eco-friendly? Not!!

I have just been reading the press blurbs about the new Nissan Leaf, a totally electric vehicle, the first of which was delivered to a happy consumer in Ottawa recently. This car is only one of several being developed and to be sold to consumers in the coming months.
These vehicles are being billed as “zero emissions” vehicles, viable alternatives to gas powered vehicles, economical, eco-friendly and many other superlatives. Judging from the reviews articles and websites I have read, nothing could be further from the truth.
The car itself is expensive at $38000, more than many other compact cars of merit and better styling. This price also does not include the costs involved in installing a 240 volt charging station in your home, the additional electrical bills, the insurance (likely to be charged) for a new untried and rare vehicle or the maintenance. The economic kicker is the fact that the batteries which power this car are leased to the owner (They cost $10000.00) because they are too expensive to replace and expected to last no more than 5 years.
Being billed as a zero emissions vehicle is almost false advertising in my view. The car itself indeed produces no emissions, however experts say that the emissions created in generating the additional electricity required to run it is about equivalent to a well tuned compact diesel car. This also does not take into account the carbon footprint of shipping raw materials around the planet to produce the exotic batteries and other components before they are assembled into a shiny new Leaf.
In terms of performance Nissan claims a top speed of 144 Km/H (90 Mph) and a range of approx. 160 Km (100 Mi.). Nissan also notes that the trickle charger takes some 21 hours to full charge from low battery. If one were to take those claims as accurate then a trip from London to Ottawa would take me about 8 days or about the same as if I travelled by horse and carriage. I dare say the horse would be more ecologically sound to boot. So this car is not a touring car designed for long trips but an inner city commuter. For 38 Grand I can purchase any one of several dozen more attractive commuter cars and even some not so commuter cars.
One final point in this rant, the Leaf and all it’s brethren from other manufactures are pure electric cars, getting their “get up and go” from the power grid. Here in Ontario every summer Ontario Hydro complains that too many people crank up their air conditioners sucking up electricity and causing brown outs. Ask yourself, what would be the effect of a few million consumers plugging in their electric cars every night? Then again maybe that’s not a great worry as Nissan only expects to sell 600 of these by 2012, hardly seems worth the effort.

please choose one of the following …

Have you ever called a service provider and then had to talk to a machine? I know you have, it is the current state of almost all customer support phone lines these days. The other day I had to call Bell to change some of the plan settings on my pre-paid cellphone and of course I ran into the “choose one of the following options” juggernaut. It seems that these systems are designed to insulate service people from ever having to actually talk to a customer. It took 4 phone calls and probably 30 options to discover the first living, breathing person I could actually voice my request to. However I was almost immediately informed that they were the incorrect person and that they would transfer my call. The transfer took me to one of the original “choose one of …” systems from which no option lead to a real person. This circular and totally useless call transfer run around lasted another 30 minutes, until I discovered my third living breathing body of the day. Yes he could help me, after he checked every known detail about me, my account, my cell, my address and any and all numbers associated with my account. Then he put me on hold for 15 minutes, presumably to go get a coffee and a rest up after all the work of identifying me as me. When he finally returned it took all of 5 minutes to make the adjustments to each of three cell phone accounts. So in my experience a total of 15 minutes work took approximately 50 minutes to complete and was so thoroughly aggravating I may never call them again. Success in Bell’s eyes no doubt, a damn shame in mine. No doubt these answering systems save companies a ton of money since they need hire far fewer people to answer phones and talk to customers, the ones who ultimately pay for such systems. However they are so impersonal, cold and unfriendly as to drive customers away in droves and the company websites are little better. There is no such thing as customer service any longer, companies simply want you to buy their products and go away … until the next greatest, latest, coolest, gotta have this or you’ll die product is released that is. That’s my answering machine rant now I feel better … oh wait I just have to call Rogers about my TV account ….

A new website …

Good day to all, been a while since I was last here, not really a regular blogger. I have just been creating a great new website for the Argyle Business Improvement Association. This is a non-profit organization that aims to improve community spirit, promote prosperity in business and beautify the Argyle Area here in London. Now creating a new website is not always a big deal, however I have not created a site from scratch for a while now and I was a bit amazed at how much the technology has changed. At the University of Waterloo, when I was managing the Math Faculty web site technologies like Facebook and twitter were only starting to emerge, we were just starting to see JavaScript libraries on sites and technologies like HTML 5 and CSS 3 were mostly rumour. Today all those are commonplace, sites are dynamic, linked in and if you are not connected to Facebook, well then you’re just not connected! So our new website is connected, uses Google maps to tell people where we are, shows the local weather and is a great start to what we hope will be a great website that everyone (in London at least!) will want to visit. I invite everyone to take a look and pass on your comments.

Are a VIP’er

We went to see Avatar the other night (and last night as a matter of fact!) and we saw it at a new type of theatre, a VIP theatre. This seems to be a new age idea to recapture some of the theatre goers who have become disenchanted with paying $12 and more a head to see a movie. In the VIP scheme of things, the seats are not the usual jammed in extremely uncomfortable row seats but are instead lazyboy type theatre seats. Every seat has room to lean back, the front seats have the ability to lean completely back. Seats are arranged in pairs with smallish coffee tables between pairs. Gone are the days when the fat sweaty bloke is crammed into the seat next to you.

Quite apart from the seating though is the VIP experience. This includes seat side service in which a waitress takes your order (for real food or the usual theatre snacks), allows you to pay for it then and there and then delivers it back to you. No fuss, no muss. The theatre is smaller, the screen better, the sound better and best of all the seats are reserved. No more standing in long lines, jostling for position and running to get the best seats. Seats can be ordered and paid for online, tickets printed at home so that you can just arrive at the theatre, walk in and sit down and enjoy.

The whole experience is very civilized, very refined. It makes for the best theatre experience you can get, very much worth the small premium over a normal theatre. In the end it costs about the same as a night out for a dinner and movie the normal way and rewards you with a very enjoyable, very civilized evening out. I’ll never go back to the old ways of being pack in a long row of seats, sitting with cramped legs and a crook in my back next to the fat sweaty bloke. I am a VIP’er from now on.

Have you seen it?

So Avatar has been out for a couple of months now and I had been resisting seeing it for all of that time. The reason? In my mind I was convinced it was just another gimmicky 3-D film with tomahawks and arrows coming straight for you out of the screen. I could not have been more incorrect.

The movie in and of itself does not use the 3-D in the old way, having arrows or sharks coming straight for you. It is filmed in a very natural 2-D sort of perspective **but** the 3-D adds perspective and depth in a way that would be hard to imagine otherwise. In every scene one feels as if you are in the scene, taking part (or observing) the action or conversation. Visually you soon forget about the glasses you must wear and are totally absorbed in the environment. I say environment because it feels just like that, every detail rings true.

Did I mention that the detail is amazing? It truly is, you see animals, birds, sparks from a fire, landscapes even Na’Vi which your logical self tells you are CGI but your eyes tell you there are real, they have depth, physicality. All of the movements, emotions, facial features are so real to life they could not possibly be computer generated. Could it? It is beautifully shot, full of incredible surreal scenery, fantastical creatures, heroes and villains playing out a story that is captivating, believable and full of import and truth.
The most basic level of the story is that of the mega mining company stripping the land and killing the indigenous people to get some rare and ultra expensive mineral they want. That however is far and away too simple a way to describe this movie. The indigenous people, the Na’Vi, by intention or not seem to have a lot in common with native North American peoples, being in harmony with their environment, believing in the spirit in all things, in Mother Earth. Every life is sacred to them, every spirit is part of Eywa, hosted in the flesh for a time, returned to Eywa at death. The Na’Vi live in total harmony with their environment and can bond with it joining their spirit to that of the animals, trees, taking only what they need to survive.

The mining company (and it’s mercenary GI’s) on the other hand are in total disharmony with the environment, with two distinct goals in mind. First to move or make extinct the indigenous people, animals and other obstacles to the second objective, strip mining all of the rare mineral unobtanium. There is a very distinct parallelism here to the way North America was colonized, to way we so often treat indigenous peoples and our environment. Obviously not all of the newcomers are evil, else we wouldn’t have much of a story.

The story itself, as told by the movie is exciting, non-stop, at the same time moving, sad, encouraging and happy. It has some of the most moving and memorable scenes I have been witness to in a movie and because of the magic created by the 3-D, you are a part of those scenes not just an observer. In several places I was moved to tears, amazed, thrilled and tickled with laughter. This movie really draws the observer into it, the second time round it is even better because you get over the 3-D thing and really see the movie. I can not recommend it highly enough, anyone who has not seen it has missed something special. Something incredible. James Cameron and company deserve all of the kudos they will get for this movie, they have set the bar very high indeed.

Blue-ray but no Blues

As the title suggests this entry is about Blue-ray DVDs and my humble experiences with them. In the past I have looked at blue-ray displays in the stores, the ones where they have two views of the same film side by side and to be quite honest couldn’t see the difference. Most times I put any differences down to the set up of the televisions not the blue-ray. I honestly couldn’t see enough difference to warrant the additional costs of replacing my current DVD player and my DVD collections.

Then my son purchased a Sony PS3. This was the newest, hottest, most amazing, “you gotta see this Dad!” games system he could lay hands on. In the first week we watched a few of our current DVDs on the system and they did seem to be clearer, sharper and better looking on our LCD TV. Then he got hold of The Matrix and Pearl Harbor movies, both on Blue-ray. WOWSA! The picture quality was astounding and the uncompressed sound track was stunning. It was amazing how good these two slightly older movies were. The colors, details, sharpness of the picture was as good as real life (and some times not too flattering to the poor actors!). The sound was just amazing, there is no other word for it, everything came alive, explosions knocked you out of your seat.

It gets better however, this past weekend we found “A Bridge Too Far” and “Rambo” in the bargain bin at Walmart, $14 each for the Blue-ray versions. Ancient movies by anyone’s standards you would say. But no! These movies came to life with stunning graphics, incredible picture and sound that was astounding in the least. When Rambo blows up the middle of Smallville, USA I half expected neighbors to come running while phoning the fire department! When the panzers roll into Arnheim, you are ready to run the opposite direction. It is obvious to me now that Blue-ray is absolutely better than my old DVDs and can only get better as the technology matures. I will be spending my money this Christmas rebuilding my DVD collections in Blue-ray! I can just imagine how sweet the ,merlins powering the Spitfires in Battle of Britain will sound, as close to the real thing as one can get I would think.

Back again …

August 2009? Has it really been that long since I last posted to this blog? How time flies by! Well it is now November, late November really and weather here in Ontario is cooling. It was about 5 degrees Celsius this morning, not what I would call cold and not cold enough to put on my shoes. I am still barefoot, although some morning I do don sandals just to separate my soles from the cool pavements. Do I get strange looks? Occasionally. Do I care? Not at all.
The most common question I get late into the fall, when I am shoeless is … “Aren’t your feet cold?” or some variation of that. The truth is no, not really. My feet get no colder than my hands and my hands are not “cold” or in gloves usually until late December and even then only on the days when the temp is down below 0 celsius. I much prefer to be bare foot even with cool feet than be shod and have hot sweaty feet. Seems to me to be much like wearing gloves on your hands all day. But then I have rambled on about this all before so I won’t bore you with more on this day.
Instead I would like to tell you about “Global TV Access”, a service (an internet service really) that I subscribe to that allows me to watch British television stations on my TV in London, Ontario as if I was in England. In effect I can watch BBC and ITV at the same time in the same way as any one in England (barring the 5 hour time difference of course!), but even better I can watch it at my leisure through “catch ups”. These television shows are streamed over the internet to my computer then via the HDVI output to my television. This service is so convenient and works well enough that I have completely abandoned my local cable and satellite providers opting instead to use just this service for my entertainment. I would recommend it to almost anyone fed up with high television bills. The only drawback at the moment is the fact that it does not include any American stations (the few who actually stream their service) and so we miss out on stations such as Fox and HBO. If GTVA would expand their services to include some of the American stations then it really would be a replacement for the cable and satellite monopolies.

Well I finally got down to Novaks in London here on the weekend to try on these “Vibram Five Finger” shoes that have appeared in this list from time to time and are supposed to give that barefoot feeling. However after spending near ten minutes getting my toes into the little fingers, discovering that they uncomfortably press on the end of my toes and noticing how incredibly tweedy they look I am inclined to ask, what is the point? They don’t give me that barefoot feet but instead feel like thin shoes. They aren’t attractive looking in any way, in fact one would look like a pillock when wearing them. It seems to me that they would be more popular with shoddies who want to pretend to be barefoot than with barefooters. Then again maybe that’s just me, I certainly would rather be $100 richer and barefoot than looking silly and $100 poorer. I’ll pass on these for now I think.
These shoes seem to me to be an attempt by shoe companies to make the most of a burgeoning lifestyle trend in much the same way that we now see “green” products cashing in on all manner of “eco-friendly” products. I also believe that being barefoot and living barefoot is in about the same place that being “green” was a few years back and that being vegetarian was in when I was in College. Not terribly respected and mightily resisted by the non-initiates. However 30 years later vegetarian is not so strange, many stores stock vegetarian foods and being “green” is suddenly cool. I can only hope that being cool when barefoot doesn’t take another 30 years.

btw here’s a link to info on the shoes …

Vibram

ode to hard copies

So have you ever considered how much the modern electronic age is changing the habits of consumers? In the past year I have not purchased a single CD, though I have purchased a substantial amount of music, I have bought only a few (5 or 6) paper books though I have bought many more books than that and just lately I have ended my relationship with my cable TV provider. In place of hard CDs, hard copy books and cable television I now use, purchase, read, listen and watch either on my computer or on a device that is updated from my computer. In place of albums I now purchase tracks from Itunes from all kinds of artists in many genres of music. In place of paper books I now read ebooks on a Sony Reader buying them from stores all round the world, getting books I never would have seen in my local Chapters store. In place of cable TV I (and my family) have been watching BBC (from England), CBC (from Canada) and sitcoms from the US, all streamed to our computer in HD quality and most days displayed on our HD television.
In most cases the switch is painless, inexpensive and rewarding for the breadth of material that comes available. In Itunes I can (most times) find music I would not find in local stores, sample tracks and then buy individual tracks or whole albums. Some retailers though just don’t get it, book sellers are the worst. For instance the other day I was looking at a new “World of Warcraft” novel (yeah I know it’s crap and will never replace Tolstoy as a classic, but it is a good read), the book in hard cover is $32 in Canada. You would think that the Ebook, with no shipping, no bulk should be cheaper right? Wrongo! The Sony ebook site wanted $25 US for it (not really any cheaper when translated into Canadian dollars) and WH Smith in the UK wanted 20 pounds for the same book. I thought the hard cover was too much at $32, I am certainly not paying a similar price for the Ebook version. Makes no sense. Some of the music vendors are similarly afflicted charging hard copy prices for electronic goods.
Balance will come though as more and more consumers start to buy electronic versions of books, music, television shows and other consumer products. A great many stores, industries and services are still finding their way in the new world of electronic commerce, discover what they can sell and how to sell it. I for one can’t wait, though I do keep draining the damn batteries in my music player and my reader and my PDA … sigh.

Rock Glen Falls 2009

The family and grand kids went to Rock Glen Falls on the weekend, a little conservation and natural wilderness area near Arkona, Ontario. A good time was had by all splashing ion the falls and the stream, walking through natural clay beds and over lush grasses. Nary a shoe or sandals was in sight. All of the kids were barefoot the whole time and had a blast wading and swimming in the styream, walking the paths. As usual I shed my shoes at the front door and never put them back on, walking on all kinds of interesting surfaces grass, stones, stream beds, grass. It was amazing and wonderfull. I am pretty much a full time barefooter but this was a rare treat for my feet. The only downside to the day was a couple of scratches suffered by Sarah when she tripped up. I have to say though that walking on the pebbled parking lot (1 inchish pebbles on hard packed gravel) was a little tough. Yo can see some of the pics at my facebook site … Facebook album