Sunday, April 30, 2006

And...I'm Back!

I have vanquished the dragon. Although beating the masses to take on the dragon was arguably a bigger challenge...

I don't want to knock the WWF too much, especially their volunteers who were very helpful. For the number of people they have to deal with, it's a huge task. But there were a few things that were unclear that didn't have to be. For example, I believe that I read three different start times, 5:30, 6:00 or 7:00, depending on what my source was at the time. I also read that the last climber would start at 10AM, which made me nervous because I just got released to climb right at that time and there were a LOT of people behind me. Most worrisome, they had a different (lower) donation total for me than my individual climber site shows because they hadn't taken into account the offline donation I received. Still not sure how I'll make that one count.

Nonetheless, it was enjoyable. It's a little strange in there because it's no more than a dimly lit, vertical, concrete corridor. And as you can imagine, after a few flights people become far less chatty. The only sound is a sort of constant hum from the pounding of feet on metal steps and laboured, heavy breathing. Creepy.

A nice touch was having drawings and paintings from grade school children, including motivational messages, covering the walls on the landings the entire way. It certainly brightened the place up. The kid who did the "You are here" picture of the tower with a red dot to mark the spot gets a stand-out thumbs up from me; that cracked me right up.

When I reached the top and they called for time cards to be handed in, I'd like to take a minute to thank the @$hole who chose to reach over me rather than wait his turn so that he could shave a second or two off his time. The confusion caused by that was appreciated, since I nearly ended up getting the wrong card back. And to think that by society's rules, if I'd elbowed you in the face and sent you tumbling down the stairs behind me, I'd be the one looking like the bad guy, even though you deserved it. What a country, eh?

A couple of other notes/suggestion/advice:

To fellow climbers: Just accept when you're about to be passed. I know it's a little demoralizating, because at some point I got passed by a friggin' 12-year old (estimated). Yeah, it hurts the old morale, but deal with it rather than maintain your ground and slow someone else down. Really now.

To non-climbers: Pick another friggin' day to visit. Seriously. The tourist area is jammed full of sweaty post-climb'ers. I'm dying for a bottle of water, and you're standing around gawking at pictures. There are 365 days in the year. Can you not show up on a different one? No? Then please, just go a little later. By about noon, everyone had cleared out. Then you have the entire place to yourself. Play on the glass floor to your heart's content.

Speaking of 12-year olds...something that jumped out at me was the high number of young people there. That was fantastic. I don't know if the older crowd typically shows up earlier to climb, but even if that's so, the number of climbers in their teens to early 20's was staggering. Walking along the looooooooong line-up to register I commented to my unoffical photographer that I thought I was the oldest person there at 35. How great was it to see that many young people involved in something like this?

That photographer, by the way, was unable to fulfill his duties because the line-up to the elevators up was so long and slow that I actually beat him up there. Another logostical snafu. So I don't have a picture of my arrival, unfortunately. Ah well. We'll know for next time. I have to admit that it was still sharp to walk through the door to applause from strangers, especially since at that point I was feeling like an extra from "Night of the Living Dead". There's a little something that they don't tell you on the site; when you have your time card punched, they direct you towards the exit door...which leads to about another five flights of stairs for some reason so that you can reach the main tourist area. Good one!

And so it's done. I look forward to seeing my official time. My time card read 22:13, with which I was pretty pleased. I didn't stop and I kept a steady pace throughout so I was pretty confident that I was beating the "average" mark of 30-40 minutes but I had no idea by how much.

One last thank you: The Toronto Argonauts cheerleader auditions were in my hotel that morning. I don't know who scheduled that right there and then, but thank you. Thank you thank you thank you. :-)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

And I'm Off!

This will likely be my last posting before I leave for the CN Tower Climb. I want to take another second to thank the friends, family and friends of family who pitched in and supported me. I was concerned that my enthusiasm for this thing would be met with a collective yawn, but that hasn't been the case and I appreciate it.

I want to single out the folks at Keller Williams Ottawa Realty who were so quick and generous with their pledge that I had to change my goal almost right away! They are a strong supporter of the Harmony House Women's Shelter and that's something I'm going to bear in mind when my time comes to return the favour.

Pole to Pole

Darn! Only people between 18 and 28 can take part in this!!

Starting November 2006 at the South Pole, this second Pole to Pole journey will travel north 35,000 kilometers for eighteen months by ski, foot, sail, bicycle, canoe and kayak to the North Pole.

This journey will be undertaken by two teams of twelve youth from countries around the globe. One Team will undertake the first half of the journey and then pass the responsibility to the second Team which will complete the journey to the North Pole. Two members of the first Team will accompany the second Team providing a continuous conection from one Pole to another.

Oh, man, if I wasn't in my 30's I would SO be there!

Well, not really...I'll climb the CN Tower and buy more trees and fluorescent bulbs. That's more my speed.

Fascinating trip though...

A Million Trees, A Million Dreams

I've never heard of Shaklee before, but surfing from a link provided in a newsletter I subscribe to (Ideal Bite) led me to their site. I'm digging this program they have recently started...

In honor of the Shaklee Corporation’s 50th Anniversary, Shaklee will begin a North American tree-planting campaign to take place across the United States and Canada and last throughout the entire year. Shaklee Corporation’s more than 750,000 Distributors will organize tree-planting events in their respective communities – at parks, schools, and other public areas. The company’s goal is to plant more than one million trees throughout North America to help offset a significant portion of the CO2 the company must produce to conduct business. At the same time, Shaklee wants to raise public awareness of global climate change and the need to address it.

It seems at least a portion of their tree planting will be done by American Forests. I can't link directly to their specific campaigns, but if you click on the "Plant Trees Now" link at the top left, you'll see them listed. The Shaklee one is at the very bottom. A buck a tree? I can swing for a few...

Now I chose the "Donate in Canada" option, but the online purchase option does not allow me to enter a Canadian postal code as opposed to a zip code. So I entered a fake one. It also made my phone number a "required" field, which I didn't care for. A bit of a bother, but I'll follow up. They gave me a link by which I can track my order. Makes it sound like they're mailing multiple trees to me.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Bullfrog Delayed.

I was all gung-ho to go Bullfrog this past weekend, but Christine nixed it. It seems that electricity prices are going to increase soon and she wants to know by how much before we choose to add to it some more willingly.

So I showed her! I bought another one of those compact fluorescent lights and put it in the lamp on my side of the bed! I will not be denied!

Ah well. What's another month? Besides, it seems the folks at Bullfrog are also climbing the CN Tower, so maybe I'll get to say hello (though I suspect that they're doing the team challenge on Thursday). If I do, I'll share with them the most common feedback I get when I tell anyone that we're considering this change: "How do I know they really get their power from cleaner sources?"

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Victoria's Dirty Secret

Damn...I was expecting something...different from this website, but this is still interesting. Just differently.

In 2004 the environmental group Forest Ethics cast a spotlight on a few major catalog distributors that did not, the group felt, use enough recycled paper in their mailings. Eventually they focused on Limited Brands' Victoria's Secret; which mails out about 395 million lingerie catalogs annually. They're "one of the biggest destroyers," says Tom O'Leary, a spokesman for Forest Ethics and "they're a sexy target, admittedly." According to the group, much of the paper used by the Victoria's Secret catalog is from Canadian Forests.

For it to halt its campaign against the lingerie outfit -- which includes rallies and the Web site -- Forest Ethics demands that Victoria's Secret increase the recycled content of its catalogs and make sure its suppliers meet standards set by watchdog NGO Forest Stewardship Council. Forest Ethics has also called for Victoria's Secret to end its relationship with supplier International Paper.

Limited Brands spokesman Anthony Hebron declined to comment on where the paper for its catalogs originates or whether activism could cause the company to rethink its contract with International Paper. However, he says that since 2004, Victoria's Secret has increased the post-consumer recycled paper content of its clearance catalogs -- about 12% of the total number of catalogs -- to 80% from 20%. "We're going to increase it in the rest of the books," Hebron says. "We're going to do the right thing but we're not going to be pinned down by a date."

Organic Earth Day

This site provides a neat little way to spread some simple tips for going organic.

I wish it had been a little better publicized but on Sparks Street here in Ottawa yesterday several organizations including the IFAW and the Sierra Club of Canada had booths and tables set up in order to display themselves a little bit. One such was for Project Porchlight which handed out free Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs and I got me one. Yay! So I'm going to go and install that in the backyard right now.

It all started on the Internet. In August, 2004 Porchlight Co-founder Stuart Hickox was looking for an energy efficient refrigerator and ended up on the Energy Star web site.

That's where he discovered the statistic that forms the basis of the Porchlight campaign: If every household in Canada replaced just one regular light bulb with a compact fluorescent, the reduction in pollution would be the equivalent of taking 66,000 cars off the road.

A few days later, Stuart asked his friend Mike, "How hard can it be to get everyone in Canada to change one light bulb?"

And so it began.

Friday, April 21, 2006

From Tuxedos to Wool Sweaters.

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

A worldwide army of little old ladies has found some far more appreciative recipients than grandchildren for their handknitted woollen jumpers.

Their loving efforts to help sick little penguins off the southern coast of Australia have given new meaning to the term penguin suit.

About 26,000 little, or fairy, penguins - which at up to 33cm tall are the world's smallest penguin species - make their home on and around Philip Island Nature Park, a major tourist attraction about 80km south-east of Melbourne.

Each evening at sunset, up to 2,000 penguins swim ashore at Summerland Beach and waddle up to their sand-dune burrows, delighting more than half a million visitors each year.

But every month, nature park volunteers find one or two penguins covered in oil.

And occasionally a major spill leaves hundreds in peril.

A German shipping company was last year fined more than $1 million for a 2003 spill at Philip Island that covered 12km of the coast, coating 24 penguins and killing three.

It was the latest of about half a dozen significant spills to have plagued the area in the last decade, including one in December 2001 that coated 360 penguins and another in 2000 that affected more than 200 and killed 12.

It's at these times that the grey army's knitting skills come in handy.

Usually the little penguins' dark blue waterproof feathers keep their skin absolutely dry and able to cope with the bitterly cold water of Bass Strait.

But the oil - as well as its removal process - interferes with their natural insulation, and the penguins, who swim straight to shore after encountering a spill, are usually cold, hungry and highly distressed when they are found, program coordinator Lyn Blom said.

Despite the volunteers' best efforts, until a few years ago casualties were high.

But that changed in 1999 when the nature park put out a call for knitters to turn their attention from snowflake sweaters and tea cozies to penguin jumpers.

The doll size, tight-fitting 100 per cent wool sweaters keep the penguins warm during the rehabilitation process and stop them preening and ingesting the poisonous oil, and lifts their survival rate to about 98 per cent.

Getting the jumpers on can be a struggle as the one kilogram animals are more feisty than they look, Ms Blom said.

"They look small and cute, but they have small person syndrome and they can be nasty," she said.

"They peck and they fight. You have to be pretty strong to survive in the ocean, they have to be pretty savvy and look after themselves and they do."

Distressed penguins might not care about the latest vogue colours, but that doesn't stop Ms Blom's troop of committed volunteers - mostly ladies in their "autumn years" with plenty of spare time - letting their creativity swim free.

The knitters continually push the fashion envelope with matching bride and groom outfits, AFL teams, and, from one elderly English woman, "the whole Manchester United soccer team".

Ornate jumpers with accessories the penguins might catch their bills on are used to dress stuffed penguin toys and are sold in the gift shop to raise money for the penguin rehabilitation centre.

Jumpers arrive in packages from all over the world, but the needles fly fastest in Canada and the United Kingdom, with United States and Norway also proficient pullover producers, Ms Blom said.

East Ballina local Theresa Robertson recently added about 15 of the "fancy" variety to Ms Blom's collection.

"I did a Balmain black and gold jumper, because I'm a Balmain rugby league fan," she said.

"I did all the clubs in Sydney, like the Penrith and North Sydney clubs. My husband told me the colours. They turned out really nice."

"I thought it would be nice to see all those penguins in all those little club jumpers, them running around in the football club colours."

The retiree and experienced knitter made one jumper a night sitting in front of the television. Each takes about four hours.

But the most prolific donor is a woman from Port Augusta, who has knitted 10 jumpers every fortnight - 260 a year - for the past three years, while members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Coffs Harbour recently passed the 1,600 mark.

And after the BBC put out a request for penguin jumpers, Ms Blom said she picked up three whole bails from customs.

"People really get into it," she said.

"Lots of lovely old ladies love it when people ask them what they are knitting, and they say `it's a jumper for a penguin'.

"Once the word goes out, you get plenty of helpers. The knitting needles started and they've never stopped."

Yahoo! Indeed


SANTA CLARA, Calif., April 19, 2006 - Global internet service leader Yahoo! has joined the Santa Clara Green Power renewable energy program. Yahoo! now purchases 804,000 kWh of clean renewable energy credits, derived from new wind and solar generation sources in California, equivalent to one quarter the annual output of one large-scale wind turbine.

Santa Clara Green Power is a voluntary renewable energy program offered by Silicon Valley Power (SVP) to all residential, commercial, and industrial customers within Santa Clara as a way to support energy generated from 100% clean wind and solar power resources at a low additional cost of 1.5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

This wind and solar energy commitment is in line with Yahoo! for Good, the company's community relations program. In addition to energy conservation programs already in place, renewable energy is a new benefit to Yahoo!'s overall energy footprint. This commitment prevents the annual release of more than 800,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, a key greenhouse gas. The environmental benefit of a purchase this size is equivalent to planting 108 acres of forest or removing 70 cars from the road for a year.

The World's Sexiest Vegetarian!

Cast your vote!

Good thing they don't have a write-in vote, or I'd dominate this thing.

All right, maybe not dominate...hopefully show up somewhere. I'd like to think I can beat out John Cleese and Leonard Nimoy on the "sexy scale".

Sexiest vegetarian? Illogical.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Your THIT in the WWF's Photo Mosaic!

There aren't really a great deal of good pictures of me out there, but I did submit one anyway. Hopefully I get some primo real estate on the mosaic.

My confirmation e-mail also added the following:

"Help protect the forest in every day life - when buying wood products make sure you look out for the FSC-label. FSC wood is produced sustainably while respecting people and nature."

Forest Stewardship Council

Largest Wind Power Purchase in Ontario.

I believe that not everyone is a huge fan of Wal-Mart, however I have to tip my IFAW ballcap for this move...

Wal-Mart Canada today announced that it has made the largest commercial purchase of green power in Ontario's history. In partnership with Bullfrog Power, Wal-Mart will purchase 39,000 MWhrs of green power over a three year period. In the first year alone, this purchase will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 7,000 tonnes.

Bullfrog Power, Ontario's first 100% green electricity retailer, sources power exclusively from wind and low-impact hydro generators that meet or exceed the federal government's Environmental Choice(M) Program EcoLogo(M) standard for renewable electricity. Wal-Mart's decision to support clean renewable power is a component of the company's comprehensive environmental strategy that includes a commitment to reducing emissions across its Canadian operations.

"Wal-Mart Canada is demonstrating its leadership through this multi-year purchase of green power," said Tom Heintzman, President, Bullfrog Power. "By supporting clean, renewable power in Ontario, Wal-Mart is taking meaningful action to reduce its carbon footprint and help combat the environmental and health consequences of air pollution in the province."
In 2006, the following SAM'S CLUB and Wal-Mart stores will be bullfrogpowered, meaning their electricity usage and associated greenhouse gas and smog-inducing emissions will be offset through an equivalent purchase of green power: Pickering, Collingwood, Toronto (St. Clair & Runnymede), and Cambridge.

Also a nice reminder that our day to go Bullfrog is coming soon...

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Come Again?

Nothing Earth-shattering, but something at the end of this press release caught my eye...

YARMOUTH PORT, Mass., April 18 /U.S. Newswire/ -- This week, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius signed a bill that will make Kansas a safer place and help prevent tragedies like Haley Hilderbrand's death from occurring. The bill, S 578, will ban the ownership and possession of dangerous exotic cats -- lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars and bobcats -- bears and venomous snakes and IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare - ) has lobbied vigorously for its passage.

Under the new law, exhibitors will be required to have a USDA license and will be held to state regulations including $250,000 in liability insurance and a strict no-contact policy between members of the public and these dangerous, wild animals.

"This legislation is a critical step in protecting public safety in Kansas and is a tribute to the efforts of Haley Hilderbrand's family, said IFAW campaigner Josephine Martell. "IFAW plans to use this momentum, with the support of Haley's family, to further protect the American public and ensure the welfare of big cats across the country by campaigning for legislation at the federal level."

In a statement released by Haley's parents, Ronda and Mike Good said, "This legislation was not just a reaction to Haley's death, several incidents have occurred over the years in Kansas and in many other states both children and adults have been killed or seriously injured. Haley's death was just the most recent tragedy and hopefully the last in Kansas."

Since 1999, there have been at least six major big cat incidents in Kansas including:

-- In 1999, at the Safari Zoological Park a woman was severely mauled by an adult tiger after it reached through the cage and pulled her arm in

-- In 1999, in Wichita, a 5 year-old child was severely mauled by a five-month-old tiger and received 20 stitches in the throat to close a near fatal wound

-- In 2001, in Oskalooska, a police officer shot a privately owned, escaped tiger as it crouched to attack him

-- In August 2005, Haley Hilderbrand was killed by an adult tiger while posing for her senior photos in Mound Valley.

Kansas isn't the only state with a big cat problem. Since 1990, in the U.S. alone, big cats have killed 13 people and mauled nearly 100 others. There are an estimated 10,000 tigers kept as pets in the U.S., more than twice as many that live in the wild.

About IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare)

Founded in 1969, IFAW works around the globe to protect animals and their habitats and to create a better world for animals and people. To learn how to help, please visit

10,000? That can't be right, can it?

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Fries With That?

From BBC News, the world's most expensive sandwich...I'll stick with my tomato/cuke from MYO, thank you.

Hungry shoppers are being offered the chance to eat a gourmet sandwich, but the £85 price tag might be too much for some to swallow.

The McDonald sandwich - named after its creator Scott McDonald, the chef at London department store Selfridges - is said to be the world's most expensive.

Its cost is down to the Wagyu beef that makes up most of the filling, packed in a 24-hour fermented sour dough bread.

There have been at least five advance orders placed for the 21oz (595g) meal.

Wagyu cattle are one of the most expensive breeds in the world.

The Japanese cows are raised on a special diet, including beer and grain.

They are supposed to be regularly massaged with sake, the Japanese rice wine, to tenderize the flesh.

Mr McDonald denied his creation was a "sandwich for snobs", saying its beauty was in its simplicity.

"The flavours marry, it's not complicated - albeit a little bit rich," he told BBC London.

Food and catering director at Selfridges on Oxford Street, Ewan Venters, who commissioned the sandwich, said they expected it to be a hit with local "foodies".

"I think if you are a food lover, this represents great value for money," he said.

"Some of the finest ingredients from around the world have been used to create this fabulous sandwich."

The ingredients of the sandwich are: Wagyu beef, fresh lobe foie gras, black truffle mayonnaise, brie de meaux, rocket, red pepper and mustard confit and English plum tomatoes.

Big Problem, Simple Solution.

An article by Abid Aslam of, March 31st, 2006

Alongside the war in Iraq, Americans worry most about U.S. dependence on foreign oil, a leading pollster said Thursday.

While most appeared fatalistic over problems like job outsourcing, around half said the government can do something about energy dependence, according to a survey run by Daniel Yankelovich, funded by the Ford Foundation, and published by the Council on Foreign Relations in its journal Foreign Affairs.

Environmentalists appeared to validate that sentiment, separately highlighting rapid growth in homespun energy alternatives and urging policymakers to boost support for the sector.

Almost 90 percent of the 1,000 Americans canvassed in January for the Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index said dependence on foreign energy jeopardized national security.

Forty-six percent gave policymakers a failing grade for their efforts to wean the nation off foreign oil and natural gas.

And 55 percent said they worried that foreign conflicts would drive up oil prices or cut off supplies. Only 42 percent said so last August but since then, U.S. consumers have been buffeted by a hurricane-induced slump in domestic oil production, tension in foreign oil fields, and record oil industry profits.

Yankelovich, chairman of nonpartisan pollsters Public Agenda, said those figures constitute a ''tipping point.''

''The oil-dependency issue now meets all the criteria for having reached the tipping point: an overwhelming majority expresses concern about the issue, the intensity of the public's unease has reached significant levels, and the public believes the government is capable of addressing the issue far more effectively than it has until now,'' Yankelovich wrote in an analysis of the survey.

Only the Iraq war achieved that benchmark when his organization conducted a similar poll last August.

The issue could lose some political steam were the price of gasoline to fall in coming months, he acknowledged, ''but with supplies of oil tight and geopolitical tensions high, public pressure is likely to grow.''

President George W. Bush showcased several proposals to reduce U.S. dependence on Middle East oil during his State of the Union speech at the end of January. The media have depicted those measures as generally insufficient.

Alternatives to oil and natural gas have been gaining ground in the U.S. energy market, inspiring leading environmentalists to declare that energy markets are in for a seismic shift.

''The question for oil executives is whether you're in the oil business or the energy business,'' Christopher Flavin, president of the Worldwatch Institute, told industry chiefs last September at the World Petroleum Congress in Johannesburg, South Africa.

To be sure, oil accounts for about 30 percent of global energy use while renewable alternatives--power wrung from the sun, tide, wind, farm waste, and heat held under Earth's surface--make up a scant two percent.

According to environmental and market analysts, however, investment in and the market share of renewable energy sources have grown apace.

In particular, ''wind energy is emerging as a centerpiece of the new energy economy because it is abundant, inexpensive, inexhaustible, widely distributed, clean, and climate-benign,'' meaning that it does not add to global warming, said Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute. Scientists blame global warming for increases in storms, floods, and droughts as well as the spread of tropical diseases in temperate zones.

Last year, U.S. wind-generating capacity grew 36 percent to 9,149 megawatts. It could expand by another 50 percent this year, Brown said.

According to Brown, a pioneer in his field, enough wind energy can be harnessed from three states--North Dakota, Kansas, and Texas--to satisfy national electricity needs.

All at falling prices.

The cost of wind-generated electricity has fallen from 38 cents per kilowatt-hour in the early 1980s to 4-6 cents today, Brown said.

Indeed, many consumers of 'green electricity'--wind energy, for the most part--now pay less for their electricity than do customers using conventional power.

''When Austin Energy, the publicly owned utility in Austin, Texas, launched its GreenChoice program in 2000, customers opting for green electricity paid a premium,'' said Brown. ''During the fall of 2005, climbing natural gas prices pulled conventional electricity costs above those of wind-generated electricity.''

''This crossing of the cost lines in Austin and several other communities is a milestone in the U.S. shift to a renewable energy economy,'' he added.

Austin Energy buys wind-generated electricity under 10-year, fixed-price contracts and passes this stable price on to its GreenChoice subscribers, Brown explained.

Among customers signing up for the option were corporate majors Advanced Micro Devices, Dell, IBM, Samsung, and 3M.

In the public sector, the Round Rock, Texas school district expects to save local taxpayers $2 million over 10 years by switching to green electricity, Brown said.

Despite media coverage that has focused on opposition to large wind turbine installations in places like Cape Cod, he added, most locales have welcomed the technology and commercial wind farms have been set up in 30 states.

He cited the example of upstate New York, where dairy farmers in Lewis County near Lake Ontario embraced the 195-turbine Maple Ridge Wind Farm--and the $5,000-$10,000 annual royalty offered for each of the turbines on their land, which they still could use for pasture or other productive purposes.

''Rural communities welcome wind farms because they provide income to farmers and ranchers, skilled jobs, cheap electricity, and additional tax revenue to upgrade schools and maintain roads,'' said Brown.

Policymakers in Washington could aid the growth of renewable energy--and help America outgrow its oil dependence--by preserving or enhancing incentives such as the production tax credit, aimed at offsetting subsidies to fossil fuels and nuclear power, Brown said.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Ecologist Not Just Gathering Dust.

I love stories about someone turning garbage into something useful. It's a lengthy story, but interesting in that respect. The gentleman's site is here.

KIBERA, KENYA -- In her tiny mud-walled home outside Nairobi, Zainaba Adhiambo shows off the ash remaining in her charcoal-burning stove called a jiko, the only appliance in the dark unventilated kitchen.

Like most of the 700,000 residents of Kibera, Africa's largest slum, Ms. Adhiambo relies on her jiko for both heating and cooking. She says coal-smoke used to fill her home, staining furniture and affecting her four small children. But not any more.

Now she uses an innovative briquette made from the dust waste of traditional charcoal manufacturing. The brainchild of Canadian ecologist and entrepreneur Elsen Karstad, Chardust briquettes are providing part of the solution to a complex health and environmental problem affecting Kenya and much of Africa.

Most charcoal in Kenya is from wood illegally cut from public forests and burned under mounds of soil to carbonize it.

It's a $270-million business and provides a modest living for thousands in a country where unemployment is at 60 per cent. But it comes with a heavy impact on forests, and ecologists say the industry is likely not sustainable long-term.

There is also a health risk of burning the cheap but crude charcoal, which releases thick smoke and sparks that can cause house fires. The World Health Organization says smoke from stoves and fires kills 1.6 million women and children in Africa every year.

While buckets of smooth, round Chardust briquettes sell for 20 shillings a bucket (about 30 cents), five shillings more than the rough chunks of regular charcoal, customers such as Ms. Adhiambo say it is worth the price because it is cleaner and burns longer.

"For one bucket [of Chardust] you can compare it with maybe three buckets of [regular] charcoal," she said.

After receiving $132,000 from the World Bank last year, Chardust has partnered with a community-based organization in Kibera to train residents to collect the dust from charcoal vendors, which it hauls away to be made into briquettes.

Stephen Njuguna, the Chardust employee in charge of the Kibera project, pointed to the sooty waste outside a charcoal vendor's stall, which, he said, blows everywhere and clogs up drainage pipes if left unused.

"What we are collecting here is the fine material that has been properly carbonized," he said.

That means once it's made into briquettes, it won't spark or smoke.

The project has made work for dozens of Kibera residents such as Mary Masitsa, who earns 4,000 shillings a month to work at one of Chardust's collection and sales sites.

It's less than $70 a month, but Ms. Masitsa says it's more than she used to make selling water.

At Chardust's plant in Nairobi's Karen neighbourhood, Mr. Karstad walked proudly through rows of hundreds of racks covered in briquettes being dried by the sun.

Raised in Guelph, Ont., he first came to Kenya as a high-school student in 1971. He returned to research hippopotamus ecology, and decided to stay.

The idea for Chardust was born five years ago when Mr. Karstad was trying to find an ecologically sensitive way to keep chickens warm.

He was able to make charcoal from organic waste such as coffee-bean husks, but not on a scale large enough to make for a viable business. Then he noticed the piles of black charcoal dust at wholesaler sites and saw an opportunity.

Today, Chardust sells eight tonnes of briquettes a day, has annual revenues of $200,000 and employs 70 people. The business also helps charcoal wholesalers by paying them about $40 a truck load for what was once waste they had to dispose of themselves.

Six feet 4 inches tall and clad in khakis with a large caribou belt buckle, Mr. Karstad pulled out a notepad and eagerly listed Chardust's ecological achievements.

Since 2000, he said, he has produced enough briquettes to save "the equivalent of 81,000 tonnes of trees, or a 380-hectare acacia forest." But, he is quick to add, it is also a viable profit-making venture.

Wood fuels such as charcoal make up 80 per cent of Kenya's primary fuel needs, and that has little chance of changing soon.

Mr. Karstad said he a pragmatist trying to bring some efficiency to an ultimately unsustainable industry.

"When people talk about controlling the trade, they're not thinking about the number of people that they're going to be putting out of work," he said. "And we're doing the opposite. We're actually proving that there is an alternative."

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Big-Ass Rabbit.

Get a load of this thing...

The Urban Legends Reference Page identifies it (the e-mail going around with this story) as being true. Read on:

Origins: The above-displayed photograph and accompanying information were taken from a 3 February 2006 New York Post article. The critter pictured is German Giant, an angora hare belonging to German breeder Hans Wagner. The extraordinarily large hare weights 17 lbs., measures 17 inches high on all fours, and stands over three feet tall on his hind legs.

According to the Post article:
To find out how unusual Wagner’s wabbit is, The Post contacted Six Bells Rabbitry in Arvada, Colo.

"That's a huge animal. That's amazing," said breeder Michelle Jones. "In the States, it's hard to get them past 12 to 15 pounds."

How did German Giant get so big?

"I don't feed him an unusual diet," said Wagner. "He goes through more than his brothers and sisters, but he eats the same food mix. His favorite food is actually lettuce. He can never get enough of it."

Herr Hare is unusual in another way, he noted. "Unlike some other rabbits I've had, he’s really a gentle character — a gentle giant."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Solar Powered Mulching Mower

Solar Powered Mulching Mower

Sun-powered mulch mower does more with less. Envision yourself power mowing your lawn without oil, gas, finicky pull-cords, choking exhaust or deafening engine roar ever again. The Solar Powered Mulching Mower makes that dream come true with a delightfully quiet, thoroughly dependable Black & Decker electric engine that runs on the sun. Featuring all of the positives and none of the negatives of polluting gas mowers, it keeps lawns looking sharp with a 19" mulching blade that sends nutrient-laden cuttings back to your lawn (not a landfill) for increased vitality.

And at a mere $834.75 Canadian, it's like they're giving them away! Neat idea but smothered by the cost.

Planet Organic

Planet Organic

Never heard of these guys. The have locations out West, out East but don't seem to have much going on in between, unfortunately. Appreciate the effort here though...

PLANET ORGANIC MARKETS (a division of Planet Organic Health Corp (TSX-V, POH)), Canada’s leading natural and organic supermarket chain, has become a part of the growing number of businesses harnessing wind power. In an effort to ramp up its environmental efforts, the company has purchased wind power for all their computers.

Planet Organic Markets has signed an agreement to buy electricity from the Pembina Institute, a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to sustainable energy solutions. The bulk purchase for 24- Megawatt hours of wind energy is equivalent to 24 tonnes of CO2 emissions. This is equal to taking 20 average cars off the road for an entire year!

In addition to that, the "healthy recipes" link at the top left seems interesting. I'll have to give it a longer look the next time I'm trying to think of a meal to botch.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Green Communities Canada

Thinking about moving into a new home recently brought these guys to my attention again (click on logo for link). They have a number of link among their member list (based on region), including one for EnviroCentre which I find interesting.

EnviroCentre can help you get a government grant to conserve energy while making more your home comfortable and healthier to live in. Getting our advice really is the best thing to do because it will help ensure that your money is invested in the most cost-effective way to reduce your space heating and cooling bills. If you're building a new house, our New Home Service can help you make it as energy-efficient as an R-2000 house without paying the certification fees.

Something to bear in mind when the time comes.

Friday, April 07, 2006

The Isaac Foundation

Just around the time I got the Renegade DoNations thing set up, where people could buy tickets to Ottawa Renegades football games and donate them to youth-oriented charities, I contacted the public relations department of the company I work for to find out the policy regarding charitable donations.

Would they help out and purchase tickets to donate? Paraphrased response: "'fraid not. The funds themselves are going to the football team, and they're not a charity".

He obviously hasn't been reading the papers. But I could see his point anyway.

Then I was going to climb the CN Tower! Surely they'd find an opportunity there!

Paraphrased response: "We only match direct donations, we don't match pledges".

Ah! Never mind the fact that I don't actually touch the online donations and that their pledge would go straight to the WWF. There's no real difference there, besides terminology (pledge vs donation) and I didn't see his point in this case. But what am I going to do? Argue??

No, but I'll certainly keep at 'em...

One of the members of Renegade Nation made us aware today of a Foundation created to "Raise money to support research into MPS VI", The Isaac Foundation. Her grandson has this condition.

I'm going to look into what my employer needs from me to GUARANTEE a match from them, then proceed. I'd said that I would find a few coins to donate every "early" pay, and I sometimes struggle to come up with one. Not this time.

And I mean, look at this kid! Tell me he's not Renegade Nation all over! Whooooo!!

PETA Kills Animals!

These were the guys that blew the whistle on Iams. right?

The best thing about the internet is that it gives everyone a voice, and the worst thing about it is that it gives everyone a voice (who first said that? It's very good...). Or said otherwise, any idiot can put together a website. Hell, I did!

I'll leave you to make up your minds on the original post bout Iams, one Jennifer leaves a couple of other links for you to look into. A good ol' Google search produced this one, which I believe may support my theory that someone got pinched and cleaned up their act. See the e-mail traffic around mid-page.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Our Green House Effect.

I don't believe I'm giving anything away here, because I heard Christine mention it to someone, but we're working towards moving out of our current house around this time next year.

Christine heard about the folks at Tamarack Homes from a co-worker, but didn't realise at the time that they build only Energy Star qualified homes. She found that out while reading about them in the paper. That was obviously an additional draw.

We dropped by Findlay Creek the other day and though Christine had no real intention of going after one of their end units, she was pretty blown away by the model. I was pretty impressed too, truth be told. So we're working towards that goal over the next few months, and if/when the time comes, we plan on taking the opportunity to green-up real good.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Interesting Coincidence!

Feel Good Friday-Friday April 28th
Shop to Support Earth Day Canada-EcoKids! Program

Grassroots will be supporting the Earth Day Canada-EcoKids Program this month by donating 10% of our pre-tax sales on Feel Good Friday. On April 28th please shop at Grassroots to help support the work of Earth Day Canada EcoKids is Earth Day Canada's environmental education program for youth who care about the planet.

Since 1994, the EcoKids program has empowered Canadian youth with environmental knowledge and hands-on activities, and presented this information in fun, exciting ways that increase awareness and encourage active community involvement. Our award-winning EcoKids web site -- the centrepiece of the program -- is an innovative, interactive environmental web site for children, their families, and educators in Canada and around the world. To visit the EcoKids website go to

Earth Day Canada (EDC) has been inspiring Canadians to improve the state of the environment since 1990. EDC is a not-for-profit environmental charity that specializes in educating people about current environmentalissues and helping them find solutions. For more information, visit

That's the day I arrive in Toronto for the CN Tower climb. Maybe I can check the place out and find a little something for Christine, and maybe something not too girly to pick up for myself...

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Iams Cruelty Claims.

I'm stunned that I've never come across this before. In case I'm not the only pet owner to have totally missed the boat on this, I'll link the PETA's story about how one of their members went to work for IAMS undercover for a few months. If you find this stuff infuriating, you might want to skip it. Instead, have a look at this list of pet care product companies that claim to not test on animals.

My New Lid Too!

In addition to my new wallet, I also received my IFAW cap. In fact, I believe they arrived the same (Fri)day, which made for a lot of encouragement to save the world that weekend. Again, the pic above is quite representative of the one I bought for myself. Mine's beige with a dark green...bill? Is that what you call the front part that sticks out, that all those hip-hop wannabe punks wear on the side? Anyway, you know what I mean...

The hat itself looks well-made, and...huh...fits well on my head...

Okay, there's only so much you can say about a ballcap. I like it. Only thing I'd like to know is roughly what percentage of my purchase price went to IFAW's programs. I don't really care if it's 10% or 90%, I'm just curious.

My Hemp Wallet!

I've totally forgotten to mention that I received my kick-ass hemp wallet in the mail a couple of weeks ago. I had ordered it from but it was made by Ecolution. It's identical to the above, but I got the dark green version.

I'm very happy with it primarily because it's far less bulky. My old wallet at times would require Greco-Roman wrestling techniques to pull out of my back pocket. It would also create holes in them. Bills are only 2/3 of the length of the thing, to give you an idea of how long it is, yet it folds very easily. There's all kinds of room for cards and such as well, and they don't tend to slide around and/or slip out.

There are a couple of drawbacks though. The change pocket is the most annoying thing. Look at the picture above. Imagine that you're holding the wallet sideways to pull out a bill. What do you think happens if the change pocket is even partially open? Indeed! A glittering, tinkering cascade of copper around your feet. Adn that can be embarassing when it happens as you walk by the porn section of your favourite magazine store. On the way to the sports section, of course.

Also (and this is not a knock on the product as such but it is irritating) this thing is made with the American market in mind. Americans don't have coins for their $1 and $2. Canadians haul far more coinage around, but this thing isn't designed for that. Trying to pull out 39 cents from there while in line at the convenience store holding a bag of vegetable chips and a V8-Splash (Strawbery/Kiwi. A great source of vitamin C, I might add...) is about as easy as Chinese calculus.

Regardless, I'm pleased with my purchase. Ecolution included a small desk calendar as well as promotional material, and going through downbound was seamless. Thumbs up.

One of Canada's Oldest Zoos Closes After Political and Management Missteps

(CP) - Canadian zoos could have their pick from a menagerie of more than 750 birds and animals after the Quebec City zoo closed Friday, throwing polar bears, parrots and peacocks into an uncertain future.

But some beasts like a pair of grizzly bears are probably too old to be moved, even if a new home can be found for the lumbering orphans. Devastated zookeepers say they have no intention of destroying any animals, but they have yet to hear the shut-down plan from the zoo's owner, the Quebec government.

"We have an obligation to these animals, and there is nobody here who is going to euthanize these animals just because the zoo is closed," keeper Karl Fournier said in an interview.

"You can imagine the international outcry if we started killing animals for such a flimsy reason."

The Jardin zoologique du Quebec suffered for years from management gaffes and chronic deficits. But the zoo also died from the fickle whims of Quebec's political culture, most famously in 2001 when then-premier Bernard Landry rejected millions in federal funding to avoid flying the Canadian flag over the 75-year-old institution.

Landry called the Maple Leaf a "red rag" as he waved off the offer of about $18 million to help pay for renovations. The project went over budget by about the same amount and the zoo never quite recovered.

"There's a whole saga of blunders," said Bob Patenaude, the zoo's veterinarian.

More recently, the federal Conservative government refused to help despite the claim by many Quebec City residents that local Tory candidates promised during the recent election campaign to bail out the zoo. Josee Verner, the minister in charge of the Quebec City region, says the candidates' words were twisted.

The provincial Liberal government finally decided to pull the plug on the zoo after a secret report that apparently recommended closure.

"We've been bounced around like a political ball for 10 years, and more recently the past three months," said Patenaude.

"We're victims of this whole political game. It's a terrible disappointment to see how the political system has run this into the ground."

Quebec City's problems weren't all political.

Most Canadian zoos suffer intermittent financial difficulties, falling out of favour with the public and their government financiers before staging dramatic recoveries, often on the back of a spectacular addition like a giant panda or white tiger.

Instead of bringing in spectacular mammals to spark public interest, Quebec City decided to specialize in birds.

After the zoo reopened a few years ago following the renovations, the price of admission was hiked to $25 per adult. Prices were later cut in half but annual attendance dropped from 250,000 in the 1990s to 60,000 by 2005. The zoo ran a $5-million deficit in each of the past three years, covering about half of its operating expenses.

The province estimates closing the zoo will cost $23 million.

The zoo in Winnipeg, a city of a similar size to Quebec City, draws about 400,000 visitors annually with an entry fee of less than $5 for adults and an annual subsidy from the city of about $4 million which covers about 80 per cent of the cost of running the zoo.

The Magnetic Hill Zoo in smaller Moncton, N.B., charges $4.50 to $8.50, depending on the season, and draws 100,000 visitors with a subsidy of a few hundred thousand dollars from the city.

But even these successful zoos face the occasional cash crunch.

"If you look at a zoo being part of a government structure, it comes near the bottom of the food chain, simply because police and fire are essential, but then you get down to parks and zoos," said Bruce Dougan, general manager of the Magnetic Hill Zoo.

"It's a wonderful thing to have, but it's not essential. That's where some of our problems generally lie."

Patenaude said the Quebec City zoo generally operated like a "living museum," recovering about half the cost of running the zoo through admissions and other fundraising.

It's a bargain compared with museums and galleries in the provincial system, Patenaude said.

Winding down the zoo will take months so Patenaude says he's not giving up yet.

"There is a whole logistical nightmare that's out there waiting for us," he said. "Even if the site closes to visitors today, the battle is not over for us."