Thursday, July 20, 2006

Gone Cyclin'

I'll be away, cruisin' around the States (OK, only one very small part of the States, but it should be fan-shmastic) on my bike for the next couple of weeks.

Until then!

Veggies with punch cards?

Apparently China is going to track every single vegetable that enters "Olympic kitchens" (I assume this refers to the athlete's village and restaurants at or near Olympic venues). Every cabbage and every pea pod is going to have an identity number and file.

It sounds like they want to track each incoming veggie and approve all vegetables consumed during the Olympics, so that they can make sure none are contaminated with high levels of pesticides or other pollutants (something Greenpeace has found in Chinese vegetables before).

Sounds arduous. And what about all those Chinese people who eat (potentially contaminated) Chinese veggies every day? I hope someone's evaluating this problem in a bit more of an "upstream" kind of a way. Seems like this identity tag method is pretty far downstream from the problem's source.

Also I find it highly bizarre that the report explaining this vegetable policy apparently does not mention fruit at all.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Black extinction

Apparently the West African Black Rhino may now be extinct. The last place they were seen was in Cameroon, and recent extensive surveys show no evidence of their presence there now.

What they did find was evidence of lots of poaching. I guess the rhinoceros horns are (were) worth about $50 000 each, so people were after their horns to sell to foreign markets - even though trade in the horns has been illegal for a while.

This story makes me MAD. And SAD.

I am guessing that the people who poached the rhinos were probably poor and saw the animals as a way to keep them and their families alive... that's my sense of why a lot of poaching in Africa happens although I could be wrong. The problem lies farther afield I think: Asian medicine uses the rhino horn to fight malaria, epilepsy and "other ailments", (whatever that means).

This approach to curing people by killing off an entire species suggests a bit of a crazy ecological imbalance (espeically since there are other approaches to handling these illnesses)... and it does not strike me as being very sustainable, either.

Then again, us humans have always been lousy at the concept of sustainability.

It looks like Cameroon had people guarding the few rhinos that were left.
They had instructions to shoot poachers on sight.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Canadians in Lebanon

All the international news coverage lately has focussed on the escalating conflict between Israel and Lebanon. Here in Canada, one of the big news topics is how soon our government can get those 50 000 Canadians who are in Lebanon out. Many Canadians are frustrated that other (mostly European) countries seem to have started to get their citizens out almost right away, while the ships leased by Canada won't be able to start transporting Canadians to Cyprus until tomorrow - and then only if it's safe. Another problem is that some Canadians are trapped in smaller communities in Lebanon (especially in the south) and will have no way to reach these ships. A couple of things strike me about all this:

1. We are so focussed on getting the expats out, and yet most Lebanese people have no option to leave. Although I suppose it's not feasible for us to get all the Lebanese people out of harm's way, it makes me feel like we consider them and their safety to be less important than that of Canadians'. There's an inequality about this "save your own skin" attitude that makes me feel uncomfortable.

2. 50 000 people is a lot of people and the south end of Lebanon is essentially a war zone. The conflict seems to have escalated very quickly and Canada is so far away. I understand why the Canadians want to get out but I wonder what actions could have been possible to rescue people any faster. How realistic are our expectations?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Fun with Quotes II

I Googled "Environment Quotes" today to see what I got. Here are some of my favourites from the number one page that popped up, Quotations about the Environment from the Quote Garden:

There's so much pollution in the air now that if it weren't for our lungs there'd be no place to put it all. ~Robert Orben

It wasn't the Exxon Valdez captain's driving that caused the Alaskan oil spill. It was yours. ~Greenpeace advertisement, New York Times, 25 February 1990

Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them. ~Bill Vaughn

I'm starting to feel a bit preachy. Especially since I drove from Toronto to Waterloo and back yesterday - about 100 km each way, and it was just me in the car. Time to go and calculate my ecological footprint or something.

Hm, moving from feeling preachy to guilty... is that really the solution here?

NOW what should I think?

Apparently Al Gore has been praising Walmart. "What?!", you say? "I thought Walmart was a big bad corporation that we didn't want to have anything to do with, with its taking-over-of-small-towns, and its terrible record on employee practises."

(That's what I said too)

Well, apparently Walmart has a soft spot for the environment. Who knew? They want to become corporate environmental leaders actually, and have set three goals for themsleves:
  • reducing waste to zero
  • moving toward using only renewable energy
  • offering more products made in a way that preserves the environment
Progress all of those goals will certainly be measurable over time - which sort of implies they might actually be serious. After all, we'll be able to call them on it if they don't make any changes. The stores have already been doing some retrofits: installing more efficient lighting and refrigerators - and new prototype stores should be 30-50% more efficient over the long term than the current ones are.

I haven't shopped at Walmart in forever - and that's a function of (a) my disapproval of what I percieve to be poor handling of employees + their impact on independent buisnesses and, (b) let's admit it - the fact that it's highly inconvenient for me to get to one.

I may have to reexamine my attitude towards Walmart. If only they could get along with the idea of unions.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Stick it

For the environmentally-minded: you can now own a real memory stick. Yes, you can stick your stick into your computer. It will help with those sticky situations where you have to move data around. Or can act as a temporary backup if you want to make sure certain files stick around in case of computer blowups.

Although, truthfully (and unsurprisingly, given the name of this blog), I kind of like these memory keys better. Nothing like having what looks like a piece of raw fish hanging out of your USB port.

Thanks to popgadget

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Just shoot me

Grrr; I'm mad at Canon. I'm talking about the kind of Canon that makes cameras.

I have one - a little digital number that I rather like. I can take pictures with all sorts of settings, take a bit of video, upload it all to my computer in a snap. Lord, I sound like a commercial.

Except that... I dropped it.

Now I can do everything except actually take the picture. The camera focuses, turns on the ready light, zooms in an out, successfully displays photos on its screen and allows me to apply various settings.

It just won't actually record images any more.

So I took it to the camera store. Where they saide that they would have to send it away to Canon for a price of $50 and that the fix would probably cost $200-$300. Which is about the replacement cost for the freakin' camera.

I just know that it's some little electronic thing and that it's probably a common problem, and I feel so helpless and frustrated and annoyed that I can't do a thing to fix it on my own.

I guess it's back to my trusty fully manual, dinosaur-era but perfectly functional Nikon. And yes, I've dropped it before too. Onto a cement floor. And it still takes photos just fine, thankyouverymuch.

Monday, July 10, 2006


Viva Italia...!

THis evening I was watching news coverage of the crowds partying in Toronto last night after the Italians won the World Cup yesterday - it sounds like it was a massive party, everyone had a great time, and nobody got hurt. Hurrah for goodwill and fun!!

But the GARBAGE!! I always feel sort of stunned that it's a matter of course that the city has to send in bulldozers to clean up the garbage that gets tossed onto the street at large-scale events. In last night's case, maybe part of the problem was a lack of garbage and recycling containers - after all, it's not like little Italy is intended to handle quite that many people on a usual basis! But... it seems like a lot of partygoers at any big event consider it the city's responsability to clean up after them. I can't imagine feeling that way - I was taught to pick up after myself, not to litter, and to leave a place at least as clean as when I arrived. I've been know to carry around an empty plastic bottle with me for hours if I don't see a recycling bin.

The TV coverage from last night showed piles of garbage being collected by city workers early this morning.

This strikes me as being symptomatic of a broader North American attitude towards stewardship of our shared environment:

"I don't need it any more so I'll just dump it right here. Someone else can deal with my waste."

Lame. Irresponsible. And pretty gross.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Culture clash

I just read a neat article explaining that in the past, roadways were considered to be shared space beween all users - including pedestrians, cart-drivers, vendors, and streetcars. Then, Henry Ford's Model T came along, causing a huge culture clash between cars and all the other users.

And now look at us! The streets are the exclusive domain of motorized vehicles and streetcars. The amount of time pedestrians spend on them is (in theory!) tightly controlled by signal lights and crosswalks.- Bikes... well, even if you're in a Toronto bike lane, you still have to be eagle-eyed to make sure you don't get "doored", and I've had people honk and yell at me for doing things on my bicycle that are perfectly legal .

Given the amount of car traffic that exists, and the relative size and weight ratio of vehicle:bike or vehicle:pedestrain, it's not surprising that cars have taken over. And really - it's not practical or safe in modern times for people to be wandering randomly around in the same space as cars and trucks. THat would just be a bad scene all around.

Still - I'd love to see more bike lanes and shared-use space. I think that if it's properly incorporated into urban design, people will use it. And will feel encourages to make a switch out of their cars - which is what we really need in order to improve air quality.

Thursday, July 06, 2006


Lately it seems like Google News's Sci/Tech section is all Tech and no Sci.

Just now I checked the news and while the top article was about the Discovery crew and the space shuttle reaching the space station (definitely qualifying as science, and pretty neat science as well), no matter how many times I expanded the section, all the other stories were about iPods or net neutrality or Nintendo or Microsoft. (And I won't be providing links to any of the companies because I feel irritable and they get enough promotion already.)

It's not that this stuff isn't interesting; clearly it is to a lot of people or it wouldn't pop up on Google - but these topics strike me more as though they belong in the business section. They're about new products or legal battles. To me that's not really "technology".

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The weather is here

An article on ENN today is talking about which countries think they can control the weather and how much control they think they have. Apparently China and Russia think they have a lot of control: China says it can fill the Yellow River and Russia says that Moscow's parades have been saved from rain by its scientists.

American scientists seem to think that the level of control they're talking about is baloney - but they do say that we are capable of dispersing fog (I didn't know that!) - which is handy near airports - and that there may be some merit to the process of seeding clouds to try and force them to make rain.

I'm just hoping that the Americans are right and that nobody can really control the weather. I can just imagine what kind of "useful" scenarios would emerge if we actually could decide when and how much rain and sun we wanted. Who would have control? If China can can really make it rain - I'd like to know who is downwind from China, getting less rain, and who is downstream from China, getting flooded out? (How much would I have to pay to guarantee sunshine on my wedding day?) And what sorts of unexpected consequences could we expect from the weather control? I love that we think that putting more chemicals in the atmosphere is probably a good idea. It's never been a good idea before (I'm thinking here of stuff like CFCs (hole in the ozone layer), particulates (cardiovascular and respiratory mortality), leaded gasoline (nervous system deficits)...)

Of course it would be nice to fix some of the droughts and other climate problems that are happening in various parts of the world - but in my opinion we need to learn to manage our agricultural and human resources better - not go off on a tangent that has us trying to gain control of another aspect of nature.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


I was lucky enough to spend the Canada day long weekend at a friend's cottage "up north". We swam, canoed, boated, played frisbee, barbequed, roasted marshmallows, made s'mores, and sang songs around the campfire.

It was awesome - so much fun.

I do feel ambivalent about cottaging though. We all seem to feel entitled to own or inhabit not one, but two properties, each with its own impacts on the environment. At cottages, we like to have lakes and forest and extra space around us, so the development becomes even more spread out, and our impact on the environment broadens. There's the waste to get rid of, pesticides, oil spills, noise, and garbage. Some areas look to me like a spread-out suburbia, rather than any kind of wilderness - and we usually drive long distances to get to them, contributing to air pollution.

I know that most cottages have a much smaller footprint on the environment than most houses. The owners of the cottage we visited this weekend would like to get it completely off the grid someday. Going to the cottage also gives people a chance to learn to appreciate the natural environment - and I think it's important especially for children in the city to have a chance to discover nature. Then again, many cottage prices in Ontario are reaching levels you'd expect to pay for a home - and have as many amenities.

Is there a balance betteen access to wilderness and preservation of the wilderness?

I don't know.

Happy (belated) Canada Day!

July 1st, 2006