Sunday, March 30, 2008

Garbage Warrior

Every town needs a theater like the Bytowne Theater.

Unashamed to reveal my continued climb towards "grumpy old bastard" status, I don't mind stating plainly that movie theaters are one of those things that were better "in my day" (and perhaps before, but I don't really know. I wasn't there).

The Bytowne is "old school", as the kids that I'll soon by yelling at to get off me lawn would say. It's huge in comparison to the current Silver City type of theaters that have more screens than total seats. They also carve out their own niche by often playing artsy-fartsy, foreign, obscure films.

I picked up one of their schedules the other day because I needed something to read during my lunch break at work. I saw one film that I thought sounded interesting. It is called Garbage Warrior. Not to be confused with cult b-movie The Toxic Avenger.

Garbage Warrior is about an American named Michael Reynolds who builds homes from, well, garbage (old tires and empty pop bottles) . Apparently the homes are self-sustaining in that they generate their own power, heat and water. They have been, however, a work in progress and learned through trial and error as the man has made some mistakes during the 30 years that he's been at it. And, of course, he's had to fight against his government.

The man sounds like quite a character. I scanned the schedule and it was not THIT-friendly; Monday to Thursday between April 21st and 24th until it hit me (about three weeks later) that I'm on vacation that week.

So THIT family, if you're reading this, try to keep those dates open if you're interested in attending with us.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour...Day

Well, I blew it. I signed up for Earth Hour over a month ago, went on my merry way, then a week or two later committed to attending a pro wrestling event on the same night.

Earth Hour. Pro Wrestling. Oddly enough, the former didn't jump to mind as I confirmed I would be going to the latter.

Mrs THIT will be participating, if you can call it that, in my place, as will the Official THIT mascot, Oscar.

I must admit that initially I thought this thing would be a bomb here. Most of the editorials I'd read about the event were negatively slanted, focused on making the entire endeavour appear to be a useless, unimpactful waste of time.

Then I heard that the city announce that "we" would be participating. About two weeks ago, riding the bus home from work, I spotted that city hall had a huge Earth Hour banner across its front. Then arriving for work earlier this week, I saw that a sign had been erected in the lobby announcing the building's (and company's) involvement.

All right! Now the day has arrived and this article in the Ottawa Sun seems to indicate greater participation than I'd anticipated.

Earth Hour advocates are hoping the city will be plunged into darkness tonight as part of a global effort to reduce energy consumption and battle climate change.

Mayor Larry O'Brien jumped on board the eco bandwagon last month, urging residents to flick off light switches between 8 and 9 p.m. tonight.

"We flicked a switch on in our own heads and it caught on like wildfire," O'Brien told reporters at city hall, where a giant Earth Hour banner was unfurled last week.

Experts predict actual energy savings will be negligible, but applauded the symbolic movement that highlights a surging demand for power in the province that contributed to rolling brownouts and blackouts during peak consumption periods.

"Most people remember where they were during the (August 2003) blackout," said Peter Love, chief energy conservation officer with the Ontario Power Authority. "We're hoping people will rethink their electricity consumption in their homes, their workplaces and in their daily lives."

The corporate community, which often shoulders much of the blame for wasteful consumption, is also joining the cause.

McDonald's restaurants across the country will observe Earth Hour by extinguishing their iconic "Golden Arches," and many other retail chains, shopping centres, banks and office complexes will follow, dimming all non-essential lighting for the hour.

"There was a lot of interest expressed when we talked to our members," said Richard Clayman, chairman of the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce. "We look at this as a trigger to increase general awareness about how people can conserve energy, not only in their businesses but in their homes as well. It costs nothing to turn off your lights for one hour and participate."

The movement started last year in Sydney, Australia, where more than 2 million homes and 2,100 businesses combined to reduce energy consumption by 10%.

This year, word has spread worldwide, with hundreds of communities participating, including 150 in Canada.

Yesterday, more than 500 Ontario schools showed their support by cutting lights for one hour. Even Parliament Hill will join the cause by dimming the lights on the Peace Tower.

Parliamentarians are predictably jumping on the event as political leverage.

Liberal Leader Stephane Dion and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May both seized the opportunity to blast Prime Minister Stephen Harper's environmental record.

Before, during and after Earth Hour, Hydro Ottawa will monitor the impact on power consumption in the region.

A poll on the paper's website would indicate that about 40% of people plan on playing along. I consider that pretty high. Not exactly scientific data, I know, but still...

I could get in the habit. Two weeks ago, when we were hit with almost two feet of snow, the power went out here around 10PM.

So what did I do? Well...I went out to shovel the driveway. It was a snow storm. Pay attention! ;-)

But prior to that, Christine and I went through the standard conversations when something like that happens.

"Where the hell do we keep the candles?"

"Damn it, the lighter's out of fluid!"
"I think we have another one"
"In the bathroom"
"...What the hell is it doing in the bathroom?!"

"Don't we have, like, a gazillion flashlights?"
"Yeah, they're in the office closet"
"Christ, I'll never find them in that mess..."
"Wouldn't matter anyway, we don't have any batteries for them"

I don't think the above is unusual. But aside from making it a semi-regular habit for the sake of preparedness, when I was out there shovelling until nearly 11PM with no lights on, I was struck by how peaceful everything was. I could hear a few cars in the distance and that was it. And I was basically working by moonlight.

I liked it. Of course, it may be a little extreme to attempt to knock out power in the entire neighbourhood but perhaps I can recreate it at home.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Earlier today, Mrs THIT and I visited the Ottawa Home Show.

To no one's surprise I'm sure, I can admit it was her idea. Not that I was opposed to it, mind you, it just wouldn't have occured to me to suggest it. It's not something that you consider ultra-cool, like a comic book convention.


Though ultimately eager to go, I can also admit that I was disappointed. I must have been in a significant minority mind you because the place was crawling with people even as we arrived an hour after opening time. That didn't help my cause since I detest being in large crowds.

Personally, I was hoping to find some green inspiration but I found very little. Not knocking the Home Show for that really; it never made that promise. I thought that the whole "green" thing was in the public eye enough to encourage its inclusion, however. It wasn't to any significant degree so my interest in the whole thing dipped quite rapidly.

Nevertheless, Mrs THIT pointed out something to me that I found interesting. The ReStore...huh...stores.

What is a ReStore?

The Habitat for Humanity ReStore is a non-profit retail home renovation centre that accepts quality new and used building, home renovation and home d├ęcor products. These items are sold in our 10,000 square foot ware house to the public.

Sales generate funds to support Habitat's home building programs, while reducing the amount of useable materials that are headed for overflowing landfills!

I once posted about Habitat for Humanity, though I believe they are fairly widely known. But at the time, I was not aware of this part of their operation, and I quite like the idea.

I also did not know that my sister-in-law used to volunteer for them! If you're reading this, Kathy, you go, girl!

If you're interested in finding a Restore near you, check out this page.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

She Did It On Porpoise

I Wish I'd have thought of that headline myself, but I saw it while Googling this story.

Mrs THIT told me about this after hearing it on the radio. As is often the case when she tells me a story heard from the TV or radio, she couldn't remember where it happened or the names of any of the people (or of the dolphin) involved, making finding details a touch trickier. As it turns out though, stories about dolphins saving beached whales are not that common, so I managed.

A DOLPHIN guided two stranded whales to safety after human attempts to keep the animals off a beach failed, a conservation official has said.

"I've never heard of anything like this before, it was amazing," New Zealand Conservation Department officer Malcolm Smith said.

The actions of the dolphin, known for playing with people in the water at Mahia beach on the east coast of the North Island, probably meant the difference between life and death for the whales, Mr Smith said.

Mr Smith had been working for over an hour and a half to save the two pygmy sperm whales which had repeatedly become stranded despite his attempts to push them back out to sea.

A dolphin, named Moko by locals, appeared and guided the whales to safety after apparently communicating with them, Mr Smith said.

The whales, a three-metre female and her 1-1/2 metre male calf, were apparently confused by a sandbar just off the beach and could not find their way back to open water.

Mr Smith had been alerted at daybreak by a neighbour about the two stranded whales.

"Over the next hour and a half I pushed them back out to sea two or three times and they were very reluctant to move offshore," Mr Smith said.

"I was starting to get cold and wet and they were becoming tired. I was reaching the stage where I was thinking it's about time to give up here, I've done as much as I can."

In that situation, whales are often humanely killed to end their suffering.

Mr Smith said Moko arrived on the scene and he could hear the whales and the dolphin making noises, apparently to one another.

"The whales made contact with the dolphin and she basically escorted them about 200 metres parallel with the beach to the edge of the sandbar," he said.

"Then she did a right-angle turn through quite a narrow channel and escorted them out to sea and we haven't seen those whales since.

"What the communication was I do not know, and I was not aware dolphins could communicate with pygmy sperm whales, but something happened that allowed Moko to guide those two whales to safety."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Perfect Earth Tours

This is the kind of trip I want to take one day. Who knows, I could end up hating it, but I'd love to find out on my own.

I was made aware of them through a newsletter. is the site from which I obtained my first hemp wallet. Appears to be a business partnership. of Downbound's many ethical offerings is handmade organic furniture made from sustainably harvested wood. We are honoured to announce that our beds have been exclusively chosen for the guests and staff at North America's first and only five star luxury eco spa and resort, Perfect Earth Tours.

Sounds nice! And where is this little slice of heaven?

The Perfect Earth Tours spa resort is located lakeside deep in the wilderness of the Canadian Yukon territory, a 35 minute private floatplane ride from Whitehorse, Yukon. The entire luxury resort is powered by solar, wind, water, and human power. It features an organic vegan spa with massage, body wrap, and facial services. All food and beverages are local and organic, including an impressive selection of organic wines. And while non-vegetarian meals are served, gourmet organic vegan meals are a standard option too, prepared by Perfect Earth Tour's internationally acclaimed chefs.


Now wait a minute...This sounds, and looks, suspiciously like...camping! And I hate camping! Or rather, camping hates me! What gives?!

The entire resort is made up of organic canvas luxury tents...

Ah-ha!! It IS camping!!

...Each guest tent is outfitted with all of the amenities you would expect from a five star resort, including a woodburning stove, a private solar heated shower room, and a private washroom with a state-of-the-art odourless composting toilet...And of course, what truly luxury vacation would be complete without solar and wind powered in-suite DVD players, satellite radio, and wireless internet connectivity?

Oh. That sounds, and looks, less like camping.

So does the cost; a cool $6250 or so for three nights, four days. And that's from Vancouver!

Maybe it's something to plan for as something special to do for my 40th birthday. I wonder if they accept weiner dogs?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Kindness Week?? Screw that!

Last weekend, Mrs THIT and I were having our taxes done (for 2005...*groan*) and in the H&R Block office's waiting room, I happened across the Reader's Digest issue which included the results of the Canadian rudeness test. In that test, Ottawa came in 11th of 11 cities in terms of politeness.

I recall at the time that a number of people agreed that you dealt with more rudeness in Ottawa than in other Canadian towns, while others stated that it was a crap test, non-scientific, etc. Whatever.

I was reminded recently of something a buddy of mine posted on a message board. It was a poll in the Ottawa Sun about whether folks...Well, see for yourself.

Will you be going out of your way to be kind during Kindness Week?

Yes 27%
No 73%

Total Votes for this Question: 859

Despite the message sent, I have to laugh. "Can't be kind. Too busy."

All right, maybe people just don't think of it as going "out of their way" because they're happy to add another act of kindness to their day. Or maybe they mean that they'll make small efforts that really aren't that far removed from their routine. It's certainly not the impression I get.

Now, if it's just a matter of laziness, you're talking my language!

I'm going to make a suggestion; you can be kinder without making any kind of effort. Instead...Spend less time being nasty! See how that works? You're being kinder by doing less! It makes perfect sense!

Don't say "On kindness week, I'm going to buy my co-worker a card to show my appreciation for her dedication". Say "during Kindness Week, I'm going to give one fewer person the finger while driving".

Everybody wins!

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Carbon Tax Coming to BC

Speaking of British Columbia in the previous post, I look forward to seeing the results of their attempts to impose a carbon tax.

Let's have a look at highlights from a Vancouver Sun article.

(Finance Minister Carole) Taylor said the new carbon tax will kick in July 1. Initially, drivers will pay about 2.4 cents per litre more for gasoline at the pumps.

The tax will apply to virtually all fossil fuels, including gasoline, diesel, natural gas, coal, propane and home-heating fuel. It will rise each year, reaching 7.2 cents per litre of gasoline -- and comparable amounts on other fuels -- by 2012.

After that, Taylor said, it will be up to the government of the day to decide what to do with the tax.

If you drive a Prius hybrid, the government estimates the new tax will cost you about $20 extra per year at the outset, rising to $60 by 2012. If you drive a Dodge Ram pickup truck, the additional cost will be closer to $68, rising to about $204 by 2012.

Ah, but will the hybrid help you compensate for...never mind. ;-) I do like seeing these numbers included though. If people struggle to relate to the cost of pollution, they can usually relate to the impact on their wallets.

If you use natural gas to heat your home and water, the carbon tax will push up your costs an average $60 this year, rising to $180 by July 2012 -- unless you change your current heating or water-use patterns.

This is where I find many people need to smarten up; home heating and cooling. We know people who keep their houses at 22 in the winter and 17 in the summer. It's insane on a financial basis, if nothing else.

First off, we actually keep the house at 17 in the winter. But every curtain and blind in the house is open. The heat from the sun alone heats the house to 21, so the furnace doesn't run most of the afternoon. And no, I don't walk around the house wearing four layers and gloves.

Having the air-conditioning at 17 in the summer is even more stupid. I think of it this way; if you went on a Caribbean vacation in February, and it was 17 degrees the whole time you were there, you'd probably be a little disappointed. Well, hell, don't do it at home then! Keep the AC at 20 or thereabouts so it's still a refreshing change from the heat and humidity outside, but there's no need to waste energy and coin by simulating Antarctica in your living room.

Hydro rates are also expected to go up, though those increases are not directly linked to the carbon tax and so will not be balanced by any tax breaks. Hydro rates are expected to increase $60 this year, and another $60 next year.

To help people deal with these increases, the government is offering incentives such as provincial sales tax exemptions for energy-efficient appliances and other tax relief for the purchase of fuel-efficient vehicles.

To help people adjust to the tax -- which seeks to achieve about 7.5 per cent of the government's legislated reductions by 2020 -- all British Columbians will receive a one-time $100 cheque in June.

"We want to bring in the benefits first," Taylor said. She added that the one-time payment will be in addition to the matching tax reductions and credits.

To make the carbon tax truly revenue-neutral, Taylor said, corporate taxes will drop from 12 per cent to 11 per cent on July 1, and then to 10 per cent by 2011.

Small-business taxes will also be cut, from the current 4.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent on July 1, and then down to 2.5 per cent by 2011.

Personal provincial income taxes will be cut by five per cent in 2009 for the first $70,000 of earnings.

Lower-income British Columbians will receive further credits in the form of an annual "climate action credit" of $100 per adult and $30 per child.

I like that the article makes it clear that this is a tax shift, not an increase. Very often, a carbon tax is described as an additional tax as opposed to a redistribution.

I actually look forward to criticism about this. Further in the article, one person comments that the increase in gas prices did not stop people from driving, so adding a little more to it will likely accomplish nothing. I did a quick search to try to find out how successful this has been in parts of Europe but I have yet to locate anything decisive (probably because it has yet to be fully determined). So let's make it a date to review this in 2011 and see where things stand.