gordon.dewis.ca - Random musings from Gordon


Archive for February 2008

The times they are a changing in Cuba

February 19, 2008 @ 08:36 By: gordon Category: Current affairs

To my dearest compatriots, who have recently honored me so much by electing me a member of the Parliament where so many agreements should be adopted of utmost importance to the destiny of our Revolution, I am saying that I will neither aspire to nor accept, I repeat, I will neither aspire to nor accept the positions of President of the State Council and Commander in Chief.

Fidel Castro Ruz

February 18, 2008

That’s taken from a longer message from Cuba’s Commander in Chief on the Granma Internacional website.

So, after 50 years, 81-year old Fidel Castro is stepping down. It’s expected that his younger brother, Raul Castro (he’s 76, by the way), will be nominated by the National Assembly his successor as president.

George W. Bush talked about it while traveling in Rwanda and asked “what does this mean for the people in Cuba?” He views it as a “period of tradition” and urges the international community to world with the Cuban people to build the institutions of democracy. (He also made a comment about “staged elections” by “the Castro bothers”, which I made me giggle given the election fiasco a few years ago in Florida, a state run by George W.’s brother at the time.)

Hopefully, this change bodes well for the people of Cuba.

Real classy: Ripping off a Girl Scout selling cookies

February 19, 2008 @ 08:05 By: gordon Category: Current affairs, Seen on the 'net

According to stories on the Globe & Mail’s and Denver Post’s websites this morning, a twelve-year old Girl Scout selling cookies in Colorado was scammed by a couple who gave her a counterfeit $100 bill when they bought a couple of boxes of cookies.  They got the cookies and $93.50 in change and the Girl Scout troop found their whole day’s profits wiped out.

The police have the counterfeit bill now so hopefully they catch the idiots.  A good Samaritan heard about this and donated $100 to the troop, so the sting of the financial loss is lessened.

I hope they choke on their ill-gotten cookies.

I. Can. Hardly. Wait.

February 17, 2008 @ 12:53 By: gordon Category: Current affairs, Weather

imageIt’s official: I’m sick of winter.  And so is almost everyone I know.

At 12:10 PM Eastern, Franktown radar, which is located between Smiths Falls and Carleton Place, is showing the leading edge of the freezing rain, snow, rain, frogs, ice pellets, and other charming weather that we’re going to be receiving this afternoon.

The aviation forecast for Ottawa is saying that we can expect the snow to start around 1 PM Eastern, followed by freezing rain that will probably start around 2 PM.  Around 6 PM it’s probably going to start raining.  And it’s going to be windy to boot.

TAF CYOW 171738Z 171818 06010KT 6SM -SN SCT020 OVC050 TEMPO 1819 2SM
-SN VV015
FM1900Z 08010G20KT 6SM -FZRA BR SCT008 OVC020 TEMPO 1923 2SM
FM2300Z 16012G25KT 2SM -RA BR OVC006 TEMPO 2311 1/2SM -RA BR
BECMG 0507 20010KT
FM1100Z 23012G22KT 2SM -DZ BR OVC006 TEMPO 1114 6SM -RA BR SCT006
FM1400Z 24015G25KT P6SM SCT020 TEMPO 1418 BKN020

My lack of enthusiasm over this is overwhelming.  How about you?

Any landing you walk away from is a good one…

February 17, 2008 @ 01:27 By: gordon Category: Seen on the 'net

A pilot and passenger in California had a much more exciting flight than they planned on when they took off.  It’ll be interesting to read the NTSB report when it comes out because I’ve never heard of a plane that flew through power lines, dragging some along behind them before flying under a bridge and finally landing on a sandbar.  Happily, the only injury was a minor one to the passenger’s hand that was treated on the scene.

Taxi cameras: Do the math

February 16, 2008 @ 12:19 By: gordon Category: Current affairs

The press was reporting yesterday that the taxi union met recently and have decided that they’ll allow the cameras to be installed, but only if they get to pick the system.  The city has identified a system made by VerifEye Technologies which reportedly costs about $1500.  The union is complaining that this is too expensive.

While looking through VerifEye’s website, I came across the results of a study conducted by the City of Portland where they evaluated a number of different camera systems and determined that the images captured by VerifEye’s systems were better than the others.  (The results are also available in a PDF.)

Since the photos are going to be used by the police, it is reasonable to assume that you want the highest quality photos possible.  If you crop a photo to zoom in on someone’s face, you don’t want it to be all pixilated and fuzzy.  You want it to be clear enough that the individual can be identified.  Otherwise, there’s really no point in having the camera.

It’s been suggested in a comment on my other entry that perhaps the taxi drivers have spent the money they’ve been collecting that was specifically earmarked for the purchase of the camera systems.  This bears further investigation.

So, let’s look at how much money may have been collected by a cab driver since the city started allowing them to collect a extra money on each fare specifically to help pay for the camera systems.


  1. Each cab is on the road 6 days/week, or 300 days/year (allowing for 2 weeks of vacation).
  2. Each day a driver has 10 fares.
  3. The average fare is $15.00 according to the meter.
  4. They are allowed to collect $0.05/fare plus the difference between 7% and the current GST rate.  Because the GST has been dropping, let’s assume this to be 1.5% average for the period.
  5. As of today, they have been collecting the surcharge for 2.37 years (30 September 2005 to 16 February 2008).


(Fares_per_day) * (days_per_year) * (((gross_fare – flat surcharge) * difference_in_GST)+flat_surcharge) * (number_of_years) = amount_collected

= 10 * 300 * ((($15.00-$0.05) * 1.5%) + $0.05) * 2.37

= 3000 * $0.27 * 2.37

= $822.75 * 2.37

= $1957.48


If my assumptions are reasonable (and I have no idea if they are), it appears that a driver will have collected enough money to offset the cost of the camera system.  Even if my assumptions about the number of fares carried in a year are overstated by 100%, you can still see that a driver has probably collected enough money to take (most of) the sting out of the one-time investment of $1500.  This is further offset by the reduction in crimes against drivers that have been experienced in other cities when camera systems were installed.  I can’t understand why there would be so much resistance on the part of the drivers when they will experience the benefits first-hand.

Ultimately, this is one of the costs of doing business if you’re a cab driver in Ottawa.

Taxi cab cameras in Ottawa cabs are a good thing

February 15, 2008 @ 00:06 By: gordon Category: Current affairs

(Ottawa) – At 3:15 am, Wednesday February 13, 2008, a taxi driver was robbed by two male fares in the Elmvale Acres area (Saunderson Dr. near Colson Ave.). The driver was assaulted, money was taken, and when the driver exited the taxi to escape, the males drove off with the taxi. The taxi was recovered nearby a short time later. The driver was not seriously injured during the incident.

The suspects are described as white males, 30-40 years of age.

The robbery is being investigation by the Criminal Investigation Division’s robbery section. (taken from an Ottawa Police Service news release on 13 February 2008)

The City of Ottawa wants to make the installation of cameras in Ottawa taxi cabs compulsory.  While it’s getting a lot of coverage in the media right now, it’s not a spur of the moment idea.  Two and a half years ago, they granted a 5 cent/fare surcharge plus the difference between 7% and the GST specifically to help offset the eventual installation of taxi cab camera systems.

The head of the taxi cab drivers’ union, on the other hand, would have you believe that this is a horrible financial burden and untenable invasion of privacy and that his drivers will not bend to city hall’s will on this matter.

In April 2007, CBC reported that Coventry Connections, the largest taxi operator in Ottawa, was planning to equip all its vehicles with cameras by the end of 2008.

The camera system the City has specified costs about $1500.  In addition to recording a visual and audio record, the system apparently records braking action and steering inputs.  It’s been likened to a black box recorder used in commercial aircraft.

The union complains this is unreasonable and asks of all the modes of public transportation — school buses, regular buses, taxis, and so on — why are they being singled out?

A fair question, so I decided to do a little googling to see if I could find out.

What I found out is that in November 2007, OC Transpo decided to run a six-month pilot project and equip 265 buses with cameras, similar to the ones that will be used in the taxis, that will watch over the drivers and passengers.  If the pilot project is deemed successful, then the entire fleet will be outfitted with camera systems.

One of the goals of the cameras is increasing safety while reducing taxicab crime.  Shortly after being introduced in Winnipeg in May 2002, taxi cab drivers were reported a reduction in fare jumpers and rowdy passengers.  In the calendar year 2002, there was a 71% reduction in serious taxicab crimes.  When you compare 2003 with 2001 (the year before the cameras were installed), robberies and other serious taxicab  crimes are 79% lower.  This is particularly impressive when you consider that crime in the City of Winnipeg increased by 10.5% during the same period.  The police reported that arrest rates increased from 35% in 2001 to 50% and 66% in 2002 and 2003, respectively.

Other Canadian cities, such as Toronto and Vancouver, require taxi cameras, so this Ottawa is not doing something never before done in Canada.

The union did raise concerns about who will have access to the information.  A spokesperson for the city indicated that while the policy isn’t currently defined, they would be working it out with Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner by the time the cameras must be installed.  This seems reasonable to me.

The bottom line is this:

  • Crimes against both taxi cab drivers and passengers alike have taken place in Ottawa cabs.
  • When camera systems have been installed in other cities the number of taxi cab crimes has dropped significantly.
  • Taxi cab drivers have been collecting 1% to 2% extra from every fare they’ve carried in the last two and a half years. 

Any point is a strong argument supporting their adoption.  Combined, they more than outweigh the $1500 price tag.

Or does the taxi cab union believe that the safety of their members and passengers, also known as clients, isn’t worth a one-time investment of $1500 per cab?

It’ll be interesting to see if the union changes their mind in light of the assault, robbery and theft experienced by the taxi driver mentioned in the Ottawa Police Services news release I quoted above less than one day after they protested against them in front of city hall.

To the woman driving the car with Quebec license 036 BNL: stop driving like an asshat!

February 14, 2008 @ 01:27 By: gordon Category: General

While crossing Scott Street on my way home from work Wednesday evening I was almost clipped by a car before I had finished crossing at the lights.  A car with Quebec plates (036 BNL) was turning right from Holland Avenue onto Scott Street.  While I was still in the crosswalk, this car turned and passed within a foot of me as it rounded the corner.  Fortunately, they didn’t actually hit me, but if they’d come much closer, they could well have caught the strap on my briefcase with their side mirror and who knows how that would have ended.

As anyone familiar with the Highway Traffic Act, which is supposed to be anyone driving a vehicle in the province of Ontario, knows pedestrians have the right-of-way in a crosswalk.  Given that I was crossing with the light, there’s no question that I had the right-of-way.  So did the other people in the crosswalk following a few feet behind me who she drove in front of when she was ignoring the rules of the road.

So, I appeal to the woman who was driving the car in question: please stop driving so recklessly and be more respectful of the pedestrians crossing the street when you approach a crosswalk.