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The Alleys of Moose Jaw

Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

Name brand mattresses are a scam

It doesn’t really matter which mattress you buy, they are all the same

Here’s the lowdown: Mattress makers rename identical products for each different retail store. Different labels, exact same guts. Why? Obfuscation. It’s hard to shop for the lowest price when you can’t compare apples to apples. Lucky for you, they’re all subtle variations on the same apple—not only within each brand, but even among different brands.

The heart of an innerspring mattress is the coils. Otherwise it’s just foam, cotton, quilting, and stitches. But the big-name mattress makers (with some exceptions) all get their coils from a single company, Leggett and Platt, for their highest-end mattresses down to their lowest. This is akin to every single car on the market, Lamborghinis to Kias, using an engine made by Ford. Except that mattresses are far less complicated than cars. In fact, they’re so simple that there’s no real difference among them at all.

Photographing Your City at Night

Here are some tips to get the most out of your night photography efforts

To take a photograph of a cityscape once the evening has come, find a spot that shows off all the buildings and office lights that are lit. Place the camera on a tripod, and turn the mode dial to AV (aperture priority) mode; we want f/8 and upwards for a greater depth of field. Use your camera’s self-timer or a cable release to take the photo with absolutely no blurring. The best time for this kind of shot is during the two “golden hours” which are the first hour after sunrise and the last hour before sunset.

One of the biggest issues facing our economy

Our businesses are having a hard time competing globally.

While we tend to celebrate private entrepreneurship, the state is crucially important in driving and shaping innovation. The question of which economies will thrive and which will lag behind on innovation has a lot to do with sound public policy.

With an economy historically reliant on natural resources and one with high rates of foreign ownership, the role government plays is even more important for Canada.

For 30 years Canadian economic policy has been focused on the supposed need to liberate private enterprise from the heavy hand of the state. The focus has been on slashing corporate tax rates, reducing public interest regulation and liberalizing trade and investment.

But has this “pro-business” agenda worked?

Since 2000, the Canadian economy has actually regressed in terms of producing highly innovative products and services for global markets, with major technological champions from Nortel to BlackBerry foundering. Over the last decade, labour productivity in Canada grew at a dismal pace and Canada is running record high trade deficits.

The key to Canada’s falling competitiveness is the fact that Canadian firms are not reinvesting their profits in areas that support long-run competitiveness — human capital and especially research and development. In 2011 the Canadian Conference Board gave Canada a “D” on R&D spending, ranking 15th out of 16 peer nations.

Canadian governments played vital roles in the development of innovative sectors in the past, for example in aerospace and information technology. Since then, however, the Canadian economic landscape has become increasingly dependent on natural resources, with privatization of the profits from its exploitation retarding rather than supporting industrial policy.

While profits may soar when taxes fall, investments don’t. Canadian businesses are hoarding cash at record levels — $626 billion according to Statistics Canada — and the investment that is taking place is in the resource extraction of the old economy rather than the innovative technologies of the new economy.

The combination of lagging private sector investment and public sector austerity puts Canada’s ability to be a world leader in new technologies in doubt.

I have always wondered why provincial governments don’t take the profit out of renewable resources and start incubating new technology or renewable resource industries like other countries have.  I think our resource economies have made us complacent and there is literally hundreds of examples of technologies that we have let stagnate and pass us by that the rest of the world is jumping on and making a lot of money while doing it.

Wendy at Galaxyland

Wendy at Galaxyland

Don’t Help Your Kids With Their Homework

It’s their project, let them figure it out.

One of the central tenets of raising kids in America is that parents should be actively involved in their children’s education: meeting with teachers, volunteering at school, helping with homework, and doing a hundred other things that few working parents have time for. These obligations are so baked into American values that few parents stop to ask whether they’re worth the effort.

Until this January, few researchers did, either. In the largest-ever study of how parental involvement affects academic achievement, Keith Robinson, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and Angel L. Harris, a sociology professor at Duke, mostly found that it doesn’t. The researchers combed through nearly three decades’ worth of longitudinal surveys of American parents and tracked 63 different measures of parental participation in kids’ academic lives, from helping them with homework, to talking with them about college plans, to volunteering at their schools. In an attempt to show whether the kids of more-involved parents improved over time, the researchers indexed these measures to children’s academic performance, including test scores in reading and math.

What they found surprised them. Most measurable forms of parental involvement seem to yield few academic dividends for kids, or even to backfire—regardless of a parent’s race, class, or level of education.

Do you review your daughter’s homework every night? Robinson and Harris’s data, published in The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education, show that this won’t help her score higher on standardized tests. Once kids enter middle school, parental help with homework can actually bring test scores down, an effect Robinson says could be caused by the fact that many parents may have forgotten, or never truly understood, the material their children learn in school.

Similarly, students whose parents frequently meet with teachers and principals don’t seem to improve faster than academically comparable peers whose parents are less present at school. Other essentially useless parenting interventions: observing a kid’s class; helping a teenager choose high-school courses; and, especially, disciplinary measures such as punishing kids for getting bad grades or instituting strict rules about when and how homework gets done. This kind of meddling could leave children more anxious than enthusiastic about school, Robinson speculates. “Ask them ‘Do you want to see me volunteering more? Going to school social functions? Is it helpful if I help you with homework?’ ” he told me. “We think about informing parents and schools what they need to do, but too often we leave the child out of the conversation.”

One of the reasons parental involvement in schools has become dogma is that the government actively incentivizes it. Since the late 1960s, the federal government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on programs that seek to engage parents—especially low-income parents—with their children’s schools. In 2001, No Child Left Behind required schools to establish parent committees and communicate with parents in their native languages. The theory was that more active and invested mothers and fathers could help close the test-score gap between middle-class and poor students. Yet until the new study, nobody had used the available data to test the assumption that close relationships between parents and schools improve student achievement.

While Robinson and Harris largely disproved that assumption, they did find a handful of habits that make a difference, such as reading aloud to young kids (fewer than half of whom are read to daily) and talking with teenagers about college plans. But these interventions don’t take place at school or in the presence of teachers, where policy makers exert the most influence—they take place at home.

What’s more, although conventional wisdom holds that poor children do badly in school because their parents don’t care about education, the opposite is true. Across race, class, and education level, the vast majority of American parents report that they speak with their kids about the importance of good grades and hope that they will attend college. Asian American kids may perform inordinately well on tests, for example, but their parents are not much more involved at school than Hispanic parents are—not surprising, given that both groups experience language barriers. 

There are actually quite a few studies that show that homework has no benefit to a child and often does harm.  For the first time ever, Mark has a teacher that does not believe in homework and I think it has gone a long way towards making this the most successful year Mark has ever had.

The slow death of the microwave

Microwave sales fall as people move from quick food to fresh food.

“As people become more health conscious, and more interested in cooking ‘fresh,’ that’s not helping microwaves,” Owen said. “It’s leading to lower sales.” The interest in cooking is more than a movement; it’s a national phenomenon. Even major grocery chains have noted upticks in sales as a result.

Growth in sales of microwavable popcorn are also slowing, while sales of ready-to-eat popcorn are growing at an over 11% clip. Why microwave junk food when you can get it pre-popped? Americans are at once too patient and too lazy to use their microwaves these days.

Go into your neighbourhood Safeway or Sobey’s one of these days and look around.  When I was a kid, most of the aisles were full of things for my mom to make and cook.  Now the aisles are increasingly full of things that are already cooked.  Wendy will tell you that at even 33rd Street Safeway can’t keep up with the demand of pre-cooked chicken, soups, and fries at supper time.  Even a small store has a deli which will make you sandwiches and a variety of food like samosas and salads.   We may want to cook but many families don’t have the energy or time to do it anymore.

Sea Levels To Rise More Than Expected Due To Warming-Driven Surge In Greenland Ice Loss

Sea levels rise as ice is lost in Greenland due to climate change

Greenland’s contribution to global sea level has soared in the past two decades. An important new study finds that the massive northeastern part of the ice sheet, previously thought to be stable, has begun shedding ice. If this trend continues — and researchers say “a self-perpetuating feedback process may have been triggered” — actual sea level rise this century will likely be higher than many current models had projected.

Covering 660,000 square miles — roughly 80 percent of the country — Greenland’s ice sheet is second only in size to Antarctica’s. Scientists estimate that melting from the ice sheet as a whole has accounted for about 16 percent of sea level rise every year for the last two decades.

Research had also long suggested the northeastern portion of the ice sheet was stable. As a result, it was largely left out of the models used to anticipate future sea level rise.
But the new study, “Sustained mass loss of the northeast Greenland ice sheet triggered by regional warming,” published in Nature Climate Change (subs. req’d), suggests the northeastern portion began melting rapidly around 2003. And after first jumping from an ice loss rate of zero to about 10 billion metric tons per year, it’s now approaching 15 or 20 billion metric tons per year and may well keep accelerating.

“Most projections of the future behaviour of the ice sheet have no, or little, contribution from this part of Greenland,” said Professor Jeremy Bamber of Bristol University, a co-author of the study. “But these new results suggest that this region is sensitive to changes in climate and has the potential to contribute significantly now and in the future.”

The team arrived at their conclusion using a combination of surface elevation data from airplanes and four different satellites, along with a GPS-linked network of 50 stations located along the coast of Greenland’s ice sheet. The overall collection of data spanned 1978 to 2012 and was used to essentially weigh the ice sheet’s mass.

Specifically, the study suggests a series of particularly warm summers leading up to 2003 — bringing higher temperatures in both the atmosphere and the surrounding ocean — triggered the speed up in melting.

Was Putin right?

Has the west accepted both the fall of Crimea and also the loss of Ukraine?

Although we have recently heard many fearsome statements from President Obama and the E.U. leaders, the actual sanctions (issued two and half weeks after the beginning of Crimea adventure) leave much to be desired. The “unprecedented measures” against Russia turned out to be relatively feeble prohibitions against several random and not very influential Russian officials—definitely not the primary decision-makers in the Crimea’s story. The real heroes of the occasion stayed (even symbolically) unpunished. Moreover, not only has Russia’s maintained its G8 membership, but, recently, G8 representatives have been distancing themselves from earlier statements regarding suspension of Russia’s membership. Loud talk and a small stick, indeed.

Moreover, the “acceptance” of Putin’s actions among the Western community appears to be on the rise. A Bloomberg View editorial, for example, announced that “the U.S. and EU aren’t going to fight to defend what remains of Ukraine. They aren’t bound by treaty to do so, and their interests (not to mention their electorates) argue against it.” (In fact, the U.S. has at least moral obligations to defend Ukraine under 1994 Budapest Memorandum.) Analyst John Walcott went as far as to suggest that “there is no question anymore, Ukraine (not Crimea, but Ukraine overall) is gone” on Bloomberg News this past weekend. Even the Baltics states that are often viewed as the fiercest opponents of Russia’s policies in Ukraine have shown some restraint. Yesterday, the Latvian minister of finance asked the E.U. to provide compensation to the European Union countries that will suffer economically from sanctioning Russia.

Altogether, this means that Putin is reading the situation correctly: The monopoly on violence rules the international order. There is simply no one to stop Putin from taking what he wants.

The Overprotected Kid

A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer.  As playgrounds become “safer”, they lack to the ability to hold a child’s attention which in some way explains why so many playgrounds are devoid of children. 

It’s hard to absorb how much childhood norms have shifted in just one generation. Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70s—walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap—are now routine. In fact, they are the markers of good, responsible parenting. One very thorough study of “children’s independent mobility,” conducted in urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods in the U.K., shows that in 1971, 80 percent of third-graders walked to school alone. By 1990, that measure had dropped to 9 percent, and now it’s even lower. When you ask parents why they are more protective than their parents were, they might answer that the world is more dangerous than it was when they were growing up. But this isn’t true, or at least not in the way that we think. For example, parents now routinely tell their children never to talk to strangers, even though all available evidence suggests that children have about the same (very slim) chance of being abducted by a stranger as they did a generation ago. Maybe the real question is, how did these fears come to have such a hold over us? And what have our children lost—and gained—as we’ve succumbed to them?

The Bridge to Our Future is Broken

The Bridge to our Future is Broken

Cosmo

Cosmo at Galaxyland in West Edmonton Mall

It could be a hint about what next week’s column is going to be about.

Report: U.S. Could Be Plunged Into Blackout By Minimal Attacks

It seems that Saskatoon is not the only jurisdiction not paying attention to infrastructure

A coordinated attack on just nine of the United States’ 55,000 electric-transmission substations on the right day could cause a blackout from Los Angeles to New York City, according to the study conducted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The study’s results have been known for months to select people in federal agencies, Congress and the White House, but were reported publicly for the first time Wednesday. The WSJ did not publish a list of the 30 most critical substations identified by the FERC study.

Electric substations play a vital role in keeping the electric grid humming by boosting voltage for long-distance travel and then transforming it to usable levels upon arrival. On a hot summer day, with the grid operating at high capacity, FERC found that taking out the right amount of substations could lead to a national blackout lasting weeks or even months.

Is Losing Crimea a Loss?

Could losing Crimea be a win for the Ukraine?

Ukraine’s initial losses are obvious: defeat in a land war, surrender of territories and populations, and the sacrifice to violence of thousands — perhaps tens of thousands — of Ukrainians. Once the war is over, however, Ukraine would emerge more compact, more homogeneous, and more unified in purpose: Along with its eastern territories would go much of the electorate that routinely votes for the Communist Party and for former President Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. As a result, anti­-Ukrainian and anti-Western sentiments would decline. The new Ukraine’s government could confidently proceed with a radical political and economic reform program (a more solidary population would be more likely to accept the belt-tightening that reform entails) and pursue rapid integration into European and international structures. Unburdened of some of its most unprofitable rust-belt industrial sectors, Ukraine’s economy would be more open to foreign direct investment and could be poised for takeoff. Without Crimea and its southeastern provinces, Ukraine would be smaller, but it would survive and, in all likelihood, be much stronger.

 

What would Brad Wall do?

Murray Mandryk writes about what Brad Wall would have said about lean if he was the Leader of the Opposition

Suppose it was an NDP government that came to the Legislative Assembly with a $40-million, fouryear bill for an American efficiency expert applying principles used in the Japanese auto industry to health care and virtually every other aspect of provincial government. What would Brad Wall have said were it the NDP shelling out millions upon millions to Seattle’s John Black and Associates – $1 million of it just to secure Black’s services before he did any actual work?

Does anyone remember Wall and his Saskatchewan Party mocking the $37 million blown by the NDP on Spudco for useless storage sheds? Might Opposition leader Brad Wall have used terms like “snakeoil” or at least “a boondoggle”? Might the taxpayers’ and small business associations have screamed bloody murder about NDP waste?

How would then-Opposition Leader Brad Wall have reacted to the utter hubris we heard from current Premier Brad Wall in the legislature Thursday when he suggested that the NDP can’t criticize a made-in-Saskatchewan solution because it didn’t come up with the solution? Do you think that Opposition leader Brad Wall might have reminded Premier Brad Wall that this is the province that invented public health care? That Lean has not been proven to work on a provincewide scale? Or that many of the Lean “savings” the government talks about like hiring 900 nurses a) were done before Lean; b) are not part of the Lean initiative or even something Lean is exploring, and; (c) may not be savings at all?

Might Opposition leader Brad Wall have noted we pay health-care CEOs $400,000 a year and deputy ministers $300,000 a year with some expectation they should find these health saving efficiencies? Might that Brad Wall have noted there are cheaper consultants in this world?

Would Opposition leader Brad Wall have wondered why we have paid John Black $3.6 million in airfare in the last two years alone? Might that Brad Wall wonder about whether it was really necessary to fly in Japanese senseis at a cost of $3,500 a day each for their five-day lectures to health leaders (in addition to those $2,000 flights)?

Might he have further wondered if there is a better, more costefficient method of training 900 Saskatchewan health-care workers than flying them to Seattle to partake in what is now called the “world’s biggest health-quality experiment”?

And do you think the ever-flippant Brad Wall might have just had a little fun with what some describe as Lean’s required “cult-like” buy-in?