Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Market Works

The free market works. How many loaves of bread to make next year? The government could do studies and create models, instruct bakers on how much to make, and then legislate and enforce the price. This was actually done in China and Russia. But, of course, they were disasters, with massive shortages or surpluses, and rife with corruption.

The alternative is let price determine what should be produced and who should produce it. If no one wants to buy SUVs, why should the government get involved? The free market is democratic, and the people have spoken. Giving GM, Ford, and Chrysler money is like giving money to Croc's when that strange foam shoe goes out of style. Tastes change and companies come and go.

Of course, the market can be brutal. It took a few years for the affordable housing crisis in Calgary to sort itself out and while the market works, people can suffer. This is where the government should be focusing. Put money into retraining and relocating people whose jobs were lost. Invest in new companies (and entrepreneurs) that need help getting started. This insane notion of "trickle-down" economics, that giving GM 15 billion will somehow trickle down to the workers, is an absolute waste. 12 months later, GM will still fail, but the money will be in the pockets of owners, managers, union leaders, etc. and the employees will still have to go find another job, go on EI, etc. Reckless spending on things we can't afford, using money we don't have (the magical "equity in your house"), is exactly the reason we're in this mess. You can't spend your way out of this, hoping that people start buying SUVs again. We need to save. We need to regroup and focus on working hard, creating products that people need.

This is all the stuff our grandparents knew. Hard work and prudent financial decisions is what make a country strong, not granite countertops and trips to Mexico.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

ground fog around their legs

There was an incident that occurred in 1985 that helped improve safety in the pipeline industry. It is referred to as the Camrose Accident. It occurred on a pipeline owned by IPL, now called Enbridge -- the operator of the longest pipeline system in the world.

At 12:42pm, Feb. 19, 1985, the senior shift dispatcher at the Edmonton Control Centre suspected a leak in the No.1 liquid natural gas pipeline based on strange pressure readings. At 1pm, a landowner phoned the dispatcher to report a vapour cloud in a field 27km northeast of Camrose. The No.1 pipeline was shutdown and the road near the leak was barricaded.

At 3:30pm, the Maintenance Foreman and District Engineer arrived and approached the suspected leak site from upwind, using their gas detectors. They found the leak in a slough; the ground was pushed up and white clouds of natural gas were spewing out of the ground, gathering in pockets in low-laying areas (natural gas is heavier than air). At 4:30pm, they radioed the Control Centre and recommended flaring the escaping gas (i.e., lighting it on fire) as darkness was approaching. The District Manager declined. A maintenance crew was sent in to install a "stopple" about 220m upstream (and upwind) of the leak which would plug off the pipeline and allow repairs to take place.

The six man maintenance crew began building an access road with a Caterpillar front-end loader, building a snow buffer (between them and the leak), installing floodlights, and operating the Gradall (an excavation machine similar to a back-hoe). Little did they know that the wind direction had been shifting since they arrived on site.

At about 8:30pm, the men were discussing the smell of gas in the air around them, and what appeared to be a ground fog around their legs. Also they noted the vehicles were stalling or idling roughly and the generator powering the floodlights again had stalled. At this point in time, one of them got into the 2 1/2-ton truck to restart it. Almost immediately, a ball of flame erupted in the cab of the truck and quickly engulfed the whole site. All six men at the site were caught in the fire ball.

Two men received 3rd degree burns to 90% of their bodies and died in hospital. Three men received 3rd degree burns to 30% - 70% of their bodies and lived. One man, Mr. Bone, was uninjured.

The current form of the Pipeline Standard is due in part to the investigation of the Camrose Accident.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Have you seen this man?

The wife and I drove up to Blockbuster and parked in the back. As I got out of the car, I saw some guy lean his bike against the wall near the drop off slot and emergency exit. He walked around the corner to the front door. I thought to myself, "What the hell is he doing; his bike is going to get stolen if he leaves it there".

We are in line to rent a video game when this alarm goes off. It was quiet so I thought is was a part of the previews that endlessly loop on the various TVs around the store. After about a minute, people start to realize that it is the emergency exit alarm; I look towards the back and the door is open. Some good Samaritan says, "I'll go follow him," writes his cell phone number down and leaves to follow the thief. The manager phones the police and informs them he's been the victim of a "grab and dash".

After this "exciting" episode, the wife and I compare descriptions. Mine included jeans, a ball cap, and a blue bike. My wife didn't remember the hat, but she said he looked "dirty". Now I understand why eyewitness accounts are deemed "unreliable" at best.

So I figure the best way to catch "Dirty" is to check the pawn shops for someone selling a bunch of movies that all begin with the same letter.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Handy Vegas Travel Guide


Westjet and Expedia have good flight prices (subscribe to Westjet's newsletter for last minute cheap flights). Print you boarding pass off the night before, and get the window seat (which goes to the wife). Wear pants that don't require a belt, and slip on shoes, to help with security. Bring headphones to watch the in-flight TV (Westjet). Always take the shuttles from the airport to your hotel ($6/person), as the cab ride can average from $30 (from airport) to $12 (to airport). Eat before you catch your flight home, as everything closes in the airport after 6pm. Duty free booze is cheap! Wash your passports (half serious -- we accidentally did this and every border guard had a chuckle and no one hassled us).


BRING COMFORTABLE, WORN-IN SHOES. Buy your own booze from a liquor store (ABC in the Miracle Mile shops is good). You must show ID when using Visa (which people use for everything, including buying gum). Text message instead of using your phone; it is way cheaper. Bring 1 more T-shirt and 1 less pair of pants than you think.


The Rio buffet is overrated; the Planet Hollywood and Paris buffets are better. The creperie at the Paris is cheap and filling. Le Burger Brasserie in the Paris has the best burgers.


The monorail is fast and not crowded, but is expensive and still requires significant walking. Take the Deuce (the double decker bus that runs from the strip to downtown), if you don't mind waiting and crowds. You pay cash ($2/ride, $5 for a 24 hour pass) at the front of the bus, and get a card you can swipe like a credit card. To get to the Vegas Premium Outlets, take the Deuce North, get off at St. Louis street, stand in front of the Denny's, and catch the 108 North to the Premium Outlets; the bus driver will announce it.


Cheap (1/2/5/10 cent) slots are fun. Find where the waitresses are walking around, sit down, flag them down and ask for beer, and tip them $1 (you can do this all night, if you want). Most casinos have poker tournaments, but I like the MGM and Planet Hollywood ($60 buyin) the best. The Caesar one was a joke (8 players?!?) Remember, play tight poker and you should come out ahead. The cheapest Blackjack I saw was at Slots-A-Fun ($2).


I've seen Ka (fantastic) and Penn & Teller (awesome). Check out the cheap day-of ticket booths (e.g., Fashion Show Mall). The Belagio water show is cool. Fremont street is a bit scruffier, and the light show is goofy, but the outside street party feel is cool. Fremont street has cheap booze & food.

Killing Time

We usually have a late flight home (they are cheaper). This time, we checked out in the express checkout box, but kept our card keys and hung out at the pool for several hours. Going to a restaurant or cafe and reading kills time also. My sister went to the MGM and watched TV pilots on her final day.


Vegas looked like the borg rebuilding a damaged part of the ship. I think Vegas is in for a hard landing. One dealer said she's never seen Vegas this dead in 20 years. The amount of new hotel rooms / timeshares / condos coming on the market in the next year or so is staggering.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I love the smell of spruce in the morning

My manly quotient just went up 10% (even more than my +10 Amulet of Random Hair). I built a fence between us and our neighbors deck. We had rotting lattice, and I've been meaning to change it for, oh, 7 years. New neighbors moved in yesterday, and today the fence is up. I'm not saying, I'm just saying.

Pickles' nose is out of joint as he can't find any holes to escape and/or stick his head through and whine. Is it really so bad on this side? I feel like a prison guard and Pickles is rapping his metal cup on the bars.

Monday, June 9, 2008

I love lamp (and gas tax)

Oil and gasoline are at record prices. The reason is mostly because the world is approaching peak oil (which stands for the PEAK in world OIL production). It is the date where oil can't be sucked out of the ground any faster. Don't let the media fool you; finding big oil reserves doesn't really change the approach of peak oil, because peak oil is about production rates. Imagine a huge milkshake but a small straw.

So now that we know oil and gas prices will likely continue to rise in the long term, what do we do? The most effect strategy is a carbon tax (for example, a gasoline tax). Europe has had very high gasoline taxes, and as a consequence, they have less urban sprawl and drive smaller, more efficient cars. North America doesn't have very high taxes, and has lots of urban sprawl. 1-in-4 vehicles in Alberta are trucks. We are in for some pain.

Hillary Clinton suggested a gas tax holiday as a way to reduce the cost of gasoline. Here's a quick example to show why this is short-sighted, at best. Imagine gas costs $1.20/L and there is a $0.20/L gas tax. That leaves $1.00/L going to Big Oil. If we eliminate the gas tax, gas is now $1.00/L. Basic economic theory says if price goes down, demand goes up, and when demand goes up, price goes up. The price will rise, but maybe not back to $1.20/L, maybe just $1.10/L. So we do save some money, but Big Oil is now making $1.10/L and government revenue has gone down (which they will have to make up by increasing taxes).

If we introduce a gas tax, it will do three things:

1. Increase government revenue (which will allow them to reduce taxes on other things, or maybe use it to make transit better).

2. Reduce the insane profits Big Oil makes.

3. Encourage behaviours that we're going to have to adopt anyway. The reality is, in 50 years, the combustion engine will be dead and gone. Oil will be $500/barrel and most of the world will run on electricity created by solar, wind, nuclear, coal, etc.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Super Vegas

I had a great time in Vegas with moms, pops, sis, her bf, and wife. Won some money (and promptly spent it) and generally had random fun. Saw "Ka", and it is pure Manga theatre. Fantastic.

So I'm walking near Bill's casino, and this black guy starts walking next to me and says, "You are elusive". I'm confused, so I look at him. "Are you coming here tonight?" he asks me. (Note: he talks slow and melodical like Jesse Jackson.) "No," I say. He stops and gives me a confused hurt look. "Do ya hate humans?" The wife and I burst out laughing and run away. Ah, Vegas, where weird people go to die.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Happy Birthday, Love Copycat

Today is my wife's birthday. It comes just a day after mine, so all day yesterday, I was only 3 years younger than her. Here are the Top 10 reasons I love my wife:

1. She is very creative, and I appear much more interesting by merely copying her, rather than thinking of my own thing to do. Which is why I'm doing a top 10 list. (Who knows if I would have thought of it on my own. She did have a day head start!)

2. She is very smart, and knows many arcane things like when my sister's boyfriend birthday is. She's like having a Blackberry, without the sore thumbs.

3. We didn't meet at a bar. We met just outside a bar, and she was totally drunk. Therefore, I can still keep my belief that no long term relationship can ever start inside a bar.

4. She loves dogs.

5. She has this amazing character trait which I've tried to absorb: she just does stuff. I'm notorious for stopping and analyzing and thinking and planning, and she just does it. Of course, that means that sometimes we aren't that prepared (and I have to make a quick trip to Home Depot) but most times, I'd still be thinking if I was in charge.

6. She's a great artist (fibre and otherwise) and has a great eye for color. (Yes, I admit the green you chose for the Living room wall was perfect!)

7. She loves UFC and horror movies. And she likes watching me play video games. And she watches poker with me. I know guys that would kill for their wives to be like this. Actually, when it comes to horror movies, she has a much stronger stomach than I do. I've become more fearful in my old age, sort of like Max (the dog).

8. She's a fantastic mom. Her attitude is if you don't get upset by it, you kid won't. If he falls off his bike, calmly walk over and say, "You're a tough guy for not crying." If you panic, run at him, and scream, "Are you okay?!?" the kid is going to burst into tears (mainly because your reaction scared the sh*t out of him).

9. She gives great head rubs.

10. I knew she was the one the day I met her. So I guess I love her for saying yes, and avoiding the years of stalking I'd have to do. (Just kidding ... that's creepy.)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Hospital - Part IV - Celebrity

Two of my room mates were celebrities. And by celebrity, I mean they appeared on local news.

The first, Don, was a city road worker who's crew was hit by a car on the Deerfoot. One guy was severely injured, the other was fine, and Don was in the middle with a bad broken leg. The doctor also figured he had a concussion, because, as the nurse politely put it, Don was "confused sometimes".

Don was retiring to the Philippines in May with his Filipino wife, which he commonly called "Mongoloid". They had sold all their furniture, and had shipped most of their possessions to her parents in the Philippines.

Don's the kind of guy who steers every discussion towards things that anger him (his stupid co-workers, Calgary drivers, his lawyer). The only passion in his life is his anger, which he probably uses to get out of bed in the morning. I was glad when he finally hobbled out of the hospital, because it was only a matter of time before he shanked a nurse.

The second is Bobby, a 20-year-old kid who was thrown 30 feet after his street racing buddy crashed his imported Toyota Aristo. Bobby wasn't wearing his seat belt, and is incredibly lucky that 1) his window was open, and 2) his buddy hit the telephone poll on the right side of his car. This allowed Bobby to be "thrown-clear" without having to open the windshield with his face. His biggest complaint was the patch of his hair the doctor cut off to stitch up a cut on his scalp. I swear, young people have Wolverine-like healing.

Bobby had a never ending stream of visitors: parents, sisters, girlfriend(s), other members of his church, etc. A couple of times, they closed the curtain and prayed for about 15 minutes. I swear, every single adult asked, "Have you learned your lessen?" and every teenager said, "Man, you should be dead." He would always laugh at the last one, and say, "I know, man, I know."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Hospital - Part III - No Smoking

The best part about the hospital is the crazy neighbors. And the morphine ... hahaha. Actually, by the time I go home, I'm so sick of narcotics, I don't want to look at a Tylenol for months.

When I first got to the hospital, before my surgery, I had a big Scottish bear of a man in the bed next to me. He had a red puffy face, and his hair was falling out, so I assume he was receiving Chemo for cancer. One night, several friends came to visit him and his wife told this story.

Friend: "So is the redness on your neck from the Chemo also?"

Wife: "Oh, has Harold not told you the story? When Harold was 21, he and two friends went to a campground in Saskatchewan by a lake. Harold had to go to the bathroom, so he went into a port-a-potty and closed the door. As he sat down on the toilet, he lit up a cigarette, and the whole port-a-potty burst into flames. His pants and shirt were on fire. He burned his arm because he had to open the burning door. He ran out of the port-a-potty, up the path, over a railing, right into the lake. His friends drove him to the nearest hospital, 1 mile away, in 5 minutes."

Friend: "So what caused the fire?"

Wife: "Afterward, Harold found out that some lady had dumped kerosene into the chemical toilet, and the port-a-potty had filled with highly flammable gas."

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Hospital - Part II - Deception

When I was in the hospital in December, my room mate was an old lady who could say three things: "Yes, No, Because". The nurses kept her in a chair by her bed which had an attached tray, like a high chair, which kept her trapped. The old lady would yell at anyone who came by, "Let me out of prison!" She had no idea the year, or where she was, and would constantly hurt herself trying to escape.

Her whole family came and visited her one day. Daughter, son-in-law, and various others. For two hours they all talked, while the old lady randomly yelled out "Yes", "No", or "Because", and incredibly the family always managed to make sense of her ranting. They just assumed she was responding to one of their comments.

Of course, it is possible they knew the extent of her dementia and were just trying to save her, or the other relatives, embarrassment. Or they were just trying to be positive. In any case, it makes me hope that euthanasia is legal by the time I'm in that condition.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Hospital - Part I - Crohn's

I spent a few weeks in the hospital due to my Crohn's disease. Being an engineer, I kept notes and have some interesting observations which I'll try and relate over the next few posts.

Crohn's disease is when your immune system attacks your intestines. It causes swelling which can be treated by anti-inflammatories (e.g., steroids) or immune suppressants (e.g., remicade). Crohn's symptoms read like a Pepto ad; it mainly causes pain and diarrhea.

The swelling eventually leads to scaring called strictures. Unlike the swelling, strictures can only be treated with surgery (usually a resection). I've had about 3 feet of small intestine removed (we have about 22 feet of small bowel total ... thanks Maxim!). Strictures can clog up with food and cause partial blockages, which is why I went into the hospital.

I've been to the hospital 3 times for partial blockages. Most times it happens late at night when the pain and nausea become too much for me to handle. The wait time in emergency has been between 2-5 hours before I get in, the nurse starts an intravenous line, and they give me pain-killers (usually Fentanyl). They always ask you to rate your pain between 1 and 10, with 10 being the worst pain in your life. I usually am at a 9 before I get the pain-killer, and have vomited several times.

Given that Crohn's is related to your immune and digestive systems, there are several lifestyle changes that will help reduce problems. Avoid weakening your immune system by not getting enough sleep, working too hard, drinking alcohol or coffee, or smoking. It is best to avoid difficult to digest foods like nuts and popcorn. I have found steak is particularly difficult to digest, and almost all my blockages have been preceded by eating steak (and Caesar salad ... thanks Earl's!).

In the next few blogs I'll try to go over some of the crazy roommates I had in the hospital, and essential things you should bring if you are going into the hospital.

Friday, February 29, 2008


I was raised non-religious, and I've struggled with an objective way to define morality that doesn't appeal to deities or ancient textbooks. The results of that struggle is an ethical system called Empathism.

The start of it came when I read an article which described how depraved the animal kingdom was. Murder, rape, assault, slavery, and child abuse occur in levels much higher than in human populations. Why are animals so immoral when compared to humans? If I could find the difference between animals and humans, I could find the reason for our behaviour.

Then I read an article about levels of consciousness. There are basically three levels:
  1. Awareness - All animals are aware of their environment at some level, whether it is through sight, smell or touch. All behaviours are driven by instinct and are reactions to their environment.
  2. Self-Awareness - A tiny sliver of animals possess self awareness, the ability to identify themselves as unique. Some primates, like orangutans, and maybe dolphins possess this ability. The main method to study this is to put red dye on the animal and place them in front of a mirror. If they touch the spot on their body (usually the top of their head), then it means they understand the animal in the mirror is them, not just another animal. They figure orangutans evolved this ability to prevent them from falling out of trees (clambering theory).
  3. Others-Awareness - The final level is when you become aware that other people are self-aware. Only humans possess this ability, which is often described as empathy. It is interesting that children under 4 or 5 do not possess this ability. For example, if you put an object on a table, put a screen in front of it so the child can't see it but you can, and then ask the child, "Can I see the object", the child will answer no.
I believe that the fact humans possess "others-awareness" is the reason for our moral behaviour. Deciding on ethical problems boils down to the golden rule (which is generally found in all religious doctrines): "Judge your actions as if you were the recipient."

Of course, it is more complicated than that. Some selfish behavioiur is required, or else you would die of starvation because you gave all your food away. But many ethical problems can be solved by applying this.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Liberal Deficit

Some viewer of CTV Calgary news emailed in saying Liberals have kept "us in the red", implying that Liberal parties tend to run deficits. Historically, this isn't always the case. While Liberal parties tend to fund social programs, they also tend to keep taxes high to pay for them. I've overlaid federal budget surpluses with Liberal governments. In the recent history, the Liberals have run large surpluses. In Alberta, the Liberals haven't been in power for 37 years. So what the heck was that viewer talking about? I would imagine it was just electioneering because Albertans vote on Monday for a new provincial government. Only Castro has ruled for more years that the Conservatives in Alberta.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Don't stop taking anti-stupid pills

A recent study found that placebos are nearly as effective as Prozac in dealing with mild depression.

Fine. But why would anyone think this means they should stop taking their anti-depressants? The study compared placebos (i.e., sugar pills) to anti-depressants, not nothing to anti-depressants. The doctors and researchers are still fairly sure that nothing still does nothing. This study reveals how powerful placebos are, not about how ineffective anti-depressants are.