Saturday, April 30, 2005

Free Speech ?

CBC News is reporting today that Calgary Police Chief Jack Beaton has reached a settlement with two people who were involved with websites critical of Beaton and his senior managers.
"In documents released Friday, Janette Vahey and Rene Fisher,– who aren't employees of the Calgary Police Service, agreed to pay $5,000 towards Beaton's legal costs, issue an apology and meet with the chief and up to 30 people he chooses to answer questions about the websites."
Their websites (both which have been taken down) said they spoke for officers who had been bullied or harassed, called Beaton a "rotten apple" and his administration "corrupt." Beaton claimed that the comments on the sites were defamatory, "mean-spirited" and "in poor taste."

Last fall, Beaton was quoted in the Calgary Herald as "vowing to take every measure necessary to get those behind the website." So Beaton used a rare civil legal move – an Anton Pillar order, in an effort to determine who was behind the websites. Beaton justified the rare action by claiming that he wanted to defend the police service and ensure the public had trust and confidence in its members.

An Anton Piller order is meant to be an extreme remedy when there are concerns that evidence is about to be destroyed. One blogger claimed that his sources told him the order was granted in late 2004 against a John and Jane Doe. When Vahey was finally served with the order and her computers removed - it meant she was further prohibited from speaking about the case or using her remaining computer to access email or even the internet.

Blogs
The sweeping gag order that prevented anyone from discussing the case was lifted yesterday, but as was the case with the Gomery publication ban, bloggers felt the need to get the word out to the public.

We all agree that blogging isn't true journalism, but it can be a powerful dissemination of information, reminiscent of early Ham Radio operators in communistic countries. Many of these blogs contain personal opinions, but are excellent references to the timeline and other details of the story :

Problems At Calgary Police Service - Angry In the Great White North

Who Says Canada is a Free Country ? - Precinct 333

Calgary Stampeding Free Speech?
- Captain's Quarters Blog

Alberta Police Services in Chaos - Prime Time Crime

Life In A Police Province - The Road Kill Diaries


Web Cache

Apparently one of websites was called code200.com, where "code 200" is the call for officer in trouble. Here are links to caches (permanent storage) of the formerly available websites :

Yahoo! cache of code200.com

Archive.org cache of standfirm.biz
"In May of 2003, a police constable made a formal complaint to the CPS Internal Affairs Unit, the office of the Chief, and the Alberta Human Rights Commission regarding several incidents of workplace bullying and harassment that he was subjected to between August 2001 and November 2002. This harassment included allegations of racism, verbal threats, the pointing of a loaded firearm at the complainant (and others), as well as various forms of administrative harassment and intimidation committed by supervisors, other police officers and members of management within his assigned district. The behaviors exhibited were of such severity that the complainant was forced to go on medical leave."
Free Speech

So, is free speech dead in Canada ? Are we no longer allowed to be critical of police for fear of retribution, removal of our all computers or victims of overzealous police stakeouts ?

There are avenues to complain about our police forces - mainly the Alberta Solicitor General. His department has been very busy in the last year with the photo radar review in Devon, Edmonton Police harassment of their commissioners and now the Calgary Police complaints.

I suggest sending a note to your MLA that police abuse of power is becoming a subject they need to reviewing with the Solicitor General and the Legislature.

Elected Members of the Assembly's website

Alberta Solicitor General's Law Enforcement review board

Friday, April 29, 2005

Letter to the Editor

Devon Dispatch published my letter to the editor today :
I would like to thank David Schaefer, the director of Devon's Community and Protective Services, for taking the time to talk with me regarding their photo radar program. I read that the program was due to start up again this spring and with the issues reported before, I decided to investigate further.

I made a request last week to the Town of Devon's office to obtain a copy of their Traffic Safety Plan through the Freedom of Information Act. The Alberta Solicitor General, the provider of photo radar guidelines for municipalities, requires the plan to “ensure that traffic safety is the primary reason for enforcement.” Mr. Schaefer promptly provided a copy and we spoke at length about our views and opinions of the program's raison d'etre and effectiveness. A copy of the plan, links to the Solicitor General's site and a review of my discussion with Mr. Schaefer are available at my weblog on the subject : http://devonphotoradar.blogspot.com

My major concern was not the playground areas or other residential lanes in town, but the perceived cash cow that the highway traffic had become. Mr. Schaefer and I discussed options to raise public awareness (besides photo radar) of the occurrences of collisions for the stretch of highway through Devon - considered to be the “worst in the province.” He was very receptive to my views and ideas about some traffic calming techniques that could be implemented – including left turn merge lanes and a traffic light in the center intersection. I was also assured that the photo radar revenue was not going into the town's operating budget.

We also discussed the lack of responsible guidelines from the Solicitor General for the speeding limit tolerance. While their guidelines call for zero tolerance above the posted limit, it really should be a percentage, which is what obviously what a normal operator would allow. For example, there is a general conception that RCMP highway patrols will allow you at least 10km/h above the posted highway limit. I cannot speak of what guidelines for tolerance Devon's program has implemented, but I believe the onus is on the general public to provide feedback to our MLAs regarding the Solicitor General's guidelines.

In all, my review of Devon's Traffic Safety Plan and the discussion with Mr. Schaefer removed most of my prejudices. The declining incidents of speeding shows that the public is very aware of the enforcement and with the drastic reduction of collisions in the area, the program could be called successful.

However, I still worry about the tourist traffic this year and their impressions of Devon after receiving a ticket two weeks after they return from their trip. One final concern is that other municipalities, specifically along Highway 2, may utilize the success of Devon's program to initiate their own program. But with the lack of regular commuter traffic on the major route between Alberta's largest cities, the rate of speeders may not decline as shown in Devon's program – resulting in a real cash cow if we or the Solicitor General are not diligent enough to stop it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The $100 PC

CNET spoke with AMD's CEO this week about technology trends and his visions for their chips in consumer electronics. He mentioned that he believes a $100 computer is not out of the question in a three-year time frame, even though the initial cost may have to be subsidized like cell phones are now with long term service contracts.

Now, we've heard talk of this holy grail recently from another high ranking exec - Steve Ballmer of Microsoft. "One way to stem piracy is to offer consumers in emerging countries a low-cost PC," Ballmer said. "There has to be a $100 computer to market in some of these countries."

AMD has even gone so far as to make available the 'Personal Internet Communicator' blueprint for how to build a PC for as little as $185. AMD says that three companies in India and Latin America have already signed up to market versions of the machine which would run a variant of Microsoft's Windows CE.

Similarly, Intel is investigating ways to make low-cost PCs available in Eastern Europe, India and other developing areas with the target retail price of as little as $199.

Deja Vu ?

You probably remember that Oracle pushed the notion of small, diskless "appliances" that included a monitor, keyboard, network connection and not much else. The idea was that all of the brains (OS and applications) were pushed down to network computers from server computers running Oracle's database and communications software. Oracle was going to make its profits by selling the server software to hosting companies, Internet service providers, governments and application service providers.

Other companies, including Gateway, Sony and the former Compaq Computer, introduced cheap Net-surfing machines four to five years ago, and all exited the market as the cost, and profitability, of PC hardware plummeted.

Now, the modern version of the network computer concept comes from Sun Microsystems, which is pushing its Linux-based 'Java Desktop System' (JDS) as a low cost way to provide computers with OS and applications to people in China. The company signed a deal last year to provide JDS to millions of consumers. Sun is also aiming the program at India, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and other countries.

Sun's ultimate goal is make Java/JDS ubiquitous not just on PCs, but on cell phones, set-top boxes, game devices, cars - you name it. As with Oracle's original network computer concept, Sun expects the big money to be in server based software and hardware.

Creating a low cost PC isn't an exercise in altruism for these companies though. At stake is an opportunity to gain a foothold in what could be the biggest technology market opportunity.

But, if you want a $100 PC, you may have to move to the developing world.

Software As A Commodity

Consumers will perceive their PC software as commodity when applications are simple - easy to use, readily available from different vendors for little cost (or free) and the major complexity is masked from them.

In other words - if they can get a similar product from another vendor for free or cheaper, they will use that. Microsoft originally gave away Internet Explorer to knock out the competition with Netscape Navigator. Now, the ever increasing use of open source products like the Firefox browser means that the user perception of free software may come back to haunt Microsoft.

But will Microsoft take additional steps toward making low cost PCs a reality by sacrificing some of its fat profit margins on Windows? Microsoft currently charges PC suppliers (for example Dell) anywhere from $50 to $75 per computer to license Windows, according to analysts' estimates. While Microsoft points out that the price hasn't changed much in years, hardware costs have been plunging. So the cost of Windows as a percentage of a PC's cost has actually grown significantly. Perhaps Ballmer believes that if the PC costs $100, the total cost won't be perceived as much and his revenue/profits will continue to roll in for each new PC sold.

Of course, the opposite perception may happen. How would you like to find out that the tires on the new car you just bought were half of the total price !? Maybe you should get the dealer to scotch guard the seats and apply their undercoat treatment also !?


At an Auction near you...


I have to point out that the $100 PC has been available for many years now, and is perfectly usable for the most common tasks. Get a PC from eBay that's a few steps behind the latest and greatest. Sure, it's way too slow to run typical modern Microsoft bloatware with their latest Service Pack release (SP2), but with minimal effort, you could get any number of linux distributions or even Sun's JDS to work on it...

Monday, April 25, 2005

Epson C80 aka Boatanchor

Our printer, an Epson C80, died this weekend. Of course, we just bought all the ink for it. I even remarked to the clerk that a new printer would be cheaper than buying ink as I could get a few bucks for the old one on eBay...

Well, we installed the new ink and now it's lights just blink (two red and one green). No paper jam, nothing. The Epson utilities advise us to "remove the paper jam and restart it - contact the dealer if the problem persists." It's lovely three button interface doesn't help much either : Did you push the button ? How about now ?

The last time we had a printer that required service (4 years ago), I took it in when it was "skipping" and making an awful sound. It cost $50 to fix and a month after that, something else went wrong with it. The shop told me it needed a new board, which could cost $100+ to fix. I told them to "keep it." The C80 was the replacement for that forgotten model.

So, I was determined to try and find the issue with this printer. I searched and found sites that discussed resetting Epson's ink counters on FixYourPrinter.com - I even downloaded and ran a utility called SSC Service that will let you freeze the ink counters. This allows you to get around the constant nagging as the ink gets low or when it refuses to print even though there is ink left in the cartridges! I did run across a humorous page about the Epson's insatiable thirst for ink.

But each time I tried anything, the utilities claimed I needed to "contact the dealer." Given the previous mentioned charges for the last printer I think I'll give this one away on FreeCycle and buy a new C86 for $139.99 (before rebate). The ink cartridges cost $82 by the way.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Postcard Secrets

The guy who never washes his hands before leaving the bathroom has confessed.

You may have heard about Postcard Secrets. Review it now before it goes mainstream or Oprah hears about it...

Thursday, April 21, 2005

This day in NHL History

2005 Nothing. Natta

2004 Ed Belfour (and the Leafs) knock the Ottawa Senators out of the playoffs in Game 7

2003 America Online whizkid and Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis watches his team get knocked out of the playoffs by the Tampa Bay Lightning after they blow a 2 goal lead. (Buy a team, give out huge contracts to big names, plan the Stanley Cup parade, ... Turns out pro hockey isn’t as simple as building a dot-com is it ?)

1999 Steve Yzerman scores his fourth playoff hat trick

1992 Mark Messier scores 2 shorthanded goals in a playoff game (shares record)

1991 Klima downs the Kings in overtime

1991 Ray Bourque became Boston's all-time playoff points leader breaking previous record of 102 points held by Phil Esposito

1988 Gretzky scores in overtime over the Flames. Oilers that year defeat Bruins for their 4th cup, losing only 2 games in the playoffs - possibly the strongest team ever from Edmonton. Gretzky was traded to the Kings that summer.

1980 Vincent Lecavalier was born (Tampa Bay Lightning)

1965 Ed Belfour was born

1951 Bill Barilko scored arguably the most famous goal in Maple Leaf history. The legacy of Barilko's famous goal is forever immortalized in the Tragically Hip song : "Fifty Mission Cap"


Resources/Links

http://www.thisdaythatyear.com/apr/sport21.htm
http://soudog.tripod.com/historydates.html
http://www.localcolorart.com/search/encyclopedia/April_21
http://www.sharkspage.com
http://www.puckupdate.com
http://www.hockeydraftcentral.com
http://barilko.penaltybox.com

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Oklahoma City Bombing - 10 years later


Murrah Federal Building Bombing

At 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995, a bomb ripped through the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, burying dozens of people in its rubble. That was ten years ago and was at that time the worst terrorist act ever committed in the United States. One hundred sixty-eight people lost their lives and it is estimated that several hundred thousand people in the close knit Oklahoma community knew someone who was killed or injured in the bombing.

The following is a timeline tracing my experience with this event and my coming to grips with the fact that I was supposed to be in the building that morning. I haven't talked about it this much before, as I never wanted to belittle the tragic outcome of the victims, their families or others who may have been injured and managed to get out of the building safely that day.

Social Security Bureaucracy

I had been working and living in Oklahoma City for several months by April of 1995. The project I was working on was just wrapping up and it was becoming apparent that my involvement was still required for months to come. So I convinced my wife that we needed to move to Oklahoma City from Calgary that spring. The Human Resources (HR) manager of my employer prompted me to get my Social Security Number (SSN) at the beginning of April or “I would not be getting paid in May!”

So I went to the Murrah Federal Building one afternoon in the second week of April. I filed out the forms I thought I needed to apply for a SSN under my Trade NAFTA (TN) Visa and proceeded to wait in line. After about an hour, I realized the agents weren't going to go through the several people in front of me much more quickly than the two or three they had completed since I queued up. I could see the coworker who agreed to chauffeur me fidgeting in her truck parked outside the building. So I decided to leave and come back another day...

Tuesday April 18th, 1995

It was the usual day at work with non stop meetings and reviews with coworkers on the product that we were trying to deliver in May.

Towards the end of the day, I received a call from the HR manager in the Houston office : “Steve, I didn't receive your fax with your SSN for our payroll records!” I tried to explain the pressure with the deadlines we were under for May 1st and the impossible wait at the Social Security office, but I finally gave in to her pleading to go queue up again. I promised I would be there tomorrow morning – early, after the Social Security office opened so I wouldn't have to wait for hours and the application for my SSN would get completed.

9:00am Wednesday, April 19th, 1995

I was in the CFO's office of the company that I was outsourced to for my computer design/programming skills. The CFO was the major stakeholder or client that specified the billing system. He called me the previous evening and requested that we meet “first thing tomorrow morning with the other team leads." Of course, his urgency trumped my HR manager's request and I was sure we would get the SSN thing worked out soon enough.

Half awake, I leaned back in my chair - against the large window that overlooked the vast parking lot, expansive grass plains and far off in the distance, Oklahoma City's downtown buildings.

The window I was leaning against moved slightly with a *whump*! I quickly sat up in my chair and gave the window a scowl. We glanced at each other with a “wtf was that?” look and then quickly decided that it must have been the construction on the floor above us.

After the meeting ended, somebody poked their head in with the news - “something has exploded downtown!” We stared out the window and noticed a large black, almost mushroom cloud (more like a thundercloud) hanging over the downtown area. A few more rumours circulated and the CFO started up his tiny tv that he kept in his office to watch the news when he worked late.

Nobody had a TV crew downtown yet, but reports were coming in : "that a building has exploded and there is a lot of chaos with a lot of injuries – no confirmed deaths, yet."

We were a little shocked, but unsure of what has happened. Perhaps a gas leak ? A coworker made a joke about my failed trip to the Social Security office and that I might be the unabomber. I snapped at him that I didn't think that was funny and he shouldn't repeat that, even in jest. I realized later that he didn't know the scope of the explosion (none of us did at that time) and he was really just trying to lighten the mood.

We went back to work and I mentioned the news reports to a couple more people. I was told that a few coworkers rushed off as their spouses “work downtown in the federal building!”

Noon Wednesday, April 19th, 1995

My roommate and I decided to stop by the apartment on the way to lunch. We had a large screen TV that the company (well, the CFO – it is who you know sometimes) provided for us to use on weekend stays away from home. The news was on every channel, and not just local. They were showing the view(s) from a helicopter - many shots of destruction and the news anchor claimed they have mixed reports, "but it appears to have been a large terrorist bomb that was detonated outside the building. The Murrah Federal Building has almost completely collapsed and they are searching hard for survivors trapped in the rubble."

The Murrah building was a very distinct building. It had a wall of glass on the front (north side) and a very large entrance with columns that went to the top of the building. I probably will never forget the chill that most people describe as 'spine chilling' as I realized that was the building I was in a week ago!

We watched for as long was we could – before we had to return to work. I tried to phone Calgary (home) a couple more times. "All the lines are busy" claimed the automated operator's voice...

3:00 p.m. Wednesday April 19th, 1995

The HR manager from Houston “finally got through” to my work phone. She claimed that she was trying franticly to reach me at the office, my apartment, my boss's cell phone & pager – anybody that knew where I was! The last time we talked, I promised her that I would be in that building “first thing when they opened.” She told me that my boss claimed that : "Steve never gets up before 9am, there's no way he would have been there when it happened." That was almost funny, considering the circumstances (and that it came from a phb).

It didn't really sink into my brain at that point still that I was supposed to be there. I don't remember mentioning it to anybody (except my roommate).

5:00 p.m. Wednesday April 19th, 1995

After many tries, I finally got through to Edmonton on the phone – my wife was visiting her family. I told her the news and asked if she saw it on the TV yet. She claimed she heard about it, but when somebody mentioned it (“Isn't your husband in downtown Oklahoma?”) - she said she knew that I was on the outskirts of the city, far out of harm's way. I explained that I should/could have been there at the time of the incident. I don't think she understood what I was trying to tell her.

The rumour in the office at this time was that our coworker's newlywed wife was missing...

Saturday April 22nd, 1995

I was supposed to have flown back to Calgary this weekend. I can't remember now if the reason I didn't leave was because of the bombing, project deadlines or the schedule for us to move from Calgary to Oklahoma.

May 1st, 1995

We were on the road in our u-haul with all our possessions (not that many at the time). It was a good adventure for us – but I do remember explaining to my wife that the city she was moving to felt like “the city of death.” I regret that remark now. It was more reflective of the close community that was feeling the pain of friends, coworkers and family that had lost somebody in the building.

May 23rd, 1995

Five weeks after the bombing – the building was demolished. I remember hearing that they never found our coworker's wife's body and a few others in the rubble. It was determined that the building was too unstable to leave standing any longer. It was not a healing day for the city.

News reports released names of the dead and details that nobody who was in the Social Security office survived (It was the closest agency/office to the blast).

My wife and I had escaped for a vacation to Florida – we didn't tell many people that we were there vacationing from Oklahoma. We didn't have accents/drawls (yet), so many figured we were on holiday from Canada.

8:55 a.m. Friday April 19th, 1996

The first remembrance ceremony was being held at the site that had been scraped of all existence of the building destroyed one year earlier by Timothy McVeigh (the trial is just getting underway).

The announcer recounted many stories of heroism, including the good samaritan nurse
Rebecca Anderson, who died after getting hit by debris in the aftermath. She was passing by with her husband and two kids - when she decided that she had to stop and help. This is just one of many tragic stories being told this week. I remember avoiding all news on the topic, as it was too painful...

As will become the tradition of future remembrance ceremonies at the site, 168 seconds of silence was followed by the reading of the names of those who were killed. By the time they reached the minute marking the event that changed everybody's life – I was already on the road to work. I figured that with this timing of my 15 minute commute, I won't have to endure the ceremony.

9:03 a.m. Friday April19th, 1996

There was literally nothing on the radio as I drove to work. All stations were broadcasting the live feed from the site and the ceremonies had just reached the 168 seconds of silence for each of those that were killed. I was on the interstate/freeway that was part of my usual commute and of course, the traffic was pretty light that morning. During the moments of silence you could hear the wind in the microphone and the odd cough or stifled sob from the attendees.

A baby's wail came over the radio. It instantly reminded me of the now famous picture of a firefighter holding what was obviously the first child victim taken out of the rubble. I remembered that 19 children at the daycare were killed, including the one in the picture. My wife and I were starting to talk that spring about having a family ...

I had to pull over.

Now, I don't remember if I have told anyone about what happened on my commute that morning, but it was a life changing event. I realized that Oklahoma would heal and what I saw wasn't going to be reported in the media – CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS or HNN! Even the most popular evangelist of the area was not going to be able to promote or even recount the emotion of the event that happened next.

Almost everybody on the interstate had pulled over also. People got out of their cars, head slumped slightly and proceeded to hug each other on the side of the interstate. For several minutes there was no moving traffic on a normally very busy highway.

Fall 1996

My wife's parents came to visit and we agreed to take them to the site. There wasn't much to see other than a large chain link fence covered with children's drawings of thoughts of remembrance around the perimeter of where the building used to be. The buildings across the road were still damaged and there was some rubble in the parking lot to the north.

We touched the elm tree that somehow survived. There was a weird hushed tone about the place that made me very uneasy and an indescribable 'rumbling' that I could feel internally that seemed to get louder/stronger the longer we stayed there. I attributed it to anxiety - as it was the first time I had stood here since the week before the bombing.

11:01 a.m. Tuesday June 10th, 1997

Richmond, Virginia : My first daughter was born. This magical moment really had nothing to do with that eventful day in Oklahoma City – but it has everything to do with the fact that I wasn't in the Murrah building that morning. At 32, I was a 'dad' now ...

8:14 a.m. Monday June 11th, 2001

Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who killed 168 people in the worst act of domestic terrorism to date in the U.S., was put to death by lethal injection. I remember hoping that the families of the victims had found some closure.


Resources

http://okcbombing.org/facts.htm

http://www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org/

http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial9/mcveigh/index.htm


http://www.okcbombing.org/images/firefighter.jpg

In one of the most dramatic images of the day, firefighter Chris Fields carries Baylee Almon, who later died of her injuries. AP photographer Charles H. Porter IV won the Pulitzer Prize for this photograph. (AP photo)

http://www.okcbombing.org/images/murrah2.jpg
The north wall of the Alfred Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was blown off by explosives packed into a rented truck. (AP photo)


Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Devon's Traffic Safety Plan

A printable copy (PDF) of Devon's Traffic Safety Plan (TSP) is available here .

I received these pages during my discussion with David Schaefer - director of 'Community and Protective Services' in Devon. He met with me after I formally requested a copy of the plan as per Alberta's Freedom of Information Act (FOIP).

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Speeding :
A Photo Radar Discussion with the Director of Devon's Program

As I mentioned in previous posts1, I wanted to see the Traffic Safety Plan (TSP) that the Town of Devon created before the Alberta Solicitor General would authorize2 use of photo radar on a major Alberta highway through the town.

Well, as you probably can tell by the tone of my previous blogs, my personal view was that the use of photo radar on the major highway through Devon wasn't warranted. But I wanted to withhold final judgment or a long soapbox rant until I reviewed all the facts. It may hubris of me to state that nobody except myself and the Alberta Solicitor General had requested or reviewed Devon's TSP before today, but that's pretty much what has occurred.

A copy of Devon's Traffic Safety Plan will be posted soon.

Speeding Discussion

I had Tuesday off, so I was able to return David Schaefer's voice mail from the previous evening. Mr. Schaefer is the director of 'Community and Protective Services' in Devon and led the implementation of their photo radar program. He told me I could pick up the copy of the TSP report that morning at the front desk. So when I dropped by their office to pick it up - 'Dave' asked me if I would sit down and discuss the program. He was willing and open to discussing their operation, my concerns and he also voiced his own personal opinions or experiences regarding speeding.

Now, I'm not a journalist by any stretch and this isn't journalism. I highly recommend that you review the plan, contact3 him or the Devon office by email/phone and voice your concerns if you have any.

Here are some of the highlights of our conversation on the controversial program that is due to start up again. I won't try to quote him verbatim for fear of misquoting somebody who obviously made time in his busy schedule for a random taxpayer. Hopefully the major points are all covered here, but I will offer a forum to him or others for comment/rebuttal if requested.

In early 2004, once the issue with a very high collision rate on the highway was identified by the town council, there was a review with the local RCMP and other stakeholders. They decided to follow the Solicitor General's guidelines to implement the photo radar program, but found a few ambiguities in the policies. This included a zero tolerance level that is often discussed regarding speeding violations. We all assume or know that RCMP will give at least 10-15km/hr above the posted limit before they will pull us over. Dave told me that he had to clarify with the province that their guidelines were indeed "zero tolerance" - meaning anybody who is over the posted limit gets a moving violation. My neighbor, an Edmonton police officer, mentioned that he often would give at least 16km/hr over the limit when he was policing traffic 'years ago.' I cannot confirm if all tickets issued by Devon utilized the zero tolerance, just that it was the directive given by the province's Solicitor General.

Devon's TSP plan speaks of the targets that came out of the review with the RCMP. I am a firm believer in traffic stops for seatbelt and other violations as statistics show that major arrests have been made of criminals with outstanding warrants. I was glad to see that the photo radar program was not replacing their traffic policing effort.

We agreed that public knowledge of areas of high collision locations has to improve. He told me of the usual protestors that try to notify people of the impending speed trap, something which he felt actually produced the desired end result - people slowed down. I have found that there is no ill will felt towards people that try to perform this 'duty', other than concerns for distracting drivers or putting themselves in a dangerous situation (pedestrian on the highway carrying a sign).

During the first week that the program was implemented they had a very high rate of speeding : 1000 incidents per 8 hour day. After review of the initial tickets issued for that first week, they decided that they had better wait for a week or two for the dust to settle to give people a chance to adjust to the new policy. They decided also to step up their publicity of the program through signage and notices in the town's local paper.

I was also assured that the money collected went into trust and would be used in the future for one time purchases to improve facilities or policing. I had worried that it might go into supporting operations and as the revenue decreased with less speeders being ticketed, the famous month end blitz of radar traps that we see in Edmonton could be instigated. Edmonton Police have said their is no quota for photo radar - but that organization is suffering from lack of direction and credibility to make such a claim. But that is another discussion.

The input I gave about public relations of the issue with speeding on the highway was welcomed. I suggested a sign with 'your speed' be implemented - we had both seen that used in the city somewhat successfully. We also discussed a merge lane for left turning traffic and other 'traffic calming' improvements - including a traffic light in the middle intersection or access route into Devon that could help regulate/control traffic flows. Dave assured me also that a plan was forthcoming on changes to the intersection between highway 19 and 60 - south of Devon that causes major congestion and frustration for right turning traffic. We both felt that this could be the cause of some aggressive driving tendencies to pass drivers to make up 'lost time' as they approach Devon.

But it appears funding will have to be forthcoming before major changes occur to the highway. Dave assured me that they are lobbying the MLAs and government agencies hard on improvements to the highway as traffic has doubled since the last traffic survey was done by the province in 1996.

Summary

I greatly appreciate Mr. Schaefer's time and effort today. I believe many of my misconceptions or prejudice on the program in Devon were changed as a result of the talk I had with him. The review I did with him has shown me that as the leader of the program, he has done his diligence and the end result was a drastic reduction in collisions on the highway and in town.

However, it's the major highways in Alberta that pass by other jurisdictions that I worry about now. With the zero tolerance guidelines from the Solicitor General and the possibility that Leduc and other municipalities are looking to start up a photo radar program, they could quite easily could become a cash cow. The next municipality will most likely use Devon's collision reduction success as leverage to start their own program. But with higher traffic volumes and less commuter or local traffic on other busy highways between Alberta's major cities, the number of tickets distributed could take months to level off.

Yes, there is more to come...


Resources

1 Town of Devon - Community and Protective Services Staff Contact information

2 Alberta Solicitor General
The Solicitor General authorizes and provides guidelines for municipalities to hire special constables that can generate photo radar tickets.

Previous Related Blogs

Devon Photo Radar - Intro Sunday, April 10, 2005

Request for a copy of Devon's Traffic Safety Report Thursday, April 07, 2005




Sunday, April 10, 2005

Request for a copy of Devon's Traffic Safety Plan

During my research into Devon's controversial photo radar program, I came across an interesting statement on the Alberta Solicitor General's website1 :
During the time the Town of Devon deployed photo radar they were able to reduce collisions by 80 per cent and greatly impacted the number of drivers who failed to heed the speed limits.

The use of the 80% reduction statistic in collisions seems to imply that speeding was a factor in all the previous collisions - police do not currently have any way to effectively track if speeding was the direct cause of an accident (with the noted exception of excessive speeding). Such a round number without any periodicity raises some cynical responses also. I felt the need to seek out more information regarding their claim and determine for myself if the reduction in collisions was because of the photo radar program.

However, I won't dispute that they were successful in reducing the number of those drivers that "failed to heed the speed limits." After the program was suspended, the photo radar firm continued to collect data on the traffic through Devon. Their data showed that people like me were more diligent in maintaining their speed. A $150 fine for going 10-15km/hr over the limit in their 70km/hr zone past the town has a way of doing that to your normal driving habits.

On Thursday afternoon I stopped by the Town of Devon's office to inquire about obtaining a copy of their 'Traffic Safety Plan' through the Freedom of Information Act. They would have had to prepare the report for the Solicitor General for initial authorization (April 2004) or recommencement (Fall 2004) of the program.

Unfortunately David Schaefer, the director of 'Community and Protective Services', was away at lunch. I left my name, the request and cell phone number with the executive assistant and she assured me that David would be in touch regarding my request. After I didn't hear back, I decided to email them this weekend to clarify my request.

I will probably follow up again next week with a phone call. I would like to ask a few more questions about the program, but given my lack of journalistic skills, I think I will just stick with the original request. Hopefully I will be able to post it here soon, so that we all can review the report and ascertain if we think the photo radar program is really warranted on the highly traveled highway through town.


Subject:Request for a copy of Devon's Traffic Safety Plan
To: David Schaefer

Mr. Schaefer;

I dropped by the town office today (Thursday) and I believe it was Christine I spoke with about obtaining a copy of the town's "Traffic Safety Plan" that was submitted last year to the Alberta Solicitor General as part of their Special Constable program's "authorization to enforce traffic safety on a primary highway."

I believe this information was submitted either at the beginning of Devon's photo radar program or as part of the audit/review performed during the time it was suspended. It appears that the Solicitor General's latest press releases about this subject (March 1st, 2005) are quoting statistics from your reports.

I left my name, number and a message that I would like to obtain a copy of this information. If you wish, you may email the reports to this address.

I was going to make a "Freedom of Information" request to the Solicitor General for the information regarding statistics, planning, etc that Devon submitted for approval and/or review of the Special Constable photo radar program, but they suggested that I contact Devon's administrative office first. However, if you require it, I can make that formal request to you for the information as per the Alberta Government's Guidelines in their Freedom of Information Act.

Thank you for your time, your response is greatly appreciated. I hope this email clarifies my request.




1
The Solicitor General authorizes and provides guidelines for municipalities to hire special constables that can generate photo radar tickets.

Update


The traffic safety plan I received is available here

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Devon Photo Radar - Intro



Nobody likes to receive a photo radar ticket. Call it a speeding tax, a deterrent to excessive speed or a way to increase awareness of a high collision area – everybody curses that ticket found in the mail two to three weeks after their picture was taken for going five or more kilometers per hour over the posted limit.

This blog will review the issues with Devon's controversial photo radar program.

Devon, a small town on the south west corner of Edmonton, started it's photo radar program in mid-spring of 2004. The town council outsourced the enforcement to another firm who, as per the Alberta Solicitor General's guidelines, trained a “special constable” and began taking pictures of speeders' license plates after posting several photo radar signs and notices in the local paper.

This controversial program was implemented not only on the streets of Devon, but also on Highway 60, a well traveled bypass route around the city. Of course, many speeders – including myself, were ticketed in the first few months in the zone that drops from 100km/h to 70! Soon we all learned to slow down on the highway to avoid the punishing fines and the program was declared a 'success' by the town council.

But there were and still are issues:
  • Devon had to cancel the program for the latter half of 2004 as there was a controversy regarding the training of the radar operator.

  • The public has began to question the program also after recent disclosure revealed that Devon collected several hundred thousand dollars per month while the program was in operation.

  • Recent council meetings show that there are no plans for changes to the highway through the townsite.

  • Alberta's Solicitor General, the overseer of Devon's photo radar, granted authorization for the restart of the program in the spring of 2005 – But there has been no concrete data from the Solicitor General as to the program's effectiveness or how well Devon followed the guidelines for photo radar enforcement.
So, is it just a "cash cow?" Should photo radar be allowed on Alberta's highways ? Will the money be used for safety or other improvements to the highway through Devon ?

More to come ...

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Update - 20050406




Calgary
I was in Calgary this week. Ah, the land of conspicuous consumption - large chrome bush guards on 4X4s (that will never see dirt) and a laser cosmetic clinic on every corner. But I do miss that city, even though it amazes me that their "planners" (for lack of better term) continue to build office and condominium skyscrapers with hardly a though for parking.

Next Contract
Did I forget to mention that I found another contract at a "major telecom company in Canada from Alberta-BC?" I was prepared to sit out April and hunt down jobs in Calgary as well as Edmonton (which is why I was in Calgary this week...) But a resume I sent out on the last day at the DOE contract got a hit for a match to a Sr. Java Developer opportunity. So, by Monday afternoon, I had a job offer to consider. Just signed the papers today - Wednesday and I start next Monday - downtown Edmonton @ a large "plaza." So much for any time off, eh?

The Publication Ban

Want to drive some traffic to your blog that you just created a couple weeks ago ? Place a link in it to a highly talked about, but unspecified blog in the U.S. that nobody in Canada is supposed to know about or read because of a publication ban (in Canada). My sitemeter shows that some visitors to 'That's My Stapler' has been referred from several blogs about blogs regarding this unmentioned site :
  • BlogsCanada - "Multi-partisan political punditry"

  • Technorati - Search results using the American blogger's url

So, Canada's attorney general is "probing possible breaches of a publication ban set up to protest explosive testimony at the Adscam inquiry." They claim they're looking for websites (Canadian I assume) that are reproducing excerpts of the latest testimony and providing a link to the U.S. blog that "features more extensive coverage of the hearing.

I personally won't comment on that anymore than I already have in my "We all want to know" posting. I have not listed any excerpts of the inquiry. You, if you wish to oppose the ban, may seek out that information - I followed the court transcripts during the Bernardo, Simpson and McVeigh trials. However, if anybody makes a formal request (without threats of persecution or other), I will consider removing my link to the American blog. But I'm sure by then the genie will be out of the bottle...

Sexiest on Hill
I have to comment on the report that a friend of mine - Rona Ambrose, now an MP, has been named sexiest MP on the hill. Rona doesn't deserve sexist drivel like this. I shouldn't have to point out she is one of the brightest (young) stars on the hill and got there by her worth (not money - like the 'best dressed MP'). But I digress. Review this article and then her website that includes her accomplishments. I feel she represents our area very well. The article quotes that "rookie Edmonton MP Rona Ambrose, was rendered speechless after learning she was named Sexiest Female MP." She was right to not even offer a "no comment" comment. I was speechless for a minute also - but I can comment on it here!

Monday, April 04, 2005

Gomery Publication Ban - We all want to know

About a dozen years ago, while I was in the U.S., there was a very big sensational trial for Carla Homulka and her husband Paul Bernardo. Carla was charged with two counts of manslaughter relating to the deaths of two teenage girls. Paul was subsequently charged with murder. The case had received substantial media attention and the Crown was concerned about the impact the publication of evidence from Carla's trial might have on the jury for Paul's subsequent murder trial.

My company of course had internet access, for emailing the Calgary and Houston offices. But we also had the wonderful new Netscape Navigator(c) webbrowser. I soon discovered that myself and other 'websurfers' were reading news that the publication ban wouldn't allow in Canada. A few emails proved that my coworkers and friends that were online were also reading the news in Canada.

Anyway, it appears that the Gomery inquiry is still is living in 1993 and their publication ban has all but fallen apart, given the amount of exposure that an American blogger has gotten. Using his anonymous contact in the Montreal courtroom, he has posted information that we Canadians are not supposed to know (yet).

Captain's Quarters blog

On CTV News last night, their reporters were clearly enjoying the opportunity to undermine the ban, ever so casually dropping the name of the site where Canadians can find the latest scoop on the "explosive, damaging" testimony. While I got the link sent to me in email, it wouldn't take long to find it using google, given the headline, the blog name and a few keywords...

It will be interesting to see if any American media outlets create any special news updates. During the Bernardo trial, I remember gasping when the U.S. stations fed to Canada were blanked out with a statement about the ban on a blue screen (background).

Last but not least, I read today that the Montreal newspaper 'La Presse' is hoping its readers won’t notice the glaring Gomery omission on its part. Nowhere does their paper mention anything about the roadshow developments. Well, there is one explanation: Power Corp, which owns La Presse, is run by the Desmarais family and André Desmarais is married to France Chrétien. Yes, that would be Jean Chrétien’s daughter!

Enjoy.

Mr. Mom

Today's blog is a diary of my weekend of being Mr. Mom with my two daughters (3 and 8 years old). Names and relevant details have been removed to protect the innocent - because I have a "memory like a sieve" and things didn't turn out as planned...

Friday
11:00 am
"By the way, we need cat food and bread - I made a list for you!"

"Yup, uh-huh. Yes dear. No dear. Of course dear" - the canned responses to my wife's last minute reminders when I'm not really listening. She's fussing and running around as she prepares for her first weekend away in a year.

5:00 pm So far so good. Cat, Plants, Kids - check. All alive. But my oldest has an earache from swimming this morning. I guess she can walk it off or watch TV until it goes away (where did she say that medicine was ?). The laundry is done - check. Well, okay - my wife did the washing machine load and I did remember to remove the lint from the dryer lint screen before I put the clothes into the dryer (At least I thought I removed the lint from the screen).

6:00 pm Dinner @ Dairy Queen. The kids find a new friend in the closed off area with the slides. The new friend's aunt and uncle remark how well the kids get along and what a saving grace this place is! They hope out loud that we live nearby...

7:30 pm Put the kids to bed. They appear tired, but my youngest wakes up crying a couple times later in the night - I figure it's probably because of the "mom's not home" nerves or I didn't sing "itsy bitsy spider" right (again).

Midnight Before I went to bed, I left out the Post AlphaBits(c) cereal, bowls and spoons - knowing that my kids will be up before 6 am...

Day 2 of my internment

Saturday
6:15 am
I heard them in the kitchen. By the time I got up, had my shower and came out - they were almost done their cereal. But instead of milk, they mixed it with peanut butter!?

9:00 am Kids, Cat, Plants - crap! The cat ran out of food and started eating the plants (I forgot to check the list). Speaking of crap, the cat litter needs changing. I ask the eldest child to remind me later about it.

9:30 am We go to town for my morning coffee, the paper and if I remember - Cat food and bread (and a stick of butter?). I succumb to the pleading for treats @ the convenience store - and they agree that they can eat them later "if they behave." The older one picks the most sugar filled candy she can find. At least it'll be nice outside and they can run around.

By noon of day 2, I feel like the kids have driven me to the edge to where I've tripped over it and fell down the cliff... "Stop slamming your (bedroom) doors!" "Stop tying your sister to the post!" "Don't jump on the couch!" "Stop fighting over that!" ...

Rocks in my pocket....

Noon We go for a walk after they eat their Kraft Dinner(c) and treats/sugar. On the way my youngest lets me know that she has "rocks in her pockets!" I reply with "and you don't know what to do with them? 1" An oblivious 'whatever dad' look is returned... I later learned from her that "horses have ears like cats - they're triangles daddy and they can turn them towards the sound they hear!" Now I feel like Forest Gump with his son.

1:00 pm I move my miata from it's storage spot to the garage. I let the kids sit in it "for a while." ... "Don't slam the doors!" "Don't touch that..." I'm starting to sound like my dad when we used to play in his '68 Dodge Charger !? *sigh*

4:00 pm They're starting to fight more now, but my voice is holding out.

I let them do some painting for a while. Some turned out pretty neat - a folding craft idea to produce butterflies... except they set them down to dry on my papers with notes about my job interview for Monday afternoon. But they were being very creative!? *sigh*

You fed the baby chili? 2

5:00 pm
I burnt the grilled cheese sandwiches. That never happened before when I cooked them when my wife was home!? My wife phones and tells me that her mom may not be able to take the kids tonight after all... I try to explain to them why they may not go for a sleepover. (Their great-grandma had a stroke). We get into a discussion on how we don't live forever and "people get old." They start to ignore my explanation and go back to watching little house on the prairie.

6:30 pm
Received a call from Grandma and "they're home now - I could bring the kids over." We run around trying to make sure all the toys, pillows, rubber boots and stuffed toys are packed.

7:00 pm
Drop the kids off at the grandparents' house. My father-in-law says that his mom is "okay." They ask how it's going. I sheepishly tell them about the peanut butter & cereal incident - but they have had supper. The licorice comes out (yeah, grandma!). The youngest lays down as soon as her bed is ready...

8:00 pm
Go home, watch TV, drink beer, and other stuff that guys do when left on their own that I won't discuss here (you women can keep guessing, unless you have a nanny-cam or NetNanny). I realize that the house is too quiet and I crank up the tunes...

You weren't listening.

Sunday
7:15 am
Phone rings. I start to realize that it's really 8:15am and I didn't change the clocks last night. Grandma says that the youngest is wheezing a bit and she could use her ventilator/mask that vapourizes the steroid medicine for her asthma - she asks me if I could bring it over asap!? (Grandma has been through all of this when my wife was diagnosed with asthma at/near the same age as our youngest daughter).

9:00 am
Can't find the ventilator. Found the medicine and fanned out from there. I remember my wife mentioning that it was by the, the ... dang. Where's a hypnotist when you need one? Maybe I need to call a CSI 3 !?

9:30 am
Call Grandma with news that I can't find it. She offers to come over and look.

10:00 am
Got my coffee and paper from town - picked up Grandma and we look around the house for the ventilator. No luck. We both figure my daughter should be fine until mom comes home.

11:00 am
Drop Grandma off, say hi to the kids and then go back to my place to read the paper.

1:00 pm
Read/Send email with ex-coworker. We compare notes of our last day at the Dept of Energy (see previous posts).

2:00 pm
I start this blog after watching the NCAA basketball games recorded on my PVR from Saturday. I realized that I forgot most of the timeline for this blog (where does it go?).

3:00 pm
I hook up sitemeter.com to see how much traffic this blog gets - just curious. I get 5 hits in the first 20 minutes. Huh ? It appears that most (today) are coming from the "next blog" link on the top right hand side on blogger.com blogs. Interesting. Blogger probably put my blog near the top of a next (random) blog queue when I updated it. I'm such a geek...

4:00 pm
Time to go to Grandma's for dinner (roast beef!) and see if the kids are still alive.

4:10 pm
Realize the house is a mess. Did the dishes, swept the floor, made the bed, got the dry clothes out of the dryer, cleaned the TV room, cleaned up the beer cans, looked for the cat (!?), put the dishes away, watered the plants (the ones that still looked alive), picked up the kids' toys and logged off4 the computer to check voice mail...

5:00 pm
Went to grandma's and ate with the family after my wife arrived from her long day(s) away at the first aid (CPR) course.

8:00 pm Arrived home from Grandma's. We put kids to bed and I listened to the my wife's weekend and the obligatory verbal list of things I didn't do or did wrong... Ah, I do love her so - even when she's annoyed ...








1 The Monks - Bad Habits (1979)
Drugs In My Pocket (Hudson/Ford/Cassidy)
  • "I got drugs in my pocket - I dont know what to do with them. I've got drugs in my pocket, am I really through with them?"

2 "You fed the baby chili?" : A classic line from the movie Mr. Mom with Michael Keaton.

3 CSI - Crime Scene Investigator from a TV show on CBS Network

4 I do not have high speed internet. There I admitted it! My geek license will probably be revoked soon.




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