Sunday, December 31, 2006

Stop junk mail and junk calls in Canada

If you want to stop recorded telephone ads and junk snail mail, you can add your name to the Do Not Contact list of the Canadian Marketing Association.

The feds are supposed to be implementing their own list. But I'm not sure if that list has been launched yet.

Movies: Rocky Balboa (2006)

When Rocky V was released in 1990, Sylvester Stallone said it was the natural end of the story arch,which goes like this:

After late career success (Rocky, Rocky II), Rocky Balboa becomes super rich (Rocky III), fights Russians (Rocky IV), then loses all his money and ends up back in his old neighbourhood, where he becomes the trainer for a new up-and-coming boxer (Rocky V).

If that was the natural end of the arch, then why the new Rocky Balboa movie?

The sarcastic answer is that Stallone needs to pay the bills. He wrote, directed and stars in the movie. But if it were not for the love people have for the Rocky character, the movie would never have been made.

When the Rocky theme song starts and that trumpets blasts, everyone in the room feels good. And when people visit Philadelphia, they all run up those steps. The Rocky movies make people feel good. So why not a final lap around the track?

...Spoilers...

In the first movie, Rocky Balboa is an aging local boxer (ha!) who pays the bills by working as a collector for a loan shark. Then Balboa gets a shot at the champ in his hometown of Philadelphia.

In the new movie, Rocky Balboa is a retired world famous boxer who lives near his old neighbourhood and makes a living operating an Italian restaurant named Adrian's -- named after his wife who died a few years ago. Every year, Balboa drags his brother-in-law, Paulie, with him for a stroll down memory lane. Insert flashbacks from Balboa's first date here.

Eventually, Balboa decides he needs to box again -- but against local fighters. He's a fighter, after all, and wearing a smoking jacket and telling his patrons the same boxing stories again and again is making him live in the past. He wants new stories. He has feelings he wants to exorcise from his system. So he passes his physical and the boxing federation eventually gives his a licence to box.

Around this time, ESPN does a computer simulation of a hypothetical fight between Rocky Balboa (in his prime) and the new (unloved and undefeated) champ, Mason Dixon. Balboa wins the simulation. It gets people talking. Dixon's managers approach Balboa and ask him to fight the champ in an exhibition. He won't get hurt, they promise. It'll be a final hurrah for Balboa. And Dixon will be seen to be honoring the ex champs. It'll give him respect, or something.

Balboaagrees to the fight, but he's in it to prove himself. The training montage is mercifully short. Apollo's old trainer is back to help Balboa make 'hurtin' bombs' as his only chance to win is through 'blunt force trauma'. Basically, the George Forman strategy. Balboa bulks up and gets ready to fight.

Balboa gets knocked around but stays on his feet. He eventually unloads some of his 'hurtin' bombs' and the champ is rattled. To everyone's amazement, Balboa goes the distance. And the fight and the film end in the only way that they could. In that sense, Rocky Balboa is much closer to the original Rocky film than any other in the series.

During the final credits, the Rocky theme blares and we see regular running up the steps in Philadelphia. Old people. Young people. Fat people. Skinny people. Pairs of people. Single people.

Whatever you think of cinematic excellence (or not) of Rocky Balboa or the other films, the fact is that these make people happy. Happy enough to run up 20 steps, throw their arms into the air and jump around. That's something.

New Quebec rating: 3.5 / 5


Read more reviews here



Rocky (1976) and Rocky Balboa (2006)

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Tech tip: add automatic photo resize to context menu in XP

Visit the Microsoft PowerToys page to download individual add-ons apps for your XP computer. I found Image Resizer, which adds an image resize option to the context (left-click). This is a quick alternative to loading Photoshop and resizing the images manually.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Use your webcam as a security cam

I bought a Logitech QuickCam Communicate STX webcam last week. I always thought webcams were gimmicky and useless. But in one week using with friends and family, I now think they are useful.

So, the take home message is get a webcam.

Webcams still in their infancy
Webcam image quality is probably better than it has ever been but still not quite the HD, big-screen we've seen on the Enterprise and in the White House situatuon room.

For now, the webcam feels like the original telephones that were kept in a special room and you had to walk over there to place a call. Ultimately, when our home communication/entertainment system is unified, we'll be able to make video calls from our sofa.

Use your webcam as a security camera
Webcams have additional uses beyond video conferencing with your family. I found an excellent guide and free software that lets me use my wired webcam as a security camera. Your computer and Internet must always be on to do this. (Although I think wireless webcams can connect directly to your router/modem and you don't need a computer.)

Using your webcam and the free Dorgem software, your webcam takes photos if it detects movement. These still images can be saved to your computer and/or uploaded to your website using your FTP login username and password. (Uploading the images to your website folder allows you to see what's going on at home when you are away and can give you an alternate set of the digital photos of the thief who is about to steal your computer.)

So, if you have a webcam (and, optionally, a web host), follow these straightforward instructions to learn how to make your webcam into a security cam. I tried it and it works.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Dodgers vs. Expos: Game 5, NLCS, 1981

I was too young to watch the 1981 NLCS. The only part I've seen is the short clip of Rick Monday's home run and that cutaway to the mustached gentlemen in the stands who hits his forehead and runs his hands through his black hair. (You know who I mean.)

Anyway, thanks to YouTube (and an Expos fan), you can now watch most of the Game 5 of the National League Championship Series here. Enjoy.

Phun with pronunciations

This offensively-inaccurate pronunciation for the word piquant appeared a few months ago in The Gazette.

I checked their purported source, Merriam-Webster and discovered it does not include PEE-kunt as the proper pronunciation. Instead, it lists the following:
Pronunciation: 'pE-k&nt, -"känt; 'pi-kw&nt
I can hardly wait 10 years from now when all these brilliant CanSpell kids are interviewing at law firms and one of them leans over to a senior partner and says, "My, what a PEE-kunt whit you have."

Monday, December 25, 2006

Green Christmas 2006

Dec. 25, 2006
St. Joseph's Oratory


Dec. 25, 2006
No snow on Snow Hill Rd.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Cloning cakes

The missus spotted something oddly familiar about the cake on the January 2007 issue of Coup de Pouce.

A quick search through her pile of cooking mags undecovered the December 2002 issue of Bon Appétit with the same cake flipped horizontally.


Friday, December 22, 2006

Rex Hudler, Damaso Garcia and the 1989 Expos

Every once and a while, I have a eureka moment and realize I can use the Internet to find stuff that would never have been possible to find before.

This is 10 minutes from the Major League Baseball Game of the Week on NBC from July 22, 1989. Bob Costa and Tony Kubek in the booth. Reds leading Expos 5 to 1 in the bottom of the nineth.



Moleculo, The Molecular Man

Conan is the best. One of my favorite skits from SNL.


The girls of the Wonders Years

Some of this is NSFW, but have a look at all the women who appeared on the Wonder Years. [Look here too.]

Who knew that Alicia Silverstone, Carla Gugino and Juliette Lewis were on the show.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Why Gmail (and Google) will win

It can be frustrating to explain to people who haven't used it why Gmail is so much better than every other web-based email client (YahooMail, Hotmail) and computer-based email client (Outlook Express, Eudora).

Then I read Google's War on Hierarchy, and the Death of Hierarchical Folders and now I feel vindicated.

I'm right. Google's way will win. It really is better and easier. Folder structures create work for users. Searching doesn't.

The article looks at three examples of hierarchy versus search:
  • Web directories versus web search
  • Email folders versus email search
  • Computer folders versus computer (desktop) search
Google's search philosophy has already won in web site finding. It is now pushing that philosophy in email. And Google Desktop will so the same in computer file search.

This is not to say that Google will dominate. Other companies can simply adopt Google's "search, don't sort" mantra. But "search, don't sort" is what we will all be doing in the future.

Anyway, read the article. Here's a snipit:

Hierarchical Folders have dominated info organization since they first appeared over 40 years ago. But in industry after industry, a strange thing is happening: hierarchy is under severe attack, and even dying out.

Just take a look at some of the most successful info-based businesses of all time:

* Yahoo's Web Directory
* Microsoft Outlook's email folders
* Microsoft Window's file system

All three businesses have achieved enormous success using hierarchical nested folders. And yet, one of these businesses has already abandoned Hierarchies, and the other two Hierarchies are under attack.

The company behind all three of these attacks? Google, the web's leading search engine.

Chill a Coke in two minutes

According to this from Mythbusters (via Lifehacker), here are the (increasingly faster) ways to chill a can of soda.
  • Freezer: 20 minutes
  • Bucket of ice: 10 minutes
  • Bucket of ice and water: 5 minutes
  • Bucket of ice and water and salt: 2 minutes
I haven't tried this yet. If you do, please post your results here. Good luck.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Montreal metro ad from 1976

Montreal metro ad from 1976

The only thing missing from this deliciously awful ad is the Metro supermarket clown jumping on screen and yelling "Na na na!"

You'll note the first two lines of the jingle:

Il fait beau dans le métro
Tout le monde est gaie
Gee, you think?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Google working blue

This is a real screenshot of a verification screen Google Groups served up to me this evening. (Click the image below for a larger version.)

What exactly is an enedf*ck anyway?

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Free software apps for Windows

Here's an excellent list of 30 free software apps for Windows courtesy of The Simple Dollar.

There were a couple of items on his list that I had never heard of. There are replacements for Photoshop, Word, IE, Norton Anti-Virus and other pricey software.

This complements nicely my March 2006 list of must-have software (some of which were not free).

Dion's speech on nationhood

Congrats to Stéphane Dion who was selected yesterday at the new leader of the federal Liberals. It has been a while, but the federal Liberals finally have a leader with a good head on his shoulders.

Watching a Harper-Dion debate will be fascinating, I think. Both are the smartest guys in their parties and became party leaders because of their keen minds, not their charisma.

On the issues, I think Dion and Harper share the same core beliefs on how to battle secessionists. I found Dion's speech from last week on the motion to recognize the "quebecois" as a nation. Once again, Dion breaks it down and explains the issue better than anyone else. I tried to make this point in a previous post, but no one is as clear as Dion on this issue. I suspect Harper would agree with everything Dion said.

Here is what Dion said in the Commons on November 27, 2006 speaking to the motion: "That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada":

Mr. Speaker, the motion that the Prime Minister has put before us reads as follows: Que cette Chambre reconnaisse que les Québécoises et les Québécois forment une nation au sein d'un Canada uni.

In English, that this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.

Before voting on a text that some of our fellow citizens believe will be of great significance, we have a duty to tell them clearly what that text means. In French, according to Le Petit Robert, “nation” has at least three meanings.

First, “Group of men presumed to have a common origin”, the ethnic sense of the word nation; second, “Group of people constituting a political unit, established in a defined territory …, and personified by a sovereign authority”, the state sense of the word nation; and third, “Group of people, generally large, characterized by awareness of its unity and a desire to live together”, the sociological sense of the word nation.

The sociological sense of the word “nation” is also found in Webster's Dictionary. In the first sense, the ethnic sense, Quebec and Canada are not nations, but French-Canadians are a nation, one that is concentrated primarily in Quebec but is present everywhere in Canada.

There are several other groups of people in our country that can also be considered to be nations in ethnic terms. I would therefore vote in favour of a motion that said: In Canada, including in the province of Quebec, there are several nations in the ethnic sense of the word.

In the second sense of the word “nation”, the state sense, the only sense that confers legal existence in international law, Canada and Canada alone is a nation. I would therefore vote for a motion that said: Canada forms a single nation which holds a seat at the United Nations.

In the third sense of the word “nation”, the sociological sense, we, the Québécois, are a nation, because we form a large group—nearly a quarter of the population—and we have an awareness of our unity and a desire to live together. In that sense, it is correct to say that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada. I will therefore vote for the motion that is before us.

However I add that the entire Canadian population is also a nation in the sociological sense of the term. As Canadians, we have the sense of our unity and the will to live together, and there is nothing that prevents the same individual to be part of different nations in the sociological sense of the term.

So I say, in this House, that I am a proud member of the Quebec nation and a proud member of the Canadian nation. I say that these identities are cumulative and indivisible, and that I will fight with every resource that democracy gives me against anyone who wants to make me choose between these two wonderful identities: Québécois and Canadian.

I know all too well the game that the independentist leaders want to play. They want to persuade us that we cannot be part of the Canadian nation because we, the Québécois, form a nation. In other words, they want to slide from the sociological to the state sense of the word “nation” : from the “community” sense to the “country” sense. As usual, they want to conflate the meaning of words in order to sow confusion in people’s minds.

Well, as usual, my country and my 33 million fellow citizens can count on me to counter confusion with clarity.

I know all too well that in the politics pursued by some people there is little regard for dictionary definitions.

Facing this motion, two quotations come to mind.

The first one is from the great Lebanese poet, Kahlil Gibran:Pity the nation divided into fragment, each fragment deeming itself a nation.

This is why the Bloc will vote for this motion. They hopes that it will help them to fragment Canada, but there is another interpretation of this motion, which is not only in accordance with the definition of the dictionary, but also noble and generous. It comes from José Carreras:

[Member spoke in Spanish as follows:] Cuanto màs catalàn me dejan ser, màs espanol me siento.

In other words, in proclaiming my identity as a proud Quebecker today, I am proclaiming my identity as a proud Canadian. Let us work together to make sure that this noble and generous interpretation of the motion that we will vote on today will prevail.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Friday, December 01, 2006

'Effin expurgated version

Pulp Fiction fans will enjoy this two-minute 'effin expurgated version of the film.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Will he pick it or won't he?





From a committee hearing at the Quebec legislature

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Start Trek transporter: hours of fun

The ultimate conversation piece... if you don't mind the conversation happening when your guests leave your apartment and say things like, "What's up with his Star Trek transporter thing?" and "Loooo ser."

(I still enjoy it, though.)

Movies: Casino Royale (2006)

To say that Casino Royale (2006) is the best James Bond movie or that Daniel Craig is the best Bond ever would require me to review all the old Bond movies to compare. So, I'll make a lesser claim and say that Casino Royale is a very good movie.

In the film, James Bond is promoted by the British Secret Service and sent to stop terrorist/warlord financing by finding the guy who invests their money. The investor makes a bad stock market investment and decides to try recoup the lost moneyat a high-stakes poker match at the Casino Royale in Montenegro. Bond joins the game (with government money) to try to beat the financier, make him broke and force him to rat out his terrorist clients in exchange for government protection.

Here are some reasons I liked the movie.

The chase scene: Done entirely on foot. No cars. It is one of the best chases I've seen in a movie. Lots of crazy jumping, leaping, sliding and shooting.

Simple gizmos: Bond's most important gizmo is is GPS-enabled mobile phone. No rocket launchers under his hood or lapels that shoot poison darts.

Simple character: The other Bond movies presented him as a smooth-talking man-of-the-world, who happens to be an MI6 agent. This movies makes it clear that Bond is smart, but not entirely comfortable in high society.

Evil-character not so evil: The bad guy in this movie is weird, has a scar and is married to a hot chick. But he doesn't own an island or have an intercontinental missile hiding in a dome somewhere. He's just a guy who wants to make some money and tries to do so in the stock market and in a poker game. Sure, he is willing to kill a few people along the way -- but not entire civilizations.

Old-fashioned editing: Scenes fade into one another, which helps make the movie feel like one from the 1960s. Also, the movie is more quiet that usual. They don't plaster every moment of every scene with incidental music.

Bottom line: Unfortunately, the movie goes on for too long and does that stupid "you think it's over... well it's not over yet" thing. Nonetheless, a very enjoyable movie, which happens to be a Bond film. Daniel Craig's Bond is different from Connery's ladies-man, Moore's aristocratic pris, Dalton's sour-puss, or Brosnan's charicature of Moore. The new Bond is more like Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer.

Can't wait for the next one, which is something I haven't said about a Bond movie in 20 years.

New Quebec rating: 8/10

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A primer on Canadian nonsense

Tonight on CBC, the bald anchor moderated a panel discussion about Prime Minister Harper's support for a Commons resolution stating that "Quebec" is a "nation". The bald anchor asked his guests, "Is this Meech and Charlottetown all over again?"

It angers me when journalists and politicians use shorthand expressions. It leads to the opposite of clarity and is confusing to people who were born more recently than them.

What exactly did the bald anchor mean? Did he mean, "Will this discussion lead to a proposed constitutional amendment?" Or did he mean, "Will this discussion lead to a divisive debate?" He didn't specify and the talking heads didn't ask him to clarify. And that is why discussions about "recognition of Quebec as X" drive me crazy.

I won't bother mocking Quebec nationalists who have to contort themselves into pretzels to explain how Quebec nationalism is an inclusive civic nationalism while rejecting Canadian inclusive civic nationalism. Instead, here's a primer for someone who arrived in our country last week and is trying to get some sweet, sweet context in 10-steps:

1. Municipal, provincial and federal governments in Canada all want more tax money and jurisdiction for themselves because they think they can do a better job than the other levels of government.

2. Some governments don't like that they are limited by pesky parts of the Constitution of Canada that protect citizen rights.

3. The Constitution is the supreme law of the country. It lists which powers are for the federal government and which are for the provincial governments. It also lists citizen rights, which limit government power.

4. Any federal or provincial law that violates the supreme law will eventually be ruled unconstitutional by the courts and rendered null and void. Darn that pesky Constitution!

5. Politicians in the Quebec government know that, like every other government, they cannot enact extremely crazy laws related to, say, language because it might violate the supreme law (the Constitution).

6. Politicians in the Quebec government also know that they can pass more of the laws they want by amending the Constitution to (a) shift the balance of power from citizens back to provincial government and (b) shift the balance of power from the federal government to the provincial government.

7. All talk of Quebec being "distinct" or "a nation by virtue of its language, culture and so on" is related getting more jurisdiction and power. (See point 1.)

8. A House of Commons resolution recognizing Quebec as a nation is legally meaningless (which the secessionists will no doubt state at nauseum in the coming weeks).

9. Prime Minister Harper's goal in putting this resolution forward is to convince secessionists that Commons recognition of Quebec as a nation is more awesome than the Richard Donner director's cut of Superman II so that said secessionists might decide to vote for the Conservative Party of Canada in upcoming elections.

10. The Commons resolution will be poo-pooed by secessionist leaders who will try to convince their flock that this resolution is "not enough" and "meaningless" and that secession is required. Or they might argue that this recognition proves Quebec is a "nation" and that secession is required to fully exercise its national mojo.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut

One year after I wrote how great it would be to see Superman II as it was orginally intended, it is here. (Review to follow.)

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut


UPDATE: The movie is way less campy and much more like the first movie. The added scenes with Marlon Brando add a lot to the film both because of his acting and because of the father-becomes-the-son / son-becomes-the-father religious symbolism stuff. There are also a several other new scenes and plenty of scenes that were removed.

I will also enjoy the Donner/Lester version of Superman II because I saw it when I was a kid and memorized dialog and watched it dozens of times. But this new Donner version is the better movie, by far.

Vermont Toy and Train Museum

If you are in central Vermont, visit the Vermont Toy and Train Museum.

The museum has a satisfying collection of artifacts from our youth.
  • Rows of lunch boxes from the 1970s and 1980s
  • Board games affixed to the roof
  • Action figures behind glass
  • A playable Atari 2600 and Star Trek themed pinball game
The highlight was seeing my brother's old Head-to-Head electronic baseball game, which was made by Coleco.

Seeing the game behind glass validated its worth to me. Which is what all museums try to do, I guess. Put something out of reach and behind glass and people want it.


Here's some stuff for Star Trek people.


By the way, the museum is located in a strip mall. Then again, then entrance to the Hockey Hall of Fame is in a food court. Here's the info if you want to go. It is near Woodstook, Vermont, which is a nice village town.

Vermont Toy and Train Museum
Route 4
Quechee, VT 05059
Phone: 800-438-5565

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Movies: The Departed (2006)

When a movie gets great reviews, it means I have to like it or else I'm dumb. I thought about this as I started watching The Departed (2006). But I quickly forgot about that I thoroughly enjoyed the next two-and-a-half hours.

Here's the premise: DiCaprio and Damon are new recruits for the Massachusetts state police. Damon moves up quickly. But we learn he is really a mole for Boston organized crime bad guy Jack Nicholson. Meanwhile, DiCaprio is recruited by the investigative unit headed by Martin Sheen and Mark Walhberg to be a mole to arrest the self-same crime chief. Two moles. Opposite roles.

The premise is good, and the rest of the film is even better.

Alec Baldwin has some great lines as a lead investigator who knows taking down Nicholson won't really have much effect on crime but plays along because it's his job. Wahlberg's psychoanalysis of DiCaprio during his job interview is a highlight. Nicholson is allowed to be Nicholson. Sheen's role is limited, but his genuine care for his mole DiCaprio acts as a great counterpoint to Wahlberg's in-your-face attitude.

No spoilers on how the movie ends. But it will keep in intrested and alert until the end. Go see this one.

New Quebec rating: 4.5 / 5

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Movies: The Queen (2006)

The Queen (2006) tells the story of Queen Elizabeth II, her family and her prime minister during the extraordinary week in 1997 when Diana died.

The Queen's instinct is to not comment on Diana's death, because it is a personal family matter for her grandchildren and the Spencer family. Instead, the royals remain at their Scottish estate away from their televisions and, therefore, underestimate the sadness of the British people, which is fed by non-stop media coverage of Diana's death.

The prime minister, only a few months into his job, understands the mood of the people and speaks eloquently about Diana. As Tony Blair grows more popular, the public opinion reveal that 25 percent favour an end to the monarchy.

The Queen's confidence in her instincts and understanding of her people is shaken. She begins to watch some of the coverage on Diana's life and begins to buy into the Diana myth, in spite of her family's private behind-the-scenes dealings with Diana in the past. The Queen eventually follows her prime minister's advice -- a reversal of the traditional role of the queen who advises the prime minister -- returns to London, and speaks to her people. She regains her popularity and saves the monarchy.

In the final scene some months after the week Diana died, she reveal to the prime minister in their monthly private meeting that the day will come when the people will turn on him, as they turned on her. He won't see it coming and it will happen suddenly and without warning.

The messages of this movie aren't subtle: elected officials understand the people more than old royals; officials from both sides distrust one another; traditions should change with the times.

The Queen has such a recognizable face being on the money and all. Yet I bought Helen Mirren's performance. The pacing of the film was good. Never got bored. Good flick.

New Quebec rating: 3.5/5

Sunday, October 29, 2006

McGruff makes a collar

McGruff the Crime Dog collars a perp in Plattsburgh

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The oldest profession just got younger

H-O Instant Oatmeal
There's something special about H-O kids!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Ye Olde Cereals

I'm not sure if my taste buds changed or if Cookie-Crisp cereal changed. But I don't buy it anymore when we hit Price Chopper on a day trip to the States. I find it too sweet.

Yet when I stumbled across the Cereal Box Archive, the first one I looked for was Cookie-Crisp.

The box pictured is from the early 1980s, I think. Much better than the crap illustrations used today.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away

In April, we reported that the popular restaurant Arahova was coming to the Queen Mary Rd., just west of Decarie. Arahova was to become another Greek food option, joining the deliciously inexpensive Amazona not far away on Côte St. Luc Rd.

But alas, the universe is a fickle place and my dream of two chicken-pita options within walking distance died. A sign on the covered up windows of Amazona announces that it has closed its doors forever. I am glad that I got the chance to enjoy a final meal there a few weeks ago. Had I known it was the last one, I would have tried to finish the side order of roasted potatoes.

In the place of Amazona will be Carmine's Tuscan Grill.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Gibbys

Gibbys steakhouse in Old Montreal isn't one of those places where you have to dress ultra hip and make your hair look greasy.

Nor is it an ultra conservative, suits-only kind of establishment. Usually a shirt (no tie) is appropriate. Even a golf shirt is common.

Okay, that's your sweet context. Now read Michael's comment from his dinner there on Friday, September 29, 2006

[We] were disgusted all night by the view we had of some ass a few tables away wearing a tank top.

Yes a tank top at dinner.

And it was freezing last night too, so clearly the only possible explanation is he loves showing his gross body. His bimbo girlfriend was obviously impressed with his "huge" pipes (actually he had no muscles), and wants to see them all the time, under all circumstances, even at Gibby's.

I still believe it is one of the ugliest, most offensive, if not the most offensive piece of male attire ever invented. It should be banned from all public places. You want to wear that crap in your house? Go ahead. But as soon as you walk out your door, no way. Only a girlfriend could be impressed with that look, and everyone else wants to barf. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the idiot girlfriend.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Pope has nothing to apologize for

I haven't written in a while and I've been meaning to talk about the Muslim world's overreaction to the Pope's speech in Germany. The violence, killings and burning of stuff was caused not by the Pope's academic speech (which I doubt highly the arsonists in Nablus actually read). Indeed, the entire thrust of the Pope's speech about how to promote peaceful inter-religious dialog and why violence is not a good thing.

Rather, the violence was caused by religious leaders in the Muslim world who misrepresented what the Pope said and riled up the faithful at Friday prayers.
Nothing the pope has ever said comes even close to matching the vitriol, extremism and hatred that pour out of the mouths of radical imams and fanatical clerics every day, all across Europe and the Muslim world, almost none of which ever provokes any Western response at all. And maybe it’s time that it should: When Saudi Arabia publishes textbooks commanding good Wahhabi Muslims to “hate” Christians, Jews and non-Wahhabi Muslims, for example, why shouldn’t the Vatican, the Southern Baptists, Britain’s chief rabbi and the Council on American-Islamic Relations all condemn them — simultaneously? [More...]
And the timing of the violence is no coincidence.
Just about the entire world knows that that Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech on Tuesday condemning religious conversion by violence. The Muslim "street" did not respond until Friday, when the leaders of the Muslim religion called for their faithful to surge into the streets in an orgy of rage and violence. Not content only to burn Christian churches (neither of which follow the Catholic pope), they turned on themselves. Never in the history of Christianity has a pope been proven correct so quickly and demonstrably.
But a New York Times editorial blamed the Pope for causing the violence.
[t]he world listens carefully to the words of any pope. And it is tragic and dangerous when one sows pain, either deliberately or carelessly. He needs to offer a deep and persuasive apology, demonstrating that words can also heal. [More...]
But as one commentator correctly points out, the violence has nothing to do with violent mobs listening to what the Pope actually said.
[t]here is no evidence that any of the enraged Muslims "listened carefully" to the words of the pope -- this is like blaming a beaten wife for provoking the bastard who throttles her. It is the leaders of prayers in the mosques of the Muslim world who call on their faithful to riot in the streets. It is they who sow pain and incite violence, and anybody unburdened by a loathing of Western civilization knows it. Pope Benedict has nothing to apologize for. The leading clerics of the Muslim world have a great deal to apologize for. [More...]

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Conan on the Emmys

Just watched Conan's opening video sequence at the Emmys the other night. So funny.

Opening video sequence



Monolog

Monday, August 28, 2006

Denis Leary: Where's Mel Gibson now?

Have a look at this footage of Denis Leary in the broadcast booth at a Red Sox game.

Leary asks the announcers if the first baseman, Kevin Youkilis, is Greek. The announcers tell him that he's Jewish, which sets Leary off on a Mel Gibson rant.

Very soon after, Youkilis makes a nice play at first and Leary shots: "Where's Mel Gibson now? Where's Mel Gibson now? He's in rehab and Youkilis is at first base."

>> http://www.alternet.org/blogs/peek/40420/

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Quebecor helps fight Seasonal Affective Disorder

I was reading page 2 of the Quebecor-owned 24 heures free daily newspaper to catch up on my celebrity gossip and birthdays.

I was reading the bottom story of the day (news that Michael Douglas and Catherine-Zeta Jones are not going to have another child) when I noticed a photo of a topless woman on the bottom left side of the page.

Click image to enlarge

When combined with the installation of full-spectrum lighting on some metro cars, this can help curb depression. Way to go, Quebecor!

Phone to phone free calls

There are probably going to be a lot of companies doing what Jahjah is doing. But their website is pretty, so I like them.

>> www.jajah.com

What they do is let one make free calls in North America or to Europe and a few other places. Just visit the website, enter your telephone number, your friend's telephone number, and Jahjah calls each of you and then connects the calls. Sure, it's not as easy as pressing the keys on your phone's number pad, but (unlike Skype) you get to use your phone.

You don't have to sign up, but I think more calls are free if you and the person you are calling are registered. Also, there are some reasonable limits on how long you can talk per day/month. But this looks like a pretty good deal.

I wonder how long it will be before Google or Yahoo decides to buys them.

>> www.jajah.com

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Movies: Nighthawks

We got our first VHS VCR in 1984 around the same time we got our first microwave. I associate the two because I remember watching movies at home that summer while eating... get this... microwaved hot dogs!

1. Put hot dog in bun. 2. Wrap in paper towel 3. Microwave 4. Eat. When you're 10, that is a pretty neat concept.

When you're 10, a Sylvester Stallone movie is also a neat concept. Especially when he gets to be a bad-ass cop put into an NYPD anti-terrorism squad. That is his character in Nighthawks (1981).

The basic story: Stallone and his partner, Billy Dee Williams, are hunting for some German terrorist who has come to NYC to cause problems. There is a good chase. Some good cursing. And a kick-ass ending.

Unfortunately, the movie feels like it was made in 1981. The music is cheese. It lacks the cool camera angles and stuff you see in modern films. Watching movies from that era always depresses me. NYC always looks so dirty and gross in movies from that time.

But Stallone has a beard and taunts knife-wielding street punks by saying things like, "C'mon He-Man!" Which is cool.

To put this movie into context, it was released two years after Rocky II, one year before First Blood and three years before Rhinestone. So Stallone was a huge star when he made Nighthawks.

Here's a blurb from Wikipedia about the film:
Despite receiving good reviews, including one from Variety, Nighthawks was not a commercial success. This marked Stallone's third non-Rocky film in a row to underachieve at the box office. After another flop - Victory - Stallone returned to Rocky III and then the smash-hit First Blood, which consolidated his status as an action-movie he-man, much like his contemporary Arnold Schwarzenegger. In Nighthawks, Stallone - sporting an atypical beard and at one point wearing eye-glasses - plays down the action in favor of plot and character development.

I'm glad I saw the movie again, but it wasn't as good as I hoped it would be. But the ending still kicks ass.

New Quebec rating: 3 / 5

Monday, July 17, 2006

Seen on the Met...

Motorcycle on the Met in MontrealSurvey says... Not sexy

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Distance measurement tool and pedometer

You have probably used an online map service (like Mapquest or Google Maps) to get directions and an approximate travel distance between towns.

But you can also calculate the exact distance of, say, your three-hour Sunday afternoon walk -- including all the twists and turns of your unique rote.

The free service uses Google Maps and adds a calorie burning tool. To indicate your route, you simply plot the exact course by clicking markers on the map. It works in miles and kilometers and you can save the map as a unique URL or in the GPX format.

>> www.gmap-pedometer.com

Saturday, July 15, 2006

TMR to residents: Sorry

The Town of Mount Royal sent a letter to all residents on July 14 apologizing for erasing all the English from its street signs, offering a pretty weak excuse for why they vandalized all the signs.

The town also hints that it will put back English onto street signs in some unspecified way.

(I assume TMR will add stickers with the English street designations on top of the black spray paint they used to censor the English words. I also assume they will make the English lettering half the sign of the French lettering, even though the law does not specify that and it is quite likely that their original signs were legal.)

Click image to read larger copy

Friday, July 14, 2006

Definitons, TMR and Ted Danson

According to the l'Express Mont Royal newspaper, the law on street signs does not specify what is meant by simple "predominance" and how French should predominate. And they say what we have been saying:

"[simple predominance] differs from the requirements faced by businesses, where commercial signs must have French lettering at least twice the size of English.

"French and English street names can be the same size, for example, but the French term would have to be above the English one. Alternatively, the French words such as “chemin”, “avenue” and “boulevard” could also be made bigger than their English translations."
So the French can be above or in bold. But what about on the left, as Mayor Housefather has suggested?

Simply having the French term on the left of the sign, and the English on the right, doesn’t give French enough precedence, says Paquette. “It’s the grammatical rule that French be written on the left,” he noted.
Of course, he forgets to add that that is his interpretation of what the word "predominant" means. My interpretation is that text on the left is predominant over text on the right.

To prove my point, look at the way producers of the television show Cheers were able to give the two lead co-stars equal billing during the opening credits. (See below)

Ted Danson appears on the left (at the bottom) and Shelley Long appears at the the right (but on top). The producers and audience knew what I know: left = predominance.



More articles on the tropic


A step backward


Beaconsfield tries to appease language police


Lack of conviction


Government-sponsored vandalism in TMR

Premier Charest to burbs: Gesetz als Gesetz

As much as I loathe the Quebec Censorship Boardtm bureaucrats who threaten businesses and municipal governments for not complying with their interpretation of language censorship laws, in the end responsibility for the law and its application falls upon elected officials.

And what does Premier Jean Charest (of the Quebec "Liberal" Party) have to say about it? The law is the law.

VIENNA, Austria -- The Montreal-area municipality of Beaconsfield must conform with Quebec's language laws on its street signs, Premier Jean Charest said Thursday.

"Like all citizens, whether they are businesses, institutions or individuals, everyone must respect the laws,'' Charest said in Austria, where he is in the midst of a two-week official visit to Europe.

The largely anglophone municipality, which demerged from Montreal last January, has refused to change street names to give them a more French flavour. Consequently, the city is fighting the wishes of Quebec's language office and a provincial commission on place names.

Beaconsfield's council recently voted unanimously against 200 proposed changes that would conform with French-language charter.

Some of the signs are only in English while others are bilingual but fail to be predominantly French as is required by law.

Municipal officials say the changes are too expensive.

In a situation as delicate as language, flexibility and diplomacy by government agencies are necessary, Charest said.

"When a situation like this comes up, we must be able to talk to each other to find reasonable solutions within a reasonable amount of time.''

Ultimately, however, the premier said the municipality must conform with the law.

"I'm not saying that it must be applied stupidly and unreasonably, but it must be respected.''

The Gazette
This isn't the first time the Quebec Censorship Boardtm has threatened Quebecers for ridiculous infractions. Every time it happens, the premier of the day says something like what Premier Charest said yesterday about how the law must be applied reasonably.

Yet none of the premiers consider that the problem could be resolved by (1) clarifying the law so petty bureaucrats can't inject their own interpretations into the laws, and (2) modifying the law so that it is more reasonable and we avoid situtaions where Quebec towns with "bilingual status" are forced to remove their bilingual signs.

And just because I can, here is a photo of Katharine McPhee in that yellow dress.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

So much for their spine...

After a publicized municpal resolution to tell the Quebec Censorship Board (tm) they would not replace their current signs with French-only ones, the Beaconsfield council has now announced that any new signs that need replacing will carry French-only designation, such as "rue Church". According to The Suburban:

At Monday night’s Beaconsfield council meeting, the city passed a unanimous resolution saying it would not change existing street signs. However, new streets, or signs that must be replaced, will be unilingual French.

The Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) has asked in the past that Beaconsfield change street names like Maple and Elm to Érable and Orme. Benedetti said the city won’t do that and added that the only signs that it will change are the ones that need replacing.
Is there something in the water that is making some mayors lose their mind? Once again, let me repeat:

Towns with bilingual status are permitted to post bilingual street signs.


According to the law, the French designation on the sign must be "predominant" -- but not "markedly predominant".

The missing word may seem trivial. But in law, every words counts. Therefore, a few points are clear:

(1) The Quebec government has set a legal precedent through its commercial sign law in which it associated the term "marked predominance" with the rule that French must be twice the size of English.

(2) The law on street signs does not include the word "marked".

(3) That omission suggests that the rule on street signs is less strict than the rule on commercial signs.

(4) Therefore, French "predominance" must mean something less than "twice as big" and it is entirely plausible that "predominance" means, simply, that the French must be on the left or on top -- but not twice as big.

This was confirmed by Cote St. Luc mayor (and lawyer) Anthony Housefather who said that bilingual street signs are:
"perfectly legal under Section 24 of the French Language Charter (Bill 101), which says that billingual municipalities can erect signs in both languages. The French being predominant in municipal signs is not the market predominance that [is required] in commercial signs where the French has to be bigger."
It's sad that our laws are so confusing that only lawyers are able to figure out what's allowed and what's not and the rest of us are left scratching our heads and playing along with the bullies at the Quebec Censorship Board (tm).

All the crazy nonsense that's fit to print

My goal with this blog thingy is to write about things on my mind. A lot of the time, those things include Katharine McPhee, funny videos on YouTube and videos of Katherine McPhee on YouTube.

Sadly, I'm sometimes brought back to reality stories about accused terrorists who attended my alma matter or bureaucrats making people's lives miserable. In the past week or so, I've written a lot about stuff like that.

And today again. New Quebec reader Uncle Ted has another example of bureaucratic and government interference.

My girlfriend's company was yesterday visited by the infamous Quebec Language Police (Office de la langue francaise), who proceeded to inform them of the various violations of Quebec's infamous Bill 101 and associates.

The story includes the suggestion that all PCs must have all their software replaced with French versions rather than English, in spite of the worker's preference, and at company cost, and that keyboards either be replaced with official craparse French-Canadian ones, or have stickers placed over the offending keys (which are lacking cedillas and the like - much like the one I am currently using.)
A friend who works at an unnamed large Canadian company headquartered in Montreal was visited by the language police a few years ago. The company played along and replaced all the keyboards and phones as requested. The inspectors confirmed the changes were made. Then the company changed it all back the next week.

Another friend who works in an unnamed service-based company is currently involved the same mess. The language cops want all employees to work on French-language versions of MS Office, regardless of whether the employees are more comfortable working in English. What makes this especially terrible for employees is that Excel formulas work differently in French. Which means if the company ever complied with the request, its staff would be crippled. I suspect the company would rather pay continual fines than ask their employees to work with a metaphorical arm tied behind their metaphorical back.

Bottom line: I apologize there haven't been more photos of Katharine McPhee here for a while.

UPDATE: I spoke with a lawyer friend familiar with the law and he assures me that Bill 101 does not require all employees to have French-language software/keyboards, etc. All the law says is that a company must provide French language software (etc.) if the employee asks for it. Which seems very reasonable to me.

Here's a CBC report on this from June 21, 2000:

QUEBEC CAN'T ORDER USE OF FRENCH-LANGUAGE SOFTWARE: JUDGE
Last Updated Wed Jun 21 14:32:49 2000

MONTREAL-- A provincial court ruling could put into question tough Quebec laws that mandate the use of French in the workplace.

"(The government) has no power, jurisdiction or discretion to require exclusive use of French software under the Charter of the French Language."
Justice Pierre Dalphond

The Quebec Superior Court ruled on Tuesday that the provincial government can't require businesses in the province to use French-language computer software.

A spokesman for the Language Minister says government reaction is expected on Wednesday. There's no word on whether the government would appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The court decided that a group of French- and English-speaking pharmaceutical employees had the right to use English computer software at work — as long as the French language was still protected in the workplace.

The lawyer for the workers calls the ruling one of the most important judgments on the interpretation of the language legislation.

The government had told the court the employees must use French-language software because it was the equivalent to English-language versions available on the market. It added that its goal was to protect the employees' right to work in French.

People who work at several pharmaceutical companies in Montreal began the lawsuit in 1998.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Beaconsfield to language police: get lost

It looks like the Quebec language police have been busy.

In addition to threatening the Town of Mount Royal (TMR) with fines for its 20-year-old bilingual signs -- signs we now know were legal anyway -- the Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) has also threatened the town of Beaconsfield.

Fortunately, the mayor and town council have a spine and are refusing to change their signs. According to the Chronicle weekly newspaper:
The government department’s Commission de toponymie sent a list recommending name alterations to ensure the French language is predominant in all the city’s road monikers. City Lane should become Allée City Hall, East Gables Court to Place d’East Gables and Raspberry Crescent to Croissant Raspberry, the list suggested. Even historic Thompson Point should now be known as Place de la Pointe-Thompson.
According to the 2001 census, about 66 percent of Beaconsfield residents are mother-tongue English-speakers. About 33 percent are mother-tongue French-speakers. But that doesn't matter to the language police whose goal is not to reflect reality but to change reality.

That my tax money supports the sycophants at the Office québécois de la langue française makes me ill. That the (big L) Liberal government of Jean Charest allows this to go on makes me ill. That the TMR council agreed to disfigure its signs a few weeks ago makes me ill.

The only way to deal with bullies is to stand up to them. And bureaucrats at the Office québécois de la langue française are bullies. Don't believe me? Here's what the sycophant OQLF spokeperson, Gérald Paquette, said about predominantly English-speaking towns that refuse to cleanse the English from their street signs:
“There are only two or three of them (bilingual cities) who want to resist the phenomenon of having French predominate and Beaconsfield is one of them,” he said, noting that Cote St. Luc is another. “Knowing the past of Mr. Benedetti, it doesn’t surprise us.” (Emphasis mine)
So, government mandated censorship is a "phenomenon." Maybe the language police should request more tax money to study another phenomenon: all those odd Quebecers who think banning words is unjustified in a free and democratic society.

And what is it about "the past" of Mr. Benedetti that makes him resist the "phenomenon" of censorship? The sycophant spokesperson doesn't say. Could it be Benedetti's 20+ years as a news reporter? That might explain why he is opposed to censorship. But the sycophant is more likely referring to Benedetti's support of citizens who opposed the forced merger of their town to the City of Montreal and his later support of residents who voted in a referendum to demerge.

Language police are still sore about those (democratically-achieved) demergers.

It would have been so much easier to censor all the English street signs if towns like Cote St. Luc and Beaconsfield were part of a French-language-majority mega city.

Tans pis.

Good on Bob Benedetti for standing up for liberal-democracy.

Other reports: CBC

Escalator etiquette sign in DC

The Montreal transit authority refuses to add signs on its escalators requesting people stand on the right so that people on the left might pass. These kinds of signs are posted in London, Toronto, Edmonton, Vancouver, New Jersey, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Zurich, and elsewhere and work quite well.

Not only does Washington, D.C., post Stand Right signs on its escalators, but it has also started an ad campaign in its metro cars to publicize the custom. (Hat tip: Ian)


Escalefter: person who stands on the left side of the escalator when he should be standing on the right

Here's what the DCist has to say about it:

Now we know what to scream at those people that refuse to stand to the right on Metro's escalators -- "Escalefter!" Yes, after much demand, Metro has coined a term to define those that engage in one of Metro's most hated activities. And not a minute too late -- tourist season is upon is, meaning one too many locals getting stuck behind blissfully unaware throngs of out-of-towners. If you're still a little rough on Metro's new words, we've got the skinny on them.

LINK

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Not going to see his face on the Concordia ads, I guess

It turns out the guy accused of plotting to bomb subway tunnels in New York is a Concordia University grad, which is about as surprising as learning that Michael Moore has a slow metabolism. You always suspect it and aren't particularly surprised when you read about it.

According to news reports, he attended Concordia from around 1995 to 2002. Which means that he was a student when the Concordia Student Union published this handbook.


The "Uprising" handbook included calls to burn the Canadian flag on July 1st ("Anti-Canada day"), instructions on how to defy police, and a rationale for stealing as a form of "empowerment."

Monday, July 10, 2006

More news coverage of the TMR street sign story

You'll recall that I broke this TMR-street-sign-self-censorship-story on July 1, 2006. Here are are stories from other news organizations.


CBC News

Quebec municipality paints over English on street signs
Last Updated: Friday, July 7, 2006 | 9:52 AM ET
CBC News

For the first time in 20 years, Montreal's Town of Mount Royal has French-only street signs after painting over the English words.

That move came after a bitter dispute with the province's Office de la langue française (OLF).

All of which has left the mayor of the nearby bilingual municipality of Côte Saint-Luc confused. He says he won't give in to pressure from the language police and can't figure out why Mount Royal backed down.

"It's absolutely baffling that they would remove the English language that is part of the history of Town of Mount Royal," said Mayor Anthony Housefather.

"I mean, I don't want to ascribe motives to a council, but it seems to me to be a very foolish thing to have done."

Housefather said bilingual municipalities have the right to put up bilingual signs, as long as the French portion is to the left or at the top of the sign.

He said Côte Saint-Luc received the same warning as Mount Royal did from the OLF in 2002.

But the city refused to change, and it hasn't heard back from the language watchdog.

The OLF is also puzzled about Mount Royal's decision to paint over the English words. It thinks the city overacted.

"They could have erected these signs in both French and in English as long as the French is predominating," said OLF spokesman Gerald Paquette.

He said the city just needed to make some slight changes to the signs.

Mount Royal mayor Vera Danyluk says the language police have been hounding her city because the signs didn't comply with the Charter of the French Language.

Danyluk said the city was tired of fighting with the OLF, so it hired municipal workers to paint over the English words.

"Well, [it's] not that we threw in the towel," she said. "We feel that there are so many important things we should be doing in our municipality to improve the quality of life for our citizens."

Danyluk said the fight over the bilingual signs is petty and narrow-minded, and a waste of money.

However, the Côte Saint-Luc mayor said covering up the English on street signs sends the wrong message to anglophone youth in the community.

Housefather said it's an issue that crosses municipal boundaries, and bilingual municipalities should stick together.

"Côte Saint-Luc will keep bilingual signs, and it's gonna be over my dead body that we ever take off the English from our signs while I'm mayor of Côte Saint Luc."


http://www.cbc.ca/canada/montreal/story/2006/07/07/tmr-olf.html







CTV News

TMR removes English from street signs
Bilingual street signs in TMR are now a thing of the past.
TMR has blacked out English words on its street signs.

The city had received a warning from the Office de la Langue Francaise, that words like "street" and "crescent" were illegal.

The city says that painting over the words was less expensive than replacing all the signs.

http://72.14.209.104/search?q=cache:s7eLCQ7ptSoJ:montreal.ctv.ca/cfcf/news/cfcf+tmr+signs&hl=en&gl=ca&ct=clnk&cd=6



Q92 radio

TMR should leave English on signs: Housefather
2006-07-07 08:16:16

The Mayor of Cote-Saint-Luc says T.M.R. should never have blacked out English from its municipal signs.

The Town of Mount Royal bowed to pressure from the Office de la Langue Francaise, which sent a letter telling it that words such as "street" and "crescent" are illegal.

But Cote Saint Luc mayor Anthony Housefather says its the first time he's ever heard of a city with billingual status removing the Engish from its signs.

"That sign is perfectly legal under Section 24 of the French Language Charter (Bill 101), which says that billingual municipalities can erect signs in both languages," Housefather told The New 940 Montreal.

"The French being predominant in municipal signs is not the market predominance that [is required] in commercial signs where the French has to be bigger."

T.M.R. says it chose to paint over the signs instead of replacing them because its less expensive.

http://72.14.209.104/search?q=cache:SAXhjW6v9O0J:www.q92fm.com/locale.php%3Fnews%3D2689+tmr+signs&hl=en&gl=ca&ct=clnk&cd=4




Pamplemoose blog

According to the CBC, the Town of Mount Royal, a very posh little enclave on the north side of the mountain in Montreal, has

caved in to the Office de la langue francaise and painted over the English on its bilingual street signs.

This goes farther than the OLF demand that French be predominant, and seems to be an act of pique on the part of the town council. Given the reaction of neighbouring Cote-Saint-Luc, which is retaining its bilingual signs given similar warnings,

this seems like an outburst of exasperation on the part of TMR authorities, who are tired of the language police measuring the size of the English on their signs. Personally, I think it's a bad decision - better to continue to work within the margins of the law, than completely abandon the right to use English in addition to French.

I'm still working through my thoughts from my stay in Ireland, where I participated in an international conference on language law and language rights. At that conference, I was exposed to a whole host of different national, regional and

international attempts to protect and promote minority languages, with widely varying degrees of success. To make matters more interesting, the Galway conference was itself a microcosm of language promotion, with simultaneous interpretation

provided in English, French and Irish, with many of the session chairs from NUI Galway - all of them fluent in English - speaking in Irish to a crowd lacking any Irish-speakers. The challenge of revitalizing the Irish language makes promotion of French in Canada seem easy, and I'll have more on that in a future post.

http://pamplemoose.blogspot.com/2006/07/french-only-signs-in-tmr.html

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Green energy in Montreal

Gazoline/electric hybrid cars are getting all the headlines. But stories like the ones in the August 2006 Popular Science and the July 9 Gazette (see below) will have as big an impact in transforming the way we harness energy in the next few decades.

I figure I'm doing my part by driving a low-emission vehicle, riding a hydro-electrically-powered metro to work and switching all the lights in my apartment to compact fluorescent light bulbs.


Benny Farm taps into green energy
Geothermal wells, solar panels heat homes at fraction of cost from power grid

KAZI STASTNA
The Gazette

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The game of Monopoly is the closest most of us will ever come to owning a utility company. But for some residents of the sprawling Benny Farm site in Notre Dame de Grace, the fantasy will soon become reality.

Come winter, several hundred occupants will be generating about half of their energy "off grid," thanks to a network of renewable energy sources and their own in-house utility, known as Green Energy Benny Farm.

The backbone of the utility's green energy infrastructure are 21 200-metre-deep geothermal wells drilled this spring.

Those springs will heat the water used in radiators and floor heating.

Combined with other systems including a four-storey-high solar panel, they are expected to help reduce water and energy consumption by 30 to 50 per cent.

"It's more than just a utility; it's a green energy promoter," said Alex Hill, whom the utility's 11-member board of residents and community members hired to manage the project.

The non-profit micro-utility will own and operate the renewable energy infrastructure for three housing projects on the east side of Cavendish Blvd. between Sherbrooke St. and Monkland Ave.

These are the Chez Soi seniors' residence, the Zone of Opportunity (or ZOO) family rental housing co-operative and the Habitations communautaires N.D.G., a 50-unit affordable home-ownership development the construction of which is to begin in the fall.

The three properties, which comprise 187 units and occupy about one-quarter of the 7.2-hectare Benny Farm site, are part of an award-winning affordable housing development designed by local architectural firm L'OEUF (L'Office de l'eclectisme urbain et fonctionnel) and engineers Martin Roy et Associes.

The project is a mix of new construction and refurbished, red-brick low-rise apartment blocks built in the 1940s to house war veterans.

It already contains many examples of "green" design - air-tight, energy-efficient structures; low-wattage lighting; radiant floor heating; ample natural ventilation; and recycled bricks, radiators, hardwood floors and other materials salvaged from demolished units.

But perhaps the most innovative and as yet untested aspect is the use of various energy sources linked by a common distribution network to balance different kinds of energy needs and capacites across the site.

"The idea is to tailor each source to the need according to what is most efficient and affordable," Hill said.

The sun, Hill explained, is a much more concentrated heat source than the ground, for example. Hence it is the project's solar collectors, not its geothermal wells, that will be used to heat domestic hot water, which must be brought to a much higher temperature than the water in radiator and floor heating.

Both will be put to the test for the first time this winter.

The wells are part of a geo-thermal system that extracts heat from the ground through a series of pipes and heat pumps using the same principles of heat exchange as a fridge.

They facilitate heat transfer between the earth, which because of its efficiency at storing energy remains around 8 Celsius at a certain depth regardless of the temperature above, and a cooler fluid circulating in the pipes.

The process is reversed in summer, when excess heat from indoors is pumped back into the ground.

A gas boiler supplements the geothermal supply at times of extreme cold.

Rooftop solar collectors, spanning 225 square metres, to be installed this summer, will heat incoming city water, while a black solar panel that rises four storeys on the side of Chez Soi preheats incoming air.

"On a sunny day when the temperature is minus 20, you're paying for no energy to preheat that fresh air beyond the fan that moves it through the building," said L'OEUF architect Daniel Pearl.

Similarly, a ventilator on the roof uses energy from the stale air flowing out to heat or cool fresh incoming air.

Simple energy recovery systems that get the most out of the energy consumed on site are key to the utility's green energy supply.

Forty per cent of the energy usually lost down the drain with hot water from showers and sinks is recovered to heat clean water.

Eventually, that grey water, as it's known, will also be filtered on site and reused in toilets.

Structural elements built into the two existing properties will allow for the grey water, geothermal and solar energy supplies of all three projects to be linked and shared in the future.

There are also plans to set up a French drain, which uses rocks to percolate rainwater back into the water table, diverting it from municipal sewers.

The three projects are expected to eliminate 313 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, conserve 6.7 million litres of potable water and divert 15.2 million litres of waste water per year.

The in-house utility estimates that by charging residents a rate for their green energy that is slightly higher than what it costs to provide - but still less than what they would be paying on the conventional grid - it will accumulate savings of $640,000 over 15 years.

That money will be used to maintain the system, add new green technology and promote green energy in the community.

Indeed, Green Energy Benny Farm also aims to replicate the micro-utility model elsewhere, possibly by incorporating other sites into its energy grid and/or administrative structure.

It has already begun exploring the possibility of linking up with the community health clinic to be built next to the ZOO co-op and diverting its excess heat to the co-op's geothermal wells.

"Once we get the provision of energy to these three projects under our belt, the mandate is to use the lessons learned to support other projects and to educate," said Bob Butler, head of Green Energy Benny Farm's board of directors.

Developers and residents agree that the greatest advantage of such a self-reliant utility system is protection against future hikes in energy prices - no small factor for seniors and others on a fixed-income.

Benny Farm's green infrastructure was funded mainly by a $3-million grant from the Federation of Municipalities.

Still about two years from completion, the project is already receiving accolades. It has been honoured by the Canadian Urban Institute and the Swiss-based Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction, among others.

LINK TO ARTICLE
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