The Return of the Headline Puzzle! #2

Somebody game me a tuit (it was round. I got a round tuit, er around to it...) and here I am with the answer to the last Headline Puzzle and the new one. If anyone sees me doing this "wrong" somehow, please leave a comment!

So the headlines were...



So here's the new puzzle...






Solution to be posted in another week...


UPS Ground to Canada -- Seriously Busted

In the US, there's a wonderful service, more cost effective than the Post Office for almost all package-delivery applications. It's called UPS and referred to tersely and fondly as "UPS Ground". It's so addictive that given the similarity of addresses between the US and Canada for the post, US residents who have parcels to send to Canada naturally assume that Brown will get the job done.

Well, it will but... There's the little matter of a border between the two countries, and it happens that when you send things via Brown, your "gift" suddenly becomes a COD parcel, possibly challenging the value of the gift in the first place. The thought counts, and we Canadians are too polite to complain loudly to our generous friends, but seriously. For all the tackiness of "gift cards", suddenly a gift card at amazon.ca, for instance, makes a whole lot more sense.

Now, it used to be a whole lot worse. There used to be a several week delay while Brown tried to negotiate the border and send the package around in Canada using their then half-baked delivery network up here. They've gotten a lot better and are no longer a byword in bad delivery. But they are a bad deal, and if you're in the US, shipping to Canada, they're a bad deal that you probably won't hear about from your friends north of 49. We like you. The gifts you send are thoughtfully chosen and highly appropriate, 95 times out of 100. Why should we quibble about how you choose to send them to us? But there it is.

For sending parcels to Canada from the US, the post office is a better deal, if not for you, then certainly for the people you're sending to. And if their rates are just over the edge, maybe an over-the-web gift cetificate will work better. Last time I checked, those really were duty-free.


The Return of the Headline Puzzle! #1

A long time ago I tried to produce these periodically. Here's another try. I will post the solution to this headline puzzle a week from today, 2007-12-21..






Instructions for solving should be here.


Still More Banking Woes?

A news story caught me by surprise yesterday: that the central banks of many industrialized countries, together with the American Federal Reserve have banded together to keep a money supply going, even in the face of further sub-prime mortgage meltdown red ink. The best explanation I've read so far (of course, it's from Big Brother) makes no attempt to estimate how much damage is still to come, only that the current losses add up to $60Billion and that the full extent won't be known until March 2008. The current loss is over half the amount of money that was ear-marked for easier loans this week, so I wonder if the banks have estimated the total loss already, privately, at that level. Or is this an artificial quantity, floated out there just to keep the banks liquid?

The whole thing sounds scary. Until I realize how lucky I am that I'm warm, fed and dry enough to worry about how this will affect my next re-mortgaging negotiations which aren't exactly happening in the next year.


How to keep blogging?

Find quotable things and link to them. Here's one:

"Real Men don't attack straw men."

I love it. This sort of thing gets done on all kinds of fronts. Here's the original. For the rest, the next time you hear someone's position on something get ripped apart in twenty seconds or less, go back and check what the victim really said. In their own words. Without even straining the brain I can think of four or five of these, many of them high profile enough they might be familiar to you.


Copyright amendment was a tipping point

It's been a long while since I posted to this blog last. It's not as
though I've had no opinions, it just seems that I've found so few gaps
in what I'm doing to post here. I'd like to write piercing coherent
things that people will want to read, that may change some people's
minds but fitting that into being a husband, Dad, a software
developer, a commuter and a member of my community -- not to mention
continuing to service my reading addictions has been hard.

Call it a New Years' resolution a few weeks early but I mean to post
here more often -- perhaps with a little less attention to hotlinks --
I do like to cross-reference what I'm writing to other things so that
if you haven't gotten access to the background materials that lead me
to my conclusions already, at least you'll have a chance to do so.

For now, here's a fun link for the holidays:
http://www.guessthiscity.com/ which is run by a friend of mine. Just
simple sets of 20 pictures or so for, as far as I know, for about 43
cities. Share and Enjoy (an oblique reference to heads and pigs is
purely coincidental)

One Small Victory for Fair Use

An open letter to the Minister of Industry and my MP

Dear Mr. Prentice,

Thank you for withdrawing the so-called "Canadian DMCA". I was and
have been deeply troubled by the readiness of the government to take
the part of the purveyors of creative content against the interest of
its consumers and often of its creators as well. I urge you to take a
different, more balanced view of the issues that are driving this

The purveyors of creative content have received a surcharge from the
sale of blank media on the presumption of guilt on the part of
Canadians in contravening copyright law. As galling as the presumption
of guilt is, it is a small price to pay by the consumer. It should be
sufficient for all time to preserve fair use rights. It should allow
consumers of content to time-shift, media-shift, even share moderately
and for non-commercial purposes with friends without fear of
surveillance, suit, damages or imprisonment.

The role of the Canadian government in this ought to be clear: to
balance the rights of ordinary citizens, creators of content and the
commercial entities that market and distribute that content. It is an
open secret that the commercial entities regularly abuse the creators
and they are doing whatever they can in any jurisdiction that will
listen to them to extend that abuse to the consumers of that content
as well. To have to pay some money every time a song is played --
especially to groups who manifestly do not have the best interests of
the artists at heart -- is untenable, unconscionable and an undue
intrusion into the lives of ordinary Canadians.

If the end result of "failing" to pass legislation like this in Canada
means that less and less large-company media comes to Canada that may
not be all bad -- but we all know that that end-game will result in
such widespread piracy that it will not be to anyone's benefit.

Do us all a favour and tell these extortionists (the MPAA, the RIAA
and others) to take their blank-media surcharge and be quiet. Once and
for all. The consequences of not doing so include all kinds of ills,
not least of which is the further disaffection of thousands of younger
voters who will get the message loud and clear if legislation like
this ever passes, that whomever the government of Canada is for, it's
certainly not for them. And that would be a serious breach of what you
were sent to Ottawa for: ultimately as the guardians of the
sovereignty of Canada, a trust too sacred for the kind of quick
sell-out a Canadian DMCA would represent.


Arthur N. Klassen
(address & phone-number witheld)


An Open Letter to the BC Utilities Corporation

Here's a letter I just sent to the BC Utilities Corporation. Consider echoing your sentiments along the same lines to their complaints department.

Dear Sir/Madam:

My complaint about Natural Gas Marketing in BC is simple enough you may find it easy to write off as some crank. Please do not. It consists of no more than five words.


I remember seeing a flakey survey go by that was worded in such a way as to elicit more yes than no responses and did not do anything to lay out the potential repercussions of deregulating natural gas sales in BC. Salespeople for these marketers have come to my home and those of several of my friends. The offer presented to us would have seen an immediate 12.5% jump in our gas rates, at least. Others have been told "Just sign here. You're not really committing to anything."

Deregulating phone service is not a bad idea since telecommunications bandwidth is practically infinite, totally fungible and easy to do without. Natural Gas, though, while being mostly fungible is neither infinite in supply nor easy to do without. Deregulating its distribution at all exposes the citizens of this province to the speculative vagaries of the marketplace in a way that government for the people ought not to do.

As for the advertising campaign unleashed at the same time, it is abusive in the extreme, implying that if you don't want choice on your natural gas, you must be a boring person who always wears gray socks, always eats turnips and always reads the same books. It looks to this citizen (not just customer!) distinctly like an attempt by yet another multinational corporation (Kinder Morgan) to use governmental agencies (the BCUC) to gain an opportunity to gouge its customers at will (through gas marketing proxies) and deflect the responsibility for the debacle back on the customer ("if only you hadn't signed that piece of paper..."). In all probability, what we are seeing is not such a nefarious conspiracy but it tastes bad. Really bad.

So I return to my five simple words. Get rid of this stupid situation and go back to doing your duty to the citizens of BC:


Expect to get more letters like this in the coming days. I will be sending the above letter to my local newspapers, posting it to my blog and forwarding its contents to a number of my friends. With any luck (my luck, that is), some of them will forward similar sentiments to you. I hope there'll be enough to reverse this silly decision, whose public process I do not remember seeing any timely publicity on.


name and address blinded, Aldergrove, BC


David Remnick's book, Lenin's Tomb

A friend loaned me this book a few weeks ago and I completed it this morning. I can only quote Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the "Vintage Edition" Afterword: The heart is not yet glad. So much waste, so much betrayal, so much accusation of "you moved too fast!", "you moved too slowly!", "you betrayed our trust!" (in every possible direction). And yet, the book is out of date already because Boris Yeltsin has been out of power some time now -- died just this year -- and in his place the former KGB officer, Vladimir Putin, looks to be establishing himself as the next long-term autocrat. Of course he has some semblance of legitimacy but it is hard, in the face of his relations to politically interested oligarchs (e.g. MIkhail Khodorkovsky), Belarus and Ukraine (with regard to natural gas pipelines) to accord him more than the semblance.

May the heart yet be glad! Still, it's easy to ignore, in the Anglophone west, what a long hard struggle the progress from autocracy to civil, responsible government was. The French might still remember that Bastille Day was followed by the terror, Napoleon, the return of the Bourbons, another Napoleon or two before things settled down, decades after the ouster of the WWII Quisling government, to the (largely) civilized government we see today. But in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the memory has to be a little longer -- okay, so the Americans have fought more recent wars, but their progress was accelerated by their English heritage and the Lessons Learned from the conflict by England helped the others along. These countries all mostly inherit the results of the Magna Carta (1215 or so) and the ensuing developments over the next 500 years until the last time (Queen Anne, 1707) a monarch over-turned an act of the Commons, outright.

These things take time, lots of time. It may not be in our lifetimes but there is still reason to hope that tyranny will come to an end some time in Russia (and the former SSRs). They are not doomed forever to swing from autocrat to autocrat, from corrupt bureaucracy to corrupt bureaucracy. We can hope and pray that it'll be sooner rather than later but we need not despair that it'll likely be never.


Northern Ireland

Today was the biggest day in Ireland's history since I was born. Rob Gifford's analysis made the most sense of past failures and current success that I've heard: Before the agreements were between moderates and the extremists on either side of them were always out-flanking them. Today, the extremists got together. Wonder of wonders, they found that they could understand one another and there was nobody left to out-flank them. May peace come to the 6 counties! Today was a glad day -- may there be many more like it.


According to Michael Geist, as reported on slashdot, something like DMCA may be coming to Canada this spring. Please, anyone who reads this, who lives in Canada, find your MP here (look for "Find your M.P. using your postal code") ou ici (à "Trouvez votre député au moyen de votre code postal") especially if Conservative, and write to them, by post, by e-mail, phone them and ask them to reconsider. We're already paying a piracy tax on blank media, so a law like this is unjust. It may be a little bit odious to pay a surcharge on media in order to maintain fair use, but to have paid the surcharge and then to have fair use hemmed in with severe consequences for attempting to retain it is just plain wrong. Not as wrong as withholding cheap vitamins from 3rd world children but wrong as in collecting fire insurance on a box of cigars you just finished smoking.


Some of my latest favourites

Cosmology: The Many Directions of Time -- I blogged this some time ago and tried to find it again talking to my Dad last night. Of course, when I wanted it, I couldn't find it. And then I see the guy's won a Pritzker Fellowship. Cool! I got excited, and so did some other people who could be expected to know better. Good-bye Dark Matter, good-bye tuning-fork model of classification of galaxies, hello possible explanation for quasars and Seifert Galaxies. This looks like it could be the next revolution in cosmology and physics. But it comes with a caution for anyone who hooks Genesis 1 and the Big Bang theory too closely. As usual, marrying theism too closely to one scientific hypothesis can always bite back later.

Literature: I feel like a kid again. Tomorrow, a brand new book by one of my favourite authors, now passed-on for 30+ years, is coming out. Christopher Tolkien has left publishing all of his Dad's doodles and scribblings and put the Narn î Hin Húrin out in book form. It's coming out tomorrow. I'm so excited. Time to go revisit Neldoreth after Nirnaeth Arnoediad, Nargothrond after Finrod's departure, to see what a real friend Beleg Strongbow was. Children of Hurin, coming out tomorrow. This one I think I'll bother to buy hardback.

Auditory pleasure: I am so enjoying the Drew Marshall Show, even if I wind up listening to most of it delayed over a week -- how can you justify spending four hours on a Saturday (1:00PM-5:00 PM EST/EDT Saturday) glued to your computer with a family and a house to deal with? I don't know. Check out the site, check out his (first and probably only ever) appearance on Huntley Street. If Joe Molson-Six Pack can relate to any Canadian Christian personality out there, it'll be Drew. Interviews of special interest to Canadians with Stephen Lewis, Roméo Dallaire, Bruce Cockburn, Stephen Harper, Valeri Bure (Pavel's brother), Don Cherry, Paul Henderson -- and most of them are archived for on-demand listening later.


To Gord MacDonald, presenter and host on CKNW

Dear Mr. MacDonald,

As a member of the news team for CKNW, I'd like to thank you for all the work you and your colleagues do to keep British Columbians informed about what is going on here. You are, overall, a rich source of information, and in general you discharge your responsibility to do so admirably, as your team's steady stream of awards appropriately confirms.

In regard to the one year anniversary of the sinking of the Queen of the North, there was one aspect of your coverage in the open line session that disturbed me, and if you were to give second thought to the things you were saying, perhaps they would give you pause as well. Before saying more, let me state that I share your frustration, that of all other BCers, even more those of the families of Mr. Foisy and his companion, and of the community of Hartley Bay who face an environmental disaster in the making with the 240,000 L of various oils still at the bottom near Gil Island, at the utter lack of candor on the part of the standing watch at the time of the sinking. It seems unthinkable that with two lives lost and a large cache of underwater diesel the consciences of these folks would not drive them to saying clearly and distinctly what was going on. But that is the state they are in, and if they persist in that state, ultimately they will be reprimanded by their employer and who knows but that they will face charges of negligence causing bodily harm or death eventually.

My concern is the zeal with which you were enjoining the Fourth Officer and the Quartermaster to abandon their rights to due process, implying even a moral obligation to doing so. I would remind you that if you yourself were accused, truly or falsely, of acts that could conceivably result in your imprisonment or significant loss of opportunity to earn income in your trade, that right to due process might be your only safeguard against unjust application of any penalty, or in the case guilt of a lesser offence, of an excessive penalty. These rights to due process are one of the most precious benefits we receive as citizens and we should not encourage others to abandon them, nor make them seem ridiculous or unduly cumbersome. I know individuals who have lived in regimes where these benefits are not bestowed on citizens -- some as citizens who have escaped, some as expatriates who saw co-workers harassed and were themselves expelled unjustly.

Your station's status as the primary source of local news in Vancouver give you a special responsibility, not just to hold the feet of the powerful to the fire when wrong-doing has been done (as seems clearly to be the case in this instance at some level or other), but also to honour and safeguard, in every possible way, these freedoms which keep us from living at the mercy of authorities who are free to assume that we are guilty at their whim and are already under serious threat in the low-level insanity North America has bought into in the aftermath of 9-11 as well as in the face of regular perceived breaches of justice that trouble the public when otherwise guilty persons get let off on technicalities. Those technicalities could very well defend one of us, you or me, from false accusation on some other occasion and we would do well to remember that when we -- and especially you, in this position where thousands of people listen to you and take what you say very seriously in forming their own opinions -- are tempted to deride these protections when they seem to obstruct us from finding out "what really happened" in some contentious situation.


Two Earthquakes -- Ireland and Québec

Yesterday was a huge day. I woke up to pictures of 11th hour meetings with Gerry Adams and Ian Paisley at the same table promising to form a power-sharing executive in six weeks. In this matter I have more praise for Sinn Fein and Gerry Adams than for Paisley, but not very much more. For the unionists, I understand that thirty years of conflict make them gun shy, and I understand that there's less of an official connection between the DUP and the so-called unionist, so-called militias than there was between Sinn Fein and whatever body the "volunteers" became in the last decade, but... It seemed petty to me that in the face of a hard, legislated deadline, the DUP could dig their heels in and threaten further unrest in the face of what some folks in the six counties could only interpret as double-charging on water. Good on Sinn Fein for acting to prevent the collapse. But both these parties are still working off of very different dictionaries. Until they can agree on what the end game will be (and their founding documents contain absolute contradictions there -- to join Ireland or to remain a province of the UK), any agreement will be in constant jeopardy. But I have more hope for Ireland than I did. No matter who holds the reins, all parties have to feel that they are full citizens in their own country, not systematically discriminated against regardless of how they identify themselves.

And then, in my own country, I had no idea what to expect in the results of Québec's provincial election. I turned on the telly just before supper and saw the ADQ in the lead and I've been shaking my head ever since. No sovreignty referendum for the next little while I think. Whew! What Mario Dumont is going to do with his huge rump is anyone's guess: echoes of the Reform Party sweep of the west after Mulroney stepped down as Prime Minister of Canada. It also remains to be seen what "Autonomism" (Dumont's idea of what Québec's relationship with Canada should evolve into) means and how easily it may transform, transmute, revert to "Soverigntism" (the Parti Québécois's position that the province should separate from the rest of Canada). I wonder, too, what this means for electoral results in Québec in the next Federal election which can't be that far away.


Panasonic Fluorescent Bulbs

So... according to Panasonic, Home Hardware carries these bulbs (regardless of what the packaging shouts about "Gen IV" etc, they're known within Panasonic as "EFA" bulbs). But before you go running down to your local branch, phone ahead. My closest store bought stacks of them when they first came out but they didn't sell well. He can order them in but they're not necessarily in stock just yet.

Also... I mentioned to the person I talked to at Panasonic, Canada, that the 23W bulb was a little too dim, that a brighter one would be nice. She said their supplier had chosen not to produce anything brighter. Perhaps there's some technical problem still to be overcome.

And... if you do go in for replacing your bulbs at home with any kind of fluroescent bulbs, you should be aware that they contain mercury and should really be recycled in some other way than through the trash (unless of course you want mercury in your local water table some decades from now). Not that any municipality that I know of has that kind of recycling infrastructure in place yet, but it's something that somebody should be doing something about.


Canadian Federal Liberals the new BC Protest Party?

I laughed long and hard when I heard the story.

For years, federally, British Columbians have tended to vote Progressive Conservative, Reform, Alliance or now, again, Conservative -- in part because the party in power, the Liberal Party of Canada could be trusted to ignore BC, to pour largesse on Québec, Ontario, even Manitoba but never on BC. We neither had a large population whose employability needed to be shored up (Ontario), nor a tendency to question our future within Canada (Québec). We even had an unnecessary recession in the 90s because of fiscal policy that was good for everyone east of the Rockies -- well, in deference to Alberta, everyone east of Lloydminster.

Yesterday, the minority Conservative government tabled their 2nd budget (a small wonder in itself), during which speech the MInister of Finance, the Hon. Joe Flaherty, betrayed his (and his staff's) oblivion to their being anything Beautiful in BC when he proclaimed that the Rockies were the country's westernmost beauty spot. Then he went on to lay out a budget which, while I as the head of a single-income household with three children will benefit from, shortchanges BC on several fronts, especially in federal infrastructure dollars towards better public transportation. Less than a fortnight ago, $1,000,000,000 was announced in spending for Toronto's system. So, perhaps we, as the 3rd largest city don't quite deserve that much but, no further money at all? I was surprised.

But I was not as surprised as I was to hear about a Liberal MP from BC loudly complaining about how the budget had abandoned BC. Hearing that, I laughed and laughed and laughed. The barefaced hypocrisy stunned me. Where were you, Mr. Liberal MP in the Trudeau years, the Chrêtien years, even the Martin years? Were you in the back of caucus meetings being sat on so that your constituents' reasonable requests got ignored? Actually, I think this MP is a relative newcomer to parliament but certainly other members of the Liberal contingent from BC were there before their current stint in the minority. Where were your voices then? Why should we take your calls for redress seriously, as in, "if only we vote for these guys, BC will be better off next time."?

And I laughed but my laughter was hollow. I don't suppose that trying to leave confederation will help BC much, but our population is growing and we have a similar unemployment rate to that of Powerhouse Alberta. Still, I think we would do well never to expect anything from Ottawa, save appeals for votes, even from parties that unseat the current government after years of promising us a better deal, if only we vote them in next time. Proportional representation in the Commons would be a better idea, but I see no political will for that among the haves: Conservative, Liberal, NDP. That might not fix things either but it might enable BC to have a stronger voice, a unified contingent, willing to become part of any and every ruling coalition, so long as the next government takes BC's needs seriously, instead of having them look west, see a scary Alberta and ignore anything from beyond that point. If BCers care less and less about Canada, Canada will have nobody to blame but successive Winnipeg-and-east-thereof governments that have treated BC as no more than that vacant lot beyond the Rockies. I like the idea of Canada and I hope things don't continue to develop along that vein.


Fluorescent Bulbs I Can Live With

It's happened. I never thought it would, but I have found a replacement fluorescent bulb whose light bulb doesnn't feel like a refugee from some under-lighted cavern, far from warmth or "real" light. It's a "Panasonic - Gen IV Light Capsule" -- UPC in Canada is 92281 09308. It uses 23W and puts out what feels like 45 or 50W incandescent worth of light. And it's a nice warm reddish colour. Much preferrable to the harsh fluorescent panels in the ceiling.


Translink Re-org

There have been a spate of things I have wanted to write about these last few weeks but have been unable to grab a moment here or there. So, there's a compile going on and I have a moment to mention this story that greeted me when I picked up the paper this morning. I wish I felt any confidence that this was going to improve transit and transportation in the Lower Mainland. The revised governance and the expanded sphere of responsibility is good. The missing link is still funding. Where is the funding for all these projects going to come from?

One aspect of the announcement is that public-private partnerships will be fostered by revised zoning and encouragement to develop around transit hubs in return for the private sector building certain parts of the transit system. Great. But where does infrastructure improvement that doesn't have a built-in opportunity for development get its funding from?

It's time, it's time, it's time for governments to admit that the steady stream of gasoline tax already being collected belongs not in general revenue where it's currently being sent, but in paying primarily for better transit, secondarily for better roads. Using that money for any other purpose is an illegitimate redirection of those funds that is tilting the playing field up hill for any sensible transit policy and downhill for whatever else it's being used for.

I despair of that conclusion ever being reached by the people who could make that idea a reality.


I have decided something...

What have you decided, Pooh?

I have decided to move all the noisier things (about sports and other trivialities -- what Noam Chomsky would call the real opiates of the people) to another blog, namely So Much Depends... and I'll keep this one for "more important" (at least more important-looking) issues.

Also, now that google has assimilated blogger, I'm going to try the e-mail posting route again -- there used to be a several-days' turnaround between things I e-mailed and having them show up. Quite unacceptable.

Some of the issues that have concerned me most, in my 24-time-zone village.:
  • Turkmenistan's self-absorbed "Father of the Turkmen", who spent insane amounts of money erecting gold-covered monuments to himself passed on over Christmas, and for just a moment or two, I hoped the Turkmen would get a more sensible leader. Imagine my dismay when I read that the new leader said he would continue the policies that had resulted in so much more greatness for Turkmenistan under his wonderful forebear.
  • DOJ v. Microsoft is being replayed in Iowa courts these days (groklaw, as usual, is covering it...), among other things, once again covering "Embrace, Extend, Extinguish" and other such joys.
  • My youngest niece and nephew are about to turn two. She lives twenty minutes drive away, he eight time zones. Elly has been a careful, cautious person with her affections, taking some time even to accept her siblings' affection. I think she finally likes me. Nothing is so precious, on a personal level, as the confidence of the smallest that you are a safe person to be with -- nothing in human relations deserves such careful guarding and preservation.
  • I sincerely hope that Ethiopian military adventurism is conducted, over the long haul, in a saner fashion and with more peaceful, stable outcomes than that of other countries. Oh, let there be peace in Somalia, no more warlords, no more blackhawks, no more political strife outside the ballot box and legislative chamber...
And hey.. it's been awhile since I went looking at Gwynne Dyer's web site. I wonder what incisive analysis he's put out in the last six months?


I never get here anymore but...

I've found a new use for this. There are a couple of articles I mean to read some time when I find the time. Linked from Groklaw's news clicks: They are World Domination 101 and World Domination 201. Then there was also a long article by Joel Spolsky explaining some guy I've begun to wonder if I should know about already, named Steve Gillmor -- but using some interesting Talmudic techniques. I probably don't really care about Steve Gillmor, but Joel's take on him looked generally informative enough to be woth perusing, at least briefly.

Anyways, now my blog has become my über-bookmark. I wonder how long it'll take to become my über-coffee maker -- and then whether it'll be an über-maker or make über-coffee? I should be careful here, or I'll require someone to come after me with rashi and tosefot sections of their own...