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November 30, 2009

November Snow Free in Toronto

CANADA/ENVIRONMENT - The city of Toronto was snow free this Novemeber, the first time in 162 years that the city went snow-less during the 11th month of the year.

Meteorologists cite global warming and climate change for the unusually warm November.

November 21, 2009

Monopolies in Canada

CANADA - If you live in Canada chances are likely you eat, buy something or some service from a corporation so big its essentially a monopoly.

Take Tim Hortons for example. No, I am not dissing Tim Hortons, but I am pointing out what a huge company they are in contrast to other Canadian coffee/donut franchises.

Another prime example is Rogers, the cable / internet / phone conglomerate, which is so big and corrupt it phoned my 15 times in the last week trying to sell me a cable TV package. I am very tempted to cancel my internet from them, but I won't because they have a monopoly.

Well, technically they don't, but lets just say their competition is limited to Bell Canada, Shaw and the measly scraps left to small start up companies that always fail because their service is grossly inferior. I really don't have much choice in the matter... its either Rogers, Bell or Shaw and I already know from experience all three are corrupt corporations.

Part of the problem is that Canada is such a small market its relatively easy to make a monopoly. You start locally, build up a monopoly in Ontario (or wherever), expand to nearby provinces and eventually go coast-to-coast. The savvy companies do this by offering better services/prices than their competitors while cutting out the stress and nonsense.

The corrupt companies use telemarketing, sleazy annoying advertising campaigns and by lying to the customers about the speed, size, efficiency, reliability of their product.

Rogers internet service is "the best" from my experience. It only goes down about once a month, sometimes not for two or three months. (That sounds bad, doesn't it?) Bell Canada and Shaw are equally as bad for reliability, but a tad slower.

Now I could lodge a complaint against Rogers for phoning me 15 times in a single week, but I know I would only get "the run-around" until I get frustrated and give up. There is no sense of satisfaction in leaving a complaint via email or online form because you KNOW nobody actually reads it and they're certainly not going to do anything about it.

Frankly its not just Rogers at fault, its the whole corrupt corporation mentality and the monopolies (or near monopolies) that exist in Canada.

Lets talk about the Big Five Canadian Banks for a moment. There is:

The Bank of Montreal (BMO)
The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)
Toronto-Dominion Bank/TD Canada Trust (TD)
Scotiabank
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)

There is also a few international banks that operate in Canada, ie. the Korean Exchange Bank (KEB), which don't really offer any competition.

Collectively the Big Five have a monopoly and they coordinate with each other to match prices and services. One may offer a better interest rate, but they hit you with more service charges. They're all the same.

However they've grown so big that these Canadian banks have expanded into the United States and over the past two decades have been buying up small American banks to the point that approx. 70 - 90% of the Canadian banking industry's profits is actually from the USA. (And they're making billions of profits each year.)

Due to international expansion Canadian banks are now the largest in the world. They buy up foreign banks, jack up the service charges over the long term, and cut costs by using a larger distribution network. In the USA its against American law to just buy a bank and change its name, so the individual smaller banks have kept their brand name but they've become subsidiaries of a Canadian banking conglomerate.

During the current American recession Canadian banks have redoubled their efforts in purchasing small banks in the USA, sensing they can get some sweet deals while they are ripe for the plucking.

Thus Americans may think they are banking with their local bank which has been in there town for over a hundred years, but in reality there is a very high chance their little bank was sold over a decade ago to a big Canadian bank. Or soon will be sold.

Eventually these corporations are going to forming global monopolies, wherein one or two companies control 90% of the market.

Ie. Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola.

Coca-Cola currently offers nearly 400 brands in over 200 countries or territories and serves 1.5 billion servings each day. Pepsi follows closely behind. There is essentially no competition beyond those two and its simply a fight over market share and which one is the biggest polluter / abuser of human rights (ie. the toxic pesticides incident in India).

It all makes you realize the importance of supporting small local companies.

November 17, 2009

$300 for a Kindle eBook?

ENTERTAINMENT/TECHNOLOGY - The Kingle ebook is a wireless electronic book which allows you to download books whenever you want and read them on a wireless device that is easily portable... for a fee, of course.

The only problem is that in Canada its $300 CDN, and I don't know about YOU, but I don't spend $300 on books in a year. I spend about $30 or less. (I am not counting gifts.)

Across the United States border its a mere $259 USD, so if you're a cross-border shopper and looking for an ideal xmas gift its a good buy... in theory.

The Kindle can carry up to 1,500 books on its 2GB hard drive and can also play mp3s, share JPGs, Word Docs, PDFs and various other file types. And you can access newspapers, magazines and such through subscriptions.

But here's the silly thing... the fee for downloading a book is about the same price you'd pay to buy a regular paperback book, so the only reason to do this is to save paper. Some books do cost less in ebook form, but most sadly do not. Some are actually MORE expensive, because publishers are worried about people making copies and sharing them.

However at the same time you do get access to a free library of public domain books, classics like "Pride and Prejudice", the complete works of Shakespeare, etc.

Environmentally friendly? No. Because you have to recharge the Kindle ebook, which means approx. 35% of the energy comes from coal power plants... so instead of using paper, you're burning coal and adding to the greenhouse gases. So unless you have your own solar power station, you're not actually being environmentally friendly by buying an ebook.

HOWEVER!!!!!!

I don't think its actually worth $300. Not when you could buy a notebook computer for $300 from Best Buy or Future Shop. You could still read everything you want on the notebook, plus you'd be able to access the internet, play games, movies, etc. and its easily portable.

Over the next 6 years the price of notebook computers is expected to drop dramatically because of increasing miniaturization of electronic parts, mostly driven by the cellphone, iPod and iPhone industry. Cheaper parts = more competitive/cheaper prices. Its expected that by 2015 the price of a new notebook computer will be $100.

See Also: The $100 Laptop

Skinny Cable for Canada?

CANADA/ENTERTAINMENT - Canadian broadcasters are urging the CRTC to allow "skinny cable", essentially a smaller and dramatically cheaper variation of basic cable.

But cable companies don't like the idea, because it comes with a price tag attached: They will have to start paying for the right to distribute public broadcasters like the CBC, CTV and Global.

The industry's woes during the recession is the result of huge cutbacks in advertising by corporations "tightening their belts". The hope is that if broadcasters can offer a skinny cable package, more Canadians will sign up for cable.

Also at the center of the controversy is the issue of public television providers (CBC, CTV and Global) which provide their services for free and cable companies don't pay a cent for those channels, but still make a lot of money selling them as part of basic cable packages.

The cable and satellite companies (Rogers Communications, Bell Canada and Shaw) are still raking in the cash despite the recession, but say that if the proposed changes go through that its essentially a "TV tax" which they will then add to cable bills.

Both sides have since gone into ad campaign mode, promoting their sides of the argument on (where else?) television.

At stake is the future of local broadcasting in Canada. Canadian news, Canadian weather, Canadian culture, Canadian programming. If a public broadcaster goes bankrupt (egad!) the Canadian public will end up suffering.

Frankly the mere fact that public broadcasting is getting repackaged and resold as "basic cable", without a cent going to the broadcasters is grossly unfair.

Lets compare for example what some companies in the USA charge for cable stations per month (all prices USD):

  • $0.08 Cartoon Network
  • $0.15 MSNBC
  • $0.33 Nickelodeon
  • $0.44 CNN
  • $0.60 USA
  • $0.60 FOX News
  • $0.80 Disney Channel
  • $0.89 TNT
  • $3.65 ESPN

Lets say for example CBC, CTV and Global each charged 5 cents / month for their services. Thats $0.15 CDN / month or $1.80 per year. Rogers Cable alone has 2.25 million customers, which equates to $4.05 million per year that Rogers would have to pay to the CBC, CTV and Global ($1.35 million each).

[Or some multiple of that if they charged 10, 25 or 30 cents.]

Note: Rogers Cable made over $704 million in profits last year. Rogers profit margin is huge, having made $1.95 billion in revenue in 2008.

Bell TV has 1.8 million customers and made almost $600 million in profits in 2008.

Shaw Cable has 1.5 million customers and made over $500 million in 2008.

The proposed "TV tax" would be peanuts compared to the huge profit margins these cable companies have. It should NOT be passed on to customers. The cable companies should simply give up now and save themselves the cost of lawyers and advertising in what will likely be a lengthy legal battle.

Its the 21st century now. Isn't it time public broadcasters get paid for the services cable companies have been taking for granted? If cable companies want to repackage public broadcasting and sell it as basic cable, fine... but they should at least pay for it.

National DNC List expiration dates

CANADA - Have you registered your phone number with Canada's National Do Not Call List in an effort to prevent telemarketers from calling you?

I know I did. I registered it over a year ago when the DNC List first became active.

What I did not know was that there is an "expiration date" on registering your number. Its not permanent. It expires within a year or two of the date your registered it.

So if you registered your number a long time ago, you might want to check again and make sure its still registered. Otherwise the telemarketing calls may resume sooner than you think.

I got 5 today alone, all from the same number. Unfortunately when I went to the DNC website to lodge a complaint against the telemarketer for violating the registry I discovered that I was "no longer" registered.

No notification, just un-registered again. So my advice for other Canadians is to check once a year and make sure you are registered. And while you are at it send a complaint to the CRTC about why they are de-registering people without their permission.

The telemarketing industry in Canada is big business. Its corrupt. Its understandable that they've managed to weasel their way into having the DNC List set on "temporary" status so they can resume their annoying phone calls whenever people's numbers cease to be registered.

November 15, 2009

Doubling Life Expectancy by 2030?

HEALTH/TECHNOLOGY - According to American scientist Ray Kurzweil the world "may" have the technology that immortality will be within our grasp by the year 2030, but it will only be available to people who can afford it.

Kurzweil hypothesizes that nanobot technology will have made such a breakthrough they will be able to swim through human arteries, warding off diseases and repairing damaged cells. Kurzweil himself is 61 years old and quite an expert on regenerative health and increasing life expectancy. The goal is to create the technology that doesn't just ward off diseases, but eradicates them / repairs the damage done by them.

Thus the causes of death would be accidental.

Or sheer decrepitness. Let me explain. As we get older we injure or break things. We chip our teeth, our bones break or become brittle (the latter could be solved wi

th diet and exercise) and a myriad other things that either can't be fixed after they happen or fixing them is expensive (ie. a new hip).

So lets imagine then that our life expectancy is DOUBLED, instead of becoming infinite. Say about 144 years, give or take a few decades.

British futurist Aubrey de Grey says "the first 1,000-year-old is almost certainly alive already." De Grey is the head of the SENS Foundation, an American group that tracks regenerative medicines such as stem-cell therapy. His theories are widely considered to be "fantasy" and actually hurts the legitimate scientific community because his ideas sound too much like those of a crackpot scientist. Even his critics however support more anti-aging research and government funding.

In October the Nobel Prize in medicine was given to three American scientists for research on the "immortality enzyme" which allows cells to multiply without damaging themselves. It is a considered a breakthrough in the fight against cancer and could also be used to regenerate old tissue.

So there is a lot of reason for scientists to be optimistic. In all the fields related to aging, huge progress is being made. Indeed we're already in position to extend life expectancy, but doing so would be both expensive and require people to make changes in their diet and exercise lifestyle.

WHAT WE'VE ALREADY DONE:

+ Eye surgery.

+ Heart pacemakers.

+ Heart transplants and transplants of other major organs.

+ Cloning organs, skin and muscle tissue.

+ Organ thieves.

+ Neural implants for Parkinson's patients.

+ Therapy & exercise programs for Alzheimer's patients (exercise and problem solving puzzles have been proven to stave off Alzheimer's).

+ Human Growth Hormones that helps to regenerate old muscle tissue.

+ Artificial pancreas.

+ Free health / dental care (countries with free health/dental care have dramatically higher life expectancy rates).

BIZARRE THEORIES FOR THE FUTURE:

+ Younger clones that are set aside in stasis for future brain transplants. (The plot from an old Twilight Zone episode and also the film "The Island".)

+ Regenerating necrosis (premature dead tissue), the repair of dead tissue (caused by exposure to toxins or trauma) using nano bots.

+ Restoring life to the recently dead, before their bodies begin to decompose.

After all we live in a world now where we carry computers (cell phones) in our pockets that have a thousand times more computing power than the room sized computers from the 1970s. Twenty years from now we could see dramatic changes in both computing power, nano technology and advances in health care.

Or maybe we will still be chasing the Fountain of Youth.

November 13, 2009

The Politics of Leather

ENVIRONMENT/FASHION - What is the most environmentally friendly garment you can wear?

The answer is uncoloured natural leather. And fur too.

Its not obvious at first, but let me explain how this is.

Leather is made by curing and drying animal rawhide and skin, it is an all natural process and the leftovers go into the meat and food industry. There are modern ways to cure leather, using different chemicals but the most commonly used method is Tannin, a natural chemical found in wine, beer, tea, fruits, berries, chocolate, etc.

So if you buy products made from leather, which is either not coloured or coloured using natural dyes, there really is no environmental damage done in the making of leather products.

The biggest complaint about leather (and fur) is from animal rights groups like PETA, which chiefly complain about the mistreatment of animals, the consumption of meat and the wearing of animal skin.

However I would like to point out these people are frequently self-righteous hypocrites.

  • #1. They frequently forget about the shoes, boots or jacket they are wearing. (Oh look, they're made from leather!)

  • #2. If they are vegetarians or vegans they have to take vitamin pills and supplements in order to stay healthy (pills made from mammals or fish).

  • #3. They're only concerned about the killing of "cute fuzzy animals" like cats, dogs, pigs, horses, cattle, bears, etc. They have little or no concern whatsoever for reptiles, snakes, fish or insects.

    Humans are omnivores. We are meant to be nomadic tribesmen, living off the land and hunting for food. Likewise the clothes we wear is meant to be suitable to the climate, and thus leather and fur, byproducts of our hunting, come in awfully handy. Leather requires very little effort to dry and cure and it provides us with durable clothing which is warm, doubles as protection against the elements and injury, is resistant to ripping, long lasting and lets face it, damn sexy to look at.

    If you buy a good quality leather jacket you could wear it for 10 years or more, depending on how well you take care of it and minor repairs like resewing buttons back on.

    In contrast you could go out and buy a jacket made out of synthetic materials and it will last you 3 - 4 years before it rips and becomes unwearable.

    The PETA people would argue you could buy synthetic leather, but I must point out the chemical process used for making synthetic leather is both environmentally damaging and hazardous to the health of the people making it. There is also "vegan leather", but that is both expensive and difficult to find (and it uses a lot of plant material, which means it isn't environmentally friendly).

    Its an ironic thing actually. Eating animals is environmentally friendly because it means there is less animals producing CO2 (a greenhouse gas). Wearing leather is likewise environmentally friendly because the process of making clothing using oil polymers pollutes. (Acrylic, plastic and all synthetic polymers are made from crude oil.)

    Eating vegetables is certainly healthy, but it has to be balanced. Certain necessary vitamins and proteins (like creatine) can only be gained from eating meat. Humans are omnivorous for a reason and you can't fight evolution.

    In conclusion: Leather is not as bad as some people think. Its natural, its longlasting and its so hot and sexy you will sometimes need to take it off. *wink*

    NOTE: I do not recommend leather upholstery for your car or truck. It slides too much and you will end up regretting how hot and sticky it gets.

    TIPS WHEN BUYING LEATHER

    #1. Buy something that is both well-made and functional, so you can wear it again and again.

    #2. Go for something classic. Don't buy anything complicated that might go out of fashion really quickly. You want to be wearing the same jacket 10 years from now and it will still looking freaking awesome.

    #3. When in doubt, go for black or brown. They're easy to match with and look really good.

    #4. If you're worried about animal cruelty, don't buy suede or lamb leather. Look for sheep, deer or cow.

    #5. Check the lining to get an idea of the quality of craftsmanship. The smaller the stitching / thicker the thread the more robust it is. Avoid cotton linings. Check the thread to see if its polyester or cotton (polyester is stronger).

    #6. Buy local if you can. The quality will be better than mass-produced imported.

    #7. Watch out for cheap buttons and zippers.

    #8. Ignore big brand names. If its a big brand name its likely made in a sweatshop in Asia, which means its 99% advertising and 1% quality.

    See Also:
    Is Fur Dead? Fashion Vs. Anti-Fur
    The Rise of Ecofashion
    European Ecofashion
    Canadian Fashion and Chic
  • November 9, 2009

    Germany Celebrates Fall of the Wall

    POLITICS - 20 years ago the Berlin Wall separating East and West Berlin was opened. Within a year Germany was reunited and has since gone on to become the world's 4th biggest economy behind the United States, Japan and China.

    Today Germany celebrated the Fall of the Wall with a variety of celebrations, including 1000 giant dominoes falling across part of the city. The anniversary is practically a national holiday now.

    But no where is anybody complaining about the PRICE of reunification, or complaining about how East and West Germany could not trust each other back in the 1980s and were in a state of constant espionage during the Cold War.

    It reminds me of North Korea and South Korea. I used to live in South Korea and one of the things I noticed while there is that South Koreans tended to fuss about the fact they can't trust the North Koreans and that reunification with the North is going to be expensive.

    When you consider Germany's contemporary feelings and celebrations about the Fall of the Wall and reunification then South Korea's concerns just seem silly in comparison. If the DMZ across Korea went down today, twenty years from now concern about the "cost" would be dismissed as ridiculous.

    And worries about not being able to trust North Korea? Pfff. Sheer silliness too.

    When the Berlin Wall came down East German soldiers were dancing in the streets with the citizens. EVERYONE was happy to see it gone.

    There's also pressure to turn the DMZ into a nature preserve, because apparently tiger tracks have been spotted in the region. The Korean tiger was previously thought to be extinct in the wild.

    The tiger is a symbolic creature for Koreans, dating back to both Korean mythology about the birth of the Korean race and also Korean royalty and symbolic of Korea as a nation, commonly shown in artwork and maps depicting Korea as a tiger.

    Unfortunately reunification seems pretty far away. In the last couple of years North Korea has been testing nuclear weapons and long range missiles capable of reaching Hawaii. North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il also suffered a stroke and its only a matter of time before he either dies and/or is replaced by his 28-year-old son (Kim Jong Eun) as leader. Or a coup takes place, because its difficult to imagine the aged generals listening to a mere pup as leader.

    November 8, 2009

    Ragnarok: The Time of Reckoning

    ENVIRONMENT/RELIGION - According to Norse mythology the world will have a time of great reckoning and cataclysmic events, starting with the melting of Hel.

    Hel (in Norse mythology) is a barren hostile wasteland of ice where only the dead live. It is essentially the Arctic. According to the myth of Ragnarok the North Pole / Hel will melt, the world will become flooded, and all the peoples of the earth will be forced to move farther inland. (In Christianity we tend to think of Hell as being an underworld place and describe it as hot instead, but in Norse myths Hel is an actual place and very cold instead.)

    This flooding will be but the first of a series of cataclysmic events and "very treacherous weather" which will cause mankind to fight against each other over land and resources.

    The myth of Ragnarok also says the Norse gods (Odin, Thor, Freyr, Heimdall and Loki) will all be killed in the cataclysm. Odin is basically the Norse version of Zeus, Jupiter, Jehovah, Allah or Shiva. The other gods have corresponding deities in other myths and religions too (including Christian angels / demons). The names may be different, but they're essentially the same gods with a Norse flavour.

    After Ragnarok is over, the flood waters will retreat and the surviving humans will repopulate the world's fertile regions.

    The word Ragna means gods and Rok means both origin and ending, so Ragnarok essentially means a time of godly destruction and rebirth.

    Ragnarok is said to begin with three roosters crowing, the crimson rooster Fjalar (which means liar), the golden rooster Gullinkambi who lives in Valhalla and the unnamed soot-red rooster in Hel. Obviously like all prophecies these are meant as metaphors.

    Then Garmr (the immortal dog) will howl and be set free, and all the gods will begin to fight in a great religious war.

    Then Fimbulvinter (a very long winter that lasts for three years) and many wars will follow, including an invasion of giants. The fire giants end up setting fire to the earth and there is a huge slaughter as almost everyone is killed.

    Norse mythology is rather unusual compared to other religious myths because it actually foretells the death of the gods.

    Lately a lot of people have been fussing about 2012 and the changing to the Mayan calendar, with some people thinking it signals the end of the world. It is NOT the end of the world. Its just a cyclic calendar. In comparison Ragnarok is a much more interesting prophecy and has direct ties to what is currently going on with global warming, climate change and rising sea levels.

    November 5, 2009

    Texas Army Base Shooting Kills 12

    UNITED STATES - Fort Hood, one of America's largest army bases and less than 40 miles as the bird flies from Waco Texas, was the site today of a massive shooting which has killed 12 Army personnel and wounded 31 others. It was the worst mass shooting to take place on an American military base.

    At 1:30 PM in the Soldier Readiness Center (where soldiers who are about to be deployed undergo medical screening for mental illnesses) an Army officer with two handguns opened fire, killing as many as he could before he was finally shot by army personnel.

    The shooter has been identified as Army Major Malik Nadal Hasan, a commanding officer in his late 30s and a mental health expert. There is no confirmation of whether his motive was psychological or religious.

    Two other suspects have also been detained in the mass shooting.

    The base went into lock down after the shooting and other American bases went on high alert.

    In recent years there have been other notable mass shootings in the USA:

    * 13 dead at a New York immigrant center in March 2009.

    * 10 killed in Alabama in March 2009.

    * 32 killed at Virginia Tech in 2007.

    President Barack Obama called the latest shooting "a horrific outburst of violence" and talked about how horrifying it is to lose soldiers on American soil compared to the tragedy of losing soldiers overseas in the line of duty. "We will make sure that we get answers to every single question about this horrible incident," said Obama. "We are going to stay on this."

    Fort Hood covers 339 square miles and is home to approx. 52,000 troops. The base is used for continuous training for armored missions overseas.

    November 4, 2009

    Opel not for sale, restructuring instead

    AUTOMOTIVES - General Motors has decided not to sell European automaker Opel after all. In a meeting yesterday GM backed out of the deal to sell Opel to Canadian auto parts giant Magna International and has decided to restructure Opel instead in an effort to make the automaker more cost efficient.

    GM has lost more than $6 billion USD in Europe since 2000. In its best year Opel only made $188 million in profits and is overall a fiscal ruin and in dire need of restructuring.

    GM, the world's biggest automaker in 2008, has been under pressure from Washington D.C. to drastically and rapidly make itself profitable again. The US government now owns a large chunk of General Motors.

    Frank Stronach, the 77-year-old owner of Magna International, has been hoping to become an automaker instead of just an auto parts manufacturer.

    November 2, 2009

    Ford's Billion $ Profit

    AUTOMOTIVES/POLITICS - The Ford Motor Company, the only one of the Big Three American automakers who did NOT receive a buyout from the United States government, has posted a billion dollar profit today.

    Wall Street and other financial markets are up an avrg. of 2% today as the surprise good news spread of Ford's third quarter profit of $997 million USD, and they didn't even need government money to do it.

    Ford has been moving aggressively on cutting back on materials costs, to the tune of $200 million. It also won concessions from unions that resulted in another $300 million in savings. Ford's United States market share rose by 2.2% to 14.6%, resulting in extra profits too.

    Ford's stocks are also up today, by 8.39% to $7.58 USD. Ford is up a sum of 12% since April, the height of the automotive industry's financial crisis.

    Chrysler and General Motors meanwhile are still in the red. Its expected however that once cost saving measures are in place that they will begin to turn a profit again.

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