Transportation In The Lower Mainland

August 31, 2010

I can’t think of the last time I used a blog post simply to point to another blog, but if you have any interest in transportation policy that affects Vancouver and the Lower Mainland, it is impossible to miss Stephen Ree’s blog.  I don’t always agree with everything written, of course, but everything that is written is composed carefully and with a keen understanding of the issues involved.  Don’t miss it!

And The Trees Danced

August 31, 2010

And The Trees Danced

It Walks The Walk and Talks The Talk

August 31, 2010

So-called wearable computing has generally been contained within university labs, but now it is stepping smartly to the front of the cat walk.  London-based fashion company CuteCircuit has launched a little black dress that is also a mobile phone.

The garment, branded the M-Dress, lets wearers make and receive calls by slipping their sim card under the label, allowing them to keep their usual numbers.  Gesture recognition software allows users to pick up a call by raising their hand to their ear and end a conversation by letting it fall to their side.  The M-Dress, designed by the London-based fashion company CuteCircuit, will ring when an incoming call is received and different ringtones can be assigned to different numbers …

The dress is described as being made of “a dark, richly textured, form-fitting silk jersey” and will be released in 2011. Its price remains undisclosed. The antenna, described as “super-tiny”, is stitched into the bottom hem of the dress, which rests at about knee-height, to reduce the amount of radiation that the wearer is exposed to.

A message on the CuteCircuit website said: “Very often phone calls are missed because mobile phones are quite awkward to carry, especially for women, that have garments with small or no pockets. “To allow women to stay connected while remaining stylish, CuteCircuit designed the M- Dress. A mobile phone in its own right but built out of soft circuitry.”

In the old days it was only spies and FBI agents who talked into their wrists.  Now, anyone can do it — at least if you have the fashion sense to wear a little black dress, that is.

From The Independent in London.


August 30, 2010

Bannisters” at Fort Langley Park

Just Another Disappointment

August 29, 2010

The Obama Administration, along with the utterly failed Democratic leadership of the US Congress, has been one major disappointment after another:  the continued hypocrisy of Guantanamo, the continuation and indeed extension of the Bush-Cheney secrecy and surveillance laws, the ethical shortcomings of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, along with Obama’s medieval attitude to gender-neutral marriage, and the refusal to tame Wall Street.

The latest failure is Obama’s decision to actively increase American arms sales to an already arms-glutted world. The spin is that this will somehow help “arms control experts” to more easily monitor sales of major weapons.  But the simple truth is that this has everything to do with the

frustration felt by U.S. defense and high-tech companies, who say export controls that date to the Cold War cost them billions of dollars in lost sales … “Generally speaking, we’re very happy about this,” said Bill Reinsch, president of the National Foreign Trade Council, whose member companies include Boeing, General Electric and United Technologies.

We hoped that “Yes We Can” meant we could change the world. What it has come to mean is that the old military-industrial-media complex is as free to screw the world under a Democratic regime as it is under a Republican one.  Goddam shame.

Urban Daffodils

August 29, 2010

Urban Daffodils” at the foot of an inner-city skyscraper.

Reduced Visibility

August 28, 2010


Reason #197 for Not Using Facebook

August 28, 2010

Or, at least be careful who you accept as a “friend” according to this piece from Discovery News:

A man was recently sentenced to federal prison for allegedly violating the terms of his probation, including “associating” with an environmental activist from whom he accepted a “Friend request” on Facebook. Rod Coronado, an animal rights and environmental activist, was contacted by Mike Roselle, who co-founded the group Earth First!, and is a former director for Greenpeace U.S.A. Coronado accepted the friend request, and it cost him four months in prison.

On July 14, Probation Officer Rhonda J. Wallock claimed that Coronado, convicted of conspiracy in 2006, violated the conditions of his probation: “In monitoring Mr. Coronado’s Facebook account, this officer found Michael Roselle to be a ‘friend’ of Mr. Coronado. According to FBI intelligence and a criminal history investigation of Michael Roselle, he is a well-known environmental activist who has a history of condoning direct action and violence as a means of protest or demonstration.” Based upon Wallock’s report, U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney sentenced Coronado to four months in prison for this violation on August 3.

I guess that even I have some trouble blaming FB for this particular piece of US judicial stupidity.

Lake View No.2

August 27, 2010

A view of Slocan Lake.

The Discovery of Asteroids

August 26, 2010

This is an extraordinary video.  It illustrates the discovery of asteroids in our solar system between 1980 and 2010.  The first time an asteroid is discovered it shown in bright white.  It then becomes green or, if it is an earth orbit-crossing asteroid it becomes red. Those asteroids that closely approach the earth are shown in yellow.  The years and the total number of asteroids are shown at the bottom left of the screen.  As the years pass, the number of asteroids discovered increases rapidly.  This is best seen at full screen.

More than 500,000 asteroids have now been found within the solar system, and thousands of them cross our orbit.  The scientists say that the rate of discovery is not slowing down.

In the video you can see the pattern of discovery follows the Earth around its orbit and most discoveries are made in the region directly opposite the Sun.  The orbital elements were created by Ted Bowell and associates at Arecibo. See this webpage for more info.

I got this video from

Reason #196 Not To Use Facebook

August 26, 2010

Facebook is already the most intrusive software in the world, and Zuckerman is already a billionaire in his mid-20s, but still they want more. Now they want to own the online rights to the word “book”, it seems. To that end they are suing a tiny startup — 2 employees and 20 users — for using the name “Teachbook.”

[T]he Northbrook, Ill.-based company, which provides tools for teachers to manage their classrooms and share lesson plans and other resources, has been thrust into the spotlight by social networking giant Facebook, which sued the start-up for using “book” in its name … Facebook, which was founded in 2004 and has more than 500 million users, filed its trademark infringement lawsuit in U.S. district court in San Jose last week, asserting that the “book” part of its name is “highly distinctive in the context of online communities and networking websites.”

The comments to the original story are fascinating.

Rope Wood Metal Water

August 26, 2010

Seen at False Creek.  Better resolution image here.

The Ending of Privacy As We Know It

August 26, 2010

Earlier this week, I posted about the use of full-body scanners at work on our streets without any warrants and seemingly without any other rules.  Now, thanks to a columnist at Time magazine, we are advised of an equally egregious extension of government anti-privacy activities:

Government agents can sneak onto your property in the middle of the night, put a GPS device on the bottom of your car and keep track of everywhere you go. This doesn’t violate your Fourth Amendment rights, because you do not have any reasonable expectation of privacy in your own driveway — and no reasonable expectation that the government isn’t tracking your movements.  That is the bizarre — and scary — rule that now applies in California and eight other Western states. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which covers this vast jurisdiction, recently decided the government can monitor you in this way virtually anytime it wants — with no need for a search warrant …

This case began in 2007, when DEA agents decided to monitor Juan Pineda-Moreno, an Oregon resident who they suspected was growing marijuana. They snuck onto his property in the middle of the night and found his Jeep in his driveway, a few feet from his trailer home. Then they attached a GPS tracking device to the vehicle’s underside. After Pineda-Moreno challenged the DEA’s actions, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled in January that it was all perfectly legal. More disturbingly, a larger group of judges on the circuit, who were subsequently asked to reconsider the ruling, decided this month to let it stand … The courts have long held that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy in their homes and in the “curtilage,” a fancy legal term for the area around the home. The government’s intrusion on property just a few feet away was clearly in this zone of privacy. The judges veered into offensiveness when they explained why Pineda-Moreno’s driveway was not private. It was open to strangers, they said, such as delivery people and neighborhood children, who could wander across it uninvited.

Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, who dissented from this month’s decision refusing to reconsider the case, pointed out whose homes are not open to strangers: rich people’s. The court’s ruling, he said, means that people who protect their homes with electric gates, fences and security booths have a large protected zone of privacy around their homes. People who cannot afford such barriers have to put up with the government sneaking around at night …Plenty of liberals have objected to this kind of spying, but it is the conservative Chief Judge Kozinski who has done so most passionately. “1984 may have come a bit later than predicted, but it’s here at last,” he lamented in his dissent. And invoking Orwell’s totalitarian dystopia where privacy is essentially nonexistent, he warned: “Some day, soon, we may wake up and find we’re living in Oceania.”

Luckily other circuit courts have not gone down this path and the matter will quickly end up with the Supremes, I am sure. Perhaps that right-leaning group may save us in the end.

I Left You A Message

August 24, 2010

[better resolution here]

Lack of Sense or Lack of Training?

August 24, 2010

I went for a quick lunch on the Drive today and my bill came to $9.97. I gave the waitress a $20 bill and she handed me back two x $5.00 bills.

D’oh! Did she really expect me to give her a $5.00 tip?

That’s not the first time that has happened to me and I have to wonder whether not giving me coins suitable for a tip is a lack of commonsense or whether they simply don’t train these kids to think past the moment. I was obliged to dig around until I finally came up with a loonie which was less than I would normally have left.  But by that time I really didn’t want to give anything at all.

Do We Need Lead-Lined Knickers?

August 24, 2010

In many cities it has become standard practice to monitor street movements by CCTV cameras; and going to an airport these days, I guess we have all become used to having every part of us patted and prodded and photographed and x-rayed.  Some people going to courthouses have become accustomed to the same close inspection.  But do you expect this while you are peaceably driving down the street doing your shopping or visiting friends?  I suspect not.  But you would be wrong.

According to this report at Forbes, full body-scan technology is not employed on the streets of North America:

American Science & Engineering, a company based in Billerica, Massachusetts, has sold U.S. and foreign government agencies more than 500 backscatter x-ray scanners mounted in vans that can be driven past neighboring vehicles to see their contents, Joe Reiss, a vice president of marketing at the company told me in an interview … “This product is now the largest selling cargo and vehicle inspection system ever,” says Reiss … Reiss says AS&E has customers on “all continents except Antarctica.”

What’s the fuss?  Take a look at this image and you tell me…

Though Reiss admits that the systems “to a large degree will penetrate clothing,” he points to the lack of features in images of humans shown in images like the one shown at right, far less detail than is obtained from the airport scans.

So far, perhaps.  But these machines have a habit of becoming more adept, and I doubt they will tell us when that happens. Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) says:

the scans, like those in the airport, potentially violate the fourth amendment. “Without a warrant, the government doesn’t have a right to peer beneath your clothes without probable cause,” he says. Even airport scans are typically used only as a secondary security measure, he points out. “If the scans can only be used in exceptional cases in airports, the idea that they can be used routinely on city streets is a very hard argument to make.”

The TSA’s official policy dictates that full-body scanners won’t save any images. However,

Reiss [says] that the vans do have the capability of storing images. “Sometimes customers need to save images for evidentiary reasons,” he says. “We do what our customers need.”

Our mothers used to warn us to wear clean underwear; should we now update that advice to lead-lined undies?

Star Grazer

August 23, 2010

Not every gull likes french fries for lunch.

HST Petition Under Fire

August 23, 2010

As regular readers will know, I am a believer in consumption taxes and using them to replace income taxes completely.  I am therefore in favour of the Federal Government and the BC Government’s move towards a harmonized sales tax (or HST) which combines both Federal and Provincial consumption tax into one more easily managed package.

The HST is not popular here mainly, I believe, because of a shoddy job of explaining the full benefits.  It is so unpopular in fact that a far right and formerly-disgraced ex-Premier, Bill Vander Zalm, has been leading a petition initiative to have the HST thrown out.  A week or so ago he presented the petition with 700,000 signatures on it; enough to meet the stringent requirements of the initiative law, and he has been shouting from the rooftops about “democracy this” and “democracy that.”

Now, however, the independent Elections BC has announced that, on their first run through, they have found 150,000 phony signatures — and they are now looking for additional duplicates.  Vander Zalm’s position: He said he was puzzled that Elections BC is bothering with an investigation. “I don’t know why they would care,” he said “People may have innocently signed twice.”

Is it any wonder that he is a disgraced ex-Premier.

The Choking of Democracy In Thailand

August 23, 2010
Garuda as national symbol of Thailand

Image via Wikipedia

Wikileaks is most famous for posting detailed materials from America’s imperialistic wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it also posts material about other countries that has become banned or restricted from circulation. One such is the excellent Australian ABC documentary on the Thai monarchy.

This is well worth watching as it shows how the Thai military dictatorship hides behind the monarchy and a faux form of democracy to control the citizenry of that country using censorship and lese-majesty legislation. It also reveals why the next King of Thailand, the playboy son of the current king, could be a disaster for the country. As respect for the monarchy dies with the old king, the military may have to be even more blatant in their overt control of the state.

Charleston, West Virginia

August 23, 2010

A skyscraper and the sky in Charleston, WV.

[better resolution here]