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June 29, 2010

Sex in Space Forbidden

SEX/TECHNOLOGY - Sex in outer space is a big no-no according to NASA. Not for professional astronauts at least, but the growing number of "space tourists" may be wanting to give it a go.

Veteran NASA shuttle commander Alan Poindexter (seriously, thats his real name) says sex amongst co-workers in space is considered unprofessional and expressly forbidden by NASA. Astronauts are expected to focus their time on the mission and not on each other.

"We are a group of professionals," says Poindexter, insisting that respect and the serious job of being in space is not to be taken lightly. "We treat each other with respect and we have a great working relationship. Personal relationships are not ... an issue. We don't have them and we won't."

Poindexter admits astronauts have been known to fall in love on Earth, but denies any have ever managed to consummate their relationship in space. The only couple to be in space together was Mark Kee and Jan Davis in 1992.

An upcoming NASA mission later this year will have four female astronauts working together, including Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki and three NASA astronauts

NASA has had mixed gender space crews since 1983, but maintains there has never been an incident of sexual escapades in space. Not yet at least.

There is however a Japanese space tourist company which is offering to marry couples in suborbital space flights. So zero gravity sex is probably going to be part of the deal.

If NASA or other space administrations ever get around to colonizing Mars or interstellar space exploration colonists will no doubt be expected to start having sex so as to spread the human race to other planets... especially on space flights that could last decades or centuries.

In such situations the biggest danger would be love triangles and murders in space.

Tesla IPO posts strong gains

CARS - Electric car maker Tesla has gone public with an Initial Public Offering (IPO) of common stock. The interesting part is that they raised more money than expected on their first day of trading. (See Green Sports Cars.)

Shares of Tesla Motors Inc. soared despite markets in the USA being down 2% for the day, raising $226.1 million USD and selling 13.3 million shares at $17 USD each. (They were only expecting to sell 11.1 million shares at approx. $14 each.) At one point shares were trading as high as $19 and closed at $18.37 USD.

This strong performance suggests many investors want to invest in green technology.

Electric car maker Tesla is based in Palo Alto, California, makes the $109,000 Tesla Roadster and is also coming out with a more reasonably-priced family car in the near future.

“The response from investors has been tremendous,” says CEO Elon Musk. “We increased the size of the offering and the demand was still enormous, so we increased the price to a dollar above the top of the range and we still had massive, overwhelming demand.” CEO Musk is also a co-founder of PayPal and currently runs a space tourism company. He's known for his ability to build on trends for the future.

Tesla's design patents for batteries and drive system may become standardized in the future as the electric car market continues to grow sharply.

Tesla's upcoming $50,000 four-door electric sedan, the Model S will go on sale in 2012 and they're expecting to build a modest 20,000 per year.

Toyota Motor Corp. last month agreed to invest $50 million USD in Tesla and hopes to someday sell Toyota cars using technology being developed by Tesla.

Nissan is also coming out with an electric car, the $25,000 Leaf, as is General Motors with the $35,000 Chevrolet Volt.

See Also
Tesla Roadster proves electric cars can work
Toyota invests in Tesla
Behold, the Scorpion Hydrogen Supercar

Toronto police harrassed gay activists

CANADA/SEX - Gay activists who were arrested during the G20 protests over the weekend in Toronto are now alleging they were targeted by Toronto police and accuse the police of making homophobic remarks and slurs to gay and lesbian detainees and segregating homosexual detainees in separate cells.

Today queer activists stormed a Toronto police event related to the upcoming Gay Pride Parade (essentially it was a photo opportunity for Police Chief Bill Blair) chanting the following:

“No justice, no peace, no homophobic police!”

“Bill Blair come out or we'll continue to shout!”

“No photo-ops with the f------- cops!”

Reporters were blocked from entering the building by police in plainclothes.

Amnesty International in currently demanding an inquiry into the treatment of detainees by Toronto police.

Neighbourly and Politeness in Toronto

CANADA - It doesn't really matter where you live in the world, politeness is always something worthwhile. Being rude to people is likely to get you killed in some parts of the world, or at least cause problems.

In Canada the city voted to be the most polite and friendly is Halifax.

In contrast Toronto is considered the rudest. "Hogtown" is known for road raging motorists, upset bicyclists, impatient people on the escalator (Please move to the right if you just want to stand there.), and then there is the neighbourly feuds.

It used to be that being a good neighbour was considered a wise thing to do. You don't piss off your neighbours... they know where you live.

Getting into a feud with your neighbour about parking spaces, the fence, the property line, their dog which keeps barking, your noisy kids, the loud parties, etc... these can also be disastrous to your bottom line and your sense of well-being.

Imagine for example waking up to the smell of your car on fire. Which neighbour did it? If you have an ongoing feud with one particular neighbour it would be an obvious guess, but if you've been pissing off the whole neighbourhood it could be anyone.

Furthermore there's no guarantee the neighbour in question actually did it. It could have easily been a local teenager who overheard you were behaving like an asshole and they decided to teach you a lesson.

The whole point I am making here is that people should be polite and neighbourly as much as they can. Becoming antagonistic is only going to fuel further troubles.

Lets take the example of the apartment building management at 565 Sherbourne Chopping Off Bikes from their bike racks because they don't belong to the building's residents, which is strange because the bike rack isn't in front of their building, its in front of the Shoppers Drug Mart. Worse, a local by-law requires they have 60 bicycle parking spots (there's only about 25-30) beside the Shoppers Drug Mart.

Chopping off people's bikes and effectively stealing them from people in the neighbourhood isn't very nice, or neighbourly. There isn't even a sign warning people that the bike rack belongs to 565 Sherbourne and not the pharmacy. In response to complaints from local cyclists the building manager of the apartment building says she is going to remove the bicycle racks entirely (thus violating the city by-law).

Thus instead of being neighbourly she is provoking a feud with local cyclists (it should be noted that cyclists take people chopping their bicycles off and stealing very seriously). Tit for tat.

"People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."

June 28, 2010

G20 leaders fail to accomplish anything

POLITICS - In what is sure to be derided as a complete failure G20 leaders who met in Toronto this weekend have agreed to disagree. Arriving at this non-agreement cost Canadian taxpayers approx. $1.5 to $2 billion CDN for the renovations to local venues and the whopping $1.1 billion security budget (which we've already determined is a complete fraud and a waste of time and resources).

The G20 leaders have agreed to:

1. Handle their own debts independently.

2. Cut back on their deficits, if they feel like it, and to do so in whatever manner the individual country sees fit.

3. Ignore the environment a little longer.

There's also no deficit cutting targets, there's no debt reduction targets, no action on climate change and there's no greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. Oh and the proposed bank taxes that the USA and Europe want? Well, that will have to be handled within their own country. There will be no "international bank tax".

So its basically the status quo. Nothing has changed whatsoever. The G20 wasted all that money on what was essentially a few photo shoots of leaders shaking hands/etc, a lot of angry activists in downtown Toronto and photographers looking on, and the Toronto police getting to flex their muscles and smash a few skulls.

And the anarchists that everyone was so worried about did nothing but torch a few police cars and break some windows. That was hardly worth all the extra security. Oh and there was also a fake bomb art project and a guy who happened to have a chainsaw and crossbow in the trunk of his car (suggesting nothing more than someone who happens to enjoy camping and hunting up north).

Seriously, a chainsaw? Woooo... that's totally not the first choice of weapon for a terrorist. I doubt it would even make the list.

And for those who care there was also a suspension of civil liberties as police conducted raids (without warrants) against anyone suspected of being an anarchist. Police were arresting people just for wearing black pants or t-shirts... or living in a duplex next to a suspected anarchist.

ie. Local veternarian John Booth was woken up in the middle of the night with police guns in his face, told to keep his hands where they could see them, produce ID and then dragged out to his front lawn and questioned about a man he didn't even know. Police said Booth would be charged with the crime of conspiracy to commit mischief.

The officers sidestepped repeated requests to show him a warrant. They alternately promised to produce it later, claimed to have showed it to someone else, or simply said no. (Raiding someone's house without a warrant and attempting to arrest someone is grounds for suspension and a review of police misconduct, even dismissal if a crime was committed.)

Eventually the police realized they had raided the wrong half of the duplex and let John Booth go. This is just one example however. Over the past 3 days Toronto police went overboard, attacking people singing O Canada, shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at peaceful civilians... and totally ignoring other streets where the real anarchists were lighting fire to unguarded police cars and smashing windows on Yonge Street.

So lets tally the accomplishments of this G20 meeting... our leaders accomplished nothing, but Canadians learned that our rights as Canadians can be ignored whenever our leaders dictators see fit.

In other news Stephen Harper is praising the Toronto police force.

See Also:
Toronto Police attack people singing O Canada
G20 Police Overdo It On Security
Is Protesting Obsolete? Perspective on the G20

June 27, 2010

Toronto Police attack people singing O Canada

CANADA - See the video below.

This is just one of many videos showing Toronto police attacking unarmed civilians. More of these videos can be seen on YouTube.

150 Canadians Killed in Afghanistan

POLITICS - 34-years-old Master Cpl. Kristal Giesebrecht, of Wallaceburg, Ontario, and 21-year-old Pte. Andrew Miller, of Sudbury, both died when an IED (improvised explosive device) exploded around 11 AM Saturday, some 20 kilometres southwest of Kandahar City in Afghanistan.

This brings the total number of Canadians killed in Afghanistan to 150.

June 26, 2010

G20 Police Overdo It On Security

By Charles Moffat - June 2010.

CANADA - The 19,000 police officers brought in to provide extra security for the G20 meeting in Toronto have gone rather overboard. It still doesn't explain why it cost $1.1 billion for security, but the police presence is rather ridiculous.

I visited the barricades downtown today with a friend and his wife, not to protest, but just to observe. We were just three people amidst a vast crowd of photographers and a variety of activists, musicians, foreign media and also medics.

From our standpoint 90% of the crowds were just amateur photographers and people wanting to get a look at what was happening. The percentage of activists was small. And the so-called would-be "anarchists" were almost non-existent.

We didn't even get near the G20 fences. Couldn't even see them. Police were barricading streets and apparently not paying much attention to their cars that a few people who had mischievious enough to set on fire. One at Bay and King and another one later on Queen Street (but that didn't happen until around 6 PM).

“This isn’t violence. This is vandalism against violent corporations. We did not hurt anybody. They (the corporations) are the ones hurting people,” said one anarchist dressed in black.

It was actually really disappointing. All this security and nothing much was really happening. The activists chanted, but the vast (90% or better) majority of people was just there to look. Nobody so much as threw a tomatoe or a brick or a molotov cocktail. Proof that peaceful demonstrations are actually rather boring.

On Queen Street we passed by an abandoned CBC van with a smashed window. People, including us, were stopping to take photos.

At one point we were boxed in by police and couldn't even go home. We had to wait a bit and then go through an alleyway and a park to get around the police. On Yonge Street we saw some vandalism, smashed windows of stores, but nothing major.

We stopped at the Belgian Waffle place beside the Zanzibar and had some waffles and ice cream, then we walked down College Street towards Queens Park. A group of 5 'paddy wagons' for the Ontario courts went by us, along with a bus. We could see police up ahead, but they were facing away from us, north towards Queens Park itself and the sounds of people cheering, drumming and chanting.

We were coming up to a corner when a group of people came running around it shouting. Shortly afterwards a second group of people carrying batons came around the corner. Confused, the three of us backed up against the walls. The men with batons were plain-clothed but shouting us at us to back away. One of them shoved my friend because he thought we weren't moving fast enough.

The men with batons were police, not in uniform, and they were apparently beating up civilians and ordering them about. We backed away confused at what was going on. The police chased after other people and left us alone.

A woman paused to talk to us. She told us the police were shooting people randomly with rubber bullets. She was in tears and trying a find a way home with all the blocked off streets.

Finally we managed to round the corner and head north, skirting the crowds of people and the police lines. A man passing by warned us to stay away from the police lines. We did. Then we heard the sound of rubber bullets being fire into the crowd.

At one point the police charged at the crowd and there was a fair amount of people running backwards. We continued our way north, around the crowd and the police and happy to keep our distance.

We paused to watch the proceedings from a distance. We saw a woman with a black eye. She laughed and said it was caused by something else. Another woman with weird smears on her face, neck and shoulders told us the police had pepper-sprayed her.

We walked north on University Avenue past the Ontario legislature building. A police car was parked near it and was NOT on fire. I speculated that the police apparently weren't paying much attention to their cars. There was a small line of police in front of the entrance to the building, but the activists were a good 200 yeards to the south not even caring about it.

My friend and his wife had to go home and we parted ways. On Bloor Street I came across a small group of people huddled around an old man on the sidewalk who was bleeding from a cut near his eye. His also had splotches of blood on the back of his head. I stopped and offered my help since I have St John's Ambulance training. His wounds weren't serious, but there was no one else with any medic training. (I firmly believe St John's Ambulance training should be given to all high school students. Make it a mandatory course.) I stayed with the man until the ambulance and real medics arrived, which took quite awhile because apparently most of the ambulances were on call for people injured in G20 demonstrations. (You know, those poor people getting hit with rubber bullets and pepper-sprayed.)

I headed home, musing at the day's events and how this form of protest is not only obsolete but also ridiculous and a waste of time and money. Stephen Harper spent $1.1 billion on security so police could spray civilians with rubber bullets, pepper-spray and damage their ears with LRADs (we didn't even hear the devices where we were, perhaps because of a court order dictating that the devices could only be used as loud speakers). It was a complete sham.

But hey, people did get a hell of a lot of photos and video to share showing police overdoing it and showing what a complete waste of money this was. Some of the activists were shouting slogans about how Canada is turning into a police state. Maybe they're right. Some people define a police state as a country where the police are paid more than the teachers.

When was the last time police went on strike because the government was cutting back on their benefits and pensions? Never. But teachers are feeling the pinch regularly. Who's fault is that?

More Photos from G20

June 25, 2010

Is Protesting Obsolete? Perspective on the G20

POLITICS - There are five main issues that will be discussed this year during the G20 meeting in Toronto, Canada (which will have 34 leaders from around the world attending and should technically be called the G34). Outside thousands of protestors will be gathered, but what exactly are they protesting?

1. Climate Change and the Environment: Brazil and Germany are leading the discussion on the topic of climate change initiatives and cutting greenhouse gases, but Canadian PM Stephen Harper wants to avoid this topic as much as possible. Harper wants this topic removed from the agenda so G20 leaders can focus on the economy instead. Thankfully other countries which have more to lose from climate change are forging ahead and ignoring Stephen Harper's protests.

Ergo: Protestors at the G20 will be protesting against Stephen Harper's lack of attention to the environment. Thus they will supporting the initiatives of visiting countries that support fighting climate change.

2. Sustainable Economic Growth: Recovery is still fragile in the United States, Germany and Italy. In Canada our economy is growing so strongly we're raising interest rates and Stephen Harper now wants to cut back on government spending. The American housing and mortgage crisis is still hurting but slowly healing so an interest rate hike in the USA could cause a dreaded "double dip". China and other "Asian tigers" want to boost their domestic demand, which is good for everyone else because it means that Asia can stand on their own two feet and don't need to be stealing jobs from North America.

Ergo: Protestors are upset about losing jobs to companies in Asia and government inability to fix the economy quickly.

3. Financial Sector Reform: In the wake of trillion dollar bank bailouts in the United States and Europe many countries now want to charge banks a tax to pay back the money given to them by taxpayers. In Canada we didn't have any bank bailouts, but we did help General Motors and Chrysler during their financial crisis last year. Britain, Germany and France say Yes to the proposed international bank tax. Canada and Japan say No.

Ergo: Frankly I don't think protestors care about the bank tax. They're more upset at seeing rich bankers getting millions of $$$ in bonuses which were paid using taxpayer dollars.

4. Austerity and Cutting Back: Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal want to tighten their belts, balance their budgets and restore confidence in their economies. The end result would be debt repayment and slower economic growth in those countries. Canada did that during the mid-1990s and our economy soared as a result.

Ergo: Not a lot to protest here. Probably a good idea, but the difficult question is what do they cut back on to make sure their budget is balanced, doesn't upset the population and doesn't cause a "double dip".

5. The Value of the Yuan: The United States and other countries wallowing in debt want China to allow the undervalued yuan (China's currency) to appreciate more. China's economic growth right now is so strong it wouldn't hurt them to slow down the pace a bit and allow other countries to recover and become sustainable again.

Ergo: Again, not much to protest here. This is a good idea.

The Protestors

The weird thing is a lot of protestors who show up at the G20 will be ignored and penned into areas where they can't really do much. Police will spray them with water cannons, damage their ears with LRADs and the rest of us will all scratch our heads as to why the security bill costed Canadians $1.1 billion.

If anything its that $1.1 billion spent on security that many Canadians are talking about and upset about. Last year in Pittsburgh the security bill was a mere $18 million. Prime Minister Stephen Harper won't even explain what the $1.1 billion in security costs were for.

The biggest previous security bill for a G20 meeting was in Japan in 2008, at a price of $124 million USD.

Some of the $1.1 billion price tag has been explained, but there is still another $930 million that is unaccounted for. Where did that money go?

The 19,000 security personnel (mostly police brought from all over Canada) accounts for a very small percentage of the security budget. Their numbers is only 4.8 times bigger than the 4,000 used last year in Pittsburgh. At the price for Pittsburgh's security it should only be costing Canada $80 million for security.

We also spent another $90 million tearing up streets, building security fences, removing garbage cans and bicycle racks and making sure the security zone around the Toronto Convention Centre would be "safe". What happened to the other $930 million?

Note: $930 million is enough money to build 5 new large military bases.

Or give 93 different hospitals each a $10 million renovation and upgrade.

Or train and hire a thousand new doctors to reduce wait times.

There are many different things that would have been far less wasteful than whatever we're apparently squandering this money on.

And what about the non-security budget? Remember the Fake Lake they built? We still have yet to see all the money which was wasted on non-security items like wining and dining 34 groups of foreign dignitaries. The combined cost of the G20 is probably $1.5 billion or more.

All this money dedicated towards keeping protestors out and silencing them. The head of CSIS recently admitted they're not worried about a terrorist attack. The chances of a terrorist getting inside the security zone is so remote its considered well night impossible. Fort Knox would be easier to break into.

But protesting these things won't do a damn thing. The elites inside the buildings look outside and just see a bunch of crazy hippies who apparently have nothing better to do. They might not even see them at all. Protesting doesn't work anymore, which is why some people have opted for violence instead because that is the only way to get their message heard.

The problem is that violence is the wrong message. It drowns out the intent of the message.

A better way to protest would be if we shut down the city entirely for 3 days. A general strike, everyone blocking the roads, the subways, everything. These old methods of using placards and singing slogans... they're just plain obsolete.

June 24, 2010

Should Ontario fine rich speeders more?

AUTOMOTIVES - To fine rich speeders more or not to fine them more?

I believe Ontario should adopt a Swiss law which punishes people caught speeding on the highways and roads according to their level of wealth. Thus minimum fines for speeding tickets stay the same, but more wealthy people who "just pay the ticket" aren't really feeling the punishment because its just proverbial pocket change to them.

Heftiers fine on the more wealthy speeders (as determined by a background check, a credit check, etc) will curb down on aggressive drivers who feel they are "entitled" to the road. This sense of entitlement, that they have "the right to speed as much as they want", is inherently dangerous.

Amongst rich young people there it also a tendency to lean towards racing and stunt driving because they believe they will either never get caught or if they do get caught they know they can just pay the ticket easily. Even older drivers (who frankly should know better) still speed on a regular basis according to insurance industry statistics. Police should have more accurate statistics, because not everyone who gets caught actually has insurance. (Although you would think rich people would be smart enough to get insurance, this isn't necessarily so...)

The end goal is so all speeders are punished proportional to the amount of money they make/spend. If its just pocket change to some people they aren't going to feel punished at all and they will just keep on speeding as usual.

In January 2010 a Swiss mult-millionaire received a whopping $300,000 speeding ticket, the most expensive speeding ticket in history. To be precise it was 203,181 Euros (approx. $300,321 CDN). He paid the bill, but at least he knew he was being punished.

I should note there is this thing called "race tracks" and they sometimes have track days where people can come there driving whatever they happen to own, sign a waiver and then speed to their heart's content.

Homeowners Staying out of Real Estate Market After Selling

CANADA - Bad news for renters out there, there is a growing percentage of homeowners who are selling their houses and starting to rent, which is causing the cost of renting to go up due to increased competition.

I blame the Baby Boomers.

According to people in the Canada's real estate industry more Canadians (especially older Canadians) are selling their home and bidding on rentals, choosing to avoid the real estate market.

Part of this probably has something to do with the collapse of America's Housing and Mortgage Industry. Some of these former homeowners are apparently waiting around for home prices to drop so they can wade back into the market and snatch up a home at a good price.

While people in the Toronto real estate market twiddle their thumbs people like myself (aka renters) are also looking to buy a home in Toronto. Honestly I can't see the prices going down very much, not when there's always lots of renters looking to make a change to owning. (Or at least mortgaging, if thats a word.)

Bidding wars over a two-bedroom apartment seems silly to me. Bidding on a condo makes more sense. (Cuz renting is for suckas!) For the owners who managed to cash out at the height (or peak) of the market and put their money in the bank in theory they could be doing quite well if interest rates were higher... except they're not, interests rates right now are dirt cheap.

BUT interest rates are going up in Canada as the economy picks up. That makes renting better and getting a mortgage/buying a house more expensive. As the economy continues to grow the Bank of Canada will no doubt hike interest rates more, gouging us wee consumers and making it more impossible for renters to finally buy their first home.

(Its makes a person very tempted to move to Newfoundland and buy land there...)

Earlier today I was cycling near Moore Park (I had a picnic in Moorevale Park) and I remember thinking "Wow, there's a lot of nice houses in this neighbourhood." But if interest rates keep going up I can pretty much guarantee I won't be able to afford them.

My advice to old people who are selling their homes: BUY A CONDO! Stop stealing all the rentals from young people who are struggling with university or university debt!

As these new renters look for temporary homes (either to retire or because they're fleeing the real estate market temporarily), they are driving up prices and engaging in bidding wars to ensure they get a place that is comparable to the property they just sold. (Because they likely have a lot of belongings to put in storage.)

And some of these properties are quite upscale. There are apparently idiots out there who are selling $3-million homes and opting to rent. Not just in Toronto, but also in Vancouver as well. What are these morons thinking?

Vacancy rates in Toronto and Vancouver are now some of the lowest in Canada, a mere 2.2% in Toronto and 2.7% in Vancouver as of May 2010.

Part of this is due to what I'd call market panic (and the other part is what I'd call just plain stupidity). You see what happened was the real estate market was cooling and a number of TD Bank and CIBC market economists have predicted that home prices in Toronto might drop 10% in the next 2 years. Thus if you bought an $800,000 house now by June 2012 it would only be worth $720,000. All this based on a few economists (which are frequently as wrong as the weather guy) and a few silly people are now panicking, thinking they should sell now... rent a place for two years, and then buy a new place that is "10% off".

Its a complete and utter gamble. Its just as likely that housing prices will go up 10% in the next two years and these morons will have basically lost $80,000 + whatever they paid in rent for those two years. If they spent $36,000 on rent over a 2 year period you begin to realize their gamble approaches on the idiotic.

Fake Bomb Art Project baffles G20 Police

CANADA - Two days ago police arrested a computer science geek named Byron Sonne in Forest Hill north of Toronto on G20 related charges. Today they arrested his visual artist common-law wife Kristen Peterson. Both were arrested for possession of bomb making materials and weapons.

The pair were intended to make a big splash in the media by preparing a fake bomb as a huge publicity stunt to gain international attention and poke fun at the security expenditures for the G20 (over $1.1 billion CDN was spent on this year's G20 meeting, compared to the mere $18 million that was spent last year in Pittsburgh).

Their previous art antics and credit card bills showing a list of bomb making materials (everything but the actual explosives) tipped off police that these two should be watched closely. Police claim the pair possessed the items for "a dangerous purpose", but history on the two people suggests this was nothing more than an elaborate prank.

Byron Sonne and Kristen Peterson are middle-aged, live in a million-dollar house in suburbia and are quite well-off financially. Sonne is a computer security expert and writes code for banks, trust funds, etc. and thus is quite well paid. The couple is described by friends and family as happy, content and having "a good sense of humour".

In high school, Sonne planted a fake bomb that resulted in his school being evacuated. Its not his first time making an elaborate object that looks like a bomb. You know, with the flashing lights and the count down meter.

Sonne recently joked he was the last guy counter-terrorism officials would investigate. He made the comment a month ago at a “Surveillance Club” meeting, a group for people interested in surveillance ideas and issues. As a slightly nerdy middle-aged guy with a receding hairline he didn't really fit the profile of "international terrorist".

Sonne is also charged with mischief and trying to intimidate someone in the justice system... which goes back to the prank they were planning.

During the bail hearing yesterday Sonne winked at several reporters while his lawyer later requested a publication ban, which was granted.

But that doesn't stop bloggers from speculating, reporting or commenting!

Sonne and Peterson are best described as agent provocateurs... they just like to stir up controversy. Hardly dangerous, just a pair of attention seekers.

“He’s not a terrorist or anything like that,” says friend Julian Dunn, who worked with Sonne in 2003. “If anything, he’s what I would term an agent provocateur. (He likes to) push buttons and challenge the security apparatus.”

Jesse Hirsh, an Internet specialist who met Sonne at the recent “Surveillance Club” meeting, says there is no way Sonne was seeking mayhem and destruction. “He was more critical of the whole circus, as it were,” says Hirsh. “I suspect that this may just be a stunt and perhaps a stunt that got out of hand.” He believes Sonne may have also been deliberately baiting security officials. He may have been sending them photos of the fake bomb he was making and this raised alarm bells.

The only crime here is that these two people were seeking to cause a media stir. A simple case of mischief that has been over scrutinized.

And really its not such a surprise considering the $1.1 billion CDN that has been UTTERLY WASTED on security during this G20 meeting. That is $1 million per minute, basically sending the children of every police officer involved to university. A lot of Canadians are pissed off at the complete waste of money and its rather expected that some Canadians would want to poke fun at the wastefulness of Stephen Harper's government.

June 23, 2010

Earthquake strikes Ontario, Quebec & New York

CANADA/ENVIRONMENT - A 5.0 magnitude earthquake struck the Ontario-Quebec border near Ottawa Wednesday afternoon at 1:41 PM with tremors felt as far away as Montreal, Toronto, New York and Detroit.

For people in Toronto it felt like buildings suddenly lurched 4-6 inches back and forth in a North-South direction, shaking walls and furniture alike for approx. 5 seconds. Many Toronto buildings were evacuated while people speculated about the cause.

The epicentre of the earthquake was 45 km north of Gatineau, Quebec where the earthquake was felt for about 30 seconds. No injuries were reported.

According to the Prime Minister's Office a picture fell off the wall just outside the PMO, but there was no evacuation of Parliament Hill. A geological fault line runs through the Ottawa Valley. The last big earthquake in Ontario was in October 1998, when a 5.4 earthquake struck southern Ontario.

The recent earthquakes in Haiti, Chile, China and other locations has some scientists speculating that the earth might be entering a period of more widespread earthquakes that happen more frequently.

“Be reassured,” a visitor joked on the Radio-Canada website. “It's just Quebec separating.”

Google launching music downloads

ENTERTAINMENT/TECHNOLOGY - According to music industry insiders, Google is planning an online music downloading service tied to its search engine, a move which would place "Music" between "Images" and "Video"... and would pit the company against Apple iTunes when it comes to music downloads.

Not everything will be free however. Google has been “stepping up conversations” with the music industry with the creation of a pay-as-you-go service for downloading music fast, but still allowing you to download and sample music from little known singers and musicians... and the ability to view music videos by established musicians.

The service is also tied to Google's upcoming mobile SmartPhone service, which will apparently give Apple's iPhone and BlackBerry a run for their money. Rumours have been circulating for years of Google getting into the cellphone business, offering everything from business phones to another way for people to communicate... Rumours have also speculated the phones will come with GPS-based advertising, so when you walk by a store like H&M you will get a little ad/coupon on your phone offering for you to come on in and get 50% off on jeans.

One can only hope that the phones will be completely WiFi and allow unlimited usage. No more data plans. Data plans are for suckas.

If people are going to be downloading music and videos on these phones (and paying to download the music/videos), it makes sense that they shouldn't be charged TWICE for it. (One for the data plan, and again for the actual downloading of the file.)

In the meantime Google is signing deals with record labels, getting everything ready before they launch their new music service which will be coupled with their SmartPhone release.

In related news Google's Android operating system for SmartPhones is already the fastest growing OS for SmartPhones, surpassing Apple's iPhone, because it can be used on ALL SmartPhones and not just ones made by Apple. In Europe alone the Android operating system jumped 25-fold to 1.8 million users in April. The future is bold, shiny and not limited to the one company that makes them.

See Also: The Future of Phones

Has Canada's government been infiltrated?

CANADA - According to CSIS director Richard Fadden, the head of Canada's intelligence service, two provincial cabinet ministers in Canada are under the suspicion of being controlled by foreign governments. The allegation was made last night during a CBC interview during which Fadden refused to name names.

Fadden said the MPPs in question have not hidden their association with the foreign governments. But there have recently been indications that they are shifting their public policies because of the involvement with that particular country.

CSIS and Canada's Privy Council Office are trying to determine the best way of telling the provinces that these two individuals should be watched closely. Apparently its occurred to them that releasing the info to the media was a good idea, but without actually naming the two MPPs in question.

The MPPs aren't the only ones they're watching. There is also a number of public servants in British Columbia that are also under suspicion.

“It’s not the business of CSIS to finger politicians it believes are threats to national security.”

Fadden refused to confirm whether China was involved, but instead mentioned that media reports on China’s economic espionage in Canada were not “entirely incorrect.”

“I believe the country that you mentioned was mentioned in those stories.”

Other countries listed in media reports as having spies in Canada include Russia, North Korea and rare exceptions. Spying is not limited to just government, but also corporate spies.

So if foreign governments have infiltrated Canada on the provincial level, whats to say they haven't done the same on the federal level?

Drug lord captured disguised as Woman

POLITICS - Drug lord Christopher “Dudus” Coke, 42, was captured yesterday after a month long search and "civil war" with his army of supporters in Jamaica. Coke's armed gunmen roamed the streets shooting at police and attacking civilians following a bungled attempt to capture the drug lord when the United States requested an extradition of the man to face drug and gun trafficking charges. Coke's supporters were so well-armed that 73 civilians and 3 police/military personnel were killed in the ensuing violence.

Police captured Coke yesterday thanks to a tip that he was hiding in a church on the outskirts of Kingston, disguised as a woman and wearing a wig. Reverend Al Miller, who had mediated the surrender of Coke’s brother, Leighton, to police is believed to be the tipster. The two men left the church and were on their way to the U.S. Embassy to surrender when Coke was spotted at a checkpoint.

Police are now looking for Reverend Miller. Jamaican police offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest of Coke two days ago, but aren't looking to reward Rev. Miller but instead want to arrest him for helping the drug lord.

The bungled arrest of Coke followed scrutiny of Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding who had previously declined is execute an arrest order, sparking concerns the PM was corrupt and protecting the criminal. (Many islands in the Caribbean have problems with organized crime, drugs/weapons trafficking and corrupt governments who look the other way.) Teetering on losing his support Bruce Golding opted to execute the arrest, but the bungled attempt only cast doubt on the abilities of local law enforcement.

Its believed informants inside the local police force warned Coke that an arrest was coming and that allowed him to escape undetected. Until yesterday Coke was considered the most powerful drug lord in all of Jamaica, the leader of the Shower Posse, so-called because they "shower" their victims with bullets.

June 22, 2010

Boycotting the Royal Bank of Canada

By Charles Moffat - June 21st 2010.

CANADA - The Royal Bank of Canada is annoying me. They phone me every morning, between 8 AM and 11 AM, and typically leave a message on my cellphone asking me to phone them back. When I called them they didn't even know why I was calling them back. I've complained to them but they just keep phoning me anyway.

I don't even have an account with the Royal Bank. I have NEVER had an account with the Royal Bank or any other business dealings with them. And due to this morning "wake up call" they keep giving me (its been going on for a month now) I can promise you I will NEVER have any business dealings with the Royal Bank.

But there's other reasons to boycott the Royal Bank...

#1. The RBC is one of the primary investors in the Alberta Tar Sands, turning tar into oil and then into gasoline using a very expensive and environmentally damaging process (it takes a lot of water to filter the oil out of tar). Environmentalists are urging "Green Canadians" to close their Royal Bank accounts.

#2. The RBC invested $50 million in SCO, a company that is dissing the Linux operating system and is currently being sued by Red Hat and IBM. Linux users are urging other Canadians to boycott the Royal Bank.

#3. In 2008 the RBC changed their Lending Practices: Without warning, no written notification or customer agreement, the Royal Bank of Canada increases the interest rates of loans, mortgages, and VISA accounts. Interest rates are increased, terms and number of payments are changed without a written notice, violating existing agreements with customers and written signed contracts. This also effects students who have Canada Student Loans (pre-1999) with the Royal Bank. (This to me is the one which effects the most people, since quite a few people out there have a loan, credit card, etc. of some type with the RBC.)

#4. Much of the 2010 Olympics were held on stolen Native land in Vancouver, upsetting Native groups and sympathizers who feel the land should be returned to the Natives. The RBC was a major sponsor of the buildings built on Native land.

#5. The RBC has the largest number of Service Charges compared to other Canadian banks. They literally gouge customers as much as possible, knowing they are the biggest bank in Canada and many small communities only have 1 local bank: The RBC.

And there are doubtless more reasons to boycott Canada's largest bank. The Bank of Montreal and TD Bank are much better in my opinion. Just to compare there are:

123,000 websites mentioning a boycott of the Royal Bank of Canada.
131,000 websites mentioning a boycott of Scotiabank of Canada.
93,700 websites mentioning a boycott of the CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commere).
53,300 websites mentioning a boycott of the Bank of Montreal.
17,700 websites mentioning a boycott of TD Bank.

Such numbers are subject to change, but the point is still the same: Why bank with the Royal Bank when their reputation is the worst?

Alberta needs 24,000 more workers

CANADA/ENVIRONMENT - Looking for work? According to economists and human resources consulting firm Mercer the Alberta oil patch is going to need another 24,000 skilled workers by 2014.

So much so that the province is focusing on bringing in more foreign workers, completely ignoring Canadian talent that can be found at home. Tar sands and natural gas companies in the region are ratcheting up their programs to recruit temporary foreign workers.

In 2009 and 2010 the tar sands was actually shedding jobs and cutting back during the American Recession and lower oil prices. Now that the economy is in recovery and oil prices are starting to skyrocket again the demand for workers is growing again, like they did during the 2005-2008 period.

So if you're willing to sell your soul to the tar sands companies, there's work to be done. HR firm Mercer admits Alberta could be doing more to recruit and train Canadians who are willing to ignore the environmental catastrophe that is the Alberta oil sands (by environmental standards its 5 times worse than the BP Oil Spill).

In area alone the BP Oil Spill covers 24,000 square km. The Alberta Tar Sands covers an area of 85,000 square km. The difference however is that in Alberta the toxic leftovers from separating oil from tar float downstream and contaminate, fish, wildlife and have causes cancer rates in humans living in the region to skyrocket. There's no known way to clean it all up.

The BP Oil Spill in contrast can be cleaned up and in 3 decades the local wildlife should recover (unless another disaster strikes or the current problem gets worse). Thankfully humans don't drink the Gulf of Mexico water, they only swim in it.

Cougars in northern Ontario

CANADA - Researchers have confirmed there are cougars living in northern Ontario. Canada's Ministry of Natural Resources conducted a 4-year study into existence of the shy and reclusive large cats and have compiled 30+ pieces of evidence confirming they are prowling the northern woods.

The evidence includes tracks, DNA samples, clumps of fur and feces which have been collected over the past 4 years.

Since 2002 there have been almost 2,000 cougar sightings in Ontario, but none of them have been photographed. Cougars in Ontario were believed to have gone extinct around 1890 due to over hunting. The last cougar was shot in 1884 near Creemore, just south of Collingwood and only a few hundred km from Toronto.

Dozens of automated cameras triggered by motion/heat have been set up in places (Kenora, Lindsay and Sault Ste. Marie) where confirmed sightings have occurred, but have thus far been unsuccessful.

Cougars, aka pumas and mountain lions, can travel up to 50 kilometres a night, within a territory ranging up to 1,000 square kilometers.

There is speculation these cougars may have migrated or been imported from British Columbia. Sightings however date back decades so researchers say its likely a native population of cougars.

Stuart Kenn, president of Ontario Puma Foundation, estimates there are 550 cougars in Ontario. He's been tracking cougars for 30 years. He suggests there is a “cougar corridor” bordered by Ottawa, Peterborough and Owen Sound to the south and North Bay, Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie.

“There’s never been a confirmed attack on a human by a cougar. It’s very, very rare,” says Stuart Kenn. As large cats go cougars are very shy and avoid humans as much as they can. Cougars tend to stick to places where there are lots of hiding places and with their keen hearing its rare for people to spot them.

By the time you reach for your camera they're likely to be sprinting into the woods.

Bahamas rife with Organized Crime

By Ai Lung Nguyen - June 2010.

POLITICS - If you're thinking of visiting the Bahamas think again. The country is so filled with billionaires and the equally rich and powerful that life is pretty cheap there (and easy to cover up a murder).

The tiny group of islands off the coast of Florida is home to 330,000 people and its economy relies mostly on tourism... which is thankfully high due to the number of wealthy Americans and foreigners who visit every year.

The rich buy up tracts of land in the Bahamas, hire staff to clean and maintain their multi-million-dollar homes...

The wealthy are so plentiful in the Bahamas they have corrupted the local government, resulting in very few taxes on the rich. There is no income tax, no corporate tax, no capital gains tax, no value-added tax (VAT), and no taxes on the wealthy. The government survives on import tariffs, license fees, property and stamp taxes.

This also means someone who is into the stock market for example can do all sorts of things they wouldn't be able to do in the United States or Canada because its illegal in those countries. And better yet its a tax haven. You can make oodles of money doing illegal things on the stock market and get away with it. Insider trading is just the tip of the iceberg.

What we have in the Bahamas therefore is a toxic environment where the rich are all powerful, the government is corrupt, murders are covered up (dismissed as missing persons, accidents, etc), and organized crime goes unseen.

According to the U.S. Department of State (which tracks criminal activity both in the USA and abroad for potential threats) the Bahamas has a very high crime rate. Not just organized crime, but in general. Everything from petty theft, muggings of tourists and pickpocketing to more serious crimes like kidnapping, extortion and murder. The Bahamas also has the highest incidence of rape of all Carribean islands.

Two American citizens were murdered in Nassau in 2009.

Gang crime is also rampant. In 2009 three separate groups of tourists were held at gunpoint and robbed at popular tourist sites in Nassau.

Another incident in 2009 was at a major resort where two security men were shot.

Exchanges of gunfire on busy streets are not just unheard of, but surprisingly common.

Several days ago a 54-year-old caretaker was found dead in the jacuzzi of billionaire financier Louis Bacon who lives in Lyford Cay. Police didn't even report the death until local media learned about it. The cause of death was not confirmed, but the body was quickly cremated and flown out of the country in only two days. Bacon is not accused of any wrongdoing in the mysterious death.

Louis Bacon meanwhile is embroiled in a commodities scandal for manipulating platinum and palladium prices and so far has had to pay a $25 million penalty to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Pocket change to a billionaire.

Neighbour and fellow Lyford Cay resident Peter Nygard insists Louis Bacon is innocent. Peter Nygard himself is a figure of scandal, with allegations of abusing his employees, running sweatshops overseas, human trafficking, slave labour, raping a 17-year-old girl and murder. Peter Nygard is hardly a good character witness.

Nygard's walled compound in Lyford Cay (complete with shark tanks) would make a James Bond villain jealous. Guests at his home are described as "dubious at best". Part of his Lyford Cay home was burned down in December 2009 from unknown causes.

The known crimes (the ones that get reported) are mostly in Nassau. The outlying islands are even more dangerous because when crimes happen there is no police around. No authority. No consequences.

And in a country where billionaires have their own 'security' men and own shark tanks its considered wise not to piss them off.

June 21, 2010

Facebook finally posts a profit

TECHNOLOGY - Facebook, the darling juggernaught of social networking websites, has finally posted a profit of $800 million for 2009.

Apparently that means that advertisers on Facebook (typically ads for personals, weight loss, Viagra, get-rich-quick-schemes and other dubious companies) have lots of money to blow. Advertising on Facebook is the lowest denominators.

Facebook has been growing strongly since 2004, but membership actually went down in 2009 as many people became disenfranchised with the social networking site, either deleting their accounts or simply ignoring all the idiotic pokes, hugs and endless posting of drunken party photos, someone's dog or daily quips about how people are feeling.

Facebook is small potatoes compared to Yahoo! Inc. and Google. Google had $24 billion in annual revenue in 2009.

Advertisers are not the only source of revenue for Facebook. The company also tracks marketing trends by snooping on their members' interests. Claiming to know what the public wants is big business for the marketing industry.

Apparently most Facebook users want to lose weight and find love.

China allows Yuan to appreciate

POLITICS - China normally keeps the yuan artificially low to boost exports. A cheaper yuan makes it easier for foreigner to buy lots of cheaply made Chinese goods and then sell them overseas. This gives China an unfair financial edge on the global market.

Today however the Chinese government allowed the yuan to appreciate upwards in value, signaling greater confidence in China's domestic economy. This also makes it easier for China to import raw materials and goods from other countries.

This will likely only be a temporary rise in the value of yuan. China has done this before on numerous occasions, allowing the yuan to rise a little and then stopping at a new value.

China maintains this "pegging" of the yuan by buying up billions of foreign currency (usually U.S. dollars) per year in an effort to drive up the value of those foreign currencies and thus maintains the relative values between the USD and the yuan.

It should be noted that China has such a huge stockpile of foreign currencies that they frequently lend it out to other countries (including the United States which is suffering under a national debt of $13.138 trillion). Which is ironic because the US economy is suffering due to outsourcing of factory workers overseas and wouldn't be in their current predicament if it wasn't so much cheaper to hire overseas workers.

June 18, 2010

The End of Sperm Whales?

ENVIRONMENT - A dead sperm whale has been found floating a couple of km south of the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Environmentalists are now warning this could be the first of many sperm whales killed by the toxic crude oil.

The endangered species of sperm whales, measuring up to 20.5 meters (67 ft) long are found the world over... but their mating grounds around the equator and in particular in the Gulf of Mexico are some of the most heavily used waters when it comes to fishing boats (and fishing nets), cruise liners and cargo ships which pose a real threat to the often curious whales. Since April 20th their mating grounds is now one of the heavily polluted regions in the world, the home of the world's biggest oil spill...

Which is still continuing to pour forth and yet to be capped.

Commercial hunting of sperm whales (and their relative the pygmy sperm whale which measures 3.5 meters longs) for their oil and blubber began in the 1700s. By 1800 there was an estimated 1.1 million sperm whales left. By 1900 they had been hunted down to approx. 700,000. By 2000 it was estimated less then 400,000 remain in the wild. (Japanese whalers continue to hunt sperm whales routinely.)

The toxic BP Oil Spill covers an area of over 30,000 square km (the size of South Carolina) and curious sperm whales will not know enough to avoid the area. Crude oil can easily clog up a whale's blowhole, causing the whale to eventually die from suffocation.

Breathing in or ingesting crude oil can also cause to pneumonia, damage to the brain, liver and other organs; unconsciousness and death. (And oil dispersants are even more toxic and deadly.) Fish and other creatures contaminated by the oil, even if they survive the toxic stew, are likely to have reduce fertility resulting in little or no offspring.

In the early 1990s the United States Marine Mammal Commission warned a large oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico would kill marine mammals and "such effects might result in the complete loss of a regional population and require three or more generations to recover."

This is not the beginning of the end for sperm whales, but we could see a sizable reduction in species population, down to its lowest level ever. Thankfully the Gulf of Mexico is not their only breeding grounds as they also mate in shallow coastal waters off the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Africa and Indonesia.

The environmental damages of the BP Oil Spill will no doubt last for generations.

Screen Resolutions Soaring

TECHNOLOGY - Want more proof that we now live in a widescreen world?

At this rate by January 2012 at least 91% of the world will be using wide screen monitors... the exceptions will be companies with office computers that refuse to change and the weirdos who are still using 800x600 or 1024x768 resolutions.

And then of course there will be the people on their iPads, HP tablets, etc... which for some silly reason weren't made WIDE SCREEN... likely the result of a marketing scheme so they can come out with wide screen versions and charge everyone extra when they go buy a 2nd one.

June 16, 2010

The Sooner we Colonize Mars the Better

TECHNOLOGY - Imagine if by 2050 we could cut pollution levels in half?

Or have extra housing and food for 3 billion inhabitants?

Now I am not saying it will happen any time soon, but the colonization of Mars won't be just for NASA employees. The whole purpose of colonization is to move large numbers of people, enough to sustain a growing and industrious society.

The timeline is predicted as follows:

2011 - Mars Scout Mission, a Science Laboratory on wheels which will explore the martian surface.

2013 – Privately owned "space cruiser” to take group of space tourists outside of the Earth’s atmosphere.

2020 - NASA Lunar Colony, building of launching pad on the moon for future space exploration.

2025 - Manned mission to orbit Mars and return to Earth. Robotic terraforming of Mars will begin in locations where water is located.

2030 - First Manned Missions to Mars surface, establishing first colony and building greenhouses for food.

2040 - Additional colonization missions, in cooperation with China, Russia and the EU. The focus of these missions will be to build a viable society.

2041-2 - First children born on Mars.

2050 - Larger colony ships designed to be "stackable" to make the colonization process faster, easier and cheaper to upgrade over the long term.

However history has shown setbacks to the Mars mission timeline frequently depend on the economic successes of the countries involved. The 8 years of the Bush Administration significantly slowed down space exploration because all the financial resources were being used on the War on Terrorism and the bank bailouts.

Its safe to assume we will encounter similar delays and setbacks in the future.

Eventually however the assumption is that the government would be looking for large numbers of colonists / volunteers. Will it happen in our lifetime? Maybe, but only if governments can get their act in gear.

RIM making BlackBerry Tablet

TECHNOLOGY - Research In Motion (the makers of the BlackBerry) is coming out with a tablet device to serve as a larger-screen companion to its BlackBerry phone, as well as a smartphone with a slide-out keyboard and touch screen. Both devices are set to be released in Autumn 2010.

The BlackBerry Bold 9800 Slider phone, aka the BlackBerry Torch, will be RIM’s first touch-screen and full QWERTY keypad hybrid phone. The tablet device is currently dubbed BlackPad or Cobalt.

The devices will rival Apple’s popular iPhones and iPad, but provide greater functionality. The tablet will also will also be smaller and thinner than the iPad.

Rumours of a RIM tablet have been circulated for months and have now been confirmed. The market for Internet-enabled smartphones is expected to quadruple from 150 million / year to 600 million / year by 2012.

June 14, 2010

Ontario may cut HST by 1% by 2011

CANADA - Ontarians are currently paying 13% HST (Harmonized Sales Tax), which contains within it 5% GST (Goods & Services Tax) and 8% PST (Provincial Sales Tax). However the governing Liberal party in Ontario, led by Dalton McGuinty, is currently contemplating reducing the PST portion by 1%... which would drop the total HST to 12%.

Why should they do this?

1. It boosts the economy by increasing domestic spending in Ontario, which helps both low income families and high income families.

2. It increases cross border shopping from Americans / boosts trade in Ontario's manufacturing, mining and other sectors. Companies save money on their expenses.

3. It would reduce debt load by 1% over time, allowing more people in Ontario to pay off their credit card bills, mortgages, etc.

4. It would reduce Ontario's sales taxes to the same level found in most other provinces. With the exception of PEI (where the HST is 15%), Ontario has the highest sales taxes of any province.

5. Its easier on our brains when calculating how much tax is on an item we intend to buy. 12% is easier to calculate than 13%.

Government coffers will be fine as the HST decrease will also be complimented by a 1% increase in taxes on liquor and tobacco products (thus keeping the prices of those products stable) and a 0.25% increase on corporate taxes / anyone making over $127,021 annually. (Basically rich people would be paying an extra $320+ in income taxes, but at the same time would be saving money on the 1% HST reduction.) Thus it all evens out in the end.

In contrast the average person in Ontario would save about $100 to $250 a year in taxes, depending on how much they like to shop. (And lets face it there is a lot more "average people" than there is rich people.)

To voice your support for a 1% HST cut by 2011 you can email Premier Dalton McGuinty at

June 12, 2010

Buying a House not for the Reckless

CANADA - And definitely not for people who are uninformed. The Canadian housing market is red hot right now. Interest rates are still at record lows, the economy is booming and if you wanted to buy a house with a low interest rate now is a good time because the Bank of Canada is expected to raise interest rates again sometime in the next 6 months as the economy continues to heat up.

But if you're looking to buy a home or sell your existing house there is a lot of options out there and there is an increasing number of "opportunistic villains" who are poaching on uninformed first time home buyers / sellers.

Lets say you're looking for a realtor. Do you go to one of the traditional big companies (ie. Royal LePage, ReMax, etc) or do you hire a smaller, younger company which professes to be cheaper, but might be ripping you off and taking advantage of your naivete?

For example a lot of these young companies have gimmicks to encourage you to work with them instead of their competitors. One real estate might offer to post your home on multiple online listings. Another says its cheaper to use lawyers instead of realtors (you will need a lawyer anyway). Another suggests bidding on their services.

Since 2009 over seven new real estate companies have appeared in the wake of a federal Competition Bureau decision in an effort to cutback on the monopolies the older companies seem to have. Its hardly a monopoly in my opinion. People simply gravitate towards brand name products/services the same way they choose their cola. Coca-Cola or Pepsi are the brand names and any idiot can tell you RC Cola or President's Choice Cola simply don't have the taste people have come to expect when they buy cola.

The point I am getting at is when you go to a brand name company you can expect better quality service. This still post your house online in multiple directories and while the agent does take a commission its probably less risky than hiring a lawyer who is an expert on documenting the sale, not on sealing the sale or making sure the house is actually safe to buy (ie. the lawyer doesn't know if the house has termites or something equally bad).

When it comes to something as big and important as buying a house most people prefer not to be reckless. They want someone with experience, knows what they're doing and is reputable.

The one thing that is good about the 2009 decision is that house prices have come down a little, because its forced real estate agents to become more competitive. They've become more dynamic and creative in an effort to get the attention of potential buyers.

For example there is which offers to list your house on multiple databases for 1 penny. Technically not true however. The price is actually $600. Its only reduced to 1 penny if the house sells within the first 10 days, after which he refunds you $599.99... and of course gets a commission off the sale.

You see what I mean? Granted, a lot of other companies offer the same multi-listing service for roughly the same price, but none of them offer a $599.99 refund if you sell within the first 10 days. You're basically paying to advertise your house, a process which is often lengthy.

And it may get worse before it gets better. More government regulations are coming but while they're debated the housing market will temporarily be a "wild west shootout" as would be upstarts try to make a name for themselves (and ironically try to become a brand name). The Canadian Real Estate Association is challenging these new regulations and it may be a year or more before anything comes into effect.

“During the early years you’ll see an awful lot of these fledgling companies fail to get off the ground, but some may prove to be truly innovative,” said John Andrew, director of executive seminars on corporate and investment real estate at Queen’s University.

The industry, it has pointed out many times, hasn't really changed much over the years.

“It’s crazy that most real estate marketing is mired in the 1970s with bus shelter ads and flyers,” said realtor Ajay Jain who owns, a site which allows realtors to bid on customers (although frankly I am dubious about any realtor who offers to sell your house super cheap). Advertising your house is free, but realtors have to pay $30 just to submit a bid to become your agent. The good news is that it charges the realtors, not the home seller... and basically reduces the process of finding a realtor to a bit more like an online dating service.

Such innovation isn't a bad thing. The danger is when your realtor is inexperienced and you run into problems sealing the deal because they're inept, incompetent or just make the occasional mistake. argues people shouldn't even get a realtor. It argues its cheaper to just have a lawyer sign the appropriate papers and not worry about the other things like whether the seller is committing identity fraud, has neglected to mention there is a lean on the house, termites, structural damage, a leaky roof or a pending lawsuit.

In such scenarios its buyer beware. True, you have the legal security of the lawyers involved... but liars lawyers aren't exactly known as "the salt of the earth" either. The lawyer is still charging a 1% commission (on top of legal fees), which is less than the 2.5% commission usually charged by realtors... but frankly a realtor is more likely to get a better sale price.

Sometimes it is better to have a middleman.

The question however is how many middlemen are involved... realtors, lawyers, advertising, website and directory listings. If its all rolled into one reasonable fee I'd say it doesn't matter. If they all start asking for a share and competing with each other then woe be to the consumers looking to sell their old home and find a new one.

Food for thought.

June 10, 2010

Documents show Stephen Harper misusing public funds

CANADA - According to 950+ pages of documents obtained by the Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act the Privy Council Office (PCO) has been conscripted by Stephen Harper's Prime Minister’s Office to act as an unofficial propaganda division.

Normally the Privy Council Office and similar bureaucratic institutions in Canada have held time-honoured tradition of non-partisan public servants. New orders from Stephen Harper however dictate that the PCO will now serve the will of the Prime Minister, and if you don't like it then you can quit.

In other words the PCO has become another propaganda tool for the minority Conservative government, but this time it breaks conflict of interest guidelines which dictates that bureaucrats must remain non-partisan.

This act has federal officials and public-policy analysts upset and they say it is undermining democracy in Canada... and its counterintuitive to the promise Stephen Harper made in 2005 to introduce a new era of transparency and accountability in government. Where is the transparency if bureaucrats are forced to promote Conservative propaganga?

“We discussed every single issue and micromanaged every news release — everything,” said one former Harper-era PCO official. “Pretty much any event, or any rollout of an announcement, would have an MEP [a memo from the PMO] that would lay out the strategy.”

The identities of public servants who have worked at PCO and other government departments are not being revealed because they fear retribution from their political masters.

The 950+ documents released to the Canadian Press shows a thousand different instances of the government using public funds for propaganda.

The propaganda tactics include anything from billion-dollar purchases of military aircraft to donations to community groups, often with the Conservative logo stamped on the big phony cheque. MEP memos typically focused on any event where there would be a photo shoot so that a Conservative MP could be present claiming responsibility.

Its all about misappropriating government workers and public funds to use them for publicity. It is just plain corrupt and illegal.

June 9, 2010

Entrepreneurs cleaning up BP Oil Spill

ENVIRONMENT - With the cost of crude oil at $74 per barrel entrepreneurs in the Gulf of Mexico have clued in to an opportunity. Collect the oil and sell it.

1 oil barrel is 159 litres and since the BP Oil Spill started over 800,000 litres were spilling into the Gulf of Mexico every day. Most of it has stayed in a giant oil slick that is now roughly the size of the state of Vermont.

That initial estimate of 800,000 litres per day is now being touted as wrong. BP announced today its been semi-successful in managing to halt some of the flow from the burst oil well, claiming it is now collecting 15,000 barrels of oil a day and hopes to boost that to 28,000 barrels a day in the next several days.

The admission that the spill was bigger than they originally claimed has the US government now looking to correct its estimates on the size of the spill. The new estimate is 100,000 barrels per day (16 million litres).

The burst well has been gushing oil since April 20th, a total of 50 days thus far... 5 million barrels worth approx. $370 million on the open market. BP cannot possibly hope to recoup their financial losses through the collection of this oil.

But that is not stopping cash starved people in Louisiana from recognizing an opportunity to make money and clean up the environment in the process.

In related news BP has purchased a number of Google ads in an effort to save its reputation and appear more transparent to the general public.

Babyboomers becoming lost in the Digital Divide

By Charles Moffat - June 9th 2010.

TECHNOLOGY - Are you over 50 and can't tell a search engine from a web portal? You're not alone. Baby Boomers are slow to embrace surfing, online videos, downloading of music and movies... in fact they're so slow at it that seniors (the over 70 age group) on average know more about the internet than the 50 to 70 age group according to a 2007 Statistics Canada survey.

According to a May 2010 study conducted in the USA only 53% of the over 50 age group has used the internet to watch a video online. Compared to 84% among 18 to 29 year olds and 74% among 30 to 49 year olds. The average was 69% overall.

It should be noted women on average are more internet savvy than men, by a 2% margin.

I admit my mother and father fall into this category of Baby Boomers who haven't yet figured out the internet. They're still using a dial-up modem because my mother refuses to pay the extra $10 per month it would cost her to upgrade to Sympatico Lite so instead she keeps using the local dial-up provider in their farming community.

The speed is a mere 1 to 2 kbs per second. In contrast my Rogers cable internet gets about 500 to 2,000 kbs per second depending on the server I am downloading from. Upgrading to a Bell Sympatico Lite account would allow my parents to get approx. 40 to 100 kbs per second, but my mother is as stubborn as they come and firmly believes that they can't even get Bell Sympatico service on the farm (despite advertising to the contrary).

My father won't even touch the computer. He firmly believes he will break it. Thus my mother is the only one in their household who uses it and the internet is only used for the occasional email, ordering seeds online for her gardening and that is about it.

According to statistics however this is a large chunk of the North American population that is very hesitant about using the internet. The Baby Boomers (god bless them) have been a cultural force since the 1960s, the result of frequent post WWII lovemaking which created a bumper crop of children between 1943 to 1960. Their influence was so big it shaped the entertainment industry, politics and changed how companies advertise. Everyone wanted their ears, their votes and their money.

But as the internet era grows and TV becomes slowly obsolete the Baby Boomers have split into two groups:

The Web Savvy Boomers - They check their email daily, they're likely to be on Facebook, they do research/shop/download media online, they might even have their own website for a hobby of theirs. (If you're a Baby Boomer and you're reading this, you're probably in this group.)

The Haven't-Got-A-Clue Boomers - Which includes my parents sadly. These Boomers rarely check email, rarely touch a computer and frankly don't seem to care. They don't see the advantage of instant media.

I'd argue however there is some definite personality differences between the two groups. The 1st group is also more likely to enjoy outdoor activities such as kayaking, rollerblading, cycling, playing road hockey with the grandkids and trying new things. The 2nd group prefers TV, playing Euchre, long drives to see the Autumn leaves change colour and sticking their head in the sand.

For web developers the 2nd group is a difficult nut to crack. They won't even go online in the first place so its very hard to market to them online. They would look at a web development Toronto website and get confused quickly about what is meant by the word development.

Such people are more likely to know more about portable toilet rentals than they know about the internet. This may be an exaggeration, but my point is made. These people don't know s**t about the internet. (Sorry mom, but its true.)

Only 58.5% of Baby Boomers in the USA have ever used the internet according to February 2010 statistics. This contrasts with the 93.2% of 12 to 24 year olds who use the internet, and the 85.6% of 25 to 49 year olds who use the internet. The moment they are over the age of 50 there is a steep decline in internet usage.

This digital divide between young and old is already a source of Generation Gap confusion. If I mention Facebook, my mother thinks its some kind of blog. Which is better than my father who does not even know what a blog is.

Part of this might be because many of the Boomers in the 50 to 65 age group are still working in tradition non-computer based jobs. They have yet to retire and they have not been forced to use computers as part of their work schedule and thus learning how to use a keyboard (typing speed is considered a problem for people not used to the internet) and the internet in general is a foreign concept to them.

There are other factors too, which include: Poverty, illiteracy, lack of interest, addiction to other activities, worry they might become internet addicts and even paranoia thanks to films like The Net (which is wholly inaccurate and ridiculously out of date by today's standards).

We can hope that once these people do retire that maybe they will have enough money saved up they can finally afford a computer, start using it and make an effort. But maybe not. It seems more likely that once people are stuck in their ways they will stay that way until they die.

Sometimes you just can't teach an old dog new tricks. Not because they're not smart, but because they're too stubborn to try something new.

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