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Launching something new

A couple of months ago I relaunched my photoblog at BridgeCity.ca.  My photos have always been popular on Flickr (more than a couple million views) but I wanted some place to pull out and highlight certain ones about Saskatoon.  When I saw www.bridgecity.ca was available, I bought it, found a template, and started to upload a photo or two a day to it.

This site averages 1000 visitors a day who view on average about 5 posts each time they stop by.  The site has a large archive and benefits from a decade of people linking to it.  I didn’t expect 1000 hits a day but I was really disappointed when I launched Bridge City and didn’t even get a single hit some days.  Now a couple of months later traffic is holding steady at about 175 hits a day and growing.  Here is what I learned during this.

  1. Use Google Webmaster Tools:  This isn’t going to get you any hits but does tell you if Google is indexing your site which is really all you can ask for.  It will also give you an idea of what people are searching for.  Also use Bing Webmaster Tools.  To be honest the amount of traffic I get from Bing is nothing compared to what I get from Google but some people still use it and Yahoo! Search so you might as well incorporate it into your site.
  2. Figure out how Google Image Search worked.  Google has no idea what those images I was posting to my site are.  They rely on the words in the attribute tag and the words I am using on the site to describe what I am posting.  I had images on Flickr that had gotten thousands of hits but only 1 hit on Bridge City.  The difference was that I described what the image was well on Flickr and had not on Bridge City.  When I changed that, Google figured out what the subject was and suddenly ignored content was found.
  3. I don’t rely on SEO very much but I do use a plugin in WordPress to see what Google thinks it is seeing and then I do my best to accurately describe what it should be seeing.  Huffington Post has perfected this but often uses misleading headlines and descriptions to drive traffic.  I want accurate titles and descriptions so that people can find what they are looking for.
  4. The hardest part has been tagging the photos.  Do I call that building office or commercial?  Did I call others like it a restaurant or a pub?  Is it a pub or a bar?
  5. Do I link to the business?  I try to.  It’s a site about what I think is cool and interesting about Saskatoon.  Since I am using business names in titles, I tend to put a link back to the business or organization.  That way if people are looking for something, with a click they can find it.  I have also learned that some businesses have websites that are hard to find.  If I can give it a good link, it helps them too.
  6. There are some boring neighbourhoods in this city.  You can see where I tend to spend my time by the categories and the tags at the bottom of each page but there are some parts of the city that really have nothing interesting to photograph (I am looking at you Westview, Montgomery, and Wildwood)  It speaks of some really poor neighbourhood design.
  7. Most of the shots are on foot.  Wendy and I will park the car somewhere and go for a neighbourhood stroll.  Since I take a lot of shots of schools, we generally go on the weekend so as to not freak out parents, teachers, police, RCMP, Interpol, the Department of Homeland Security… you know, those kinds of people.
  8. Some officers from the Saskatoon Police Service has taken a mild interest in what I have been doing.  One time Wendy and I were kind of trespassing near the tracks by the grain terminals and a couple of cops wandered down to see what we were up to.  When they saw we have cameras their concern wandered off an instead they questioned me on the lens I was using.  The same thing happened downtown when I was ask, “Is it actually focusing on things”.  I then explained aperture to the officers who actually took some notes.  I find that so far the cops have been far more interested in mine and Wendy’s difference in cameras than what we are doing.  They actually remind me of cops in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston who seemed to be drawn to the guy with the camera and had opinions on what to photograph than anything.
  9. Thank you to the City of Saskatoon for posting this neighbourhood map.  It the official arbiter of what neighbourhoods are called and where the boundaries are.  More than one time I have sent someone to it and heard back, “I could have sworn that X was part of Y neighbourhood”.  I’ve done it myself.
  10. A lot of buildings downtown are double and even triple attributed by reputable sources to the same architect.  I have brought this up to a couple of developers who all said, “I know”. It’s been fun looking back at contradictory archival data as well.  I don’t think we will ever know for sure.
  11. I don’t get this but architectural websites don’t always list their own works.  I have a feeling that there probably was some strong disagreements during design or construction and the architect more or less washes his or her hands of the project but it makes it hard to track down who created the project.  Winnipeg has a building database.  I wish we had one in Saskatoon.  If for no reason than to help celebrate some of the great architects in our cities history.  Hopefully a project like this will happen when Saskatoon finally gets a school of architecture.
  12. I wish the public and separate school boards would publish a list of architects of their schools.  These are tremendously important to our community and so little is known of them.  Either that or I am going to have to do it.

The five most popular posts are

  1. Affinity Campus
  2. 2nd Avenue Lofts
  3. Irene & Leslie Dube Centre for Mental Health
  4. John Deere Building
  5. Nuit Blanche

I am biased but there are my two favourites.

  1. Taking a selfie
  2. 2014 PotashCorp International Fringe Festival

And now the FBI…

Now it is the FBI that is forging websites to catch high school criminals

The FBI in Seattle created a fake news story on a bogus Seattle Times web page to plant software in the computer of a suspect in a series of bomb threats to Lacey’s Timberline High School in 2007, according to documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in San Francisco.

The deception was publicized Monday when Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C., revealed it on Twitter.

In an interview, Soghoian called the incident “outrageous” and said the practice could result in “significant collateral damage to the public trust” if law enforcement begins co-opting the media for its purposes.

The EFF documents reveal that the FBI dummied up a story with an Associated Press byline about the Thurston County bomb threats with an email link “in the style of The Seattle Times,” including details about subscriber and advertiser information.

The link was sent to the suspect’s MySpace account. When the suspect clicked on the link, the hidden FBI software sent his location and Internet Protocol information to the agents. A juvenile suspect was identified and arrested June 14.

The revelation brought a sharp response from the newspaper.

“We are outraged that the FBI, with the apparent assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, misappropriated the name of The Seattle Times to secretly install spyware on the computer of a crime suspect,” said Seattle Times Editor Kathy Best.

“Not only does that cross a line, it erases it,” she said.

“Our reputation and our ability to do our job as a government watchdog are based on trust. Nothing is more fundamental to that trust than our independence — from law enforcement, from government, from corporations and from all other special interests,” Best said. “The FBI’s actions, taken without our knowledge, traded on our reputation and put it at peril.”

An AP spokesman also criticized the tactic.

“We are extremely concerned and find it unacceptable that the FBI misappropriated the name of The Associated Press and published a false story attributed to AP,” Paul Colford, director of AP media relations. “This ploy violated AP’s name and undermined AP’s credibility.”

Before we jump all over the FBI, it happens more than you think and has similar things happened recently in Saskatoon with false news stories planted in the media.  That and the Seattle Times got it’s outrage wrong.  You don’t need spyware to get an I.P. address.

3 IDF soldiers from the same unit kill themselves within weeks of the Gaza ceasefire

This is messed up

In the weeks after Israel and Hamas agreed to an open-ended ceasefire, three Israeli soldiers decided to end their lives with their own weapons. And what was especially striking about their suicides was that all served in the same unit, the Givati Brigade, which had a reputation for its ruthless ferocity, considerable bravery, and the use of Old Testament religiosity to justify the merciless operations of its commander, Colonel Ofer Winter.

So why did it happen?

A contributing factor, according to Staff Sergeant J., who served in the Givati Brigade in the middle of the last decade, and does not want to be named, is that secular Israelis are now avoiding the military or declining to continue after mandatory service. “Those who do continue feel a religious and political duty,” he says. This has been discussed as a concern by Israeli academics and analysts for years.

The staff sergeant said that when he was in the Givati Brigade in 2007 or so, it was “openly secular.” He recalls “there was a group who had come from the yeshiva,” but “often they were uncomfortable… they felt sidelined.” As secular Israelis left, however, the vacancies were filled by settlers, he said.

Could any of this, or some of this, or none of this have affected the decision of three Givati soldiers to take their own lives? The Daily Beast reached out to several post-traumatic stress disorder specialists for their analysis.

“It is strange that they hadn’t seen a mental-health counselor,” said Mooli Lahad, an Israeli psychiatrist and psychotrauma specialist with over three decades of experience. He was citing reports that the Givati soldiers hadn’t received treatment. “This isn’t common for the IDF,” he said.

Lahad stressed that suicide usually has to do with pre-existing issues, such as depression, and an accumulation of factors can lead to a sense of hopelessness, which counseling helps to prevent.

“Sometimes, if there is a particularly macho culture, seeking help for depression or PTSD is seen as showing weakness, which is discouraged,” Lahad said. “If there’s a commander who thinks God is whispering in his ear, this can make things even more difficult.”

The article also speaks of religious radicalization of the Israeli military due to the role of fundamentalist settlements. 

Investigator in Secret Service Prostitution Scandal Resigns because of being linked to Prostitution

And the reputation of U.S. law enforcement takes another body blow

The investigator who led the Department of Homeland Security’s internal review of the Secret Service’s 2012 prostitution scandal quietly resigned in August after he was implicated in his own incident involving a prostitute, according to current and former department officials.

Sheriff’s deputies in Broward County, Fla., saw David Nieland, the investigator, entering and leaving a building they had under surveillance as part of a prostitution investigation, according to officials briefed on the investigation. They later interviewed a prostitute who identified Mr. Nieland in a photograph and said he had paid her for sex.

Mr. Nieland resigned after he refused to answer a series of questions from the Department of Homeland Security inspector general about the incident, the officials said.
A spokesman for the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general said in a statement that he could confirm only that Mr. Nieland resigned in August. But the spokesman added that department officials “became aware in early May of this year of an incident in Florida that involved one of our employees.”

“While the law prohibits us from commenting on specific cases, we do not tolerate misconduct on the part of our employees and take such allegations very seriously,” said the spokesman, William O. Hillburg. “When we receive information of such misconduct, we will investigate thoroughly, and, during the course of or at the conclusion of such an investigation, we have a range of options available to us, including administrative suspension and termination.”

In an email message on Tuesday, Mr. Nieland said, “The allegation is not true,” and declined to answer any questions.

2014 Christmas & Holiday Gift Guide for Your Brother-in-Law

It is Wendy again with my second Christmas gift guide of 2014. So you may have heard of Jordon’s brother Lee.  Lee is a great brother to Jordon, great brother-in-law to me, and an even better uncle to Mark and Oliver.  If you have a brother-in-law like Lee, here is some Christmas and holiday gift ideas for him.

Generation Kill

Generation Kill is a television miniseries produced for HBO, based on the 2004 book of the same name by Evan Wright about his experience as an embedded reporter with the U.S. Marine Corps’ 1st Reconnaissance Battalion during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It was adapted for television by David Simon, Ed Burns and Evan Wright.  Jordon and Mark loved it when they saw it.   So will your brother-in-law.

Generation Kill on Blue Ray

Sennheiser HD 202 II Professional Headphones

Sennheiser HD 202 II Professional Headphones

The Sennheiser HD202II are closed, dynamic hi-fi stereo headphones. Good insulation against ambient noise and a deep bass response make them the ideal companion for DJs – or anyone who likes to listen to modern, powerful music without disturbing others. High efficiency drivers for maximum performance.  They are some amazing headphones for a really inexpensive price.

Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Elite Edition Quadcopter

Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Elite Edition Quadricopter

Get him a remote control quadcopter controlled using an iOS or Android smartphone or tablet.  You can record 720p high-definition live video streaming & recording to smartphone or tablet while flying which a wide variety of preprogrammed cinematic effects.  Plus it is a remote controlled helicopter.  How much fun will he have with that?

Pentax Q-S1 Camera

It fires off five frames per second, records hi-def video, and shoots in Raw, a format that allows for maximum post-processing. But the QS-1s biggest selling point is also its most obvious: it’s the smallest interchangeable-lens camera in existence at around 7 ounces.  They can play pro everywhere they go.  

Pentax Q-S1 Camera

Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera with 18-135mm IS STM Lens

Canon 7D Mark II with 18-135 lens and battery grip

Canon just came out with their most anticipated camera of the year with the Canon 7D Mark II.  A camera that is designed for photographing sports and wildlife.  The Canon EOS 7D Mark II GPS Digital SLR Camera features a refined APS-C sized 20.2 Megapixel CMOS sensor with Dual DIGIC 6 Image Processors for gorgeous imagery. It shoots up to 10 frames per second at ISOs ranging from 100-16000 (expandable to H1: 25600, H2: 51200), has a 65-point all cross-type AF system and features Canon’s amazing Dual Pixel CMOS AF for brilliant Live-View AF. It has dual card slots for both CF and SD cards, USB 3.0 connectivity and even has built-in GPS for easy location tagging.

Includes Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Zoom Lens.

Are you going to shell out $2149 for your brother-in-law or brother this Christmas?  That’s for you decide but let me tell you one thing.  If you get him this camera, he’ll love it.


Big Bob Gibbson's BBQ Book

Winners of the World Championship BBQ Cook-Off for six years in a row and with hundreds of other contest ribbons as well, nobody does barbecue better than Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q in Decatur, Alabama. Chris Lilly, executive chef of Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q and great-grandson-in-law of Big Bob himself, now passes on the family secrets in this quintessential guide to barbecue.

From dry rubs to glazes and from sauces to slathers, Lilly gives the lowdown on Big Bob Gibson Bar-B-Q’s award-winning seasonings and combinations. You?ll learn the unique flavors of different woods and you?ll get insider tips on creating the right heat?be it in a charcoal grill, home oven, or backyard ground pit. Then, get the scoop on pulled pork, smoked beef brisket, pit-fired poultry, and, of course, ribs.

Magellan eXplorist 310 Waterproof Hiking GPS

Magellan eXplorist 310 Waterproof Hiking GPSThe Magellan eXplortst 310 GPS receiver provides essential outdoor navigation with a high-resolution colour screen, waterproof design, paperless geocaching, and superior mapping, including preloaded World Edition and upload able map capability.  Jordon has one and loves it.  Your brother-in-law will love his as well every time that he leaves the road.  Make sure you include a Pelican 1050 waterproof case for $26.

Dartboard in Oak Finish Cabinet

Dartboard in Oak cabinet

The board, which comes housed in a solid oak cabinet, is made of a high-grade, “self-healing” sisal that looks smooth and lasts for years. Scoring is handled by the pair of chalk scoreboards–one on the inside of each door–that make it easy to tally scores for several players at once. And below each chalkboard sits a shelf that holds a single set of brass darts (included), so you needn’t worry about misplacing the darts between games. It’s the oak cabinet that really stands out, however, thanks to its durable finger-joint construction and light oak finish.

The cabinet not only hides your board from view when you’re not playing and protects your wall from errant darts when you are, but also looks great amidst both traditional and modern furnishings. The cabinet, which measures 18.5 by 20 by 2.5 inches (W x H x D) when closed.  Plus its better that he is throwing things at his walls rather than your walls.

Dynamite Fire-Starter Crate

Dynamite Fire-Starter Crate

Invented in 1866 by Alfred Nobel, dynamite’s cylindrical shape perfectly fit down the drilling holes used in mining operations. When the charges were set, the now-famous phrase “fire in the hole” was cried to warn miners of the coming blast. Though the contents of this sturdy wood crate will not move mountains, they will start your fireplace. One look at the realistic “dynamite” crate will have family and friends looking twice. Each cedar wood crate contains 20, 8″L x 1-1/4″W, fire-starter sticks. They are made of paraffin and sawdust for a long, hot burn. Each stick will burn approximately 30 minutes setting ablaze even the most stubborn wood. 

Plus there is the joy that comes from yelling, “Fire in the hole” every time he lights a fire.

JetBoil Personal Cooking System

Jetboil

If your brother-in-law is an outdoors type, help him a little extra fun to his outdoor cooking adventures with the Jetboil Flash personal cooking system. The all-in-one Flash combines an adjustable stainless-steel burner and a 1-liter FluxRing cooking vessel in a single compact unit.

The all-in-one Flash cooking system boils 2 cups of water for cocoa, coffee, instant soup, or other meals.

To use, simply add water or liquid to the 1-liter cooking cup and fix it to the burner. Within two minutes, the Flash will provide two cups of boiling water for cocoa, coffee, instant soup, or a gourmet freeze-dried meal. It’s easy, convenient, and fun. Plus, everything you need stacks and stores inside the FluxRing cooking cup, including the burner and fuel canister.

 
Brunton Hydrogen Reactor
 
Yes, you read correctly, get your brother-in-law a hydrogen reactor from Brunton.  Swap the hydrogen fuel cells in and out of the core for hours of power off-the-grid and on-the-go. Each is Capable of 6 iPhone recharges; 5v 2amp output Great to power USB devices like smartphones, tablet computers, UV water purifiers, rechargeable lights, portable game consoles, GPS transceivers and more.
Victorinox Handyman Swiss Army Knife
If your brother-in-law is going to stop by and be helpful, he needs a knife that is up to the past.  The Handyman Swiss Army Knife is that tool.
So another Christmas Gift Guide is done.  Hope you find it useful.  To read all of the other Christmas & Holiday Gift Guides, check out the list here.  If you have comments or suggestions, let me know in the comments below.

Counterfeiter makes $250 million fake US twenty dollar bills

And he does 6 weeks in prison.

FRANK BOURASSA IS AN AMUSED, easygoing man of 44 whose standard answer, when you ask him why he beat up such-and-such a person, or got stabbed by so-and-so, or committed this or that felony, is “I don’t know, I guess for fun.” On a website he recently launched, Frank describes himself as an “insane million making Master earner,” though he does not necessarily look like an insane million-making master earner. He is a shortish guy with a nocturnal, indoorsy complexion and a faux-hawk hairdo that sometimes looks fussed over but usually not. He has a big belly that started coming into focus a few years back, during his house arrest for a pot charge. He favors old T-shirts and complicated jeans with lots of pockets and zippers, which, actually, probably did set him back a buck or two. He drives an aging Mitsubishi Eclipse in which I think I counted three different apparatuses for affixing Oakley-style sunglasses to the flip-down visors. You see, an insane master earner who makes his millions by illegitimate means “can’t just drive around in a Ferrari,” Frank explained.

“If I need a luxury car, there are luxury cars I can use, but most of everything I buy, I have to go through somebody else. You have to have discipline, or otherwise you get caught. I’m a silent partner in many things.”

Frank’s self-image may be described as not merely healthy but hyperpituitary. When I asked him where he found the lunatic gumption not only to enter into the risky business of counterfeiting but to do so at the unheard-of scale of hundreds of millions of dollars, Frank replied with a shrug: “I can do anything I want. I can go to the moon. I’m good at figuring out stuff. I could do a heart transplant if I wanted to.”

Are we to take Frank at his word? Should he be allowed by NASA to attempt a lunar landing? Should he perform your father’s triple bypass? I will say only this: Do not discount someone who apparently launched a currency-fraud scheme so cunning that he was able to rook the Secret Service and the Canadian government and then walk away from the whole mess a free and wealthy man.

This is what he did.

WHEN MOST PEOPLE look at a dollar bill, we don’t see a material object; we see magic—a totem embodying luck, labor, destiny, and one’s essential value compared with that of the guy next door. Or if we look at money practically and technically, we see such a profusion of security features as to make the notion of faking one a ludicrous impossibility. But as Frank began delving into the matter, his research bore out a simple but life-altering revelation: Limitless wealth was a craft project. Frank started loitering in counterfeiters’ chat rooms. He paid a few visits to the U.S. Secret Service’s website, which, handily, offers an in-depth illustrated guide to serial numbers, watermarks, plate numbers, and all the other fussy obstacles to the counterfeiter’s art. “It would be difficult, but obviously currency is made by human hands, so it would be physically possible to do,” Frank said. “But I thought, if I’m going to do this, I’ll go big or go home.”

Serious counterfeiters do not spend their money themselves but instead sell in bulk, and the going rate for a good bill, the Internet informed Frank, was 30 percent of face value. He reasoned that if he was going to put himself through the hassle and expense of buying supplies and so on, he should print enough in a single batch to leave himself set for life. He figured something in the $200 million range would suffice. It should be stated plainly that by the standards of most counterfeiters, printing $200-plus million is not going big—it is going insane. In fact, the hubristic volume of the operation would prove, in ways Frank did not intend, to be a major blessing in later days, when Frank’s fortune would take a turn for the worse.

Drawing on cautionary news reports of failed counterfeiters, Frank sketched out a set of best-practice guidelines for his new concern. First, “don’t ever try to pass the money yourself. You want to be as far away as possible from where the money’s being spent.” Second, “don’t sell your stuff to anyone who’s going to be passing it locally. I knew from the beginning, I needed to sell my bills to Europe or Asia.” Third, resist the temptation to print big bills. “Do twenties. It’s stupid to try to pass hundred-dollar bills anymore. People look at them all day long, hold it up to the light and everything. Nobody looks twice at a twenty.” Fourth, don’t cheap out. Most of the people who try their luck at counterfeiting do so by breathtakingly broke-dick means, with stuff you can buy at Office Depot.

“Can you make bills on a $50 ink-jet? Sure, if you want to get busted right away,” said Frank. “All the security features in a bill are basically there to stop broke fucking-moron assholes who are trying to do their thing on an ink-jet. I knew if I wanted to succeed, my bills had to be as perfect as possible, as close as possible to the way the bills are actually made.”

I can’t wait till the story of the entire counterfeiting ring comes out.

2014 Holiday and Christmas Gift Guide for the Women in Your Life

Each year I put together some holiday and Christmas gift guides for the people in your life.  Wendy wrote the first one and here is my first one; a holiday and Christmas guide for the women in your life.  Let me know what you think in the comments below.

Star K Heart Shape 8mm Love Pendant

Star K Heart Shape 8mm Love Pendant

The alluring Original Star K Heart Shape 8mm Love Pendant, crafted in 925 Sterling Silver. This beautiful design is set with 1 Heart Shape stone prong set , 1 stone prong set colorless Round Cubic Zirconia. This product measures 8.00 mm wide, 18.00 mm long and is a great looking while affordable necklace and pendant.

Big Jambox

Wendy has always loved music and has always wanted a massive stereo system.  Since we have a small home, the dream has never come true.  Lucky for Wendy there are some excellent compact speaker systems as options. Here are a few of them.

I have traditionally recommended the Bose Wave home audio system.  It provides legendary sound, is $499 but has fallen behind the times.  It bugs me that even with the new version you have to add an optional and costly Bluetooth receiver to stream music wirelessly from your iPod.  Yet if the women you are shopping for still prefers CDs to iTunes, it is probably the best audio system you can get for her.

For the iPod/Android crowd, I am suggesting you get her a Big Jambox.  

Jambox Big Jambox Speakers

The Big Jambox turns any mobile device (phone, tablet, media player, computer) into a portable, hi-fi sound system that wirelessly delivers amazingly clear, full audio at any volume.  Exclusive LiveAudio technology lets you experience your music like never before—as if you’re sitting front row, hearing it live. This immersive, three-dimensional listening experience brings incredible depth, detail, and unprecedented spatial realism to everything from mp3s to special binaural recordings. It’s like hearing your favorite music and audio content for the first time — the way it was meant to be heard.

Olympus E-PL7 16MP Compact System Camera with 3-Inch LCD with 14-42mm IIR Lens

Olympus PEN E-EL7 camera

I bought Wendy an Olympus PEN last year and she loved it.  Over the year we added a couple of lens (I recommend the Olympus 40-150mm, the Olympus 45mm f1.8 (Wendy’s favourite lens), the Sigma 19mm, 30mm and 60mm prime lens) a new ThinkTank sling bag, and some other gear.   The result was we took a couple of thousand photos over 2014 and had a great time together.  

The advantage of a mirrorless camera system like Micro 4/3 system (which is used by Olympus and Panosonic) is the size of the cameras and the lenses.  It means in practical terms that you take this camera places you would not take a DSLR.  With 16 megapixel sensors, good (but not amazing) low light sensitivity (if you want great, you need a Sony A7s), you get amazing photos that you can enlarge to almost any size.

If you want something small but with a traditional DSLR form factor, take a look at the Olympus OMD E-M10 for $750.

Canon T5i with 18-135mm lens

If she is looking for more traditional DSLR, then look at the Canon Rebel T5i with the 18-135 lens.  She will be impressed at how simple it is to create breathtaking photos with ease. The incredible image quality and performance starts with an 18.0 Megapixel sensor and Canon’s DIGIC 5 Image Processor. A continuous shooting speed of up to 5.0 fps allows for fast action capture. 9 cross-type AF focus points help ensure crisp focus throughout the frame, and the Hybrid CMOS AF system enables speedy and accurate autofocus when shooting in Live View mode. In addition, the camera is compatible with Canon STM lenses for smooth, quiet AF performance.

You get full HD video, the ability to plug in a shotgun or lavaliere microphone, and access to the enormous Canon EF-S lens family.  You can get a kit with a 18-55mm lens but for the extra $200, the extra range of the 18-135mm lens is worth it.

Samsung Chromebook 

Samsung Chromebook

Samsung’s Chromebook laptop has been deemed by many to be a success. Lightweight, inexpensive and practical as everything operates off your Google Drive, the Chromebook is great for any career woman on the move.

Jean Dubost Laguiole 3-Piece Cheese Knife Set

Jean Dubost Laguiole 3-Piece Cheese Knife Set is a great holiday gift for anyone who loves hosting a great dinner party and doing so in style. 

This set of cheese service knives includes a spreader for soft cheeses like Montrachet a serving knife for Gruyere and Gouda and a cleaver for hard cheeses such as Parmigiano. Sparkling stainless steel handles carry the signature logo of the Laguiole ‘Bee’. A wooden gift and storage box completes this gourmet set.

 
Gold Pendent
Initial jewelry is all the rage. The 14k Gold Circle Disk Letter “A” Pendant showcases a simple yellow-gold design. Resting from an 18-inch cable chain is a gentle yellow gold disk. A capital letter is engraved in the middle of the disk, to personalize the pendant. The simple design is a jewelry box must-have for accessorizing a day-to-day look. A wonderful gift for the holidays.
 
Fast and convenient, the AeroPress Coffee and Espresso Maker makes one of the best cups of coffee you’ll ever taste. This innovative uses the ideal water temperature and gentle air pressure brewing to produce coffee and espresso that has rich flavor with lower acidity and without bitterness. It makes 1 to 4 cups of coffee or espresso (enough for 1 or 2 mugs), features a micro filtered for grit free coffee, and takes just 1 minute to make coffee (actual press time takes only 20 seconds).  It’s the number one selling coffee press on Amazon for a reason.
 
Aeropress Coffee

Bose QuietComfort 15 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones

Wendy works full time and then has to come home to a household of two sons and me.  In other words she puts up with days that make mine seem like a meditation retreat.  Give your wife a break from the chaos with these noise cancelling headphones.  If you are on a budget, check out the Sony MDR-NC7 Noise Cancelling headphones for about $40 or JVC HANC250 Noise Cancelling Headphones for about $120.  I leant Wendy my noise cancelling headphones for a flight to Winnipeg.  She never gave them back.  She will love a pair.
I’m a Mom…
 

I'm a Mom

She’ll love this mug.
 
The R H Forschner by Victorinox Chef’s Knife features an 8-inch blade that is 2-inches wide at the handle. High carbon, stainless steel blade is hand finished at Victorinox in Switzerland by skilled craftsmen. A special tempering process is used to produce an edge that can be resharpened over and over again, so the knife can keep its original sharpness throughout the entire life of the blade.
 

Victorinox 8-inch Chef's Knife

If you are looking for an entire knife block set, check out the Zwilling J.A. Henckels 7-pc Knife Block Set for $120 which is almost $150 off.  The set includes an 8-inch chef’s knife, a 5-inch serrated utility knife, a 4-inch paring knife, and a 2-1/2-inch peeling knife, as well as a sharpening steel and a pair of shears. All components fit within an 11-slot hardwood block, which offers four extra slots for future knife acquisitions.  She’ll love it. You’ll love it.  You’ll pass them on to your kids.
 
Teavana PerfecTea 16 oz Tea Maker
 
It brews the perfect cup of tea every time.  It is the most efficient, simple and clean way to steep tea. Simply add tea and water at the correct temperature, then put the tea maker on your favorite mug to drain. 
 
Teavana Tea Steeper
 
 
WKRP in Cincinnati
 
Like most people with a sense of humour, Wendy is a huge WKRP in Cincinnati fan.  Join everyone’s favorite radio DJs—the rockin’ Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) and the soulful Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid)—as they weave through the inner-office antics of the crazy WKRP staff; including the station’s program director Andy (Gary Sandy), indecisive manager Arthur (Gordon Jump), advertising executive Herb (Frank Bonner) and, of course, the station’s lovely receptionist, Jennifer (Loni Anderson). So sit back and enjoy the sound of uproarious laughter as you watch all episodes of this iconic series.
 
Of course the reason why it was so long of wait to be released was the hassle in obtaining the rights for the original music.  This set has 90% of the music in the set.  The missing music is the music industry being, well the music industry.
 
 
I have a Nike+ Fueband and when I use it, it works great.  It has been supplanted in both men and women’s minds by the FitBit Flex activity tracker.  It tracks steps, distance, and calories burned and shows you how you’re stacking up against your daily goals. At night, it tracks your sleep cycle, helps you learn how to sleep better, and wakes you silently in the morning. Access your stats anytime on your computer, tablet or from leading smartphones – both iPhone and Android.
 
In the age of tablets, Kindles often get relegated in our minds.  If you are buying for a serious reader, there really is only one option and that is a Kindle.  Wired gave it’s predecessor the Kindle Paperwhite a score of 9/10 which is the highest score they have ever given.  Then they come out this year and say the Kindle Voyage is even better.
 
Kindle Voyage
Here is what you want to know: Yes, the Kindle Voyage is better than the Kindle Paperwhite. It’s thinner, faster, brighter, lighter, newer, has a better screen, has more memory (4GB vs last year’s Paperwhite’s 2GB) commands more magical elf armies, owns a Ferrari, and is nicer to your grandmother.

You can get the Kindle Paperwhite for $119 or the Kindle Voyage for $200.  Remember the Voyage commands elf armies which could come in handy.

So there you go.  I assume I have forgotten, many, many ideas so let me know what I have forgotten the comments below.  You can check out the other Christmas and holiday gift guides while you are at it.

The worst person in America

From Slate

Dear Prudence,
I live in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country, but on one of the more “modest” streets—mostly doctors and lawyers and family business owners. (A few blocks away are billionaires, families with famous last names, media moguls, etc.) I have noticed that on Halloween, what seems like 75 percent of the trick-or-treaters are clearly not from this neighborhood. Kids arrive in overflowing cars from less fortunate areas. I feel this is inappropriate. Halloween isn’t a social service or a charity in which I have to buy candy for less fortunate children. Obviously this makes me feel like a terrible person, because what’s the big deal about making less fortunate kids happy on a holiday? But it just bugs me, because we already pay more than enough taxes toward actual social services. Should Halloween be a neighborhood activity, or is it legitimately a free-for-all in which people hunt down the best candy grounds for their kids?

—Halloween for the 99 Percent

Dear 99,
In the urban neighborhood where I used to live, families who were not from the immediate area would come in fairly large groups to trick-or-treat on our streets, which were safe, well-lit, and full of people overstocked with candy. It was delightful to see the little mermaids, spider-men, ghosts, and the occasional axe murderer excitedly run up and down our front steps, having the time of their lives. So we’d spend an extra $20 to make sure we had enough candy for kids who weren’t as fortunate as ours. There you are, 99, on the impoverished side of Greenwich or Beverly Hills, with the other struggling lawyers, doctors, and business owners. Your whine makes me kind of wish that people from the actual poor side of town come this year not with scary costumes but with real pitchforks. Stop being callous and miserly and go to Costco, you cheapskate, and get enough candy to fill the bags of the kids who come one day a year to marvel at how the 1 percent live.

—Prudie

Old-style infills are out and row housing is in: Calgary to get Boston-style digs

Hey, look at what Calgary is doing.

Step aside, humble duplex: the next wave of infill housing is side-by-side-by-side units.

In a bid to bring more density to established neighbourhoods without triggering massive resident backlash, Calgary council has approved new zoning rules that would allow row houses, as well as secondary suites in duplexes and row homes.

Councillors would have to authorize rezoning bids to allow these units in older neighbourhoods, so they won’t sweep across Calgary anytime soon. But there is demand there for them, said one architect who works on small inner-city redevelopment projects.

“It’s got the front yard. It’s got the house. It’s got the backyard. It’s got the garage,” said Stephen Barnecut. “So you could put it next to a 1950s bungalow and it won’t really feel out of place.”

Saskatoon already allows them as seen by several historic properties and the new SoCal lofts in Caswell.

Looking back at the Saskatoon Transit Strike

I chose not to write anything about the lockout because as soon as it lifted, I got several versions of the in-camera discussions and to be honest, the stories shocked me.  Instead I put together some excellent posts, columns and articles from other people observing the lockout.  

The first comes from October 10th and is by University of Saskatchewan law professor Keir Valance who said back then that the lockout was illegal.  He was right.

More importantly, though, the lockout may well be illegal, and so may be the City’s unilateral changes to the pension plan. And the Union quickly brought an application before the Labour Relations Board, arguing exactly that.

On Sept. 26, 2014, the Labour Relations Board issued an interim Order (LRB File No. 211-14). That Order didn’t end the lockout, but it did prevent the City from implementing any further unilateral changes to the pension plan. On October 14th, the City and the ATU are back in front of the Board to argue about the legality of the changes to the pension plan and to the legality of the lockout.

The Law

The language that potentially renders the City’s actions illegal is the same now, under the new
Saskatchewan Employment Act (“SEA”), as it was under the now-repealed Trade Union Act. Section 6-62(1)(l)(i) of the SEA reads:

6-62(1)It is an unfair labour practice for an employer, or any person acting on behalf of the employer, to do any of the following:

(l) to declare or cause a lockout or to make or threaten any changes in wages, hours, conditions or tenure of employment, benefits or privileges while:
(i) any application is pending before the Board…

["Pending" means that the hearing of the application has begun but the Board has not yet rendered a decision, so an Employer or Union could not, for instance, file a frivolous application just to prevent a lockout or strike.]

Unfortunately for the City, there was an Unfair Labour Practice (“ULP”) application pending before the Labour Relations Board when the lockout notice was issued. It appears the ULP was unrelated to the lockout – it related to discipline of a bus driver and was heard back in May – but the language in the SEA doesn’t say a “related” application, or anything of the sort. It says any application.

In order for the lockout and the pension plan changes to be legal, the City has to convince the Labour Relations Board that when the SEA says “any application”, the statute really means “any related application”. That flies in the face of the plain wording of the legislation. However, in fairness to the City’s position, most of the time the ULPs in such situations are related either to the lockout itself, or to the collective bargaining process that was underway. The intention of s. 6-62(1)(l) is to ensure that employers don’t “raise the stakes” on a ULP by trying to place economic pressure on a Union that has decided to pursue its rights before the Board. It’s about protecting the integrity of the Board’s process, and not allowing the rule of law to be undermined by economic power.

Still, the Board can’t simply decide what it thinks the law should be. It’s got to operate within the terms of the legislation that gives it its authority (the SEA). Without getting into the intricacies of statutory interpretation, the City would have to have some strong evidence that the Legislature somehow did not intend for the statute to mean what it says it means. That’s not impossible. But the Union has in its favour the fact that the Legislature could have changed the language of the statute when it implemented the SEA – but didn’t.

Okay, so it got weird from the start.  I knew that law and when I probed members of council about it, they started telling me that the city didn’t like the law and it was ruining their strategy so the Board would have to overturn it.  When I brought up voices like Valance, they looked at me like I was mad.  Again, kind of weird.

Oh yeah, there is also this sentence from Valance from that post

Ironically, had the City waited two weeks, there would have been no question that the lockout had been properly issued – because the outstanding ULP was decided on October 3, 2014.

Saskatoon City Council wasted over $1 million of “ratepayers” (you know those of us they are trying to protect) money because they could not wait two week?  Think about that for a while.  If they had waited two weeks, it would have been a legal lockout and they probably would have won.  

So now the Mayor wants a judicial review on the ruling.  According to Valance, that stands little chance of succeeding.

If the City pursues judicial review of the LRB decision, the question will be whether the LRB’s interpretation of the SEA was “reasonable”. In my view, it was (though I hasten to add we still don’t have the Board’s written reasons for why it ruled as it did). The Board has the jurisdiction, responsibility, and expertise to interpret its governing statute. It’s owed deference in its decision. And in my view, finding in the City’s favour would have flown in the face of the plain language of the legislation, and would have flown in the face of the fact that the Legislature has apparently – at least twice – refused to change the section in question.

Whether ss. 6-62(1)(l) and 6-63(1)(b) are good or bad for labour relations is not the point. That’s for the Legislature to decide. And the Legislature has decided at least three times (in 1944 when it proclaimed The Trade Union Act, 1944; in 1993; and in 2013) that these sections were to stay. It should be up to the Legislature to change them.

So let’s get Les MacPherson’s take on it as he arrived at many of the same conclusions as Valance and also the Labour Relations Board (and might as well toss this in there, the Government of Saskatchewan in 1944, 1993, and in 2013)

I find myself mystified by this transit fiasco.

I’m no lawyer, but, to me, at least, it seems crystal clear that the lockout was illegal in the first place. The labour act says there can be no strike or lockout with a pending grievance before the labour board. There was a pending grievance before the labour board, filed by the union in June. On the face of it, the lockout was illegal.

City lawyers argued that the grievance was not relevant to negotiations. Except the act doesn’t say anything about relevance to negotiations. It says “any” grievance. The city, unwisely, was betting the board would read into well-established law what isn’t there. For that to happen would be almost freakishly rare.

The city further argued that the grievance was not really pending because the board had not started formal hearings. Except the act doesn’t say anything about whether hearings have started. It just says there can be no strike or lockout if a grievance is pending. Again, the city gambled that the board would interpret the law to mean what it doesn’t say. Losing this bet will cost Saskatoon taxpayers into the seven figures in refunded wages for lockedout bus drivers, for refunds on transit passes and for legal costs. For the damage done to those who rely on transit to get to work, to get to the store, to get the kids to daycare, there is no accounting.

The city argued that the law as it is invites labour turmoil. Any looming strike or lockout, otherwise perfectly legitimate, could be thwarted by filing a bogus grievance. Maybe so, ruled the labour board, but the law is the law. There are many legislated restrictions on strikes and lockouts, the ruling explained. This is one of them.

“It is not for this board to rewrite the Saskatchewan Employment Act in the fashion suggested by the city.” The city should not have to go to the labour board to be told the law is the law.

By appealing this decision, the city now will be asking the Court of Queen’s Bench to rewrite the law. Why the court would be any more likely than the board to do so, no one has explained. The board is appointed by a Saskatchewan Party government, and not because it is labour-friendly.

As for the labour turmoil predicted by city solicitor Patricia Warwick if the decision is allowed to stand, I wouldn’t bet on that, either. The prohibition on a strike or lockout when a grievance is pending is nothing new. It has been a part of Saskatchewan labour legislation since 1944, and has remained in place after multiple revisions and amendments in the decades since. The idea is to prevent undue pressure on the board while it adjudicates a grievance. Why a law in place for 70 years suddenly would cause labour turmoil is no more clear to me than it was to the labour board.

He summarizes with this

To me, it looks like council got lousy advice. On a case that might have gone either way, an expensive defeat is bearable. In this case, council was advised to gamble taxpayers’ money on a crazy long shot for something it could have had anyway, and legally, in two weeks. If I were the client here, I would be angry.

What kind of shocks me in this whole thing is that the city has several solicitors to draw advice from.  They also have a lawyer on Council (Tiffany Paulsen) and someone who is a labour expert (Ann Iwanchuk) who also overlooked or ignored the act.  There are also some other councillors who bragged to me about their knowledge of the labour act and were 100% confident that this was a legal lockout.  How did the all get it wrong? 

What goes on in that bunker where everyone gets it wrong and is utterly shocked when a ruling where all of these outside voices are saying you are going to lose goes against you?  

There is a weird reality that council puts itself in sometimes.  Remember snow removal when council voted against residential snow clearing.  Then it snowed a bunch that winter and in an “emergency debate” on it, many of them played the victims and used phrases like “under siege” and seemed shocked that it snows in Saskatoon in the winter.  The city wasn’t under siege but as councillors they were.  It was all about them.  Then the mayor starts to lecture manager who do not have the funds to do snow removal to do a daily press conference because it must be a misunderstanding right?

The same thing happened with the outrage over roads.  The city for over a decade (it started when Atch was elected) cut back on road repair and maintenance.  What happened?  The roads fell apart and again council acted as it they were victims of this. Now we have the same thing.  A hashtag, website, new pylons (no I am not talking about new politicians but actual pylons with “Building Better Roads” on them) and congratulatory radio ads about doing what other cities just do, maintain the roads.  I don’t get it but it is a weird group dynamic.  There are some intelligent members on council but for whatever reason the sum of the whole is far less then the total of the parts and the result is a very, very low functioning city council and we as a city suffer because of it.

Detroit with a Boardwalk

A great piece on Atlantic City in Politico

Four of its 12 casinos have closed in the last year, including the Revel, the newest and glitziest, despite a $260 million, taxpayer-funded gift courtesy of Gov. Chris Christie. A fifth, the Trump Taj Mahal, is on the brink. The gaming industry—proponents never call it gambling—has lost nearly 8,000 jobs since the beginning of the year and its revenue, which hit a high of $5.2 billion in 2006, is down nearly 50 percent. Add to that the city’s $65 million budget shortfall, pending layoffs of as many as 300 city workers and a tax base in free fall.

Sure, the still-sluggish U.S. economy is a factor. The loss of the East Coast gambling monopoly that Atlantic City enjoyed for nearly 20 years is another. Poor planning, lack of foresight and the failure to expand the city’s attractions beyond casinos are part of the mix. Even acts of God played a role: Though the city wasn’t devastated in 2012 by Hurricane Sandy the way other Jersey Shore towns were, tourism plunged in the immediate aftermath at a time when the city could least afford it.

But there is something else at play, something in the city’s DNA that is painfully obvious to anyone who’s lived or worked there.

Even during its halcyon days, Atlantic City was an enterprise built around blue smoke and mirrors. Think, Nucky Johnson, the inspiration for HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, and the wide-open rackets of gambling, booze and prostitution during Prohibition.

It was all about grabbing whatever you could, whenever you could from whomever you could. The city worked on a 12-week economy, Memorial Day to Labor Day. Get the tourists and vacationers into town. Sell them the beach and the Boardwalk and then send them home broke. The Miss America Pageant, held in Atlantic City for most of its years, was part of that con. It was the 1920s brainchild of a city huckster looking for a way to extend the summer season for another week. The city was born as a come-on, a fugazy.

Wonder why Atlantic City is failing? The better question, the one asked by people who know the town: Why did anyone think it would ever succeed?

What happens to a countries maritime assets when it disappears beneath them?

From the Boston Globe

The president of the Pacific atoll nation of Kiribati, which averages only about 2 meters above sea level, has already spent millions of dollars to buy land in Fiji as a potential new home for his 100,000 people. As sea levels rise, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests, large ocean waves will increasingly taint the country’s groundwater and threaten its agriculture; Kiribati can expect to become at least partly uninhabitable long before seas rise enough to submerge it. Other island nations like the Maldives and Tuvalu face the same plight.

So far, the world’s attention has rightly focused on how much these places have to lose: their homes, their communities, their cultures, their vistas. But these countries have another, less visible set of assets at stake as they consider their survival—assets that won’t necessarily be lost, but which raise substantial questions. These are their large and valuable maritime zones.

Kiribati, like other island nations, controls hundreds of thousands of square miles of the ocean that surrounds it. Kiribati’s land area is about that of Kansas City, while the ocean territory it controls is larger than India. Within these “exclusive economic zones,” to use the UN term, island nations possess the power to regulate, tax, or disallow any economic activity, including mining or drilling for oil. The tuna fishing alone in the domain of Pacific island nations is worth an estimated $4 billion a year.

Rising Inequality: Most American Households Contain Nothing at All

From The New Yorker

No, that wasn’t Elizabeth Warren, or the editor of the Nation, or Paul Krugman (or even me) banging on about how the rich are getting richer and most everybody else is struggling to keep up. It was Janet Yellen, the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, addressing a conference in Boston on Friday morning. It’s not unheard of for a Fed chief to discuss rising inequality: Ben Bernanke addressed it in a 2007 speech. But Yellen’s speech is surely the first time a Fed chief has pointed out that rising inequality threatens America’s sense of itself.

Here is what she said.

Since the top five per cent of households own almost two-thirds of the wealth, it stands to reason that most American households don’t own very much at all. But the figures that Yellen presented are still shocking. In 1989, the bottom half of the distribution owned just three per cent of all wealth. By 2013, that figure had fallen to one per cent. No, that’s not a typo: half the country owns one per cent of its wealth.

These numbers confirm an old but rarely stated truth. Many, if not most, individual American households possess next to nothing. In 2013, the average net worth of the sixty-two million households in the bottom half of the distribution was eleven thousand dollars. (To get net worth, you add up the value of all the assets a family owns and subtract its debts, including mortgage debts.)

And it’s not just that most households don’t have much wealth. According to this measure, anyway, they have been getting poorer—a point that is often vigorously contested. In 1989, the average net worth of families in the bottom fifty per cent was twenty-two thousand dollars. Twenty-four years later, the average net worth had fallen by half. (These figures are adjusted for inflation.) At the top of the distribution, of course, history has proceeded along very different lines. In 1989, the average net worth of families in the top five per cent was $3.6 million. By 2013, that figure had risen to $6.8 million.

Single family homes are losing favor

Apartment Boom

I know that these are American trends but multi-unit housing is becoming as popular as it was in the 1970s in part to reflect the preference of millenials who rent in far higher numbers than previous generations.

What it is like to have a billionaire racist boss

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin on what it was like to work for Donald Sterling

Donald Sterling literally introduced me to everyone. Here’s how he did it, every single time, to every single group of people, while holding on to my hand:

“Everyone, have you met our newest star? This is Blake! He was the number one pick in the entire NBA draft. Number one! Blake, where are you from?”

Then I’d say I was from Oklahoma.

“Oklahoma! And tell these people what you think about LA.”

Then I’d say it was pretty cool.

“And what about the women in LA, Blake?”

It was the same conversation with every group of people. When he would start having a one-on-one conversation with someone, I’d try to slip away, and he’d reach back and paw my hand without even breaking eye contact with the person. Whenever he didn’t have anything left to say, he just turned around and walked us over to the next group.

“… Have you met our newest star?”

It went on like this forever. At one point, a guy who had clearly been to a bunch of these parties turned to me and said, “Just keep smiling, man. It’ll all be over soon.”

At this point, a lot of you are probably wondering why I didn’t pull my hand away, or why I didn’t just leave the party. For one, I was a 20-year-old kid from Oklahoma. But even if I had been 25, I don’t know if it would’ve been any different. The guy was my boss. Ask yourself, how would you react if your boss was doing the same thing to you?

Umm, I’d walk out, call my agent, demand a trade and if that didn’t happen then, file a complaint with the union, the NBA, and then evaluate my options of holding out and playing in Europe.  Of course that is just me.  I enforce my personal bubble.

The post comes from The Player’s Tribune which is Derek Jeter’s new venture.