Power Plant?

I have two photographs taken September 26, 2011 at the site of the Mississauga power plant. At that time there was a small construction started, mostly internal steel before concrete was poured. One small structure, and a larger cleared, vacant area.

This was just about the time this power plant was stopped in its tracks by the Ontario Liberal government.

I have a panorama of three photographs taken of the same area March 19, 2012. There has been a significant amount of construction. There was no activity at the site except for a truck cleaning out the porta-potties.

There were two clearly visible machines – engines on small trailers – to which were attached vertical poles with floodlights on them. From this I infer that the work is being done at night, and these are generators.

So, here is the dumb question. This power plant was cancelled due to citizen pressure, mostly from Etobicoke folk from a kilometre or two away, across the creek and across Sherway Gardens from the site. The dumb question is, is it cancelled? If so, why are there several cranes at the site in the March 19, 2012 images?

An even dumber question is, do we need this plant? We’re about to restart some nuclear plants, and we don’t seem to be having brownouts. We may have enough power already.

Anyone with inside information here, please respond.

Etch A Sketch, or, Confusing Sell with Install

The March 23 Daily Star (Page A4) has a fascinating article on Mitt Romney and a quote from his senior aide Eric Fehrnstrom: “Well, I think you hit a reset button for the full campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.”

This when asked if Romney’s positions in the primaries isn’t too far right to win the election.

Etch A Sketch is then depicted as a classical American toy. The article in fact shows that it is not: it was invented in France. Much more to the point, this specific toy was mentioned years ago as one that was outsourced, costing many American jobs, with very small payback as the (much cheaper) version from China still had to be shipped and boxed.

I remember a fascinating statement made by one of the leading executives running a bid for a software system at a certain bank. This executive represented the bid of a company whose initials are not HAL. When questioned about what was being actually delivered as opposed to what was proposed in the winning bid, this individual said, “You’re confusing sell with install.”

Back to Mitt Romney and the Etch A Sketch. Those believing his apparent position now may be confusing sell with install. If the primary race is won, a reset button can be hit before the presidential campaign itself begins. Those believing that an Etch A Sketch is a fine American toy should realize it was “sold” in France and is “installed” in China.

Mayor Rob Ford: Some thoughts

As a councillor, Rob Ford was all anomaly. He spent nothing on his office, coached a sports team, lived high and talked large. He was also effective: visibly effective. One story (which I do not promise to have exactly right, it’s from memory) will suffice.

Rob Ford as councillor encouraged folks from other wards, as well as his own, to bring problems to his attention. One elderly woman had had a scare in the underground parking lot of her building. In this building, security cameras had been promised, and said to be in the budget, for a year or two but nothing moved. Appeals to the woman’s own councillor had no results. So she called on Rob Ford.

Within a half hour her own concillor’s assistant was on the line, informing her that her building would in fact be getting security cameras. There was a moment of sarcasm when that assistant added something like, and if you need more help, you obviously know where to go.

The next morning our citizen receives a phone call. It’s from Rob Ford’s office. Security cameras are supposed to be being installed, seven of them. Would she go downstairs and check, and let them know this is happening? Please?

All across Toronto there are stories like this. Rob Ford was a sort of folk hero, solving problems other councillors did not get fixed. We liked this.

Then he told us there was a lot of gravy at City Hall, great savings could be achieved, and subways could be financed “by themselves” with public/private partnerships.

On his first day in office he declared the war on the car to be over. Transit City was declared cancelled. Non-subway TTC improvements were put on hold in favour of subways. Consultants were paid to find the gravy. Taxes were repealed (land transfer, I think, and for sure vehicle registration surtax).

Then reality set in. Subways are not universally affordable nor justified. Private firms will not fund them. City Hall gravy that can be found is pretty thin. Deficits loom. TTC general manager needs to be fired without cause. Council revolts.

This is really a sad story. We lost an exceptionally effective councillor. We gained a Mayor whose leadership skills seem to be pretty thin (unlike his skin, which luckily seems to be pretty thick).

My analogy is this. We had a handyman who was really good at fixing a flat. We asked him to design a new engine. He did not have the skills.

He is now trapped in his own statements, promises, tax cuts, deficits, and an unurly council. We lost a great councillor. We need a great mayor. Sorry, Rob, but imho it isn’t you.

Add your own fresh egg

I was reminded of this by a cake mix my wife turned into angel food the other day.

Long ago, my younger brother asked me to bake a cake. Not knowing it was supposed to be tricky, I simply got permission, got out a cake mix, and followed the instructions. Angel food, in the pan with an island. It was pretty good. We at the whole thing ourselves before it really had had a chance to cool.

I remember the mix: it came in a simple package and you added your own fresh egg. Much later I found out why this step was in the directions: it’s a marketing ploy.

In the age of multiple jobs, multi-tasking, not enough time, cake mixes were part of the solution to getting things done somehow. So the company made a cake mix to which you simply added water and stirred. It did not sell.

Enter marketing. Marketing said, the harried housewife does not feel she made a cake , if she just adds water and stirs. Mixing in your own fresh egg makes a personal contribution to the result. So the advertising and directions were changed to add this step.

It turns out that nothing in the cake mix was changed. You could still succeed without adding an egg, a fact rarely disclosed. The extra egg added a bit of body and fluff, I guess; but more importantly, it meant you put some of yourself, your own fresh egg, into dessert.

There’s a lesson in here somewhere. Humans need to feel that they contributed to the final result. Despite the pressure to be efficient, lazy, mechanized, we still want to add our own fresh egg.

Why helmets?

As a one-time motorcycle owner, I am aware of the defensive properties of a good motorcycle helmet. The gentleman who sold me a Honda Hawk explained it in detail. You must realize this was a motorcycle helmet, not a bicycle or hockey helmet.

The main thing a motorcycle helmet will do is, if you fall off the bike, you will not likely get a concussion. That’s a fall of maybe five feet, more or less, onto your head. The helmet can not protect you in a forty kilometer crash into a solid wall. A sharp point or edge will cut it, a wall crash will crush it. It is not magic.

A second benefit, also important, is that a real motorcycle helmet has a face shield. Should you strike, say, a bee at 100 kilometers per hour, it could blind you. The helmet’s shield will in this case defend you.

That’s all you can expect from a very expensive motorcycle helmet.

Helmets worn by cyclists are of equal, or likely much less, protective value.

So, here’s today’s dumb question: as the cycling season starts up early this year, maybe during March Break, there will be injuries because bad things happen to good people who either don’t pay attention or are the unlucky victims of others not paying attention. In many of these injuries, the report will add at the end, “and wasn’t wearing a helmet”.

I suggest this phrase should be removed from all incidents where the protective power of a standard helmet would have been totally inadequate to prevent injury. It is misleading. It’s a bit like saying, and he wasn’t going slower, or, she wasn’t driving a larger car. It has no bearing on the reality of the situation.

So that’s today’s dumb question: why do accident reports always mention this? X wasn’t wearing a helmet?

Dreamliner: typical or not?

The dreamliner, the big new modern Boeing airplane, is almost ready for prime time. It will cost apparently $197 million each. (This number does seem to change from report to report.) As an entirely new venture into airplane construction, it has several elements in common with the F35 fighter jet project, including these:

  • Construction was done in a relatively new, perhaps risky manner. Boeing used several independent contractors. The F35 used all-up testing (I think they called this convergence).
  • Many new materials were involved.
  • Government subsidies can be suspected.
  • The airplane is late. By several years.
  • Current delivery plans seem a bit fluffy. Air Canada will get planes in 2013, maybe. Canada will get jets in 2014, maybe.

There are some differences:

Presumably (after all the bugs are shaken out) the dreamliner will be comfortable and safe. The F35 has one engine and, apparently, no fire extinguisher.

The dreamliner is cheaper, larger, carries more cargo weight, and will probably make a profit for everyone, eventually. The F35 may make a profit for the major contracting company; everyone else involved will either be employees (military) or victims (enemy).

Other countries are watching the dreamliner as competition. The F35 has competitors in some countries, and collaborators in others. It is not clear which are more dismayed by the current state of the warplane’s development.

So, now for the dumb question.

Are overruns in cost and time inevitable with large projects? Particularly aerospace projects? Particularly projects with very large innovation content? Particularly projects with direct or indirect government support?


Is it clear there is any other way to get these things built?


do we need them? I submit the dreamliner is of more value to civilization than the F35.

Free Trade, Currency, Iceland, Alberta

A large area using a single currency will tend to exacerbate original, possibly small, regional differences. The manufacturing industry in The Netherlands was badly damaged by the discovery of offshore energy deposits. This new source of wealth drove up the country’s currency, making their manufactured exports uncompetitive.

Alberta is doing this to Ontario as we speak.

Free Trade is an even wider force for competitive ruin. We buy everything from China, because it’s cheaper there, and await their return of all that cash to buy everything we have left they might want. Mostly, investment in our energy out west. Soon I expect real estate, if it turns out you can still make money in real estate in Canada. (doing what? banking? for whom? bankrupt middle class-ers? accommodation? for whom? bankrupt middle class-ers?)

Now Iceland, which has had some interesting experiments with financial activities, is talking up adopting our loonie. This is a very bad idea. Iceland is an energy-economy country. That means Alberta would have competition, and Ontario would have two Albertas forcing the currency up and our competitiveness down.

My understanding of the IceSave debacle is, er, fairly rough. There were some investments. They were held mostly in the UK and The Netherlands and done via banks in those countries. When the investments went south, those countries’ banks were legally obliged to cover some of the losses. The legal position of Iceland at that exact time was such that it was not obliged to cover those same losses. There were unfriendly noises from Britain and Holland. The Icelandic (? never get these titles right) equivalent of parliament voted to pay up. It amounted to tens of thousands of dollars for every man, woman, and child in the country. The equivalent of their President said, should I fail to sign this bill, by law it goes to a referendum. He did and it did. Massive voter turn out. Major vote against.

This is the last I heard of this debacle. I do recall some vague details of what the Icelandic central bank did. They split the bank in trouble into two parts: one holding the potential bad debt, the rest holding all the good stuff. Hasta la vista, baby, went the bad bank. The good one is still operating and quite profitable.

So, what’s my point, you are asking. I have several.

  • No currency sharing. No currency sharing. No currency sharing. What I tell you three times is true (with apologies to Lewis Carrol, eh?). Do not let this happen. Not with Iceland. Not with the USA. Not with anybody.
  • Currency mitigation should be part of federal policy. Ontario needs the cash equivalent of the competitive losses from the higher dollar.
  • We need a new Prime Minister. One that doesn’t hate Ontario and love Alberta. One that doesn’t think the world’s largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions is A-plus OK. One that doesn’t think the tales of mutated fish and carcinogenic chemicals downstream of The Tar Sands is fine, so long as he doesn’t have to live, eat, drink, or breathe there. One that doesn’t understand that 200 tankers per year (one estimate) through our western seaboard is an environmental risk of major proportions. One that listens to voices other than his own. One that considers opinions other than his own. A leader, not a dictator. One we can trust.