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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Frozen Pipes, Cold Winters, and a few Warm Lessons

It's been a long cold winter, the ground has sustained frost to a depth we could not forecast.  Devon, like all the surrounding municipalities, is dealing with more frozen water pipe problems than normal... about 150 to 200% times the normal rate across our region.  Naturally, when somebody doesn't have running water, that's a huge issue.  Some people and some businesses are impacted in Devon.  Our municipal staff have been working hard to remedy it, but there is only so much they can do.  It's also impacting Edmonton where it's been an ongoing story.

People affected have been provided with potable water at no charge to them.  In cases where residents were impacted, workarounds have been provided until normal service is restored.  Apparently, in some cases, this means a hose hooked up to a neighbors outside water supply with heat wrap.  They, of course, will not be charged for the water and they've been asked to leave it running a bit so that it won't freeze up.

I asked, at the Council meeting, if there was anything more we could do.  Everybody is quite concerned and we want to see the repairs completed forthwith.  In short, we wanted to know that the full force and might of our municipal resources have been brought to bear on this problem.  We were told they have.

But like any story, there's some more to it.  We've bought a new piece of equipment that will help, but we are still beholden to one huge reality, we can't change Mother Nature's mind.  As the mercury rises and the snow pack (or glacial till as I refer to it in my yard) starts to melt, we have to keep our catchments clean or else there will be flooding.  Our people are working hard at all the tasks at hand, and some are even researching what new technologies we might use.  Most technologies, as we all know, are nearly futile in the face of the power of Mother Nature when she wishes to get our attention.  I'll research ideas to see if there's something more we can do that we have not already done, and so will our staff.

The work will continue and all our resources will be leveraged.  We're reaching out to other municipalities to find out what they're doing to see if there's anything more we can possibly do.  But what we're finding is that it's a problem that has happened because of the brutally cold temperatures and the depth of the frost. 

It might take a few more days to restore service, perhaps in some cases, it could be even more than a week until the ground is thawed enough for us to completely restore all the water service that has been interrupted.  We won't stop working hard until the job is done. 

I wish this were an easy task, I'd even offer to grab a shovel and dig myself, but that would be a fools folly, like the time my Tool Push and Driller asked me to dig a cellar for a drilling rig.  They enjoyed watching me try to dig a huge hole in the frozen ground with a pick and shovel.  They knew a backhoe was coming.  But it was all in good fun.  It was a rite of passage for a new roughneck, and I knew it was just that... but I whacked away with the pick and shovel for a good 6 hours until they finally tired of the prank.  It was cold, the ground was frozen stiff, and as you may suspect, I didn't get far.

Our water problem, however, is not prank.  It is something that has been brought on by Mother Nature.  And according to the research I've done, Mother Nature is likely to be ever more fickle as we head into the next couple of decades.  According to our best efforts to predict future climate (a challenge at best) Natural Resources Canada is forecasting more winter precipitation, figures range from 10 to 25% more.  For the Council, that means we need to be cognizant of probable variances in our future snow removal budgets.  All in all, likely to be on the high side.  One more reason to exercise fiscal prudence in our day to day decisions and longer term strategic planning.

Today, of course, there were the usual follow up meetings.  Tidying up a few items I had questions about and meeting with a few key personnel to be sure we were all on the same page.  This is a great municipality and we've got awesome staff... right across the board.  Oh, there might be a hiccup or two now and then, but what organization is without hiccups and the occasional missed shot.  It's like a hockey team, we can't be perfect, but if we play well as a team, we win a lot.  I also have another job, so off I went, out to work at Leduc #1, where we have lots of stuff to do for our AGM.  Over the lunch hour, I met with the executive board of CKUA (click here to listen live) to discuss some important items.  Plus, I had to run the usual errands anybody has to run. 

After a couple of very hard weeks with a ton of appointments, engagements, and even some time at the Prime Minister's rally in Beaumont, I was pretty tired when I got home.  Upon arrival... I had orders waiting from my wife.  I was to disassemble a bunk bed.  I grumbled a bit.  Well, OK, maybe a tad more than a bit.  I just wanted to watch the news and relax a bit, catch up on Twitter news and post up a few items... taxes can wait for another day.

To disassemble a bunk bed, one needs to have a few tools and a little time.  It turns out that my wonderful wife sold our daughter's bunk bed to a friend, and she sold it for what might be called a small price... a bargain.  As I feverishly worked to get it torn apart, I wondered what kind of bed I would be buying to replace this one.  We haven't gotten to that part yet.  My daughter will take over the guest room that was once my office.  Funny how I keep getting less and less space and my girls seem to get more and more space.  That's a different topic for a different day.

So... the facts.  I don't have a money tree, and if I did, it certainly wouldn't grow under the still lingering blanket of snow.  Like most people, I'm pretty happy to pay the bills and have enough for coffee! 

There I was, drill in hand, undoing this bunk bed that's in like new condition being sold at a fraction of the price we paid for it.  Not everybody hauls in the big pay.  After a long day of trying to solve problems that I didn't create, here was another one.  A rather unwelcome task if ever there was.

As I was working, my wife explained to me how this bed was sold to a friend who was moving into Maddison Manor.  For those who might not know, that's a low income housing complex recently built right here in Devon by the Leduc Foundation.  We're fortunate to have it and it's fully occupied already. 

As I worked away, I think my wife could see I was feeling kind of stressed.  She said, "oh, perhaps there was a greater power at work, this friend needs the bed for her kids".  It didn't take much for me to connected the dots. 

My workload immediately shrank and, in fact, changed to a labour of love.  Through my wife's guidance, I took a moment to realize how lucky we truly are.  We live in Devon, a wonderful community with great people who really care about each other.  If there's trouble, people step up to help.  We all work to make Devon a better place to live.  I learned something from everybody today.  It's a good day when people take you to school, because as I'm fond of saying, I never once learned anything while I was speaking.  I did a lot of listening today.  And I think I came away with a few lessons.

On Friday, when I deliver the bed, I'll go in with my tools and build it for this friend of ours.  And when this person goes to pay me, I'll ask, instead, if they might want to consider a donation to a charity of their choice.  Even if a donation can't be made now, there will come a day when this person will be able to do something for somebody else who could use a favour. 

I learned a lot from my wife today.  Sometimes she teaches me lessons in ways I don't always understand right away.  But to my credit, I think after almost 15 years of marriage, I'm close to being trained up.  I listen to her and think about her words.  I'm truly lucky to have my family, my friends, and this place called Devon in this great and beautiful country of ours.  How lucky I truly am... to have so many friends and to associate with so many fine people.  If one can measure their wealth by the value of their friends and neighbors, then I guess I'm about the richest guy around.

The way I see it, one good deed is like tossing a pebble into a still pond.  It'll create ripples that spread out in all directions.  In so doing, perhaps I will have done something to help somebody I don't even know.  But whoever it is, they will be part of our family, our Devon family and our Canadian family. 

I will be following up on the water issue every day until it's fixed.  The bunk bed, on the other hand, is only a commitment of a few hours.  And to think some child will sleep comfortably in their own new (well nearly new) bunk bed, all comfy and snuggly under their blankies getting tucked into bed by their Mommy.  I do believe I'll be able to feel a little bit better knowing that even though it was a very small difference, the ripples of goodwill shall go forth. 

Maybe I'm starting to find my way with the help of my wonderful wife.  I don't know... but the voyage certainly is fun and unpredictable.  Just the way I like it.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Canada Votes : Will the e-President poll work for Canada?

It's time to start the guessing game, spin the stories, and generally enjoy the wonderful world of Canadian politics!  This is what the political junkies live for, it's also the fodder of policy wonks around the World.  This is why we love politics.  There's joy in the campaign for the vote!

First across the line, that's what matters in an election.  Simple enough.  But the tactics and strategies are stuff of military precision.  Strengths and weakness are analyzed, multiple strategists argue their points until an battle plan has been agreed upon.  This is the part political parties can control.  It is, essentially, a political order of battle plan.  People don't like military terms applied to political campaigns, but make no mistake about it, the campaigns that are won are those with the best planning, the best team, the best logistics, the best finances, and finally, they have to have the best candidates.  Star power isn't enough, there has to be a team.

Now that the campaigns have been launched by all the major parties, you can decide for yourself, which party seems to have the best presence right out of the cyberspace gates.  Check it out for yourself.  This tells us who was ready, who had the organization, who had the funding... all the stuff a party needs to prepare for an election.  

Conservative Party of Canada

Liberal Party of Canada


Green Party of Canada

Le Bloc Québécois

The next component is the fluid changing tide of the public conversation and news.  The public will bring issues to the forefront that nobody has thought of yet, and how the candidates react is the very essence of the magic that happens when the politicians step "outside the message".  It happens in every election.

In the last U.S. Presidential election, I invented a fun tool designed to measure the *cool* factor.  It is a poll that looks at how much money people are willing to pay to have a piece of the candidate.  The more items for sale the larger the demand.  If the market has a larger demand AND a higher price, it's a hands down winner. 
The fascinating part is that it had a 100% predictability record in the last U.S. election.  After noticing the poll performed flawlessly in the primaries, I deployed it on the Republican and Democratic leadership races, again, it performed flawlessly.  And yes, it predicted the Presidency as well.  You can't say it's scientific because there's way too many subjective data points.  I'll devise a more robust version this year.  We have to weed through a lot of subjective data, but sometimes that data can be interesting... like domain squatting.  
I think we need to figure in some social media presence along with the cool factor to make it a more robust tool.  Your ideas on how we best quantify the twitterverse and facebook would be greatly appreciated.  It's in your wheelhouse!

Saturday, March 26, 2011


Skill, wisdom, courage, and excellence are all traits of the master.  But, over the years, I have come to learn that the greatest attribute of a teacher is the ability to inspire.  For while the traits of a master can be taught and learned, inspiration is the magical lightening bolt that strikes the heart of a human, providing the wings to fly to a higher plane of existence.

It is in this realm where humans move entire mountains, defy timeless gravity, and strike not with muscle and bone, but with thunder and lightening.  Here does a human scream with enough passion to rupture beams of steel and shatter walls of stone.  Upon this sacred soil soaked not with water, but with sweat, tears, and blood, the skies rain not water, but wine - every last drop filled with meaning.  Above this field of eternal struggle, the heavens are filled with stars shining bright with courage, grace, power, and pride.  Only in this immortal domain can the mortal human reach into the night sky, grab the brightest of stars, and mold them into the sword of character.  Though the human will one day perish, the sword lives on.  For the human is to character as the rise and fall of a single flame to the everlasting notion of fire.

In a World where a lifetime is summed up in its brief moments of glory, I owe my grandeur to the teacher who has given me the wings to fly into the realm of divine triumph, a teacher who can reach beyond the distant horizon and bring up the midnight sun.


A Federal election will be here on May 2nd and what a day it will be.  Many people wonder if Canada will have a majority government.  These are the questions being asked in cyberspace one day after the election was announced.  It didn't take long for that to emerge, one day after the election was announced we have our first results being reported.   

Stephen Harper is the person Canadians would most trust as their Prime Minister, beating Jack Layton by 15 points and Michael Ignatieff by 32 points.  In federal politics, that much of a lead is like watching Secretariat win the Preakness for the Triple Crown.  But polls don't count, they inform.  At the end of the day, Canadians will decide, and so it should be.
No matter what anybody says, I'm sure of one thing.  We will be able to campaign and vote during the Spring... some distance from the brutal -30 temperatures that would make it quite difficult for people to participate.  
This is a great country and Canadians are a great people.  Whatever the results on May 2nd, this nation will continue to lead on the World stage.  And all of us who can vote should do precisely that.  Whatever you believe, exercise your democratic right to vote.  That privilege has been paid for with the blood of our ancestors.  Let us not allow their sacrifice to be in vain, it is our duty to honour them by deciding who will lead our nation in the days and years ahead.  Vote CANADA - On May 2nd, 2011 - do your duty.  Information regarding voting can be found here: 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Truth and Faith Resemble Chance and Art

Japan's enormous difficulties are painful... and millions suffer across our globe.  We have a no fly zone in Libya, political power vacuums, wars, and death everywhere.  Elections and intrigue in the air along with Iodine-131 and cesium-137.  Sweet 16, a drive to Calgary, dinner with a former President, Inter-American Bank, Municipal Council meetings, political meetings, finance and audit committee meetings, and private meetings.  A software project, a real estate negotiation in South America, rental property in another country... 150 to 200 emails per day.  Lions club, elementary school tours, college tours, and policy guidance.  Visits to other levels of government, family time, work time, and business time.  Taxes in two countries.  Yeah, I can deal with all that.

Even with this brush stroke of a few short days, there is still time to think about how fast the human brain can upload, assimilate, store, and retrieve data.  If we evolve, then what are the neurological ramifications of the natural process of adaptation to our surroundings, and hence, to the ever increasing requirement for data throughput?  On an anecdotal level, it sometimes seems like people can feel overloaded.  There are estimated to be some 200 billion neurons in the human brain.  An impressive number to be sure.  Beyond that, synaptic structures are measured in the hundreds of trillions.  Fascinating numbers, all of them.

We expect a child's brain contains approximately one quadrillion synapses.  With age, there is a correlating declination of synapses, decreasing to as few as 100 trillion.  So here's the rub, as each year goes by and data input resources expand at exponential rates, adults experience consistent declination of synapses.  The ramifications for adult humans to keep up with technology seems obvious, yet somehow we seem to do it.

So with all of that, my conclusion is simple.  After consulting array tomography and neurological resources, I am only sure of one thing.  Array tomography output looks like a tree.  Like a Fibonaccian structure presented in a state that resembles a mature tree in a beautiful forest.  It could be chance, but perhaps it is the scientific modus operandi of a master we can't comprehend.  Truth and faith resemble chance and art in the World of neurological science.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Pressure Cooker

Gaddafi's loyal (and presumably well paid) mercenaries are well armed.  Gaddafi is known to posses mustard gas, possibly VX nerve gas, and without a doubt, Mr. Gaddafi has stockpiles of rocket launchers, grenades, heavy caliber weapons, tanks, light armor, and the list goes on.  He's armed and dangerous to say the least.  Lest we underestimate this man, it should be recognized that he has enormous firepower. 

Sheer firepower, however, is not a panacea for Gaddafi's ability to survive, because all that firepower is manned by paid mercenaries from other countries, and they are entirely self serving.  Given a choice between quick wealth and death, they will elect to cut their losses and disappear in the night under the cover of darkness.

The World has not been standing idly by as this horrible situation has unfolded.  Everything that can be done is, in fact, being done.  And all of it in an orderly and hurried pace.  Many of us forget that it is not easy to unbuckle thousands of expatriates working in Libya from their remote desert oil rigs and production operations.  To complicate matters, we have to extricate thousands of people while trying to keep Gaddafi from coming unhinged.  He is, after all, a cornered and rabid animal capable of anything.  Remember, Gaddafi has chemical weapons, and we have seen lunatics release chemical weapons before... remember Saddam Hussein's willingness to use chemical weapons against the Kurds in Halabja?

On the diplomatic stage, the table has been set.  The League of Arab States, the African Union, and the United Nations have all gone through their mechanisms of condemnation, setting the stage for military intervention.  Financial assets have been frozen, the paperwork is now comple.  The i's have been dotted and the t's have been crossed.  All that remains is to get as many civilian innocents out of the way as we possibly can.  A few more remain... but the vast majority have been collected and escorted out of harms way. 

The potential to destabilize US foreign relations throughout the Middle East and North Africa are clearly understood.  The creation of a third front for an embattled Obama administration that already pours billions of dollars into the region all during a time when the economy is struggling is not exactly a recipe for winning votes... and the election is coming fast.

Now the reports of SAS forces on stand-by to take out chemical weapon stockpiles have surfaced.  Look around the neighborhood and give some thought to potential for assets that could be used.  Here's a list of units that have been rumored to be available should some military intervention occur:

The U.S.S. Kearsarge is a floating palace for Jarheads, otherwise known as the flagship for a United States Marine Expeditionary Strike Group.  Can you say "Thump"

Another Jarhead palace complete with the latest landing craft.

While Robert Gates says he has no enthusiasm for a military intervention in Libya, I can assure you that nobody's getting in on this action unless the Marines are allowed to come out to do their work... after all, "From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of where?  Oh yeah, TRIPOLI" - any operation that the U.S. might be involved in would have Marines written all over it and Admiral Mike Mullin has a special affection for the Marines.  Like the well disciplined Navy man he is... he will see to it the Marines have a first class ride to any altercation.

Just to make sure there's some extra in reserve, the entire 6th Fleet and the 5th Fleet are close at hand, capable of flying strike sorties at the drop of a hat.  In short, there has never been a time when so many special forces or so much military hardware have been quickly available and at hand.... ever. 

So the hammer is there, the velvet glove has an iron fist inside of it.  All that awaits are two things... identify as much money as possible and freeze it, and remove as many innocents as possible.  For now, however, the Secretary of Defense and his counterparts have decided that it is best to be prepared and point out that a "no-fly" zone requires air strikes to remove the threat of ground to air missiles and various air defense infrastructure, not to mention the command and control assets that have to be eliminated.  While some might argue that a no fly zone would require only surgical air strikes, it is important to remain cognizant that there is a strong probability that Mr. Gaddafi would have key installations placed close to the civilian population, essentially using them as a human shield.  Further, any intervention could be viewed as an invasion designed to grab Libyan oil.  Without a doubt, those who dislike the West will certainly leverage this for propaganda value.  So stay tuned, we'll find out what happens. A pressure cooker like this can only stay of the stove for so long.  The policy makers will be working late nights for a while.