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Surfing the South Pacific

 

Quik

Skateboarding through the streets of Los Angeles.

Watching a plane crash from inside the cockpit

A couple of guys were in a small plane crash while wearing GoPro cameras.  While there is a lot of blood, everyone is okay and you can see the crash while it is happening and also afterwards as they crawl out of the wreckage and start recording again.

Wine Explorer’s Best Wine’s of 2011

Wine Explorer’s Best Wine’s of 2011

Click if you want a full sized graphic. via

Vacation USA

Foreign Policy takes on the cruise ship industry

It’s not pretty (or that ethical).  I don’t even know if it is that safe.

Unfortunately, ship accidents are not the only safety concerns facing cruise passengers. Between Oct. 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2008, the FBI received 421 reports of onboard crime from cruise ships, including 115 simple assaults, 16 assaults with serious bodily injury, 101 thefts, and 154 sex-related incidents. Cruise ships made these crime reports following March 2007 congressional hearings in which the cruise industry made a commitment to report to the FBI all crimes against U.S. citizens (though the data also include some reports regarding foreign nationals). The rate of sexual assault on Carnival Cruise Lines in 2007 and 2008 was a surprisingly high 115 per 100,000 passengers.

Of course it a profitable industry based on really low wages.

The cruise industry’s atrocious environmental record is matched, perhaps, only by its disregard for workers’ rights. Workers on foreign-flagged vessels, even those owned by U.S.-based corporations, generally work without union protection and are frequently subjected to arbitrary wage cuts. As Paul Chapman, founder of the New York-based Center for Seafarers’ Rights, told the Los Angeles Times: "A ship owner can go any place in the world, pick up anybody he wants, on almost any terms. If the owner wants to maximize profit at the expense of people, it’s a piece of cake."

Although the U.S. minimum wage was extended to ships registered in the United States in 1961, Congress left intact the exemption for foreign ships. A 1963 Supreme Court decision extended this exception by ruling that U.S. labour laws, including the right to organize, do not apply to foreign vessels engaged in American commerce, even if the owners of these ships are from the United States. This is the context in which the modern cruise ship industry developed and took hold. Today, as reflected in records disclosed in discovery in several court cases, the typical worker on a cruise ship has a mandatory 77-hour work week, can work for 10 to 12 months without a day off, and can earn as little as $450 per month.

Keeping these practices in place requires that cruise lines violate long-standing U.S. law. The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, better known as the Jones Act, provides U.S. maritime workers with the right to sue for pain and suffering damages from job-related injuries. But in the mid- to late-2000s, following settlement of Borcea vs. Carnival, the cruise industry began including arbitration clauses in cruise-ship workers’ contracts — they are now commonplace. These clauses have dire consequences for crew members. They mean that a foreign cruise-ship worker on a U.S.-based ship has limited right to sue his or her employer in U.S. courts because the ship and the company operating the ship are both foreign-registered.

To make a long story short, the cruise industry pays essentially no taxes, flaunts the laws of the sea and then when it is in trouble, relies on the navies and coast guards of the world to bail it out.

The cruise industry enjoys an enviable position. The corporations are registered offshore, thus avoiding U.S. taxes and regulations, but they benefit from many services paid for by the U.S. taxpayer. For instance, as disclosed in Freedom of Information Act requests, one disappearance from a cruise ship can cost the U.S. Coast Guard more than $800,000; the Carnival Splendor’s engine-room fire that left it adrift off the Mexican coast in November 2010 reportedly cost the U.S. government $1.8 million. By registering ships under flags of convenience, the corporations also dodge U.S. labor laws, even though their passengers are mainly Americans. In effect, North Americans taking a cruise enjoy an economic vacation on the backs of the foreign workers employed on these sweatships.

I have never been on a cruise for the primary reason that I prefer to drive but their labour rates have driven me crazy for years.  Sadly as I read of a 77-hour work week and work for 10-12 months without a day off for the privilege of earning $450 a month, I am turned off by the prospect.

The weekend

As Wendy writes, we headed out to the cabin on Sunday for a couple of hours.  What a difference a year makes.  No water laying in farmer’s fields, no destroyed highways, no dangerous gravel roads, no there is actually a beach this year.  I didn’t stop long in Watrous but I did manage to hear a farmer talk about the dry winter.  One season removed from the worst flooding in my lifetime and already it is too dry.  I love Saskatchewan.

2012 Ford Edge Review

2012 Ford Edge

The good: Fantastic styling, comfortable ride, usable Ford Sync, vehicle adapts to you.  

The bad: Fuel economy isn’t great.

So I got a Ford Edge last week and have put it through the paces.  Here is how it did.

How the Edge felt:  Absolutely loved it.  Everything on the Edge feels refined and well thought out.  From the exterior to the interior and how the MyFord Touch is laid out.   Let me describe to you how I used it.  The car does not have a key but features a dongle that as you get within distance of the car, unlocks the doors as you touch the driver side door handle.  As you start the car, I had to use Ford Sync to switch to Sirius ESPN Radio.  After a couple of days of that, the radio stayed on ESPN.  Without fooling with any settings, the car used to reset to the past driver but again after a couple of days, the seats stayed the way I liked them.  I could have figured out how to do that myself but was impressed the car did it for me.

As I got in, the Sync connected with my iPhone which allowed for easy hands free calling while driving.  While I loved the paddle control on the Ford Focus, the Sync in the Edge was started by a button on the steering column, an inconsistency that I wasn’t that crazy with, especially if I owned both a Focus and a Edge.  Hands free calling quality was excellent and was superior to the speaker phone on my iPhone.  One thing that you need to be aware of is that MyFord Touch downloads your address book to the car which means that you need to delete your phone book when you are done with the car.  Something to remember if you are sharing a vehicle or lending it out. Several reviewers before me had left their phone information in the car which I dutifully deleted for them. 

As a crossover, the Edge includes seating for five plus an ample cargo area. The Edge retains its bulky, squat shape, but gets a more curvy front-end and smoother metal for the sides and rear pillars than previous versions. White LED parking light strips set into the front fascia make a nice addition to the car.

The Sony audio system is worth the price for its excellent audio quality. It produces very well-balanced sound through its 12 speakers. The highs come out clearly and the bass has some power to it, thanks to the system’s 390 watts of amplification.  That being said, I generally just listened to ESPN.  The one thing I didn’t like about the Ford Edge was the stereo controls.  Turning the stereo off an on would often change the radio station.  It’s not a big thing and definitely wouldn’t hold me back in buying it but it was the one flaw an other wise flawless car.

As for the Edge’s fuel economy, it was not great. EPA testing gives the Edge Sport 17 mpg city and 23 mpg highway (check out fuel efficiency on Fuelly). In our driving, much of it along two-lane highways, we came in at 17.3 mpg, on the low side of the car’s range. Driving around Saskatoon, the transmission remained subtle, getting its job done without fuss. On the freeway it let the engine run at low rpms, around 2,000 while cruising at highway speeds. When I put the pedal down to pass or just get some good acceleration, it kicked into action and never had the disturbing habit that the Ford Focus did of shifting down killing both the acceleration and speed.  When I wanted to go somewhere quickly, it got me there.

I am almost 40 which means that I drive increasingly like an old man so I didn’t push it to the limits, but the car also showed nice stability and grip when turned.  It did have to pass the ultimate off road adventure, the side streets of Mayfair and it did quite well hitting the ruts, potholes, and water main breaks that define my street.

This Edge came  with Ford’s blind-spot detection system, which turns on lights in the mirrors when a car is in the Edge’s blind spot. This system worked well in our testing, giving few false positives.   It does have park assist but I refused to test a feature that helps me park.  That’s just me. 

The handling was fine.  Some reviews thought the car was top heavy but I never noticed it.  I wasn’t tearing into corners but I loved the handling at all speeds.

To summarize, this may be the best car I have ever driven.  I really look forward to owning on in the future.

Dueling Ice Hotels

I had a similar idea but for a temporary homeless shelter.

On a recent crisp afternoon, chainsaw-wielding ice sculptors repaired a giant elephant in the bar of Snow Village—home to one of just two ice hotels in North America.

At the other, Hotel de Glace, 160 miles north in Quebec City, crews pushed mini-snow blowers through the hallways, while monitoring a massive ice chandelier hanging in the lobby.

For the past 12 years, Hotel de Glace enjoyed a monopoly in ice tourism on the continent. But this winter, after upstart Snow Village opened its doors, both are scrambling to distinguish themselves in this super-niche market.

Tammy Peddle, a Snow Village spokeswoman, plays down any rivalry. There is "no conflict" between the two, she says in an email. "We have an entire village where you can eat, sleep, visit, play…they have a hotel."

"We are the standard," says Hotel de Glace founder and president Jacques Desbois.

Both tout the uniqueness of spending a night in a cold, dark room entirely made of ice and snow, with no electricity. It is generally not a market with a lot of repeat customers.

"A must do," wrote Martin and Tonia from Spain, in the guest book of the Hotel de Glace. "Once."

"What we’re selling is not accommodation," says Snow Village proprietor Guy Belanger. "It’s an experience."

Magic Igloo MakerBack to my idea.  I was reading about igloo makers and after talking to friends who have gone ice camping and stayed quite warm with just a candle and body heat that guys in the shelter would probably prefer their own igloo to living in a dorm.  I remember joking about the idea with guys in the shelter and as long as we could run extension cords for a television and they had access to showers, they actually thought it was a good idea. 

Of course I was only kidding but they were not, it is one of the reasons why when the weather warms up in spring, why people are moving back out to the encampments along the tracks and along the river.  It isn’t that they want to stay outside it is for them preferable to sleeping in a warm bed but in a congregate setting.

One of the things that I am thrilled that The Lighthouse did is with the new women’s emergency shelter, it is still congregate settings but with three times the space as the old women’s dorm, they are only adding three new beds and using room dividers.  Being homeless is hard enough and in an emergency, there will at least be a nice place to stay.

Bike Friendly Los Angeles

A guide to cycling in the most car driven cities in the world, Los Angeles

Los Angles’ reputation as a car-only town has been cracking for years, and recently that reputation may have crumbled for good. The much hyped “Carmageddon” (in which a section of the 405 freeway was closed down for a day) did not, as many predicted, bring chaos. Rather it did the opposite, providing tangible evidence that Los Angeles is not as hopelessly auto-dependent as previously thought. More importantly, cyclists used the shutdown as an opportunity to showcase what they had long known — that biking offers a viable alternative to what is arguably the city’s Achilles heel, namely a transportation infrastructure overly-geared to personal cars.

What’s next is next

When I resigned from the Salvation Army, I didn’t really have a plan or a job to go to so I’ll let you read into that all you want.  It was a pretty sudden decision but it was time to move to something else.  After years of being on call 24.7, I wasn’t sleeping well and it had started to take a toll on my body.  Stress was a major contributor to my heart “event” and part of the tension I had in my shoulders which is what partially lead to my rotator cuff issues (it’s healed now).  I have lost 30 pounds since I was hospitalized but as my doctor said, the stress still needed to be dealt with.  As he said, “my body was demanding a change of pace”.

When I resigned, I immediately updated my LinkedIn profile and sent out some resumes that day as to be honest, the idea of being unemployed doesn’t appeal to me.  I heard from a couple of headhunting recruitment firms that had some clients they were working with but I didn’t know what to think about those job descriptions.  I have had a job that I cared passionately about for so long that the idea of collecting a pay check for the purpose of collecting a pay check kind of freaked me out.  Well that might be too strong, if I got the kind of compensation package Urban Meyer got to coach OSU, I might sell out as well.  Especially if Notre Dame offers me their head coaching job. 

We did get some offers overseas that kind of came out of the blue.  The idea of living and working in England and Europe excited me, it would have been taking the job for the experience, it wasn’t anything that evoked any great passion out of me.  With the looming recession in Europe, I envisioned being made redundant (laid off) in 6 months anyways.  It may have been different if I was single or Wendy and I didn’t have any kids but it’s a big deal to move there just because I want to experience a part of Europe.  While the romantic in me loves the ideas of weekends in Paris or Berlin, the practical part of me says that at my payscale, it wasn’t likely to happen.  Because I always prided myself in thinking globally, I have wanted to live globally.  At the same time I do love this city of ours and I like to call Saskatoon (and Arlington Beach on summer weekends) home.

I then had to figure out what I wanted to do.  I know what I need to do to live on and Wendy and I don’t have much debt (mortgage, small car payment).  While Wendy wants to do a bunch of work to the cabin, the bill for that will be in the hundreds of dollars this summer, not thousands.  On top of that, Wendy cut back on a lot of her job responsibilities at Safeway this year.  She wasn’t getting paid for them and it was taking away from she liked about her job.  On top of that Oliver is at an age where being at the sitter a bit isn’t that bad for him and he really enjoys being there which has meant that Wendy can get much earlier shifts.  Both of these factors contributed to Wendy enjoying work a lot more and as she says, she enjoys work more now than she has at any time over the last 15 years.  While her depression is always there, things are better and it gave me some flexibility on what i wanted to do with my life.

So what do I want to do?  Initially I was so tired that I didn’t know what I wanted to do.  I still wasn’t sleeping right but over the last week I have just relaxed and felt more alive physically, emotionally, and spiritually than I have in a long time.  I did realize that I still want to do something that I care about and I want it to be local.  I also realized there are relatively few things that get me excited.  I get friends who are working in churches and want to talk about ancient/future worship or some great new idea in technology and communication and I can barely generate an opinion.  It’s not that for some that stuff isn’t important but for me, it’s not how I am wired.  On the other hand I am not driven by money.  I wish I was sometimes and I have been derided for my lack of greed but I am driven by helping people.  It left me in a place where I want to spend more time on stuff I care about and less time on stuff that is important to other people.

So what does it all mean.  It means that on Thursday I’ll post where I landed and some other projects that I am working on.

Will Heathrow become irrelevant

The coalition government and Labour withdraw their support for a new runway at Heathrow, an airport that is already running at 98% capacity.  As the Economist sees it.

The language both politicians used shows how keen they are to move the focus of British aviation policy away from Heathrow’s third runway. But I fear they are too optimistic, especially given the absence of viable, fundable alternatives. The reasons for not building a runway are valid, but for the time being a politician has to embrace them when discussing improvements at Heathrow.

The third runway remains the elephant in the aviation-policy room. So while in her speech Ms Greening also referred to other efforts her department would be making at Heathrow, these sounded like so much window-dressing. Talk of improving “resilience”—so that the next time bad weather comes, the airport responds more effectively—is unlikely to impress British business. The easiest way to improve resilience at an airport operating at 98% capacity would be to build some slack into the system. The creation of another runway would certainly help achieve this, as Ms Greening is no doubt fully aware, while also helping boost the British economy (according to a new report). The debate, therefore, remains very much alive.

The question is will more and more air travel start looking for a hub that is easier to get in and out of.

Six Ways Never to Get Lost in a City Again

I am pretty comfortable navigating new cities and while I have gotten lost, I generally can find my bearings.  For those of you who are not quite as comfortable getting around (or lost) as I am, here are six tips to find your way home again.

Arcmed Al Mashtal Hotel

A five star hotel in Hamas controlled Gaza?

Arcmed Al Mashtal Hotel

Earlier this month, the hotel’s developer, Palestinian investment company Padico decided to finally open it. The company, controlled by politically independent billionaire Munib al-Masri, hopes to recover at least some of its costs and hopes that Gaza’s knotty problems may finally be solved in the coming years.

“Its risky — but we need to have a change in Gaza,” said public relations manager Shadi Agha.

For now, the risk is not paying off. There are no foreign tourists in Gaza, just a handful of Western aid officials who pass through.

Only 80 rooms are even available. Management doesn’t want to spend on maintenance for the remaining rooms, Agha said. Early this month, there were just 10 guests in the entire hotel, though the royal suite, at $880 a night, was occupied.

The guests ranged from international aid officials to a honeymooning Gaza couple who wanted to go somewhere nice, Agha said. He wouldn’t identify them further or say who was in the royal suite.

Cuts in Transit Services

I’ll admit, it has been years since I road a city bus for the simple reason that it’s a pretty easy walk from my house to work and Wendy only has to travel two blocks to her work.  At both of our places of work, there are staff there 24 hours a day.  The Salvation Army Community Services has a policy where we provide taxis to staff who are arriving/leaving late at night and on days when there is no transit services for personal safety issues (shelter staff have been violently attacked in other cities and many of our staff have been threatened).

My problems with the transit cuts are that by cutting them off at 10:00 p.m., what do staff at retail establishments or restaurants do when their shift ends after transit calls it a night.  Some have suggested carpooling or taxis.  I know what our taxi bill is at work.  Even with Comfort Cabs giving us a deal on taxis, it would be over an hour in lost wages for anyone working for a retail job.  That’s a big time pay cut, especially if your shift is only 4 or 5 hours long (welcome to retail).  There is always walking but my employer isn’t all that thrilled with me walking to work for a midnight shift and I am 6’4 and often walk down with our dog that [looks] intimidating.  Wendy has had co-workers assaulted walking home in the middle of the afternoon in an east side parking lot as has one who was walking home at 8:00 p.m. at night.  Both were able to fight off their attackers but no one deserves that.  At one time people probably did live in the same neighbourhoods where they worked but it’s a long walk from anywhere at the big box stores.  This isn’t Mayberry anymore.

Some have suggested car pooling.  Great idea but often times the people working those shifts don’t have much seniority, are working for a low wage and don’t have a car.  It’s the reality of retail.  The hours are long, the pay is low and there isn’t enough benefits to go around.

While we love late night shopping, don’t we have some responsibility for staffs to get home safely and easily after catering to the demands of their clientele?  What can we do about it?  Maybe just fund it.

Portland's Free Rail Zone In the United States, public transit is far more thoroughly funded by all three levels of government.  In the United States the cities fund 21% of the subsidies and in Canada, cities kicked in 77% of the funding so Saskatoon taxpayers are paying a far higher share of public transit funding then they do in American cities.  With the federal government paying a larger chunk of the bill (mostly capital), it means that there are lower fares more resources and better service which of course ads up to an increase in ridership.  Up to 90% of public transit is taxpayer funded in some cities in order to keep rates low and ridership high.  As part of an effort to deal with vehicle traffic in downtown Portland, you can ride MAX Light Rail and Portland Streetcar within downtown Portland, the Rose Quarter and the Lloyd District for free.  Calgary has a similar system on 7th Avenue.

The 2010 transit budget was $32.5 million, $11.5 million came from fares.  Saskatoon Transit’s subsidy increased by $2 million this year to $19.7 million.  That’s not chump change and is frustrating because there isn’t much federal or provincial dollars helping out.  I understand the city wanting to cut costs and increase revenues but it’s not exactly cheap either.  I got a kick out of an old entry from Sean Shaw who pointed out that taking the bus to work actually costs him more than driving and parking and takes an hour longer each day.  At $71.00/month for an adult pass, it is more than we spend on gas for a month if there are not trips to the lake… and more importantly to a lot of people, it’s an extra hour of commute time a day.

At about 2/3 subsidy, we are at the same levels as the rest of Canada but quite a bit less than some cities in the United States.  A quick glance at the cities who dwarf us show that they have LRT’s or subways.  While it’s really easy to cancel a seldom used express bus to the airport, it’s really hard to walk away from a subway line.  The other interesting thing is that in the United States, the federal government takes a much more active role in providing operating subsidies than the Canadian government.  Where we may pay as much as 60% of operational subsidies, many U.S. cities only pay 25% or lower of the costs the state and the feds picking up the rest.  That is the problem.  I expect the low rates and high quality of service of a place like Chicago or Boston but without the federal subsidies that pay for it. 

My feeling is that we figure out how to build a world class transit service.  Find out what Saskatoon really wants and then fund it.  It seems like whenever we look at transit the first thing that comes out of anyone’s mouth is the subsidy.  The subsidy isn’t going away, the debate needs to be are we getting good value for it.  This doesn’t need to be an emotional discussion.  I am not an economist and I think I could come up with a framework for measuring economic impact.  My feeling is that the economic impact of students getting to school (and then the mall), people getting to work (rather than a car payment), cars off our streets, and more parking being available to those doing business downtown rather than working there is well above the $20 million we are paying.  Anyone want to challenge that? I have comments.