Marketplace Health and Safety

This video (*) will blow your mind:

It is of a small fruit market built around train tracks. Display trays are mere centimeters away from the tracks, and the entire stalls are morphed and bent around the train as it passes by.

I know more than one workplace health and safety inspector that would be less than impressed at the setup. As it is, though, it provides immense fodder to fuel the inspiration of stories in exotic locales.


*sorry, I can’t figure out how to imbed the video on the blog, so you’ll have to swing over to wimp to view it.

Cmdr Hadfield’s cell phone bill – check your facts. Not everything you read on the internet is true, kids.

I bring guitars into space, not cell phones.

Our morning alarm is set to radio. My wife likes this one particular station that goes on with a bunch of senseless banter and plays the occasional song. I think she likes it because the content is so horrible that it forces her to get out of bed. Unfortunately, it is one of the more popular stations in our region, so its reach is quite broad. They have this one bit where they share 3 elements of what the station staff consider to be current events. They are mostly acts of yet more senseless chatter. The story seems to have been picked up elsewhere in a few limited spots around the world to date.

This morning, they had a story about how Cmdr Chris Hadfield had accidentally brought up his cell phone to the International Space Station. In the process of zooming over our heads for the past 5 months, he would have accumulated a $1,37 million bill. The anchors went on at length about how this is a sign that cell phone companies are out of control and out of their minds for their payment plans. While I agree that cell companies in North America do everything they can to suck every penny out of our pockets, this is a significant case of: “um, no.”

Let’s review the situation:

1. It costs between $5,000 and $50,000 to lift a kilo into space. Assuming that Hadfield had brought up the cell phone, say an iPhone 5 (he can afford it, he’s a fancy astronaut, after all) and a charger, that would be 150-200 grams of gear. That’s somewhere around $1,000 to $10,000 to bring that up as payload. Pretty costly mistake for a veteran space farer.

2. Cell batteries don’t last 5 months in sleep mode without charging. That means that our confused astronaut would have been re-charging the cell phone during the 5 month stint. It would have given him a chance to figure out that he hadn’t activated airplane mode, no?

3. Range: In ideal conditions with a straight line of sight, a cell phone can reach about 45 miles assuming you are using CDMA (this varies in case to case, and there are plenty of factors at play, but it’s a good figure to work with.) The cell tower antennae are configured in such a way as to optimize horizontal transmission, not vertical ones. Therefore, you get much less range straight up. The ISS orbits between 205 and 240 miles up. Additionally, our erstwhile planetary orbiter was residing in a metal tube designed to partially shield him from cosmic radiation. This would normally reduce the transmission range of any system without an antenna sticking out of said tube to 0. A co-worker of mine actually tried to get a cell phone signal in a plane once to check how high the towers do reach. There was nothing until we were between 8,000 and 10,000 feet up. Any way you cut it, there is not enough range for a cell phone to reach a cell tower. Therefore, the towers have no idea that it is zipping at high speed above them to connect and impose roaming charges.

4. A quick search on the internet shows some possible sources for the story:

Starting to make more sense.

Starting to make more sense.

Hmmm…if the people bringing us the news had checked the entry below the one they possibly used, they would have seen SPOOF. Or if they dug into the other articles at Beaverton, they would have seen that pretty much everything there is some kind of parody. I didn’t know of Beaverton until this morning, but it didn’t take long to figure out that this must me something like a Canadian version of the Onion.

What’s the moral here? Check your facts. Data is king. Many years ago, I attended a presentation by a high powered exec-type who indicated that in his experience, only about 50% of what is reported is accurate. And that relates to those stories that people are actually trying to get right. When you factor in the fact that a lot of people around the internet are making things up or tweaking things to garner attention among a sea of shouting voices, the percentage can drop dramatically. It is essential that we maintain our ability for critical thought, lest we be drawn into the limitless bounds of speculation, misdirection, and invention. One also has to wonder if the media gets this so utterly wrong, what else is being fed to us without proper fact-checking in the rush to generate listener/viewer attention?

On car design – Why can’t they get wipers right?

Car design must be a complex and impressive process to follow from inception to delivery. One component that will forever mystify me is how automotive designers manage to ensure that the driver side window wiper is always the one that works the worst?

I have owned three cars so far, and driven in heavens knows how many more, and for some unfathomable reason, the driver side wiper is the one that almost always starts streaking, leaving swathes of the windshield untouched, or fails to scrape slush off first. I have to wonder: has it ever occurred to designers that they could switch the orientation of the wiper arms? Perhaps they could mirror them horizontally so that rather than wiping from right to left, they wipe from left to right? There certainly were the crazy top-down wipers on minivans in the 80’s. I wonder why they went away?

What makes Montreal drivers so special?

Only in Montreal

Only in Montreal

I took this downtown Montreal a few years ago. The exposure was just right to catch both the red and green lights on while a driver simultaneously coasts through the intersection. It is a wonderful metaphor for the conditions that allow the city to foster its special breed of driver.

More Quebec gas price strangeness

On April 1st, 2013, Revenu Quebec (link) posted a gas tax increase. Strangely enough the price today (April 3rd) has dropped two cents.

As I’ve written earlier (link), this price drop comes after having jumped ten cents in a single day in February, and then flat lining at $138,4 for several weeks. The price dropped for the first time since February today, two days after the tax increase, and now sits at $136,4.


The circles I work in for my alternate-desk-jockey-reality like to say that credibility is everything.

I can’t help but think that this pokes all kinds of holes in Big Oil’s credibility and certainly makes me wonder about many things besides their dubious pricing schemes.


The strange behaviour of gas prices

I was struck by the gas price this morning as I stood at the pump filling my car.

Thankfully, I drive a Matrix (look at me, all snobby!) on a relatively limited basis, so visits at the pump are infrequent. What caught my attention was the fact that the price of gas does not appear to have changed in more than a month. My recollection of the behaviour of gas prices is of a tendency to wildly fluctuate, bucking up and down so furiously that the Calgary Stampede would be glad to have them for Bronc Riding. Instead, they have flatlined at $138,4/Litre for what is an eternity for the world of consumer petroleum.

This got me wondering, when exactly was the last time the price changed? I remember it being tied to a shocking jump in price. 10 cents in a single day. I assumed the world must be ending at the time. I ran for the hills, got my umbrella ’cause the sky was falling, burrowed into my fallout bunker. When the next morning rolled around, the world was still turning. There was no blanket of nuclear fallout causing pet goldfish everywhere to turn into voracious maneaters. But the price remained immutably fixed, no less resistant to change than the Sword in the Stone.

How could this be?

Montreal Gas Prices (CBC)

After a little sleuthing, I was able to find some evidence that this was not some distorted perception. Indeed, the CBC reported the jump in the Montreal region at the same time, and for the same price I recall happening in my rural areal of Quebec.

One would have to assume that for prices to remain so stable for what amounts to an eternity in the apparently competitive world of gas pricing, the world must be pretty stable. Indeed, we have become so interconnected that we have a tendency to jump like a herd of startled gazelles at the merest hint of trouble, real or imagined, in any part of the world. And yet, since early February, we have seen all manner of news whose flavour would have previously been used as an excuse to bump gas prices up. Anyone who has been watching the situation in Syria and Egypt would know that there is ample cause for concern due to mounting instability. North Korea is talking about pre-emptive nuclear strikes. Heck, we’ve even gotten Biblical: Egypt undergoing a locust plague.

Yet, not the slightest waver in gas prices. Not in my part of the country, anyway.


Digging a little further, I found another interesting tidbit: Competition Bureau: price fixing

Price fixing? Noooooooo…Really?