Tuesday, November 29, 2011

hashtag #heblowsalot

I caught a CNN report on Kansas student, Emma Sullivan, 18, who tweeted: "“Just made mean comments at gov brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.” Sullivan tapped out her tweet while she and her high school group, Youth in Government, were listening to Brownback speak on stage.

CNN refused to show the complete tweet on air. The wimps, nasty minded wimps, I might add, blocked out the word "blow" from their report. I'm surprised they left the word "sucked" uncensored. They saw "blows" as having a nasty sexual meaning not fit for broadcast. I may be naive, really, I might be, but the first thing that I thought was that the hashtag meant "he's a blow hard." I translated what followed the comma as "in person he's full of hot air" and not that he's enthusiastic at delivering felatio.

Later I heard the young woman explaining that she had not made her mean comments directly to the governor --- nor did she say that she did. Note the comma. It's important. The comments were made about the governor but "at" saves keystrokes, which is so important in the 140 character Twitter world.

One bit of advice I found on the Internet for dealing with teens and their words was:  If something a teen says upsets you, ask them to elaborate further before blowing up. This means before you explode, uh, explode in anger. One's gotta be careful with the word explode. Some may think it has sexual overtones. Can't have that.

Sullivan's tweet was noted by the governor's staff and the staff contacted the young girl's principal --- a principal who was definitely not the young girl's pal. Her principal turned out to be a principal without principles. Instead of tossing the letter of complaint he confronted the teen and demanded she sit down and write some letters of apology. One must go to the governor, she was told.
Emma Sullivan refused to apo

Sullivan dug in her heels, blowing off the principal's demands. That mean ignoring his demands for those jumping to sordid conclusions.

Sullivan refused to apologize. The governor wisely decided that it was he who would issue the apology in the hope the Twitter fiasco would blow over.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My Klondike property deed is not worthless to me

My deed is worth a lot in memories. Held together by Scotch Tape, I doubt it has any other value.

My wife wants the basement clean and she's blaming me for the mess. Mess? It's filled with valuable stuff, like this deed for one square inch of land in the Klondike. I found my 56-year-old deed as I was rearranging the basement. I'm operating under the theory that if it's tidy, she'll let me keep my stuff.

If you're wondering about the deed, you are not an early born baby-boomer. It was the winter of 1955 when the Quaker company began one of the most successful advertising campaigns ever. As a tie-in to the Sergeant Preston of the Yukon program which ran on both radio and television, the cereal maker gave away 21 million one-inch square plots in Canada's Yukon Territory.

To get a piece of the land claim action, all a child had to do was coax mom into buying a box of Quaker cereal containing a land deed. 21 million deeds resulted in a lot of action and not just for young buyers of the cereal. The oh-so-legal looking deeds kept Quaker busy for year.

Some people took the campaign a little too seriously. The gathered up thousands of deeds with the goal of creating a large, useful plot of land in the Canadian North. If you're curious about the story, I found the following posted on Yukon Info.


DAWSON, Yukon Territory – Once upon a time there was an advertising executive in a city called Chicago. His job was to make children yell, “Mommy, I want Quaker Puffed Rice!”

For many years, this man told the children his cereal was shot from guns. This helped his sales. But other cereals had talking tigers and gave away prizes in every box. This hurt his sales. What could the poor businessman do?

He needed a new idea. Or else he would need a new job. He had to think of something catchy and simple and it had to do with the cereal’s radio show about a Mountie in the Yukon. Suddenly, the man knew!

In each box of Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat he would give away a square inch of land in the romantic Yukon right here in Dawson where Sergeant Preston and his trusty dog King had their adventures every week. And so began the Great Klondike Big Inch land Caper, one of the most successful sales promotions in North American business history.

For long after all the rocket rings and plastic submarines arid other cereal-box prizes were lost, millions of those official-looking, legal-sounding, gold-embossed deeds to a square inch of Yukon land remained in drawers, albums, safe deposit boxes, scrapbooks, vaults and, more importantly, in the memory of a generation of men and women not so young anymore.

And given the ravages of the years and the current uncertain economic times, a steadily mounting stream of these former children, their attorneys, their widows and their executors are writing to inquire after their “property,” which they assume has increased in value over all these years.

But, alas, the replies carry sad news. Not only do these people not own the land now. They never did, because each individual deed was never formally registered. The Klondike Big Inch Land Co., an Illinois subsidiary established to handle the cereal’s land affairs, has gone out of business. And anyway, the Canadian government repossessed all the land back in 1965 for nonpayment of $37.20 in property taxes.

But still, the cereal saga won’t die. Thousands of “owners” have written to officials in the Yukon. A vast, sparsely populated area that is one of two of Canada’s northern territories. “Please tell them to stop.” pleaded Cheryl Lefevre. a land-office clerk who stores the Yukon’s files on the matter, files now more than 18 inches thick.

Free Gold Rush LandThe land of course, is still here – Group 2 in lot 243. It is a 19.11-acre plot on the west bank of the Yukon River about three miles upstream from town where, according to crumbling old records in Dawson’s land office, Malcolm McLaren first homesteaded back in 1911.

It is a long way from a suburban Chicago home in 1954, the night before Bruce Baker, the adman was to make his promotional presentation. Before he died three years ago, Baker recounted to a friend his side of the Klondike epic.

Baker was nearly panicked for a new idea, any new idea. When the inspiration came to him, he could almost see the ads: “You’ll actually own one square inch of Yukon land in the famous gold country!”

Quaker Oats hated the idea.

Too many potential legal problems, the lawyers said. It would cost far too much to register every deed to every little cereal-eater out there. Baker suggested, then, that they not register the deeds.
And he found a Yukon lawyer who thought it was legal. Baker flew to the Yukon and, after a harrowing midwinter boat journey, saw the land and bought it for $1,000.

Twenty-one million numbered deeds were printed up. And on Jan. 27, 1955, the promotion was begun on the Sergeant Preston radio show. The response was far beyond Baker’s wildest hopes. Quaker’s puffed cereal plant in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, could hardly stuff the deeds in fast enough. Within weeks, every box was sold.

As time went on, Quaker redirected its cereal sales. “We do zero promotion now,” said Kathy Rand, Quaker’s public relations manager. “because we’re not positioned for kids. The cereals are no sugar, salt or additives, so they’re aimed at babies or the diet conscious.”

In 1965, the 19.11 acres were seized. In 1966, the Klondike Big Inch Land Co. was dissolved. There were always some “owners” writing for information. But it built to a flood more recently, involving Canadian consuls general in the United States, the Yukon and even the prime minister’s office in Ottawa. Steven Spoerl wrote Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau to announce he was declaring the formal independence of his four square inches.

Officials in Ottawa, only slightly amused, send each writer a polite reply telling all correspondents to contact the Quaker Oats Co. in Chicago for details relating to the decades old 'promotional gimmick.' Quaker has the unhappy - and the time consuming - task of telling them that the deeds are worthless, that the Klondike Big Inch Co. no longer exists, and that the Canadian government has taken back the land.

Quaker has been threatened with lawsuits over the matter, and is tired of the time and expense required to answer letters. Quaker executives cringe at the mention of the promotion. John Rourke, the company’s public relations director, claims that they "probably wouldn’t get into such a campaign today because of the legal ramifications."

It’s unlikely, however, that a lawsuit would proceed very far, as the Klondike Big Inch Land Co. has been dissolved and there’s nobody left to sue. In effect, it would be like suing a dead person who has left no assets. That’s the bad news. The good news is that, thanks to the nostalgia boom, a number of memorabilia experts claim the old deeds are now worth as much as $90 each to collectors.

Bruce Baker, the man who started it, takes special delight in pointing out that that makes the deeds worth about twice as much as a share of stock in the Quaker Oats Co. So there you have it. No Klondike property but a nice bit of memorabilia, but occasionally it gets worse.

One American gentleman travelled all over the United States collecting these deeds until he had 10,880. He figured that amounted to about 75 square feet of land and wrote to the Quaker Oats legal department wondering if he could consolidate the different inches into one big chunk. He said he would prefer a piece of land "near the water" and "as quiet an area as possible." Needless to say he was quite perturbed when he learned the story behind the deeds.

“The deeds were not meant to have any intrinsic value,” Quaker says, “but rather to give the consumer the romantic appeal of being the owner of a square inch of land in the Yukon.”

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fuel sipping technology is here

Peugeot 3008 HYbrid4: world's first diesel-electric hybid gets up to 74 mpg.

I have never personally owned a car with anything other than a four cylinder engine. I never saw the need. The reason for the awkward phrasing is that my wife owned a used, six cylinder Chevrolet Lumina once.

An early gas sipper from the '60s.
I have always been offended by gas guzzlers. In the '60s my brother-in-law and I used to compete in fuel economy runs. One year the winning entry was a Renault 4. The driver inflated the tires until they were rock hard to lower rolling resistance, he trimmed the carburetor to burn a leaner fuel mix and when approaching a red light he turned the car off, letting it coast. If the light changed while still coasting, he popped the clutch to restart. With all these gas-saving contortions, his little car came close to hitting the magic 100 miles per gallon number.

When I worked at The London Free Press, I drove a lot for work. I experimented for a time with a compressed natural gas (CNG) powered car. I bought an American-made, compact and converted it to a bi-fuel car burning both natural gas and, at the flick of a switch, unleaded gasoline. When I drove outside of London I found I burned far more gasoline than CNG as there were almost no stations offering natural gas.

The CNG conversion was a disaster. It was the most expensive car I have ever owned. It cost a fortune to keep on the road. Whether or not the conversion caused a lot of the engine problems, I will never know. But GM would not cover the costs as the conversion put the car outside of the warranty. The CNG conversion folk said my problems were not their concern. The problem, they said, was with the GM engineering.

But, I do know the engineering of my early compressed natural gas system was poor. The engine burned through fuel at a phenomenal rate. I could fill the CNG tank in my trunk up to three times a day. And it took forever to fill, well five minutes, but it seemed like forever. And the car always reeked of natural gas.

I wish I had had an emission test done on that engine. My guess is it was emitting a lot of unburnt hydro carbons. I'm convinced it a fuel sucking, world polluting pig.

Today, Honda sells a fine CNG powered Civic but not in Ontario, Canada, where I live. It's no wonder they don't sell them here, almost all the stations that once sold CNG are closed. Here, in London, there is only one station left. There aren't a dozen public refueling stations in the whole province. As the technology has improved, the availability of the fuel has dried up.

Now, I'm retired and suffering from a serious heart condition. My car purchase in late summer may be my last kick at the green-car can. I wanted a Prius but my wife hated, absolutely hated, its look. Oh well, I had some nagging doubts about how green all those batteries would prove to be in the end. I bowed to her wishes and scratched the Prius off my list.

In the end, I settled on the latest Volkswagen Jetta TDI (turbo direct injection diesel). All I can say is, "Wow!" In the almost three months I have been driving the Jetta, my overall fuel consumption has averaged 41.3 mpg. (Those are imperial gallons; That's 34.4 mpg in U.S. gallons.) My most impressive number is 55.1 mpg achieved on a round-trip to Sarnia. It was mostly freeway driving but there was a fair amount of city driving in Sarnia on account of construction closing the freeway.

There was one car on my dream list that I had to drop from consideration early on: The Volvo V60 plug-in hybrid diesel. The car will not be released in Europe until late in 2012, and Volvo has announced that it will never be released in North American. Volvo believes the diesel component of this hybrid would kill United States sales. Pity.

I honestly believe that there are technological answers to North America's propensity to guzzle gas. The NA vehicle fleet gets better mpg today compared to historical numbers, but still, we could do much better.

Unfortunately, technology today costs money and with the economy only sputtering along, missing on a number of cylinders, buying a smooth running, technologically advanced car is not an affordable option for many. My TDI was not cheap. It is thousands more than a plain vanilla Jetta with a small gasoline engine.

The newest Mazda 3, when equipped with an optional Skyactiv-g engine, gets up to 55 mpg in Canada. And to get that great mileage, you will be asked to pay a great price.  Like my Jetta, the top-of-the-line Mazda 3 Skyactiv-g is paired with a new transmission. According to Road and Track, "the 2012 Mazda 3 with the new automatic is 21 percent more efficient that the car it replaces."

The 'g' tacked onto Skyactiv with a hyphen stands for gasoline. I understand that in Europe and in Japan Mazda offers a Skyactiv-d engine with the 'd' standing for diesel. R & T reports: ". . . withing 15 to 18 months, Mazda will have a diesel passenger vehicle on sale here in America. We're betting it's the CX-5 with Skyactiv-D."

If you are curious about my TDI and how it is performing, I'm writing a long term blog about owning a TDI. For more info on diesel vehicles, and hybrids, too, check out the HybridCars site. The U.S. government has a page devoted to diesel-powered cars.

3008 HYbrid4 from Pascal BUSOLIN on Vimeo.

In Europe, Peugeot recently released the 3008 HYbrid4, the world’s first diesel-fueled hybrid, returns up to 74 mpg according to some car reviewers. This car is economical – and four-wheel drive. In winter conditions, it can selectively apply the brake to the wheel with the least amount of grip for better control.

Why is this technology only seen on European roads?

For me, when it comes to delivering high fuel mileage wrapped in an incredibly stylish package, the Volvo V60 plug-in hybrid diesel promises to be the car to drool over. (I've posted a video.) Volvo claims 50 km of in-city-driving in the electric powered mode. I could do most of my driving without burning a drop of fuel! In Europe, although not in North America, hybrid diesels are somewhat common in large, public transit buses.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Doctors discover some patients believed vegetative may be unresponsive but not unaware

These patients are trapped in the limbo of the permanent vegetative state (PVS). Unresponsive to everything around them, they appear totally oblivious to the world. But are they?

A new study, led by researchers from The University of Western Ontario, suggests possibly one in five of these seemingly comatose patients may be, in fact, still conscious of the world around them. A report has been released detailing how doctors in three countries, on two continents, worked together to gain admittance into the isolated world of brain-damaged patients trapped in a faux vegetative state.

To read the whole story, please read my report in the Digital Journal.

Adrian Owen, left, Dir. Melvyn Goodale, Centre for Brain and Mind, Univ. of Western Ont.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Filing cabinets for people

I find many London apartment towers are simply filing cabinets for people. Don't get me wrong, lots of these buildings are fine places to live. I especially like the ones with large, indoor pools. Still, viewed from outside, there is little to see.

I did a post on the apartment complex across from The London Free Press on York Street. I recalled how the Homes section fawned over the concrete towers. I recalled how one reader took the paper to task for not recognizing East Leningrad architecture when confronting it.

With my post I ran a picture of a Leningrad apartment complex proving the reader was wrong; Leningrad architecture clearly trumps those towers. 

Since those York Street towers were built, quite a number of apartment towers have thrust their way into the skies above many London neighbourhoods. Some are more than concrete slabs, but many sport a cookie cutter look. The rule seems to be: Design once, build often.

In London one rarely feels an apartment building was constructed to take advantage of a site. One exception may be the apartment complex overlooking the Thames River on Riverside Drive at Wonderland Road.

Soon one of the most dramatic locations for an apartment building in London will be lost — Reservoir Hill. City staff are preparing geological and slope stability reports as they evaluate the site plan.

If the past is any indication, do not expect to be wowed. I live in southwest London and when I read the piece in the local paper calling the the Wonderland Road South commercial corridor a welcoming gateway into London, I groaned. 

I drive that stretch of road and it is neat and tidy with lots of box stores. It is reminiscent of suburban developments right across North America.

The paper talked of gateway apartment buildings for the area. This rang bells in my memory banks. Mississauga held a competition for a gateway apartment tower. I found a picture of the winner.

So, what will be built on Reservoir Hill? What beautiful structure will grace that historic site? Do you really believe the new tower will bring delight with sculptural creativity?

Check the following apartments from around the world.

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