Saturday, July 21, 2012


In the US, the FBI monitors orders of grow lights over the internet so they can arrest poor schmucks who have a couple of pot plants in their dorm room, but they don't pay any attention to a guy whose profile screams "Unibomber" who orders a veritable arsenal of weapons and ammunition.

Friday, July 20, 2012

More than you want to know about.... mustard. Part 2

So here we have Canada with its waving fields of yellow, just screaming out for a homegrown condiment industry. "What kind of mustard do you want?" waitresses should ask all over the world, and patrons should reply, "Canadian!"

But we don't want to stick our brand on a tired old product. Not American mustard (turmeric) or Dijon (wine vinegar) or German (whole seed) or British (pure heat). We need something new. I myself feel it would be cliche to flavor our mustard with maple syrup, not to mention disgusting. I don't like sweet mustard much, so for me Saskatoon Berries and so on are out. You might be thinking Rye, but American bourbon has already cornered that idea.

So here's a proposition: smoked mustard. Has anyone done this? Sounds yummy. We can call it smustard. Or to be extra fancy, smoutarde. I offer my idea freely to anyone who will produce Smoutarde in Canada. Go for it!

(Oops. Seems that Alaska has a brand of smoked mustard called Moosetard, but I consider it an inconsequential novelty brand, unlike the serious culinary product Smoutarde.)

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Quite unexpectedly

I was reading about Syria today, how it's teetering at the abyss of becoming a failed state - failed like Somalia, a place with no government, a chaos of pirates and warlords - but a failed state with massive caches of chemical weapons that will almost certainly fall into the hands of terrorists and could end up killing untold numbers of people. It's WMD again but for real this time. It's almost too much to comprehend. What keeps going through my head is The End of the World by Archibald MacLeish, which describes a circus performance and ends,

Quite unexpectedly the top blew off:

And there, there overhead, there, there hung over
Those thousands of white faces, those dazed eyes,
There in the starless dark, the poise, the hover,
There with vast wings across the cancelled skies,
There in the sudden blackness the black pall
Of nothing, nothing, nothing -- nothing at all.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

More than you want to know about... mustard

Canada is the world's largest producer of mustard seed, and grows about one-third of total world production. The only other major producer is Nepal (who knew!), but Nepal's production seems to be used mostly for mustard oil, dried seeds and greens.

Canada does not produce mustard-the-condiment*. The US has at least ten manufacturers of mustard-the-condiment. US mustard seed production is a tenth of Canada's, so not much of the seed is coming from there. The packaging doesn't seem to ever source the origin of the seeds, but I wrote Zatarain's (I'm a fan of their Creole mustard brand) and they said the mustard is produced in the US with seeds from Canada.

Most Dijon mustard is made in France, and 90% of Dijon mustard is made from Canadian seeds. Canada is a big importer of French mustard made with Canadian seeds.

I will not write a conclusion to this sad little litany of mustard data.

*Apologies to Kozlik's!

Monday, July 09, 2012

Eric Davis FTW

The upcoming (as yet undated) by-election in Kitchener-Waterloo could change our minority provincial government into a Liberal majority. As a Liberal and an ardent supporter of Premier McGuinty, I think that would be a pretty great thing.

I will continue to monitor all the candidates, but at this point I am so impressed with Eric Davis that I want to give him my endorsement.

I got a personal call from Eric Davis. I have never met him but we had a great chat: this is a candidate who knows how to speak substantively to voters.

I also got a persusasive email from him with the subject line "Why I'm Running." What he wrote resonates very strongly with me. Here's an excerpt:

"I knew I was a Liberal because I do not believe that the answers to today's problems lie at either end of the political spectrum; that you need to be able look at issues from a variety of different perspectives to find the appropriate solutions. I also believe that compassion, balance and compromise are important in politics. I see all those values reflected in the Liberal Party."

Eric Davis has been an active member of the Liberal party for 16 years, including serving as President of the KW Young Liberals, President of the KW Provincial Liberal Association, an Executive member of the KW Federal Liberal Association, and a volunteer on countless Liberal campaigns, including Election Day Chair for Andrew Telegdi.

Then of course he ran against Elizabeth Witmer in the last provincial election. Witmer was such a powerhouse that noone thought he could make a dent in her support, but he did - garnering 2,000 more votes than our candidate got in the previous election.

Eric Davis could win this thing. He's smart, committed, has the right vision, and is an incredibly effective politician. He would be a wonderful representative for our community. Here's his web site: It has a link for people who want to join the provincial Liberal party so they can vote at the nomination meeting.


Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Make room for aaaAAAaaa...

There's no way this could be as drawn out as the Hail to the Chief episode, and it could never get as annoying as the Pennsylvania Polka episode, and in fact some would say that having O Fortuna from Carmina Burana stuck in your head is not the worst thing in the world, but for two things: (1) it has been stuck for two weeks now; and (2) the lyrics that I'm singing in my head are from a "lyrics misheard" video and they go like this:

Gopher tuna!
Bring more tuna!
Statue of big dog with fleas

Some men like cheese
Green chalk can taste like hippies

You caught two rocks?
Pet two cool rats.
You don't like cheese or chicken.
Play chess all day
Hold his sock tip
She sold me good, hot chicken.

Saucy hot peas
Get me cod, please
Rock talks to boy who believes
Suck juice from moose
Fun, handsome goose
Cement pizza? Noobie please!

Open bra top
Got him locked up
Leaky aquariatares

Look there! Fruitloop!
Don't sue YouTube
They wrote teh dictionary

Salsa cookies!
Windmill cookies!
They gave you gonorrhea

This octopus
Let's give him boots
Send him to North Korea

Ow, paper cut
Sandpaper, ahh
Potato soup and chicken
Go taste the dip!
Made with Cool Whip!

Make room for aaaAAAaaa
Piece of lovely cake

Beware Oktoberfest
Music Fails: Opera lyrics misheard


Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Rant: Mount Everest

I recently read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air and then spent a couple of days on the internet looking up information about Mount Everest and the people who attempt to reach its summit. To my mind, the most important aspect of the Mount Everest tourism industry, and the thing that is virtually never discussed, is the barbarity of the people involved in it.

I had heard about the mountains of garbage left by the "climbers" (they're not really climbers; Krakauer says few of them have any climbing experience at all, and you can read accounts of people reaching the summit who are blind, legless, elderly, or have severe rheumatoid arthritis - better to call them tourists). Apparently someone started a fund to pay Sherpas to haul down discarded oxygen tanks and other junk, so that's supposedly getting better, although recent photos still show lots of garbage.

I had heard about nearby valleys being clear-cut for firewood for the base camp. That's bad enough.

What I didn't know is that the hiking route on Everest is littered with dead human bodies. The tourists sometimes have to step over bodies on the trail. There have been dead bodies lying near the tents where they camp - lying there for years. The tourists give the bodies jovial nicknames; apparently one there right now is dubbed Green Boots. While watching videos about Everest I saw tourists pass several dead bodies, and nobody even winced.

It's not just the tourists who die. The Sherpas, who are paid a pittance compared to the western tour guides, also are regularly killed or injured. So many of their deaths, like those of the tourists, seem to be wholly preventable. People get outraged at sweatshops but the plight of Sherpas seems to me to be much more serious.

The tourists who walk up the slope don't just tolerate the bodies; in some cases they contribute to the headcount with their single-minded drive to get their money's worth and reach the summit.

At the time of Krakauer's book there was very little done to rescue people. A guide or Sherpa would refuse to help someone if they were a client of a rival tour company. In Into Thin Air, two living people were left outside, unprotected, overnight in -40 weather only 200 feet from camp - on the flat - because they couldn't walk. Basic alpine rescue equipment, like a toboggan to drag the injured, was not available.

The tourists often don't help other tourists, and even refuse to turn back to allow others to rescue someone. In just about every description of someone dying, other tourists walk past and don't help. They manage to find the time to take photos though. In this picture, note the ropes. The tourists hang on to the ropes as they walk up the mountain, so these bodies are right there.

Compare this behavior to boating, another sport that is both dangerous and held in an isolated location. It's a rule of the high seas that you can't abandon a sailor in distress. If you're in a regatta and another boat gets in trouble you are obligated to stop and help, even if it costs you the race. You'll be disqualified if you don't, and probably charged with a criminal offence.

Another issue is whether the tour companies provide adequate supplies. Oxygen could be brought up in advance and cached, but despite charging as much as $110,000 a head for the bragging rights of "climbing" Everest, the tour companies seem to operate on a shoestring. At times 300 tourists are jammed together on the trail, and tourists complain that they can't pass the slow people so everyone is slowed down and everyone's oxygen runs out. Wouldn't that indicate, at the least, that they have insufficient oxygen? This happens all the time, and just happened again in spring 2012 when a bunch of people died (link).

There seem to be lax standards, little coordination, no regulations, and precious little human decency about the Everest tourism industry.

The inhumane treatment of the injured and dead can only be happening because there's no enforcement of civilized rules of conduct. There are no police at 26,000 feet. Nepal is dirt poor and the Everest racket brings the country over $10,000 a head, so presumably there's not much incentive in Kathmandu to find a solution.

You would think that the countries that register the tourist companies (the US, New Zealand, Switzerland, etc) would create and enforce some regulations. Or that responsible tourist companies would form an organization.

I know there is at least one responsible tourist company because at the beginning of this spring's climbing season, one company decided that the conditions were too unsafe, and cancelled all its climbs. The rest carried on, and as a result several people died. But for next year, that event sets up the same sort of tragic scenario that Krakauer documents for the 1996 season: the most responsible tourist leader had turned people back the year before, and so in '96 was under heavy pressure to get everyone to the top. As a direct consequence, he and some of his crew and clients died.

Meanwhile, tragedies (like the one in 1996 that Krakauer writes about so critically) only serve to make Everest tourism more popular. Everest is the Brangelina of mountains: no publicity is bad publicity.

The bottom line appears to be this: the tourists are so determined to reach the summit that they will not pause to save a human life, and the tour companies are so greedy for cash that they do not provide the supplies that could save lives. The entire industry is beyond barbaric. The idea that these tourists are presented as courageous heroes is mind boggling.


Monday, July 02, 2012

RIM and Waterloo

I don't have any argument today, just a report of some things I've read. I have been trying to find information on Waterloo's vulnerability to the problems at RIM.

The Economic Times of India (link) says that nearly one third of the city of Waterloo's office/plant space is owned or leased by RIM. That seems like a lot, but the Waterloo Record supports the figure; it says that RIM occupies 2M SF of office/plant space (mostly in the city of Waterloo) in a total market across Waterloo Region of 12-13M SF.

The Record also says that the local layoff announcements will hit about 3,000 locally. Since our local RIM employee base pre-layoff was about 9,000, that would suggest that around 10% of our office space will become vacant due to this initial contraction of RIM.

The Economic Times also says of Waterloo, "The company has nourished virtually every family here; for, each job at RIM has created seven jobs." I haven't seen this anywhere else; I suppose it could be a general statistic? That figure suggests that the ripple effect of 3,000 layoffs could affect 20,000 other jobs. However, again according to The Record, there are currently 1,300 vacancies at local high-tech companies, which suggests an unemployed pool of more like 1,700, which times 7 is more like 12,000. Our area has some big hitters (Open Text, Sybase, Google, Desire2Learn, etc) as well as about 500 high-tech startups - and great infrastructure for promoting startups. No doubt, some talented RIM employees will not just find other jobs but will also start companies, reducing the ripple effect even further. So the total impact on area employment is unknown.

If anyone has any other info or thoughts, please leave a comment or send me an email.

Meanwhile, a video spoof has Steve Jobs doing a drive-by shooting of a BlackBerry in Uptown Waterloo (link).

RIM dominates the Waterloo real estate market
Life after RIM: Waterloo Region real estate and RIM
KW Real Estate discussion on Canadian Money Forum