December 31, 2004

Tsunami New Year

Just when it looked like the political drama in the Ukraine might be the story to close out 2004, an absolutely devastating earthquake-borne tsunami wreaked havoc across Southeast Asia and as far west as the east cost of Africa.

A number of online sources (globeandmail.com, cnn.com, and even google.com) provide links to charities and aid organizations providing relief.

The amount of aid is ramping up quickly, at least in terms of dollars committed (now up over $1 billion thanks to major contributions by the World Bank and the U.S.). It has been interesting and sometimes disappointing to watch the highly political "do we feel good enough about ourselves?" donation game being played out across the world in the last few days. As a number of commentators pointed out, the amounts initially pledged by many countries were downright embarassing, even accounting for the fact that the true scale of the devastation was not yet known. Both Canada and the U.S. have increased their promised contributions tenfold in the past couple of days. The U.S. increase, to $450 million, may temporarily put to rest the "stinginess" accusation implicitly levelled by a U.N. official a few days ago. Until the increase, the U.S. government had committed far less on a per capita basis than many other countries (U.K., Australia, Canada, etc.). Canada also added to its response a moratorium on debt owed by the affected countries, arguing this would help not only immediate relief efforts but also longer-term rebuilding. In addition to the federal government's $40 million, Ontario and Alberta have each pledged $5 million and B.C. $8 million. Some readings on the subject of donations in Canada, including an interesting article that scratches the surface of the impact of the Internet on donations:

Hmmm ... apparently I read the Globe and Mail a lot.

In other (related) news, I've also been following two other tsunami sub-stories. First up, why warnings weren't better communicated when some people had figured out what was going on.

Second, on a vaguely related note, why do the vast majority of animals appear to have been among those who had figured out what was going on? A lot of vague "sixth sense" assertions are flying around, but some less abstract and quite convincing (and not too surprising, all things considered) explanations are emerging.

Posted by anatole at 07:25 PM | Comments (0)

December 21, 2004

Brrrrr ...

It's cold in Ottawa this week, no doubt about that. You know it's a cold day when the weather forecast lists a high of -25. Yesterday the windchill-aided temperature dipped below -40 degrees Celcius. Yes, we take our weather seriously here, although we usually prefer not to take it this seriously until January. The sudden cold didn't stop anyone from going about their business, of course, although there was the usual frostbite warning:

"Bitterly cold Arctic air giving wind chills of minus 30 to minus 40 this morning. [...] Because of these high wind chills frostbite can occur on exposed skin in a short period of time."
Those of you living in the U.S. should brace for some of those nasty cold fronts we're always allegedly sending down your way.

Someone at work remarked that it would be handy if Environment Canada's weather forecast had a metric for the risk that beer left in the garage would freeze overnight. That got me thinking about other useful information that MSC could provide as part of its regular weather forecast:

  • Length of time it will probably take for your car to start in the morning [numeric; number of minutes, seconds]

  • Risk factor for licking a metallic pole [ordinal categories representing level of risk, ranging from low risk ("Mmmm... metal!") to high risk ("Ma tongue ith thtuck to thith poe")]

  • Likelihood that, objectively speaking, your house would make a better home for penguins than humans today [numeric; percentage]

  • Likelihood that cold temperatures will addle the brains of federal politicians in Ottawa, impairing their ability to make decisions in the public interest [numeric; percentage]

  • Distance from your office building your co-workers are willing to venture for lunch [numeric; metres or possibly centimetres]

  • Number of times you are likely to curse and/or speak wistfully of warmer climates while snow-shovelling/hanging Christmas lights outside/scraping the car/etc. [numeric]

  • Likelihood that you will immediately follow up such wistful thoughts with a nervous laugh and a bold assertion of Canadian hardiness and how much you enjoy the winter [numeric; percentage; always high]

  • Likelihood that your iPod batteries will drain before a complete run-through of "Stairway to Heaven," including that bit at the end where it speeds up and you never knew for sure whether to just keep slow-dancing or what ... [numeric; percentage]

Any other suggestions?

Posted by anatole at 10:43 PM | Comments (2)

December 15, 2004

Snowtastic

Posted by anatole at 01:09 AM | Comments (3)

Hello sweetie

Posted by anatole at 12:47 AM | Comments (0)

December 05, 2004

Defenestrate your doubts: "blog" is here to stay

If blogs and blogging didn't make it into the official, mainstream big leagues when bloggers got credentials for the Democratic and Republican National Conventions this past year, try this: "blog" was the most looked-up word on the Merriam-Webster website in the past 12 months and will appear, as planned, in the 2005 print edition of the dictionary. The word "blog" has pushed the typical timelines for becoming a print dictionary entry, as did previous Internet terms and disease names like AIDS and SARS, according to the Boston Herald.

Merriam-Webster loses points, however, for its totally un-cool definition:

"A Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer."
"Hyperlinks?" That is so last century!

Here's the full list from Merriam-Webster:

    1. blog
    2. incumbent
    3. electoral
    4. insurgent
    5. hurricane
    6. cicada
    7. peloton
    8. partisan
    9. sovereignty
    10. defenestration

Now, I know what you're thinking. What on earth is "defenestration" doing on this list? The BBC reports that:

"Other words on the Merriam-Webster list were associated with major news events such as the US presidential election or natural disasters that hit the US."

I try to imagine how "defenestration" applies to major news events or to natural disasters:

  • "Boy, John Kerry sure defenestrated that election when he mentioned Dick Cheney's daughter in the debate."
  • "Were the Florida hurricanes really that bad? Well, the one that hit our winter home defenestrated half my Frank Sinatra collection."
  • "Come on, now, Colin Powell would totally love to defenestrate Donald Rumsfeld.
  • "I'll bet Paul Martin's wishing he hadn't been so quick to defenestrate the Chrétien wing of the Liberal party.

Thankfully the Boston Herald comes to the rescue again with an explanation not proferred by the BBC:

The publisher's Web masters can claim some credit for No. 10: "defenestration." The word, which means to throw a person or a thing out a window, was the top entry in an online survey by Merriam-Webster asking users for their favorite word.

To its credit, the BBC website does treat us to some inter-dictionary competitive ribbing:

However, the word is already included in some printed versions of the Oxford English Dictionary.

A spokesman for the Oxford University Press said that the word was now being put into other dictionaries for children and learners, reflecting its mainstream use.

"I think it was the word of last year rather than this year," he said.

"Now we're getting words that derive from it such as 'blogosphere' and so on," he said.

"But," he added, "it's a pretty recent thing and in the way that this happens these days it's got established very quickly."

Thanks to Lana for the tip on this item.

While I'm on the subject, here are some words/expressions that I came across for the first time recently:

  • Bloke vote: What an Australian newspaper identified as the political prize target of John Kerry's goose hunt in Ohio a week before the election.

  • Sneakernet: Refers to the physical carrying of data between locations on disks, CDs, USB storage, etc. I found this term while looking into the purchase of an external harddrive, and I'm surprised I hadn't come across it before. References here and here.

  • Gnomes of Zurich: Employed on the Daily Show on Election Night 2004 by one William Weld, former (Republican) Governor of Massachusetts, prompting me to run for Google. See wikipedia.

Posted by anatole at 10:08 AM | Comments (0)

December 03, 2004

Frozen fish flip-flop

Ontario has flip-flopped on its decision to force sushi vendors to use only frozen fish. From the globeandmail.com ("Ontario scraps sushi crackdown"):

"If we had the information we needed at the start," Ontario's Chief Medical Officer, Sheela Basrur, said, "we would have done things differently. But better late than never." [...]

The province never enforced the regulation, an amendment to the Health Protection and Promotion Act, due to the initial protests. While the amendment is still technically on the books, Liberal MPP Peter Fonseca, parliamentary assistant to Health Minister George Smitherman, said the government intends to deal with safety concerns through "voluntary compliance" rather than the existing ban. Certification of sushi chefs and others who deal with raw fish could be a part of such a shift. [...]

"It was done with the right reason in mind," Mr. Fonseca said. "But I don't know if we had a good enough understanding of what other jurisdictions were doing and what the risks really were. . . . Fish is such a healthy food, and when we have such a big problem with obesity, we don't want to stop people eating fish, we want to encourage them."

But now Dr. Basrur acknowledges that anisakiasis, the disease most often mentioned in connection with sushi eating, is extremely rare in the province. By her reckoning, only three cases have surfaced in Ontario in the past decade. [...]

How Ontario ended up with a regulation it wants to disown is something of a mystery.

"Something of a mystery"? Is that a joke?

According to the news stories, health officials:

  • Didn't investigate the magnitude of the risk in the relevant population ("But now Dr. Basrur acknowledges that anisakiasis, the disease most often mentioned in connection with sushi eating, is extremely rare in the province. By her reckoning, only three cases have surfaced in Ontario in the past decade.")
  • Relied on faulty parallelism ("Health advisers, on the lookout post-SARS for any offshore illness that might ravage Ontario, noted Japan's 2,000 annual cases of anisakiasis. [...] But, said Patrick McMurray, owner of Toronto's Starfish oyster bar and a leader of the fight against the fresh-fish ban, "that number is not significant in a country where so many people eat raw fish, and even in Japan, the illnesses aren't coming out of restaurants and the people who get sick aren't eating fish prepared by trained sushi chefs.")

  • And didn't talk to the people who were allegedly creating the threat ("Terry Mundell, president of the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel and Motel Association, said the concern about serving raw fresh fish was never raised with his group. [...] Dr. Basrur maintains that all major industry associations were consulted but, she said, "the message did not necessarily percolate down to the Japanese restaurants." [...] So key players were missed, partly because, as independent operators with sometimes a limited grasp of English -- and little time to spend lobbying -- they did not make a government consultation list.")

"Something of a mystery"? More like the perfect recipe for a terrible regulation.

As noted above, Ontario's Chief Medical Officer lamented: "If we had the information we needed at the start, we would have done things differently. But better late than never." Right: "If only we'd thought to think ..." I sure feel safe about my health now.

Oh, and one more thing. Good luck finding any information on any of this on the Government of Ontario's Health Ministry and "Healthy Ontario" portal web sites:


Posted by anatole at 09:16 PM | Comments (0)