30 September 2008

Song of the Sirens

I can't get the Siren's single "Club Lala" out of my head....well, the Jody den Broeder remix, which is a million times better than the original. When played on a system with subwoofers, it will break windows! Not the most lyrically-challenging song ever written, but fun!

23 September 2008

This is NOT spam

You know all those spam emails you get from lawyers and government officers in Africa that want you to send them money in order to release a vast fortune from bank accounts, of which you of course will receive a cut of the proceeds? Well, this one is more urgent, and possibly, a lot more REAL.

From: Minister of the Treasury Paulson


Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check.

We need the funds as quickly as possible. We cannot directly transfer these funds in the names of our close friends because we are constantly under surveillance. My family lawyer advised me that I should look for a reliable and trustworthy person who will act as a next of kin so the funds can be transferred.

Please reply with all of your bank account, IRA and college fund account numbers and those of your children and grandchildren to wallstreetbailout@treasury.gov so that we may transfer your commission for this transaction. After I receive that information, I will respond with detailed information about safeguards that will be used to protect the funds.

Yours Faithfully
Minister of Treasury Paulson

22 September 2008

Sage advice not heeded

"If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around them will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered." Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States 1801-1809

"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies." Thomas Jefferson, 1816

"We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated, governments in the civilized world -- no longer a government by free opinion, no longer a government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and the duress of small groups of dominant men..." Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States 1913-1921

I find it hard to believe that we have been taken by surprise.

21 September 2008


Check out this link to "Story of Stuff". A highly recommended 20-minute video.

17 September 2008

The Price of Ignorance...

...our demise, perhaps?

When did we become afraid of adventure?
Friday, September 12, 2008 | 04:08 PM ET
By Bob McDonald, host of the CBC science radio program Quirks & Quarks.

Amid fears of global catastrophe, the Large Hadron Collider was fired up this week in an event that was, well, under whelming. After three decades of waiting, a hush fell over the large crowd of scientists gathered in the control room, anxiously watching a bank of computer monitors lining the front wall. Then suddenly, there it was…a little white dot that flashed for less than a second. No sound of a big bang, no rumblings in the ground, no cosmic disaster; just a little white dot. Anyone who blinked at the wrong time would have missed it.

Of course, cheers erupted in the room over the fact that the world’s largest machine actually works; but to the uninitiated, nothing much happened. And in fact, on the human scale, not much did. Everything in the collider deals with incredibly tiny particles exchanging energy in a very tiny space for a very short period of time. All the protests, fear-mongering over uncontrolled nuclear explosions or black holes eating the planet, came down to that little white blip.

This is not to diminish the importance of the project. Those blips will provide an enormous wealth of data, similar to that returned by the Hubble Space Telescope. In fact, both projects are attempting to look back in time to explore conditions that existed at the beginning of the universe and try to understand how everything we know today came to be. But to be afraid of the Large Hadron Collider is like saying, “Don’t look through that new telescope, you might see something scary!”

Exploring the unknown used to be exciting and educational. 50 years ago, we started building rockets to explore the unknown regions of space. We’ve since landed on alien worlds, seen things we never dreamed of. As well, back then, the perceived threat of Soviet supremacy in space stimulated a reform of the education system in North America. Science and math were brought to the forefront in an effort to breed a new generation of scientists who could counter that threat with new technologies. Fear was fought with education.

Now, it seems, popular science education still has a long way to go. Fear-based misinformation is getting far too much press. This week, I’ve been asked countless questions about the dangers of the Large Hadron Collider, and not just about the fear of a black hole swallowing the Earth. One inquiry spoke of “hidden dangers lurking in the unknown.” That last one is really troublesome.

Exploring the unknown has always led to our greatest achievements. The discovery of the electron, the connection between electricity and magnetism, the structure of the atom, the structure of DNA, a long list of fundamental discoveries that have all given birth to remarkable technologies that have revolutionized our lives. True, some of that knowledge has been misused, such as developing weapons of mass destruction, but overall, the benefits of knowledge still outweigh the cost of ignorance.

Now, physicists are on the verge of new fundamental knowledge. The Large Hadron Collider will help bring together all the forces that act on the very smallest and very largest of scales. No one knows where that will lead or what might come out of it. That’s not the point. There is still a great deal of the universe we don’t know. In fact, most of it is beyond our grasp and so far, every time we’ve stepped into an unknown realm of nature, we’ve come away all the better for it.

So let’s not be afraid to gain knowledge just for the sake of knowing it.

I'm not so sure why our society now seems to reward the pursuits that once seemed most regressive, whether it be fundamentalism, reality television, Ultimate Fighting, or StripTease exercise classes. Whatever happened to the virtues of knowledge, adventure and scientific method?

I was blown away by the amount of completely uninformed criticisms of the LHC online spewed by people that had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. It was pretty depressing, and I think is mostly a product of our 'universal soapbox' communication age. Anyone can have an opinion about anything at anytime, even if they have no clue what the hell they are talking about.

So why reward mediocrity? Is it because the stupid stuff takes less effort and energy?

It's all very strange.

16 September 2008

Helter Skelter

Here's a BIZARRE campaign ad from Presidential contender, Former U.S. Senator from Alaska, Mike Gravel. Gravel was by far the most pro-gay of the Democratic candidates, but is now running on the Libertarian ticket. He's an amusingly off-kilter old dude, who doesn't give a rat's ass what anyone thinks about him.

In this ad, he sings the Beatles "Helter Skelter," over images of the world going to Hell in a handbasket. It's fantastically disturbing.

Thanks, Mike!

15 September 2008


Further to my conversation with N last night:

"Nothing has done more to make us dumber or meaner than the anonymity of the Internet."
- Aaron Sorkin

You said it, brother.

Link to StupidFilter

10 September 2008

Seeing Paradise

by Jay Griffiths

It’s the will of a god. See it written in a piece of eco-pornography which seeks the end of life on Earth. I used to think the apocalypse was just a fairly harmless mystical allegory, but then I realized how powerful it has become as a driving force in realpolitik. When world leaders forget the compassion and political grace represented by the sayings of Christ, but use the Book of Revelation as a myth to live by, we need to worry.

The longest, deepest, widest indigenous prayer is that the Earth should endure, wending its own way as it always has, and that people too should swing in the Earth’s own harmonies. So say those who have dwelled longest on this kind Earth, knowing that the greatest love affair on Earth is the love of Earth.

But one small and very recent group of arrivals prays for the opposite, that this world should end so that a new off-Earth heaven can come into being. After the fire, smoke, and sulphur, this Earth will pass away, they pray. For them, what is most spiritual is outside and beyond Earth, a whiteout of the psyche, a tragic addiction to a weird and bloodless irreality. To me, the very idea of heaven is offensive to Earth.

Pornography hates and demeans women, so eco-pornography hates and demeans the Earth, portraying it as soiled matter, fit for burning. Pornography is an abuse of power over women, and eco-pornography is an abuse of power over nature. The trouble is that this small group of eco-pornographers has become very influential.

When it comes to dealing with climate change, we need wiser influences, and if we must have leaders, we need better ones. We need people who can deal with many ways of thinking at the same time; people able to deal with the complexities of psychology, law, natural systems, and diplomacy. We need those familiar with the nubby reality of a garden spade, who at the same time take for their song an older music. We need those who can understand the physics of the natural world and who can take for the ground of their myths the beauty of this Earth, this theater of irrepressible life. We need tribal elders.

The Hopi prophecies suggest a deadly fire burning the world and, crucially, see this as something to be averted. But the myth of those in power seeks this fire, prays for a tragedy. In answer to this tragedy, it seems to me now, mourning is not enough. Call her Gaia, call her Life, call her Mother Earth, she requires a risorgimento of spirited spiritualism, a kind of militant shamanism to challenge the hegemony of those in power, to reject this singular myth which, peculiarly among human cosmologies, sees the Earth as profane and thinks that paradise is elsewhere.

So this sad group waits longingly for their Rapture, heedless that the rapturous nature of this Earth is already paradise. For here, already, are the messengers of the innately holy: a thumbnail, a turtle, a joke, a pebble. There is heaven in the day’s eye, as that sweet flower the daisy remembers in its naming. Here are the real angels, in radish, twilight, and trickster, speaking of life, complicated, infinite, crescent and laughing, this Earth now, where life sweeps another comedic turn at every moment. We need a greater myth, and we have one—the sweetest, deepest songline of the Earth.

The Machine

I'm fascinated by the scope and intent of the CERN experiments.

As a starting point:
The Standard Model
The Standard Model of particle physics explains how matter interacts with three of the four fundamental forces of nature: electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force (which binds the parts of an atom's nucleus together) and the weak nuclear force (which allows for the radioactive decay of particles). The model posits two classes of elementary particles: bosons, which mediate these forces, and fermions, which combine to make up the matter.

Where the Standard Model comes up short is when dealing with the fourth fundamental force, gravity. Gravity is so weak it can normally be discounted, but that's not possible in extreme cases such as the high-energy, small space predicted in the early moments of the Big Bang theory of the universe. In those moments, gravity would have been operating at levels comparable to the other forces.

Prior to the official start of the collider,CBCNews.ca spoke with Cliff Burgess, a physics and astronomy professor at McMaster University in Hamilton and associate member of the Waterloo, Ont.-based Perimeter Institute, about the LHC's mission, the potential risks and why physics should matter to the public.

Why are the LHC and its experiments so important to particle physicists?
More than anything, we have a good sense that we have to see something. It's not like we're looking and hoping to see something; seeing nothing is really not an option. You can't, for example, have just the particles we've discovered and no Higgs, because if you said "suppose there's nothing else," the whole theory breaks down at about the energies where the LHC would kick in. So something has to happen at that point; it's a question of what.

How difficult will it be to find?
That depends on what the Higgs is like. If it's complex like a proton, it will be much harder to figure out what's going on. When you collide two electrons together, it's much easier to understand what happens because these are elementary particles — they can't be broken down further — and they don't take part in the strong interactions that occur in nuclei. With the LHC, what's going to happen is it's going to be proton colliding with proton, and that's a whole bunch of junk. It's a mess figuring out what comes out of those collisions, partly because the whole structure of the proton isn't even now well understood. It's like throwing two garbage cans at one another and then trying to figure out in detail what was inside each garbage can.

What happens if the LHC doesn't find the Higgs, or discovers it doesn't exist at all?
That's actually the best-case scenario for people like me, because that means the theorists are all in business again. But the question for competing theories isn't so much whether the Higgs is there or not; it's whether it's a fundamental particle.

One of the concerns voiced by protesters is that the LHC collisions will create a black hole that will destroy the Earth, a concern the people at the European Organization for Nuclear Research have dismissed. Should anyone be worried?
If a black hole formed, we actually know a fair bit about what it would behave like. The first thing is, if you stuck a black hole in the middle of the Earth, the layperson's point of view is that it would be like a vacuum cleaner that sucks the Earth in. But that's not the right picture. If you took the sun and you replaced it with a black hole the same mass as the sun, the orbit of the Earth wouldn't change at all. We'd still orbit it — the force of gravity doesn't care whether it's a black hole or the sun, all it cares about is the mass. The big problem for us is it would be dark, but the gravity wouldn't change.

It's not so unlikely that the LHC could produce black holes, but it's almost certainly true that if it produces those black holes, they are going to evaporate very quickly.

Any black hole that you know about in astrophysics is much, much heavier than the ones being produced in the LHC. If the LHC produced black holes — which is uncertain — they might be a couple hundred times more heavy than a proton, but way less than fractions of a gram. And at that size limit, we expect them to evaporate extremely quickly through a process called Hawking radiation [which takes its name from physicist Stephen Hawking, who first proposed the theory in 1974]. It would almost certainly radiate into particles we know about like photons, and so it would look like a regular collision. The hard thing would be to actually know you had a black hole in there.

So there are several levels of argument where you kind of suspend what you think is likely to happen just for the sake of argument to grant the person the point that "maybe this could happen." But once you go through four or five levels of that, it's less and less worrisome.

Why should people care about this experiment and particle physics in general?
There are several ways to slice that question. The way it often comes is, Why should it be funded? Because on some level no one is going to be really offended if people spend their time thinking about this if it's not going to cost them anything. But if it's going to cost them a lot of money, then why should it be a priority for society?

The answer people normally give — and it's true — is particle physics is important to our understanding of the nature of the universe and the Big Bang, but there's another really good answer and no one ever gives it. The value of disciplines like particle physics and astrophysics is people.

Physicists are really in demand outside academia, and the reason they are is that the portable skills you get as a physicist are rare. You learn how to analyze problems from first principles, to translate that into mathematics, to solve the mathematics and then to translate it back into implications for the thing you are trying to solve. And that's really useful everywhere in the economy.

My students that go out into the workforce are bankers, insurance people, engineers and software people. These people are going into a very useful place in the economy, but they wouldn't have gone there directly. The reason they learn these skills is because particle physics is cool and you get to think about the universe as a whole, or you get to think about what matter is made of. And they are drawn by that in a way they wouldn't be drawn naturally into something like banking.

It's the old spin-off argument, but the way particle physicists would normally say it is in terms of materials and inventions made possible because of physics. But the real thing we make is people.

By that logic, wouldn't it be better to send the 2,000 physicists working on the LHC into the workforce?
That would be like killing the farmer and taking his crops. There would be some physicists and technicians that would go somewhere, but that's it, and once they leave you can lose the ability to do these things. What you want is the pipeline. The water is good, but you don't want to destroy the pipe to get the water the one time.


We simply must balance our demand for energy with our rapidly shrinking
resources. By acting now, we can control our future instead of letting
the future control us. — Jimmy Carter, Speech to the Nation, 1977

You can't get elected by promising people less. — Bill Clinton, 1998

08 September 2008


The Capricorn Male - A Real Stickler

Our male Caps are sophisticated, aren't they? Cap males's are considered "The Stickler" by Sextrology.

They maintain their composure in even the most trying of situations. He projects the certain air of an aristocrat combined with a jaded and dejected view. In plain english - he's a bit aloof.

He remains dignified and unaffected by that which may be swirling around him. He maintains a sense of relaxation that many of us would envy in such situations. Pleasure and fun first, hard work second.

In love and relationships he's a bit old fashioned. He longs for a traditional lifestyle along with traditional gender roles in place. He's the breadwinner, she's the supporter. His perfect mate? According to Sextrology, it's the lady-wife type. A woman who shares his traditional views but doesn't question his need for "me time."

And why is this man so composed and serious? Because he is ruled by the planet Saturn - the stern enforcer. Saturn represents the Principle of Restriction and Containment. His sign quadrant is The Fourth Quadrant, which concerns the soul and one's relationship with the divine - spirituality, metaphysically concerned with the spiritual level of existence.

Cap man's motto. . . ."I Use" . . . .what I already have. Cap man feels like they "don't make em' like they used to."

He is a cardinal (initiator, starter) earth (stable, grounded) sign which means he'll likely be concerned with mother earth and the workings of all creatures great and small that inhabit it. He'll enjoy the outdoors and maybe even some gardening. His number is 10, the zenith number. The culmination of all other numbers preceding it. Cap man likes to uphold traditional values and things that are proven and that work. If it ain't broke. . . .why fix it?

His age range is that of 63-70, the age of retirement. A period when things are finished and all is in place. Preparedness. Time to kick back and reap the benefits of all that has been put in place and put to work. His psychology is somewhat melancholy. A tad in love with suffering and not one to necessarily make positive changes when need be. Somewhat of an elitist, he's rather closed to new people, places and ideas. Somewhat a know-it-all, he likes to stick to the tried and true and this can somewhat cut him off in life.

Cap male has a tendency to fall from grace or slide backwards. He silently retreats into downtime without anyone ever noticing. He'll take some real hiatuses in life to reflect on matters that may regard joy, family, hedonism (shhhhh) or misery. But alas! Our Cap male is likened to the "come back kid." He's the picky-choosy sort. Quality over quantity.

Associated with the goat god Pan, life for the Cap male is a joyful romp over, around, up and down the mountain - a rocky road and one hell of a hill to climb. His life is half and half. Half good, half bad. But if you ask the Cap male, "Is the glass half full or half empty?" his response would be "half full" and the scales would be ever so slightly tipped towards the positive.

To Cap male, failures or ups and downs are all part of the process. You learn what not to do upon your next attempt and he lives by the teachings of the school of hard knocks. Life is neither black or white to Cap male. It's forever gray and you'll be hard pressed to get a rise out of this guy - although he may crack a smile for you every once in a while. Sadly, our Cap male feels a bit empty inside, although he maintains a rather shiny surface, while choosing to remain indifferent.

His sign rules The 10th House of Tradition. Old fashioned, leisurely, traditional. Cap male sees the world as being in a constant state of decay. He loves things from days gone by - relics of eras that no longer exist. Vintage items, ancient cities, ancient civilizations, old world charm. He's like the "long, cool woman in the black dress" - but he's no woman that's for sure. And most times, he dressed to the nines. Cool, laid back, casual, distinquished. . .gray, black, silver - no obnoxious colors or attitude here. He's one cool cat.

Other male caps? Cary Grant, Mel Gibson, Denzel Washington, Jude Law, Elvis Presley, David Bowie and Rod Stewart. All psychologically complex cool cats who can also been seen as passing off some "throwback" styles and doing it well, too. And interestingly enough, Sextrology notes one distinguishing feature that may exist in our male goat's appearance - the signature cleft chin.

In his youth, Cap male is attracted to older girls who may take note of his mature, adult nature. He is comfortable and confident in his ability to achieve lifelong ambitions. He is drawn towards shy women, if not outright wallflower types while avoiding domineering ones at all costs. He feels they'll protect, devote and serve him. But there's a flip side to this. He's either after total innocence and inexperience or women who make no bones about having been around the block a few times and then discarded.

He's rather blase' regarding trends or the latest fads and this may have caused him grief early in life. He doesn't care much what others think, which leaves him open to ridicule by others for being somewhat "behind the times" or seen as a bit eccentric. As a result, he may have been made fun of and those judgments are acutely felt by the Cap man.

Regardless, our Cap male goes where the love is. Women who can relate to his non-conformist, if not somewhat misfit appeal. A "you and me against the world" type of combo. Unlike his zodiac predecessor, the Sag male, who is fixated on external beauty - our Cap male looks at what's inside for beauty. However, he will not compete for it.

Some of the Cap male turnon's are as follows: older women, sumissive types, dark skin and features, Asians, Latina's, small boob and big bottoms. In new relationships, the goat is seen as a real catch to the mate's friends and family. He's a front man and will wine and dine his potential new partner. But alas. . .the male Cap's melancholy side eventually displays itself and this usually leaves the new partner wondering what happened. Because, you see, our male Cap doesn't necessarily believe in love. He's more like convenience first, love second. He's set in his ways and not one to compromise.

The male Cap is somewhat fearsome of love and relationships. He realizes that they will require something from him and fears failure. What the Cap man must realize is that he must accept that he loves bright, vivacious women that have expectations (of them and of HIM), and that he can live up to these expectations rather than choose a safe, easy or convenient "arrangement."

At times, our Cap male prefers to feel sorry for himself and live in emotional anquish rather than make any compromises to get the kind of woman that his heart really races for. As a result of this, many a male Cap will lean towards a wall flower type woman instead and then suffer disappointment as a result. As well, he's a bit chauvenistic. He believes woman are here to serve men. If he locates a woman that has suffered emotionally and has some insecurities and shortcomings (as he does), then she'll be more apt to accept his. He feels the woman he truly desires - a go getter that expects things - won't accept this of him.

Cap male's may be a melancohly bunch on the surface, but underneath lies a smoldering man. A man wiser than his age - an "old soul" so-to-speak. He needs to accept his shortcomings, as we all have them and must do the same, and reach for that which he desires if he is to ever free himself from the restrictive chains he has bound himself in.

Cap male's must learn not to settle in love and relationships. They need a mate that can accept their shortcomings and tap into those deeply rooted primal, sexual longings that he masks throughout life. Our Cap male's are a tender, wise and kind bunch. They are also their own worst enemy.

Ladies, love a Cap male with tenderness and an endless supply of interest and willingness. In return, you will be granted a true gentlemen with emotions that run deep and a dormant sexuality that will be released.

Analysis by Sextrology.

Biased and ethnocentric, but I always enjoy reading astrology profiles to see how well they can describe generalizations.

05 September 2008

You are your music

Music tastes link to personality

Musical tastes and personality type are closely related, according to a study of more than 36,000 people from around the world.

The research, which was carried out by Professor Adrian North of Heriot-Watt University, is said to be the largest such study ever undertaken.

It suggested classical music fans were shy, while heavy metal aficionados were gentle and at ease with themselves.

Professor North described the research as "significant" and "surprising". He said: "We have always suspected a link between music taste and personality. This is the first time that we've been able to look at it in real detail. No-one has ever done this on this scale before."

Prof North said the research could have many uses in marketing, adding: "If you know a person's music preference you can tell what kind of person they are, who to sell to.

"There are obvious implications for the music industry who are are worried about declining CD sales.

"One of the most surprising things is the similarities between fans of classical music and heavy metal. They're both creative and at ease but not outgoing.

"The general public has held a stereotype of heavy metal fans being suicidally depressed and of being a danger to themselves and society in general. But they are quite delicate things."

More than 36,000 people from all over the world were asked to rate 104 musical styles and also questioned about aspects of their personality.

The study is continuing and Prof North, who is head of the university's department of applied psychology, is still looking for participants to take part in a short online questionnaire.


BLUES High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle and at ease

JAZZ High self-esteem, creative, outgoing and at ease

CLASSICAL MUSIC High self-esteem, creative, introvert and at ease

RAP High self-esteem, outgoing

OPERA High self-esteem, creative, gentle

COUNTRY AND WESTERN Hardworking, outgoing

REGGAE High self-esteem, creative, not hardworking, outgoing, gentle and at ease

DANCE Creative, outgoing, not gentle

INDIE Low self-esteem, creative, not hard working, not gentle

BOLLYWOOD Creative, outgoing

ROCK/HEAVY METAL Low self-esteem, creative, not hard-working, not outgoing, gentle, at ease

CHART POP High self-esteem, not creative, hardworking, outgoing, gentle, not at ease

SOUL High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, gentle, at ease

Source: Heriot-Watt University
Source: BBC News Scotland

Oh, those Argentinians

Angry Argentine commuters torch train in rush hour
Thu Sep 4, 2:09 PM

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Furious rail commuters in Argentina set fire to a train on Thursday in anger over delays during the morning rush hour.

Television images showed black smoke and flames engulfing the train at the station of Merlo, in the western suburbs of the capital, Buenos Aires. At nearby Castelar, passengers hurled stones at the ticket office and blocked the rails.

"We understand that people get angry when the service is delayed or canceled, but they absolutely can't attack a public service in this way," Gustavo Gago, a spokesman for rail company TBA, told local television.

Many passengers said the delays, caused by a broken down train, had cost them a day's work.

Argentina's dilapidated rail services are plagued by delays and travelers' anger sometimes erupts into violence.

Last year, commuters torched a carriage at a station south of the capital and rioting broke out at a main railway station when passengers clashed with police, causing dozens of injuries and arrests.

(Reporting by Helen Popper and Nicolas Misculin; Editing by Eric Beech)

And I believed my thoughts of violence pointed towards Calgary Transit were over the top! LOL


Environmental hazard comes home to roost at oilsands lakes

From the top of the 32-metre sand pile at the Albian Energy oilsands site, the views are magnificent. The boreal forest spreads to a horizon punctuated by the region's three other oilsands plants. But this viewpoint is normally off-limits. The hill, with a circumference of about 12 kilometres, is in reality a tailings pond. Shaped like a giant doughnut, the water is in the middle - a five-square-kilometre lake, an attractive spot for migrating waterfowl. But unlike most tailings ponds, Shell Oil says this one is designed to keep birds away. A marine radar system sits on the edge, sweeping the sky for any movement. "We have four quadrants, and when birds are detected in one area, the cannons are fired in that area only. That way the birds don't get used to the noise; they are deterred from the area," says environment manager Darrell Martindale. The sound-makers are either floating or near the water's edge. One version resembles a falcon - predators that waterfowl will flee from. The experience at Shell is markedly different from Syncrude, which was unable to get its sound-makers and scarecrows on the water after a major storm this spring and 500 tar-soaked ducks perished. "Our systems are now up and tested. We are ready for the fall migration," says Steve Gaudet, manager of environment and reclamation for Syncrude. "We are still studying (the bird deaths) and considering new solutions for the future," he says. Small tailings ponds are common in the mining industry, but the oilsands industry uses a lot of water - between two and five barrels to extract a barrel of bitumen from the sands and clays. Since the late 1960s, the ponds have grown to become lakes covering about 50 square kilometres of the mine sites. Two of the biggest challenges for the oilsands industry are reducing use of water, and getting the tailings to settle more quickly. The natural settling time can be up to 20 years, so there is a huge push on to master dry tailings, which will speed reclamation. No discharge into the Athabasca River is permitted.

Simon Dyer, oilsands program director at the Pembina Institute, an environmental think-tank, says the industry and government are way behind on this issue. He says while there may be some progress in cutting water use and improving tailings settling, that work is dwarfed by the additional projects now being built, planned and proposed. "They're studying everything, but the cumulative effect of all these projects will have an enormous impact on the local environment. Which is why we have called for a halt to new oilsands approvals and lease sales" until better environmental-management systems are in place, he says. Dyer says the call for a moratorium far from radical. "If we stopped now, the projects already approved would continue, and oilsands production would still see production rise (from 856,000 barrels per day) to about three million barrels per day within a decade." Greg Stringham, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, says for many reasons, he sees a slowing of construction in some areas, particularly the oilsands and upgrader projects. Oilsands firms are adding material to help the tailings settle faster. Shell is using a hydrotransport system that uses cooler water to begin the separation process in the pipe en route to the plant. Shell is able to recycle more than 80% of its water, but still draws 0.2% of the Athabasca River's mean flow. That will jump to 0.64% when all planned expansions bring the plant's capacity to 770,000 barrels a day from the current 155,000 bpd. Shell is already planning to build a holding pond so production can continue when river withdrawals can't. So the future looks like large freshwater holding ponds, and much smaller tailings ponds. When dry tailings are perfected, there will be no tailings ponds at all, just piles of sand ready for reclamation.
(Edmonton Journal 080905)

By the time this is all done, a good chunk of Northern Alberta is going to be a devastated, toxic, environmental disaster. But certainly an insignificant price to pay to keep the auto fleet moving cheaply, no?

The sooner we realize that car ownership should be a privilege and not a right, the sooner we can get to auto independence in how we design and scale our communities, how we transport our goods across large distances and how we socialize with each other.

And yes, I do realize that the auto fleet is a minor percentage of the entire petroleum equation.

It just pains me to think that we have to clear cut larger and large swaths of the Earth's surface to keep a paradigm as frivilous and dead-ended as the L.A. (only for an extreme example) freeway system functioning. Internal combustion is an ancient technology -- isn't it time we collectively made the effort to move on to something better?

03 September 2008

What a waste

More full containers moving from US ports to China

Forget scrap paper, plastics, scrap metal and the bounty of agricultural harvests. Until this year, the biggest US contribution to the international supply chain was vast mountains of empty cargo containers outbound on ships to China, where they were quickly refilled with the imports on which American consumers have come to depend. "For the longest time, we used to joke that our biggest export was our fine California air," said Eric Caris, assistant director of marketing for the Port of Los Angeles. "The good news for us in 2008 is that we are finally exporting more loaded containers than empties." From January to July, exports have jumped more than 27 per cent compared with the same period of 2007 at the nation's two busiest container ports, Los Angeles and Long Beach. But the export boom overshadows a deep pullback in US consumer spending. Imports are down so much that the twin ports are on pace to record their second consecutive year of declines in overall international trade. That hasn't happened in at least 30 years, despite a handful of national recessions along the way. The slowdown has hit almost every harbour in North America.

Of the 10 busiest seaports that are tracked every month by the nation's largest retailers for signs of congestion, only two are doing more business than last year. One is Vancouver, which is serving an economy much healthier than that of the US. The other is Savannah, GA, which is winning market share as the first big East Coast stop for cargo headed north from the Panama Canal. At the five top US West Coast ports -- Los Angeles, Long Beach, Oakland, Seattle and Tacoma, WA -- imports were down by as much as 13% through the first seven months of the year. At Long Beach, where imports fell 12.7%, some of the biggest declines can be found in materials used in remodelling and new construction, port spokesman Art Wong said. Stone, plaster and cement imports were down 15.4%, Wong said. Wood imports were down 12.9%. Furniture and bedding imports were down 10.1%. Big contractions are also being seen in consumer goods, which retailers are hustling to bring in now to fill shelves for the holidays. Toys and sports equipment imports, usually among the top categories at the Port of Long Beach, were down 16.5% through June, Wong said. Another popular import, footwear, was down 5.2%. Aided by the weak dollar, which makes US goods cheaper for foreign buyers, outgoing traffic from the five big West Coast ports was up by as much as 23% in Los Angeles and 23.2% in Long Beach. Meanwhile, the number of empty containers shipped back to Asia for refilling with imports was down by at least 22.1% at each of the major ports.
(Vancouver Sun 080903)

Much like the railways that end up having to ship a lot of empty containers back to the point of origin in a situation where the flow of goods is largely one-way, the container ship companies have to deal with this too. As with rail I assume they have to charge demurrage on containers for both directions to the customer whether they are full or not. It seems like a huge waste of energy and resources to be sending empty containers back and it is good to see that this is a problem that is slowly being addressed.