrate his birth, while not recognizing him as the Messiah.

From a non-religious point of view there is a lot of controversy over whether Jesus Christ really existed, but even as a fictional character the types of values he represented are very humanistic and often in conflict with the views of religious authorities in his and our time.

But religion is not the main reason for Canadians to celebrate the Christmas holiday season, that has expanded to encompass both Hanukkah and other religious holidays that occur at this time (depending on the seasonal calendars of various religions) not to mention Festivus.

Christmas holiday celebrations are part of our Canadian heritage, being brought over by early settlers and added to and adapted by newer immigrants. But what makes Christmas really Canadian is it's role as a celebration of winter, and the choice of a date near the Winter Solstice (when the actual birthdate of Jesus Christ is uncertain) is not coincidental as the Christians timed their celebration to coincide with existing seasonal celebrations. Christmas is also a celebration of family and a time to think and care about the less fortunate.

While this is a time of giving it unfortunately also includes the Holy Trinity of Capitalist Excess - Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Boxing Day/Week.

This is also the time when Christian zealots, who claim Canada is a Christian country, carry on about the "War on Christmas", as if somehow the overwhelming attention paid to Christmas isn't enough. What there really is, is a "War on Diversity" by these zealots that get outraged whenever anybody refers to "seasons greetings" or "the holidays" as a means of including those celebrating other holidays at this time of year, as they see any recognition of the diversity of our society as an attack on Christmas.

While Canada may have been a "Christian country" at one time, it was not originally a Christian country (pre-Euoropean settlement) and is not now a Christian country but a secular society with freedom of religion and a diversity of religious and non-religious people.

Christmas is part of Canadian history and cultural traditions and it can belong to and be celebrated by all of us as a religious or secular celebration according to our own choice.

Previously on the Fifth Column:

Happy Holidays and Seasons Greetings

Have A Holly Jolly Season of Cultural Diversity

2012-12-10

Rogers and Me: Father Corporation Knows Best in Mister Rogers Neighbourhood

I prefer to deal with companies using email because it allows me to carefully ask questions and carefully consider the answers before asking follow-up question, as well as providing a written record of the information received.

I was quite surprised to find that Rogers Communications, which considers itself to be the best Internet service in the country, does not provide a means for customers to communicate with them via e-mail.

I searched Rogers website looking for an e-mail address for customers to ask questions about upgrading our analog cable TV service to digital and could not find any. The only place that had any sort of form for submitting questions to get an email response was here - https://www.rogers.com/web/content/contactus - and the closest form was for for Cable Media Relations, hardly the place for customer information requests.

I then queried the @RogersHelps Twitter account and was told first that Rogers didn't answer customer questions by email and then a further response referred me back to the same place on the website so I submitted the questions with no answer after a week, and none expected.

I am aware that Rogers has telephone and live chat help available and I know some customers prefer that. However, as stated above, I prefer to use e-mail to deal with companies I do business with.

Perhaps I am being stubborn and should just trust that the big corporation knows best how I should communicate with them but I believe that companies should let their customers choose which way to communicate with them, as long as it is reasonable and normal, which of course email is, in fact being the norm with most companies. Twitter on the other hand may be trendy and an effective way for customers to get a corporations attention but it is not an effective medium for seriously asking and answering complex questions.

These are the questions we are trying to get an answer to from Rogers.

The first question is about the PVR purchase and rental options. We noticed a rent to own option of $15 a month for 36 months which was appealing because by renting we do not have to buy a PVR outright that only works with Rogers if we want to change TV providers but yet if we are happy with the service after 36 months we own the PVR and have no more rental payments. However we also noticed a $25 rental option without purchase after 36 months. Why would anyone opt to pay more to get less. My best guess is that the $15 rent to own option is really not a rent to own option but simply a financing option and we are committed to keep paying for 36 months no matter what. Can you tell us what the differences between the $25 rental forever option and the $15 rent to own after 36 months option are.

Oh, and does the $500 PVR come with the recommended HDMI cable, or is that extra.

We understand there is a $50 installation charge. Is it possible to do the install ourselves by picking up the necessary outlet signal splitter and digital boxes at one of your stores, or having them delivered to us.

Also is it possible to connect TVs to the additional outlets without a digital box and get the basic analog channels on it.

Also if it is possible can I indicate all this during the online ordering process.

So we are left considering our options as to whether to just do as we are told by Rogers, who obviously believes they, not their customers, knows best, or simply seek out a different Television Service Provider who has more respect for their customers.

2012-12-03

Stop Signs as Yield Signs for Cyclists - Ontario Cycling Strategy and The Idaho Experience

The following, based on a previous blog post, was submitted to the Ontario Cycling Strategy public consultation process.

Stop Signs as Yield Signs For Cyclists - The Idaho Experience

I am proposing that as part of the Ontario Cycling Strategy the Highway Traffic Act be amended to adopt the policy that has worked successfully in Idaho, and that is allowing cyclists to treat Stop signs as Yield signs.

There are already some differences in how the Highway Traffic Act applies to motor vehicles and bicycles, such as the requirement that bicyclists stay to the right and allow motor vehicles to pass, unless it is dangerous to do so. I would like to suggest another difference be implemented and that is the Idaho practice of allowing bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs.

The main difference between a bicycle and a motor vehicle is that a bicycle is human powered - having to stop means losing momentum and having to rebuild it again when starting up. This can be particularly frustrating on a hill. The other big difference of course is that a bicyclists is not in a metal cage and thus has a much clearer view all around him than someone in a car. And the biggest difference is that a bicycle is much less dangerous than an automobile.

Experience indicates that allowing bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs is safe. As cyclist are going slower to start off with they can easily slow down and check for oncoming traffic without coming to a full stop. The complete stop is what causes the most significant momentum problem. Slowing down enough to check for oncoming traffic allows one to continue, if safe, while conserving considerable human energy.

This policy and legislative change would require a public education policy so that cyclists would know what is expected of them, and motorists would understand the reasoning behind the new Highway Traffic Act provision. Cyclists at the moment realize they could be charged no matter what speed they go through a stop sign. I would expect this new approach would lead to many cyclists being more cautious at stop signs than they now are.

The Idaho legislation states:

IDAHO STATUTES TITLE 49 MOTOR VEHICLES CHAPTER 7

PEDESTRIANS AND BICYCLES 49-720. STOPPING -- TURN AND STOP SIGNALS. (1) A person operating a bicycle or human-powered vehicle approaching a stop sign shall slow down and, if required for safety, stop before entering the intersection. After slowing to a reasonable speed or stopping, the person shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection or approaching on another highway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time the person is moving across or within the intersection or junction of highways, except that a person after slowing to a reasonable speed and yielding the right-of-way if required, may cautiously make a turn or proceed through the intersection without stopping.

Source, Idaho Statutes: http://legislature.idaho.gov/idstat/Title49/T49CH7SECT49-720.htm

More information on the Idaho legislation and experience can be found here:

Toronto Star Article: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/675301

Bicycling blog: http://bicycling.com/blogs/roadrights/2009/07/28/a-stop-sign-solution/

Bicycle law blog: http://www.bicyclelaw.com/blog/index.cfm/2009/3/7/Origins-of-Idahos-Stop-as-Yield-Law

Bicycle Civil Liberties Union: http://www.bclu.org/stops.html

2012-11-26

Hackland Ruling Not About The $3,150

The ruling by Justice Charles T. Hackland was not about the $3150 that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford improperly solicited for his football team but about his arrogant and stubborn insistence that he is above the law.

Matters of law regarding conflict of interest can be subject of interpretation and if after being found to have acted improperly by the city's integrity commissioner Ford had stated that he simply misunderstood the rules and apologized and repaid the funds as ordered that would have been the end of it.

But Mayor Ford did not misunderstand the rules, he totally ignored them by being wilfully ignorant of them. Mayor Ford as a city councillor and as mayor should have been aware of the concept of conflict of interest and should have read city council's code of conduct. To have total disregard for the rules that apply to such a position of trust is inexcusable.

The Mayor then went on to not only attend the Council meeting dealing with the matter but engaged in discussion and voted on the matter, an act that even the least informed follower of municipal affairs understands is a conflict of interest. For an elected official to claim he did not understand that is truly unthinkable and unbelievable and the court did not believe the "I really am that stupid" defence.

While Rob Ford may have a right to appeal this decision, any politician with any integrity in these circumstances would ask to be relieved of his duties and have the Deputy Mayor take over the functions of the Mayor until he cleared his name. But Rob Ford has throughout this debacle and his whole career shown that he has no integrity at all and it will be up to Toronto City Council to relieve Rob Ford of all his duties and responsibilities as Mayor.

There is no conspiracy here. It is simply Rob Ford's continuous unprofessional conduct that has brought him to where he is.

The principles involved here are way more important than the $3,150.

2012-11-05

America The Ugly

With friends like this Romney doesn't need enemies:

It's enough to make an atheist want to believe in god so we can call on him to save us from them, but as they tell us, and so fervently believe, he is on their side, their vengeful hateful god.

2012-09-16

The Lime Kiln Technical Trail Will Never Be The Same

Today we finally had the opportunity to hike the Lime Kiln Technical Trail for the first time since the Lime Kiln area fire in the Stony Swamp Conservation Area.

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Things are looking pretty good for the first part of the trail, although you start to see larger and larger signs of fire as you look alongside the trail and then you are in the middle of the Fire Zone. At that point on the map you can see the hike diverging somewhat from the trail as we tried to follow the trail on the GPS and keep watch for the silver Rideau Trail triangles (silver because in most cases the blue paint was removed due to the heat of the fire). Most of the trail within the Fire Zone was unrecognizable although there were a few recognizable trail features along the route we followed.

The fire zone ended shortly before one of the fire roads crossed the trail. At that point the trail continues on the other side of the fire road but due to all the debris pushed up alongside the road we were unable to follow the trail. Knowing it reconnected further along the Fire Road we continued following the road, intending to follow it back from the other end, but when we reached that location we again had the problem of the piled up debris hiding the entrance into the trail, so we ended up missing about 200 metres of trail. After that the Fire Road wiped out most of the trail except for a short portion that ran just alongside it just before the Lime Kiln Bridge.

My guess would be, taking into account the first section of trail, and the section we by-passed, plus the short section of trail at the end, that close to 50% of the trail might be intact in it's original condition. The other 50% will probably need extensive rehabilitation and some of the technical features might never be recovered.

My inclination, however, would be that it would be best to let the natural environment and vegetation recover on it's own before attempting to rebuild the trail. We did notice that there already appeared to be some new growth within the fire zone and on the fire roads. At the appropriate time I would hope that the National Capital Commission (NCC) would consult with all trail users, including mountain bikers, in developing a trail rehabilitation plan.


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2012-08-30

Martha Webber on the Destruction of the Beaver Pond Forest

Martha Webber, renowned Kanata/Ottawa botanist, naturalist and educator, wrote the following in response to the news of the final complete clear-cutting of the Beaver Pond Forest in the South March Highlands. It is posted here with her permission.

Is there no way to end the destruction? This old growth forest is not only a refuge for wildlife, First Nation artifacts, but unique in its location within an urban boundary. Ottawa's version of Algonquin park, with trails accessible by foot, bike or public transit in use year round by residents and guests to the city. The "lungs of the world", so called because of air purification, reflected in the health of our citizens. Even on the hottest days of summer, those who walk its trails benefit from clean, fragrant air and escape from constant city noise. Autistic children respond well to this, all of us benefit. Such a walk in Japan is called "forest bathing" for stress reduction and health support. There is still sufficient forest standing to become a city park which would soon recover the cost as an ecotourism attraction.

There are already more new families in proliferating developments than there are schools and other supports available. No consideration is given to endangered plants and animals, even to flora and fauna in general. They have no rights when measured against development money and influence. So much money is available today for major city projects, if some could be postponed ? A forest must be a certain size and quality to support a viable wildlife food chain, and ours is being decimated.

There is so much money being spent in this city today, some of these targets could be postponed for a while. A layer of smog already overlies the city on hot days, without the ancient forest we will require some sort of filter to breathe, as in other major cities like Mexico City, or Toronto, and children and seniors will be especially at risk.

2012-08-28

"Tour de Sudbury" - Cycling in Sudbury

Our hometown of Sudbury is not known for it's cycling infrastructure or even for a positive attitude towards cycling but there are organizations like the Sudbury Cyclists Union, the Rainbow Routes Association and the Sudbury Cycles Project that are trying to change that and there is even a proposed Bicycle Technical Master Plan For The City of Greater Sudbury.

It was the Rainbow Routes Association map of non-motorized trails in Sudbury that inspired us to try out some of the cycling routes in Sudbury as they did look promising.

We mixed a combination of Sudbury history and waterways in our route selection.

Looking to the history of Sudbury:

The City of Sudbury was founded in 1883 at a point on the railway known as Sudbury Junction, where the branch line to Algoma Mills joined the main line of the CPR. Prior to the establishment of the mining industry, (which occurred around 1900), Sudbury's stability and growth depended both on the railway and on the lumbering industry. (Source:)
We decided to create a route that started by following the historical Junction Creek along the Junction Creek Waterway Park and then went around Ramsey Lake and through the Lake Laurentian Conservation Area

click on map to enlarge

We started our ride at the Rotary Park by the Adanac Ski Hill in New Sudbury wwhere the City is building a BMX park and followed the Junction Creek Waterway Park pathway to downtown





It was a very enjoyable ride along a very scenic hard-packed gravel path. For the most part it was well signed and even on my Backroad Mapbooks background map on my GPS.

However when we came to transition to the connection to the "Tour de Sudbury" route along Ramsey Lake we had to rely on our map along with our previous knowledge of Sudbury to make the connection.

It was unclear from the trail map whether the route around Ramsey Lake was on a dedicated path or on the road, although the fact that it followed the roads exactly (except where it went through the conservation area) was a pretty good clue that it was mostly a road route, although most of it was on some of the few marked bike lanes that exist in Sudbury. It was still a pleasant ride and traffic did not seem threatening at all.

The most interesting part of the ride along Ramsey Lake began when we left the pavement and entered the Lake Laurentian Conservation Area and were away from "civilization" for awhile. You definitely wanted to be on a hybrid and not a high-end road bike in this section especially for a few loose gravel downhill sections. The scenery was lovely especially near the boardwalk.


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And it stayed interesting when we rejoined the pavement at South Bay Road and what must have been the steepest uphill I have ever ridden. Thanks to our Ireland bike tour I was able to climb the whole thing, albeit with some rest stops.

After a few more ups and downs it was back on the flat and continuing our ride till we stopped at Science North for lunch, then on along the pathway along Ramsey Lake through Bell Park, back over the old Iron Bridge and and back along the creek to the start of our very enjoyable journey.


We hope to check out some more of the cycling opportunities in Sudbury on future trips up north.

2012-08-23

Ireland Bike Tour - Post Bike Tour Slide Shows

After the bike tour we stayed in Ennis for a few days and took a bus to Limerick for a day tour.

The most interesting observation we made was that while Ennis had narrow streets with one lane one way traffic and narrow sidewalks, much of Limerick had wide streets with one lane one way traffic and very wide sidewalks. And both towns had portions of their centre cores that were pedestrian only.

While in Limerick we visited King John's Castle.


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The slide shows above portray the streetscapes and scenes of Limerick, followed by King John's Castle. The slide show below features those wonderful red Irish flowers in Ennis.


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2012-08-19

Ireland Bike Tour - Cycling Day 6 Slide Show

This was the longest ride of the tour but not too bad as far as hills go, except for the last ride into Westport, up and down and then back up and down again. Lots of scenery but not too many photo stops because of the long ride and then drive back to Ennis in the van.


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The slide show above starts with the obligatory photo of a rainbow in front of a mountain and features more of the Irish landscape, including hills and streams, and of course sheep, as well as the Irish famine memorial.

2012-08-09

Ireland Bike Tour - Break Day Slide Show

We took today easy, went for a walk near the lodge on Lough Inagh in the morning and managed to talk Jeff into driving us to the Kylemore Abbey in the afternoon where we explored the grounds and the remarkable gardens. There is some real interesting history about this place.


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The slide show above features the mountains and landscape near the lodge followed by the Kylemore Abbey and gardens.

2012-08-06

Ireland Bike Tour - Cycling Day 5, Sheep Shearing, Flowers and More Slide Shows

If you’ve ever been to a county fair or watched a movie about Australia you have seen sheep sheering, but usually with electric shears. In this part of Ireland they use hand shears and probably sheer the sheep faster and cleaner than with the electric ones. This was a great day for photos, including a good number of flower close-ups. There was a really great mountain behind our Lodge that I was so tempted to try to climb up.


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The slide show above features more of the Irish landscape including ruins, mountains, streams and beaches, as well as sheep and sheep shearing and ends with lovely views from our hotel.

The slide show below features Irish flowers.


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2012-08-04

Ireland Bike Tour - Cycling Day 4, Discovering Ireland's Sheep Slide Show

Today was a day at the beach as we stopped at a wonderful little beach along the route, as well as made a visit to the lovely town of Clifden. More scenery, and did I mention the sheep. The sheep in Ireland seem to have priority over the roads, followed by bicycles and then cars.


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The slide show above starts with a view from our hotel dining room followed by views of the grounds, then it's on to the landscape with an emphasis on geology. We have our first encounters with Ireland’s sheep, as well as stop for a visit to a lovely beach. Final views are from our new hotel room window followed by a visit to the town of Clifden.

2012-08-02

Ireland Bike Tour - Cycling Day 3, The Aran Islands Slide Show

Most of the day was spent on one of the Aran Islands. It was a great day for photography as it was actually sunny and there was so much to photograph, from a remarkable fort to literally hundreds (maybe thousands) of stone fences from millions of stones dividing up the tiny allotments that people had to tend to survive from farming. Did I mention the dolphins swimming around in the harbour beside the ferry, which unfortunately we took no photos of.


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The slide show above is mostly concentrated on the remarkable landscape of the Aran Islands followed by some photos of the mainland landscape ending at The Cashel House, a lovely country inn sitting beside Bertraghboy Bay.

2012-07-27

Ireland Bike Tour - Cycling Day 2, To The Burren Slide Show

Today we did a circle route through the remarkable Burren, a landscape that almost defies description, although parts of Ottawa's Lime Kiln Trail with it's underlying Limestone hints at it. And, of course it's Ireland so there were more ruins. This was the second hardest climbing day of the tour.



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The slide show above starts with a view from our hotel room and covers more of the Irish landscape, more ruins of churches and castles, cemeteries and stone fences and finishes going through the remarkable geology of the Burren.

2012-07-26

Ireland Bike Tour - Cycling Day 1, The Irish Landscape Slide Show

Today we got setup on our bikes with our self-guiding instructions so we could ride on our own while Jeff went ahead with the van and then would mysteriously appear on his bike cycling towards us to make sure we were not lost. We rode to the Cliffs of Moher which reportedly has spectacular views, but all we saw was fog. But after the longest climb of the trip, 220 metres, we were not riding back up there again no matter how sunny the next day was.



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The slide show above features the remarkable Irish landscape including those famous stone fences, a scenic beach, ruins of castles and a remarkable old cemetery, but no photos of the Cliffs of Fog.

2012-07-25

Ireland Bike Tour - Ennis Slide Show

We arrived a few days early and got to know the town of Ennis which was full of stone walls, first thing we noticed, and lots of local shops and pubs - no Walmarts or big box stores. The only chain store we noticed was a large Irish department store, Dunnes. The other big attraction is the Fergus River.



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The slide show above features:

The Old Ground Hotel
Residential Streetscapes
Ennis Friary (being restored)
Fergus River
Ducks along the Fergus River
Downtown Ennis
The Suburbs (1960s style houses rather than 1860s style houses)

2012-07-23

Ireland Bike Tour Overview

In recalling our wonderful bike tour of Ireland at first it seems like one long uphill ride in the rain, the green being the only constant. But actually every day was different with many different landscapes and varied geography throughout the over 300 kilometre route. We even had some dry and sunny days with fluffy white clouds.

So let us look at it day by day as described officially in italic with my recollections following. (Click on images to enlarge)


Pre Bike Tour Visit to Ennis

We arrived a few days early and got to know the town of Ennis which was full of stone walls, first thing we noticed, and lots of local shops and pubs - no Walmarts or big box stores. The only chain store we noticed was a large Irish department store, Dunnes. The other big attraction is the Fergus River, which undoubtedly I will post photos of when I do the day by day photo posts.

Arrival Day (Relaxing)

The tour begins in Ennis just north of the Shannon Airport. Most flights coming from North America arrive early in the day so you will have plenty of time to relax and shake out the cobwebs. We have a welcoming dinner awaiting your arrival, so you can meet new friends, peruse your tour itinerary, and have your trusty metal steed readied for the journey ahead. Tonight we'll stay at The Old Ground Hotel.


On the first day we were somewhat concerned when we never did get to meet up with the rest of the group to get our pre-ride briefing and our bikes setup. But at supper time, when me met our guide Jeff, we discovered that we were the group and the three of us had our own personal guide.

Cycling Day 1 (easy to moderate)

We will depart from Ennis today as we make our way to Doolin, the birthplace of modern Irish music. You will be spending two nights here, so there will be plenty of time to kick up your heels. Eight kilometers south of Doolin, you’ll find the towering Cliffs of Moher, one of Ireland’s most photographed natural attractions. Tonight and tomorrow night we're at The Aran View House Hotel.


Today we got setup on our bikes with our self-guiding instructions so we could ride on our own while Jeff went ahead with the van and then would mysteriously appear on his bike cycling towards us to make sure we were not lost. We rode to the Cliffs of Moher which reportedly has spectacular views, but all we saw was fog. But after the longest climb of the trip, 220 metres, we were not riding back up there again no matter how sunny the next day was.

Attractions along the way that we stopped to photograph included ruins, Ireland has lots of ruins, and a remarkable cemetery that I will post photos of in the day by day review.


Cycling Day 2 (moderate)

County Clare’s great attraction is the Burren, a rocky stretch of country with many reminders of Ireland’s long and storied past. In 1649, Oliver Cromwell dispossessed many Irish as his armies rampaged through the country, exiling them to this harsh and infertile land. We’ll cycle Burren today, enjoying the region’s stunning scenery and spectacular coastline.


Today we did a circle route through the remarkable Burren, a landscape that almost defies description, although parts of Ottawa's Lime Kiln Trail with it's underlying Limestone hints at it. Wait for the photos coming soon. And, of course it's Ireland so there were more ruins. This was the second hardest climbing day of the tour.

Cycling Day 3 (easy)

Today’s trip includes a short ferry ride to Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands. The natural beauty will quicken your heart, and you’ll be intrigued by the Irish passion for building stone walls to divide even the most inconsequential plots of dirt. We’ll cycle from the ferry up to the impressive stone fort of Dun Aengus — perched precariously on a dramatic cliff. After touring the island, we’ll ferry back to Rossaveel —a beautiful tract where Gaelic is still widely spoken — then on to Screeb, Gortmore, and Cashel. It’s a great day, ending at a lovely country inn sitting beside Bertraghboy Bay. Tonight's at The Cashel House.


A great day for photography as it was actually sunny and there was so much to photograph from a remarkable fort to literally hundreds (maybe thousands) of stone fences from millions of stones dividing up the tiny allotments that people had tend to survive from farming. Did I mention the dolphins swimming around in the harbour beside the ferry.

Cycling Day 4 (easy)

From Cashel we have a short day planned to Clifden, the main centre in Connemara. Our bike route will be along the coast of Ballyconneely Bay through Roundstone, Ballyconneely, and Ballinaboy. For the duffers among you, a beautiful golf course in Doonloughan sits along today’s route. Tonight we're staying at The Quay House.


Today was a day at the beach as we stopped at a wonderful little beach along the route, as well as made a visit to the lovely town of Clifden. More scenery and ruins, and did I mention the sheep. The sheep in Ireland seem to have priority over the roads, followed by bicycles and then cars.


Cycling Day 5 (easy to moderate)

We continue along the dramatic coast to Cleggan, Rinvyle Castle, and Kylemore Abbey before settling in on the shores of Lough Inagh, which is nestled between the Twelve Pins and Maumturk Mountains. Lough Inagh Lodge will be our home for two nights.


If you’ve ever been to a county fair or watched a movie about Australia you have seen sheep sheering, but usually with electric shears. In this part of Ireland they use hand shears and probably sheer the sheep faster and cleaner than with the electric ones. Along with photos I got some video of this special happening. This was a great day for photos, including a good number of flower close-ups. Watch for them to be posted later. There was a really great mountain behind our Lodge that I was so tempted to try to climb up.

Break Day (relaxing)

This morning you'll wake up in one of the prettiest places in the world — Connemara's Lough Inagh Valley. Your options include a visit to the Kylemore Abbey; a loop ride around the Maumturk Mountains; a hike in the mountains; or perhaps you would prefer to hire the local fishing guide and try your luck fishing, and drinking in the scenery. You decide and we make it happen.


We took today easy, managed to talk Jeff into driving us to the Abbey where we explored the grounds and the remarkable gardens. There is some real interesting history about this place.

Cycling Day 6 (moderate)

Our last day-- but oh!-- we end with a bang! We will leave the comforts of our inn and make our way to Leenane before heading north between the Mweelrea Mountains and the Sheeffry Hills enroute to Louisburgh. It’s such a gorgeous ride, and a fitting end to your Ireland adventure!


This was the longest ride of the tour but not too bad as far as hills go, except for the last ride into Westport, up and down and then back up and down again. Lots of scenery but not too many photo stops because of the long ride and then drive back to Ennis in the van.

Post bike tour: Ennis and Limerick

After the bike tour we stayed in Ennis for a few days and took a bus to Limerick for a day tour. The most interesting observation we made was that while Ennis had narrow streets with one lane one way traffic and narrow sidewalks, much of Limerick had wide streets with one lane one way traffic and very wide sidewalks. And both towns had portions of their centre cores that were pedestrian only.

Concluding Thanks

We would like to thank our guide Jeff and everyone at Pedal and Sea Adventures for a wonderful holiday in Ireland, seeing it in a way that you could never do by car or bus.

2012-07-21

Open Letter to the National Capital Commission re Lime Kiln Trail Fire

The fire near the Lime Kiln Trail has been described as a tragedy. Perhaps not. If houses or roads had been built on the land it certainly would be a tragedy that the forest would never recover from, though some would call it development or progress. But the forest will recover from the fire and, though we all wish it could have been avoided, the fire presents an opportunity.

So what should the National Capital Commission (NCC) do about the site of the fire, I would suggest nothing, or as little as possible, only what is necessary to make the site safe. Please no attempts to make it presentable, or tidy it up, or artificially beautify it. What we have is an opportunity for the public to see a forest naturally regenerate itself, and perhaps a chance for scientists (an endangered species themselves within the current federal government) to study the regeneration.

I would call upon the NCC to allow the public, particularly regular users of the trails, back into the trail system as soon as possible to see the effects of the fire and to start observing the changes as the forest regenerates itself. Please avoid any further damage to the forest from heavy equipment beyond what was obviously required to fight the fire. The only tools likely needed might be rakes to clear burnt wood and debris from the trails. Trail users, who probably know the trails better than the NCC does, will rebuild the trail system by using it.

Simply closing it down would be to ignore a great opportunity and trying to artificially create an unnatural ecosystem or tree plantation would be worse. Let us seize this opportunity to build something meaningful from the ashes of this unfortunate event.

2012-06-16

Religious Bullshit and Assisted Suicide Law Struck Down

If you are a religious person you know that life is sacred and only god can decide when and how you will die.

You also know that god has a plan for you and works in mysterious ways. So he might decide that you will die quietly in your sleep after living a long fulfilling life. Or he might decide that you will be killed by a sociopathic serial killer, or by a drunk driver, or while being raped by someone who is supposed to love you. Or he might decide that you will die a long slow painful lingering death due to disease.

But as a religious person you know that it is god's choice and you have no say in the matter and no rights as to how and when you die.

Well god fearing people, the British Columbia Supreme Court has just ruled that is all BULLSHIT.

2012-06-11

The Bill That Couldn't Happen Here

Back when I worked for the House of Commons, every time an Omnibus Bill was proposed (and the usual discussions and negotiations around splitting it were occurring) we would joke about the ultimate Omnibus Bill - An Act for the Government of Canada, with everything a government wanted to do in one bill. Of course, we never believed it would ever happen in our democratic system. But that is essentially what Bill C-38 is about.

Omnibus bills were always controversial, but in comparison to Bill C-38, always focused. They might, for example, amend several crime and justice related acts in one bill or several pieces of environmental legislation in one bill. But they were still controversial and often divided into more reasonable groupings of legislation by means of multi-party co-operation. Yes there used to be such a thing, even during majority governments.

Budgets themselves would always result in numerous bills, usually an Income Tax bill, a bill related to other tax measures, and specific bills for specific policy measures included in the budget. It is unprecedented to include everything mentioned in a budget, and some things not mentioned in it, in a budget bill. It is unprecedented not only because no government thought they could get away with it but because all previous governments knew it was inappropriate and undemocratic.

This was back in the days when governments did not believe that democracy involved 40% of the people electing a dictator who would virtually govern by decree for four years, but when governments believed in Parliamentary democracy.

This was back in the days of the Progressive Conservative Party when government and opposition Members of Parliament may have differed on what the thought were the best policies for the country but respected each other because they all wanted what they believed was best for Canada. This was back when all political leaders believed in Canada and we did not have a Prime Minister who wanted to make this country something that Canadians would not recognize.

2012-06-10

God Created Adam and Eve Not Adam and Steve

I'm really not sure why religious right wingers always seem to use this phrase in reference to the Adam and Eve story (as well as other Old Testament references) to justify their claims that homosexuality is an abomination (and as the Catholic school system would call it "intrinsically disordered"). The lesson from the Adam and Eve story doesn't exactly fit in with their moral code.

After all if you accept the story of "the rib", Eve was essentially Adam's cloned sister. So according to the Biblical version of the origin of the species the first two humans were siblings, who had sex to produce the second generation, also siblings who had sex to produce the third generation (well there was another possibility but it still would be incestuous). And then it was the cousins and so on and so on. So mankind is based on incest according to their literal interpretation of the Bible.

Of course if we accept Old Testament stories as fact people seemed to live a long time back then so maybe incest was not such a bad thing. But I prefer to base my opinion of the desirability of incest on scientific studies into the impact of "in-breeding".

I also prefer to base my understanding of the origin of the species on the scientific explanation of The Origin of Species.

According to the theory of evolution and natural selection non-useful traits of a species will disappear over time with evolution. Thus if homosexuality was not naturally useful to mankind it would have disappeared, The fact that it has not simply proves that it is natural and good.

2012-06-09

Endangered Species Legislation Wrong Approach

Trying to protect endangered species is simply the wrong approach to protecting wildlife.

What we do is allow open season on development/destruction of wildlife habitat unless it contains endangered species. Then we make a half-hearted token attempt to protect those species, often while still allowing the development/destruction of the habitat they depend on. When that fails and the species is wiped out in that area it is open season on developing/destroying the habitat again.

This of course is because the purpose of the legislation is to interfere as little as possible with development while appearing to care about the environment.

The way to protect wildlife is to protect their habitat from destruction/development before they become endangered, not after it is too late.

We need to strengthen environmental legislation, not weaken it, as both provincial and federal governments intend to do, and not even openly but stealthily using illegitimate omnibus budget bills

2012-05-17

Heritage Minister James Moore Wrong on Sexhibit

Heritage Minister James Moore is clearly wrong in his criticism of "Sex: A Tell-All Exhibition" at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

It is not so much his criticism of the content that is wrong, although suggesting that human reproduction is an inappropriate subject for a science museum is somewhat bizarre.

But it is the expression of an opinion on a museum exhibit at all that is worrisome. The Minister should know that cultural and scientific agencies are supposed to be free of political interference or influence. Knowing that, the Minister should have avoided any statement that could have, or be seen to have, such undo influence. However it appears to be quite clear that the Minister did not try to avoid such influenza but did everything he could to have such undue influence, and his efforts have had the desired effect in causing the museum to make changes to the exhibit in response to political pressure.

This appears to be just another effort, along with reducing Statistic Canada's information gathering and closing federal libraries, in the Harper government's War on Knowledge.

2012-05-10

Are Foreign Funded Canadian Charities Soft on Child Terrorists

Analysis by the Canadian Press shows that the three of the top four Canadian charities that received the most foreign funding were Care Canada, World Vision Canada and the Canadian UNICEF Committee, all known for helping starving children, many in war torn areas. Many of these children were victims of war and some were likely to have been child soldiers, often forced into battle by captors and even by their own parents. It is reasonable to expect that some of the foreign funders of these Canadian Charities, and even the Canadian doners, consider these children to be victims rather than the terrorists that the Harper government considers them to be. 

So is this perhaps the real root of the Harper government's concerns about foreign funding of Canadian charities, that the charities may be aiding child soldiers which they consider to be terrorists (but which the rest of the civilized world considers to be victims).

2012-05-06

CN Cycle for CHEO 2012: Forgetting and Remembering the Hills

I described last years CN Cycle for CHEO as the best yet but I'm not sure how to describe this years. It started out cool and I dressed for it but didn't think of removing layers as it warmed up. I maintained almost the same pace as last year at just over 20 km/hr but it seemed pretty tough at times with the wind and I seemed to have forgotten all those hills till I had to ride them again and remember them.


Fortunately I got in more training rides with the early spring this season, two rides over 70 km and another two over 55 km.

Overall it was a great ride and I want to thank all my sponsors for donating to CHEO

2012-04-29

South March Highlands Mountain Bikers - Unlikely Trail Heroes

Unlikely, because more often than not the stereotypical view of mountain bikers is more likely to be as trail villains rather than trail heroes.

First, we have the well meaning but uninformed view of many who call themselves environmentalists that mountain biking damages trails, when the vast majority of the research indicates the impact is similar to hiking.

Then, we have perceived concerns of hikers envisioning people on scary looking full suspension mountain bikes, ignoring everyone else, speeding downhill towards them, when the reality is that mountain biking is not the Tour De France and mountain bikers on technical singletrack are usually not riding at racing speeds, primarily for their own safety.

And then we do have places where rogue mountain bikers rule and have little regard for other trail users or responsible trail use, but these are the real exceptions, even if they appear to be the stereotypical rule.

In the South March Highlands the mountain bikers are not seen as villains. This is partly due to a co-operative landowner, the City of Ottawa, and an open-minded and educated environmental community led by the South March Highlands Coalition.

However it is mostly because of the mountain bikers themselves and the leadership provided by the Ottawa Mountain Bike Association (OMBA).

The mountain bikers in the South March Highlands have established a reputation for not only be respectful, courteous and friendly to other trail users but are respected and appreciated by them for the literally thousands of hours of work put into developing and maintaining a sustainable trail system that can be enjoyed by all trail users.

The mountain bikers started riding on existing trails, created by hikers, cross-country skiers and even dog-sledders and built on it, creating a sustainable trail system based on the IMBA stacked loop model where the further you get from the trailhead the more rugged and difficult the trails become. This is a model that serves both beginner and advanced hikers and mountain bikers well.

The mountain bikers put in literally thousands of hours of work on trail building and maintenance creating a sustainable trail system that avoids muddy areas and provides for proper drainage and erosion protection. As well as building a system that is less susceptible to rain damage they also educate and encourage riders not to ride in the mud, and when it is necessary to follow the rule of sticking to the middle of the trail to avoid trail widening.

But they have not done this in isolation from the community and other trail users but have worked with them and the landowner, the City of Ottawa, to develop a management plan for the South March Highlands Conservation Forest and the trail system and are about to sign a joint stewardship agreement with they City to manage the trail system.

They have already created a new map of the trail system and are just beginning to install comprehensive trail signs linked to it in a project where materials are funded by the City and volunteer labour provided by OMBA members. This is a project that will be appreciated by the whole community as this is a near wilderness trail system where people have often become lost on the trails.

Indeed, if you ask just about anyone you see on the trails you will find that in the South March Highlands the mountain bikers are not the villains, but rather the heroes that do so much to make the trails a wonderful experience for everyone that uses them.

2012-04-28

Reflections

This has probably been the longest I have gone between blog posts, despite my best intentions, but as I said I have not abandoned you. I have simply been busy with other things mostly related to mapping and biking and the South Match Highlands struggle.

But I have also been using Twitter a lot to express my political and social opinions so if you see nothing new in this space look to the right for my Twitter Feed or go directly to it here.

2012-03-30

I Have Not Abandoned You

Well it may look like I have abandoned my New Years Resolution to maintain more consistent blogging I have not abandoned you. I have just been side tracked by other matters, including some home renovation issues, computer problems and even some mapping projects. But I have been thinking about blog posts and even started a post on the future of the NDP that was supposed to be finished before the leadership decision but is still a work in progress.

But keep an eye on the upper right corner for I have still been posting tweets on the issues of the day.

More to come.

2012-02-29

Facebook is NOT The Internet - The Internet IS The (Social) Network

In the beginning there were BBSs (Bulletin Board Systems). In a foreshadowing of things to come, almost immediately following the invention of the Personal Computer (PC) they became communications devices as BBS systems were set up for hobbyists to use to share information and home-written programs. At this time PC users were primarily computer hobbyists and the BBSs were mainly confined to dealing with techie things, although in another foreshadowing you could soon download Sunshine Girl like pin-up photos.

As personal computers became more prevalent and the Internet was established in academia more broadly based online service providers such as CompuServe, Prodigy and America Online (AOL) were established to allow people to access and share information on various interests and hobbies. These services while proprietary and limited to their own online resources also provided an interface to Internet email so people could communicate between service providers using email.

The first access the public had to the Internet was via Freenets, such as the Cleveland Freenet and National Capital Freenet (Ottawa). These used a text interface to allow people to access documents stored online, which were mainly of serious academic interest at that time. These documents were accessible via something called Gopher using search engineswith names like Archie and Veronica. This was before the invention of Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML) and the World Wide Web (WWW). The Freenets also provided members with access to the Internet email network.

The Freenets allowed community organizations to communicate with members and the public by becoming Information Providers. Freenet Information providers included hobbyists in many different fields as well as community activists. This quickly became a way for the Internet to become a community organizing tool and extended it's usefulness beyond academia to the general public.

You could also connect into other Freenets from your local Freenet.

With the creation of the World Wide Web the Freenets established interfaces to access the content on the web as well as allowing information providers to provide information in HTML format.

All of these early online information providers were accessed via dial-up telephone at slow modem speeds but were soon to be followed by full fledged Internet Service Providers (ISPs) that provided the public with full access to the Internet and the emerging World Wide Web.

Although today most users access the Internet via the web, discussion forums, known as Usenet newsgroups can still be accessed via dedicated software and messaging and live chat can be accessed via Internet Relay Chat software, and many people still use dedicated email software. So the Internet is not just the World Wide Web.

But things were changing, high speed Internet via Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) and cable was becoming available and the controversial idea of allowing commercial and business use of the net was being proposed, again foreshadowing the current controversy over net neutrality and what is becoming commercial dominance of the Internet. While we cannot go back, and I would not want to give up access to Internet commerce and banking and the ability to research products online, we must maintain and protect the most important role of the Internet as a public utility and public information and communications network.

Which brings us to the seemingly most popular Internet phenomenon, Facebook. It seems that for many people the Internet, and they themselves, could not exist without this commercial proprietary site that makes millions be leveraging not only people's personal and private information but that of their friends, in what can best be described as a social marketing business plan.

Perhaps I have no right to criticize Facebook as I do not use it. But I do not use it because of what I have learned about it and my intuitive sense, as an early personal computer and Internet user, that Facebook is evil. While I may also have some concerns about the empire Google is building, and avoid Google Plus because of that, my intuition is that Google is still managing to remain true to it's "don't be evil" principles.

What surprises and concerns me most about Facebook is that it has been able to extend that same sense of necessity, that "we have to be on Facebook to reach the public", to progressive community organizations, that I believe should know better. Everyone that is on Facebook, the so-called social network, is on the Internet. The Internet is The Network and there are many organizing tools on the network for progressive organizations to use.

So what tools do progressive community organizations have available on the Internet.

The main tool for providing an online presence has always been a website. Although it does not have the sexy new cachet of a blog or Twitter, or even Facebook, a website provides the basis for connecting all of an organizations online tools. That is why the web was designed the way it was, why HTML was written the way it was, and why Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) allow all online tools to connect to each other.

A website allows an organization to provide basic and comprehensive information to it's members and the public as well as links to documents stored online using resources such as Google Docs. Organization websites can also to link to other resources such as blogs or Twitter accounts. The first website I was responsible for is now archived here.

Web forums connected to websites, which have replaced Usenet newsgroups, provide an excellent means for organizations to communicate with and hold discussions amongst their members and the general public. Forums can be organized by subjects with separate threads for each discussion and can be open to the public or private, in terms of ability to read them or post to them. They can allow interested persons to choose what to read and respond to and avoid receiving massive amounts of email, that can be restricted to more important urgent messages. An example of an effective web forum can be seen here.

Blogs are also very useful for organizations and their members to provide information and express opinions and can be linked from the organizations website, allowing individuals to use whichever blogging platform they choose. Two of the most popular platforms are Blogger and WordPress. This blog is written on Blogger and an example of a WordPress blog is here.

Blogging aggregators, such as Progressive Bloggers are great resources too. They allow you to reach like-minded people with your blogs as well as read blogs of interest. Aggregators are available according to political philosophy, region and subject interest

Another very interesting and little known, little used, Internet resources is Internet Relay Chat (IRC) which provides for real time group discussions, as well as one on one one chats and document transfers. It can be used to hold online meetings. All you have to do is log onto an IRC server using appropriate software and create a room, which can be public or invite only.

Twitter is one Internet resource in particular that I want to talk about. Twitter is the newest Internet tool and one of the most interesting - sort of like a mass e-mailer with a character limit, but not exactly. And of course like most Internet tools Twitter can be abused.

Twitter can be used to tell everyone you know what you had for breakfast or what you're wearing to the prom, but, please don't. I find one of its best uses is by journalists to tweet out breaking news before they have written their complete stories and to live tweet public events, sort of a current affairs play-by-play service. It can also be used effectively by organizations to send out news or event information to their followers.

I follow a few key guidelines in using Twitter. I only try to send out a few tweets a day, either links to my latest blog posts or blog or news entries I think are important and sometimes insightful or witty thoughts. My Twitter feed can be found here.

I limit myself to following people that post interesting and useful information and limit their amount of posting, I do not have all day to read tweets. I recently added, and then quickly deleted, WikiLeaks from my followers due to their over-tweeting. Tweeting a countdown from 10 to 1 in separate tweets before tweeting an announcement is not clever. It is just annoying. But not quite as annoying as random messages inviting people to porn sites.

I also do not understand people who collect followers by following random people hoping they will follow them. Do people who follow thousands of people actually read their tweets. If they have that little of a real life they are probably not worth following.

As the Internet evolves there will, of course, be various other new online resources organizations can use, all of which can be connected together via the main website.

It is very important that we, the public, do not let the telecommunications industry, or other commercial or proprietary interests take control of the Internet and progressive community organizations should avoid being co-opted by such attempts. The Internet IS The Network.

2012-02-18

The Truth About The Kanata Lakes 60% Plus Agreement

So, what of the so-called 40% agreement to protect environmental lands in the Kanata Lakes development in the South March Highlands. Is it really a myth. Apparently so.

The more I examine and analysis the facts and reality around that so-called agreement the more I realize it was just spin.

What is guaranteed is that the developer has the absolute rights to clear-cut, blast and otherwise destroy the environment to build roads, houses and buildings on 60% of the land. In addition to that 60% they have the right to clear-cut and develop an additional portion of the remaining land as a private golf course, which they have done. Any requirements for them to provide parkland or other amenities must not encroach on that 60% Plus, but come from the remaining land. Any land required to provide stormwater management ponds and other such facilities for their development must not come from the 60% Plus but from the remaining land. Any lands such as designated Provincially Significant Wetlands or Areas of Natural and Scientific Interest or setbacks thereto must not encroach on the 60% Plus, but come from whatever land may be remaining.

The only thing that is guaranteed in the so-called agreement is the developers right to destroy the environment on 60% Plus ++ of the land.

And what of the City of Ottawa (and Kanata previously) as well as local (and beyond) politicians roles in this fiasco. I will leave it to the reader to decide whether they are part of a conspiracy, wilfully ignorant, or simply incompetent.

2012-02-09

Winter Bike Final Modifications & Mid Season Review

When I first bought my new winter bike in October I wrote "It's a bit small for me, but was about the largest they had in stock and with some adjustments to the handlebar and seat height I have it set up about the same as my mountain bike, which should be fine as my winter riding is usually confined to under 20 km rides around the neighbourhood."

That worked, but I still wanted a more comfortable riding stance so I started looking at changing the stem to raise the handlebars. After receiving some advice I decided to go with as straight a stem as possible to move the handlebars closer to the seat so that I could raise them enough and straighten out my stance without running out of cable which would incur more work and expense.

I found a replacement stem at Niagara Cycle in Niagara Falls, NY for $15 plus about $20 shipping. That added to the price of the bike, but well worth it I thought.

Before and After Bike Photos

(click on images to enlarge)

After riding with the new setup for over a week I am really pleased with how much more comfortable it is. Instead of just a leaning over MTB stance I now have more choice from straight up with arms straight to slightly bent over with a bit of elbow bend to a more bent over MTB style power stance.

Overall the new winter bike has been a great improvement over the old $100 Supercycle I used the previous two years. The 20 year old Shimano Exage 400 derailleur and shifters work as well as the shifters on our good bikes. And, of course, I still love those Schwalbe Ice Spikers, they ride through a layer of water on top of ice like it's dry pavement.

I'm hoping to get at least double the two years I got on the old Supercycle and I'm babying this bike to achieve that. After every ride it gets well cleaned and wiped down, especially the rims. The rear rim on the old Supercycle started to rust after a few weeks but both rims on this bike seem to be of a different, non-chrome metal and, as long as I wipe them clean after every ride, they resist the rust. I use a heavy grease on the drive-train because of the slush and winter muck and have already done a mid-winter cleaning with the MEC chain cleaner.

In recent days with low temperatures and puddles along the side of the road the cables have been icing up and I've had to stop and remove ice mid-ride, then bring the bike in to thaw after to get rid of any water that might refreeze and cause problems.

So far this winter, from December 14 to February 8, I have put 427 kilometres on the winter bike and I am aiming for at least 50 km a week.

I actually did some trail riding on it around the Old Quarry trails in December as I had put my MTB away for the season but the trails were frozen and still rideable. But most of my winter riding has been on the paths and local roads in Bridlewood and Glen Cairn. Over the previous two days, in two one hour rides I did 33.4 km, at an average speed of 16.0 km/hr and a maximum speed of 28.3 km/hr.

The map below of those two rides (including overlaps) gives a good idea of the typical routes I ride on the winter bike.

(click on map to enlarge)

2012-02-01

There's An App For That

I just discovered a wonderful app I have on my phone. This app allows you to make and check appointments. It has a really simple interface - you just dial the number of the place you want to check, or make, an appointment at and a very human like voice will respond (very lifelike, I don't know how they do it). The amazing thing about this app is the amount of intelligence it has built in. You can ask it just about any question and it can process it and provide an intelligent answer (eat your heart out Watson). And, amazingly, this app will work on any phone, mobile or land-line. It's just like talking to a real person - now there is an app I'd like to have on my phone.

2012-01-31

Help Save the South March Highlands by Voting it One of Canada's Great Places

The Fifth Column has written many times about the most biodiverse natural area in Ottawa adjacent to urban Kanata and threatened by urban sprawl and development.

Now is your chance to help save the South March Highlands by raising the profile of its cause by voting to have it designated one of the Great Places in Canada. We can win this designation if we all take the time to vote daily in the Canadian Institute of Planners Great Places in Canada contest.

Click Here to Find Out More About the Contest

Click Here to Vote for the South March Highlands

Even if you do not believe we can save all of the South March Highland it is still worth the struggle to save as much of it as we possibly can. The more of the South March Highlands we can save, the more of a sustainable ecosystem we will be able to protect for future generations.

Learn more about the South March Highlands below:




Just 20 minutes from Parliament Hill, this is Ottawa's Great Forest: an old-growth paradise that is recreationally enjoyed and spiritually revered. It has untapped ecotourism potential, but threatened by urban sprawl. Spanning over a thousand hectares, this Canadian Shield ecosystem is more than a billion years old. Rich in wetlands and mature forest, it is home to more than 654 species, including 18 species that are at risk of becoming extinct.

This area contains hundreds of mammal, bird, and vegetation species. The fact that they’re all in one place within a major urban city is astounding. No other major city in the world has the biodiversity that this region has. For citizens and tourists alike, the South March Highlands offer an immersive glimpse into Canada's pre-colonial ecology. The forest attracts birders, nature lovers, scouts, biologists, archeologists, hikers, mountain bikers, skiers, photographers...and dreamers.

What makes this forest so special? It's biodiversity is exceptional. The South March Highlands area is rated as a provincially significant Area of Natural and Scientific Interest (ANSI) for both its Life Science value (895 hectares) and its wetlands (114 hectares). There are 679 known species including 160+ bird species, although there remains much to be discovered. Scientists believe there could be thousands of species in this wilderness. There are also two rare coldwater streams that run through the highlands, providing a life source to many animals that wouldn't normally survive in an urban environment.

The highlands have also been sacred ground for area Algonquins – forming Turtle Island at a time when Ottawa was submerged by the Champlain Sea thousands of years ago. At least three 10,000-year-old archaeological sites have recently been discovered here and are awaiting further study.

Being so close to the city's downtown core, the highlands understandably face growing pressure from groups wanting to develop the land. Many community, recreational, and cultural groups have been champions for protecting this fragile forest. On behalf of aboriginals everywhere, the late Grandfather William Commanda, recipient of the Order of Canada, was dedicated to protecting it. Just before his passing in 2011, he said the South March Highlands are a "national heritage site, one of significant Indigenous importance and as an Algonquin in the unceded, unconquered, and unsurrendered Ottawa River Watershed.”

Other community groups include the South March Coalition, which has put forth a stewardship plan for the area (www.southmarchhighlands.ca). To help protect ecological sensitive areas, a trail system is maintained by the Ottawa Mountain Biking Association. Numerous national groups have recognized South March's special ecology, including the David Suzuki Foundation, the Sierra Club of Canada, and CPAWS.

This great forest is important not only to Ottawa's residents and visitors, but to all Canadians. It's a rare old-growth environment that is home to many species on the brink of extinction. It's a living history lesson in pre-colonial ecology. It's a sacred place that holds cultural and archeological secrets. It's a place to explore, to breathe, and to appreciate Mother Earth – all this only 20 minutes from Parliament Hill!

As Ottawa's suburbs began to grow westward in the 1970s, then-Kanata City planners and provincial environmental officials recognized that the highlands deserved special protection. Engineers also recognized that South March's wetlands were very effective at managing watershed issues – the natural system protected the developed areas from flooding. This foresight in planning is the reason we still have the South March Highland today.

2012-01-30

A Non-Satirical Look at Ottawa's PIN Messaging "Scandal"

Is Ottawa's PIN scandal really a tempest in a teapot.

You cannot legislate or regulate integrity. The only thing that can ensure someone's integrity is their integrity.

As it stands now there is a possibility for Ottawa City staff members to discuss public policy matters without there being a record of it, by holding those discussions in person, on the telephone or via PIN messages, none of which is recorded.

If the City was to start recording PIN messages, staff members could still conduct unrecorded conversations on the telephone or in person.

So the debate should not be about ensuring staff do not conduct unrecorded conversations or enforcing some code of integrity.

The debate should be about whether PIN messages are the type of interaction that should form part of the public record. My understanding is that, even more than phone and in person conversations they are not.

Normal documentation and even e-malls that often contain lengthy information, explanations and reasoning for policies often do and should be documented and archived. In the case of phone conversations or in person meetings the usual practice is to take notes during, or make them after, to record key information shared or decisions taken. This can easily be done for PIN messages when warranted and avoid a massive and costly archiving of every mundane exchange.

We could record every PIN message and phone call and in person conversation and if people wanted to have a private and secret conversation it would not be hard to do, barring attaching 24 hour recording devices to all staff members bodies, and then the satirical take wouldn't seem so far out after all.

You cannot legislate or regulate integrity. The only thing that can ensure someone's integrity is their integrity.

2012-01-29

City Plan to Develop Municipal Mind Monitoring Software Expected to Jump Start Local High Tech Industry

In a move described by some observers as onionesque, the City's Policies and Procedures Committee is recommending the city issue an RFP for the development of what will be known as MMM Software. The Request for Proposals for Municipal Mind Monitoring software comes after a review of the latest moves by the City to fully document the decision-making process at City Hall.

In response to concerns by the City Auditor that some discussions relating to City decisions were not being recorded and archived, the City brought in new measures to capture all discussions amongst City staff, including the tapping of all staff telephones, including cell phones, and the planting of listening devices in City offices and hallways as well as microphones on all Members of Council and senior staff members.

As well as concerns about proper documentation there were concerns about the potential for secret meetings. When asked for comment former Mayor Larry said - "if people want to have secret meetings they will do what they have always done, meet at a strip club". He added "You know we are losing all rights to privacy. Even your tweets are broadcast to the whole world".

In reviewing the new measures the audit discovered yet another missing component in the documentation of the City's decision making process, After consultants interviewed a cross-section of staff it was discovered that much of the analysis part of the decision-masking process took place in the minds of the staff members. While some criticized the high cost of the consultants report, others praised it for identifying an until then unknown factor in the process.

Mayor Jimmy has praised the recommendation stating it provides the first opportunity for the City to invoke his policy of direct involvement in economic development to promote the private high tech sector to fill the void caused by federal cutbacks.

The Municipal Mind Monitoring Strategy will include the development of both hardware (brain monitoring devices) and software (thought analysis software) and is seen as a potential huge boost for the local economy in jump starting a whole new industry.

Promoters see huge potential for this kind of software from monitoring convicted criminals thoughts to those of suspected terrorists. Some say this would be the perfect tool to install on all school students to ensure they stay on the right track. The BBSA (Big Brother Society of America ) has even offered to provide grants to jump start the project.

It is expected that, once proven, this will become a standard business tool, as widely used as instant messaging, such as PIN, is today.

2012-01-26

NCC "Grand" "Massive" Greenbelt Expansion More Wish List Than To Do List

According to the Ottawa Citizen:

OTTAWA — The National Capital Commission brought forward a massive expansion Wednesday of the Greenbelt that will see the “emerald necklace” grow by 2,400 hectares in a bid to cement Ottawa’s reputation as one of the world’s greenest capitals.

(View Greenbelt expansion in a larger map)

The effort is part of a grand plan to protect the natural environment and ecosystem of the National Capital Region and connect the Greenbelt to features such as the Carp Hills, South March Highlands, Cumberland Forest and even across the Ottawa River to Gatineau Park.

Over 50 years, parcels of land — large and small — belonging to provincial and city governments, as well as private holders would be added to the Greenbelt through outright purchase or negotiations. By 2067, the Greenbelt would grow to about 24,000 hectares (23,875) from 21,875 hectares today. Overall, 57 per cent would be natural environment, up from 50 per cent today. Nearly 5,800 hectares would be set aside to promote sustainable agriculture, mostly small-scale operations of varied crops and livestock.
...

The biggest parcels of land the NCC hopes to add to the Greenbelt include privately owned land in Shirley’s Bay and provincially owned woodlands and natural areas near the Mer Bleue Bog. The NCC believes it can negotiate with provincial and city governments to make their land part of the Greenbelt while maintaining ownership. Other pieces of land would be part of a study to determine if they should be added to the Greenbelt. The trickier part for the NCC, which is hard-pressed for cash, is to find the money to buy private lands.
...

(NOTE: map in this article is the same map previously released on March 18, 2011 with the NCC Greenbelt Concept Plan documents - rww)
The old saying goes "if it sounds too good to be true ..." and unfortunately this sounds more like good intentions than a real plan. We have a 50 year time span over which much can change, including the NCC Board and leadership. We have no apparent budget but an admitted shortage of funding. And most importantly, some of the most environmentally sensitive lands, such as much of the South March Highlands, are in private hands and planned for development. Are they going to be put in limbo for potentially 50 years - not likely.

And talking about the South March Highlands and other similar lands, just what does "connect the Greenbelt to features such as the Carp Hills, South March Highlands, Cumberland Forest and even across the Ottawa River to Gatineau Park." mean. To me that implies that the Carp Hills and South March Highlands would be added to the Greenbelt and protected - why else connect to them. The Greenbelt is already "connected" to lots of subdivisions. The Ottawa Citizen article is annoyingly vague here and we can only assume the vague wording originated with the NCC. Unfortunately we could not find any official statement on the NCC web site last time we were able to access it (currently appears to be down).

We need more details. We need a timeline telling us when specific lands will be added to the Greenbelt. We need assurance that the NCC has the funding necessary and the willingness to expropriate private land if necessary. And we need to know that all the proposed additions will be protected from development until they are added to the Greenbelt.

Otherwise all we have is a pipe dream.

2012-01-25

The Ultimate Solution to Electoral Reform in Canada

Yes indeed, I do have the ultimate solutions to all of our electoral system problems and I will share them with all of you. Now some of you might think this is too comprehensive and complicated to propose all at once, but for voters it will be just a simple two step process and will eliminate the most difficult part of the voting process.

We need to do this fully and comprehensively because people have a reluctance towards change when it comes to our electoral system. They are not going to want to make multiple incremental changes. We have to do it once and we have to do it right.

The Problem

My proposals are aimed at solving the most important flaws in the process, those that make it undemocratic:

  • - the pressure for people to vote strategically, rather than for their actual preference, to try to avoid the next two factors
  • - the possibility, and likelihood in many cases, for the last choice of most voters to get elected because of "vote splitting" among like-minded voters
  • - a House of Commons whose party seat distribution does not reflect the popular vote
  • - an unelected, unaccountable and unnecessary Senate
The Solution

My proposals are based on these principles:
  • - maintaining the constituency representative system as the main basis of House of Commons membership
  • - eliminating the need and pressure for strategic voting
  • - a House of Commons whose membership, by party representation, reflects the total popular vote
  • -solving the Senate problem
A Constituency Representative Based System

The vast majority of Members of the House of Commons would be elected, as they are now, as constituency representatives. But, to avoid the necessity for strategic voting and the possibility of the least popular rather than most popular candidate being elected, a transferable vote system will be used where voters rate the candidates in preferential order, rating as many or few candidates as they wish.

A House of Commons Reflecting The Popular Vote

In order to ensure the party representation in the House of Commons reflects the popular votes a number of seats will be added to the House of Commons, and the members selected from party lists in a manner that brings the overall party representation equal to the popular vote.

This will be done by having voters select a party preference separate from a candidate preference.

The Numbers and Solving The Senate Problem

Looking at the last federal election we see that with 308 constituency representatives we have to add 107 Members of Parliament from party lists to get a fully representative House of Commons. However we can actually do this without adding any additional federal representatives by eliminating the Senate and the 100 Senators and limiting the number of constituency representatives to 300 and the number of list representatives to 100. This might not always enable adjustments to get the party representation fully equivalent but certainly enough to prevent any one party from forming a majority government without a majority of the popular vote. Note that current plans call for increasing the size of the House of Commons to 338 while retaining the Senate.

And yes eliminating the Senate may seem like an impossible task but all that it really requires is political will and is making our government truly democratic not worth finding that political will.

The End of Strategic Voting

The two new parts of the system - transferable votes and separate votes for party representation remove the most difficult part of the voting process - the antagonizing decision by voters on whether to vote strategically, an act that is itself undemocratic. Voters should be able to vote for the candidate and party of their choice and not feel that they have to vote against someone or some party to avoid the worst of all possible outcomes.

The transferable vote allows voters to rank their preferences so that in the end everyone gets to choose between the two candidates left on the ballot and no one loses their vote.

The separate vote for party representation means that no matter how votes divide up by constituency the parties representation in the House of Commons reflects their support nationwide.

These provisions also allow voters to choose independent candidates as their constituency representative without losing their ability to affect the party representation in the House of Commons.

Municipal and Provincial Elections

The transferable vote provisions are ones that should also be adopted in municipal elections. Since most municipal elections do not involve political parties the likelihood of many candidates with similar views running is even greater than in federal and provincial elections and the pressure to vote against the least desirable (rather than for the most desirable) candidate is even greater. A transferable vote prevents the last choice of most voters from being elected due to vote splitting because in the end everyone gets to choose between the two candidates left on the ballot and no one loses their vote.

The full proposal (except for elimination of the Senate) could also be adopted and adapted for provincial elections.

Representation by Population and Community Representation

One of the effects of our attempt to maintain representation by population (rep by pop) as much as possible without even further enlarging the geographic size of rural and remote constituencies has been the continual increase in the number of Members of Parliament. Current plans call for the House of Commons to increase from 308 to 338 with no end in sight.

One of the things that the separate ballot for party representation will ensure is that the House of Commons party representation reflects the popular vote of voters. This makes pure representation by population, which we have never had, somewhat less important and enables us to put more focus on making constituency representatives community representatives.

To achieve this we should put a limit on the number of Members of Parliament at 300 constituency MPs and 100 list MPs. We should also redraw constituencies, taking rep by pop into account as much as possible, making constituency boundaries more consistent with actual community boundaries as well as keeping geographic size manageable for an MP to represent. We should retain these configurations for much longer periods so these new community reflecting constituencies do not change with every election.

We should also retain PEI at 4 constituency MPs and Quebec at 75 constituency MPs for historical reasons.

We have to recognize, of course, that the list MPs will come from across Canada and are not necessarily going to accurately reflect rep by pop, though I suspect they may be more urban than rural somewhat correcting the effect of limiting rural and remote constituency geographic sizes.

There is going to be, as there always has been, a trade-off between rep by pop and ensuring effective representation for less densely populated parts of the country. However with the separate vote for party preference based on popular vote that becomes less of a problem.

The Benefits of List Representatives

There has always been criticism of the concept of having Members of Parliament selected from party lists but there are also significant benefits of it beyond ensuring that the House of Commons party representation reflects the popular vote.

We have to remember, that just as voters take into account candidates party affiliation when choosing a constituency MP, voters will also take into account who the parties have placed on their lists when choosing a party preference. Thus the parties will need to be mindful of this when drawing up their lists.

One aspect that might be criticized is parties placing people who could not get elected as individual MPs on the list. I think that is a good thing. There are undoubtedly many competent qualified people capable of doing an excellent job as an MP who would be a complete failure as a political candidate. It would not hurt to have some MPs who are lousy as "political operatives" in the House of Commons.

It might also not hurt to have MPs who are less partisan in the House of Commons and I would encourage political parties to place capable candidates that might not be card carrying members but share the parties philosophies on their lists.

There is a question as to whether parties should be allowed to place individuals who are seeking election as constituency representatives on the list. While I understand that parties might want to "protect" key candidates it is somewhat offensive that candidates rejected by their constituency voters could end up in the House of Commons (somewhat like appointing failed candidates to the Senate).

Towards a New Co-operative and Democratic House of Commons

Most individual voters would probably say that they want a majority government led by (and composed only of) the party they support. But what do the voters collectively want. It is rare that a majority of voters votes for one political party and when they do the seat representation is far from proportional to the popular vote.

The last time Canadian voters gave one party over 50% of popular votes was in 1958 when Diefenbaker's Tories received 53.7 % of the votes and 78.5 % of the seats, although Mulroney's Tories received 50% of the votes and 74.8% of the seats in 1984. (Source: Canadian Election Results: 1867-2006)

We usually get majority governments, not because we vote for them but, because of how our political system is structured.

This proposed new electoral system will ensure that voters get the representation they want and will almost always reflect the fact that their is a wide variety of political preferences in our country.

We might all be very surprised by how much better a governing process and government we get if our elected representatives are forced by the voters to actually compromise and work together without one party, or even one man, controlling the agenda.

Although we have become used to it, an "elected dictatorship" is not necessarily the best way to run a country.