October 31, 2005

Mistaken Point II

Mistaken Point, Newfoundland
More from the rugged Newfoundland coastline at Mistaken Point on Cape Spear (see my previous entry on Mistaken Point).
Mistaken Point, Cape Race, Newfoundland [view large]

Mistaken Point, Newfoundland
The ground really looks like it's 550 million years old at Mistaken Point. [view large]

Mistaken Point, Newfoundland
One of the more accessible beds of fossils at Mistaken Point. The two most accessible (and accessed) are named the Queen's bed and Yale bed after the universities that studied them. [view large]

Mistaken Point, Newfoundland
A surreal landscape ... [view large]

Mistaken Point, Newfoundland
We visited just one very dense fossil bed, but the fossils and the Ecological Reserve stretch for several kilometres along the Cape Race coast. [view large]

Mistaken Point, Newfoundland
Miriam takes some time to get to know the fossils. [view large]

Mistaken Point, Newfoundland
Another fossil, in case you missed the last one. [view large]

Posted by anatole at 09:44 PM | Comments (2)

October 25, 2005

Play it again ... Jack.

This past Saturday, the Great Hall at the Museum of Civilization was packed with politicos and media types for the annual Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner.

This is a chance for politicians to ham it up -- with a healthy dose of self-deprecation, if they know what they're doing -- in the hopes of increasing their likeability with the journalists and others in attendance (and, now that the event is broadcast, the public). It's an "I may spew venom in Parliament, but deep down I'm a funny, approachable MP" kind of event.

It's at the U.S. equivalent of this event in March 2004 that President Bush aired a very poorly received video making light of the fruitless search for WMD in Iraq (the video depicted Bush scouring the Oval Office saying such lines as "Those WMD have got to be here somewhere" and " and "No, no weapons over there".) So events like these always involve a delicate balance.

But I digress. I didn't see the dinner live (read: no, I don't sit around watching CPAC), but I did watch some highlights. Although Martin and Harper apparently both had their funny moments, none of them seem to have made it into the highlights (apparently the latter did an impression of Revenue Minister John McCallum that brought the house down -- those crazy guys!). Not surprisingly, the Prime Minister couldn't quite pull off the delivery; at least Harper can mock his own reputation for dryness (the PM had his self-deprecating moments too, I am assured). Harper ultimately loses for deciding to tell this abomination of a joke:

"The first time Jean Chretien went to the Calgary Stampede he wore a fox hat. I was told this is how it came about ... his scheduler asked him if he wanted to go to the Calgary Stampede. [Chrétien accent] 'They want me to go to Calgary? Where the fock's that?'"

Michaelle Jean got a lot of laughs for her unexpected explanation of why Paul Martin selected her as Governor General:

"Not because I am a woman or an immigrant or black. He gave it to me because I'm hot."

I have to admit that I loved Brian Mulroney's brief but to-the-point intervention* in the evening. The former Prime Minister appeared on tape and very formally acknowledged the various dignitaries and audience groups before delivering the shortest speech of the night: "Peter Newman: Go fuck yourself. Thank you. Good night." (Incidentally, did you know that "fuck" is too risqué for either the Globe and Mail or CTV to print?)**

In my books, though, top prize of the evening goes to Jack Layton for pulling out a guitar and singing, to the tune of King of the Road:

Party for sale or rent,
will support any government.
No principles, no guts, no spine
no tape recorders when we dine.
Make us an offer we can't refuse,
anything to get me in the news.
You need bills approved so let's move,
make me a deal."
Somehow Layton just keeps making all the others look bad, inside and outside of Parliament.

Gilles Duceppe, in case you're wondering, didn't show (and not for the first time either, apparently.)

Check out some of the clips from the evening on the CTV.ca website.

Update

* Note: Aven points out that Rick Mercer covered the event on his often-entertaining blog. Apparently the Mulroney tape was the tail-end of Martin's time on stage. Interesting.

** Note: Alasdair has corrected me. Apparently the Globe and Mail is more than happy to print the word "fuck" once in a while. There's even something resembling a policy on it. Check out the comments on this entry for his explanation. Word is still out on whether the CTV is up for some good swearing when it's warranted.

Posted by anatole at 11:38 PM | Comments (5)

October 18, 2005

Peekaboo

Library of Parliament, Ottawa
The Library of Parliament has been under wraps for a long time (since March 2002) for an extensive restoration effort. A larger section of the roof was quasi-revealed in the last few weeks, suggesting that rumours that the work is nearing its end may be more than just rumours. Meanwhile, at the nearby Feline Parliament ...
Library of Parliament, Ottawa [view large]

Library of Parliament, Ottawa
Library of Parliament, Ottawa [view large]

Library of Parliament, Ottawa
Library of Parliament, Ottawa [view large]

Cat Sanctuary, Parliament Hill, Ottawa
Now if only the political parties could get along this well ... welcome to Parliament Hill's Cat Sanctuary -- one of my favourite things about Ottawa (Ottawa and Ottawa).
Cat Sanctuary, Parliament Hill, Ottawa [view large]

Posted by anatole at 12:26 AM | Comments (1)

October 14, 2005

Mistaken Point I

Fossil, Mistaken Point, Newfoundland
It's not easy to get out to Mistaken Point on Cape Spear in southeastern Newfoundland, but it's worth it. There you will find the 550+ million year old fossils of over 30 types of soft-bodied creatures that were preserved when volcanic ash abruptly carpeted the sea floor. The reserve is on Canada's "tentative list" to be put forward for World Heritage designation. More Mistaken Point photos to follow!
Mistaken Point, Cape Race, Newfoundland [view large]

Posted by anatole at 01:05 AM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2005

Need. Want!

Apple has done it again with their iPod line, striking for the second time in the past few months with new products that continue to push the envelope on size, style, and features -- leaving existing and would-be customers drooling and giving competitors new headaches.

The savagely sexy iPod Nano effectively put an end to the iPod Mini. And soon after, rumours began to swirl about the non-conventional (i.e. non-convention!) media event Apple planned for yesterday.

The leading rumour was that iPod would release a video player, and indeed the company did -- though not the little horizontal layout number that was circulating in the usual photoshop mockups. In discussing the rumours with a few friends during the lead-up, we noted that there was a real question about whether people would want to play videos on a screen that small. And what videos? If Jobs could strike a major movie studios deal like the one he struck with the five major record (how quaint) labels, then he might be able to put some affordable content behind his device and make it worthwhile.

Well, the deal is not quite as impressive. The initial content offering is mostly music videos with a few Pixar shorts thrown in (nice!) and, most significantly, day-after downloads of several major ABC television hits (e.g. Lost, Desperate Housewives). Apple cleverly made up for the content short-coming by weaving the video feature into its main iPod line, completing the transition that started when the original iPod line merged with the iPod Photo line. So the video capability is essentially a perk on the standard player, which also boasts some other technical improvements (slimmer, longer battery life). The journey from "need" to "want" is thus complete -- Apple keeps making it easy to drool over the latest iPod offerings, whether you would use the new features or not. You may not think you want video, but now you get it even if you want just audio/photos. And once you have it, who's to say you won't eventually drop in on the iPod video store? Just for a look, of course.

Several articles have also pointed out the real coup -- Apple has created audio/video content protection software that content creators trust and users seem willing to accept.

Personally, I think the real coup is the Harry Potter licensing deal. Accio!

Posted by anatole at 11:58 PM | Comments (3)

October 09, 2005

Scenario: Chaos in New Orleans

A few weeks back I promised a longer rant about the New Orleans disaster and scenario planning. So here goes. Scenario planning is basicaly a tool for identifying possible futures and exploring how one might arrive (or avoid arriving!) at such futures.

Typically, scenario planning involves identifying key drivers of the future (social, political, technological, etc.) that have some level of uncertainty around them. You then map out different futures based on combinations of those drivers* (possible futures can of course be mapped out less rigorously -- just based on a good brainstorm, for example).

Now the key to scenario-planning is the reverse-engineering bit. Once you identify plausible futures, you ask yourself "How could we have arrived at such a future?" and, depending on how you feel about said future, "what steps can we take to increase or decrease our chances of getting there?"

The details of what a New Orleans hurricane disaster scenario-planning exercise might have looked like are not important at this point. It's not clear, for that matter, whether traditional scenario planning would have been the best forecasting and planning tool in this particular case (particularly late in the game). Nevertheless, one fairly constant characteristic of scenario planning is that, when done well, it gets you looking at worst- (and best-) case scenarios and thinking hard about how those come about.

So what astounds me about New Orleans is this: did no one envisage a thoroughly ravaged, anarchic New Orleans, ask themselves how such a scenario would come about, and then take even the most basic necessary steps to try to avoid it?

Well, almost. FEMA actually did run this type of exercise back in 2004, contracting a private firm to run a multi-agency exercise involving hundreds of emergency planning officials and a hurricane named Pam. There is a reason why the last step of scenario planning -- the steps you can take to increase the probability of getting to the future you like -- is so critical. All the evidence seems to suggest that it was on this last step that emergency planning officials failed miserably and inexcusably, seemingly neglecting to follow through sufficiently on what they learned from this exercise.

Bottom line: avoiding what took place in New Orleans should not have been rocket science. Grim scenarios about New Orleans were no secret. Even tourists learned about them. This was a case of too much scenario and not enough planning, and it didn't need to have been that way.

---

On a related (New Orleans) note, check out my "readings" side bar for two interesting tales of "private sector to the rescue" from Forbes (thanks to Nathan for the tip). Fedex and Wal-Mart apparently mobilized their infrastructure and supply chains to deliver goods and services that the governments involved couldn't.

[*]  The simplest version of this looks like a 2x2 grid based on two drivers (one per "axis" -- with the endpoints of the axis representing strong desirable and undesirable states for that driver).

Posted by anatole at 03:40 PM | Comments (1)

October 03, 2005

Sky on Fire

Tree with sky on fire, Shallow Bay, Newfoundland
The sunset at Shallow Bay really highlighted one of the few tall trees near any coastline in Newfoundland.
Shallow Bay, Newfoundland [view large]

Posted by anatole at 12:21 AM | Comments (1)