Friday, April 28, 2006

Citizen's Assembly on Electoral Reform UPDATED

I just received a letter in the mail from The Office of Chief Election Officer of Ontario telling me I have been selected to participate in the Citizens' Assembly on Electoral Reform.

In an attempt to improve the electoral system in Ontario, the government has selected at random 103 individuals -- 52 female, 51 male (and at least one member will be Aboriginal) -- to talk about and debate the current electoral system in Ontario. The individuals selected were all from the Permanent Register of Electors of Ontario list.

Letters were sent out to 120, 000 individuals throughout the province asking them is they would be willing to participate in the assembly. Those who choose to participate will have their names placed in a random draw. The draw is to determine who will be the primary candidate and two alternates.

The assembly will recommend either to keep the current system or change it. The assembly is not to go without leadership. Former judge and deputy minister, George Thompson will head it up, bringing the total number of members to 104. If changes are recommend by the assembly, a referendum will be held to determine whether or not to implement those changes.

Apparently, no knowledge of the electoral system is necessary and, "members will learn about different electoral models during an extensive learning process," according to the assembly website.

The assembly will meet twice a month, mostly weekends and usually in Toronto, for eight months beginning in September. The assembly will also host public meetings across the province. Participation is voluntary, but apparently we will be compensated $150 per work day and are eligible for travel expenses. It seems sort of like jury duty, but a whole lot cooler.

The selection process is scheduled to be completed in July.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Interactive Advertising


Taking the subway back from my internship, I noticed this Lord of the Rings ad poster.

What caught my eye wasn’t what the poster was advertising, but the little red symbol on its right side. The text said I could download a free ring tone on to my phone, using either Infrared or Bluetooth. Pulling out my spiffy new Motorola V3 Razr, I turned on my Bluetooth and tried to download the ring tone – with no success.

The company behind this little idea is called Hypertag. Their website totes that companies can “Get direct access to your customers.” Hypertag states that customers can download not only ring tones, wallpapers and/or icons to their cell phones or PDAs, or view a website--all hosted by the poster itself.

A lot of people own portable digital devices and are looking to customize these devices to their own liking. I got so sick and tired of not finding a proper Boondocks ring tone and theme online for my phone that I made my own. Now, imagine instead I could find what I wanted by simply walking up to an advertisement for the Boondocks DVD set and downloading that theme or ring tone.

But will it work? I'm still trying to figure out what went wrong. More on this soon.

UPDATE: I've figured out why my phone didn't work with the Hypertag. According to the companies website, my phone is not compatible. Considering that the Razr is one of the hottest phones in the market right now, I don't see how Hypertag wouldn't make an effort to improve their compatibility to include the Razr.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

CBC on South Park - Part Two


It almost feels like Trey and Matt read my previous post, because they put up the screenshots from Cartoon Wars Part Two yesterday, and the second one was this nice, clean shot of the CBC president.


I still can't say for sure if they were going for a charicature or not, since the Canadian figures are all so basic (having been intentionally left out of all the visual enhancements of the last few seasons). In any case, I've posted the official photo of Robert Rabinovitch from the CBC image gallery, so you can make your own decision.

You've probably noticed the South Park character's mug says "C". Canadians in South Park are in the habit of wearing their initials on their shirts, but I'm not sure what the custom is for coffee mugs. It probably stands for "CBC", or just "Canada".

The South Park screenshot is reproduced without permission from the images available on South Park Studios, where it is marked: Copyright 1999-2006 Comedy Partners LLC

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

UPDATE: New $2,500 Apple MacBook Pro fixed by Library Card

After a trip to the local Apple store, and spending a total of four hours -- two hours roundtrip and two hours waiting -- I had the CD removed from my laptop.

The computer booted up fine; no data was lost and all was well -- until I got another CD stuck in the drive. A note to Boot Camp users: do not burn CDs in Windows. Luckily, I have MacGyver'd my way out of my problem!

Not wanting to go back to the Apple store, I took matters into my own hands. Pulling out my trusty library card, I slid it into the CD drive and nudged it up against the CD. I turned on the laptop and heard no noises of distress from the drive. After two failed attempts to spin up the CD the laptop spit out the offensive piece of plastic, and then booted into OS X.

And that is the story of my New $2,500 Apple MacBook Pro, disabled by $0.25 CD, and fixed by a free library card.

Friday, April 14, 2006

CBC on South Park – Literally

In a throwback to the second season premiere, South Park began Cartoon Wars Pt. II by joking that, instead of the second half of their redeemingly well-written attack on Family Guy and the news media, we would be treated to the made-for-TV movie Terrance & Phillip in Mystery at the Lazy J Ranch.

An even more unexpected thing happened soon after: the flatulent duo went to the CBC buildings to protest the censoring of a Mohammed character in their show, which eventually led to a transition into the real story--the one we were all waiting to hear.

But I thought it was amusing to see, for a moment on the screen, a boxy brown building labelled Canadian Broadcasting Company. Then there was the argument between Terrance and Phillip and the Network President. I can't tell for sure if they were going for a subtle parody of Robert Rabinovitch or not. Trey and Matt usually post official screenshots on South Park Studios a few days after each episode, so I'll be back with a link for all to see.

New $2,500 Apple MacBook Pro disabled by $0.25 CD

Some friends have called me a traitor for buying a brand new MacBook Pro. Anyone who’s gotten their hands on one of these can tell you how sweet they are to use.

Apple seems to be getting really serious about increasing their market share in personal computers, especially with their introduction of Boot Camp – which I installed and found quite stable.

But any new product has it problems, the first model always having the most defects, and the MacBook Pro is no exception.

Daily Tech: One Week with Apple's MacBook Pro - Despite its popularity as a "must have" Apple product, the MacBook Pro is encountering a lot of issues. Many users are reporting similar issues to the ones I pointed out. To recap from my blog:

  • AirPort does not automatically rejoin a preferred network after waking up from sleep mode. This does not happen with my PowerBook. Settings are the same.
  • AirPort would drop down to nearly 1 block randomly once in a while. This also does not happen with my PowerBook.
  • At the lowest screen brightness setting (one block), the LCD's backlight flickers noticeably. This is pretty annoying.
  • Heat is a big issue. The MacBook Pro gets so hot that I cannot place it on my lap if I'm wearing shorts. And even if I am wearing pants (instead of shorts), it's still very uncomfortable. Using the AC power, the palm rest area becomes very warm, and the area above the F keys is very hot.

Apple is aware of these problems and has released different revisions of the laptop. My current laptop appears to be revision E, but still suffers from the extreme heat issue. Still, the heat I can stand; what has me fuming is the fact that my laptop has been completely disabled by a mis-burned CD.

Anytime a recording program burns a CD, it locks the disk into the drive so that it cannot be ejected in the middle of recording. When a burn goes south, the recording software sometimes forgets to tell the drive to let go of the CD. The easy solution to this problem is to reboot your computer and reset your CD drive, which should let you release the disc.

Unfortunately, this does not work with the new MacBook Pro. The CD stuck in my drive is preventing the laptop from booting, because the system cannot determine whether the CD is bootable or not. The drive continually spins up and down trying to read it. No commands can be issued--not even the emergency CD eject command. After some searching on the Apple support forums, I found the answer: send the laptop to Apple for repair so that they can replace the drive.

The problem does not appear to be with the hardware but rather the firmware. The new Intel Macs use something called EFI, not the standard BIOS system. And the first revisions appear to have no retry-limit failsafe.

Hopefully, Apple will provide a firmware update to fix the problem.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

David Miller at Humber

Mayor David Miller opened his press conference at my college today by reinforcing an often forgotten fact: Toronto is only eight years old.

At least, it has been only about eight years since the Megacity formed and Mike Harris dumped a tonne of new responsibilities on the municipal government. Miller also criticized the 135 year old legislation that still binds the hands of the city, and talked about the importance of the new City of Toronto Act.

From these problems he draws his highest mayoral goal: to fix both the financial and legal problems that limit Toronto's potential.

He then went on to discuss his two major concerns and projects in the city.

Safety


This is the obvious topic, of course, but Miller spoke to it well. He made a point of reminding us that, though gun violence has gone up, crime has gone down 7% since last year--and later criticized the news media for paying these two trends such unbalanced attention. He noted that fighting crime is about "balancing enforcement with prevention", and then made a very important statement: that you can't prevent crime when there is poverty and discrimination, because some people will inevitably feel that the best opportunities for them lie in gangs and drugs.

Of course, such a basic level of decency and understanding should be prevalent in our society, but it isn't. I would be interested to see how (and if) Miller expresses these sentiments to a more conservative crowd, and I intend to keep my eyes open for a chance. As I said to my friend after the conference, anyone who tried to actively convince a group of hard-liners to be more understanding would win my vote for a long time.

When it comes to guns, though, Miller seems somewhat out of character. He put a lot of emphasis on the idea that cutting off the supply of handguns would solve the problem--a sentiment I have difficulty sharing. After just talking about the city's various initiatives to help youth in various neighbourhoods (their carpentry apprenticeship program [.pdf link], for example), I was surprised to hear him take such a short-sightedly pragmatic stance.

He talked about the two main ways guns end up on Toronto streets: being stolen from legal owners (and Miller does agree with a Liberal-style national handgun ban that decreases the number of loopholes), and coming across the border. "You're exporting murder to the streets of our city," he said of America, "and it's time you stopped."

His point that, for any handgun strategy to be truly effective in Canada, the U.S. must at least begin to be sensible about their own gun problem, was well taken. I simply wish he had continued to put emphasis on prevention and positive programs, instead of switching to a "no guns, no problem" stance.

Modesty

Next, the mayor talked about the importance of making Toronto a city its residents can be proud of. He says he dislikes constantly hearing Toronto described as a derivative of another city (New York run by the Swiss, or the University of Toronto as the Harvard of the North), and plans to help carve out Toronto's identity in various ways through the Beautiful City initiative.

First, he dealt with environmental issues, where the main topic is the fleet of hybrid buses, garbage trucks and park vehicles being introduced, which will supposedly be the largest in North America. I was personally impressed by his stance on pesticides: he payed no heed to the notion that people have a "right" to use poison on their lawns, and clearly stated that, in a city of 2.6 million people, it just can't happen. I believe we need a level of Draconian environmentalism to begin dispelling the entitled attitudes of so many people--many of whom sound as if they believe driving an SUV is a fundamental human right.

He summed it up with a simple analogy: "You should always leave your campsite with less of a human footprint than there was when you got there."

He took an equally admirable stance against building a new power plant in Toronto--something so many seem completely resigned to--calling it "out of date thinking" and "embarassing". He offered a list of alternatives, beginning with an emphasis on comsumption and demand management. Toronto Hydro, for example, offers a program for houses with central air conditioning, under which they can help avoid the need for rolling blackouts by agreeing to a slight drop in their airflow on peak days. He also asserted that a "green roof" project, covering 20% of buildings, would decrease the whole city's temperature by about two degrees on the hottest days.

Questions

Several Humber students asked questions of the mayor, but one (asked by friend and colleague Alistair Tennant) garnered a very pleasing response. Alistair asked about Toronto's garbage crisis, and Miller was quick to mention one of my own personal sore spots: provincial packaging laws.

"I just got a razor, and there was more packaging by about a factor of six than the razor," he joked--and it is funny, really, in an absurd kind of way. With all the garbage and environmental problems in this province, you would think a reduction in product packaging would be a natural step. Unfortunately, a lot of the ridiculous and unnecessary packaging you see on so many products is not only allowed, but actually required by the provincial government.

In terms of raw numbers, he brought up the plan to divert 60% of waste from landfills by 2007--and admitted that it wasn't going to happen outside of single-family homes. Always optimistic, though, he said the next goal will be 80%, with the dream of ending the city's disposal contract with Michigan by 2010.

All in all, an excellent conference. David Miller was concise and well spoken, and seemed to know which issues were of special importance to college students. I'm not sure if he knew there were reporters from Planet Oz (Humber's environment magazine, for which I was Editor-in-Chief last year) present--or my own still-critical ear, for that matter--but he payed us a good turn nonetheless.

I look forward to the Mayoral elections with a renewed optimism about municipal politics.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Pick a Green and Roll With It

Times-News - ACCENT: "'This field of greentech could be the largest economic opportunity of the 21st century,' [John] Doerr said. 'There's never been a better time than now to start or accelerate a greentech venture.'

As one of Silicon Valley's most respected investors, Doerr's decision to champion green technology as the next big thing is generating buzz in the venture capital community."

Overwhelming scientific evidence? Declining fish stocks? Violent hurricanes? Laughable. But when the man who got in on the ground floor of Netscape, Amazon and Google says it, people listen. His concern for the environment (expressed a bit later in the story) sounds tacked on to his economic opportunism.

But for me I suppose it's idealism speaking. It might be that the only way to get the ball rolling on environmental reform is to develop some genuine, capitalist motivation instead of all that tree-hugger crap about biodiversity (latest study) and global warming.

Ugh.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Payola Strikes Back

Techdirt: Radio Stations Claim Payola Probe Limiting New Music: "Some radio stations have gone on an interesting PR offensive against Eliot Spitzer's payola investigations. They're claiming that DJs and music programmers have become reluctant to play new music, out of fear that it might draw unwanted attention to them."
The story originally comes from the Baltimore Sun, which gently took the side of the DJs. As Techdirt points out, there are a lot of holes in their argument. Apart from the fact that Spitzer's suit targeted big label, insta-fame artists (not emerging ones), all of the programmers' paranoia seems rooted in the idea that a slight shred of circumstantial "evidence" will ruin them. From the Sun article:
"I don't want anyone to look at my playlists six months from now and speculate about why I added a particular song, when our competition didn't add it," said one programmer. "People have been fired for less."
Well, I'd like to know what people--and if it's true, it sounds like the fault of reactionary station owners, not Eliot Spitzer.

Involved in Ontario

A friend of mine just introduced me to something most surprising: Ontario's Environmental Registry.

If you are an Ontario resident, check it out. It's been around since 1994, but I'd never heard of it, and I admit to being impressed. The site lists all the recent applications made by companies for equipment, operational or other changes that will effect the environment. It then gives the public a chance to respond with letters that will be added to the official proceedings--similar, I suppose, to the way building and zoning permits work.

A quick look at the last week's postings turns up several requests to increase exhaust emissions, and a curious little application by a group called The Brethren of Early Christianity, who are renewing their permit to extract water from four wells in the town of Bright.