Wednesday 21 July 2010

Arenas and splash parks

Contratulations to Pinawa Manitoba for winning the Kraft Celebration Tour show down with Steinbach for $25,000 to redevelop the local arena. Pinawa is a remarkable little deer-infested town that has produced doctors, musicians, a successful author, an MMA fighter, and two of your favourite bloggers, but alas ... no NHL stars. Perhaps a star will be crafted in the renewed Orville Acres Arena?

So while the people of Pinawa rallied together, campaigned, and prostituted themselves out for crucial votes to keep their arena functional; the village of Lorette was just handed $350,000 for a splash park.

I have nothing against Lorette. I have personal connections to that town, but it is a town of only 600-2000 people (depending on where you look). I can't find the census data for the town, but based on the data for the municipality, that works out to about 400 or so kids. That's a lot of money per kid -- for something that will only be used on nice days for about three months a year. What ever happened to setting up a sprinkler in the front yard? You could buy 400 sprinklers for $4,000 at Canadian Tire!

I'm all for spending on recreation -- it's important to keep families active and to give kids something to do besides drinking in the bush and learning how to steal cars. It will benefit us all in the long run. But I'm not for randomly spending huge chunks of cash (unless that cash is benefiting me personally).

Why Lorette? Why a splash park? Why not, say, a basketball court in Melita or an indoor soccer pitch in Dauphin? I don't understand ...

The province has a whole pool of this money: $16.5 million dollars deep. I would like to believe that they will spend it wisely and with careful consideration of the benefits, versus the apparent process of throwing a dart at a map of the province, followed by a roulette wheel with different kinds of recreational equipment. (Flin Flon needs vibrators? Ok ... make it so Number One.)

Somebody out there knows how these things are determined. Speak up, man.

Monday 19 July 2010

Long form census

Canada must be a pretty damn boring country if the big issue of the month is scrapping the mandatory long form census. Still, while it might be a dry and esoteric subject, there is some significance to it. The significance is not just in the potential loss of accuracy in the data, or increased costs of collecting the voluntary surveys that will replace it; but in the bigger picture about how people view the government. Anytime the government implements a policy that costs more money, with explanations that don't make any sense at all, people get suspicious and cynical; and start hypothesizing about alterior motives -- very much like the Manitoba government and their unjustifiable direction regarding Bipole III.

Let me paraphrase some of the arguments:

Tony Clement: "We are scrapping the census because Canadians are complaining about the intrusion of their privacy."

Office of the Privacy Commissioner: "Uh, no, actually. We've only received three complaints in the last decade."

Tony Clement: "It was a recommendation from Statistics Canada. If it's good enough for them, why isn't it good enough for you?"

Statistics Canada: "Uh, not quite... You asked us for options, and that was the least recommended of the options we gave you."

Let's let Maxime Bernier get in on this:

The state does not belong in the bedrooms of Canadians and Canadians must have the freedom to choose if they want to answer it.
Trudeau? Really, Maxime, you're going to pull a page out of the Trudeau playbook?

Then there was Dean del Mastro, who "has taken a number of statistics courses" in his life. Dean explains that, in fact, voluntary data is used all the time, and through the magic of random sampling, can be quite accurate within know parameters.

Hey, I've got a riddle for you: what has two thumbs, a green avatar, and has also taken a number of stats courses?


Me. It's me you idiot.

Maybe that would have worked better if you could see me. Anyhow, Dean is quite right of course ... voluntary surveys are used all the time. Money is spent and decisions are made based on the results of those surveys, and there is a whole science concerning the design of questionnaires and surveys, and the accuracy and biases therein. So why can't it be used in place of the long form census?

Well, for one, it's going to be more expensive because it's going to go out to more people. Also, if asking 1 out of every 5 people personal questions is wrong, is asking twice as many people personal questions not wrong?

There is also a question about potential biases: when response rates drop, accuracy becomes more questionable. With the sensitive nature of some of the questions on the census, one might expect response rates to drop significantly. This is more problematic when the response rates vary between different demographic groups. You might be able to adjust for that in some cases, but the long form census itself is one of the key sources for collecting that demographic data, and therefore is very important.

To me, this decision by the government is puzzling and disappointing. They still have failed to properly explain it, choosing instead to make unprovable claims about privacy concerns, and playing up the fear factor about soldiers smashing down your door and throwing you in the gulag if you don't fill it out.

My answer to them is this: if some of the questions on the long form are too personal and have outlived their usefulness, then change those. Shorten the form a little bit. Have a little chat with Stats Can and say, look, is this particular question really necessary? But you've lost this battle, and anything you say at this point will just make you look more foolish. Not only that, but Michael Ignatieff could run over a baby on his bus tour and nobody would notice because of this stupid census squabble.

Or maybe that's the point ... keep the press's attention turned away from Ignatieff's BBQ road trip, even if it means making a bad decision and creating a whole new wave of cynicism in the electorate.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Dial "A" for Arbitrary, Part II

On Thursday, July 15, it will become illegal to drive while talking on a cell phone in Manitoba. I jumped the gun a bit a year ago, thinking that it was already illegal, but I would like to reiterate a point that I made in that original post.

Our ban, like similar bans in most other jurisdictions, only applies to hand held cell phones. Hands-free cell phones are excluded from the ban. Like I pointed out before, this makes as much sense as prohibiting drinking and driving, but only if you were drinking whiskey or red wine. If you were drinking gin or white wine, you ought to be able to get as blasted as you want and still drive, according to the logic used by our law makers.

Why? Because it's not the fact that you're holding a phone that's dangerous -- it's the fact that you're talking on the phone that's dangerous. It doesn't matter if it's in your hand, on the console, or embedded in your skull. When you're talking on the phone, your mind is elsewhere and your driving reactions are delayed.

Says me? No ... says this study:

Results: When drivers were conversing on either a handheld or hands-free cell phone, their braking reactions were delayed and they were involved in more traffic accidents than when they were not conversing on a cell phone.
and this study:
unconstrained conversations using either a handheld or a hands-free cell phone resulted in a twofold increase in the failure to detect simulated traffic signals and slower reactions to those signals that were detected. We suggest that cellular-phone use disrupts performance by diverting attention to an engaging cognitive context other than the one immediately associated with driving.
and this study:
Hands-free and handheld phones revealed similar patterns of results for both measures of performance ... We suggest that (a) there are significant costs to driver reactions to external hazards or events associated with cell phone use, (b) hands-free cell phones do not eliminate or substantially reduce these costs, and (c) different research methodologies or performance measures may underestimate these costs.
and this study:
Conclusions When drivers use a mobile phone there is an increased likelihood of a crash resulting in injury. Using a hands-free phone is not any safer.
and every other study I have come across on the subject. This cell phone ban is not about making the streets safer. It's about appearing to make the streets safer.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I'm a bit of a hypocrite in this area: I do occasionally talk on my cell phone while driving. I have a hands-free adapter, but I rarely use it. However, most of my conversations are very short ... usually something like this:
"Hi? Ya, need me to pick anything up at the store on the way home? ... Milk, ok ... tomatoes? I thought we had some .... Wait, you did what with the tomatoes? ... Oh geeze ... ok, I'll get some more."
One thing I never do is text while driving. Texting is one of the worst things you can do while driving. If you lose your license and have your car impounded for drinking and driving, then the punishment for texting should be at least that stiff. In fact, you should also get a kick in the groin -- by Alexis Serna -- for being an idiot. At least when you're drunk you're keeping your eyes on the road.

Sunday 11 July 2010

Bombers, freeways, football and parks

I don't know how I managed to post 9 times in June, but I suspect I'll fall well short of that mark this month. That's okay though, because I will make up for it by posting about five different topics in one shot here (most of it being commentary about crap in the Saturday Free Press, but gimme a break man ... it's summer. I've been concentrating on important things like drinking, and baseball, and drinking while playing baseball.)


Now I haven't been to a Bomber game yet, but when I do go I must make a point of watching the new "flag men", just so that I can try to reconcile this:

The Blue Squadron has captured the attention -- and imagination -- of fans and media, who've marvelled at the new game-day feature.
with this:
And please, please, PLEASE get rid of the flag men. This is the most embarrassing “innovation” I’ve ever seen at a sports game. There is NOTHING good about it. It sucks. I’d rather have Mike Kelly return as coach than see these nimrods shuffling around the field. Am I being clear?
(I'll give Frogger the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn't know they were soldiers and fire fighters when referring to them as "nimrods")


The kick coverage woes of the Bombers make me think of Jamie Stoddard. Yes ... Stoddard. Really. He was more than a reliable but seldom used receiver -- he was a role player who was often on the coverage team. In fact he was an excellent coverage guy. Bring back Stoddard!


I say this every week, but I really shouldn't read Colleen Simard columns...
In fact, three different tribes have claims to the Stanley Park land.

So this public outrage is about more than just a name change, it's about a shift in power. Nobody wants to give up claim of a treasured landmark to indigenous people.
Or .... maybe the opposition has something to do with the fact that Stanley Park is an internationally known attraction, and renaming it could cause confusion, and necessitate an expensive rebranding effort? Also, if three different tribes lay claim to the area, how wise it is to name it after a specific village for a specific tribe? What about the other tribes? Oh don't tell me: they all lived together in the same village and "celebrated".


Ok ... let's forget about that and keep flipping through the paper ... Oh look: the new Peguis Trail extension is getting an underpass!
The eastern extension of Chief Peguis Trail will include an underpass below Rothesay Street as part of a $110-million deal to build a freeway across North Kildonan
Freeway? Does a street with one underpass constitute a freeway now? I guess in Winnipeg it might...

Let me ask you something: if we can build an underpass here, why can't we build a grade separation on a street that will see far, FAR more traffic; at an intersection that's already rated an "F" and will be twice as bad in a few short years? I'll even help you out on how to do it.

Oh ya .. I love this part too:
"It would have been nice if all our streets were built with minimal stopping and starting," he (Mayor Sam Katz) said, citing the environmental benefits of reducing idling times
Holy fuck Sam ... is that what you've been doing all these years? Minimizing stopping and starting?!? I can count one underpass (Waverly) and one functional round-about (Lakewood) in all your years in office. Now how many stop lights and four way stops have we added?


Lastly: congratulations to Spain!

A while back, after the Winter Olympics, I mused about how a successful performance and the national pride it generates can help to crush separatist spirits and unite a country. Well, perhaps it will work for Spain as well.
That is certainly the view of Vicente del Bosque, Spain’s football coach. “There are players from all over Spain here in the squad. We are united and I hope the same feeling of unity occurs back in Spain,”
related: Endless Spin

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