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December 30, 2009

Cable Cars & Gondolas in Toronto?

CANADA - To the right and below is an artist's rendition of what cable cars in Toronto might look like. According to blogger Stephen Dale (see this is the future Torontonians might eventually see and he is pushing it as an alternative to subways and street cars.

He cites other examples from around the world as proof it can be done in Toronto:

#1. The recently approved BART Oakland Airport Connector in California, a $500 million USD people mover that will run on a 5-kilometre elevated right of way.

#2. The Metrocable in Medellin, Colombia, incorporates three aerial cable lines into the transit system of that country's second largest city. The cables were designed to serve low-income commuters in the outlying areas.

#3. Two cable systems in Caracas, Venezuela, are expected to carry 140,000 people daily when they're both completed in 2011.

#4. A four-kilometre cable car with seven stations in Perugia, Italy, offers wait times of about a minute between vehicles.

#5. Constantine Telepherique in Algeria is a series of aerial cable cars, some designed for transit and others for tourism.


#1. Gondolas are relatively cheap compared to subways which need to be dug underground.

#2. They can service areas where buses would normally go but without clogging up traffic like buses or street cars do.

#3. Its actually quite ideal for transit in suburban regions, like Scarborough, Mississauga and Brampton, and would work quite well on high-traffic streets like Queen Street West.

#4. Think of the tourist potentials!

#5. Gondolas are greener because they use electricity instead of diesel or gasoline.

#6. Its cheaper and faster than street cars and buses.

#7. Gondolas can over go over water or valleys easier, servicing opposite sides of the Don Valley Parkway, over and above the 400 series highways and even the Toronto islands.

#8. Gondolas have less land requirements than both subways and street cars.

#9. They have surprisingly high safety records, making them one of the safest forms of transportation in the world. Despite what you've seen in movies gondola accidents are almost completely unheard of.

Dale has a longer, more complete list of reasons on his website.

Politicians are often slow to come around to the idea, but one politician is now promoting the idea. "It can work in almost any urban fabric," says Glen Murray, the former mayor of Winnipeg, who is currently planning to run in Toronto Centre in the next provincial election.

In the meantime the TTC has its hands full:

A $2.4 billion extension of the Spadina subway line into York Region starts construction next year.

A $950 million Sheppard LRT, a 120-kilometre, seven-line light rail network that will reach deep into the city's suburbs over the next two decades.

Stephen Dale blames a couple of common misconceptions for making cable a tough sell in North American cities.

"There's a general perception such systems are slow, which they're not, especially if you compare them with Toronto's streetcar system," says Dale. "The streetcars we have are built to go 100 km/h but they average 12 km/h on the street," even on dedicated right-of-way routes such as Spadina Ave.

"The other major issues are questions of capacity. People think (gondolas) can't carry enough. It can carry up to about 6,000 people per hour per direction," says Dale. "We have no streetcar line in all of Toronto that goes above 2,000, and when they're talking about the Eglinton LRT line, they're only imagining it having about 5,000."

Dale makes some valid points. Bicycles are effectively faster than street cars (going 20 to 30 km/hour, depending on the cyclist)... but sadly bicycles aren't really a solution in Canadian winters.

See Also:
The Bicycle Mechanic

Asteroid might hit Earth in 2029

TECHNOLOGY - Russia's space agency today issued a call for a massive planetary effort to ward off a giant asteroid named Apophis that might hit the Earth in 2029.

"People's lives are at stake," says Anatoly Perminov, the head of Russia's space agency. "We should pay several hundred million dollars and build a system that would allow us to prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people."

Russia is now considering building spacecraft and missiles designed to push the Apophis asteroid away from the Earth, and is asking NASA, the European Space Agency and the Chinese space agency to join in the effort.

The Apophis asteroid was first spotted in 2004. Scientists at the time estimated there was a 2.7% chance it might hit the Earth.

Politicians, typically unwilling to pay for anything that might prevent future destruction, have downgraded the threat and are now saying the chances of the asteroid hitting earth are less than 1% (the number varies depending which politician you ask).

The current scientific estimate is that the asteroid Apophis will pass within 30,000 km (making it visible to the naked eye and closer to Earth than the moon is). The danger is if it passes through a "gravitational keyhole" and get pulled towards us by Earth's gravitational pull.

If it missed there is also a 1-in-250,000 chance (according to NASA) it will strike the Earth when it passes by us again in 2036.

The cost of a mission to knock the asteroid off its course is estimated at $$80 billion USD, a cost to be shared by rival space agencies over a period of several years. NASA's current annual budget is a mere $17 billion.

In 1908 a 30 meter wide asteroid exploded over Tunguska, Russia and incinerated 2,000 square km of forest and killed everything in sight. Apophis is 270 meters wide and would incinerate approx. 18,000 square km if it exploded. If it actually strikes the Earth the impact could destroy significantly more.

The worry is it could crash or explode in a highly populated region, but chances are much more likely it would land in the ocean and cause a tsunami.

See Also:
Huge Asteroid Misses Earth

December 29, 2009

Is High Culture making a comeback in 2010?

ENTERTAINMENT - In a world of breast implants, Pamela Anderson and Paris Hilton is it at all surprising that people might start to reject the two-faced bloated consumer culture that has pervaded for the last couple decades?

Seriously, we may be looking at a huge cultural shift... classical music sales are up, especially for digital downloads/sales.

Part of it could be because retro music is hip, but there is a huge thirst now for classical music. Even small orchestras are seeing an increase in interest. (Check out Mooredale Concerts in Toronto).

Opera is seeing a similar increase.

As is ballet performances (see the Ballet Creole in Toronto), some more traditional and others alternative.

And even art galleries are seeing bumper crops of crowds.

Part of the reason might be because high culture is being reinvented a bit, with classical music being played on new instruments never used before, used as background music for video games (because there's no copyright on classical music), classical music mp3s can be downloaded for free without any fear of copyright infringement, Susan Boyle and other pseudo-celebrities bringing opera back to the forefront.

At least so far as 2009 is concerned high culture has made a small comeback... so I am willing to bet (because these trends aren't likely to change quickly) we will see more of the same in 2010.

In this new era of iTunes, YouTube and online art galleries we can expect classical music / ballet / art galleries to make a bigger impact, and presumably get more people out from behind their computer monitors and out for a night on the town.

December 14, 2009

Harper government defended torturer

CANADA - Ousted governor of Kandahar Asadullah Khalid has been torturing people for years, and according to documents dating back to 2006 the Canadian government under Stephen Harper has not only defended him against allegations of torture, but has actually conspired with him to conduct interrogations.

The diplomatic memos were never meant for public eyes, but clearly indicate that the Canadian military and diplomats operating in Afghanistan's Kandahar province not only were complicit in handing over prisoners to Afghan authorities to be tortured, but they did so conditionally with payment attached.

Essentially what it boils down to is the concept of "outsourcing torture".

With all the fuss about Guantanamo Bay / torture in the United States and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the Canadian government chose to act differently and instead of torturing prisoners themselves decided to pay Afghans to do the torture for them.

When it was first learned governor Asadullah Khalid was torturing prisoners he was nearly removed from office in 2006, but the Canadian military/diplomats defended him and denied he was involved in any form of torture. Stephen Harper himself, when asked on the matter by Afghan president Hamid Karzai, denied Khalid was involved in torture. Thanks to his government's efforts the charges were buried under a layer of bureaucracy before eventually coming back to the fore and proven to be true.

And now these memos have come to public attention, showing the Canadian government not only knew these allegations against Asadullah Khalid were true, but that they were also involved in ordering the torturing to be done.

It is just another embarrassing episode of inquiry over Afghan prisoner abuse, a story which continues to unfold.

The latest report on this matter is uncensored and gives a lot more details about Asadullah Khalid, who in previous government reports had his name blacked out. Khalid was finally ousted from office in 2008 under charges of corruption, drug running, bribery and torture.

HST is "virtually revenue neutral"

CANADA - Ontario's controversial amalgamation of the GST and PST into a harmonized sales tax (HST) is "virtually revenue neutral" and not a cash grab some people say it is, argues a new report released today.

The report (by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) says low and middle-income families will come out slightly ahead under the changes, which includes increased property and sales tax credits and income tax cuts, while households with incomes above $100,000 will come out just slightly behind.

In other words the majority of the population (poor and middle class people) will benefit from the change, while rich Ontarians will end up paying slightly more.

"No group is significantly worse off or better off as a result of the province's HST plan," says Ernie Lightman, an economist and University of Toronto professor of social work who co-authored the report.

The researchers admit they are "surprised" to discover a vast majority of Ontarians will be better off or unaffected by the tax changes.

"Assertions that this is a tax grab have no foundation in reality," Lightman said.

If anything its a tax rebate, because the majority of Ontarians will see more money back in the form of income tax cuts.

The NDP, both provincially and federally, have roundly condemned the new tax. The Ontario Conservative Party has also gone out of its way to spread misinformation that the HST is a tax grab. The report says that this is wholly untrue because it ignores the income tax cuts.

Furthermore the report indicates the decrease in income taxes will actually boost the economy by giving people more spending money.

Here's how it works.

Hypothetically lets say you are making $30,000 / year and paying approx. 6% in income taxes. That is $1,800 in taxes.

However, if that is cut to 5% you end up saving $300.

Regardless of how much money you use for buying stuff every year (whether its $5,000, $10,000 or more) the sales tax you pay remains the same:

#1. 8% PST + 5% GST = 13% sales tax.
#2. 13% HST.

Regardless its still 13%. Low and middle income earners are overall getting a rebate thanks to the income tax cuts, money that can be spent at their discretion and will ultimately help boost the economy.

The only people feeling the pinch will be wealthy people who make more than $100,000/year.

December 11, 2009

Man gets Bionic Fingers

HEALTH/TECHNOLOGY - Frank Hrabanek lost his four fingers on his left hand in an industrial accident in 2007, but thanks to modern technology he now has a set of bionic fingers.

Touch Bionics of Britain has developed the robotic prosthetic fingers to help people who've lost fingers or thumbs to do things such as cut food, get dressed on their own, drive a car or go golfing.

The fingers are controlled using the muscles in his forearm and is an amazing breakthrough for amputees world wide. It takes approx. 5 minutes to learn how to use the fingers and the company is also working on a synthetic skin to cover the prosthetic so it will look more natural.

The amputee population that can benefit from these bionic fingers is estimated at around 40,000 in the United States and 1.2 million people worldwide.

December 9, 2009

Suicide Bombers in Iraq kill 127+

POLITICS - Yesterday in Baghdad two suicide car bombers and another vehicle blew up near government buildings, killing over 127 people and injuring over 400 more people.

A total of five coordinated attacks struck high-profile targets in the heart of Baghdad. It was the third time in the last 4 months that bombings have killed over a hundred people.

Targets in the attack included:
  1. A Labor Ministry building
  2. A court complex near the Iraqi-protected Green Zone
  3. The new site of the Finance Ministry (its old building was blown up in August).
  4. A police station in southern Baghdad.
  5. Near the Technology University in eastern Baghdad.

Iraq has been in a state of near civil war since 2003. The American military and Iraqi security is powerless to stop the attacks.

December 7, 2009

Closing the Gap on Climate Change

By Ai Lung Nguyen - December 2009.

ENVIRONMENT - According to an United Nations Environment Programs report the world should emit no more than 44 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2020 to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

We are currently emitting 47 billion tons.

Adding together all publicly announced commitments (globally, from all countries) would lower the gap to 46 billion tons annually by 2020.

That means if various countries managed to come up with ways to cut another 2 billion tons from our annual greenhouse gas emissions we could make a sizable difference in how bad climate change will effect the world. To close the gap we need roughly a 5% cut in global emissions.

It is unfortunately already too late to prevent climate change. The worry now is how we survive it and how bad it will get. Concerns like rising sea levels, ecosystem collapse and desertification of food producing regions raises major concerns about food shortages. The American Midwest is expected to turn into a dust-bowl like it did during the 1930s, which would be disastrous for American farmers, the American economy and food production.

Potentially if China, Europe and the United States cut back 0.7 billion tons each it would meet that target. China and the USA currently produce over 6 billion tons of greenhouse gases annually. Europe accounts for approx. 5 billion tons and has already made substantial cutbacks, proving it can be done while maintaining a strong economy.

December 4, 2009

Ontario jobs boom

CANADA - 79,100 more Canadians found jobs in November 2009, of which approx. 21,000 were in Toronto. As such Canada's unemployment rate has dropped to 8.5%.

If steady job growth is sustained it will be a sign the Big Recession may soon be over.

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