Monthly Archives: July 2008

Partial solar eclipse tomorrow morning

The moon will pass between the Earth and the Sun tomorrow, meaning the world is coming to an end people in eastern Nunavut, central Russia and northern China will be able to witness the wonder and eye damage that is a total solar eclipse.

Here’s the bad news for Montrealers:

  • The best we’ll get is a partial eclipse. The total eclipse path is way north of here, so the moon is only going to take a small chunk out of the sun from our perspective
  • We’re at the western tip of the eclipse path, which means it will just be ending as the sun rises. If you’re not somewhere that has a very clear view of the horizon, you most likely won’t see it.
  • Weather tomorrow calls for cloudy with clear breaks, so it’ll be hit and miss whether you can see anything at all.
  • The next partial eclipse that is visible from here (at a time not within minutes of sunrise or sunset) will be in August 2017. Other partial eclipses in 2021 and 2023. The next total eclipse through Montreal will be on the afternoon of April 8, 2024, and the one following that just after sunrise on July 23, 2093. (I think I’m working that day.)

Decapitation leads to passioned debate

There are hundreds of comments (thanks to a bit of Farkage) on this rather disturbing CBC story about a man who suddenly stabbed and killed (and decapitated) a sleeping fellow passenger on a Greyhound bus.

The comments are all debating three different topics:

  1. What should the passengers have done? Some say they should have intervened, even at personal risk:

    37 adults could not stop this poor child from getting decapitated. 37 adults chose to cowardly permit a haneous murder right under their noses. These 37 cowards may have saved a few scratches on their skin to lose their souls.

    Many many more sane people say that a large man with a large knife in an insane homicidal rage can’t be safely disarmed on a bus by civilians. As it is they barely escaped serious injury.

  2. Should the death penalty be brought back for cases like this? This debate, tied somewhat with the debate on how mentally ill criminals should be treated (and whether or not the man in question was mentally ill), doesn’t deal with the facts in this case much.
  3. Should we allow concealed weapons on buses? Gun control can’t possibly not be a debate here, even though no guns were involved. My favourite comment:

    If Canadians were permitted concealed carry of firearms, one of the other passengers would have plugged that psychopath before he had the chance to cut the poor victim’s head off. Just another example of Canada’s soccer mom gun laws working against the interests of honest citizens.

    See if that guy tries to ever cut MY head off… staring at the barrel of my .357

    Never bring a knife to a gun fight, psychoboy.

    That sounds like rock-solid logic. (Unless of course the psychopath had a concealed firearm and killed his victim in one shot, leading to the same result.)

  4. Should police have shot to kill once they got on scene? The victim had already been decapitated by this point, so I guess the odds of recovery were slim. But some people seem to think that summary police execution is justified in cases like this.

    What I really wonder about is why didn’t the police shoot the perpetrator as soon as they could? With that many witnesses, the perpetrator showing off the head of his victim, the amount of blood that had to be on the scene,would there be any need for court to determine his guilt?

    Others suggest that’s not a very rational way of thinking:

    There should be some minimum age or education required to post on this news site. How many more people are going to say that we just kill this guy without a trial? What the hell country do you think you are living in?

  5. Should we install metal detectors in bus terminals? How far do we want to go to ensure our safety? This far?

    Never mind the metal detectors. We can’t be safe until we are all locked up so we can’t harm others or harm ourselves.

    Think how much safety would be improved on planes and buses if we were handcuffed to our chairs by security guards while in transit. This would stop every assault and every hijacking attempt on an aircraft or bus.

    Perhaps the human equivalents of pet carriers are what is needed to ensure our safety. Any time we go out in public, we can be locked into a sort of rolling sarcophagus, and can be wheeled around wherever we need to go by security guards.

    These kinds of measures may seem extreme, but no sacrifice is too great to make for safety.

There. Now you don’t have to spend hours reading the comments.

UPDATE: 1,500 comments and counting in under 24 hours.

STM, media need to learn Bullying 101

The local media is busy rewriting this STM press release (or republishing this Presse Canadienne piece with its incorrect web address) about how students will be forced to use the new Opus smart card as a transit pass this fall. The card, valid for two years, will have a picture and personally identifiable information on the back.

For some bizarre reason, the STM started this campaign without updating its web page on the card so that students could learn more about the new system.

One of the claims by the STM, as highlighted by The Gazette, is that the card will eliminate fraud and, hence, taxing by fellow students. The way this will be done, it suggests, is by revoking the card’s credentials once it’s reported stolen.

Let me repeat that: Once it’s reported stolen (This is assuming, of course, that the student in question knows the serial number of the stolen card or the STM can search a large database of personal information to find it).

Now, to those who have never been bullied in high school: What do you think is going to happen after someone has taxed you for your transit pass and you report it stolen?

Of course, the fact that ID and pass are on the same card, and that ID should be checked any time the card is used, should automatically make it impossible to use the card of anyone but an identical twin. But, as we all know, verification of student ID cards is hardly 100 per cent.

More mobile options for bus times

STM Mobile screenshot

STM Mobile screenshot

via Patrick, a new iPhone application has been launched called STM mobile that scrapes the STM website for bus arrival times and keeps track of favourite stops for easy access. It costs $0.99 through the Apple AppStore.

For those without an OMGcool iPhone, there’s the free service, which does the same but through a light-weight website instead of an application.

Or you could just call AUTOBUS from your phone, or check the posted schedule, but that won’t make you cool.

UPDATE (July 31): Pierre-Nick has a review that’s mostly positive, but points out that it doesn’t use geolocation to find the closest stop.

UPDATE (Aug. 2): CFD has an interview with the program’s creator.

UPDATE (Aug. 7): The Gazette’s Roberto Rocha has an article about STM Mobile and and how the STM is planning its own mobile schedule service for the fall.

UPDATE (Oct. 24): There’s also this very basic service which does pretty much the same as busmob.

CRTC roundup: Videotron doesn’t want to closed-caption porn

Lots of fun at the CRTC:

  1. Videotron has applied for a change in the license for its illico video-on-demand system. They want a change in the requirement that it broadcast closed-captioning with 90% of all programming during the day to add an exception: “adult movies and programs for pre-school children.” In other words, they don’t want to have to waste money closed-captioning on-demand porn and baby programming that nobody is going to read anyway.
  2. Rogers, which owns CITYtv but not the CP24 all-news cable channel that CITY started (that station belongs to CTV after CTV bought CHUM, even though it shares a newsroom with Rogers-owned CITYtv — complicated enough for you?) wants to create a new all-news, all-Toronto digital specialty channel with the imaginative name CITY News (Toronto). Presumably, this would replace CP24, which would then be properly absorbed into CTV, which would have to decide what to do with it since it already has its own all-news network.
  3. The Fight Network wants to create a new digital specialty channel Le Réseau des combats, which would be a French version of its existing programming.
  4. Application for a new digital specialty channel Chaîne Ethnoculturelle Clovys Entertainment Channel, which would broadcast mainly francophone music from urban, world and latin music styles.
  5. CTV wants to amend the license for MuchMusic to allow it to carry game shows (presumably music-related, but then again this is MuchMusic we’re talking about)
  6. The CBC (and its gajillion partners) are applying for a license to broadcast the Documentary channel in high definition. Considering the channel is mostly NFB archives from the 70s, this would seem to have limited use.
  7. VidéOptique Inc. wants to create an on-demand programming network in Drummondville and nearby areas.
  8. Corus Entertainment wants to move its talk radio station 102.1 FM from Montmagny to Quebec City to make it a Quebec City station and have access to the much larger urban market.

UPDATE (Aug. 2): Pat Lagacé has some comments about Videotron and porn CC. He says deaf people will have to start reading lips of the porn actors. I’m not quite sure which lips he’s referring to.

Online articles should be corrected

Montreal City Weblog has a post about a story that updated quickly enough that different sources had different versions. The story is about a girl in St. Sauveur who said she escaped a kidnapping attempt. The only problem is she made it all up.

Here’s the thing: The original story is still up there, with no indication that the kidnapping didn’t happen. No correction, no update, no link to a new story.

This isn’t a problem limited to the CBC. While major outlets like the New York Times will put a “correction appended” notice on articles that are updated, most don’t bother. They’ll put up a new story when new developments happen, and leave the old one to be spread among blogs, spidered by search engines and continue to give out misinformation to an unsuspecting public.

Among the news outlets that left original stories up with no indication of corrections or updates:

News outlets that replaced the original stories with new ones saying the kidnapping was a hoax:

The fact that there’s a second list is comforting, but the first one (most of whom simply recopied the Canadian Press story) is still far too long.

There’s no excuse for allowing incorrect and incomplete information once correct information is known. News media (traditional and new alike) have to shape up and fix that fatal flaw if they’re to be trusted to give us accurate information.

“Nuked the fridge”? Please

There are plenty of expressions in the English language whose origins are unknown to younger generations. Knowing their etymology isn’t really important, after all, so long as everyone understands the usage.

So why do people feel necessary to replace “jumped the shark,” which references a Happy Days episode that people believe is an example of a TV series going past the point when writers have any original ideas consistent with the show’s original concept, with another term that means the exact same thing?

Or perhaps, like everyone else, the New York Times is struggling to find summer filler material for its newspaper.

TWIM: Blogging for dollars

This week, I talk about a local blogger, Stephen David Wark, who is participating in a Blogathon today (9am Saturday to 9am Sunday) to raise money for the Autism Clinic at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. He’s already started blogging, and will continue to post every half hour until 9am tomorrow. (And you better bet he blogged about the article). So show him (and the children) some love.

UPDATE: The article has apparently gotten people interested and donating, and he’s already raised more money than last year. I’ll go ahead and take credit for that.

The by-election campaign has begun

From Shatnerian

From Shatnerian

Prime Minister Stephen Harper made it official Friday, announcing that three federal by-elections would be held on Sept. 8 in Westmount-Ville-Marie, St. Lambert and Guelph, Ontario.

Westmount-Ville-Marie features the big race for us Montrealers, as the Liberals and NDP both have star candidates. Perhaps coincidentally, they are the only ones with campaign posters or websites as of this writing.

The candidates are (essentially in order of the likelihood of them getting the seat):

  • LIB: Marc Garneau, former astronaut, who failed in a bid for the Vaudreuil riding in the last election. His biggest advantage here is not so much his star quality, but the fact that Westmount used to be a Liberal stronghold.
  • NDP: Anne Lagacé Dowson, CBC radio host. I’m not sure if Jack Layton has a CBC Radio fetish he wants to play out or something, as two of the NDP’s three candidates come from the Mother Corp. (Tom King in Guelph is the other). She has some name recognition, but those who recognize her are people who listen religiously to the CBC and are likely to vote NDP anyway. And a lot of people who do listen to her don’t seem to like her. She has a way of presenting herself that makes her seem a tad pretentious and patronizing. Her political credentials are also pretty weak. (Full disclosure: I worked with Anne for about two weeks at CBC Radio – not long enough to develop an opinion, but long enough for her to have paid me off, theoretically)
  • CON: Guy Dufort, a lawyer with Heenan Blaikie specializing in labour law. No website. Website still hasn’t been indexed by Google, so a search for “Guy Dufort” won’t get you information about the candidate.
  • BQ: Charles Larivée, a former (current?) president of the McGill Political Science Students Association. No website, and no hope. (Top Google hit for the name is my previous post about this race)
  • GRN: Claude Genest, deputy Green Party leader and former cast member on TV’s Sirens.

Gimli Glider, 25 years ago

Air Canada plane takes off after repairs (still from CBC TV report)

Air Canada plane takes off after repairs from Gimli, Manitoba (from CBC TV report)

It was 25 years ago this week that Air Canada Flight 143, en route from Montreal to Edmonton (via Ottawa), ran out of fuel above western Ontario and had to make an emergency no-engine landing on what used to be a runway at a small airport in Gimli, Manitoba.

The Winnipeg Free Press has a story about the captain of that flight, Bob Pearson, meeting the two boys he almost ran down with his barely-controllable airplane on July 23, 1983. The boys were part of a family day outing at an old runway that had been converted into a racetrack. Unfortunately, the captain and his copilot didn’t know that and were shocked to find people gathered on their emergency landing strip. With no engines and no room to change course, they had no choice but to land anyway. The kids, being kids, panicked and pedalled as fast as they could on their bikes away from the plane, not rationally concluding that there’s no way a bicycle is going to outrun a landing 767. As luck would have it, the plane’s nose gear collapsed (without power it hadn’t been lowered properly and wasn’t locked in place), slowing it down and keeping it from running anyone over.

Bikes try to outrun a landing 767

Two kids try to outrun a landing plane on their bikes (dramatization image from Mayday)

The CBC also mentions a mural that honours the flight being unveiled.

There really isn’t a way to overstate how awesome this story is. This writeup last year at Damn Interesting gives it a shot, though:

After repeated unsuccessful attempts to restart the stalled engines, Pearson and Quintal once again consulted the 767 emergency manual, this time for advice on an unpowered landing. Much to their dismay, no such section existed, presumably because a simultaneous engine failure had been too ridiculous for Boeing engineers to contemplate.

Basically, the story was that the plane’s fuel gauges were non-functional prior to takeoff (apparently a common occurrence at the time which should have been sufficient to ground the plane until it was fixed), and the ground crew measured the fuel load manually (in Montreal and again in Ottawa), figuring that would be enough. Unfortunately, they made an error in the conversion process (the brand new 767 was an all-metric aircraft in an era when people were still using pounds) and ended up thinking they had twice as much fuel as they did.

By the time the crew realized they had insufficient fuel, it was too late and the engines quickly starved to death. This required some quick thinking from the crew, who hadn’t been trained on gliding a jumbo jet without engines because nobody had ever thought it necessary to train pilots how to do so. One never-before-contemplated-much-less-even-tried maneuvre from the captain, a forward slip (where the ailerons were turned in one direction and the rudder in the other, causing the plane to fly sideways and at a nearly 90-degree angle to the ground to lose altitude quickly) is enough to turn one’s stomach.

Gimli Glider sideslips, flying sideways to lose altitude (re-enactment from Mayday)

Still, despite having no fuel (and limited control), despite the lack of an air traffic control tower at Gimli, despite the runway that wasn’t a runway, despite the pants-soiling forward-slip maneuvre a hundred feet above the ground, and despite the collapsed nose gear, the plane landed safely with no major injuries to anyone on the plane or on the ground.

Perhaps most shockingly, the plane was repaired on site and then flown back for further maintenance, and continued in service for Air Canada for another 25 years. It retired this January, just six months before the 25th anniversary of its historic flight.

For those of you who prefer your stories in dramatic re-enactment form, though, my favouritest TV show ever finally got around to profiling the flight this season (the two stills above are from this episode). You can watch Mayday: Gimli Glider on Discovery’s website for free.

UPDATE (July 28): Discovery is replaying its Gimli Glider Mayday episode Wednesday at 10pm (repeats Thursday at 2am and 3pm)