23 September 2010

Igor, Turn Out Those Lights, I'm Ready

When we first moved in together, my wife was confused by all the emergency gear I had, a pityful amount at the time.  As I added oil lamps and propane burners, setting aside canned food, she grew concerned that I was preparing for the apocalypse.  I told her, "No, not the apocalypse, but if that happens as well, I want to be ready."

I grew up in the rural community of Hr. Grace, on top of a big hill overlooking the bay.  Very scenic.  Also very windy.  We would lose electricity 3 or more times a year and lose the water at least twice annually.  Our house was heated by woodstove, an economic decision in the energy-crisis 70's; my parents were avid campers - the kind that actually camp, not drive a camper; and my father had inherited some 100+ year old oil lamps, from back when they knew how to make such things.  So when a storm hit, we were well set up.  Blizzards, hurricanes, or just over-taxed power grid, a few flicks of matches and it was business as usual at home.

After I moved to St. John's, I hadn't given much thought to emergency gear.  The city is more stable, after all, and I was alone.  But during a couple of big storms, I found myself wishing for the security of being prepared.  Rummaging through a box in the dark, trying to find those pillar candles I bought on sale but never used; trying to heat a can of creamed corn with a propane torch (don't do it, there's a plastic coating on the inside of cans which melts and makes the food taste funny); shivering in my bed, realizing that I did possessed neither enough blankets nor candles to warm up the room - all these events made me vow to get better prepared.  So, after I found a steady job and a significant other, I started building up the supplies. 

It was slow at first, a few purchases here and there.  Candles, also used for romantic purposes.  An old kerosene heater conned from Dad when the price of oil doubled over night (he was back on the wood stove again).  A couple of flashlights, a few more blankets, the 'accidently' bought extra canned goods which languished in the back of the cupboard.  I could justify all those purchases without revealing my fixation on preparation.

When I bought the first propane burner, the truth came out.  She demanded an explanation, which I gave.  She didn't understand.  She had mostly grown up in cities and, as her parents were corps officers in the Salvation Army, they never had to face many emergencies without supplies.  She agreed to ignore my preparations, as long as a) I didn't 'waste' too much money and b) didn't start constructing a bunker.

We had a few blackouts after that, but she still didn't really see the point.  She would observe that we could have eaten sandwiches, that the power was only off for a few hours, that the candles were useful all the time.  Then came the X-mess blizzard, when our son was almost 2.  The city was dark for 20 hours.  She was at work when it hit and came home to find me shovelling the driveway.  The house was fully lit, our son safely playing in his pen, hot food and coffee in the kitchen courtesy of the propane burned, house warm and toasy from the kerosene heater.  The following day, she was a convert to being ready.

So when Hurricane Igor hit, preparations focused on preventing the porch from leaking (failed) and coping with the flooding basement (until the power, and, hence, sump-pump, failed).  As dark came on, out came the 2 burner camp stove, hurricane lanterns, candles.  We had a normal meal with boiled coffee to follow, played and read and listened to the battery-powered radio, and went to bed on time, as normal.  But nor before I went next door to check on how our new-parents neighbours were faring.  They were trying to figure out how to heat up formula for their 2 month old.  I returned with my spare propane burner and sorted them out. 

The next day, while our electricity was on, large parts of the city were still out.  She had heard about crowd of people buying flashlights and remarked that it was awful late in the game to be buying that stuff.  And that was the final evidence that she completely understands the my obsession isn't, that it is just good thinking.  We have the basics covered, but I will keep expanding our equipment.  Right now we can get through a couple days, but I'd rather be able to handle a week without problem. 

During times like this, you never want to be worrying about basics.  Being prepared doesn't take a lot of effort or money, just a few purchases here and there.  Here's a brief list, for those of you who want to start getting ready:
1 - Light - flashlights are OK but batteries decay rapidly.  Candles have a much longer life, but make sure you are aware of the fire hazards they present.  Your safest and best solution is oil lanterns.  You can get them for $5-$10 anywhere they sell camping gear and, while they sell special oil for them, they will also burn any flammable liquid.  I once ran mine on paint-thinner. Lanterns have glass-globes protected by wire, making them difficult to break and also have handles so you can hang them up.  More expensive options: propane lanterns, white-gas backpacking lanterns.
2 - Heat - just about anything you burn for light will produce heat, so if you follow the previous suggests, your house will stay tolerably warm.  You can also pick up some wool blankets at thrift stores for $5-$10 each and even threadbare they are great insulators.  They also will keep you warm when soaking wet.
3 - Cooking - you can get a single propane burner which screws on to a tank for around $15.  Tanks are $5. It's difficult to cook anything big on that, however.  They can handle a small saucepan or frying pan and that's about it.  Bear in mind that you may need to boil all drinking water.  The single burner is a good starting place though.  If you can afford the extra expense, you can get a propane camp stove, which has 2 burners and can handle large pots.  They fit nicely on your existing stove top.  If you own a gas BBQ, that will do in a pinch, but you probably won't want to be grilling in a gale.  Of course, if you already cook with gas, this is all unnecessary.
4 - Food, Water.  Shouldn't be too hard to sort, as you are likely to have food in your cupboards anyway, and all that stuff in the freezer will need to be cooked if the power's off for more than a day.  Still, good sense says to have some extras laid in.  Suggestions: canned hams/chicken, stew, mixed veg.  For water, get a big jug of sealed spring water and keep it in a dark place.
5 - Information and entertainment.  Make sure you have a battery-powered radio with fresh batteries or, better still, a hand-crank one.  Keep a few decks of cards or board games around, especially if you have kids.

There's a lot more you can add: power inverters for the car, gas generators, tools and supplies for making repairs, and so on, but that list of basics will get you through most minor events and and some major ones.  Try to keep everything together in the same closet or a large box so that you won't have to go searching in the dark.

Remember, the problem with a high tech world is that it runs on electricity.  Mother Nature doesn't need electricity and doesn't care about your cel phones, video games, or general welfare.  Look after yourself and, hey, look after someone else too.

20 September 2010

Veterans National Day of Protest

Public Service Announcement

AREA: Newfoundland & Labrador

Veterans National Day of Protest

Disabled veterans of the RCMP and Canadian Armed Forces have not been getting the benefits they deserve. The New Veterans Charter does not meet the real needs of the veterans.

On 6 November at 11am, concerned Canadians will be gathering across Canada to show their support for our nation’s veterans.

The Provincial Capital Rally will be held at the National War Memorial in St. John's.

Rallies will also to be held at your MP’s offices:

Gander: Scott Simms’ office - 61 Elizabeth Drive

Grand Falls/Windsor: Scott Simms’ office - 1-A Pinsent Drive

Corner Brook: Gerry Byrne’s office - 14 Main Street

Happy Valley-Goose Bay: Todd Russell’s office - 169 Hamilton River Road

L'anse Au Loup: Todd Russell’s office - 53 Main Highway

Labrador City/Wabush: Todd Russell’s office - 118 Humphrey Road, Bruno Plaza

Stephenville: Judy Foote’s office - 83-B Main Street

Grand Bank: Judy Foot’s Office - 3 Church Street

Those who cannot attend rallies with the MPs are asked to gather at their local Canada Post office. Take a picture of your crew and their signs supporting Vets and submit them to ourduty.org

At 11 am on 6 November, join us in telling Ottawa:

Take Better Care of Our Veterans!

From more information and other ways your can help, visit ourduty.org

07 September 2010

Sun TV News AKA Fox News North (for application click here)

There's been a lot of kerfuffle about the application by TVA to begin a news 24-hour news service in Canada. Much of the controversy centres on reports that it will be a Canadian version of US based Fox News: all commentary and no content. People with more knowledge have raised the point that TVA has applied for their station to get 2 things: 1) to be put on equal footing with CBC & CTV as a news channel and 2) to be granted special status for its first 3 years and made mandatory for carriage by cable/sat providers. My opinions on the matter I will reserve for later, but I have noticed how few people have actually read TVA's application.

So here it is. The important bits anyway. If you wish to read the whole package, click here. The entire application, regulations et al, comes as a zip file of pfd docs from the CRTC, available to all. The link above will take you to the application page, which includes instructions on how to file your comments, pro or con. The CRTC is the broadcasting regulatory body and serves the public interest. Not business. Not Government. Us. And if you don't believe that, look up a few of their past decisions.

(The plain language explanation of the station. Edited for juiciness but quoted verbatim. FYI: 'BDU' stands for Breadcast Distribution Unit, a cable or satellite provider)


4.1. When the number one all-news channel in Canada is a struggling cable news laggard

from the United States, CNN, it is time for a change; it is time to shake up the current

players of the Canadian broadcasting system. It’s time for a new choice, a new voice,

a new all-news specialty service for Canadians. A new information specialty service

committed to leading its American rivals, not following them. A new specialty service

that is given the same fair chance to succeed as the two existing, national all-news

specialty services – specialty services that, taken together, merely match their top two

American rivals in viewership.

4.2. Television remains a vital source of news and information for Canadians. And allnews

specialty services play a vital role in keeping Canadians well informed on a

minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour basis and ensuring that news coverage is both broad

and deep. However, being well informed means more than being exposed to dry

news. MSNBC and Fox News have understood this. Sun TV News proposes to go

beyond the obvious day-by-day headlines and to cover the full range of stories that

impact our society, our democracy and our economy.

4.3. Unfortunately, over the past 2 years, English-Canadians watched 73%1 less news

channels than Americans. And the number one news channel in Canada is CNN, a

struggling American network that beats both CBC News Network and CTV News

Channel by a country mile. In fact, taken together, CBC News Network and CTV

News Channel merely match the combined ratings of CNN and Headline News.

Altogether, Canadians are paying for these Canadian all-news channels around $80M

a year for such a performance.

Table showing ratings by minutes watched, ages 2+. For 2008/2009: CNN=59.9, CBC Newsworld=48.7, CTV Newsnet=25.1

4.4. Not surprisingly, less than one third of English-speaking Canadians are satisfied with

the current news coverage available on television2. Together, CBC News Network and

CTV News Channel have had respectively 21 and 13 years to get it right and they’ve

failed to win over Canadians despite their obvious domestic advantages. It’s time for a

change. It’s time for Sun TV News.


5.1. By leveraging the human, capital and technological resources of Toronto’s Sun TV and

transforming the struggling conventional station’s general interest mandate to an

innovative and proven information specialty service format, the new Sun TV News will

provide Canadians with a new choice and a new national voice for information and


5.2. Sun TV News will be different from the all-news channel we already have in Canada;


1 * CNN, CBC Newsworld, CTV News Channel, CNN Headline News, BNN, CNBC.

** Fox News, CNN, HLN, CNBC, MSNBC.

Sources: Canada - BBM-NMR, InfoSys, 2007-2008 to 2008-2009 Broadcast Year, All Persons 2+, Mo-Su 2am-2am.

USA - Nielsen Media Research, 2007-2008 to 2008-2009 Broadcast Year, All Persons 2+, Mo-Su 2am-2am.

2 Leger Marketing, Sun TV Television News Information Needs, Fall 2009 (See Appendix A1).


offering Canadians an attractive mixture of “hard news” reporting during the day and

“straight talk” opinion journalism at night. “Hard news” during the day and “straight

talk” at night is a proven formula for commercial success. This is very different than

what CBC, CTV and CNN have offered Canadians on their “all-news” platforms.

5.3. “Hard News” will almost exclusively rely on live reporting and real-time conversations

with journalists covering breaking news – as opposed to the more traditional news

wheel format that features a revolving set of news stories. But these headlines will be

analysed, commented upon and discussed at length. The host will question the

reporter and will have an intelligent exchange that will often open to further debate.

News will not be read like in a news bulletin. Daytime “hard news” will be covering a

broad range of political, economic and lifestyle stories that matter to Canadians both

rural and urban. So even its “hard news” portion will not be “all news” like it has

traditionally been done in Canada. Short traditional news bulletin may be programmed

but not more than once an hour.

5.4. “Straight Talk” will be programs featuring hosts and guests that deliver strong opinions

and analysis of stories that are important to Canadians that day. “Straight talk” opinion

journalism at night will be clear, intelligent and engaging – featuring a broader array of

television personalities and signature hosts who will challenge viewers to think – and

decide – for themselves. The challenging of ideas in itself may feed the news but at

least will attempt to have Canadians make their own mind on the events occurring

every day in Canada.

5.5. Here in Canada, the French-language all-news specialty service LCN saw its ratings

more than triple3 when it moved toward that formula just over one year ago. Today

LCN is not only a commercial success, but it has re-energized news coverage for

French-speaking viewers; providing them with a new choice and a new voice that

previously had been absent in the French-language news broadcasting space.

Contrary to Sun TV News however, LCN is built on the news-gathering infrastructure

of TVA for traditional newscasts.

5.6. In the United States, Fox News, the cable news network that led the development of

the “hard news/straight talk” format, has been the number one cable news network for

many years running. Fox News’ total audience was as high as CNN and MSNBC


3 In the timeslots that switched to more opinionated programs


combined. Fox News holds the Top 10 cable news programs in the United States.

Today both CNN and MSNBC are modifying their programming approaches to mimic

Fox News while remaining all-news channels with limited documentaries, as well.

5.7. Given the success of the “hard news/straight talk” format in both French-speaking

Canada and the United States, as well as low levels of satisfaction amongst Englishspeaking

viewers with traditional news bulletin coverage on television, there is clearly

a market for a totally new approach to information specialty service in Canada.

5.8. This is an altogether different programming service than the all-news currently licensed

in Canada. Sun TV News is an information service with zest.

5.9. Sun TV News will be modern; demonstrating true value-added content convergence

with Quebecor’s print properties across Canada. …Something Canada has not seen


6 - Section 6 is details on how the news will be gathered using TVA/Sun Media/Quebecor reporters


7.1. The time has arrived for Sun TV News. But given that CBC News Network and CTV

News Channel have enjoyed the benefits of a carriage that is mandatory for BDUs and

“almost mandatory” for subscribers for 21 and 13 years respectively, Sun TV News

requires short-term and time-limited mandatory access for a maximum period of three

(3) years by BDUs in order to effectively expose and promote its programming to

viewers across Canada. We do not ask for mandatory basic distribution, but only to be

available on cable and satellite distribution undertakings allowing the public to have

access to Sun TV News without any obligation to choose it.

7.2. - 7.5 - arguments for expedited license and equal status with CBC/CTV for carriage


8.1. At a time when Canada is exhibiting considerable economic, athletic, artistic and

humanitarian leadership on the world stage, it is simply unacceptable that our leading

news channel is an American cable news network that is struggling in its home market.

The time has arrived for a new choice; a new voice; a new information specialty

service for Canadians.

8.2. With its proven format of “hard news” during the day and “straight talk” opinion

journalism at night, Sun TV News will be well-placed to succeed commercially and

may well put Canada back into the lead of its own TV information, while

simultaneously preserving jobs and strengthening the conventional general interest TV

market in Toronto.

8.3. A seven year licence issued quickly featuring short-term and time-limited mandatory

access would allow us to complete the transformation of Sun TV into Sun TV News

and provide Canadians with a new information specialty service offering for the first

time in several years an additional editorial voice in Canada and for Canadians.


9.1. The first objective of the Act is to make sure that Canadian programs are produced,

programmed and seen in Canada by Canadians. While doing this, the Commission

aims at the maximum use of Canadian creative resources. Since a minimum of 90%

of our programming will be Canadian, we will make maximum use of Canadian

creative and other resources in the creation and presentation of programming, all this

while respecting high standards.

9.2. QMI/TVA has evolved, in the last 50 years or more, specifically in the information

business and in the creation/promotion of a genuine Star System. QMI/TVA’s

ownership is as Canadian as it can be.

9.3. The proposed service will serve to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the political,

social, cultural and economic fabric of Canada, with a schedule offering a wide range

of programs that reflects Canadian attitudes, opinions, ideas and values by displaying

Canadian talent as well as by offering information and analysis concerning Canada

and other countries from a Canadian point of view. Sun TV News will reflect the

circumstances and aspirations of Canadian men and women, including equal rights,

the linguistic duality and multicultural and multiracial nature of Canadian society and

the special place of aboriginal peoples within that society.

9.4. Sun TV News will provide balanced information with a reasonable opportunity for the

public to be exposed to the expression of differing views on matters of public concern,

information that will be drawn from local, regional, national and international sources.

9.5. In the first year of operation, Sun TV News projects to expend $4 589 000 in the

production of Canadian programs. This amount will grow to $6 301 000 in the 7th year

of operation.

10. MARKET CAPACITY - about HDTV content


11.1. Even if Sun TV News will have a certain impact on the all-news national services

available in Canada, in Broadcasting Public Notice CRTC 2008-100, the Commission

has determined that the existing all-news services are strong and healthy enough to

introduce direct competition:

“it would be appropriate to immediately introduce competition between Canadian services

operating in the genres of mainstream sports and mainstream national news. The services

operating in these genres - The Sports Network (TSN), Sportsnet, Le Réseau des sports

(RDS), CBC Newsworld, Newsnet, Le Réseau de l'information (RDI) and Le Canal Nouvelles

(LCN) - are strong, healthy, highly popular, and highly competitive.” (Emphasis added)

11.2. We are of the opinion that at first some audience will shift from CBC News Network

and CTV News Channel but within less than two years, we expect to expand

Canadians interest in news and information services as well as a repatriation of

viewers from CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. In the long run, we believe the impact on

the existing Canadian all-news services will be negligible (See Carat market research -

appendix B):

11.2.1. Only 30% of Sun TV News’s audience will come from existing Canadian all-news


11.2.2. English Canada is served by only 2 national All News channels: CBC News

Network and CTV News Channel. French Canada, a market 4 times smaller

than English Canada is also served by two all-news channels: RDI and LCN.

This supports the fact that the Canadian English-Language market has room for

a new news channel.

11.2.3. Finally, Sun TV News is different than the two all-news channel licensed by the

Commission. This is an information programming service that is new and

different because news is the matter to be discussed and analysed from different

angles. This is far from being a service licensed to program wall to wall news.


12.1. Sun TV News will expend an average of 31% of its gross revenues in Canadian

programs over the first licence term. On the first year, the amount will be $4 589 000

growing to $6 301 000 in year seven. (See financial projections - Appendix C)


13.1. Before addressing this issue, it is important to remind that the Commission has

decided that the wholesale fees will not be regulated anymore.

13.2. Furthermore, being distributed in BDU’s line up does not mean that this service have

to be necessarily chosen and paid by the public. Therefore, the applicant does not ask

the Commission to rule on the wholesale fee.

13.3. This being said, the applicant believes that, as shown in the financial forecast in

appendix C, Sun TV News will be generate a positive cash flow on year five with a

$0.25 wholesale fee. This is a lot less than CBC News Network service but, like in the

French-language market, we are confident that the Canadian public will demonstrate a

higher satisfaction for Sun TV News by choosing the service either on a standalone

basis or in a news package.


14.1. An application for a new licence is surely not the best forum to engage a discussion on

the appropriate level of closed captioning. In order to obtain the licence we are

applying for, we gather that the Commission will impose to Sun TV News a condition of

licence requiring closed captioning of 100% of programs.

14.2. Nevertheless, we ask the Commission to note that, however commendable this

obligation is, the sums that need to be invested in such an amount of closed captioning

means a lower amount is left for Canadian programs. Some digital specialty services

may not be launched in particular because of the cost of closed captioning on all


14.3. As an example, the average hour of closed captioning costs around $300 for an

Information & Analysis service depending on the format of the support used. Based on

this figure, 85 hours of original programs a week would cost $25,500, which represents

close to one and a half million dollars a year. For some diginets, this represents the

entire yearly programming budget.

14.4. Sun TV News will attempt to improve on the quality of the captioning and will cooperate

with the associations of deaf and hearing impaired persons so that the closed

captioning offered satisfies as much as possible the needs of those Canadians.

14.5. The licensee commits to respect, by condition of licence, the standards of quality

established by the industry task force as soon as such a quality code is approved in

line with Regulatory Broadcast and Telecom Policy CRTC 2009-430 of 21 July 2009.


15.1. The last national voice that the Commission licensed in Canada was in 1997. In the

United States, changes have occurred in the Information Business during that time. It

seems that in Canada, the two leaders have accepted their respective positions and

have demonstrated little innovation.

15.2. Unlike all-news channels already licensed, Sun TV News is different.

15.3. This new information channel will add Canadian content to the broadcasting system

since it will program primarily original Canadian programming.

15.4. We consider this application a proactive operation and we ask the Commission to

process it as a matter of priority. QMI/TVA will be ready to launch this new service on

January 1st, 2011. This is why we request some distribution rules, but only for a

maximum period of three (3) years (7 times less than CBC News Network and 4 times

less than CTV News Channel).

15.5. Sun TV News is a solution to a problem: the problem being that the most popular news

service in Canada is from another country and that the TV stations in the most

crowded market of the country are struggling. We hope the Commission will recognize

this situation and approve the proposed solution quickly.

15.6. We thank the Commission for taking into serious consideration this application and for

studying our application on a fast track basis for a new editorial voice in Canada

06 September 2010

I see it's been a while since I posted anything. The reason: the veterans affairs campaign. Since my last lost, our website has launched, a committee has been formed, and I've been writing and tweeting and learning and promoting.

The committee
A campaign launched in Ontario is calling for rallys on 6 November at 11am, called the Veterance National Day of Protest. Obviously, when striving to achieve something national, one needs local groups. One of the national organizers appraached myself and another guy to take the lead in Newfoundland and Labrador. the other guy is running a sister group to Our Duty. We met, decided that we could divide the labour up enough, and agreed to take on that task. Now we have a committee of about 8 and are planning. We'll have some official releases in plenty of time. If you would like to help us, drop me a line.

Other Things
It's somewhat disturbing that this issue has pretty much fallen of the media radar this past week. I know we have short attention spans, but this issue is certainly AS important as Harper's arctic adventures. I'm working on some editorials to try and bring the spotlight back.

Oh, and there will be a revamped Our Duty website this week.

Join the campaign.