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Tag Archives: environment

A few months ago, I received a flyer in my Toronto Hydro bill about their new peaksaver PLUS program. For free, they would install a meter so that I could monitor my energy usage. Since it was FREE! I signed up and they came by to install it last week. But just as how the upgrade from CFL bulbs to LED would have been a net loss in savings, I think this program is running a net loss and doesn’t make a lot of sense.

The device is a couple of wireless transmitters that were attached on my energy meters, and a in-home display. The transmitters transmit energy usage and the display summarizes and aggregates the information. Basically it works like one of those screens that display the weather. It’s made by Blue LIne Innovations which is a Canadian company and retails for $109. Add in the cost of sending a guy to install the device and various overhead, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the cost per household is about $150 – $200.

On the product’s website, the promotional materials say that these devices help homeowners reduce energy costs by 9%; and another page says it will reduce energy costs by $250. That seems to pay for the product by itself, but naturally I am skeptical.

After observing it for a week, the device estimates that I have used about $3 in electricity. So doing some quick math, it would help me save a whopping (52 * 3 = 156 * 0.09 = ) $14. In ten years, the device might pay for itself!

Secondly, this number seems plain wrong. I pay approximately $60/mth for electricity (which includes delivery and other miscellaneous charges). That number doesn’t map correctly to $3/week. I think this is either because the device is in sleep mode (and thus not receiving data) or not hooked up correctly. In any case, it is difficult to find incentive to reduce energy usage when it is only a few pennies per hour!

Finally, there is only a single device (which we currently have in our kitchen). Seeing the device may remind us to save energy – but only when we’re in the kitchen. There are a lot of other energy sinks so where are the reminders for those items?

I think Toronto Hydro received or allocated an amount of funding to energy reduction, and this is one way they are using their money. It’s certainly fun to have one of these devices for free; but I don’t think they will recoup their investment in energy savings.

I was browsing around Chinese web sites the other day and came upon some LED light bulbs. I like LED light bulbs and am waiting for the day when all my CFLs will be replaced by (cheap) LED bulbs. I already use a few, but their main problem is that they are expensive, have limited luminosity and have a narrow beam. Of course the more you pay, the better they are and I was looking at a couple that were $15-$18 for 60W equivalents.

In the end, I didn’t buy any for two reasons. The first was that $15-$18 isn’t that cheap. If you buy at a North American brick & mortar store, an LED bulb will cost over $20, so buying from China is cheaper; but they are not cheap compared with CFLs which are only a couple of bucks each.

The second reason was because those 60W-equivalent LED bulbs weren’t actually that much better than CFL bulbs. 60W-equivalent CFL bulbs are rated at 13W and these LED bulbs were rated at 7W. The change to CFLs gave a much bigger bang for the buck than this change would have. Plus, while LEDs are supposed to last much longer than CFLs; I haven’t needed to change my CFLs yet either, so the longevity is inconsequential.

So I didn’t upgrade. I “saved” but didn’t save a little bit more energy.

On a whim and because we were nearby, we went to see To The Arctic at the Ontario Science Centre Omnimax theatre. If you’ve been to an IMAX theatre before, you kind of know what the Omnimax theatre is – big screen and big sound. It’s called an Omnimax and not an IMAX theatre because instead of a screen in front of you, the screen is stretched across a curved surface in front and above you. It’s a bit of a gimmick, and not that comfortable to view (I always have to slouch in some weird manner to view the screen), but I think you are closer to the screen and the picture surrounds you more than a typical IMAX screen.

The advantage of this screen is that it is supposed to be a more immersive environment because the image fills your view. And what better imagery to fill your vision than the expanse of the arctic. Unfortunately, it was not as grand as it sounds because the resolution just isn’t high enough! You can make out blurriness due to enlargment of the image.

To The Arctic is a documentary rather than a movie, although it bills itself as a story of a mother polar bear and her two cubs. However, it is mostly cobbled together footage of animals running around the Arctic; walruses, caribou and the people filming them. Meryl Streep narrated and the songs of Paul McCartney were featured, and we were a little browbeat with the effects of global warming on the arctic environment. The polar bears held the screen for the last fifteen minutes or so, butd neither of the cubs ended up with a bottle of Coca-Cola. Disappointing!

For $13, this 1 hour (including trailers) film is not really worth it (2 out of 5 stars). It might be worth it to see something in this environment though; the last time I was here was almost $10!

Apparently, we didn’t go to Luminato last year. I guess it wasn’t that interesting. I looked at this year’s schedule and it wasn’t engaging either, and didn’t have concrete plans of going. But we ended up going to various things on the closing weekend since we were downtown already.

The first place we went to was the Wish Come True Festival at the Bay Adelaide centre. From the website and description, we thought this would be a large exhibit of various cute things. But it turned out to be only one big “star burst” thing:

On Saturday, we headed to Queen’s Park for Luminato’s closing ceremonies. They had more of the Wish Come True Festival things scattered around Queen’s Park! Much better than the Bay Adelaide centre.

Also on location was the 1000 Tastes of Toronto and various premium restaurants from Toronto. We arrived after having dinner so didn’t partake. They had some interesting displays though, like this roast pig

It sure is unlike Chinese BBQ.

Telus was also sponsoring ecocab by giving free cab rides to various destinations around downtown.

we rode the ecocab for a quick loop around the U of T campus since we had parked close by. We were one of the last people to get a ride and by then a lot of the bikes had run out of batteries. We actually had to get out at one point so the bike could make it up the hill!

The new Toronto by-law to charge 5¢ per plastic bag is one of those laws that you would never think would happen. Plastic bags are so ingrained into our culture that we use one trillion of them, yet most people don’t reuse them. 5 cents seems small, but it should force everyone to think about their usage instead of taking them for granted.

It’s not a truly drastic change, many grocery stores like No Frills have already been charging for their plastic bags, so ironically the poorer people are already used to reusing and saving money. Although the exception has been Asian grocery stores, they are always on the border of the law, and I would not have been surprised if they didn’t charge for bags. But surprisingly, the one Chinese grocery store I went to on the weekend were charging!

One party that’s lost in the usual discussion is that it affects the bag makers too, and no the bags aren’t all shipped over from China.

Fadhil Yousif, who runs Grand Plastics, a Brampton family business, says orders have dropped 75 per cent in the past two weeks. He used to make 100,000 to 150,000 bags a day. Last week, he stopped his machines.

“The stores are scared to stock their normal orders; they don’t know if they can move them,” he said.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m waiting to see what happens in the next two weeks.”

At the Canadian Plastics Industry Association, Cathy Cirko praises the plastic bag while lamenting the terrible timing – a recession – in imposing what she calls a “tax.” “It’s not only affecting manufacturers of plastic products, but it does put a negative image on all plastics.” She argues the City of Toronto should have expanded its recycling program and warns that the fee will have a negative impact on the recycling industry in Ontario.

Bags cost one to two cents to make, yet the businesses are charging five cents, she says.

A bit ago, I read about a neat study where lilacs were planted since 1965, and it was found that they’ve been blooming up to two weeks earlier now. The conclusion they drew from this is that climate change has been causing this change.

Well one example, or correlation isn’t really evidence; because this weekend, we went to High Park to see the cherry blossoms; on the exact same weekend that we went last year (they are only in bloom for about a week).

We had driven past High Park the week before (and the one before that), but trees weren’t even budding yet! We actually drove through High Park to make sure, and it was really busy! Every time I’ve been there recently, it’s always been busy (i.e. no parking spots), so this weekend, we decided to go early (relatively). We arrived at 11 and the parking lot was already full!

It was still a good idea to come early though, because the forecast called for rain in the afternoon. With the sun, there was nice contrast between the green grass and blue sky, but really, the cherry blossoms aren’t as pretty as magnolia blossoms!

While we were waiting in line for the CN Tower climb, there were volunteers asking trivia questions (the prize was pear chips). One of the questions was about how many plastic bags were used in the world per year, and the answer is 500 billion to 1 trillion bags! Plus, each bag is only used for an average of 12 minutes.

That 1 trillion bag number, is huge. I can’t even comprehend that number. I understand 12 minutes though, but I don’t understand how someone can only use a bag to bring their purchases home.

I’ve been brought up to save plastic bags and reuse them. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had bags of bags from buying groceries. My parents still have a couple of boxes of bags from really old stores like Simpsons, and Woolco! I have a bag of bags in the car for cheap groceries, and when those are dead, I use them as garbage bags.

I always re-use my bags at least once, and potentially many more times, probably at least a couple of hours worth. So there must be some people in this world who only use their bags for 1 or 2 minutes! Can you believe that?

Starting last year, I was part of a committee at work to organize an IBM team to climb the CN Tower as part of one of the semi-annual climbs. That also put me on the hook to actually take part in the climb (which I had never done before), since it would look bad if the organizers didn’t go to the event they organized right?

I didn’t really want to do the climb, but a lot of people had done it and so it seemed like a good challenge to take on. We had a display during lunch one day at work, trying to get people to participate; but most people just looked at our sign, grimaced, and declined. Maybe I would regret taking on this challenge.

To prepare, I started walking up from the parking lot to my apartment (16 floors), and that was a tough challenge. I would get up to my floor and be out of breath. And it wasn’t even 16 floors, because the stairs didn’t go down to the parking garage, so I had the ride the elevator up to the 2nd floor in order to start climbing!

Oh well, I wouldn’t let a little training deter me from my goal. The CN Tower is only some 144 stories or 1776 steps or 10x my tiring “training” run! So I went on Saturday and struggled up the tower with a couple of other people from work. It was a great exertion, but I didn’t need any paramedics and made it to the top in under 30 minutes.

It feels good to have done it, but I think this was a once-in-a-lifetime thing (unless there’s a really good reason for me to go again)! The whole experience was tough; waiting in multiple lines to go up, getting kicked back to the registration area since I tried to sneak in my cellphone, the actual climb, and lining up for even longer to take the elevator down.

I’m a bit pissed off about Dubai. Because for some reason I had never heard about it, or known it existed until I guess I was in University. It just kind of came out of nowhere to become the Las Vegas that wasn’t in the USA.

Now, there are a lot of stories about it and its buildings. It even has a building that is taller than the CN Tower! And socialism that is better than Canada.

Ahmed al-Atar is a handsome 23-year-old with a neat, trimmed beard, tailored white robes, and rectangular wire-glasses. He speaks perfect American-English, and quickly shows that he knows London, Los Angeles and Paris better than most westerners. Sitting back in his chair in an identikit Starbucks, he announces: “This is the best place in the world to be young! The government pays for your education up to PhD level. You get given a free house when you get married. You get free healthcare, and if it’s not good enough here, they pay for you to go abroad. You don’t even have to pay for your phone calls. Almost everyone has a maid, a nanny, and a driver. And we never pay any taxes. Don’t you wish you were Emirati?”

Like Vegas, Dubai houses a lot of glitz and glamour. But it is also like Israel; it hides a dark side that makes Dubai a terrible place to be if you don’t buy into Vegas consumption.

Sheikh Maktoum built his showcase city in a place with no useable water. None. There is no surface water, very little acquifer, and among the lowest rainfall in the world. So Dubai drinks the sea. The Emirates’ water is stripped of salt in vast desalination plants around the Gulf – making it the most expensive water on earth. It costs more than petrol to produce, and belches vast amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as it goes. It’s the main reason why a resident of Dubai has the biggest average carbon footprint of any human being – more than double that of an American.

Even knowing about these problems, I want to visit Dubai. If only to have been there before it crumbles. I just need to remember not to give anyone my passport.

Sahinal Monir, a slim 24-year-old from the deltas of Bangladesh. “To get you here, they tell you Dubai is heaven. Then you get here and realise it is hell,” he says. Four years ago, an employment agent arrived in Sahinal’s village in Southern Bangladesh. He told the men of the village that there was a place where they could earn 40,000 takka a month (£400) just for working nine-to-five on construction projects. It was a place where they would be given great accommodation, great food, and treated well. All they had to do was pay an up-front fee of 220,000 takka (£2,300) for the work visa – a fee they’d pay off in the first six months, easy. So Sahinal sold his family land, and took out a loan from the local lender, to head to this paradise.

As soon as he arrived at Dubai airport, his passport was taken from him by his construction company. He has not seen it since. He was told brusquely that from now on he would be working 14-hour days in the desert heat – where western tourists are advised not to stay outside for even five minutes in summer, when it hits 55 degrees – for 500 dirhams a month (£90), less than a quarter of the wage he was promised. If you don’t like it, the company told him, go home. “But how can I go home? You have my passport, and I have no money for the ticket,” he said. “Well, then you’d better get to work,” they replied.

Our building has a weird recycling system. For one, we actually have a recycling chute which we can thrown stuff down like garbage; no glass though – can you imagine bottles flying down 30 stories at terminal velocity?. But aside from glass we can put various other stuff: paper, plastic, that weird plastic-paper used in milk cartons into the same bag and send it down. This initially struck me as being quite odd.

At Disneyland, they had cans broken down into the usual categories, one for paper, plastic, cans and garbage. These were spread around the place but never together as a set, so you might have to walk a minute or two until you found where to properly place your refuse.

But just like my building, Universal Studios decided to be more convenient by only having one bin for your trash and recyclable items. Did this mean they didn’t recycle? No, because they take all the trash and then take it somewhere to sort out all the recyclable materials (every garbage can tells you this). Man, that’s a dirty job even for Mike Rowe unemployed illegal immigrants investment bankers, imagine all the turkey legs, napkins, and vomit they have to pick through!

This weekend, in a continuation of last week’s activities, I went through the mountain of documents that I’ve accumulated from various banks and credit cards. I meticuously file away these documents, arranged by date, in the event that I would ever need them. Why? Because the instituitions send them to me!

Well from my perspective, that’s a waste of space. So I’ve been working on digitizing the relevant information and shredding the originals. For some things, it’s pretty easy. I can logon to my banking sites and download .CSVs of my transactions and then collate them into a larger spreadsheet. But unfortunately, the banks only keep a recent record so for older records I have to data entry everything myself. Also, it was interesting to find out that my shredder can only handle 50 pages a day before it shuts down (or maybe I just broke it).

I’ve shed myself a lot of papers, but I guess the next big step is for me to actually call these instituitions and stop them from sending me paper copies of everything. That, I think, will actually be more difficult than it sounds.

Canadians were apparently a large proponent of Earth Hour and I played my part by turning out all the lights I could around me during the hour. Luckily for me, I wasn’t at home so the task was actually pretty easy. I couldn’t turn off any lights around me! Instead, I went to the Earth Hour celebration at Nathan Phillips Square. I didn’t actually go to support Earth Hour, but because Nelly Furtado was giving a free concert. There was a general confusion about the event because the start time kept changing and the performers kept shifting. The event was supposed to start at 6:45 but we arrived at the start of Earth Hour since apparently the main performers would only be on starting 8PM.

We actually arrived a bit late, because prior to this we went to have dinner at Salad King. I don’t know why I am (was) so favorable towards Salad King, but literally half the times I want to go there, it’s closed. The other half of the time, there’s a huge wait. For example, it took us over an hour to get a table for 7.

The concert was pretty lame. First, there were a huge number of people there, and we couldn’t get past the skating rink. Even there, we couldn’t see anything. Secondly, there were absolutely no lights save the stage. This is in keeping with Earth Hour, but if you can’t see the stage, then you can’t see anything in the dark. Lastly, Nelly Furtado only sang two songs – Say It Right and I’m Like A Bird, but apparently we missed Turn Out The Light which kicked off the event. The Philosopher Kings and Fefe Dobson were there, but it’s pretty boring when all you can see are black shadows moving about.

After the concert, we headed up to Victor’s place for his party. There was a lot of Smash playing, but the rest of us “social” people had a good time I think.

As the price of gas increased, I remember hearing about some crazy strategies to get gas for cheap. Avoid filling near the start of the weekend, especially if it’s a long weekend; don’t fill up early in the morning; only fill up on a Tuesday, and not the Monday; OK some of these I made up because I can’t honestly remember what they were. They were too complicated to remember!

Having been driving more lately, the thing that I have discovered is that gas stations have moved to a more simple formula. Fill up at night for saving$$$. I don’t know the exact time they switch, and it seems like the switch in a stepwise manner, but around 10PM gas is generally much cheaper than in the daytime. I’m talking about a 10% decrease in price!

When I first noticed this, I, like everyone else lined up to fill up. There were crazy lines, and I pretty much had to wait 20-30 minutes to get gas. Some gas stations even had to close down because they ran out of gas. But this has been going on for a month or so, and it doesn’t seem to have stopped. It seems to be the gas station’s plan to do this, and I have no idea why they are (have to?) do this?

So, in lieu of understanding this phenomenom, my advice would be to not fill up in the day, and fill up at night.