Browsing the blog archives for March, 2010.

Dark Clouds

Climate Change, Virtual Reality

Cloud Computing

Cloud Computing helps companies (and individuals) off-load their computing needs onto a network-based facility.

At a personal level, the advent of mobile Internet devices such as

  • 3G/4G Broadband Roaming cards for laptops,
  • iPhone/iTouch,
  • Kindle / eBook Readers,
  • BlackBerrys /Smartphones,
  • etc.

has fueled a need for network-based applications, storage, backup, social networking, and a variety of other services.  These needs are typically met by a data center somewhere “off in the cloud” that is managed by someone else.

Similarly at a corporate level, clouds have enabled Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), and Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) opportunities that basically outsource management of the IT infrastructure to the Cloud provider on a pay-per-use basis.

In both cases, the cloud user’s carbon foot-print is reduced since less infrastructure is needed on-site.

Or is it?

Coal & Steam

Cloud computing simply transfers the burden of IT service delivery onto the cloud service provider.  Not surprisingly most of these providers are currently in the USA – with data centers in the USA.

Sadly most regions in the USA depend on dirty carbon-fired generating stations (oil, gas, coal) to provide electrical power, so it comes as no surprise that power-hungry data centers are dependent on greenhouse gas (GHG) emitting coal-burning power plants.

The most popular form of “clean” energy generation in the USA is to use nuclear power to heat water to drive steam turbines.

Although the power-generation part of the nuclear power story is arguably clean, there is still that pesky detail of how to dispose of the radioactive waste that results from the process.  Since that problem has not been solved and is literally “buried”, nuclear power is actually dirty.

Isn’t it strange that in the 21st century, IT is largely dependent on coal & steam?

Greenpeace Study

Greenpeace recently did a survey of some of the largest and better-known Internet sites to raise an alarm about the dirty side of cloud computing:

  • Apple’s largest data center is in Lenoir, NC (500,000 Sq Ft) with a dependence on 96% dirty power.  Apple is building an even larger facility nearby that will have the same dependency on dirty power.
  • Yahoo’s 190,000 Sq Ft data center in Lockport, NY is 72% dependent on dirty power, while its largest facility in La Vista, NE (350,000 Sq Ft) is 93% dependent on dirty power.  Yahoos’ dirty power index is 86% based on the weighed average of these two facilities.
  • Google’s two largest data centers are in Lenoir, NC (476,000 Sq Ft) and Dalles, OR (206,000 Sq Ft).  The Lenoir facility depends on 96% dirty power and the Dalles facility depends on 49% dirty power.  The weighted dirty power consumption index for Google is 82%.
  • Microsoft’s 700,000 Sq Ft data center in Chicago is 99% dependent on dirty power, while its 470,000 Sq Ft data center in San Antonio, TX is 89% dependent on dirty power.  Microsoft’s 470,000 Quincy, WA data center is 100% clean energy powered (hydro).  The weighted average dirty power consumption index for Microsoft is 68%.

Silver Lining

What Greenpeace doesn’t tell you is that these industry giants are all trying to improve their GHG-emissions.

Although Apple has been visibly reducing the carbon footprint of its products and has taken the high ground in responsibly accounting for its total product life cycle impact, it appears that its IT department has not yet focused on this problem.

Overall, Apple reports that its facilities, including data centers, account for 3% of its total life cycle GHG emissions.  In other words, Apple has a massive reduction challenge to solve in the manufacturing and use of its power-hungry products before it shifts its focus on internal IT impact.

Apple’s focus on lifecycle impact will have a larger collateral benefit on reducing GHG emissions globally.

Yahoo is building a large facility in Buffalo, NY that is expected to be hydro-powered, so we can expect that its dirty power footprint will fall somewhat in the near future.

Google is moving aggressively by limiting it’s power waste and investing heavily in renewable energy sources through its RE < C initiative.

Meanwhile, Microsoft appears to have the leadership position with 25% of its total energy consumption coming from renewable sources.

All of this leaves considerable room for improvement and Greenpeace is rightfully keeping the heat on cloud computing.

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City of Ottawa Kills Butternut Trees

South March Highlands

Butternut Secret

On March 28, 2010 a team of concerned citizens walked the land that is to be destroyed by the Terry Fox Road Extension. 

This team included long-time residents of the area, Kathleen Riddell, Judy Makin, Paul Renaud, as well as two-well known and highly-respected local biologists, Martha Webber and David Seburn, and an environmental photographer, Scott Newman.

 The team of Land Walkers were astonished by the discovery that, despite an attempt to mark and preserve endangered trees, the City of Ottawa has cut down two endangered Butternut Trees using an undisclosed permit obtained from the Ministry of Natural Resources to cut down canker-affected trees prior to giving them a chance to reproduce.

 This act is further evidence that the City’s hurry to fast-track Terry Fox Road expansion through this ecologically sensitive area is just plain wrong. 

The City has not performed a high-quality, comprehensive environmental assessment of the area despite warnings from Canada’s leading environmentalists that the failure to do so may lead to the eradication of the local population of Blanding’s Turtle.

 The Team also discovered a 200-year old maple tree that is in the centerline of the future roadway.  The City currently has no intention to protect it even though this tree predates the Confederation and likely even the City itself.  

Are there so many 200-year old maples in Ottawa that the City can afford to cut one down because it is in the way of  a poorly planned road?

Prior Studies

 The prior environmental assessments (EA) done in 2000 and 2007 prior to City amalgamation were poorly executed. 

The study done in 2000 failed to note the presence of endangered species at all, while the study done in 2007 notes that 3 endangered species are present but then ignores them for the balance of the assessment. 

Neither EA faithfully applies the prioritized assessment criteria that was developed during public workshops with the residents of the area (residents wanted environmental concerns to be given highest priority). 

Neither EA performed any impact assessment on the ecology of this Provincially Significant area – let alone on endangered species.

Meanwhile, protection of endangered species, such as the Butternut Tree and the Blanding’s Turtle exists at both the Federal and Provincial level.

Paragraph 32(1) Canada Species at Risk Act:  

No person shall kill, harm, harass, capture or take an individual of a wildlife species that is listed as an extirpated species, an endangered species or a threatened species.

 Paragraph 9(1)(a) Ontario Endangered Species Act:

No person shall, (a) kill, harm, harass, capture or take a living member of a species that is listed on the Species at Risk in Ontario List as an extirpated, endangered or threatened species.

The Right Thing

 It is never too late to do the right thing.  The City needs to immediately halt work on the Terry Fox Road expansion pending a comprehensive assessment of the entire ecosystem affected by this roadwork. 

This assessment can then be used to properly plan the road, its mitigation measures, and to control and guide the expansion of the urban boundary in this ecologically diverse area. 

 In the meantime, the existing federal funding for the road should be re-directed towards upgrading the relocated Goulbourn Forced Road and 2nd Line Road as well as creating an adequate ecological crossing where Kizzell Drain crosses the Goulbourn Forced Road. 

This will satisfy short-term transportation needs of both residents and animal life while a more viable longer-term plan is developed by the City.

Biologist Report

 I checked butternut trees in, and adjacent to, the section now being cleared for the Terry Fox expansion from Morgan’s Grant  to the vicinity of the railroad tracks. Butternut trees in and along the proposed route have been designated by number and fencing.

 I searched the ground around the bases of a number of the trees growing in the forest south of the cleared area, but found no remnants of shells from last year or previous years. They would have been chewed by squirrels but the hard shells take years to disintegrate.  Neither did I find young seedlings.

But at least two very old, large and still living butternut trees (trunks marked by number to designate them) were cut and piled in the section already cleared for the new highway.

Both had many live branches with healthy buds and the largest cut stump had a squirrel midden, larger than several footballs, beside the base  composed of  thousands of chewed butternut shells. 

That was the only tree in the area that I could identify to have been a major producer of  nuts through last year.  It may have been  the largest and oldest in the area, there were signs of decay in the trunk, but the tree was  vigorous and upper branches should have produced fruit for years to come.

This is the result of my sampling of the state of  butternut trees adjacent to, and within, the marked route of the Terry Fox Expansion on March 28, 2010.

Martha Webber  (


 Photos Taken by Scott Newman:

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Why Engineering Standards For Evironmental Studies Are Needed

Canadian Politics, Legislative Gaps

Ecology Ottawa conducted an analysis of political contributions made by housing developers to Ottawa City Councillors during the last municipal election.

In total, over $121,300 was contributed to winning candidates (the study did not examine contributions to losing candidates).  Top of the list was Gord Hunter who received over 49% of funding for his political campaign from developers.

Not surprising considering that Mr. Hunter is a member of the City’s Planning & Environment Committee.  Other members of the PEC that received substantial contributions are Bob Monet (32%) and Michel Bellemare (25%).

Fortunately the Chair and Vice-Chair of the committee had the integrity to decline such donations.  However, there is nothing other than personal integrity preventing them from doing so.

The municipal planning & environment committee is the only oversight that municipal environmental studies have.  The City of Ottawa has an indepedant Environmetal Advisory Committee, however, their mandate does not include quality assurance of environmental studies.

As far as the provincial Ministry of Environment is concerned, Class Environmental Assessments are conducted on a self-assessment basis.  These are the vast majority of environmental studies and the  province only requires that they be done and that they address prescribed content  – not that they be done properly!

For example the province only requires that proponents of Class Environmental Assessments consider alternatives and document their decision making process – not that they follow any specific decision making process, or even test that they have a sound process for evaluating decisions!  This is the loophole that allowed the City of Ottawa to ignore it’s own planning criteria in evaluating alternatives for the Terry Fox Road Expansion.

Another example is that the province does not provide clear-cut criteria for measuring the impact of a proposed project.  For example, the Terry Fox Road Expansion which threatens 3 endangered species (because it cuts across a Provincially Significant wetland)  is subject to the same process as the Hazeldean Road Expansion which poses no threat to endangered species (because it occurs in a semi-urban area).

So without minimum standards governing engineering practice to be followed when conducting Class EAs, there are no checks and balances in the process – other than the checks written by developers!

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Probable Lost Cause

Civil Rights

Random Breath Testing

The Harper government is determined to erode the Charter of Rights protection against unreasonable search.

Their latest assault is found in the discussion paper on drunk driving legislation. 

While many of the proposed changes in the discussion paper are long-overdue, the Dept of Justice is also proposing that police be allowed to search drivers for intoxication at random and without reasonable cause.

Their reasoning for this is that since Australia, New Zealand, and 22 European countries violate their citizen’s right to be protected against unreasonable search, so should Canada.

By that rationale we should also eat shit because a million flys can’t be wrong!

Random vs RIDE

Random breath testing (RBT) is different than the Reduced Impaired Driving Everywhere (RIDE) program that we are all familiar with

In the RIDE program, police stop all cars at a particular checkpoint but only administer breath tests if they subsequently have reasonable cause to do so.  This screeening is consistent with our Charter Rights and has proven to be effective in cutting down on drunk driving.

However, the government is now proposing to search drivers for intoxication without reasonable cause.

The discussion paper suggests that RBT is necessary because relying on the judgement of police is a weakness in the current system of detecting drunk drivers. 

However, if we cannot rely on the good judgement of police today, will we abandon jury trials tomorrow because we cannot rely on the good judgement of jurors?  What about the reliance on the good judgement of judges? 

In fact our entire legal system rests on good judgement in combination with Charter Rights – and that is a good thing.

The Charter recognizes that our Rights need to be balanced against the common good.  Our rights can be overridden if there is a compelling reason to do so.

However, the discussion paper does not meet the burden of proof that there is an overriding reason to violate the Charter right.  There is no evidence that suggests that:

  • a system of random checks is more effective than the current method whereby a police request a breath test on the basis of reasonable cause.  The statistics cited in the annex of the report do not prove that an alternative to RBT cannot obtain the same result as those claimed for RBT, or that a combination of measures (such as reducing allowable alcohol blood levels, more frequent use of RIDE, etc) cannot obtain the same results as RBT. 
  • random breath tests will be a deterrent to drunk drivers. 

Instead of RBT, a better deterrent would be to substantially increase the fines for a first offence and the penalties for subsequent offences beyond the amount proposed in the discussion paper. 

To quote an old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

Slippery Slope

First the airports and now our cars.  Where will this end? Will our homes be next?

If we allow police to search us without reasonable cause, they can enter our homes on a fishing expedition at any time just to check that we are not law-breakers.

The argument that “if you are a law-abiding citizen you have nothing to fear” assumes that miscarriage of justice never happens.  Tell that to Maher Arar, or the many innocent people incarcerated in Canadian jails because of a mistake / incompetence / or malfeasence by police.

Our right to privacy is fundamental.  Please tell the government so by emailing the Justice Department at and objecting to random breath testing.

You have until April 30, 2010 to do so.  After that point, the consultation period ends and so will your right to privacy.

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Ongoing Threat of Terrorism?

Civil Rights

Threat vs Risk

Although we keep hearing about the “ongoing threat of terrorism“, the Canadian political leaders and senior government officials who use this phrase are glossing over the important difference between a “threat” and a “risk”.

  • Threat = An indication of probable danger or loss.
  • Risk = A hazard or probability of a loss.

By definition a threat is a specific menance – there is no such thing as a “general threat” or “ongoing threat”. 

The correct term for a general or ongoing hazard is a risk.

Both a threat and a risk are uncertain – meaning that they may or may not occur and the likelihood of occurence can be understood in terms of probabilities. 

A threat usually has a higher probability since it is based on a clear indication of an imminent possible loss instead of the mere possibility of a loss.

By confusing a threat with a risk, anti-terrorism advocates grey the boundary between a clear indication and a foggy possibility. 

In other words, there is no such thing as a general or ongoing “threat of terrorism”, only a “risk of terrorism”. 

Threat Analysis

Although an ongoing threat of terrorism doesn’t exist, it is possible that a specific “terrorist threat” exists.

Assuming that it is possible to define what a “terrorist”  is (another foggy concept), any specific threat can be analyzed in terms of:

  • capacity of a specific criminal to implement a specific threat,
  • probability that the threat will be implemented based on that capacity, and
  • potential impact to the public if implemented.

Notice that the impact of a threat in a threat analysis is discounted by both the capacity of the criminal to act and the probability that they will act.

By comparison a risk is analyzed in terms of:

  • identification of different types of hazards,
  • probability that each hazard can occur,
  • potential impact of the hazard when it occurs.

Notice that in a risk analysis the impact of each risk is discounted only by the probability that the risk can occur. 

Although a risk analysis has less detail than a threat analysis, the probabilities of risk are much smaller.  Hence more detail would just be lost anyway.

For example, the probability of a terrorist attack on an airplane is less than 1 in 16 Million.

The Enemy Within

In Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not grant absolute rights to privacy or even human rights.  These rights are subject to reasonable limits as can be demonstratably justified in a free and democratic society.

Unless we challenge the justification presented every time our civil rights are trampled by so-called “anti-terrorism” activities, we risk the loss of those rights.

Worse yet is the fact that the loss of each right magnifies the impact of losing subsequent rights. 

For example, the UN Human Rights Council warns that the loss of privacy rights leads to the loss of freedom of association and expression, and to miscarriages of justice, failures of due process and wrongful arrest.

Clearing the fog of language and putting the actual risks in perspective is essential to stopping the ongoing abuse of our civil liberties.

The real enemy within our society is our willingness to

  • accept remote risks as imminent threats, and to
  • accept charter violations as the price of protection against improbable “threats”.
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Terry Fox Road Ecological Disaster

South March Highlands

Bogus Environmental Study
It took me 2 months to obtain a copy of the environmental report for the Terry Fox Road extension.    The report states:

the South March Highlands is literally unique within the City of Ottawa.  Both upland and wetlands habitat are Provincially Significant, ecologically placing them on a par with landscapes such as Algonquin Provincial Park, Windsor’s Ojibwa Park Prairie and protected areas along the Niagara Escarpment.”

Yet incredibly, the so-called environmental report is devoid of ecological concern and fails to place any priority on ecological issues.

10 Failures In The Report

1. Ms. Wilkinson, the City Councillor for Kanata, will be surprised by the fact that the environmental studies that she thinks were performed actually have no analysis, consideration, nor plan to protect endangered species.

  • Nowhere in the 300 MB of material is this important topic addressed and it is disturbing that a City Councillor may have been misled on this fact.

2. Although the environmental report recognizes that the area being threatened is ecologically significant at a provincial level, less than 25% of the report addresses the natural environment. 

  • The majority of the report examines human environmental aspects such as bus ridership, noise from traffic, etc.

3. In the ecological section, the report notes the presence of endangered plant and animal species in the area under study and then proceeds to ignore that fact for the balance of the report. 

  • One would expect that endangered species would have received deeper analysis and consideration or at least highlight the need for such a study in its final recommendations – but it did not.

4. Even though ecological impact was clearly established as being the most important criteria for the environmental study, the report selected the alternative that it rated to be the absolute worst for the natural environment! 

  • And, after selecting the ecologically worst routing for the road, the subsequent alignment analysis also failed to select a mitigation option which would minimize impact to the natural environment (given that the environmentally worst route had already been selected). 
  • This occurred in both cases because a flawed paired-comparison methodology failed to establish weights for the criteria used.

5. Incredibly, the memo on 17 April 2000 from the Planning & Development Approvals Commissioner, to the Transportation Committee failed to discuss the obvious concerns that

  • the routing alternative being recommended did not align with the highest priority criteria set by the Transportation Committee, and
  • endangered species were present in the area and that further ecological study was warranted prior to finalizing the recommendation. 

6. The only concern expressed with the recommendation was that it would lead to additional pressure to develop sensitive natural and agricultural areas.

  • The current plan sets up even more ecological problems in future.

7. The traffic volume portion of the main “environmental study” forecasts over 1000 vehicles an hour during peak periods but does not provide a forecast of animal deaths caused by this volume. 

  • The mitigation strategy that it recommends consists of posting animal crossing signs to alert drivers.  This is outright ecological irresponsibility. 

8. The alignment study provides for a single passageway but does not provide an analysis of how effective that would be considering that slow moving turtles are unlikely to hike down to the passageway just to cross the road. 

9. In fact in no place in the report is the magnitude of ecological impact assessed.

10. The City of Ottawa’s own report shows that current plan for the Terry Fox road extension is the worst possible ecological option both short and long term.  This is a flawed project that must be stopped immediately and sent back to the drawing board.

Call To Action
Construction activity has already started and significant habitat damage is about to occur to the Blanding’s Turtle.  The soil temperature in the spring is crucial for the survival of the turtle population.

The truth about this flawed environmental study needs to be brought into the sunlight of public awareness.  With informed public opinion, it will be easier for Council to make the right decision to stop this impending environmental disaster.

Please share these findings as much as possible so that we can stop this thing.


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