Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Reduce your risk of dying?

This morning’s news reported on the results of a new study on the benefits of low-dose Aspirin for older women. According to the reporter, taking an Aspirin a day “reduces the risk of dying”. Now I will grant you that it has been some time since I last cracked a statistics textbook, but even though it’s been a few decades I think the definition of risk is still the same. If something is inevitable (like death, for instance) the risk of it occurring is 100%, and it is always 100%. It cannot be reduced except by avoiding the unavoidable, which is normally problematic.

The reporter went on to say that such a daily regimen has been shown to “reduce the risk of death in healthy women”. So let me get this straight – you’re healthy, but dead. Or is it dead, but healthy? Listen up people - if your body kills you, you’re not healthy! Healthy people only die through accidents or foul play, and I don’t see how an Aspirin a day can possibly prevent one from being murdered or in a fatal car accident.

If this was but a single occurrence it could be simply chalked up to the ignorance of the reporter, but the incorrect use of statistics to pitch a story or a certain perspective is pervasive, and the public never questions the veracity of what they are being told.

No wonder Jim Flaherty gets away with it.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The information highway is passing me by

When we decided to move into the country (out to the back of beyond) we were well aware that broadband cable service would not be available. For some reason Rogers wouldn't run a feed the 30 kilometers or so from the nearest node to our house, even if we did sign up all 4 neighbours! I don't really understand why not because I always thought the internet was supposed to be free, but they were pretty unreceptive to the whole idea.

Bell, on the other hand, will run wires just about anywhere there's a power pole to hang them on or tree branch to drape them across. Perhaps not as fast as cable, but wired high-speed is still pretty good as long as you're not downloading all the latest Oscar winners or trying to get free long distance calling or VoIP service. Perfect. Sign me up! Well, not so fast .... Bell's high-speed service is only available within 4.5 kilometers of a Central Office which, in our case, is about 20 kilometers short. Drat!

What about wireless then? Wireless service providers are popping up all over like dandelions in spring. Their towers and antennas dot the landscape, cluttering up the nighttime sky with blinking red lights like so many tacky Christmas decorations. Every local farmer with a bit of high ground and a need for a few extra bucks is renting out roof-top space for repeater antennas. Barns and silos in this area are beginning to look like porcupines in full defensive posture. Yup. Everywhere but here. The line-of-sight technology used means that you need a clear line of sight (pretty obvious, eh?) to the tower/antenna. The only blinking red light we can see is perched on the top of a Bell Cellular tower and they have no plans to put a wireless node up there any time soon.

Hmmmm ...

That left the satellite option, but with a significant up front cost to purchase and install all the necessary dishes and cabling and modems and an annual access fee and an ongoing monthly cost just slightly less than my average LCBO bill (also significant - even with the deposit returns), this wasn't really a solution we wanted to entertain. Besides, the missus wasn't too keen on hanging any more dishes on the roof or whacking down more trees so we could "see" the satellite.

Dial-up was all that was left. 57.6 Kbps is definitely not the speed of light, but for basic email and a limited amount of web surfing it will do. After all, I have nothing but time on my hands anyway, right? Why else would I be writing this if I had something useful to do? So back to Bell for a second phone line and Sympatico dial-up service. Now having a connect speed of 57.6 Kbps is a bit like having a Lambourgini with a speedometer calibrated to 280 kilometers per hour on the 401 through Toronto at 5 PM. Sure, it says it will go that fast, but 30 kilometers per hour is all you're going to get. So on a good day we're lucky to see 12 to 15 Kbps. That's about the speed of a little old lady with a walker crossing the intersection in front of you while you watch your green light go stale and then back to red. Loading ..... loading ..... loading ...... loading .....

(dialing ......)

"Hello, do you offer satellite internet service?"

To hell with the cost; I need to get back on the highway.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Budget hangover

Who were those people yesterday? And what did they do with the tight-fisted, fiscally responsible, small government, big business advocates who used to be known as Conservatives? I haven't seen this much money being thrown around since Nortel last handed out executive bonuses.

It was truly an amazing performance by our color-blind (Am I blue? Am I green?) minority government. Despite all the public denials, this was clearly an election budget, with cash out to everybody. And the threat to the opposition benches was blatant - reject this budget and you will be publicly and loudly tarred as being anti-(insert your favorite cause/province/sexual orientation/industry/family structure/disability/pet breed here).

Interestingly, the only opposition party in favor of the budget is the Bloc Québécois who's leader was quick to say that the $3.224 billion heading to Quebec will be welcome cash to help fund the separation of Quebec from the rest of Canada (assuming of course that the PQ and André Boisclair win next week's Quebec election - not an impossibility at this point in time).

Now the rhetoric really begins.

But in the meantime, we have a pretty good idea what Stephen Harper thinks your vote is worth:

- If you are a family with children under 18 - $310 per child. Woo hoo!
- If you are a senior citizen - you can contribute to your RRSP for two more years. Keep working!
- If you are a long-haul trucker - a cheaper lunch.
- If you are on welfare AND working - $500.
- If you are in the market for a new car - $1,000 to $2,000, but only if you buy a vehicle that costs $5,000 to $10,000 more than any other.
- If you live in the GTA - $0 - you already got yours.
- If you are the Bloc Quebecois - $3,224,000,000. Payable to the country of Québec?
- If you are an oil sands producer - priceless. You get to keep it all and then some.

And you can take that to the bank because the Conservative's new best friends - the Bloc Québécois - will make it so.

Alberta must be so proud of its favorite (adopted) son.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Book Review - Misquoting Jesus

I just completed reading Misquoting Jesus by Bart D. Ehrman. In a word - fascinating.

It's not surprising that the words we read in the Bible today are different than the words originally captured back in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D. - or even more recently than that. It's a well-known fact that these words have had to endure through several translations from one ancient language to another, and the vagaries of being hand-copied by hundreds, if not thousands of scribes over the centuries until the invention of the Gutenberg press in 1450, so changes are not only expected, they are inevitable.

What this book does is provide a history of that progression and many examples where ancient writings and the currently accepted version of the New Testament (the book focuses primarily on the new Testament) disagree. The author then explains the methods used to identify the inconsistencies and the various approaches taken to try to determine how and why the changes occurred, and which version best represents the author's original intention.

What I found most interesting is that this wasn't a simple exercise of establishing time lines from which it could be determined that the oldest text was necessarily the correct (or more correct) one. Manuscripts would leap-frog each other, and in some cases, more recent texts would be based on much older originals, now lost.

Equally fascinating was the discussion of why scribes might change the text they were working on at the time. Certainly there were situations where simple transcription errors could result in significant changes being made to the message, but equally there were cases where changes were made intentionally, either at the behest of the patron (whoever was paying to have the manuscript transcribed) or the scribe himself, based on his own, personal beliefs and their cultural or political environment at the time.

All in all a very good and interesting read for anyone (Christian or not, religious or not) who has any interest in how the word of God, as represented in the New Testament of today, came to be.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Customer service - NOT!

It seems somehow fitting that my first entry in this blog is about the lousy customer service provided by our biggest corporations - probably right up there in the Top 10 in terms of blog entries, I expect. But even though it's all been said before, here's my rant anyway.

If I hear "Please wait; your call is important to us" one more time I'll puke. If my call was really that important they'd have enough staff to answer the damned phone! My other favorite has to be "We are experiencing larger than normal call volumes". Say what? I have spent years selling and installing software that predicts, with a very high degree of accuracy, the call volumes to be expected on any given day; so unless the call center was hit by Katrina 2, a lack of planning on their part is not an acceptable reason to make me wait. In reality, both of these messages should be considered as what they are - euphemisms for "We're not going to spend one nickel more than we have to on customer service and if you have to wait - too bad. We have your money already anyway."

And to really irritate, they make sure that you don't even get to those messages until you have: 1) dialed the number; 2) listened to some advertising; 3) navigated through 5 or 6 layers of auto-attendant programming; 4) keyed in your 27-digit account number and listened to it being read back; and 5) listened to some more advertising. Then they tell you that you have to wait, but if you'd been smart enough in the first place to go online and help yourself you wouldn't be in this pickle. By now you have entered the zen-like state of being one with your phone and thus feel compelled to wait for 10 or 15 minutes on the off chance that you'll eventually get to speak with a real person. That is, if the agent isn't having a bad day and decides to hang up on you as soon as the call is transferred to their station.

So my advise to Bell Canada, Aeroplan, et al? If you want to improve your bottom line, take $1,000,000 in salary and bonuses away from your CEO and hire 30 more call center agents - or hire 20 and train them! As a consumer I can tell you that the return on that million dollars will be far greater if it's applied to helping your customers than helping pad your executives' pockets.

And locate them somewhere in North America.