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August 31, 2012

Children's Toys for Xmas 2012

Let the Battle of the Toymakers begin!

Seriously, its like gladiators duking it out in a victory or death competition.

Lets go down the list of "hot buys for 2012" shall we?

#1. iPad Mini / Tablets for Kids

If you have small children you should already be aware that giving electronics to children under the age of 9 is basically just guaranteeing that said electronic will BREAK within the first month. I've seen it happen. Little kids are careless. They don't realize how easily these things break and manufacturers seem to be making devices that break easily, thus guaranteeing that you either have to come back and buy another one... or give up completely.

My advice? Don't trust an 8 year old or younger with anything electronic. If you can't trust the kid not to pull a cat's tail (another thing I've seen little kids do regularly), then you definitely cannot trust them with electronics.

Now I admit, some parents out there just love to spoil their kids. They believe it is their god-given-right to spend and spoil their kids as they see fit. But all I am saying is HAVE FUN with the replacement bills when the electronics gets wet, smashed or otherwise broken. Or lost. Misplaced at school. Left on a park bench. Dropped on the subway. You name it, kids will do it.

What is a smarter buy is VTech InnoTab 2 and LeapFrog LeapPad 2. They're educational tablets that are made to be more durable. A much smarter buy than buying an iPad Mini.

NOTE: If you do decide to get an iPad Mini for xmas, remember to get protective stuff for it. eg. Screen shields and a protective case. Your kids will probably still manage to break it eventually (or lose it, get it stolen, etc), but at least it won't be for lack of trying on your part. If you can't trust your kid to feed a puppy, walk ait and not lose it somehow, you probably can't trust them not to set down their gadget in a toystore and promptly forget about it.

#2. The 2012 Furby reboot

After being gone for over a decade this idiotic stuffed toy is back and ready to be a hot selling item. Updated from the original version, this Furby 2.0 has an app connection, softer fur to hide touch sensors and more realistic expressions. The eyes have been completely changed to backlit LCD screens in order to allow the Furby to better look around the room and respond to noises.

#3. My Little Mousie

This company understands that kids are inherently rough on their toys. I have several stuffed animals in a box in my parents' attic which can testify to the abuse children put their toys through. This Premium German sigikid Baby Toys for Canada. The company in question, which you can visit at, sells everything from high durability backpacks, stuffed animals, old fashioned wooden toys, rattles and even toys for nurseries. Its really marketing at the 0 to 2 years old market, but it is certainly a market that is unexploited thus far. See the company quote below:

"Children develop a deep relationship with their toys. They are a child's first love. That's why at My Little Mousie, we believe in high-quality toys that are built to last, well-designed and functional. We specialize in hard-to-find German premium toys. Right now, we offer a unique collection of sigikid products. We offer a unique collection of German premium sigikid baby toys. My Little Mousie is a Vancouver based boutique online store for Canada."

#4. Eco Toys

I actually think this will be a dud.

The tree-huggers (or those people trying to appease them) are pushing green garbage trucks made of plastic. What kids wants a garbage truck for xmas? Get real people.

Want to give the boy (I presume it is a little boy if you're buying them a truck) something they will actually like? Buy a whole collection of Hot Wheels cars. They're classics and always popular. Some of them change colour in water or heat, can be used on a track (like a roller coaster), etc.

Or find one that has a wind-up function. One of my favourite cars when I was that age was a wind-up car that you pulled back two or three times, set it down and then pressed the button on the back and it zoomed off. No batteries required. And it still works even today.

#5. Web Shooting Motorized Spider Man

Say what? Actual webs?

No, not actual webs. Just a piece of white plastic and it doesn't go that far. Still, it will probably sell.

#6. Nintendo 3DS XL

I have a friend who bought her 7-year-old one of these. He broke it in the first month. So she got him another one, but this time she got it second-hand... and he broke it too.

Seriously. You're just throwing your money away on these electronics.

#7. LEGO

Seriously, boys or girls, get them Lego. Doesn't break easily. Hours of fun. A classic toy. Get them a Lego train set with a wind-up motor.


Seriously, you can never have too much Lego. (Unless you step on a Lego brick on the stairs with your bare feet...)

My parents once split up the shopping and they both accidentally got me the exact same Lego spaceship. I thought it was the most awesome thing ever that I had TWO of the same spaceship. (Seriously, one for each hand...) They thought they had goofed and even wanted to return and exchange one of the boxes, but I gleefully ripped them both open and started building.

Seriously, best xmas ever. :)

August 27, 2012

"Arrow" extended preview sets the tone for Smallville replacement

For 10 seasons the TV show "Smallville" graced screens the globe and showed Clark Kent's rise from a lowly farm boy with only a handful of superpowers to the juggernaught that is Superman. The show aired from 2001 to 2011 and even before its finale the producers were planning their next big thing.

One of the most popular characters in Smallville was Oliver Queen (Green Arrow) who appeared in 7 episodes of the 2007 season and later became a recurring character in the 2008 to 2011 seasons. Played by Justin Hartley, the character's skill with the bow and martial arts made him (and on screen romances) a favourite with fans of the TV series.

So much so that it really is no surprise the producers decided to create their replacement for Smallville by making "Arrow". Below is the extended preview trailer for the new TV show.

Our First Thoughts?

#1. Yes, it is a different actor. But who cares? Justin Hartley has gone on to play to a med-student turned doctor in a medical drama (and he probably doesn't want to be typecasted as Green Arrow).

#2. The new show looks freaking awesome. No offense to the Hunger Games fans out there, but Green Arrow's skills make Katniss Everdeen look like an amateur.

#3. If its anything like Smallville then "Arrow" will be a smash success. And considering all the films about archery right now it will probably be pretty fantastic.

The Toronto Public Archery Range overflowing with New Archers

The Toronto Public Archery Range is overflowing with new archers in the wake of all the archery films that came out in 2011 and 2012.

A year ago you could go the archery range, also known as the Seton Park Archery Range, and on a busy day you might see 4 to 6 people there. But in the Summer of 2012 the numbers on a busy day range from 20 to even as high as 30 people there.

The range is so busy that on weekday mornings (eg. 9 AM Tuesday morning) there will be 4 to 6 archers there. What that tells you is that the sport has basically quintupled in popularity compared to a year ago.


#1. The films: Brave, The Hunger Games, The Avengers, Hanna.

#2. TV shows: Game of Thrones, Arrow.

#3. The Olympics.

Call it a perfect storm of mass media, but archery is now the coolest sport a person can take up. It makes "paintball" and "frolf" look nerdy in comparison.

If you're interesting in getting archery lessons in Toronto check out the website Cardio Trek.

To learn more about archery in Toronto visit The Toronto Public Archery Range on Facebook.

August 24, 2012

6 Myths about Biofuel

Have you ever thought about switching to biofuel for your car? Well maybe you need a little education in what biofuel actually is.

Myth #1. "Biofuel can be used in any car."

Biofuel is actually "Biodiesel", which means you will need a car which runs on diesel. Diesel vehicles make up a small percentage of the market and most automotive manufacturers don't make diesel versions of their cars.

Myth #2. "Biofuel is green."

Do you know how an internal combustion engine works? It burns the fuel. Ignites it using a spark and the tiny explosion pushes pistons, etc... The point is that it BURNS the fuel and creates carbon dioxide. There is nothing "green" about burning fuels.

Myth #3. "Biofuel is cheaper."

Fuel prices fluctuate, just like grain prices do. Yes, when oil prices are sky high then biofuel will be cheaper. But when grain prices are sky high it will be the opposite. And the demand for biofuel has been forcing grain (and food) prices much higher than they should be. So no, it isn't actually cheaper.

It is true that biofuel used to be cheaper than diesel, back in 2007, but 5 years later the prices have gone up considerably and due to market conditions what happens is that biofuel (*which is really just diesel made using plants*) is now the same price as diesel. Sometimes more.

Myth #4. "Biofuel is greener because its made using plants."

First of all say something is "greener" is a misnomer.
Think about this... you are taking fields of corn (or other suitable plants), turning it into biofuel and then BURNING it. You are basically just setting fire to corn fields. How is that supposed to be green or "greener"? Yes, the plants convert CO2 in the air into plant fibre using photosynthesis, but it really just ends up being "neutral" if you ignore the fuel used to plant the seeds and later harvest all of it, transport it... To say nothing to the damage done to the food industry and starving people who can't afford the rising prices of corn. The end result is that it is not green and it is not "greener".

Add in deforestation of tropical rainforests to plant fields for crops and the damage is bigger than you can ever imagine. Soybeans supply 40 percent of Brazil's biofuels.

Myth #5. "Biofuel is sustainable."

Hahaha! To provide enough biofuel for all of our needs we would need to radically change the way we farm. It would result in increasing the prices of food by many times over. We really don't have the resources to mass produce large amounts of biofuel AND food production at the same time. To be sustainable something needs to be able to be reproduced again and again, in unlimited quantities, without effecting other markets (food production) in such a way that it would be counterproductive, and meet the market demand.

Here is some data:

To produce 5.75 percent of Europe's transport power using biofuel Europe would need to plant 70 percent of its farmland with fuel crops.

Yes, if we turned all the cornfields towards biofuel production we might be able to boost biofuel production. But it will never meet all of the market demand... and it would be disastrous for food prices.

Myth #6. "The biofuel industry isn't controlled by Big Oil."

If only that were true... Big Oil, grain, auto and genetic engineering corporations are forming partnerships, and they are consolidating the research, production, processing and distribution chains of food and fuel systems under one industrial roof. You cannot cut into the action of the oil industry without them turning around and buying out the competition.

For more on this topic read the article below:

The Biofuel Myths

By Eric Holt-Giménez

The term "biofuels" suggests renewable abundance: clean, green, sustainable assurance about technology and progress. This pure image allows industry, politicians, the World Bank, the United Nations and even the International Panel on Climate Change to present fuels made from corn, sugarcane, soy and other crops as the next step in a smooth transition from peak oil to a yet-to-be-defined renewable fuel economy.

But in reality, biofuel draws its power from cornucopian myths and directs our attention away from economic interests that would benefit from the transition, while avoiding discussion of the growing North-South food and energy imbalance.

They obscure the political-economic relationships between land, people, resources and food, and fail to help us understand the profound consequences of the industrial transformation of our food and fuel systems. "Agro-fuels" better describes the industrial interests behind the transformation, and is the term most widely used in the global South

Industrialized countries started the biofuels boom by demanding ambitious renewable-fuel targets. These fuels are to provide 5.75 percent of Europe's transport power by 2010 and 10 percent by 2020. The United States wants 35 billion gallons a year.

These targets far exceed the agricultural capacities of the industrial North. Europe would need to plant 70 percent of its farmland with fuel crops. The entire corn and soy harvest of the United States would need to be processed as ethanol and biodiesel. Converting most arable land to fuel crops would destroy the food systems of the North, so the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development countries are looking to the South to meet demand.

The rapid capitalization and concentration of power within the biofuels industry is extreme. Over the past three years, venture capital investment in biofuels has increased by 800 percent. Private investment is swamping public research institutions.

Behind the scenes, under the noses of most national antitrust laws, giant oil, grain, auto and genetic engineering corporations are forming partnerships, and they are consolidating the research, production, processing and distribution chains of food and fuel systems under one industrial roof.

Biofuel champions assure us that because fuel crops are renewable, they are environment-friendly, can reduce global warming and will foster rural development. But the tremendous market power of biofuel corporations, coupled with the poor political will of governments to regulate their activities, make this unlikely. We need a public enquiry into the myths:

Biofuels are clean and green.

Because photosynthesis performed by fuel crops removes greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and can reduce fossil fuel consumption, we are told they are green. But when the full lifecycle of biofuels is considered, from land clearing to consumption, the moderate emission savings are outweighed by far greater emissions from deforestation, burning, peat drainage, cultivation and soil-carbon losses.

Every ton of palm oil generates 33 tons of carbon dioxide emissions - 10 times more than petroleum. Tropical forests cleared for sugar cane ethanol emit 50 percent more greenhouse gases than the production and use of the same amount of gasoline.

Biofuels will not result in deforestation.

Proponents of biofuels argue that fuel crops planted on ecologically degraded lands will improve rather than destroy the environment. Perhaps the government of Brazil had this in mind when it reclassified some 200 million hectares of dry-tropical forests, grassland and marshes as degraded and apt for cultivation.

In reality, these are the biodiverse ecosystems of the Atlantic Forest, the Cerrado and the Pantanal, occupied by indigenous people, subsistence farmers and extensive cattle ranches. The introduction of agrofuel plantations will push these communities to the agricultural frontier of the Amazon where the devastating patterns of deforestation are well known.

Soybeans supply 40 percent of Brazil's biofuels. NASA has correlated their market price with the destruction of the Amazon rainforest - currently at nearly 325,000 hectares a year.

Biofuels will bring rural development.

In the tropics, 100 hectares dedicated to family farming generates 35 jobs. Oil-palm and sugarcane provide 10 jobs, eucalyptus two, and soybeans a scant half-job per 100 hectares, all poorly paid.

Until recently, biofuels supplied primarily local and subregional markets. Even in the United States, most ethanol plants were small and farmer-owned. With the boom, big industry is moving in, centralizing operations and creating gargantuan economies of scale.

Biofuels producers will be dependent on a cabal of companies for their seed, inputs, services, processing and sale. They are not likely to receive many benefits. Small holders will be forced out of the market and off the land. Hundreds of thousands have already been displaced by the soybean plantations in the "Republic of Soy," a 50-million hectare area in southern Brazil, northern Argentina, Paraguay and eastern Bolivia.

Biofuels will not cause hunger.

Hunger results not from scarcity, but poverty. The world's poorest already spend 50 to 80 percent of household income on food. They suffer when high fuel prices push up food prices. Now, because food and fuel crops compete for land and resources, both increase the price of land and water.

The International Food Policy Research Institute has estimated that the price of basic staples will increase 20 to 33 percent by 2010 and 26 to 135 percent by 2020. Caloric consumption declines as price rises by a ratio of 1:2.

Limits must be placed on the biofuels industry. The North cannot shift the burden of overconsumption to the South because the tropics have more sunlight, rain and arable land. If biofuels are to be forest- and food-friendly, the grain, cane and palm oil industries need to be regulated, and not piecemeal.

Strong, enforceable standards based on limiting land planted for biofuels are urgently needed, as are antitrust laws powerful enough to prevent the corporate concentration of market power in the industry. Sustainable benefits to the countryside will only accrue if biofuels are a complement to plans for sustainable rural development, not the centerpiece.

A global moratorium on the expansion of biofuels is needed to develop regulatory structures and foster conservation and development alternatives to the transition. We need the time to make a better transition to food and fuel sovereignty.

August 21, 2012

Facebook's share prices crashing

Facebook Incorporated director Peter Thiel has sold most of his stake in Facebook (the world’s largest social-networking website in case you didn't know that already). Facebook had banned insider sales, but the time restriction for that has ended and Peter decided to sell his $395.8 million in stocks and run with the cash. Overall he has made over $1 billion selling off his shares since Facebook's IPO.

Why? Because Peter Thiel was one of Facebook’s earliest investors and knows when the golden goose is about to die. So why not collect his cash and leave before it becomes "officially dead". Thiel sold about 20.1 million shares in the company on August 16th and August 17th.

He started with an original investment of $500,000 in 2004, so in reality Thiel has made a bundle off being a long time investor in the company. In 8 years he turned that $500,000 into over $1,000,000,000. Not bad for being patient and knowing when to sell at the right time.

Meanwhile other investors in Facebook are now losing their shirts. The stock has lost almost half its value since the IPO amid signs are growing that Facebook’s growth is slowing, leveling out and "profit expectations" are much lower than pundits were claiming. In short the company's value was largely on paper and many insiders are now dumping their stakes.

Facebook last week unlocked 271.1 million shares, the first of five insider-sale restrictions scheduled during the company’s first year as a public company. Another 1.44 billion shares will be freed up through November, but by then prices could be a fraction of what the IPO was.

Right now (as I finish this post) the price is down to $19.48 and dropped 10 cents in the last minute.

The Best Cooking Classes in Toronto

By Charles Moffat.

Here are my picks for the best cooking lessons in Toronto.

#1. Luca

Luca offers private cooking lessons in both Italian cooking lessons and also private cooking lessons in general. Why is he my number one pick? 1. He teaches privately. It is more like tutoring so you get 1-on-1 attention, which is rare when most cooking classes are in groups of 6 or more. #2. He really knows his stuff. #3. His prices are fair, so you're getting great value for a fair price. Expect to pay $25 per person plus the cost of food. So depending on the menu it can get pricier, but it is exceptional value.

#2. Arvinda's Healthy Gourmet Indian

I put this one 2nd because I LOVE Indian food. You might already have heard of Arvinda's from the line of Indian spices and curries they sell across Toronto at places like Fiesta Farms, The Big Carrot, and The Cheese Boutique. Arvinda's cooking classes came first, long before the spice belends. Her practical classes ($65-85) cover all the basics of Indian cuisine... including my favourite: Butter Chicken. She also offers a 2-day "India Discovery" workshop ($160) where you learn the basics of cooking Indian food in one day plus a walking tour of Little India where you learn how to shop for Indian food products.

#3. Lyn's Private Vegan Lessons

Okay now technically this isn't really well known as the others. I am basically just plugging a friend of mine who is a vegan cook and recipe writer. She has taught me everything I know about vegan cooking. Check out her website at I also highly recommend her ebook "Conscious Evolution: Vegan Recipes, Life and Consciousness".

The rest of these are in no particular order.

Culinarium - Offers a series of cooking classes ($69) that highlight local and seasonal ingredients you can learn practical skills like working with different meats (poultry, lamb, beef etc), veggies and grains (fall harvest soups), and preserving (jamming, pickling, canning).

The Healthy Butcher - Great if you want to learn about meat. Learn how to break down an elk carcass, spatchcock a chicken or make your own sausages. Classes are either demonstrations or hands-on and generally range from $80-$100. The groups are capped at anywhere from 10-20 people.

The Good Egg - This Kensington Market shop has a great selection of recipe books and supplies. They also offer basic cooking/general interest classes ($75-$100).

Calphalon - Retailers of cookware and knives, their culinary centre at the corner of King & Spadina also offers cooking classes are very expensive, but with a broad selection of classes in the city. Demonstrations are ($70), Hands On ($150), or the more intensive Specialty Class ($200).

Great Cooks - Cooking classes for individuals ($110) or corporate team building (prices vary). Seasonal themes and also basic skills classes.

Nella Cucina - A knife sharpening/rental services and restaurant supply which has a location at Bathurst and Bloor. They also offer classes in Hands On ($75 - $125) and Demonstrations ($75) so you can hone those knife skills.

Toronto District School Board - A cheaper option at $20-30 per class (depending on materials) but their topics include Wine Regions of the World, Indian Vegetarian Cooking, Cake Decorating and Chef on the Run so its also great value.

George Brown Continuing Education - For the more dedicated this college offers evening courses (roughly $200-$400 each) and certificate programs (prices vary). This is really for people intending to become professional chefs. 6 different classes to pick up a certificate in Asian Cuisine, Vegetarian Cuisine, Baking Arts, Cake Decorating, or general Culinary Arts.

St. Lawrence Market Kitchen - On the mezzanine level, south building, you will find a full line of cooking classes. Everything from soups and stews, Thai cookery, working with chocolate, etc. Classes run between 2-3 hours and cost $50.

The Bonnie Stern Cooking School - You could just read her column in the National Post, or you can take her classes for $150 which has a mix of practical cooking, informational, and celebrity chef interview/dinner formats.

Dish Cooking Studio - Ignoring the weird name this catering company, boutique and cafe also offers classes (about $125-$175), and showcase recipes from well-known celebrity chefs.

Viva Tastings - At the St. Lawrence Farmers' Market on Saturdays, or their 6 Degrees Underground Supper Club, you will find a variety of cooking classes and corporate team building events, covering everything from basic culinary skills, to entertaining for vegetarians and vegans, to holiday party planning. Each class is $90 and includes a sit-down meal & glass of wine.

August 17, 2012

Feminist musicians sent to prison for 2 years

By Suzanne MacNevin

Three women of the feminist punk band Pussy Riot have been convicted of “hooliganism” today for their anti-Putin performance in a Moscow cathedral. The band held a brief guerrilla performance, a "punk prayer" entreating the Virgin Mary to protect Russia from Vladimir Putin, who at the time was on the verge of winning a new term as Russian president.

Judge Marina Syrova sentenced them to two years in prison, a year less than what the prosecution asked for. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30, said they were protesting against close ties between Putin and the Russian Orthodox church and did not intend to offend believers.

The three musicians stood in silence in a glass courtroom cage as the judge read out the verdict. They lifted their cuffed hands in salute to acknowledge supporters after the sentencing and smiled to each other.

After the judge finished reading the sentence, which took three hours, many Russians in the court room shouted “Shame!”

Officially the three were charged with "hooliganism connected to religious hatred", but they have been very clear their goals had little to do with the church and more to do Vladimir Putin's iron grip on Russia's government - including the judicial system which has become puppets of the Putin regime.

The judge also said that the songs being performed were "blasphemous". The case has attracted international attention as an emblem of Russia’s intolerance of dissent.

The case is not alone either. Many other incidents have been happening in Russia and the government crackdown on free speech is becoming ever stronger. This case comes in the wake of several recently passed laws cracking down on opposition political parties, including one that raised the fine for taking part in an unauthorized demonstrations by 150 times from 2,000 rubles to 300,000 rubles. In dollars the fine used to be roughly $60 but is now about $9,000.

Another extreme measure now requires non-government organizations that both engage in vaguely defined political activity and receive funding from abroad to register as “foreign agents.” That way anyone who defies the government can now be arrested for being a foreign spy and has already admitted on a government document to being a "foreign agent".

So yeah... Russia is going down the drain and freedom of speech is pretty much disappearing if you live there.

Love, Crime and Flower Thieves

By Suzanne MacNevin

Today I have flowers on the brain.

Police in New York City are trying to track down a plant-obsessed thief who stole flowers from a Court Street bodega in Brooklyn on July 14th. He apparently approached the shop between Congress and Amity streets around midnight, grabbed some flowers sitting outside the storefront and fled. The shop had already been the victims of a flower thief in a previous incident.

Investigators are still working the case, but police shared a possible motive. “It’s not a large quantity of flowers, but I guess he has a girlfriend or something,” he said.

And he is apparently to cheap to just buy flowers or order flower delivery. In this modern day and age you can even be living overseas, and use your credit card to order flowers online.

Really, its not even that news worthy... but you will soon see I am on a flowers theme today.

Next Christian Bale (Batman!!!) is starring in "Flowers of War".

Directed by Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers) the film is essentially a Chinese version of Schindler's List (with a dash of The Sound of Music) and will be an epic... judging by the fact it is most expensive film in China's history.

It tells the story of a mercenary and alcoholic mortician called John Miller (Christian Bale), who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time: The Japanese are invading Nanking in 1937, killing, looting and raping without mercy. To prevent the rape and massacre of children his character poses as a priest... which is complicated by his romance with the local leader of the prostitutes who show up at the church seeking sanctuary. Meanwhile the Japanese commander (Atsuro Watabe) wants the orphans to sing and perform for his fellow-officers. But singing isn't what the troops are looking for...

Presumably there is flowers in the plot somewhere. I imagine its mostly a symbolic metaphor.

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