Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Saving the world a click at a time

Contrary to the belief of some, not everyone in the world is on Facebook. I happen to be among the millions who waste all kinds of time on that site, either by discussing interests in groups, keeping in touch with people I don't see as often as I used to, or ignoring people who are compelled to make the world aware of every time his (or her) kid fills his (or her) diaper or blinks. But the truth is that there remains a significant portion of the population who have managed to avoid these addictions.

I mention this because I joined a group called "Feed a child with just a click". It lists a variety of sites on which sponsors assist charities financially if a visitor just clicks on a button or plays a simple game. As I write this, the group has about three and a half million members (though I can't help but wonder how many actually bother to visit regularly).

Anyway, if you do have a Facebook profile, you can voin the group here. If you are not, and have no interest in being hunted down by people from your past by joining, then I am going to list a few of the ones I find most interesting here.

Let this game show you what a dumb-ass you are at geography while donating water. That's how it worked for me, anyway.

This one also donates water while testing your memory. Starts off ridiculously easy, gets harder and apparently never ends. So far, I've donated a body of water just slightly smaller than Lake Ontario.

Treat this little wooden boy like he's from Pillsbury.

"Your clicks support airtime for IFAW's TV campaign to build public pressure against this cruel and inhumane (seal) hunt." That was the first one I came across, but there's a series of tabs across the top listing a number of other causes.

Create solar energy.

When I clicked this one, I received a message that I helped a woman have surgery on her obstetric fistula. Huh...You're welcome?

I'm sure you get the idea. Now you probably have some free time for the holidays. Get clicking. ;-)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Misleading Food Labels

Preparing a nice, green-as-possible, Christmas meal? These labels may make it encouraging to purchase one product over another, but they may not mean quite what they lead you to believe.

The list is from Consumer's Report, by way of The Daily Green. You'll find that by and large, the reasons they are considered misleading are very similar.

Free-Range or Free-Roaming: You probably most often see this term stamped on eggs, but it's also used on chicken and other meat to suggest that the animal has spent a good portion of its life outdoors. Consumer Reports says, though, that the standards for these terms are weak, and the rule for the label is only that outdoor access be made available for "an undetermined period each day." So those free range eggs could mean that the chicken who laid them lived in a coop where the door was open for five minutes a day.

Natural or All Natural: People often assume this label means organic or healthy. But no standard definition for natural exists. Consumer Reports says the term only has meaning when it's applied to meat and poultry products and means that the items contain no artificial flavoring, colors, chemical preservatives, or synthetic ingredients. But the producer or manufacturer decides whether or not to use it, without having the claims verified.

No Additives: Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher or Consumer Reports, says that a no additives label is often used to imply that a product has not been enhanced with the addition of natural or artificial ingredients. But there is no official definition for the term and it isn't verified when used.

No Animal By-Products: You might see this label on everything from condiments and meat (to indicate the animals were not fed any animal by-products), to cleaning and personal care products. This term is used to suggest that no ingredients are by-products from slaughtered animals. This might be helpful when it's not obvious; natural flavor could come from vegetables or animals, for example. But Consumers Union says the label is tricky because there isn't a standard, precise definition of "animal ingredients" and the label isn't used consistently. It also isn't verified by an outside body.

100% Vegan: Vegans generally avoid animal products for food and clothing, and often want to avoid products that were tested on animals. But this label does not have a standard or consistent definition and isn't verified. Alternatively, a Certified Vegan label is a registered trademark signifying that products are vegan--meaning they contain no animal ingredients or by-products, use no animal ingredients or by-products in the manufacturing process, and are not tested on animals by any company or independent contractor. The logo is administered by the Vegan Awareness Foundation, also known as Vegan Action.

Raised Without Antibiotics: Consumers Union says this term implies that no antibiotics were used in the production of a food product. The USDA has defined it to mean that meat and poultry products came from animals who were raised without the use of low-level or therapeutic doses of antibiotics. But a recent case of this label being used inaccurately by a major poultry producer illustrates some of the problems: there is no formal definition and while the USDA can hold a manufacturer accountable for the claim, no other organization is behind or verifies the claim.

The list is based on U.S. product claims but I am not confident that Canada is any better. As an example, there are questions about the validity of the Health Check symbol. Being that it is promoted by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, it's easy to take it at face value, but apparently their standards are considered low.

We should be able to trust these things.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Plastic or Download?

Speaking of things becoming obsolete in my previous post about magazines (assuming you are viewing this chronogically) reminded me of something I've been meaning to post since about, oh, mid-August or so. Man alive, I have to stop neglecting this little slice of 'net...

I read a statistic recently to the effect that a song is downloaded for free 20 times for every time it is purchased. I don't know if purchasing includes both download and CD, but it is nonetheless a telling stat.

Much like the various forms of reading material discussed earlier, I still prefer to have the real thing on hand. While downloading is obviously "cleaner", I still buy compact discs and will for as long as I am able to. I like having that safety net in case my computer crashes and I lose everything.

This is particulary true because I can not transfer my ITunes files to my MP3 player. Some combination of exclusive deals between all the various companies prevents it. So it's not as though I could transfer and be confident that at least I'll have the music in that format if my computer goes Max Headroom on me.

So still being a CD consumer, and needing to make a trip to Calgary this past August, I wanted some "fresh new spins" (that's DJ talk. Or maybe it's just the one clown on a local radio station trying to sound cool) for the plane ride. I took a stroll over to HMV and left with three new records. Yay!

While sitting in my 40-foot limo on the way home, I noticed something written on my HMV plastic bag. It said...

Once discarded in landfill sites, the exposure to sunlight, oxygen and heat will convert the plastic in this bag into water, carbon dioxide, mineral salt and biomass. Like a fallen leaf it will disappear over time and leave no harmful residue in the soil.

This message was brought to you by EPI Environmental Technology. I would like a clearer definition of "over time", mind you, but still. I like knowing that this is out there, if their claims are legit.

Assuming they are, I would like to see the EPI logo on all grocery store bags as well. We do try to bring our own bags with us when grocery shopping but occasionally forget, or make an unscheduled stop and don't have them on hand. While still not great, this would be...huh...less bad, I guess. I suspect that people who avoid using plastic bags are still very much a minority so perhaps having this specific kind more commonly available would helps significantly.

As far as downloading goes, I am not opposed to it. Far from it. I am all in favour for reasons other than (but in addition to) the environmental aspect.

I have been interested in music since I was about ten. I used to wake up to Sweet's Ballroom Blitz, played from a borrowed eight-track. I'm sure my folks loved that.

And though never a fan of theirs by any stretch, I recall air-guitaring to Kiss' I Love it Loud. Yikes...

Can't go wrong with those genius lyrics...

A memory from earlier still is asking my mum to play The Night Chicago Died by Paper Lace repeatedly.

I was basically a toddler. Not exactly a song for a four-year old but it should be pointed out that I didn't speak English back then. Thankfully, otherwise, I might have turned out like John Gotti. Or Vanilla Ice.

In any event, I love music, but I hate the music business. Aside from frequently hearing about bands being screwed over on record deals, I've often felt the same was being done to me.

I'm the obsessive collector type, so when I get into something, I'm a completist; I need to have and know everything. Nothing insults me more, as a music fan, than a "best of" album with two "previously unreleased tracks" included.

Ah, thank you so much for abusing my loyalty. Please picture me with an extended middle finger as I guiltlessly (is that a word? It really should be...) download the two tracks that were not previously deemed good enough for any of the band's studio albums.

Better still is the so-called deluxe edition of records that are the exact same album with perhaps an extra CD with a few live tracks or some such. It's usually released 1-3 months after the...huh...ordinary edition. Of course, being a fan, I bought the original almost right away. So now I would have to pay full price for the extra material and a batch of duplicates.

So while I don't like to see bands suffer from their material being traded freely, I take some joy in knowing that the music industry is scrambling. And I believe (and hope) that before long record companies will be obsolete, or at least drastically reduced in number.

It's always been my understanding that bands make their money from touring, not from record sales, so if more of them are able to continue to be successful without having to deal with the business side of it, more power to them.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Green Living Online

I was made aware of this from a World Wildlife Foundation newsletter from last month. The fall issue of Green Living Magazine is also the first online version. It comes instructions for the less technically-inclined but basically click on the arrows at top left to flip pages, and on the pages themsleves in order to make them large enough to read.

I recall reading an interview with Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee around the time the first Spider-Man movie came out in which he was asked whether he thought the internet would kill comic books. He thought it would not because people prefer to have something "in hand" to read; something they can take to another room in the house or carry with them while travelling.

I agree with him that reading a magazine online is hardly the same, but with laptops and blackberries becoming more and more common, perhaps paper versions have finally met their match. And for a magazine called "Green Living", going online would seem to make sense.

Just one more thing to get used to. ;-)

Edit: I subscribed for future issues, only to find out that the winter ecition is out already. Here it is.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

School of Rock


By Timothy Gardner

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A rock found mostly in Oman can be harnessed to soak up the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide at a rate that could help slow global warming, scientists say.

When carbon dioxide comes in contact with the rock, peridotite, the gas is converted into solid minerals such as calcite.

Geologist Peter Kelemen and geochemist Juerg Matter said the naturally occurring process can be supercharged 1 million times to grow underground minerals that can permanently store 2 billion or more of the 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted by human activity every year.

Their study will appear in the November 11 edition of the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences.

Peridotite is the most common rock found in the Earth's mantle, or the layer directly below the crust. It also appears on the surface, particularly in Oman, which is conveniently close to a region that produces substantial amounts of carbon dioxide in the production of fossil fuels.


They also calculated the costs of mining the rock and bringing it directly to greenhouse gas emitting power plants, but determined it was too expensive.

The scientists, who are both at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in New York, say they could kick-start peridotite's carbon storage process by boring down and injecting it with heated water containing pressurized carbon dioxide. They have a preliminary patent filing for the technique.

They say 4 billion to 5 billion tons a year of the gas could be stored near Oman by using peridotite in parallel with another emerging technique developed by Columbia's Klaus Lackner that uses synthetic "trees" which suck carbon dioxide out of the air.

More research needs to be done before either technology could be used on a commercial scale.

Peridotite also occurs in the Pacific islands of Papua New Guinea and Caledonia, and along the coast of the Adriatic Sea and in smaller amounts in California.

Big greenhouse gas emitters like the United States, China and India, where abundant surface supplies of the rock are not found, would have to come up with other ways of storing or cutting emissions.

Rock storage would be safer and cheaper than other schemes, Matter said.

Many companies are hoping to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by siphoning off large amounts of carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants and storing it underground.

That method could require thousands of miles of pipelines and nobody is sure whether the potentially dangerous gas would leak back out into the atmosphere in the future.

My only concern would be that people would treat this as the miracle cure (note that scientists believe it would "slow" global warming, not stop it). Let's not bother to even try to reduce emissions, we've got our magic rock. Kind of like the people who think that switching to Diet Coke means they can eat whatever they want and lose weight.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Where's Wendell?

If you think you see a wallaby on the loose in the Ottawa Valley and can't believe your eyes, be assured that it's not just a kid in a very realistic Hallowe'en suit. It seems we have a young wallaby running (relatively) wild.

From the Ottawa Citizen:

OTTAWA-A panicked wallaby is on the loose in the Ottawa Valley after Tuesday night's windy storm blew over a tree that broke open the kangaroo and wallaby pen at Saunders Country Critters and Garden Centre in Kemptville.

Five kangaroos and wallabies were originally on the run in North Grenville after the tree took down a six-metre panel in the animals' pen. But only Wendell, a three-year-old Bennett's Red Necked Wallaby, remains on the loose, and was last spotted in Athens, Ont. - more than 80 kilometres southwest of Kemptville -by an elderly woman Thursday morning. And as of last night, there had been three more sightings in the area.

"They saw the opening, hopped out and just kept hopping," said Saunders Country Critters co-owner Carla Saunders, who sounded a little panicked and distraught herself early Thursday morning.

"I feel terrible," she said. "We just want Wendell home."

By Thursday afternoon, when Mrs. Saunders had heard of the first sighting in Athens, she was more hopeful for the animal's safe return.

"It's definitely Wendell," she said, adding that her husband and Country Critters co-owner, Gary Saunders, headed to Athens as soon as he heard and he saw Wendell's tracks for himself.

"The last tracks my husband saw were a four-footed hop, which means he's tired," she added.

The animals were reported missing to the Grenville OPP Wednesday afternoon, but three of them didn't venture too far from home and were easily recovered. Rudy, the kangaroo, was spotted later in the day by neighbours about 15 kilometres from the farm on County Road #44 and quickly brought back home.

As for Wendell, Mrs. Saunders is worried about how long he can last in the cold weather.

"He's a little chunky monkey, so he's got some extra meat and potatoes on him. But that's not going to last him for too long," she said.

Friends and staff of the Saunders have been combing the bush day and night with the hope of uncovering their precious little critter. In addition to the foot patrols, they have also been hanging towels - soaked with the urine of the other kangaroos and wallabies - in the trees around the farm, hoping the familiar scent will draw Wendell home.

Mrs. Saunders said the animal has a terrible sense of direction, so they're trying to attract him by other means, but all attempts have been unsuccessful.

Mrs. Saunders said Wendell only stands about 75 centimetres tall - she described the Bennett's wallaby breed as "kangaroo wannabes" - and would not be dangerous if approached.

If someone spots Wendell, Mrs. Saunders said they should throw a blanket on top of him, grab him by the tail and drop him into a pillowcase, which would simulate the comfort and protection of a mother wallaby's pouch. She also urges that if anyone spots him to call the farm at 613-258-1108.

Another search group will head out to Athens at 6:30 a.m. Friday.

Wendell was born and raised at the farm, so the Saunders' family feels a particular attachment to him, she said.

"They're like members of your family," she said. "He would always greet me with a big hug in the morning."

Mrs. Saunders has been running the farm, exotic zoo and garden centre with her husband since 1992. She said they have never had an animal leave the property.

"I'm hoping that once he hears our voices, he'll settle down and we'll be able to get him."

Edit: Unfortunately, if you have not heard, Wendell was found dead shortly after I posted that story. Mrs Saunders received a mnumber of calls to the effect that Wendell has been seen somewhere or other, but none led to finding him. She does not believe that any of the calls were intended pranks simply people trying to help but providing incorrect information.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Story of Lefty

This is a story that caught my eye earlier today in the Ottawa Citizen. Many of the newsletters I subscribe to, of course, tell tales of abused animals so it's good to be reminded that many people (a majority, I like to think) do feel compassion for animals in distress.

Lefty the Canada Goose at Paul Lindsay Park in Ottawa, October 27, 2008.
Photograph by : Photo by Jean Levac, Ottawa Citizen

Graham Hughes, Ottawa Citizen
Published: Monday, October 27, 2008

OTTAWA - A flood of e-mails and phone calls has prompted Carleton-Mississippi Mills MPP Norm Sterling to try to come to the rescue of Lefty, a young goose that was born with one wing.

The youngster, abandoned by its migrating flock, has been seen swimming around the pond behind Amberwood Golf and Country Club in Stittsville, raising fears among area residents that it will freeze or starve to death. They want it caught and taken to the Wild Bird Care Centre.

Mr. Sterling said Lefty's situation has sparked a lot of feedback to his office. On Friday, staff received 40 to 50 calls and "a bunch of e-mails."

"This morning, we got another 20," he said. "It probably would rank in the top three I would receive in a year...We haven't received near that many calls with regard to the most recent (property assessments), where their properties have been valued at an average of 20 per cent more."

It's the second deformed goose to show up at the club in as many years. Last year, in mid-November, the course's superintendent captured a young wingless goose and turned it over to the centre. There, it was deemed sterile and forever flightless.

On Monday, Mr. Sterling made a private member's statement in the legislature describing the goose's plight and explained he is working with the Canadian Wildlife Service to try to help the bird.

"Since migratory birds are the responsibility of the federal government, I have been in contact with the Canadian Wildlife Service, an agency of Environment Canada, and asked that they do something to help Lefty," he said.

"While I appreciate hearing from my constituents regarding Lefty's fate, I suggest concerned citizens also contact Canadian Wildlife Service directly at 1-800-668-6767."

While he was unsure what could be done to help the bird, Mr. Sterling said: "If we could keep the bird somewhere safe over winter and then put it back on the pond for the kids, that would be wonderful."

He conceded there was a bit of irony in a Conservative MPP helping a bird called Lefty.

"I don't very often go to bat for a lefty, but in this case, there were special circumstances. The NDP guys got quite a kick out of it, actually."

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Go Green Tube

Are you like me? Are you totally fascinated by Stephane Dion's peculiar accent when he speaks English (or a somewhat reasonably facsimile)?

A strange mix of the lawyer in "The Usual Suspects" and the voodoo chick in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series of movies, it has the effect of an auditory train wreck on me; I simply can not pull myself from listening to it.

Well, thanks to Go Green Tube, I can listen to it to my heart's content (which means, basically, until the end of eternity or until Steph or I die, whichever comes first). And I'll save the planet while doing so, and hopefully get some more green tips.

What is Go Green Tube?! Well I'm glad you asked! It's like youtube but...huh...green. Here's what they say:

We believe good actions deserve to be acknowledged and rewarded, so for every video you as a member watch, we will offset a pound of carbon. The more you watch, and the more friends you bring here, the more difference you make!

Well, all right. In addition to Dion's siren-like voice (and I mean more the ambulance or fire truck type of siren than the half-fish, long-haired, topless chicks kind), I'm going to poke around for some more personal tips that I can apply from THIT World Headquarters. Sign up and take a look around, maybe you'll find something you like.

Happy viewing!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

We're #47!

All right, so it doesn't have the same ring as being #1, and we're in a tie with...huh...nine other cars, but you can still take some pride in it when it's an improvement!

Mrs THIT and I bought a car recently. Actually, I believe I bought a car. And I don't drive. We...still need to talk.

But we have a new vehicle and I was curious as to where it ranked on the list of Top 100 Green Cars. Now I know.

What I don't know is whether it's an improvement. I assume it is. This is our old car:

(not really)

I would be curious to know by how much, but that may be difficult to find out. I do know that it scored 69 out of a 100, which is a score I would have killed for in college. I also know that it had started to guzzle gas like Lindsay Lohan chugs vodka so surely we've taken one more small step to saving the planet.

Nice thing: We got to send our car to car heaven. I knew the name rang a bell; I posted it about in April of 2007.

Funny, it was $1000 then and we got $750. Well, regardless, it's better than a kick in the gonads since the car absolutely had to be replaced.

Now we're going to be spoiled because we have all kinds of crazy features. Like..get this...a RADIO!

I kid you not.

Go ahead.

Envy us. :-)

Friday, August 29, 2008

That's more like it, Home Depot!

A while back, I posted about how useless Home Depot had been for us when we moved into our new house (over a year ago...man, time flies...). This recent news makes up for a lot though.

The Home Depot Inc. has started a national program to help people recycle compact fluorescent light bulbs at all of its 1,973 U.S. stores.

The Atlanta-based home improvement retailer's Canada division began a similar program in November 2007. The new program in the United States is the first one made widely available by a retailer, Home Depot said.

Customers can bring in any expired, unbroken compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs, and give them to a store associate at the returns desk. The bulbs will be turned over to an environmental management company for recycling.

"With more than 75 percent of households located within 10 miles of a Home Depot store, this program is the first national solution to providing Americans with a convenient way to recycle CFLs," said Ron Jarvis, senior vice president of environmental innovation for Home Depot.

In a related move, Home Depot (NYSE: HD) also will switch from incandescent bulbs to CFLs in its light fixture showrooms in U.S. stores by fall 2008. The move will save it $16 million a year in energy costs.


Good news, and I didn't know it already existed in Canada.

We have a CFL here that's burnt out. We were told (though I'm not convinced) that as much as it is said that CFLs can last 15-20 years, they can also last just a few weeks or months. Regardless, we have a CFL that needs doing away with and now know how to go about it. Way to get back on the good side, HD!

Change for Good

Recently, I had the misfortune of having to fly on Air Canada.

Actually, that's not entirely accurate. I made the unfortunate decision to fly with them. I needed to get to Calgary and could have flown with Westjet, but for the same price, Air Canada offered an uninterrupted flight.

Or so I thought. We had to land in Winnipeg to deal with a technical issue in the wings. I don't know much about flying, but I do know this: Wings are very useful.

It was interesting to see people's reactions. Most are so used to this kind of service from Air Canada that it gets shrugged or laughed off.

I would I could say I was inbluded in that group. But at least while using up my entire repertoire of French profanity shortly after the announcement was made (and not the lame France French stuff like "merde". The hardcore French Canadian stuff like...well, you know...), I was reminded of an occurence on a flight that sister-to-THIT took earlier this year. She told me about spare change being collected during the flight and how it was meant to be used. I asked the airline about it and here is the response I received:

Cathay Pacific and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) joined forces in 1991 to launch "Change For Good", an inflight fundraising programme designed to collect unused spare change from passengers to help underprivileged children in over 150 developing countries around the world.

Cathay Pacific is delighted to raise almost HK$10 million through the generosity of its passengers in the 2006/07 fundraising year. Most of the money raised will go to UNICEF to help in its projects to improve the lives of underprivileged children around the world. In addition, HK$700,000 of the Change for Good proceeds will be donated to the Cathay Pacific Wheelchair Bank to help local children with neuromuscular diseases in Hong Kong.

To date, Cathay Pacific has raised more than HK$80 million from the "Change for Good" programme.

Coolness. And they're not the only ones. Maybe Air Canada should join the club, as it were. I've contacted them accordingly and hope they see some value to becoming involved in such a program.

Friday, August 15, 2008

What do you get the girl who has everything?

Well, she probably doesn't have a solar-powered bra.

My first thought when I heard about the solar bra was that it had to be a joke. I heard about it on morning radio, and you know that's like. They're all the same. They do little newsbits then end with an outrageous, pointless story, the validity of which has to be questioned (like the time they told the story of a guy whose swimming pool was stolen. That would take some effort!).

Actually, that's not entirely true. My real first thought was that a woman who needs a "powered" bra of any kind will never starve to death. No doubt Maxim magazine will make her famous.

But my second thought was the above. Actually, I still think it's a joke. I'm all for new ideas and concepts, but this is so dumb-assed that it gives fodder for those who think that environmentalists are all obsessive weirdos.

Can't wash it or wear it in the rain. Sounds ideal! I would think that come a point, washing it is pretty much a necessity, but what do I know?

Saturday, August 09, 2008

This post is not about Brett Favre

Not really.

Hey, have you heard? Brett Favre retired, then decided he wanted to keep playing, so he came back, but his team didn't want him, so they traded him to New York and it really sounds like he doesn't want to go there but his only other option is to retire for real this time, I guess.

That run-on sentence finally coming to an end, I want to highlight a sports pet peeve of mine. The frequent claim that pro athletes play "for the love of the game".

Bullshit. How often do you hear of a pro athlete retiring and playing just to play? Like with a local team, for the hell of it, where he makes no money (maybe even pays to play), gets little attention, endorsement deal, perks, etc. I would say quite rarely.

Hey, have you heard? The Olympics are on!

I love the Olympics. If there was a medal for watching the Olympics, I would make my country proud. My e-mail address starts with the grammatically incorrect "teamcanadas" because it was created to receive newsletters from the various sporting organizations (the grammatically correct version was not available).

You want to talk about love of the game? Here you go. There are no guarantees that an athlete will turn an Olympic medal performance into a lucrative career but there they are going through intense preparation for an opportunity to compete.

Get a load of this guy...

...courtesy of Vicky Hall and today's Ottawa Citizen:

Kyle Shewfelt's journey from the seat of a wheelchair to the pinnacle of his sport, the Olympic Games, could very well grace the next installment of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

The Canadian gymnast broke both his legs 11 months ago in training for the world championships in Germany. Today, the reigning Olympic floor exercise champion tumbles back into the spotlight in qualifying action at the National Indoor Stadium.

But talk to Shewfelt and he'll tell you there's an equal -- if not better -- inspirational story on the Canadian men's artistic gymnastics team. His name is Nathan Gafuik. He rooms with Shewfelt on the road.
Gafuik suffers from a rare condition called Addison's disease, which prohibits the body from producing adrenaline.

As a result, he tires easily. He struggles to recover from injuries -- and gymnasts spend virtually their entire lives with all kinds of aches and pains most of us never encounter.
"If he gets into a weird place, you can just tell," Shewfelt said. "His eyes glass over. He gets a little shaky and starts talking weird. You have to get on it right away because he can die. Easily."

Earlier this year, Gafuik split his ear open on the parallel bars during a friendly competition against the United States.

The training staff rushed him to Foothills Hospital in Calgary as a precaution.

"For a normal person like you or I, our adrenaline would kick in," Shewfelt said. "But not for Nathan. His body works against him."
From the tender age of six, Gafuik showed tremendous promise and had the coaches whispering about the future Olympic medallist in their midst. But then Gafuik crashed. At the age of 11, his improvement stopped. And so did his growth.

Other boys turned into men. Gafuik's development was suspended in time. His coach, Tony Smith, couldn't figure out why. No one could, until Gafuik ended up in hospital in 2005 with severe dehydration. The doctors finally came up with an explanation for all the troubles.

The mystery solved, Gafuik could have quit, but he decided to keep chasing his Olympic dream. In 2004, he went to Athens as a reserve gymnast for the Summer Olympics. At one point, his nickname was Alter-Nate, due to his constant role as a spectator for major events. But not now. Along with national champion Adam Wong, Gafuik is considered one of Canada's top all-around gymnasts.

"We've got all his medications at the right level," Smith said. "We downplay the Addison's all time. We try not to use it as a reason for any type of failure."

If Shewfelt ever starts feeling sorry for himself, he looks over at Gafuik and knows he's not the only one who fought daunting adversity to get here.

"What he does with what he has been given in life is pretty phenomenal," Shewfelt said. "He's an inspiration."

Indeed. So how's he doing early on?

The strongest Canadian team ever assembled crashed out of the men's Olympic artistic gymnastics competition Saturday at the qualifying stage. Defending Olympic floor exercise gold medallist Kyle Shewfelt? Done. The team itself? Eliminated.

The only survivors to be found in the debris field were Nathan Gafuik and Adam Wong, who cracked the top 24 on all six apparatus to advance to the all-around final.

You go, boy.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Christian the Lion

No, I didn't get this from friggin' Oprah...

Sunday, July 27, 2008

My big-ass vegan belt!

I don't ask a whole lot from my belts. Normally, so long as they keep my pants from ending up around my ankles while I'm standing on the bus, I'm largely satisfied.

My black "dress" belt (note: that doesn't mean that I wear it with a dress) is sadly nearing its end after several years of steady and reliable support. It has reached a terrible state, to the point that I feared it might break on me unexpectedly on any given day (and wearing pants is a dress code requirement at my place of employment). Its condition is deplorable enough to bring a tear to the eye. If my belt was human, it would be Keith Richards.

And so with heavy heart I embarked on a quest for a quality, non-leather trouser supporting device. i scanned through some of the hemp/vegan stores I have linked on your right, and quickly found the following:

Hey, look! Belts!

To be honest, I hadn't heard many good things about "vegan" belts. Actually, I'm even a little confused about the vegan designation. I could understand calling it "vegetarian", because it's not made from an animal.

But I always understood "vegan" to mean that an item is not made from an animal "by-product". Saying that my belt is vegan to me implies that it has been certified to have not been made out of cheese.

Anyway...What I had heard is that these belts are not particularly durable. And when I pulled it from the box, I also had that impressions. It is quite light, even for a belt, and it feels like it's made out of foan (though not foam cheese).

It's also super wide but I believe that may be my own fault. I may have made a mistake when I entered the dimension while ordering it. Stupid metric system!

Overall though, while I may look a little like this guy...

...so far it's doing its belt thing quite nicely, thank you. Hey, if it prevents people on the bus from seeing the top of my t-back over my pants, then mission accomplished, matey!! Harrr!!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

R.I.P. André Hamel

André Hamel passed away July 4th. I only found out yesterday while reading a borrowed copy of the Ottawa Sun. It was unpleasant news to receive but really, I'm glad I found out. I'm certain that I would have noticed at some point that I had not seen him in a while and I would have been curious as to his whereabouts.

Mr Hamel was a homeless man who seemed to spend the bulk of his time in the same few spots in downtown Ottawa. He was one of these people that you got so used to seeing around that he just became part of the scenery. He was someone that added character to a neighborhood.

When I showed a co-worker the article, he was blown away. I didn't have to ask whether he'd heard of Mr Hamel. You just assume that anyone who spends any kind of time downtown knows him.

I've been living in Ottawa since 1988 and working a few blocks from the parliament buildings since 1998. I couldn't tell you when I first started noticing André Hamel. To me, he's just always been there, usually with his dog (which I now know to be named Muff and am pleased to hear is being looked after), often chatting with someone.

If I recall correctly, the story of his passing was on page four of Friday's edition of the Sun and it was given most of the page. Seldom do you see such coverage for the passing of a homeless man, but it seems that Mr Hamel touched more people than I realized until this week.

The following article speaks volumes to that effect, I think, as does the Ottawa Sun video that I'll link below.

I hope they keep the video accessible for a while; the gentleman speaking through most of it does a great job. He confirmed something I was asking myself about Mr Hamel. I was trying to remember, over the countless times that I've walked by him, if Mr Hamel had ever asked me for spare change or done anything but wish me a good day or comment on the good weather. My experience and that of the speaker appear to be quite similar, not surprisingly.

Jennifer Campbell, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The three women stood on the side of O'Connor street, staring at a makeshift shrine. And they cried. Margaret Callaghan, Gail Chiu and Julie LaPalme couldn't hold back the tears as they talked about a man they hardly knew.

"He was always there, with his dog," said Ms. Chiu, who said she sometimes gave him money but mostly, he'd ask for a smile. "He just loved the smiles."

Ms. LaPalme said the man had a great sense of humour and she was always buoyed by his positive outlook.

All afternoon, people gathered on the sidewalk to pay tribute to André Hamel, whose turf in front of the Bell Canada building on the corner of O'Connor and Albert streets now sits empty. For more than a decade, Mr. Hamel and his dog, Muff, brightened the days of office workers who passed by on their way to work, and on their way home.

"He was just kind of part of your day," Ms. Callaghan said, and added that although they had never compared notes on him in the past, many of her colleagues knew and liked him. "I was amazed by how many people knew him."

"He was such a friendly guy and all of a sudden, he's not there," Ms. LaPalme said. "We were talking about the fact that he deserved an obituary and we wondered who would write it."

The empty sidewalk has been given over to a couple of signs, one of which is from Bell employees. Written in French, it says the employees were comforted to know he wasn't alone when he had a heart attack on Canada Day. Mr. Hamel and Muff were in Sandy Hill with friends Guy Vaillant and Roger Gauthier, both of whom do outreach volunteer work. They were about to go watch the fireworks when Mr. Hamel had a heart attack. He was revived by Mr. Gauthier and later again by paramedics, but went into a coma in hospital and died early Friday morning.

Originally from Quebec, Mr. Hamel has two children, a son and a daughter. Julia Bazley, who works for Street Level, a national roundtable on poverty and homelessness, and someone who knew Mr. Hamel well, said he saw his children periodically. Friends said he had three sisters; one passerby said he'd been married; Ms. Bazley said he still had family in Magog. And that's about all they knew of the man who would have turned 52 on Aug. 9.

At the street-side memorial, flowers are piling up -- single roses with hand-written notes, big bouquets, a greeting card. And there are dog treats for Muff. The big dog, who's part chow, visited the shrine in the afternoon with his new owner, Darryl Dempsey. Mr. Dempsey lives on the street, but hopes to get his own place soon and enroll in a social-work program at Algonquin College in the fall. He has committed to looking after the 11-year-old dog who is described as Mr. Hamel's closest companion and who is clearly confused by his death.

"Every time I take him for a walk, he thinks I'm going to take him to see André," said Mr. Dempsey, who was overwhelmed by the memorial that all afternoon drew people, sometimes a dozen at a time, to pay their respects.

"Look, big, dumb black dog -- look what people have done for you," he said. "It just shows there's humanity out there."

Some who stopped were curious onlookers, but most remembered Mr. Hamel for his positive attitude and the way he made their days. His death has, in a strange way, brought a disparate community of downtown workers together.

"This guy was just so special," said Health Canada employee Connie Brisebois, as she fought back tears. "I found out his birthday was Aug. 9 and last year I gave him a Joe Louis with a candle on it. He was so thankful."

One card, from "Maria," reads: "In loving memory. You were a bright light in my mornings. We will miss you."

Downtown worker Dawn Guindon, her eyes reddened from tears, said Mr. Hamel was the first person she met when she moved to Ottawa seven years ago. Federal government employee Maria Booth, who dropped off a white rose, said he always had something nice to say. "He never begged for money, but sometimes you just wanted to give him something."


Richard Holstein is one bad mother!

Wow. Dude threw a cat off a balcony and beat another to death.

I don't follow the rap or hip-hop scene (in fact, I'd rather spend the night in the dryer than listen to a minute of that musical idiocy) but I have a sneaking suspicion that crimes against felines is not how 50-cent and "G-Unit" (see below) built their cred. But you know, this is Ottawa, not Compton...

Posting about this turd here probably won't amount to much, but you never know. I sometimes look at what other people in the area are blogging about, so I assume others do the same on occasion. Maybe someone has seen him.

This prick should be fairly easy to spot with those neck tattoos. Mind you, there are countless white guys walking around trying SO hard to live this image nowadays, it might seem like an overwhelming task, but if you see one wearing a turtleneck in July, that might be your man right there.

This is taken from the Ottawa Citizen:

OTTAWA -- Police are searching for a man who is accused of breaking into an apartment, throwing a cat off of a third-floor balcony and beating a second cat to death.

Police say the attacks took place after Richard Holstein, 24, broke into an apartment in the Sandy Hill area of downtown Ottawa on Wednesday. Neighbours say the incident occurred in the evening.

An initial report suggested a third cat was involved, but the Ottawa Humane Society has confirmed only two cats were in the apartment.

Sharon Miko, director of operations at the Ottawa Humane Society, said the cat which was beaten to death was a long-haired, brown Tabby cat named Marble. The other cat, a Siamese and Tabby mix named Kitty, was short-haired cat and a mix of white, light brown and gray fur.

Both cats were about a year old, Ms. Miko said. The cat that was thrown from the balcony has not been found, she said.

Police said the man is known to the cats' owner.

Mr. Holstein is wanted on a series of criminal counts including theft, being unlawfully in a dwelling and causing unnecessary suffering to animals. In an unrelated matter, he is also wanted for breach of probation and breach of recognizance.

He is described as white, approximately six feet tall, weighing about 190 pounds. He has blue eyes, short blond hair and a muscular build.

He has characteristic tattoos on his neck and the back of his hands. His right hand tattoo says "G-Unit," his left-hand tattoo has a "50 Cent" marking. He also has a heart tattooed on his left hand.

Police are asking anyone with information to contact Det. Leanne Smith at 613-236-1222 ext. 5407, or to call Crime Stoppers at 613-233-8477.

Breach of probation. My favourite.

Edit: Seems our boy was caught the next day at a transit station. He is facing 15 charges and was denied bail, but more importantly the cat that was thrown ooff the balcony was later found alive (though apparently with an injured paw). :-)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

What's that wacky Oprah up to now?

Somehow, my little blog has far too much content about Oprah Winfrey. I don't know why it keeps happening. Part of it is due, obviously, in that she chooses to cover certain subjects that are relevant to the topics posted here. But it's still surprising to me how often I stumble upon it since I never watch her show.

No, really. It's true. I never watch it. I swear I don't. I don't record it either. This isn't some attempt on my part to reinforce my masculinity either, I really never see her show. Besides, I've already established that endeavour to be a lost cause.

Most recently, one of the great many newsletters I subscribe to pointed out that the divine Mrs O went on a body cleansing program of sorts by which she became vegan for three weeks. In fact, she went BEYOND vegan.

The plan is to eliminate caffeine, sugar, alcohol, gluten and animal products from your diet for up to 21 days.


This generated some excitement among the usual suspects of the treehugger world. There's no questioning the reach and influence that O-Dub has so if she gives this a pass, it might convince a great many people to give it a whirl too, right?

So how did it go? Well, I haven't read her entire blog about it (I swear I haven't), but it seems to have gotten off to a nice start...

Week One: Wednesday
I just cleaned my dinner plate, down to the last grain of brown rice left under my oh-so-deliciously seasoned soy chicken. I can not believe how tasty, spicy and wonderful it all was. I'm ever more surprised at how I don't miss anything and feel so satisfied at every meal. Bravo to Tal! By Day 4, I'm usually climbing the walls or craving sweets—or ready to throw in the towel on any other diet plan. I'm a little nervous about the weekend. Tal cooks our last meal for the week tomorrow, and I've got to go to Las Vegas for Tina and Cher. Vegas and vegan don't seem to mix. — Oprah

And she concludes, at the start of week four, with...

What I know for sure is I've reached a new level of awareness about food, eating and the whole process of how it gets to my table. I used to say thanks before a meal out of perfunctory habit. Now I consider it true grace to be able to eat anything in a world of increasing food shortages and starving people.

This has been exactly what we intended: enlightening. I will forever be a more cautious and conscious eater. That's my commitment for now. To stay awakened.

Thank you for escorting us along the journey to wellness.

We're not quantum quality yet, but "leaning in."

Does that mean she's remaining vegan? I doubt it. It would be interesting if someone would contact her a year from now to see whether her mindset has remained as enlightened as she felt right then.

That's all fine and good and I appreciate that she approached the whole thing with an open mind because certain habits (wine, apprently, in her case) required considerable effort to break. And it's not as though she has any specific reason to try this.

But in terms of being intrigued by the vegan lifestyle of people in the public eye, there's someone I find far more intriguing. This guy:

This is Mac Danzig and as you might have peiced together, he's involved in mixed martial arts. I don't watch Ultimate Fighting, and I don't know this guys from a hole in the ground.

So why do I find his potential impact more interesting? A couple of reasons.

a) Not everyone has someome cook for them like Oprah does (I do, but it's hardly a point of pride. I love you, Christine!). No matter how much she gushes about her various experimentations, not everyone has expert advice.

In fairness, her chef took off after a while, and Danzig has a trainer, but he would seem to be closer to the level of the average person in terms of resources. When I mentioned Oprah's little project to an acquaintance, that Oprah will have everyone else do the work (besides eating, presumably) was the first thing out of her mouth. So the credibility factor may not be all that high after all.

b) Target audience. There's a perception that vegetarians and vegans are missing key nutrients. This guy doesn't look in too bad shape to me, and it doesn't appear as though he's reinventing the wheel diet-wise. Plus he was named one of the 25 fittest men in America by Men's Fitness magazine. He may be better able to dismiss some myths, whereas when women think about the body they'd love to have, I doubt Oprah is the first person that comes to mind.

c) Dedication. Oprah tried it and is non-commital about it in the end. This guy lives it, has for years, and has been succesful with it.

Unfortunately, the impact of these endorsements is difficult to evaluate. It's not like anyone keeps statistics about how many "converts" these two have created.

Either way, any contribution to changing perception that this is such an unusual way to live is appreciated. I actually believe that this is going to become more and more common in the future as more and more celebrities come out of the closet about this. Or pantry?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Water Abundance Myth

Great story here from the Ottawa Sun's Vivian Song.

The stated abundance of water is a general belief that I've questioned a little over the past few years but much like climate change, it's also one for which I find it difficult to know who and what to believe. So also much like climate change, I'll act like water scarcity is a legitimate threat and err on the side of caution!

The article is quite lengthy so I've trimmed it slightly.

It’s one of the greatest myths to deceive Canadians. While other parts of the world watch their lands dry out and their taps run dry, Canadians rest comfortably in the belief that we possess 20% of the world’s freshwater supplies. But that’s only half the story.

“It’s a crazy number, and it’s not even really true,” says Rob de Loe, professor and Canada Research Chair in water management at the University of Guelph. “Twenty per cent is so misleading because a lot of it we can’t use.”

A common analogy is to compare lakes to a bank account. We live off the interest, experts say, or the renewable water supply.

Freshwater is also compared to a swimming pool. Were we to use the standing water to do our laundry and dishes, for example, we’d just drain it dry and leave a parched hole in the backyard.

“If a community or business starts taking in more water than comes in, we’ll start to wreck the environment, reduce water levels, affecting navigation, shipping and the ecosystem which depend on certain water levels,” de Loe says.

What Canadians consume in water is the rainfall and snow melt which replenish the water system every year.

Canada, however, receives 6.5% of the world’s renewable supply every year — the same amount as both Indonesia and the U.S.

Meanwhile, about 60% of Canada’s water flows north to the Arctic, away from the majority of Canadians who live and work in the south.

That further reduces our share of the renewable supply to 2.6% from 6.5%.


It’s this myth of water abundance that has led Canada to capture the dubious title of being the second biggest water user per capita in the world, after the U.S.

But debunking a long-held myth can be challenging when a quarter of Canada’s population also lives on the Great Lakes, a constant, but delusory reminder of the country’s water resources.

Canadians are just as easily foiled by what we see as we are by what we don’t see, water experts warn.

Linda Nowlan, an environmental lawyer and faculty research associate at the University of British Columbia, calls groundwater our “buried treasure,” an asset Canadians take for granted because it’s “out of sight, out of mind.”

About 30% of Canadians rely on groundwater for their drinking water. Quebec has the greatest number of municipalities reliant on groundwater, while Ontario has the highest population dependent on groundwater at 1.3 million. Prince Edward Island, meanwhile, is entirely dependent on groundwater for its municipal supplies.

And little is known about this resource beneath our feet.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported that freshwater withdrawals in 2000 were 14% higher than in 1985. The U.S. publishes data every five years, Nowlan writes. But not in Canada. Here, data is scarce. Senior government scientists have called our knowledge of groundwater “pitiful.” The amounts stored across Canada’s aquifers are virtually unknown, despite its value.

Groundwater is less prone to contamination and less vulnerable to droughts caused by climate change, for example. In the 2005 report Buried Treasure, Natural Resources Canada identified significant gaps in Canada’s groundwater knowledge, which includes groundwater supply and use, recharge rates of aquifers and how groundwater and surface water interconnect to impact the hydrological system.

“The main message is that we need to look at the whole water cycle, paying particular attention to the environment and the cumulative impacts of all pumping decisions,” Nowlan said in a phone interview from B.C.

Overpumping on the American side of the Great Lakes, for example, reversed the flow of groundwater from in to out of the Great Lakes.

During the Walkerton Inquiry into that town’s E.coli poisoning in 2000 that resulted in the death of seven people, one hydrogeologist described Ontario’s water management again in financial terms: The permitting system was akin to writing cheques on a bank account without knowing the account’s balance.

While “lovely” and filled with forward thinking ideas, the federal water policy is “utterly meaningless,” de Loe says. “It should be in a museum. I find it annoying that you can still find it on the Internet.”

Indeed, the policy, written in 1987, is found easily on Environment Canada’s freshwater site, prefaced with a paragraph in red: “Since no more recent published policy can be offered at this time, the text of the 1987 Policy is offered for information purposes only.”

The problem? The water policy, applauded by many experts and water activists for its ideas, was never implemented.


Canada’s water pricing is too cheap, the policy says. Priorities should be placed in scientific leadership, a watershed approach to planning, legislation and public education.

Despite the recommendations, a few years later the 1990s saw massive cuts to Canada’s world-renowned water research departments that attracted some of world’s brightest aquatic experts, including Schindler. Today, activists and experts say water research is chronically underfunded.


Canadians are the second highest consumers of water per capita in the world, second only to the U.S.

We also pay among the cheapest water rates in the developed world, and experts say there’s a clear correlation between the two.

According to a 1998 OECD survey, Canadian municipal water rates were the cheapest among 12 developed countries — Canadians paid 31 cents per cubic metre. Meanwhile, the U.S. paid between 40 and 80 cents, and Germans paid $2.16 per cubic metre. At $1.62 in 2004, Canadian rates continue to be among the lowest in the industrialized world.

Nowlan’s Buried Treasure report points out the OECD “has repeatedly censured Canada” for failing to implement economic measures to manage water.

Experts blame cheap water rates and the myth of water abundance in Canada for creating a shameful water conservation ethic.

Canada’s laws promote water use rather than curb it, writes economist Steven Renzetti in Eau Canada.

According to a 2001 Environment Canada survey, for example, Canadian households paying a flat rate for their water consumed 74% more water than those who paid volume-based metered rates. In 2001, 61% of Canadian homes were metered.

Right now, Canadians pay for delivery of water services — the wages of public utility workers, water treatment costs and the electricity — but not the water itself, Renzetti explains. But the current prices aren’t enough to cover the operating costs and capital needs of an aging water infrastructure.

“Many agencies don’t make enough revenue to cover the book costs,” he says.

Quebecers, for instance, pay the cheapest water rates in Canada. Meanwhile, that province also has one of the oldest water systems and is in urgent need of repair, he said.

So what’s the gap?

Renzetti estimates those who pay flat rates are paying less than half the rate of metered users.

“Consumers don’t pay the marginal cost of supply,” he says.

Renzetti calls for water pricing reforms that also include the environmental costs related to water use.

While environmental protection may sound “far-fetched” he points to the European Union’s Water Framework Directive, which states that water supply and treatment agencies must incorporate any costs to the ecosystem into their prices. Consumers also need to be educated about the full costs of their water use decisions, he writes.

Critics point out, however, that hiking water prices would do tremendous harm to society’s most vulnerable: the poor. But it’s not the working poor who use the most water, points out Chris Wood, journalist and author of Dry Spring: The Oncoming Water Crisis of North America.

“The poor don’t have three cars and a swimming pool,” he says.

One solution would be block pricing, he says. Ration the same amount of water to everyone, and charge higher rates when consumption passes that threshold.

Water may have slipped through the cracks and crevices among government priorities, but public awareness is starting to gain momentum. De Loe describes the Walkerton tragedy as a “transformative event,” while climate change appears to be locked into the global collective, becoming more than just a trend.

Recently, corporate-funded media campaigns highlighting the realities of our water situation have been springing up everywhere. Bus shelters in Toronto are plastered with cryptic posters which read: “We won’t run out of water. Will we?” The same message flashes quickly across TV screens, directing viewers to goblue.org. The campaign is funded by Unilever, whose product brands include everything from Sunlight, Vaseline, Lipton Tea and Vim cleaning products.

Last year, RBC announced a 10-year, $50 million charitable grant program for the RBC Blue Water Project: “A wide-ranging, multi-year program to help foster a culture of water stewardship in Canada and abroad, so that people have clean fresh water today and tomorrow.” De Loe was chosen chairman of the advisory panel early this year.

“More and more people are starting to make connections they didn’t before with climate change and water. But it’s not there yet in daily practice,” de Loe said.

Under the Constitution, responsibility for water is divided between the provinces and the feds. But provinces are traditionally viewed as the owners of natural resources. So, with the encouragement of the feds, many drafted their own legislation aimed at protecting their water from bulk export. But the result was a hodgepodge of feeble provincial legislation, some of which are toothless under international trade obligations, says Owen Saunders of the Canadian Institute of Resources Law at a public policy seminar in Ottawa in May. And once one province opens their tap and engages in bulk water export — and Quebec and Newfoundland have both expressed interest in selling their goods — experts say we won’t be able to turn off the tap.

“There is no common denominator that runs through our approach to interbasin removals,” he says.

Canadian water legislation is described as a patchwork of provincial and federal laws. At the federal level alone, 19 departments oversee different aspects of water management, Eau Canada editor Karen Bakker says. And while decentralizing water management may be needed because of unique water challenges across the country, many experts say it has continued to the point of absurdity.

What’s needed, experts say, is a national water strategy that would provide provinces with tools like a central database of information that fills in the gaps — and a clear mandate.

“We need a national water strategy that provides vision, identifies core principles like conservation, and develop a water ethic that thinks like a watershed,” says Oliver Brandes, associate director at the Polis Project on Ecological Governance from the University of Victoria. “We need to increase hydro literacy and understand what we have.”

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mr Spice Has Saved My Life!!

Well, not really...But he's going to help bring my blood pressure down!

As recently posted, I have slightly elevated blood pressure. Allegedly.

My problem though is that there are only so many things I can do about it. I don't drink a lot of caffeine, I don't have a weight problem, I don't overdo it with alcohol (often), I get my sleep, and so on. I'm not perfect, but gee whiz, I don't want to have to be!

One thing I can do is give up one of the great loves of my life: salt. That just makes sense since we had noticed that meat substitutes wree often sodium-heavy. I don't like to think of it as a break-up though, more of an agreement to see other people.

My first great find is the line of Mr Spice products which, IIRC, I came across at a Loblaw's store.

This stuff is great for all the things it doesn't have:

• Organic
• No Cholesterol
• No MSG
• No Preservatives
• Gluten Free
• Wheat Free
• Dairy Free
• No HVP
• No Sulfites
• All Natural
• Salt Free
• Fat Free

Nice laundry list. And yet, for all that, it's quite tasty with no icky aftertaste. Click on the pic to go to the Mr Spice site and see the various sauces that they offer.

AS for me, I'm going to enjoy it until, of course, someone comes around to tell me i need to stop eating so much damn potassium.

Saturday, May 31, 2008


This was posted on the Green Party's Facebook page. Much the same as youtube, eco-tube is a video upload site with a focus on environmental news, tips, etc.

Here, for example, is a message from the Blue Man Group, in their typically odd fashion. I absolutely love these guys. I made a trip to Las Vegas a few years ago and my primary goal was to attend their performance at the Luxor. Mission accomplished, only to find out that they were coming to Toronto the following year. And now they're coming to Ottawa, so I'll try to attend that as well.

Drinking Aluminum

I've reached something of a milestone at my place of employment. As of the end of June, I'll have put in a decade.

Actually, I was hired in February of 1998 but I was made permanent in June of that year. They choose to not count those four months for some reason. I suspect it has to do with how soon they'd haev to award me additional vacation days. Whatever. Might be that way everywhere for all I know.

Now I won't go into a great deal of detail because I've heard of people getting in trouble over posting work-related matters on blogs and such. Anyone in my little circle knows what company I'm referring to and for those that don't, it's not that relevant anyway. The point is that as a result of my reaching this little milestone, I was awarded a very modest shopping spree through the company's catalogue of promotional items.

On the downside, my "allowance" was modest to the point of making it difficult for me to find something I could "afford". On the upside, I quickly spotted a link for "eco options". All right then, so let's do that!

To my surprise, they offered shirts made of bamboo. That was something that I would have thought too obscure still for the company catalogue. Very pleased, but I can't afford them anyway, so let's move along.

I ended up holding true to a vague promise made at the end of this post. Corn plastic mugs were available and I went for one. It's this kind...

...though not that specific one, sadly (I'm organic...eh eh eh...I like that). Mine bears the company logo (it is, after all, a promotional item), is yellow and only slightly less bright than the surface of the sun.

The link in that post for info about corn plastic is no longer active, so let's throw down a refresher:

Corn-based plastics take just 45 days to biodegrade in a landfill. Normal plastic can take thousands of years to decompose. Corn plastics contain no petroleum, require 20 to 50 percent less fossil fuel to create and are derived from a renewable resource.

But environmentalists warn that corn plastic also has environmental drawbacks.

“The major problem with corn is that 80 percent of the corn crop is paid for by the taxpayers through subsidy payments to producers,” said Jeff Webster, secretary of the agricultural committee of the Sierra Club, a national environmental group. Industrial farming also requires huge amounts of gas, coal or petroleum. “There is a very large environmental price associated with corn production,” Webster said.

There's always something to bitch about...

This mug ate up about half my budget, so items such as umbrellas and writing materials were now out of the question. So I stayed in the same category and scored me an aluminum water bottle.

There's a building movement now towards reducing the amount of plastic bottles from which we drink. They apparently release a bunch of chemicals that I can't pronounce into my Greek God bod and that's bad.

The latest research suggests that students should be wary about which plastic water bottles they drink out of. The dangerous chemical bisphenol A can be found in water bottles sold across campus, including Willy's Hawkshop in the University Center.

Bisphenol A is a molecular monomer (simplest molecular structure in the structure of a larger molecule) that is polymerized (bonded in a continuous chain) to produce many of the plastics we use everyday...For many years BPA was considered harmless, but the latest research suggests that exposure to BPA can be dangerous. A research group funded by the American Plastics Council at Harvard University was the catalyst of the widespread use of BPA. This corporate-funded research group concluded after a two and a half year delay, that low-dose exposure to BPA did not constitute a significant risk, according to Frederick S. vom Saal and Claude Hughes in an article published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Since then, more than 115 independent, in vivo studies have been conducted that all conclude otherwise. The latest research suggests that exposure levels below the previously thought of safe limit can disrupt the endocrine system, disrupt cell function, mutate genes, stop cell reproduction, and even hinder testosterone synthesis in males, according to vom Saal and Hughes.

Good. So I'm going to ditch the plastic water bottle the company gave me last year (thanks for trying to kill me slowly, bastards) and move on to my aluminum one. That is, until they find out that drinking from aluminum bottles causes dementia and gonad shrinkage or something and we move on to drinking from ceramic pots strapped around our necks. One thing at a time though. For now, aluminum is boss.

At the risk of appearing like an opportunist, I left only $0.75 on the table after my shopping trip. I probably could have ordered mints as well; in fact my co-workers might have appreciated it! But they came individually wrapped so, well, you know...

The mints, I mean, not my co-workers.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Worm Poop

I know what you're probably thinking; if I have to read one more blog post about worm defacations, I'm going to scream. But bear with me just a bit.

We were at the tail end of one of our many trips to various garden centers around town (a trip any guy absolutely loves, as you can imagine) when I asked Mrs THIT "So do we need anything else?". This was intended to be one of those more or less rhetorical questions which actually meant "So can we finally leave?"

She pondered for a moment then her eyes lit up and she exclaimed "Oh yes! Worm poop!"

Of course. How could I have forgotten?

It would appear that the Mrs once saw a show about green gardening (or something...she's not good at recalling details) and this specific product was discussed. It's quite literally what is strongly implied by its name. I thought it was just a marketing thing.

We were unable to locate said fecal matter, to much disappointment on her part. Me, not so much.

Ah, but I was wrong! The company that produces this...stuff...is fascinating!

I subscribe to a newsletter from Greenbiz.com. A link therein directed to this news story about how OfficeMax is using TerraCycle's made-from-waste office products which in turn interested me in having a look at these TerraCycle guys. And wouldn't you know it, they are our worm poo gatherers.

Beyond being about as organic as organic gets, their product is literally sold in recycled plastic bottles. Not bottles made from recycled goods, but the bottle itself, including the squirter thingy. That's why some of their packaging is mismatched. For a better illustration, check out their product line and scroll over the various items. Their Story video is also good and worth a watch.

Their site includes a store locator so I suspect that before long, Mrs THIT and I will be shopping for worm poop more effectively.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

More Fun Than a Barrel of Daschunds!

Mrs THIT and I had the last week of April off and since we didn't have plans to go anywhere, we focused instead on taking care of a few things around Stately THIT Manor as it nears its first anniversary.

Among our acquisitions was one that I'd been looking forward to getting since before we even took possession of our crib.

Yay! Rain barrell!!

We got this bad boy at Rona. Most are basically large plastic tubs with a screened hole at the top. This one was something of a rarity in that it's a little more fancy in appearance (and therefore, of course, more expensive).

Much assembly was required but we're more than pleased with the final result. It had been sitting in the garage for the past three weeks waiting to be installed when our eavestrough finally got done, and the magic moment took place earlier in the week.

To me, this was a treehugger requirement. Is it going to save the planet on its own? Obviously not. It's really just going to save the water we (meaning "she") would have used gardening. But we are using Mamma Nature's generous offerings, and if she's just as generous rain-wise as she has been with snow this past winter, we should be set for some time.

Perhaps more importantly, we've already received compliments about it. If the neighbours want to play "Keeping up with the THIT's", well, maybe we can start a water-saving trend. ;-)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Zenn and Now

Last November, I came across some information about the ZENN car and wrote a brief blog entry about it. Two weeks or so after that, Rick Mercer did a bit about the ZENN on his show.

Shortly thereafter, I took a moment to write to the Ministry of Transportation, inquiring as to why the ZENN car was struggling so much.

I received a response this past February which I'd intended to comment on at the time, but I misplaced the letter so it ended up slipping my mind. I've located the response again and the long and short of it is that the delays are safety-related. Here's an excerpt:

...In reality, there are major safety difference between LSV's (low speed vehicles) and passenger cars - difference that could cost the LSV driver or passenger serious serious injury or loss of life. Our concern is that LSVs must only meet three of the 40 federally mandated passenger vehicle safety standards...

1) Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
2) Seat belt assemblies
3) A specially-created umbrella standard for LSV's that includes various lamps, mirrors, reflectors, parking brake and a windshield.

Only the VIN, seat belt assemblies and windshield components of the LSV requirements must meet performance standards. The other items are only required to be present an operational.

The lack of safety features and performance standards is a cause for concern...

It would seem that Ontario has a five-year pilot testing period that began in September 2006. It allows park officials to operate LSVs in provincial and municipal parks, as well as conservation areas. The ZENN can participate, according to the response (and presumably does?) so that they it can be determined "where these vehicles should be allowed to operate and who should be allowed to operate them".

LSV. VIN. I believe that by 2014, written words will no longer exist. Everything will be abbreviated that way and all communication will look like retarded text-talk such as CU L8R.

Bloody hell, like the suggestion of school classes in ebonics a few years ago wasn't bad enough, now people are deliberately writing like imbeciles to the point that they don't appear able to get our of the habit, judging from the hieroglyphics that clutter message boards now, posing as a language.

But I digress...In truth, the low speed of this vehicle immediately threw it out the door as an option. The Mrs has to take a very busy road to work and having a car tht maxes out at 55 (by memory) just wouldn't cut it.

But the mention of parks is interesting. I think of times I've gone camping and the park staff would pass by in their trucks. What better place to make use of such a vehicle? It's quiet in a place where you want quiet, slow where speed isn't an issue and doesn't have to travel long distances.

Hopefully the ZENN because more common-place in uses such as that one.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Olympic Games or Global Sleepover?

Yikes. I'm struggling with these.

HBC, and Roots before them, were quite reliable for Olympic wear prior to coming up with these monstrosities. You couldn't make me wear that outfit on the right if you held a gun to my head.

Here's another:

A little better. The lady at the left end did okay for herself. But I agree with Mrs THIT that this is reminiscent of that brutal Zubaz phase in the 80's, which was garish even by 80's standards.

There's some heat over the fact that these were made in China. Never mind the whole deal about how Team Canada's gear should probably be made in Canada, considering the quality of toys and pet foods to come out of China lately, if I started getting a little itchy while wearing them, I'd dial up a doctor pronto, Tonto. Being that I'm making every effort to avoid buying Chinese-made products, and preferring to not look like a dancer from Elton John's "I'm still Standing" video, I shouldn't have to face that issue.

The news is not all bad though. CTV explains...

...About 80 per cent of the uniforms will be made in China, and that number goes up to 90 per cent for Olympic wear sold to the public.

Critics say Canadian athletes should wear clothing manufactured strictly in Canada.
Liberal MP Denis Coderre said Canada is missing a "tremendous opportunity" to promote this country's textile industry on the world stage -- and called it an "unacceptable" snub considering the industry's struggles.

HBC stresses the uniforms and gear are "100-per-cent" Canadian and designed by a Toronto-based team, and that uniforms the athletes will wear on the podium and during the opening parade will be 100-per-cent Canadian-made.

But manufacturing the rest of the clothing required the company to turn to the Chinese market, said Hillary Marshall, director of corporate communications for HBC.

"There are some unique aspects to this collection. In particular, it's the first eco-friendly Olympic collection that's been designed for Team Canada, perhaps for any Olympic team," Marshall told CTV Newsnet on Friday.

"It required that fabrics be sourced -- fabrics that are made of things like bamboo, cacona, organic-blended cotton. These are items that help with the technical nature of the product. They help to keep the athletes cool, they have moisture wicking properties, they have cooling properties. Because those are items that are hard to find in Canada, they're sourced mainly in China, (so) we made the product there as well."

Marshall acknowledged cost was a factor, especially considering the quantities of clothing required -- enough to fill 600 stores, including the Bay, Zellers, Home Outfitters, as well as those sold online.

Chris Rudge, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, told The Canadian Press the government has not raised the issue of uniforms with the Olympic committee, adding the government likely believes it's impractical to insist on 100 per cent Canadian-made uniforms.

"The reality is that there's no longer manufacturing capacity in Canada that can meet the volume needs that are necessary to manufacture particularly the replica clothing that is sold to the public,'' said Rudge.
Canada's manufacturing industry has been hit hard by the rising Canadian dollar and the flood of cheap foreign imports, especially from China.

Dewar, the NDP's foreign affairs critic, said he hopes the government and HBC will make sure the 2010 winter Olympics in Vancouver will feature uniforms that are made in Canada.

"Wouldn't that be an embarrassment to have our uniforms made in China or anywhere else for the upcoming Vancouver Olympics? So hopefully someone is doing their homework on that," he said.

Marshall said HBC has already started to design the uniforms for Vancouver, and told CP that the company would be "very happy'' to sit down with Canadian textile and garment manufacturers to explore their ability to provide the volume of clothing needed at competitive prices...

Good to know. Now take it away, Elton!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

140 / 100

So it would appear that your THIT has high blood pressure. Allegedly.

Son of a bitch! That can't be! Just thinking about it makes me so mad I could...

Calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean, calm blue ocean...

All right, I'm better now.

I say "allegedly" because I'm not convinced by the results. This was a test provided by my work place. I'd signed up for it because...well...because I could.

I went a few minutes after being critisized for my handling of a situation. I don't know if that put me on edge a little or what, whatever. I arrive in the testing area which turned out to be the cafeteria on the floor above mine.

I joked right away that I was nervous about the whole thing. The ladies were quite nice, but one was particularly loud and didn't seem too reserved about barking out people's results. Hey, this is hardly a cavity search but nonetheless I expected SOME privacy.

The quieter of the two ladies conducting the tests strapped me up then listened in on my pulse. She then turns to the other one and says "Huh...Can you come listen to this?"

Yeah. THAT will help me relax. *grumble*

The loud one comes over and strats fretting right away. "Oh dear. Oh yeah. I can see why you called me over. Right. Yeah."

The suggestion was that I "relax" some more and they'd try again in five minutes. I enjoyed being given breathing instructions in front of the folks waiting in line, those waiting for the folks waiting in line to be done, and the old lady reheating the previous night's pasta meal. Relaxing was a little tricky right then.

The second test was no better. They then proceeded to quiz me on my sleeping habits, eating habits (vegetarianism went over well), family medical history, etc. I considered offering to turn my head and cough for them but thought that may come off sarcastically.

So due to the methodology and my discomfort in front of crowds and strangers, I question the results. However, rather than being one of those dumb-asses that lives in denial and makes excuses, I shall assume it's accurate and work on the areas that I can improve on.

Wish me luck but I don't need it. ;-)