If a tree falls in the forest…

… does it make a sound?

Or perhaps when it falls in my backyard?

While I wasn’t home to see it, the brief torrential downpour and storm we had left a little bit of damage. It snapped the tree right at the base. It’s mostly cleaned up now and we didn’t have too much damage otherwise. We got off easy, and we have power back too.

It was pretty entertaining though. It went from blackening skies to torrential downpour in about five minutes. I’ve never seen a rain like that.


National Tell a Girl She’s Beautiful Day

According to Twitter, today is National Tell a Girl She’s Beautiful Day (#NationalTellAGirlSheIsBeautifulDay). Thankfully I didn’t miss it.

This is an easy one. You’re all beautiful.

No I’m not being facetious. All women are beautiful. You’re saying to yourself, “oh no, I really need to lose some weight”. Or “I hate my nose”. “My breasts are too small”. “My breasts are too big”. “These jeans make me look fat”. I’ve heard all of these and more from females I know.

Poppycock! (Great word huh?) You are all beautiful!

Full disclosure: I am a man, so my opinion may not matter at all here. But it seems to me that women are never happy with the way they look. And it seems that they are intent not on impressing men, but other women, who seem to be their harshest critics.

You are more than what you see in the mirror, which you are probably never happy with anyway. You are more than numbers on a scale. You are also what you think and say and do.

There’s another way to view this:

Where’s National Tell a Girl She’s Smart Day? National Tell a Girl She’s Strong Day? Why do women have to be reduced to just being beautiful?

Men are simple. (If you are female you already knew that.) We pretty much think like this:

Looking at/talking to me.

We are perfectly happy with the way you look. You may catch our attention with your looks, but we are also interested in what you think, and how you feel. That’s what makes you interesting to us.

My wife is beautiful, and she looks a lot younger than me, which is a huge bonus. You’d think after 30+ years with me she would be completely worn down. :) She is smart and social and funny too. And I think she lets me pretend I’m stronger than her. Truly beautiful people are more than just an outward appearance. That would wear out pretty quickly.

I can’t go around today and tell you one by one that you are all beautiful, so instead I’ve said it here.

Conserve electricity? Why exactly?

The local paper reports that the local electricity usage is peaking with the current heat wave:

Electricity demand reached its 2013 peak Wednesday in Waterloo and Kitchener as the heat and humidity sent many residents searching for air-conditioned relief.

Waterloo North Hydro measured a total of 294.6 megawatts, which matched last summer’s peak and all-time high, said John Janzen, a spokesperson for Waterloo North Hydro.

We generally conserve energy. We turn off lights we aren’t using. We rarely run the dishwasher. And we try to do as few loads of wash as possible, in off peak hours. And when it comes to heat, I am fine without air conditioning, but I won’t make my wife and my animals suffer.

So in heat waves like this we turn on the air conditioning. And to get it to cool the upstairs I close lower floor vents and turn it up a bit higher. I’m bad, you say, because I’m not conserving energy. I should be willing to suffer.

Why exactly? We are nowhere near the peak demand for the province of Ontario. That was back in 2006:

Thursday’s expected peak for the province was 24,448 megawatts, according to the Independent Electricity System Operator. The provincial summer record peak occurred on August 1, 2006 when the load was 27,005 megawatts.

When people did make the effort to conserve the province responded by punishing them with smart meters, peak pricing, and higher overall rates.

The same thing happens with water rates:

Waterloo council has hiked water and sewer rates by almost seven per cent and rates will continue escalating through 2021.


Also, water sales are falling as people and businesses conserve. Governments have responded by hiking rates to recover revenues needed to pay fixed water costs.

So I don’t think of it as a failure to conserve. I think of it as a way of supporting Ontario and municipalities, and trying to avoid more punishment.


A tragic accident?

I wouldn’t normally mention death, thinking that it is best to leave people to mourn in peace, but the headline of this article about the death of Cory Monteith, one of the stars of Glee, caught my eye:

Monteith’s death ruled a ‘tragic accident’

The coroner found that Mr. Monteith died of an overdose of heroin and alcohol.

Heroin and alcohol are two things which, taken in sufficient quantity separately, can kill you. Together the likelihood is much higher, and fatal in this particular case.

If you take both, though you may not intend to harm yourself, isn’t that a bit like driving your car really fast toward a wall? You might not die, but the chances are pretty good.

Yes this is tragic. But I’m not sure how much of an accident you can really consider this. People don’t accidentally take heroin and alcohol.

Focus on the ribbon cutting.

Infrastructure is in decay everywhere, because politicians prefer to focus on ribbon cuttings for shiny new things rather than fix what is broken:

Politicians are pushing to use scarce public funds to build new bridges, experts say, instead of spending that money on repairing and maintaining existing structures.

“It’s a lot harder to cut a ribbon on a pothole repair project,” said Roger Millar, a vice president at Smart Growth America, an advocacy group that focuses on sustainable development.

This happening everywhere. Waterloo, Canada, where I live, has a huge infrastructure deficit by their calculations. The undated presentation states:

• 50.3% of roads were deficient
• Up from 2007 when staff rated 35% of roads were deficient
• Current Deficit is $170M

And then this morning, as if on cue, I saw this press release:

(Waterloo , Ont. – July 15, 2013) Please join us for the official groundbreaking for the new Waterloo Park frontage on Father David Bauer Drive.

City staff applied for grants for this and other projects, to which the city would also be required to contribute:

The grant application was among three the city submitted to the government last August. The city applied for more than $1.8 million in federal grant money for three city projects — Waterloo Park upgrades, improvements to city trails and repairs to the Clay and Glass gallery roof.

Strangely, none of these three items show up in the infrastructure deficit report above.

As I’ve noted before, the infrastructure deficit isn’t a list of things municipal politicians ever plan to fix. It is just something they use to cajole upper levels of government to get more of our tax dollars. And even when they do, don’t expect the infrastructure to be fixed.

Waterloo’s idea of fixing infrastructure is to spend about $3 million dollars to turn a four lane road – Davenport Road – into a two lane road with medians, and rarely used bike lanes. Then to hold a $5,000 party to open the road with the “leftover” cash.

And now they are spending money on Waterloo Park, though it isn’t clear for what yet:

Upgrading the Father David Bauer Drive frontage of Waterloo Park wasn’t in the city’s 10-year plan of capital projects, but was brought forward by staff prior to a federal-grant application.


“Now I kind of feel like I don’t really understand what I’m buying,” Freeman said.

No reason to be concerned though.

Someone should have thought this through.

This comment caught my eye today:

Kinsey Robinson, president of the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers, said in April that their concerns “have not been addressed, or in some instances, totally ignored,” and that “in the rush to achieve its passage, many of the act’s provisions were not fully conceived, resulting in unintended consequences that are inconsistent with the promise that those who were satisfied with their employer-sponsored coverage could keep it.”

He is referring to the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. You know, the one that led Nancy Pelosi to utter this famous quote:

But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.

Is anyone really surprised that a bill north of 2000 pages in length that likely wasn’t really read by anyone has resulted in some unintended consequences?

The real problem here isn’t that unions are being treated unfairly. It is that they are being treated fairly, meaning the same as everyone else. The issue with that is a substantial decrease in what unions can bring to the table:

What a lot of people may not realize is that for much of our history, labor unions opposed universal coverage. “Unions…derive some advantage of good will, power, or profit from serving as a financial intermediary in health care,” writes Paul Starr in his Pulitzer Prize-winning history of the American health-care system, The Social Transformation of American Medicine.

If unions’ role in negotiating health coverage is taken over by the government, unions lose a big chunk of their utility. “Employers and unions had both tried to use medical care to strengthen their hand in the battle for workers’ allegiances,” Starr continues.

Unions were among President Obama’s biggest supporters. They were instrumental in the passage of the Affordable Care Act. It they failed to think the who thing through and foresee the consequences then they have nobody to blame but themselves.

I have nothing to complain about.

Reading the New York Times this morning, I came up on an article about a mysterious illness in India that kills children, and just as mysteriously ends with the coming of the monsoons:

MUZAFFARPUR, India — The children begin arriving every year in mid-May, brought to an overburdened hospital here in one of India’s most impoverished areas by their panic-stricken mothers. Seemingly healthy hours earlier, most have lapsed into a coma, punctuated by convulsions.

Doctors work to calm the convulsions and keep the children hydrated, but then have to watch helplessly along with the anguished parents as a third of their young patients die, often within hours. Then, as suddenly as it started, the mysterious outbreak stops with the onset of the monsoon rains this month. No one knows why.

A team of doctors is now working to find the cause of the disease. The story is tragic. I can’t imagine one of my children falling ill and being taken so quickly. But the thing that most caught my attention was this paragraph near the end of the article:

As if on cue, a cheerful old man walked through the grove carrying a clay pot of palm sap, which becomes mildly alcoholic in the summer heat. The pot was filled with a milky brew, dead insects and perhaps some bat feces and urine. Maybe children find a way to drink it, Dr. Pandey speculated, or their parents, inured to its effects, drink it and somehow pass along an infection.

This morning I cleaned the kitchen, topped up the hot tub, made a coffee, and sat on the front porch to read the Times. The sky is clear blue, the grass is a healthy green, and the birds are chirping. I was a little bothered by a single mosquito buzzing around me. Normally I would be writing about some problem or perceived injustice.

But now I’m thinking that my biggest worry today is getting to Wal-Mart to pick up some dog food. I don’t have to worry about pots filled with dead insects, bat feces or urine, or anything remotely close to that. The worst problem I can have today pales in comparison to what most of the world faces each and every day. And if you are reading this then you are probably part of the same fortunate minority as I am. And I know that tomorrow will be pretty much the same as today.

I really have nothing to complain about.

What becomes a classic?

I watch The Wizard of Oz whenever it is on. The movie was made in 1939, the year my mom was born, and it is an enduring classis. The same goes for the movie Casablanca. It never gets old for me.

Right now I’m watching Dirty Dancing, and the other night it was Grease. I saw Grease at the theater decades ago when it came out, and now my kids will watch it. What is it that makes these movies, and others, classics? Why do they last so well, and draw us into them every time?

Will movies we are watching today become classic? If so, why, and which ones? Though I suppose if I could answer that I’d be rich.

Distracted by shiny things.

A model of the planned Bombardier LRT car rolled into Waterloo Region today:

“I think the community will embrace it,” said Coun. Jim Wideman. “It’s not what they will expect.

“The naysayers, I hope some of them will be converted, but I’m sure that we will always have naysayers.”

The hope is that the shiny train will distract the people who aren’t 100% behind the LRT.

Unfortunately, some people are coming to the sudden realization that it isn’t all that has been suggested. Ted Livingston, founder of Kik, has started a petition at change.org to stop the LRT:

Citizens of Waterloo. Politicians Have Stolen Our Voice, And Are Going To Use It Today To Commit $800,000,000 To A Glorified Bus. Over My Dead City.

The picture above shows the train with wheels photoshopped on to make Ted’s point. I applaud Ted for looking more closely at the whole proposal, realizing the problem, and trying to stop the runaway train it has become. Unfortunately, I believe that this has been a done deal for a long time now, regardless of what voters thought. This is all the more clear from the opposition to the LRT by 8 or 12 councillors at election time followed by their sudden changes of heart after being re-elected.

A friend of mine likes to say that people don’t notice something until the bulldozers start to roll. When people realize what is actually happening with the LRT I expect a lot more deathbed conversions. I predict that the region will be providing lots of shiny things to look at, but keeping most of the useful information to themselves.

Isn’t it semantic?

Microsoft promised secure delivery of your Outlook mail. And they delivered it. They just didn’t say to whom:

• Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;

• The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;

I guess you get what you pay for when you use free services.