April 30, 2005

Congratulations: placeandthyme.com

For the past two week, Ottawa Citizen columnist Alex Munter has been running a contest to find Ottawa's "best local blog" -- "who is doing a great job telling our community's stories online?"

This morning he announced that Lana Stewart's placeandthyme.com was the winner. Congratulations, Lana!

I couldn't agree more, although I'm biased since I nominated her.

Also, welcome to any Citizen readers and/or Lana-fans dropping by via placeandthyme (thanks, Lana!). Hope you find something of interest to read or look at.

In the interests of full disclosure, I have won a "Citizen swag bag" full of goodies for my efforts. So I guess I should thank Lana for having such an obviously great blog! Here's an excerpt of what I wrote to Alex Munter. The part he quoted in today's winner-announcing article is in italics:

I know Lana, but that's not why I visit placeandthyme.com. [...] I visit placeandthyme.com every day because Lana almost always has a fresh take on Ottawa and the downtown neighbourhoods I live, work, and play in. She combines interesting photography with a sharp, quirky wit to create what I think is quite a unique site.

Posted by anatole at 11:18 AM | Comments (1)

Ever wonder what it's like to be hit by a bird travelling at over 300 km/hour?

If you live in the nation's capital, you may be familiar with the fact that we have had a pair of peregrine falcons living on downtown skyscrapers since 1997. Horizon, the female who has lived in our city with three different mates over this 8-year period, currently resides at the Crown Plaza hotel (Lyon and Albert).

In any case, the Ottawa Field Naturalists' Club (OFNC) has been running a "Falcon Watch" for a number of years. Well, it's almost egg-hatching time, which means Falcon Watch is about to kick off and the OFNC is looking for volunteers. This includes one person who is willing to subject themselves to a fierce defensive attack by our local peregrines.

Here's the idea: after the chicks are born, they must be banded. To be banded, they of course need to be handled. The parents don't like that, so they need to be distracted ... by a volunteer "decoy". Here's how it works for the lucky person: They get strapped into a harness (remember we're at the top of a hotel that is suitably cliff-like as far as the falcons as concerned) and they go out onto the peregrine's ledge. This volunteer is not just strapped into a harness, but is also covered with some serious padding and wearing a hard hat. Why? Because a peregrine falcon diving in attack mode can travel at -- get this -- over 300 km/hour. This makes peregrine falcons perhaps the fastest creatures on the planet.

A report from last year's peregrine pbservations details the charge:

Tracy from Canadian Peregrine Foundation (CPF) was the decoy this year. She had done this elsewhere in the past, but wasn't prepared for our Horizon. She no sooner got her head out the doorway on the ledge with hard hat in hand than, WHAM, she was hit on the side of her head! From then on until she was brought back inside, she was on the defensive, sustaining at least 30 physical hits from Horizon! Connor flew around and made lots of noise, but never made physical contact. We could hear and see much of this from above in the room.

Posted by anatole at 04:41 AM | Comments (3)

April 27, 2005

Composting Our Way to 60% by 2008

A few days ago, I promised more on a City of Ottawa report calling for substantially increased waste diversion and a green box composting program.

It turned out to be trickier than I thought to find the report, but a few phone calls to the city later, I was successful:

Here are some of the key items that the Report asks the P&E Committee to recommend for Council approval:

1. Confirmation of a 40% diversion target within existing service programs by end of year 2006;

3. Endorsement of a target of 60% diversion for Ottawa residents to be achieved by year endyear-end 2008;

6. Implementation of an Organics Collection Program within the next solid waste collection contracts with organics collection envisioned to commence in 2007, and that staff report back with the details of the program in the fall of 2005;

7. That staff develop a comprehensive "utility" based funding concept based upon the recommended hybrid model contained in this report providing service to urban, suburban, rural, residential and rural villages for implementation in 2007;

8. That the City provide solid waste collection services through a Yellow Bag Program to "non-residential establishments" that meet the eligibility criteria and service level outlined in this report with service to commence in January 2006;

9. Staff solicit "Expressions of Interest" from the private sector for organics processing technology to assess the level of interest, from the private sector and report back with recommendations to Committee;

There's a lot in the report, so I'll leave you to read it if you want all the details. The recommendations above are fairly self-explanatory with the exception of #7 and #8. For this, you'll want to skip to the "Discussion" section of the document which contrasts several funding models (assessment, flat fee on utility or tax bill, and full user-pays).

You may also want to read the Ottawa Citizen article that initially pointed me to this story, now available on Councillor Jan Harder's web site.

A $3-a-bag program is proposed to reintroduce residential-equivalent garbage collection for small businesses. In addition to the "yellow bag" program for small business, the "hybrid" model alluded to above proposes dropping a fluctuating taxes-linked waste services charge in favour of:

  • A flat fee for solid waste services (read: garbage collection) charged only to the users of the system (i.e. residential) on either the utility or tax bill.
  • Everyone continuing to pay an "assessed" tax amount for waste diversion, including businesses -- who would be paying for the "environmental benefit of a community with a strong Waste Diversion Program".

The report also refers to the waste diversion and solid waste management program cutbacks that occured in the 2004 Budget after the Universal Program Review in 2003. There was a public outcry after these cuts, so the city reinstated leaf and yard waste collection in the summer on a limited basis and promised to reintroduce plastics recycling in the 2005 budget.

This didn't happen, prompting a further outcry. While I'm encouraged by Ottawa's consideration of different funding models (e.g. connecting fees to service, recognizing the value to the business community of a healthier environment, etc.), I can't help but feel that the people in charge don't quite "get it". In his Ottawa Citizen article, Randall Denley notes:

City staff realizes we will never reach the lofty recycling target without a little persuasion. They estimate about $1 million a year for advertising and "public education" ought to do it.
One of the chief arguments against cutting the plastics recycling program was that nobody was doing a "good habits/bad habits" cost-benefit analysis. Many people saw good recycling behaviour as a key contribution to the environment and to their city and community. They had become very diligent about it, and then they were told "actually, why don't you throw that back in the garbage again." You can't turn this kind of behaviour on and off like a light-switch, and the city will want to turn it on again for the composting program, let alone when/if they reinstate the plastics program. So what's the irony in all this? One million dollars for public education, and an $800,000 plastics recycling reinstatement cut during late negotiations from Budget 2005. Slick.

Posted by anatole at 11:32 PM | Comments (2)

Trafficlight Colours

Close-up of window shutter, Distillery District, Toronto
It's like I said before -- colour! This is another photo from Toronto's Distillery District.
Toronto, Ontario [view large]

Posted by anatole at 10:28 PM | Comments (0)

Industrial-strength colour

Close-up of window shutter, Distillery District, Toronto
I was visiting with friends in Toronto the weekend before last, and we took a stroll around the Distillery District. It's a great place for photography and is surprisingly rich in colours for all the stereotyped reputation of drab industrial zones.
Toronto, Ontario [view large]

Posted by anatole at 10:18 PM | Comments (4)

April 21, 2005

Cue drama!

(c) CBC.ca6:55 p.m.: Paul Martin is not a great orator, so unless he pulls out a signed confession from Jean Chrétien, this is unlikely to go well. Brought to you by the star election team (David Herle and company) who delivered Paul Martin his shaky minority government.

7:09 p.m.: Not as bad as I expected, but no major surprises. An apology for the "unjustifiable mess" and commitments to call an election after the Gomery Inquiry reports in fall 2005 and to return any money from "ill-gotten gains" funnelled to the Liberal Party back to Canadians.

7:11 p.m.: Harper time! Part of the danger of this gambit is that it gives the last word for the evening to the opposition.

7:18 p.m.: Harper sounds a bit petty, and his lines are starting to sound tired and stretched. Gilles Duceppe is up now -- I can scarcely keep up!

7:19 p.m.: I think Duceppe just paid a sort of backhanded compliment to Chrétien (a PM speech to save Canada vs. to save the Liberal party). He needled Martin similarly during the last election, arguing that Chrétien had been a more worthy, challenging opponent.

7:24 p.m.: Layton's walking up. He has been throwing out contingent offers of support for the Liberals into the abyss all week, and no one has been biting.

7:26 p.m.: I think Layton is bombing. Too hokey (though, on that note, I forgot to mention Paul Martin's "When I was young, I practically lived here in the Parliament buildings" story -- yikes!) ... and lines like "This summer, forest fires may be fiercer. Our Arctic will melt a bit more."

7:28 p.m.: He did it again! Layton just offered to pass the budget if they lose the "surprise corporate tax cuts." With three independents in Parliament and a handful of illnesses on both sides of the House, it is theoretically possible the NDP could prop up the Liberals.

7:30 p.m.: The opposition was fairly consistent on this theme: this is a Liberal crisis, not a Canadian crisis. Also a few "dithering" references.

7:37 p.m.: George Stromboulopoulos with feedback from Canadians out in Vancouver ... this line from the crowd: "I don't think it was a national crisis worth breaking into prime time television for." I love it.

7:41 p.m.: The Martin-Chrétien division in the Liberal party persists -- notice that nobody is talking about the Liberal Party passing election campaign finance reform.

7:42 p.m. They actually just said how worried they are that the CBC newsroom computer systems might crash because of the surge of e-mail. Right.

7:44 p.m. Martin's taped, split English-French address (as opposed to the live, mixed delivery of the opposition leaders) -- as well as his failure to address Quebeckers directly (vs. all Canadians) -- is causing both confusion and anger/frustration.

7:45 p.m. These viewer reaction segments kill me.

7:56 p.m. CBC analysts are correctly pointing out that it will be critical whether people heard Martin's argument that due process means waiting to hear the results of the Gomery inquiry. Or will this TV extravaganza have further elevated the importance of the entire scandal?

I can't seem to find a transcript of Gilles Duceppe's comments (checked Globe and Mail, La Presse, and National Post.) Strange.

Update: Gilles Duceppe's response has appeared on the Ottawa Citizen website.

Posted by anatole at 07:01 PM | Comments (5)

April 20, 2005

Blue Box, Black Box ... Green Box?

The City of Ottawa has released a report setting a target of diverting 60% of its garbage from landfills by 2008 (the current rate is about 31% according to an article in yesterday's Ottawa Citizen).

Proposals/initiatives included in the report apparently include user-pays garbage bag fees and a green box composting program (to be in place by 2007). Sadly, the Citizen article seems to suggest that a return to full plastics recycling is not part of the package (see my earlier post on this subject).

More to follow ...

Posted by anatole at 12:13 PM | Comments (6)

April 19, 2005

Caterpillar

UPDATED

Caterpillar machinery on Coal Harbour waterfront, Vancouver, B.C.
I don't normally photoshop my photos, not least for want of time and skill, but this one begged for some tinkering in my mind's eye. The bright caterpillar equipment leapt out at me on a bleak day in Vancouver, and a little bit of digital darkrooming highlighted the effect.
Vancouver, B.C. [view large]

George asked for a satellite map to provide some context for this photo. Thanks to maps.google.com, here it is:

So what are we looking at? Well, the photographed area under development is the circle labelled #2 on the map. It is on the southern shore of Coal Harbour. I'm not sure what is being built, although my guess would be condos (there appear to be more condos springing up in Vancouver than in Toronto, which is saying something.) If you want to explore the area around this (e.g. zoom out to get an even broader Vancouver context), click here.

While I was at it, I recognized a few other landmarks that I had photographed.

  • Circle #1: Fuelling stations in the harbour

  • Circle #3: Canada Place

  • Circle #4: Shipping dock

Posted by anatole at 12:29 AM | Comments (6)

April 13, 2005

Chocolate: Reloaded

So has anyone else noticed the runaway proliferation of candybar brand line extensions over the past year or so?

I remember the good old days, when choosing a chocolate or other candy bar was simple. Feel like giving yourself a break? Buy a KitKat. Hungry? Pick up an Oh Henry. Need hands free from melted chocolate? M&Ms it is.

Or was. I don't know what happened, but each of these chocolatey brands is expanding like crazy. Sure, it's not all new news. M&M peanut and M&M almond have been around for ages. But I think we're witnessing an unprecedented candybar branding explosion.

It all started innocently enough -- a dark chocolate varietal here, a holiday special version there (see: Hershey Kisses). Then there were the forays outside the candybar market -- like smartie, rolo, etc. flavoured ice cream. Today, I dare say things are out of control. Here are but a few examples:

The Brand"Old School"Empire-building
Milk chocolate, peanut, almond Peanut butter, Crispy, Minis, Baking Bits
Original/milk chocolate White chocolate, dark, mint, inside out, triple chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, orange, chunky, chunky caramel, chunky peanut butter, chunky M.A.X.[*], bites
Reese's pieces, peanut butter cups Peanut butter and white chocolate, extra smooth and creamy, crunchy, fudge, peanut butter lovers, chocolate lovers, Big Cup, white chocolate Big Cup, ReeseSticks, bites, reece's pieces with peanut butter and peanuts, nutrageous (pb, caramel, and milk chocolate)

Admittedly, the lists above draw from both Canada and the U.S. (which always carried different varieties, leading to a certain unknown factor here) and include special/limited editions that are currently available. But the lists are still not exhaustive, and many of the above are currently available in Ottawa. Last year, the shop in my work building probably carried two types of Kit Kat (the standard, plus chunky). Now there are at least five.

Where is all this madness headed? Already some of the varieties are a little bit ridiculous, like Reese's pieces with peanut butter and peanuts. As these brands continue to compete (even though they are owned by a small handful of chocolate mega-conglomerates at the top), to what lengths will they go to differentiate themselves? How about ...

  • M&M Ovals -- now in a slightly different but equally pleasing shape!
  • Kit Kat Waferholics Vanilla-Blueberry-Nutella Crunch-Crackle
  • Reese's peanut "I can't believe it's butter" mini-cuplettes

I wonder if eventually this diversification will collapse in upon itself, leading back to dominance by the original varieties, somewhat similar to the way many movie theatres have returned to hawking the old-fashioned candies that graced the theatres of previous generations. Personally, I can't wait to see those campaigns, featuring "M&M Classics", no doubt, "Reese's pieces -- Just Like E.T. Liked 'Em", and "Kit Kat -- Now With Wafers and Milk Chocolate ... Again."

[*] Apparently this stands for "Maximum Appetite Xcitement". Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Posted by anatole at 10:02 PM | Comments (6)

Stanley Park

Afternoon dew in Stanley Park, Vancouver, B.C.
More from Vancouver, this time from Stanley Park.
Vancouver, B.C. [view large]

Posted by anatole at 09:31 PM | Comments (4)

April 09, 2005

Cherry blossom bloom on path

Bike/pedestrian pathway with cherry blossoms, Vancouver, B.C.
I was in Vancouver for work a few weeks ago. On Saturday, after the workshop was over, I went exploring. I liked this bike-pedestrian path (and signage!) along the waterfront (this part was near Coal Harbour). Also, the cherry blossoms (visible further along the path) were in full bloom.
Vancouver, B.C. [view large]

Posted by anatole at 07:17 PM | Comments (3)

April 08, 2005

You're fired

Scott Reid sure is scraping the bottom of the crisis communications barrel:

"Paul Martin is the wire brush that will scrub clean this stain on Canadian politics."

You can imagine what Donald Trump would be saying to this star spinner right about now.

Posted by anatole at 11:21 AM | Comments (0)

April 03, 2005

Reading about reading: All the news that's fit to code

There was an interesting article in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago about the dilemma faced by newspapers in deciding whether to charge for news content online:

I won't repeat all the for-and-against arguments referenced in the article, but I've been thinking about this topic recently because of the Globe and Mail's relatively recent foray into content-pricing. I don't think they're doing a good job with it. I've heard a lot of people say that the cost of the "Insider Edition" is way too high at $14.95 a month, and I have to agree -- the staggering insight of Margaret Wente's delightful prose notwithstanding (ahem). The packaging is cumbersome -- in part, I think they went too far in automatically including Wall Street Journal content which I can only imagine constitutes a sizeable chunk of the $14.95 (interestingly, the WSJ apparently charges an affordable $79/year for online access).

Now, I don't expect free news. But I do wish the Globe and Mail and others would be more creative, harnessing the power of this crazy Internet thing to do micro-charging, customizable bundling, etc. The Ottawa Citizen charges $1 for an old issue (scanned in print version, but with text-accessibility) and lets you buy packages (min. $5) so that you can purchase one-offs without the Citizen (and therefore you) paying repeated credit card fees. The Globe and Mail, meanwhile, charges $4.95 for a single article (only $4 per article if you buy 10 -- oh boy!). By setting up Citizen-style internalized declining-balance accounts, newspapers can do "micro-charging" without incurring huge transaction costs. Ideally once this catches on and the market for it has matured, the "micro" should be a lot more micro, too.

There are also some very specific features I would love to see in exchange for paid content. A while ago the Globe and Mail stopped offering full-text/plain-text e-mailing of its articles, leaving behind only a few other newspapers still doing it (the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, the New York Times, etc.). The NYT actually just stopped the practice a few weeks ago as well. I would happily pay some reasonable premium to be able to do that again, because I like to be able to "clip and save" articles, as I would with a hardcopy, and -- and this is critical -- I like to be able to do it conveniently. I can still save the content of Globe articles in several ways. It's just more annoying. Possibly this was the intent -- there's no customer like an annoyed customer! -- but maybe it's that I'm not really thought of as a "customer"? Unlikely given the role of advertising online, I imagine. In any case, I e-mailed the Globe back when they cut the plain-text/full-text e-mail option, leaving only an HTML/full-text e-mail feature. I sung the praises of the full-text feature (and of the Globe and Mail more generally, of course) and was surprised to receive this e-mail back:

Anatole,

Sorry for the delay, and many thanks for the lengthy email on how we can improve (I guess, by taking one step back).

I'll make a note of this for the next set of enhancements to the site, so thank you for that. I guess that all I can recommend in the interim is that you copy and past the text of the article and paste it in your email, and send the text to friends/co-workers that way.

[name removed]
Globeandmail.com

Subsequent "enhancements" have not (yet) returned the old functionality. Perhaps it's time for another letter.

While I'm griping about the Globe, I have one more thorn in my side (aside -- no pun intended -- why is it always in the side?). Along with the Globe's Insider Edition paid content has come registration for accessing the rest of the site. I have no problem with this, and it follows the pattern of the vast majority of online newspapers over the past few years. What is astonishing is that this registration seems to have stripped academic/research databases like Lexis Nexis of Globe and Mail full-text content. This is unheard of, in that every other newspaper of any repute offers its full-text content to these databases. Are they insane?

Moving on -- this past Friday, said Globe and Mail carried a story on the inroads made by free dailies like Metro in Canada's major cities. Apparently the newspaper business overall is holding strong, with a stable 12 million weekly readers over the past five years. Both the Globe and the National Post had declining readership, although the Post seems to (continue to) be having a worse time of it, now at under 65% of the Globe's national readership and falling faster -- and taking hits in cities where the Globe's readership actually increased (e.g. Toronto).

Finally, a Saturday article in the Globe (thanks for the tip, Rob!) looks at book purchasing and other "cultural spending" (the connection is that it includes spending on newspapers!). Here's a summary of the data, supplemented by numbers from the source document, a report by Hill Strategies based on a Statistics Canada survey.

2001 data % of households spending Rank Total spending across Canada Rank
Newspapers 63% 1$1.22 billion1
Movies 61% 2$1.18 billion2
Magazines and periodicals 54% 3$683 million6
Books 48% 4$1.13 billion3
Live performing-arts 36% 5$824 million5
Museum admissions 32%6$375 million8
Art, antiques, decorative wear 29%7$1.12 billion 4
Live sporting events 19%8$451 million7

Posted by anatole at 07:38 PM | Comments (5)

Sunset on Crow Lake

Crow Lake sunset, Ontario
Sunset glow on Crow Lake
Ontario [view large]

Posted by anatole at 02:55 PM | Comments (1)

April 01, 2005

Make babies, mate.

I spent the first six months of 2004 in Australia, but apparently I missed all the excitement. The federal ("Commonwealth") government has been trying to battle a falling birth rate by offering a $2000+ incentive to bring a baby Aussie into the world. And apparently it's working:

"The 133,400 babies born in the six months ending in September were the most in a half-year period in 14 years, according to recent figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics." [Associated Press in the Globe and Mail]

This is, of course, not a novel policy idea. Still, Treasurer Peter Costello gave it his own unique twist in announcing the payments in May, 2004:

"You go home and do your patriotic duty tonight." [...] "You should have one for your husband, one for your wife, and one for your country."

A far cry from Pierre Trudeau's "The state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation," eh?

Posted by anatole at 01:09 AM | Comments (2)