February 27, 2010

Podium odium: Canada’s Olympic shame according to British journalists

Filed under: Cancon, Sports — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 13:11

I’ve mentioned Fleet Street’s disdain for the Vancouver Olympics before. It’s become its own little side-story to the coverage of the games. But it’s not just the Brits.

After the exit of their men’s hockey team from the games, Russian opinions were channelled by that staunch Slav Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey in Pravda:

We all knew it weeks before the game started, with accusations about doping being levelled at Russian athletes, and we all saw it on day one of the games, with the death of a Georgian athlete on a corner which miraculously was elevated the following day. Vancouver is not fit to hold the Winter Olympics.

[. . .]

We all know Canada has problems with the future lines drawn on Arctic maps and we all know Canada lives in the shadow of its larger neighbour to the south. The abject cruelty shown by Canadian soldiers in international conflicts is scantily referred to, as indeed is the utter incapacity of this county to host a major international event, due to its inferiority complex, born of a trauma being the skinny and weakling bro to a beefy United States and a colonial outpost to the United Kingdom, whose Queen smiles happily from Canadian postage stamps.

Maybe it is this which makes the Canadians so…retentive, or cowardly.

[. . .]

Everybody who knows anything about Olympic skating, Winter Olympic sports and international politics will infer from the pitiful and dangerous conditions provided by the Canadian authorities, which already caused one death, that Vancouver is mutton dressed as lamb. Take off the outer veneer and the stench is horrific.

However, not to be outdone by a mere “Russian” journalist, the mighty Times of London weighs in with their more nuanced condemnation of Canada and the Vancouver Olympics:

The idea was for Canada to emerge as gracious hosts of the Winter Olympics and glorious winners as well. Alas, the Canadians have come across as a bunch of mean-spirited, chippy, unsporting losers.

Things have come to a pretty pass when you find yourself rooting for the United States. But I really have been cheering for stars and stripes rather than maple leaves. The Canadian shenanigans in Vancouver have alienated the entire world.

[. . .]

The Canadians have taken an aggressive line towards any criticism. This kneejerk reaction is both small-minded and small-nation. It is not hostile to point out an error, particularly when the error is rudely thrust in your face.

It is customary at the Olympics to say that the nation holding them has “come of age”. China “came of age” in 2008; Australia “came of age” with the Sydney Games of 2000. In fact, Australia also “came of age” with the Melbourne Games of 1956; that’s because this observation has become an Olympic custom.

But Canada has not come of age in Vancouver 2010. Canada has regressed into a sneering but ultimately impotent adolescence. It’s been — well, rather unattractive on the whole.

So, there you go, Canada. Aren’t you ashamed? Don’t you feel properly dressed down by your betters? Or, like Simon Barnes’ “adolescent”, do you feel like telling him to STFU and GTFO?

February 26, 2010

US Navy SEAL teams to use British mini-sub

Filed under: Britain, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:53

Lewis Page discovers that the latest minisub for the US Navy’s SEAL teams is actually made in Britain:

A groundbreaking new miniature submarine in use by the US Navy’s secretive, elite frogman-commando special operations force was actually designed and built in old Blighty, the Reg can reveal.

We reported first on the S301 mini-sub two weeks ago, noting from federal documents that the famous US Navy SEALs had leased a demonstration model for “doctrinal, operational, and organizational purposes”. This was followed up last week by the Honolulu Advertiser, which had spoken to Submergence Group, the American firm listed by the US government as provider of the S301.

It emerged that the S301 — now in trials with the SEALs in Hawaii — had cost just $10m to develop, which contrasted especially well with the $885m+ spent on the ill-fated Advanced SEAL Delivery System (ASDS).

The ASDS, from US defence behemoth Northrop Grumman, had been intended to supersede the SEALs’ current Mark 8 Mod 1 minisubs, which are carried in a “Dry Deck Shelter” (DDS) airlock docking bay fitted to a full-sized US Navy nuclear submarine — either a normal attack boat or an Ohio-class dedicated Stingray-style special-ops mothership. The Ohios, nuclear missile subs retired from their old job under arms-reduction treaties, have space aboard for a large force of SEALs and pack a powerful armament of conventional-warhead cruise missiles for precision shore bombardment.

Detroit has no problem that the government can’t make worse

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 12:11

Detroit has had a rough time lately — if you define “lately” as 50 years. But never fear . . . in spite of depopulation, de-industrialization, urban decay, crime, and soaring rates of illiteracy, the government is going to do something:

From its status as one of the wealthiest communities in the country, with a population of close to 2 million people 50 years ago, it has shrunk to a chaotic, sclerotic mess of 900,000 souls.

So in America, land of the free, the city elders of Detroit are now planning a forced march down Woodward Avenue. Citizens will be relocated from desolate neighbourhoods, their former homes bulldozed.

How will the city get people to move? In some cases, it will invoke eminent domain legislation, that favourite weapon of central planners, and expropriate. In others, it will simply cut off more services as they become too expensive to provide.

Mass state-driven relocation has happened in Communist China, the former Soviet Union, but America? Not since the creation of Native American reservations, and certainly not in 21st century urban areas.

IOC to investigate scandal in women’s hockey: celebration

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Sports — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:29

Well, I’m sure the IOC will quickly move to quash the scandalous behaviour of those hooligans on the Canadian women’s hockey team:

The International Olympic Committee will investigate the behaviour of the Canadian women’s hockey players who celebrated their gold medal at the Vancouver Games by drinking alcohol on the ice.

Several Canadian players returned to the ice surface at Canada Hockey Place roughly 30 minutes after their 2-0 win over the U.S. on Thursday night.

The players drank cans of beer and bottles of champagne, and smoked cigars with their gold medals draped around their necks.

Imagine that! Celebrating after winning a gold medal against their arch-rivals. And drinking alcohol, too. And to compound the outrage, they did it on the ice!!!

I’m sure the IOC will do the sensible thing and strip them of their medals. It’s the only logical thing to do, after all. And totally in proportion to the heinousness of their crime.

Even worse, they contributed to the delinquency of a minor:

Among those drinking were Marie-Philip Poulin of Quebec City, the youngest player on Team Canada and its fourth-line centre, who scored twice in the first period. The 18-year-old Poulin turns 19 next month, but right now she would be under the legal drinking age in B.C.

Because nobody in the entire history of the province of British Columbia has ever had the temptation to have a drink before the legal age. Even though in Quebec, “the legal drinking age is just a suggestion”.

Photos of the celebrations below the fold:


Is the Corolla the new Pinto?

Filed under: Economics, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:12

David Harsanyi examines the different treatment Toyota is getting from the US government (majority owner of the former #1 US automaker):

The Toyota horror is well on its way to transforming the Corolla into the Pinto of the 21st century. Who knows? Perhaps the worst is true about Toyota. Perhaps it is hiding something. Maybe Toyota thought it was infallible. Maybe it is evil. Right now, though you might not know it, it’s all just a bunch of maybes.

There have been to this point 2,600 reported incidents of “sudden unintended acceleration” reported to Toyota — a company that used to sell 9 million cars yearly, most of them in the United States. This yet-to-be defined glitch — maybe a floor mat sticking — has reportedly caused more than 30 deaths.

What we do know is that anyone involved in a Toyota-driven accident now has a scapegoat. And, if they’re smart, a lawyer.

All of a sudden, Toyotas are dangerous. Edmunds.com, which reviewed more than 200,000 complaints filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over the past decade, found that Toyota ranked fourth- best among the top 20 automakers in the overall number of complaints per vehicle sold.

General Motors came in six spots lower. Then again, GM is special — or, rather, developmentally disabled. Thus, the U.S. government has the majority stake (with funding extracted from taxpayers) in Toyota’s main competitor. It also has the power to drag the CEO of its chief rival to Washington to nearly badger him into cutting off a pinky in one of those ritual atonement ceremonies.

And while Toyota is being subjected to show trials, what would happen if an American car company had to announce a big recall? No need to wonder:

Then there is the administration. Less than a year ago, Ford — a private, non-government good ol’ American corporation — issued the largest single recall in its long history. A total of 4.5 million vehicles were recalled after it was learned that faulty switches were fire hazards.

At the time, the Obama administration’s overmatched Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood gently prodded customers “to pay attention.” When news of Toyota’s problems began to emerge, before we even knew what it was all about, LaHood told Americans to “stop driving” them. (He later claimed to have misspoke.)

In spite of the media’s best efforts to blacken the brand, I’m still very happy with my Toyota Tacoma. If I had to go and buy another vehicle tomorrow, Toyota would still be my first stop, and would most likely be the brand I’d buy (Honda would be a distant second).

Going hand-to-hand

Filed under: Military, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:38

Strategy Page reports on the US Army’s Combatives program:

The army began its Combatives program eight years ago, and it proved so popular that it evolved into a competitive sport. Last September, the fifth annual Army Combatives Tournament was held. There were 318 soldiers competing, organized into 48 teams (organized by units or bases worldwide).

The army has a 40 hour course to teach the basic of Combatives. The U.S. Air Force was so impressed that it developed a 20 hour version of the army Combatives training.

Three years ago, the marines began requiring that everyone qualify for the lowest level belt (tan) of their martial arts (Combatives) program. That goal has proved more difficult than anticipated, but has got marines more focused on hand-to-hand combat. The skills obtained through combatives training have proved to be lifesavers, especially in raids and search operations, where a nearby civilian often turns into a deadly threat on very short notice.

February 25, 2010

Canadian women beat US women for the hockey gold medal

Filed under: Cancon, Sports — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 22:25

A very hard-fought game, where Canada triumphed by the score of 2-0 to take the gold. Although the only goals were scored by Marie-Philip Poulin, for my money the star of the game was goalie Shannon Szabados:

The Canadian women’s hockey team defended the gold medals won at the 2002 and 2006 Olympic Games with a 2-0 win over archrival U.S. on Thursday at Canada Hockey Place.

Marie-Philip Poulin of Beauceville, Que., the youngest player on the Canadian team at 18, scored a pair of goals in the first period, showing off her soft hands and quick release. Edmonton goaltender Shannon Szabados stopped all 28 shots for the shutout.

Szabados was an intriguing choice in net for her first start in an Olympic or world championship final. Davidson went with the 23-year-old from Edmonton over veterans Charline Labonte, the winning goalie in the 2006 Olympic final, and Kim St. Pierre, the starter in the 2002 championship game.

Szabados showed no rookie nerves to start the game, however. She came out of her net to play the puck and made glove saves with confidence. She kept the Americans off the scoreboard during five-on-three chances at the start of both the first and second periods. U.S. goalie Jessie Vetter made 27 saves.

Centre Meghan Agosta of Ruthven, Ont., was named tournament MVP.

Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

With this gold medal, Canada has now earned more gold than in any previous Winter Olympics (8, with the previous highs being 7 at both 2006 and 2002 games).

Macleans profiles Canadian Olympian Cherie Piper

Filed under: Cancon, Sports — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 12:54

Nancy Macdonald has an article up at Macleans about our favourite hockey player, Cherie Piper:

It all started with an ugly injury in a college game between her Dartmouth Big Green and Providence four years ago. When she tore her ACL, she says, everyone at the New Hampshire rink heard the “pop.” It came midway through Piper’s final NCAA season — just nine months after her triumphant return from Turin, where Canada won gold and she finished second on the team in scoring. Following surgery, Piper didn’t get back on the ice for six months, and missed a full year with the national squad.

And just as she was regaining her fitness and timing, her dad Alan died of a heart attack; he’d been Piper’s coach and mentor, had first put her on skates at age eight in a Toronto boys’ league, and ferried her across the city to games for years. “It was tough to finish the season,” says Piper, then with the Mississauga Chiefs of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. The rink was no longer a refuge; hockey suddenly became a grim reminder of all she’d lost.

[. . .]

In the summer of 2008, she left Ontario for Calgary, joining the Oval X-Treme of the Western Women’s Hockey League, to focus solely on hockey. But it was too late. Last year, she was cut from Canada’s roster for the World Championships in Finland, where Poulin got her start with Team Canada. Piper, a two-time gold medallist, was devastated and considered giving up the game altogether. At the time, coach Mel Davidson didn’t know whether Piper would pack it in and go home, or “dig in, and say ‘Mel, you made a mistake and I’m going to prove it to you.’ ”

Cherie and her teammates take on the US women’s team for the gold medal tonight. We’re certainly going to be watching and cheering.

“Ontario will have the highest electricity rates in North America”

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:32

Parker Gallant is quite disturbed by the most recent annual report from Hydro One, Ontario’s government-owned electrical transmission corporation:

No major media reported on Hydro One’s annual statement to “investors,” as the company puts it, even though the report is a dog’s breakfast of warning signs and bizarre trends that spell trouble.

[. . .]

As debt rises, Hydro One’s debt-to-equity ratio weakened from 1.71:1 to 1.91:1. It borrows money to pay for capital costs surrounding the province’s Green Energy Act and puts the company at risk of a debt ratings downgrade, which will drive borrowing costs up.

Return on equity is down to 8.7% from 9.7% in 2008, indicating an overall decline in the value of the company. Return on assets fell to 3% from 3.5%. As a result, the dividend payment to the province was $188-million, down 27.4%. But the CEO says the company is “on target.”

Even though revenues and costs are rising, and profit falling, Hydro One handles less electricity — 139.2 terawatts, a decline of 6.4%. The cost of distribution per terawatt was up by 14.9%. Operations and maintenance costs keep rising as power transmitted declines. The number of employees rose 7.7%. Since 2002, when the company had 3,933 employees to distribute 153.2 terawatts, total employment has jumped 38% to 4,400 to distribute 9% less power. Are these additional 1500 staff working in the field or at head office working on rate increase applications?

Trying to argue someone out of a belief they were never argued into

Filed under: Environment — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:06

Clive sent a link to Lord Monckton’s “Answer to a ‘global warming’ fanatic”:

Dear Enquirer, – Thank you for taking the trouble to write to me. If I may, I shall highlight various passages from your letter in bold face, and then respond to them seriatim in Roman face.

“I am not a climate scientist, and so I can only go by the overwhelming consensus amongst scientists that man-made climate change is occurring and that it poses a grave threat to humanity.”

First, science is not — repeat not — done by consensus. Aristotle, in codifying the dozen worst fallacies to which mankind is prone, described this one as the “head-count fallacy”, or, as the mediaeval schoolmen called it, the argumentum ad populum. Merely because many people say they believe a thing to be true, they do not necessarily believe it to be true and, even if they do, it need not necessarily be true. Abu Ali Ibn al-Haytham, the astronomer, mathematician and philosopher of science in 11th-century Iraq who is credited as the father of the scientific method, said this —

“The seeker after truth does not put his faith in any mere consensus, however broad and however venerable. Instead, he subjects what he has learned from it to scrutiny using his hard-won scientific knowledge, and he verifies for himself whether it is true. The road to the truth is long and hard, but that is the road we must follow.”

More recently, T.H. Huxley, in the famous debate in which he defeated Bishop Soapy Sam Wilberforce in Oxford on the question of evolution, put it this way —

“The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the very highest of duties: blind faith the one unpardonable sin.”

Secondly, the “consensus” you speak of does not in fact exist. Schulte (2008) reported that, of 539 scientific papers dated January 2004-February 2007 that contained the search phrase “global climate change”, not one provided any evidence that any anthropogenic influence on any part of the climate would prove in any degree catastrophic. That, if you do science by consensus, is the consensus.

Design mistakes in consumer electronics

Filed under: Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:50

Benj Edwards looks at the long list of consumer electronic devices with design problems (most of which could have been avoided):

You saved and you saved until you could finally buy that shiny new $1000 gadget that promised you everything under the stars. When it came time to plug it in, you found your joy being subsumed by abject horror. Your stomach plunged deep into your gut and you (yes, mortal non-designer you) recognized a fundamental flaw in your flashy gizmo so obvious that it made you want to pick up the device and smash it over the designer’s head.

Even the best designers make mistakes . . . but this article isn’t about them. We’re about to, ahem, celebrate the worst consumer electronics designers through the lens of their faulty creations. Since I’m far from an all-knowing technology god, I’ve limited our survey to fifteen design problems that have not only bugged me through the years, but that are widespread enough to have bugged many of you too. These problems aren’t limited to current technology, but they all fall into the nebulous realm known as “consumer electronics.” You know: TVs, telephones, VCRs, DVD players, MP3 players, and more.

EMI launches appeal over “Down Under”

Filed under: Australia, Law, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 08:12

Following up from earlier this month, EMI is appealing against the decision that Men at Work plagiarized a popular folk song in their 80’s hit “Down Under”:

Papers filed with the Federal Court in Sydney listed 14 grounds for appeal and stated songwriters Colin Hay and Ron Strykert did not breach copyright.

It said similarities may be noted only by a “highly educated musical ear”.

[. . .]

EMI Music said the inclusion of the melody was, at most, a form of tribute to the tune.

In its appeal, EMI also argued that the Girl Guides Association of Victoria state actually owned the copyright, as they sponsored the 1934 Girl Guides song competition for which the song was written.

The decision seemed odd in another way: lack of proportionality. The “offending” part is a very small section of the song, which would not seem to justify awarding 40-60% of the profits from the work to the plaintiff. Perhaps Australian law allows it, but it seems to be an attempt to “right a wrong” by inflicting a disproportional penalty, rather than an equitable one (that’s not to say I think the decision was correct, just a comment on the initial finding).

February 24, 2010

This sounds great . . . if it works as advertised

Filed under: Economics, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 18:02

A freezer-sized box to provide power to 100 homes, running on renewable fuel? Sounds good, doesn’t it? If it turns out to be economical, practical, and efficient, it could be great:

A mini power station containing fuel cells that can run on anything from natural gas to the more renewable stuff, Bloom’s device has received the level of hype in Silicon Valley normally reserved for a new product from Apple.

For the past week, newspapers and websites have been filled with rumours about Bloom boxes, as the devices have been nicknamed, invented by former Nasa scientist KR Sridhar.

Fuel cells, which convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity by an electrochemical process, are a promising source of energy while emitting less CO² and other pollutants, as well as being much more efficient, than burning. But most modern designs use expensive materials, such as platinum, or corrosive chemicals that shorten their lifespan.

At the heart of Sridhar’s device is a thin fuel cell made from a plentiful resource, sand. The size of a floppy disk, it is painted with proprietary inks that allow the fuels to react with oxygen from the air, a chemical process that produces electricity.

Bloom Energy claims that the boxes provide electricity at about half the cost of current conventional sources. Current customers include heavy hitters like Google, FedEx, WalMart, and Coca-Cola.

Of course, the company hasn’t been providing a lot of detailed technical information, so it’s not clear if this is one of the breakthroughs in electrical generation that will change everything, or if it’s another interesting blip that will quickly disappear.

Richard Miller, an innovation platform leader at the UK’s Technology Strategy Board, said Bloom Energy had yet to provide data to allow a fully informed decision on the value of its technology.

Update, 25 February: Alexis Madrigal says it’s too expensive for the current market conditions:

The analyst firm Lux Research posted a note to its blog today noting that Bloom had confirmed their 100-kilowatt boxes are priced between $700,000 and $800,000 without subsidies of any kind.

In fact, a long-term R&D collaboration between the Department of Energy and multiple solid-oxide fuel-cell manufacturers, the Solid State Energy Conversion Alliance, estimates that fuel cells will need to cost $700 per kilowatt of peak capacity to compete unsubsidized with the grid. Bloom’s product costs 10 times that.

“The cost is about an order of magnitude higher than it needs to be, to be truly competitive,” said Michael Tucker, a fuel cell scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

When you do the math, the Bloom box’s electricity costs substantially more per kilowatt hour than the grid.

“Without incentives, we calculate electricity would cost $0.13/kWh to $0.14/kWh, with about $0.09/kWh from system cost and about $0.05/kWh coming from fuel cost,” Lux wrote. “Note that this is high compared to average retail U.S. electricity costs of roughly $0.11/kWh.”

An order of magnitude more than conventional power? Yep, that qualifies as “spendy”.

Tweet of the day

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Sports, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 17:37

Remind me how this clownish, feeble US team beat us? Oh, right, our goalie in that game was 52 years old and tripping balls on peyote.

Roleplaying games, back-in-the-day

Filed under: Gaming, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 13:00

Jon, my former virtual landlord (and still host for my original blog archives), sent along a link to this article. Knowing Jon’s distaste for such things, he must have been grimacing when he clicked Send:

I was initiated into the mysteries of gaming via a grade school classmate’s copy of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set. A mysterious artifact, this red box contained a set of waxy, dull-edged dice and a couple of thin rulebooks. Designed to be played on its own or as an introduction to the complexities of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the Basic Set-or “Red Box” as it came to be known by gamers-became the key to an entire universe of adventure and magic. Little did I know at the time this would be the beginning of a lifelong love affair with gaming and fantasy in general.

With the news that D&D publishers Wizards of the Coast intends to release a new edition of the introductory rule set-in a red box no less-I thought it might be fun to ask a few writers about their own early experiences with the world’s best known fantasy role-playing game.

My first experience with the game was in high school, where a classmate found out that I was into wargames and wanted to “help me” by diverting me away from such evil warmongering stuff. His gaming methadone involved mass slaughter of beings and beasts in a “dungeon” he’d created. About a dozen of us were introduced to the game in the same session . . . let’s just say that it didn’t go terribly well. With no experienced players in the pack, we specialized in aggravating the Dungeon Master (the person running the game for us). After about an hour, the DM was deliberately killing us off as fast as he could.

I played several other role playing game systems after that, but never found one I was comfortable with. I ended up “rolling my own” by basing it on Metagaming’s Melee and Wizard games (both designs originally by the great Steve Jackson) for the combat and magic systems. I found this worked best for my occasional RPG sessions, as I hate-with-a-passion being in games with rules lawyers (the archetypical one has memorized all the rulebooks, tables, supplements, and so on). If I don’t explain why something is happening, they have to concentrate on what to do about it instead of getting into heated arguments about die roll modifiers and such.

In the early 1980’s, I ended up working at Mr. Gameway’s Ark in Toronto (which appears to be Google-proof . . . or doesn’t have more than occasional mentions in mailing list conversations), which was the largest independent game store in town. I got to read the rules of dozens of RPG systems, but perhaps I was spoiled for choice . . . I never did end up playing any.

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