G20 and Civil Rights

June 26, 2010

The New York Times has an article about the apparent erosion of civil liberties in Toronto during the G20 summit:

Canadians discovered Friday that the Group of 20 summit meeting in Toronto has brought not only world leaders but also a temporary suspension of some of their own civil rights, at least in the core of downtown Toronto.

This post is not about whether the police powers have gone too far. Unfortunately, whenever I hear about the protests all I can think about is the patients and their families at the hospitals just south of Queen’s Park (Princess Margaret, Toronto General, Mount Sinai, and Sick Kids) and the impact the protests have on them:

As a precaution, UHN has cancelled many of our outpatient clinics on Friday, June 25, 2010, except for the following: dialysis at Toronto General Hospital; radiation therapy and chemotherapy at Princess Margaret Hospital; medical imaging at all UHN sites. These clinics will remain open for our patients on Friday, June 25, 2010

For me, civil liberties is all about the Golden Rule and they only extend to the point where your rights begin to impinge on the rights of others.

This is a fine balance but it seems like modern-day protestors are no longer just trying to have their voice heard but they are also trying to force their message on an unwilling audience.

Megan McArdle has started a meme posting the details of her first Amazon purchase.

Amazon did not launch in Canada until 2002. My first purchase from Amazon.ca was Good to Great made Aug 14, 2002. I remember that I loved the business anecdotes in the book but that I hated the analysis of what makes companies great.

I certainly did not remember what book was in my first order but I certainly remember my first order from Amazon.ca. I had been ordering books online from Chapters.ca for several years at that point and I was much happier with the overall process with Amazon than I was with Chapters.

My first Chapters.ca purchase was From Naked Ape to Superspecies by David Suzuki made Nov 18, 1999. I don’t remember anything specific from this book but I do currently have a strong dislike for Suzuki’s brand of eco-nihilism. I suspect I disliked his point of view then too.

Amazon has now released the Kindle iPhone app in the Canadian AppStore.
It looks good. After installing, the app requests your Amazon login information on first launch at which point your existing books appear in the Archived folder.
Clicking on an Archived book downloads it to your iPhone or iPod Touch. The book then appears on the home screen.
The app has a clean interface that allows page turns via swipes or clicking on the left portion of the screen (previous page) or right portion (next page). Clicking in the bottom margin brings up the extra controls allowing bookmarking, returning to the Home screen, and the same canonical progress bar showing reading location. The killer feature, of course, is synchronizing reading location across devices.

I don't know if its just me but I have absolutely no luck reporting what seem like clear and reproducible bugs.

I sent a bug report to Amazon regarding the PDF conversion problem after the 2.3 upgrade. I received a response in e-mail that looks autogenerated or perhaps my report was confusing. Anyway, the e-mail has a very customer focused section asking whether the e-mail resolves my problem and includes a “If not, click here:” Feedback link which I clicked through. I filled out my information in the form and started typing in the Comments text area but I couldn’t type beyond a sentence or two. Looking at the source I found:

<textarea name=”comments” rows=”10″ cols=”23″ maxlength=”50″>

Nice. I have 50 characters to provide feedback. I like succinct as much as the next guy but sheesh.

My original bug report was the following:

Read the rest of this entry »

Amazon has released updated software for the 2nd generation Kindle including the Canadian Kindle.

I received an e-mail from Amazon describing the update but the update had not yet been pushed out wirelessly. The update binary file can be installed manually. The updated User’s Guide is also available.

In addition to better battery life with Wireless On, the new version brings native PDF file viewing and screen rotation to the 6″ Kindle.

Screen Rotation is available from the Text Size menu (key to the right of the spacebar on the keyboard). PDF files in portrait mode display the entire page. The text is unreadable at this magnification. In landscape mode the full width of the page is displayed making it a little easier to read. Multi-column text is a pain.

@FREE.KINDLE.COM Conversions Broken

Unfortunately the update has broken the user_name@free.kindle.com conversion service. The PDF file is returned in its original format. The documentation states:

Tip: You can choose to convert PDF file(s) that are sent to your device by adding the word “convert” in the email subject line.

This does not seem to be the case with the @free.kindle.com service, at least with my testing.

Canadian Kindle Review

November 22, 2009

The international version of the Amazon Kindle eBook reader is now available in Canada.

I ordered one and have been using it for four days now so I thought I’d write up some my initial thoughts. Ordering the Kindle is accomplished through the U.S. Amazon site (amazon.com vs. amazon.ca). The Kindle Store where you can order books online via a web browser is also accessed via the .com site. The Kindle Store is also available directly on the device. It allows you to search for books, read reviews, and even write reviews.

Text input is via a Blackberry-esque thumb QWERTY keyboard. While reading a book you can start typing at any time. A small search box appears at the bottom of the screen which allows you to search the current book, a dictionary, Google, and others. The keys are round and flush at the edge but raised slightly in the middle of each key. Most of a user’s time on the Kindle is spent reading so the keys are designed to be unobtrusive during normal reading which makes them less than ideal for typing compared to a input heavy device such as a Blackberry. I think this is a good compromise considering the screen is fundamentally different than the computer screens we are used to. Read the rest of this entry »

Is hands-free really safer?

October 30, 2009

The National Post asks Is hands-free really safer?.

Actually holding a cellphone to your ear to conduct a conversation would, at first blush, not appear as dangerous, but then you do often have to avert your eyes to manually key in a phone number, so the loss of the traditional phone call while driving is not to be lamented. In fact, were our provincial legislature more brave, it would have banned an even wider list of activities all too common to modern motoring such as applying lipstick, reading the newspaper, editing manuscripts and even changing diapers (yes, indeed, I have seen that one). The common thread to all these activities is that they require diverting your eyes from the road ahead, which is very dangerous when you’re driving.

Hands-free regulation bugs me. I think people should be safe and use hands-free technology whenever possible. The key is increasing overall safety. I use a bluetooth headset when making calls in the car. My LG Chocolate is brain-dead and does not allow me to use voice dialing through the bluetooth headset so I use speed dials on the keypad which I can do by touch.

Incoming calls and unplanned outgoing high priority calls are another matter. I’d like to think that I am capable of weighing the safety costs rather than have a well-meaning but sometimes misguided law that states that if I’m holding a cell phone to my ear I am breaking the law. I understand that a clear-cut law is better than the subjective opinion of a police officer and/or judge, but the regulation still bugs me.

Perhaps its just my own conceit to believe that I make above average cell phone while driving decisions, above average LCBO bottles in the blue bin decisions, above average incandescent light bulb decisions, and above average grocery plastic bag re-use decisions.

The Globe and Mail has an article on the trend towards lower voter turnout in Canada.

Expert opinions on why fewer Canadians make the effort to vote range from youth indifference to negative attitudes around politicians to an electorate so disengaged that some voters missed the election entirely.

In the last two decades, voter turnout has been steadily declining to the point where turnout in the most recent federal election and votes in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Alberta reached historic lows.

Only 41 per cent of the eligible voters bothered to cast their ballots in Alberta’s provincial election last year, while just 52 per cent of B.C.’s voters went to the polls in last week’s Liberal-versus-New Democrat contest.

Just 58.8 per cent of those eligible voted in last October’s federal election, the first time since Confederation that turnout dipped below 60 per cent.

It is all due to bad attitudes. Is it at all possible that Canadians are generally content with their lives? Is it possible that a change in government will have zero negative impact on them? Is it possible that those 40-60% that vote are doing so out of habit and perhaps an inflated sense of self importance?

Perhaps low voter turnout is something to be celebrated, after all, what would the end-game look like of a political system that was operating optimally? 

Canada In The Press

February 10, 2009

Wow, look at all the nice things Newsweek has to say about Canadians.

Canada has been remarkably responsible over the past decade or so. It has had 12 years of budget surpluses, and can now spend money to fuel a recovery from a strong position. The government has restructured the national pension system, placing it on a firm fiscal footing, unlike our own insolvent Social Security. Its health-care system is cheaper than America’s by far (accounting for 9.7 percent of GDP, versus 15.2 percent here), and yet does better on all major indexes. Life expectancy in Canada is 81 years, versus 78 in the United States; “healthy life expectancy” is 72 years, versus 69. American car companies have moved so many jobs to Canada to take advantage of lower health-care costs that since 2004, Ontario and not Michigan has been North America’s largest car-producing region.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal is warning their man Obama about the horrors of the Canadian healthcare system.

Canada’s system comes at the cost of pain and suffering for patients who find themselves stuck on waiting lists with nowhere to go. Americans can only hope that Barack Obama heeds the lessons that can be learned from Canadian hardships.

One of these frozen tundras is not like the other.

National Do Not Call List

September 30, 2008

Canadians rejoice!!!! The National Do Not Call List is now live. You can register your telephone number to prevent telemarketers from calling.

Canadian Federal Election

September 13, 2008

A friend writes:

Dear Rad,
Please start commenting on the federal election because right now I need to hear your rational defense of conservative policies. A Stephen Harper majority is giving me nightmares.

If I remember correctly, fear of a Stephen Harper government was the main argument against the Conservatives in the last election, no? Something about Harper wielding The-Clause-Of-Conservative-Destiny (Tenacious D rules!!!).

I think Harper’s Conservatives are as centrist as they come. I don’t think fiscal conservatives (like myself) or social conservatives (pro-family types) or the keep-your-stinkin’-paws-off-of-our-oil-revenue types (Albertans) are licking their chops with the prospect of a Harper majority. We expect small tweaks to policies that have been embraced by both Liberals and Conservatives for decades now and we don’t even expect the tweaks to be in a direction we favor. The current brand of Lost-Liberals, NDP, Bloc, and Green Party promote policies that would give me nightmares if I thought they had any hope of taking power.

I think we all have to get used to the idea of the current Conservatives being in power for quite some time. The fact that the Conservatives were in power this long with a coaltion-free minority government is mind boggling. There is only one centrist choice currently while all the other federal parties have taken a left-ward turn (including the Bloc). 

Splitting votes across different parties/candidates with almost identical policies is not a recipe for success. Just look at the impact of a Ralph Nader or Ross Perot on U.S. politics.

So personally I am not terribly excited by the Canadian federal election. The views of the “left” vs. the “right” I find fascinating. Obama vs. Palin I find fascinating. Whether or not there is any such thing as a “rational defense” I find infinitely fascinating.

“Taking an orphaned animal home is not legal in New Brunswick without a permit,” said Mr. Delong. “And permits are not generally issued for someone to take an animal home to take care of it.”

This from a Globe and Mail story about a man who performed a caesarean section on a pregnant deer that layed dying at the side of the road after being struck by a pick-up truck.

So I’m curious whether the journalist who wrote the article is emphasizing the legal/illegal aspect to add tension to this interesting story. It is hard to believe that the Department of Natural Resources officials in New Brunswick are debating whether or not to charge this man.

So let me get this straight… the Liberals propose a favorable change to the current RESP (Registered Education Savings Plan) rules that passes and the Conservatives turn around and want to squash the bill because it represents an irresponsible tax cut for the wealthy.

Mr. Flaherty defended the government’s approach as adequate and affordable. He said he was unconcerned about a backlash from voting parents excited by the prospect of a new tax break because only wealthier families would benefit from Mr. McTeague’s proposal.

“If you’re rich, it’ll be a popular plan,” Mr. Flaherty said.

Perhaps the backlash will not come from voting parents but from conservatives/libertarians that cringe when politicians use socialist talking points. No Comrade Flaherty, we shall never allow those nasty bourgeoisie take more money from the proletariat.

First those nasty retirees getting filthy rich off of income trusts were knocked down a notch or two now its time to go after parents trying to save for their kids education. Privileged SOBs… you go get’em Jim.