Wednesday, October 31, 2007

It happened on Halloween

The Canadian dollar topped its record late this afternoon, just a couple of hours ago. It was worth more than it's ever been during the lifetime of anyone alive today.


Oct. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Canada's dollar rose to an all-time high against its U.S. counterpart as record crude oil prices and the Federal Reserve's cut in borrowing costs spurred a rally in currencies linked to commodity exports.

The difference between Canadian and U.S. benchmark interest rates was erased for the first time since March 2005 when the Fed reduced its target for overnight lending between banks by a quarter-percentage point to 4.5 percent. The U.S. dollar tumbled against more than a dozen major currencies as the Fed's cut fueled speculation that the global economy will weather an American housing slump.

"We can't call a top in the Canadian dollar,'' said Steve Butler, director of foreign exchange trading in Toronto at Scotia Capital Inc.

Canada's dollar rose 1.2 percent to $1.0604 at 4:55 p.m. in Toronto after touching $1.0617, the highest since the currency started floating in 1950. One U.S. dollar buys 94.31 Canadian cents. The Canadian currency's previous high of $1.0614 was reached in 1957.


TORONTO, Oct 31 (Reuters) - The Canadian dollar rose to its highest level in nearly 130 years against the U.S. dollar on Wednesday, hitting US$1.0617 as the greenback slide lower in the aftermath of a U.S. Federal reserve rate cut.

The domestic currency has rallied sharply in recent months, thanks to lofty commodity prices, a broadly weaker U.S. dollar, merger-related interest and a robust Canadian economy.

At about 4:15 p.m. (2015 GMT), each U.S. dollar was worth 94.19 Canadian cents.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Red sky at morning

The CBC reports this evening that domestic Chinese travel, Chinese people seeing China, has going from "non-existent" 20 years ago to a $60 billion dollar a year industry now. It's like I've been saying: sooner or later, China's people will necessarily grow in affluence and they'll reach a point where they stop selling goodies to us for a nickel a ton and start consuming their own production. There are 1.3 billion of them in China alone, and only 330 million of us in Anglo America and another 480 million in the EU. We're only frosting on their cake once it's finally done baking.

We better get ready for the day the oven opens.

The smaller dollar

According to the Bank of Canada, the day I started City in the Trees, May 16, 2005, the Canadian dollar was worth 79¢ US. If you had bought something worth a dollar Canadian with a US dollar that day, you would have gotten 26¢ in change (Canadian).

All my life, at least all my economically-conscious life, the Canadian dollar has been worth less than the US dollar. There've been certain advantages to it; it's tended to be good for exports because it made our commodities less expensive to everyone else (in particular, people in the US)... but it had a couple of downsides. First of all, it made it things here more expensive, and that meant that we had to live just a little meaner than our neighbours, through no fault of our own. Secondly, it was faintly humiliating. Who could forget when our dollar was worth 62¢ US just five years ago? Odds are, it will be worth less than the US dollar again, but for the moment... just for the moment... I can think back to when a friend visited from Los Angeles in the mid-90s. He came ready for every contingency implied by crossing the border; he even wanted to know if he had to bring adapters for his electrical appliances (the answer: no). But he could not be bothered, absolutely couldn't be bothered, to change one red cent US to Canadian currency. He simply took it for granted that people here would treat his money as legal tender in a foreign land; indeed, would be damn glad to have it and welcome it in preference to our own. I never said anything to him, he was a guest, but I found his attitude arrogant and insulting... and the thing is, I knew even if I had raised it as an issue, he would simply have thrown the value and international stature of his currency right in my face... he was that kind of guy, unfortunately.

(Allow me to quickly add here that of the several visitors I've had from the US since, not one has had that attitude or come without at least some Canadian money at the ready.)

Well, I've lived long enough to see my dollar raise its head above that waterline and finally take a breath. I don't know how long it'll last, but I did see it. Just a few moments ago, I noticed our dollar trading, momentarily, above $1.05 US. Today, our dollar broke the record it set against the US dollar in 1974, and is worth as much as it was in 1960: in other words, it's worth more than it's ever been worth in my entire lifetime, measured against the US dollar. And how I would have loved to have had that smug Los Angeleno with me on Saturday. I was with P-Doug and MG down at a new Chinese supermarket called T&T at the lake front. As we went through the checkout, I happened to notice pink cards they'd put up at every register, announcing they were accepting US dollars at 90¢. I couldn't help smiling as I tried to imagine his face. Damn, but that felt good.

It won't last... but just for a few moments, this is ours.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

"Make it blow"

I started renting Star Trek: The Next Generation recently, starting right at the beginning. Season 1, of course.

My God. Is it fucking awful.

The plots are dopey and unsophisticated; enemies are one-dimensional and would tip over in a stiff wind. The sycophancy of the characters towards Captain Picard is nauseating; the way they all brown-nose him, you would think the guy shits oxygen and there's no other source for lightyears. The level of exposition is oppressive; they leave nothing to the imagination and even the "hints" they drop land like skydiving elephants... of typical 'use' in this regard is Data, who has an encyclopedic knowledge of everything, except the obvious (as Tom Baker's Doctor Who once snarled to his sidekick K-9 in a famous outtake, "Yeah, you never know the fucking answer when it's important.").

But the acting... ohhhh, the fucking, pompous, wooden, over-the-top, acting. I can't believe after all these years it's still Bill Shatner who carries this albatross around his neck. Go back and watch the first season of ST:TNG and then send Bill a nice card apologizing. Kirk on his broadest day had nothing on these hams, believe me. Every scene has someone you just want to smack.

The strange thing is, I remember the show kindly. And I've seen enough of the later episodes lately to know that the style calmed down and the acting improved. Mind you, they had more than twice as long as ST:TOS to get their act together. So I'm going to keep going with the series and wait for it to start hitting the groove. But honestly, watching this shit again for the first time in about 20 years, I remember now why I hated the show when it debuted, and I'm amazed it got past its second season. Had it carried any other name, you would have heard the flush long before that.

P.S. I like Wil Wheaton (have you ever been to his blog? It's hilarious, irreverent, and down-to-earth); I first saw him in Stand By Me, and I always felt bad for him that he got saddled with a no-win roll like Wesley Crusher. Time hasn't improved the character's standing, I'm afraid; I hated him then, and I hate him now. Was "know-it-all kid" ever a popular role, in either fiction or real life? "Wesley, you need to know more about starships... come over here, have a look at the airlock..."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

We be 3D at City In the Trees?

I mistyped the heading; I very nearly referred to my blog as something like "Coitus In the Trees". Sounds like fun, though, doesn't it? :)

In any case, in a recent posting about the construction at Sixteen Mile Creek, I mentioned that I thought it might be of interest someday for people to see what the bridge looked like, and that at least I could show them in colour. Jokingly, I lamented that 3D wasn't really an option yet.

But I started wondering about that this morning. I remember reading about things like sync systems for paired digital cameras a couple of years ago. Seemed cumbersome and impractical to me, but the idea intrigued me enough to take another look.

It turns out that some place in Asia has adapted an old idea to a new use. They've created something called 3D Lens-In-Cap. It connects directly to the body of the camera and features a beam splitter, which I understand is an old-fashioned way of generating 3D images from way back in the 19th century. The idea here is that two different elements about three or four inches apart (roughly the distance between human eyes) each provide half an image, side by side on a single exposure. In other words, instead of a single landscape image, you get two nearly identical portrait-oriented images, each occupying half the overall image. Now, of course, these are still just flat images, but between them they represent all the information needed to composite a three dimensional view. (Cross your eyes and look at this... really something.)

I imagine we're still some years yet from being able to just shoot a 3D image (though supposedly Adobe has just introduced a new method for doing so, and a rather cunning one at first blush), and we're probably a ways yet from being able to project something in three dimensions easily. But this, at least, represents the ability of recording the information now, and keeping it for when that technology exists and makes the use of it more practical. I'm thinking things like, what if I could show someone 50 years from now what Lions Valley Park looked like in three dimensions in 2007, when a whole different bridge was there? What if I could show them what places that haven't been built up yet once looked like as you walked or drove through them? What about cityscapes in Toronto that will slowly disappear as the years ago by? And all in colour. The idea really excites me.

The thing is available for the camera body I have, the Canon Rebel XT 350D (among many others), from a place in Nevada. They're asking what seems to me a very reasonable $112.50 for it. And given that the Canadian dollar is effectively at par with the US dollar (as I write this, ours is actually worth a few cents more, actually), this would seem like pretty much the ideal moment, too.

I'm really thinking about it.


Ah, screw it. Found it on eBay for about $100 US. Let's do it. :)


Well, been to the post office, got the money order, sent it off. I mention it here because I want to record that this was the first time in my life that I paid for something in US funds for which it cost me less in Canadian. :)

The Wit and Wisdom of Robert Gates

On the prospects for homegrown democracy in Russia, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates had this to say in a recent interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty:

" takes time to build the institutions of democracy. Just having an election doesn't mean you have a democracy. So these institutions have to grow. And you're looking at a country in Russia that in a thousand years of its history has not had a democracy. So my view is, I think we need to encourage the development of freedom in Russia, we need to encourage the development of democratic institutions, but also think we need to understand that those things take time."

Now I wonder why all that sage, practical thinking applies to the policies of his country's administration when it comes to Russia, but not when it comes to Iraq, Afghanistan, or Iran, where clearly the idea is to storm in, slap up polling booths, shove "democracy" down everyone's throat like an ipecac to induce the vomiting up of centuries of tradition, and then insist it's "mission accomplished" as you continue to dodge bullets and tiptoe through the minefields? Ah, yes, of course... because Russia has several thousand thermonuclear warheads, and those other countries don't.

Hmmm... and they say Iran is after the Bomb, is that right? Wonder why.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Don't (with)hold your breath... withhold your money

Someone called "JS" has posted the following in response to a news story at CTV about Canadian prices remaining high despite the rise in our dollar:

"Honda, Toyota, GM, Acura, Ford, Audi and the list is growing are refusing to sell new cars to Canadians in the US. Now Quebec based Bombardier Recreational Products are refusing to sell to Canadians in the States, and that after Canadian taxpayers supported them for decades. You can still buy their products here in Canada for 40% more."


Monday, October 22, 2007

U can't Dodge this

So Jim Flaherty, federal Minister of Finance, an elected representative of the Canadian people, can publicly beg retailers to recognize the tremendous rise in the value of the Canadian dollar over the past five years by lowering their prices and giving consumers due value for their money, and they can scarcely look up from guzzling the cream long enough to tell him to get bent…

Meanwhile, David Dodge, Governor of the Bank of Canada, the appointed head of an arm’s length Crown Corporation, nominally responsible to the government in the form of the Minister of Finance — that very same Mr. Flaherty — can muse darkly in public that the Canadian dollar has appreciated in value “abnormally quickly”, and the thing instantly plunges 1.6% in value.

Now somebody tell my why the hell this can’t work the other way around.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Double deer blind

I crouched naked beside him in the grass on the river bank. Ten yards away, they were talking. Between them and us, hidden just this side of a fallen log, were our backpacks and our clothes. But we dared not rise and retrieve them, or even make a sound. Pressed to the forest floor, we huddled and waited.

He had first been alerted of their approach by the sudden flight of a bird. Then a voice from the river. He had urged me to drop and I did so immediately. We heard the sounds of their canoe, scraping over the rocks, and them getting out to dislodge it. Then they lingered in the pool at the river bend where we had ourselves been lounging before deciding to sun ourselves in the glade on the bank. Laughter reached our ears; the singular reek of marijuana wafted up to us. We waited, tense, fearful and excited. Curious, even. Naked, vulnerable, and exposed, praying not to be discovered, at the unknowing mercy of these people just yards away. Wishing them away; wondering who they were. Though they were our own kind, I felt more like a deer than a human.

The minutes passed with a glacial slowness, but they did pass. And so did the men, their voices seeming to break free from below us, carried off around the river bend. We rose, recovering our civility and donning it before making our way down to the very same place they had left just moments before. As we waded again in the water, we realized the rushing river in which we stood would have negated any chance of them having heard us, though from the bank we had been insulated from the water's babbling and had assumed our voices would be as clear to them as theirs to us. So we had lain there, certain that the slightest whisper risked detection; all the while the same sun that streamed down on our bare skin dappling them just a stone's throw away. But to a world of clothing and cars, talking and taxes, we had emerged from one of nakedness, fear, seclusion and silence, and all in the space of a few seconds. It was ponderous indeed how truly little there was between the one state and the other.

Friday, October 05, 2007

October 5, 1957

Fifty years ago today, the Soviet Union put the first man-made object into space and into orbit around the Earth. Sputnik, that little beeping sphere, our first "artificial moon". People, I'm told, could watch it cross the skies over their backyards, witnessing the dawn of the Space Age with their very eyes.

Yes, the Space Age is fifty years old this very day. It's hard to believe it's been that long... and harder still to believe it's only been that long. Consider this: easily within living memory, no man-made object (much less man) had ever been outside our planet's atmosphere, other than radio waves, of course. No human being had looked down and seen the Earth from pole to pole with a single glance. We had never seen a photo that showed our world hanging in the blackness of space. We were earthbound, literally.

I think it's all the more stunning to realize that we went from nothing, the day before Sputnik, to human beings walking on the Moon in less than 12 years. A baby born when Sputnik took flight would have been a kid on summer vacation waiting for grade six to start when he watched Neil Armstrong make that first track. That really WAS a giant leap when you think of it in those terms.

We've kind of let manned exploration get away from us since the early 70s. It's expensive and dangerous. Mars is a long way away. But the Moon isn't. We really ought to be making better use of our nearest neighbour by now.

But still, think of all we've accomplished in 50 years. Thousands of satellites. Human beings on the Moon. Robots we've sent to fly by, then orbit, then land on, and then wander the arid shores of other worlds. Probes to planets that we couldn't even see before the last couple of centuries, showing us their faces close up. Man-made intelligences that have plunged into the atmosphere of a moon of Saturn, wandered the trackless wastes of Mars, tickled the tails of comets. These were all things that only gods could have aspired to when people who haven't even retired yet were children. Okay, it ain't warp drive. But anyone 50 years ago would have been amazed. And so should we be.

Onward and upward.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Mumble mumble lyrics mumble sinnnnnnngggg...

I don't understand why some bands are such assholes about their lyrics being available online, I really don't. Why is that an issue when, say, photographs of the album cover art isn't? That's publishing too. All having access to the lyrics does is augment the experience of listening to the song and really enjoying it.

The lyrics are often at the heart of a song. But modern orchestration being what it is, it's all too common for words and even whole passages to be lost in the murk of the music. I go online for clarification, but I find out that dink band #1 and greedyfuckhead band #2 and selfishtwat band #3 don't want lowly fans telling other lowly fans what they heard on the CD they just blew $22 on where they didn't deign to print the lyrics (and that is exactly the case with me today, in fact).

Stuff like this makes it a little hard for me to sympathize when someone downloads for free something the band wouldn't help you understand even if you paid them.

The party's over

I was worried when the Tories got in they'd start rolling the universe back to 1950. So far they've been pretty careful about it, but it looks like they're throwing caution to the wind now. Federal Health Minister Tony Clement has announced "the party's over." By this he means he's going to crack down on drug use. For years, decades, in fact, this country has had study after study urging the legalization and regulation of recreational substances, in much the same way we did with alcohol after its prohibition proved such a disaster. For generations now, the attitudes of average Canadians have been well in advance of the policies of their governments. Let's be blunt about it: whenever governments legislate against basic human nature, criminals get rich, and people die, needlessly. Tony Clement is a man after Al Capone's heart. What he's proposing is in the interests of almost no one in Canada, but is in the interests of every drug lord on Earth. His policy creates, sustains, and amplifies over time an environment certain to increase their profits and the likelihood and occasion for gang violence and murder, all the while needlessly taxing our system, impoverishing our nation, and ruining the lives of otherwise productive people by prosecuting something that we're otherwise entirely okay with, so long as it's done using a bottle from the LCBO. It is, in fact, a jaw-droppingly stupid, stubborn, and statist policy, and has been since before I was born.

The party's over?

The party's fired, Tony. First chance the people get.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

A many-bridged river

I feel myself privileged to be recording a weird, small moment in "local" history. It's kind of a long story, and I record it here mostly for myself because I can't believe it will interest many, but I think it bears telling just in case it does.

About a month ago, looking at images in that imminently-useful tool, GoogleMaps, I happen to notice a second bridge on Dundas Street in Oakville that was accompanied by what was clearly a set of supports for an older, removed bridge. This was on Sixteen Mile Creek; earlier this summer I undertook visiting the set on Twelve Mile Creek and shots from that trek appear in this blog. The set at Sixteen Mile Creek consisted of, from what I could see, six tall slabs (judging from their shadows) and the concrete abutments at either end. I was, in my geeky way, delighted. It seemed there was a park at the base of the bridge (Lions Valley Park), fed by a road in from Dundas Street, and so I decided to head over there and take a look.

I went the first weekend in September... on Labour Day, if I'm not mistaken. I was surprised when I got there to find the road down to the park was closed by construction. I ended up parking in the nearby subdivision (one of those ritzy, unfriendly ones that largely bans parking on its streets and is mostly free of those encouragements to foreign interlopers called "sidewalks") and made my way to the blocked road and down into the valley.

Even on the way down, I could see something was up. Dead ahead through the screen of trees and at the bottom of the road, I could see a concrete and steel construction, filling the view. This turned out to be a new bridge support. And of the six ancient ones I had come in hopes of seeing, only two remained. Of the other four, no hint remained. I was really disappointed... I had hoped to get a few dramatic shots of the six dethroned bridge supports standing like gigantic dominos in a row. No such luck. But I was intrigued by all the new construction. A footbridge to the north of the current Dundas Street bridge was also gone; in its place, two new bridges on the south side... one clearly meant for pedestrian traffic and likely permanent; the other a bridge for construction vehicles that will probably be removed when the work is through in a couple of years.

I made my way to the west side of the creek and then up into the park. Eventually, I drifted to creek itself and waded up its course for about a quarter of a mile, and then beyond its first bend I hiked up into the forest for a while. I followed the reverse course on my return.

In the days following my trip there, I went online and tried to determine just exactly what the plan was for all the construction there. I discovered that the course of the old, long-removed bridge was about to be recovered by a three-lane eastbound bridge. I also discovered that the current four-lane Dundas Street bridge is due to be torn down, and replaced by a twin span carrying three lanes westbound. So the existing single four-lane span will be replaced by two three-lane spans over the next couple of years or so. Once the first bridge is built, I expect the existing span will begin to be torn down... and I would like to record that process. One day, a generation from now, someone like me will wonder what that bridge looked like, how it appeared in the valley (just as I do about the long-gone bridge those six dominoes once hefted across the valley). I'm hoping this entry, and some of these shots, will survive somehow to show that.

My research also uncovered a really interesting fact: down in the valley there, there had once been a small village, with something like 500 people living there at its peak in the 1850s. It was called Proudfoot's Hollow after the man who owned the mill, and it served the port of Oakville at the time. The coming of the railroad effectively killed the village, since it effectively killed that same port. By 1880, it was pretty much abandoned. It must have been something to see. Apparently there's a painting of it at the Halton Regional Archives in Milton... I intend to go see it soon.

Another interesting thing about the place, to me personally, is that it was once a migratory station for the passenger pigeon. At the time of height of the village's population, when millions of these birds would visit the place, their droppings were apparently copious enough to kill trees. Who then would have imagined that within the span of a single human lifetime, the last passenger pigeon would die, in captivity, in 1914? Would they have believed that a child who had seen the former could live to bear witness to the latter? Modern extinctions have always fascinated me, but none more so than the passenger pigeon. To reflect that where I walked, waded, hiked, had once been full of millions of these birds that probably only a bare handful of people still alive today could ever have seen — and even then, only in two or three zoos — that realization amazes me. No one living today ever saw one in the wild; the last was shot in 1900. Within a decade, we will be able to say, with full confidence, that no living person ever saw a living, breathing passenger pigeon... once the most numerous single species of bird in all the world.

I returned to the place on the last weekend of September, wondering if I would find the last two remaining supports from the 1920s bridge pulled down. They still remained. I began to wonder if they plan was to retain them for some purpose. Time will tell.

I noticed two particular differences from the last time I was there. The first was a new support beginning construction. The second was that the abutment on the west side was plainly, and quite broadly visible. It dwarfed the abutment for the 1920s bridge that juts from the valley wall just below it.

I find all this truly interesting. Everywhere you look, evidence of bridges... past, present, and future. With a casual glance, in a single image, it is easy — in fact, nearly inevitable — to glimpse all three at once. Perhaps most poignant of all to me is the knowledge that the tall, impressive span existing there today and carrying all the traffic of Dundas Street across the valley from height to height is itself doomed. By the end of the decade, probably, it will be a memory. I hope my pictures will help people, especially people in the future, to remember it. They are, at least, in colour... sorry, 3D isn't a genuinely viable option just yet. :)

Monday, October 01, 2007

Conning at the con

One of the things I did this weekend was help out a friend at an action figure expo. He's been a collector of action figures since before I met him, and his collection must have peaked at something in five figures, financially speaking. Lately, as more and more of his thirties wash over him, the collection has become less of a labour of love and more of a long-term asset to be slowly liquidated in favour of new interests (like debt elimination). So, the other day, I helped him set up and watched the money roll in.

Everyone's got a story. The place was thick with nerds (guilty), but everyone was intriguing in some way, even if it was just irritating. For example, someone was there in a dead-on Darth Vader outfit, including the breathing apparatus. It was astounding. I have to wonder... what does it cost to put something like that together? What drives someone to want to comport himself in public in it? What lurks in the soul of someone who wants to "be" Darth Vader (yes, I know we all do, deep down, but not to the point of putting on the cowl). I'm not condemning, mind you. Just curiosities that came to mind. Bravo on the outfit, though.

There was one little dude there... must have been a teenager, or maybe 20 or so... skinny as a rake and probably couldn't have lifted a book of stamps without a muscle pull, but with a nose he could have picked with an ice cream scoop — it's a wonder he could hold his head up. He came around time and again to moon over one of my friend's action figures. The figure was priced at $15, but this guy only wanted the accessories that came with the figure. I was utterly amazed at the mental block this guy seemed to have. Okay... are the accessories to complete your figure worth fifteen bucks to you? Great, here they are with a bonus figure. If not, then you're asking my buddy to bust up HIS complete figure so YOU can have one on the cheap. But I mean, this guy came back three times that I can remember, fingering the thing like it was a gold coin he wouldn't be able to afford for years to come or something. I wanted to shake him. "Hey, man, it's fifteen bucks. I know it means you risk defaulting on your mortgage or you might have to miss that RSP contribution this month, but live a little. BE GOOD TO YOURSELF!" It was hilarious. He finally pried the figure out of my friend for ten bucks. But, Jesus, we're not even talking about the difference in a cheap lunch here.

I think my favourite was the white guy in the baseball cap with hair like Predator. He was mulling over some of the vehicles my friend had for his action figures and laying this line of bullshit on us. "Oh, ten bucks, that's a little steep for something for my seven-year-old." Uh huh. My friend's brother had been by and informed us that it cost $25 for buyers just to get into the expo. But here we had a guy who had presumably spent at least that much already, using this unlikely ruse to nickel-and-dime my friend. I felt like telling him, "Hey, you know, it's FREE to get into Toys R Us. That twenty-five bucks would probably buy a few vehicles for your, ah, seven-year-old." Yeah... just not collectable ones from the late 80s and early 90s, though. We did give the guy the benefit of the doubt, though: later on, my buddy and I were joking that he really did want it for his son. Picture the scene: son reaches for jeep, only to have his hand slapped away by Dad. "DON'T TOUCH IT! I bought it for YOU! ...You'll get it when you're 50 and I'm dead!" There, see? I was wrong to doubt the man. :)

You and me against the world

I happened to visit a local mall on Saturday and felt the need to avail myself of the facilities. When I went in there, I noticed something strange. There were six urinals, but only two privacy dividers.

Very strange. Typically, urinal privacy dividers are an all-or-nothing prospect. Either you're shielded, or you're not. I don't mean to scandalize the ladies here, but generally, public washrooms spare the expense of privacy. You're just expected to keep your eyes to yourself.

So I was puzzled by this set-up. It effectively took the six urinals and divided them into three sets of open pairs (no poker pun intended here). What's the message here? It's fine for just two guys to have no secrets from each other, but God forbid you should be bothered by some guy wanting a threesome? This is a little like putting brakes on every second car.