Monday 26 November 2012

Inside the new Winnipeg IKEA

I heard there was a media night for the new IKEA here in Winnipeg, so I put on my trench coat, stuck a card that says "PRESS" in the band of my fedora, and snuck in for a preview.

I was amazed by what I found: a DJ, free champagne, appetizers from MISE Bistro, a killer gift bag filled to the top with awesome stuff, 15% off everything in the store... I could certainly get used to being a member of the media. If a young person ever comes to me and asks for advice, I'm going to tell them to go into journalism. Best job ever!
I should start by saying that I like IKEA. The office I am currently sitting in features two IKEA book shelves, an IKEA desk, an IKEA wall-mounted cabinet, an IKEA garbage can, and probably a couple of other miscellaneous items from the Swedish megastore. Not all of our rooms are like this mind you, but we do enjoy shopping there.

You would think, therefore, that I would be enthusiastic about IKEA coming to town. Well I am, but only moderately so. We have probably already bought all of the home furnishings that we ever would buy from there, at least for a while.

If I go to IKEA now, it's mostly for small things: little boxes for organizing, tea lights, lunch .... I have never actually had the famous IKEA meatballs. I thought tonight might be the perfect night to try them out. I just have to find the meatball station hidden somewhere in Canada's second largest IKEA.

The bamboo IKEA USB stick that they gave us says that the store is 395,671 square feet. That is a mere 3,000 square feet smaller that the Ottawa store, although both will be eclipsed next year by the expanded Montreal store at an astounding 500,000 sq ft.

The size of the Winnipeg store is a little bit misleading. The warehouse portion is larger than most other stores because, as one IKEA employee put it, our store is an "island" with no other distribution centres around. I expect this means that catalog orders to Regina will come from here now instead of Calgary.
With the larger warehouse, the actual shopping area probably isn't that much larger than most other IKEAs. If you been in one elsewhere, you know what to expect including tidy little "inspirational room settings" that showcase the products, and a 1.3 km labyrinth-style layout that will take you past lots of clean lines, geometric shapes, and bright colours.
What's different about our IKEA? Mostly improvements in the building itself: geothermal heating, skylights, a rainwater collection system and other similar things. They did not paint the building green in case you were wondering. There will be bicycle parking too, for you hardcore bike nuts.

The insanity starts for real on Wednesday, November 28. And just because it wouldn't be crazy enough as it is, IKEA is giving the first 1000 people free "mystery boxes" with a $75 gift card and a chance to win up to $5000 of IKEA stuff. Good luck peeps. I'm glad I got to go to this shindig, because I'm staying the heck away from there at least until the madness subsides ... which will probably be sometime next spring.
... but I will be back because I still haven't had any meatballs!!  Would you believe I completely missed the meatball station? I don't know how that happened.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Around This Town: Slurpees, Surefoot, Speed limits and Stumbling

This is big news. HUGE news. 7-11 is now at the airport!!!!

See? Right there. 7-Eleven number 25.

I haven't seen it and I don't think it's actually in the airport terminal, but nevertheless it's conveniently located such that when you come back to Winnipeg from some inferior place that does not love Slurpees as much as us, the first thing you can do is buy a Slurpee!

Also, because of the strategic location, 7-11 has introduced a new 100 ml Super Small Gulp that you can take on the airplane.

Okay, I just made that last part up.


This is big news. HUGE news. Especially if you're a frail old lady. That's right: is up and running again!

A full two weeks into November and a week after our first big snowfall of the year, the website had absolutely nothing to report.

Now, thanks to a team of IT professionals working around the clock to restore surefoot functionality, the online sidewalk safety tool now informs you that you should take precautions when using sidewalks.

This is tremendously important for those older folks and people with disabilities who would otherwise have danced down the sidewalk wearing rollerblades.

Now that is back up and running, we can rest easy knowing that Councillor Harvey Smith will not fall down this winter.

(Really, I like Harvey. He cares about the city and he's a very engaged person. I sent him an email one evening and he called me within half an hour and we had a good long chat. Usually the most you get is a one word reply.)


This is big news! Speed limits are being reviewed, and this time we're not talking about making them lower, but actually increasing some of the ridiculously low limits that you see around town. I give a tip of the hat to Winnipeg Girl for pointing out the CJOB web site with the details.
That's a great summary by CJOB, with Google maps and a description of the proposed increase.

I've written about this before, but increasing speed limits has been proposed in the past only to be shot down by a city hall committee with little consideration. Hopefully the Manitoba Traffic Board's consultative approach this time will have more success.

You know people will come out and oppose this, saying things like "a person has a 30% better chance of surviving an accident with a car going 50 km/h than 60 km/h" and so on. That's a false argument though, because if you take that to it's logical conclusion all speed limits should be set to 0 km/h.

In reality, the safest speed to drive is the "natural" speed of the road ... the speed that people tend to drive. The "85th percentile" that traffic experts recommend speed limits be set at. If you set speed limits too low then there is more lane changing and shuffling of traffic, and more people will take short cuts down side roads endangering kids.

I'm usually not a big fan of obscure provincial boards, but GO Manitoba Traffic Board!


In blog news, the blog Stumbling (A)Bordeaux is gone. Like a puff of smoke, it has vanished into the ether, posts and all. Patrick Oystryk went out with a strong final post "Winnipeg: a Recycled City" -- a sobre evaluation of Winnipeg's shortcomings from somebody who just spent a few years living in Europe. He has hinted at starting up something new now that's he's returned to the 'Peg, so stay tuned.

It's a personal decision, whether to delete it all when you hang up the blogging gloves, or keep things on-line for posterity. I selfishly prefer the latter, because there was a lot of good content that has disappeared from the likes of Patrick, David Watson of Waverly West and Beyond, Walk Krawec of One Man Committee, and others.

Speaking of One Man Committee, it popped up on my blog roll again today. There is only one post with nothing in it, and the author is now Kindra Cahya. What's up with that?


Lastly, this Friday is the 16th annual LITE (local investment toward employment) Wild Blueberry Pancake Breakfast at the Indian and Métis Friendship Centre. 

I will be there flipping pancakes or washing dishes or, given the time of day, slumped in a chair drinking coffee. Maybe see you there!

Sunday 18 November 2012

The Scrutinization of Manitoba Hydro

It's agonizing, it is. The glacially slow creep towards sanity in how Manitoba develops it's hydro resources. As the government confidently powers ahead with its plan to spend billions on misguided dams and power lines, it is being slowed by occasional bumps of scrutiny as people increasingly question the wisdom of what the government and Hydro are doing.

Reluctantly, Manitoba Hydro agreed to file a supplemental environmental assessment because of changes to the controversial west-side Bipole III route, after the Manitoba Metis Federation and others complained.

Days later, the province has begrudgingly ordered a "Needs For and Alternatives To" review of it's northern hydro projects, the Keeyask and Conawapa generating stations. Even as the NDP government announced the review, they repeated their lines about how these projects are critical to the economic success of the province -- as though the review is nothing more than a silly formality.

The government's backwards thinking on this issue is striking. For example, take everything Minister Dave Chomiak says in the following quote ...

"The estimated $13.3-billion investment in Manitoba's north that would result from Keeyask and Conawapa would propel the province's economy for decades to come and provide clean, low-cost and reliable power for future generations of Manitobans," Chomiak said. "Moving forward with these projects is an important decision and Manitobans need to be assured that they are in the best long-term interest of the province." -fp-

... and reverse everything, and see how much more sense it makes:
"The estimated $13.3-billion debt that would result from Keeyask and Conawapa would cripple the province's economy for decades to come and drive up the cost of power for future generations of Manitobans," Chomiak said. "Moving forward with these projects is a terrible decision and Manitobans need to be worried that they are not in the best long-term interest of the province." 
Wouldn't it have been a refreshing change of pace if Chomiak had a sudden surge of integrity and actually made that second quote instead of the first?

The province has so far neglected to request a similar review of Bipole III, but Bipole III is directly related to the NFAT for the generating stations.

Here's how: The existing HVDC power lines are sufficient to carry the existing generating capacity to the south. If the review determines that there are better alternatives to the proposed generating stations, then Bipole III is not necessary either -- at least not strictly necessary. It would still provide redundancy in power delivery to the south. However the value of that redundancy will need to be weighed against the $4 billion cost of Bipole III.

Here's something else you should know: even if it's decided that a Bipole III line is required without new power dams up north, there is a huge cost impact. The original shorter east-side route for Bipole III would only require costly converters if the additional generating capacity is added. Otherwise they are not needed. This is stated in Hydro's own documents including the routing study and this leaked 2005 report. However, converters are required for the longer west side route just to function.

This means that if the NFAT finds that the additional generating capacity up north is not needed, and the government continues to insist on building the Bipole III route down the west side of the province instead of the east side, then Manitobans are not just getting pooched out of an additional $871 million (according to my calculations) but also an additional $2+ billion for converters. This makes the west-side Bipole III route a head-shaking $3 billion mistake.

But all is not grim. What once appeared to be fait accompli is now somewhat less so as more questions are raised and scrutiny is applied. For example in the past two weeks there have been 10 or more articles and editorials in the Winnipeg Free Press about reviews of Manitoba Hydro plans or concerns about those plans, including this one from a former Manitoba Hydro Vice-President.

And of course there is the needs for alternatives review. There is a good chance that it will find that the proposed new generating stations are not a good investment at this point in time in spite of the government's insistence to the contrary, especially considering the week export market alluded to in Hydro's quarterly report and the likelihood that final projects costs will be much higher than the current $13.3 billion estimate.

So you see, even as the government continues to commit to it's ill-advised plans, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Keeyask and Conawapa are not a sure thing anymore, and therefore Bipole III may not be a sure thing anymore either. Sanity may yet prevail.

Probably not.

But maybe.

Monday 12 November 2012

Shindico sanity check

It's always good to get all sides of the story, and until now we didn't have Shindico's perspective on the Winnipeg Fire Hall Debacle. Finally, belatedly, we have heard from the company behind this mess in Bartley Kives' Freep article No closed-door deal: Shindico.

According to Shindico's Bob Downs, everything that happened was just a natural evolution of a perfectly legitimate deal. It was all very straight-forward and nobody did anything wrong. However I believe this view requires a bit of a sanity check:

Re. building fire hall no. 12 on Shindico-owned land:
Shindico suggested its own land on Taylor Avenue as the home for the new Station No. 12. "You build a building on land that doesn't belong to the city, because if you don't, it doesn't get built," said Downs
There may be some truth to this. The city may not own any suitable land in the area, but does it have to be built on Shindico land? Well Shindico certainly did own a crap-load of land in the area

... but this area south of River Heights is far from being fully developed. There certainly must be other suitable property available. What about, for instance, the still-vacant site at the south-west corner of Taylor and Waverly? A very accessible location assessed at only $378,000. Who owns that??

But let's assume for a moment that the most appropriate parcel of land was in fact owned by Shindico:
"Now we have land that we own, and we don't sell land."
To resolve this issue, the land swap was born.
 "We don't sell land " he says. "We" being Shindico Realty, a realty company. Maybe they more commonly develop land, but they certainly can and do sell land. At the end of the day they will end up selling this land to the city anyhow because if they don't it will get expropriated.

Re. the 3-for-1 land swap:
The original land swap involved only two properties -- Shindico's Taylor plot and a vacant parcel of city land at Mulvey Avenue East in Fort Rouge.
Douglas, however, came back and informed Shindico the police still required part of the Mulvey land for its river-patrol unit. So a chunk of this land was carved off. "I said, 'What do we do about the balance?' (Douglas) said, 'The only thing we have is the two stations that are being replaced,' ".
The eventual plan to trade Taylor for the Mulvey, Grosvenor and Berry properties was a compromise solution.
So we are told that originally it was going to be a straight swap between the Mulvey site, assessed at over $1 million, and the Taylor site assessed at less than half that amount*, but because the police required "a chunk" of the 4.2 acre Mulvey site, it evolved into a swap between the Mulvey site and the Berry fire hall site and the Grosvenor Ave site. Some kind of compromise that is.

In other words, "a chunk" of the Mulvey Avenue location -- perhaps 20% -- is equivalent to the infill properties on Berry St and Grosvenor Ave combined.  That math doesn't add up in my mind.

Why not just take Mulvey off the table and propose a swap of one or both of the other locations? Why add them on to Mulvey? Better yet, why not just propose to buy the land off Shindico to begin with?
"You have to understand the reason we wanted to swap the land is then we can make something out of the land. It benefits both the city and us," Downs said.
This itself is a preposterous statement. Swapping with Shindico isn't the only possible channel the city has for adding value to land. The Mulvey property had interested buyers. The city could sell the land and see the property tax roll go up as a result, and in a much more transparent way as well. It is very condescending of Downs to suggest, indirectly, that the city can't "make something out of the land" without handing over the land to Shindico.

Re. the Station 11 budget explosion
An initial 10,500-square-foot figure did not account for doors and corridors for personnel to move around ... The configuration had to be amended to satisfy concerns about traffic flow.
If this is true, then that adds a whole new layer of incompetence. Who's designing a fire hall without doors and hallways? Or if it was designed with doors and hallways, then who is estimating the cost of construction without them? His explanation still implies that somebody screwed up in a big way, and since Shindico was in charge of designing and building this thing that person is probably somebody within Shindico.

How do you account for the increase in square footage? Downs makes no reference to the proposed museum that Chief Douglas suggested was behind the size increase. Instead, the 3,500 sq ft. expansion is due to doors and corridors and dorm rooms. That's not believable.
"It was always our understanding, that whatever we agreed to was subject to council," he said. "So it wasn't being done behind closed doors."

Actually it was being done behind closed doors, but you were just leaving council to deal with the aftermath when the doors opened up and it was too late to change. Build first, check with council later.

Conclusion: I give this story by Shindico's Bob Downs two thumbs down. I find it to be unrealistic and contrived. A carefully crafted pile of crap. But that's just my opinion.

* Bart had reported that the Taylor land is assessed at $461,000. The city's assessment tool shows the plot of land at 1780 Taylor Ave assessed at $602,000 but the fire hall only takes up part of that parcel of land.

Still waiting for that special pot?:
Why yes I am, actually.... Is this where I get it?

Friday 9 November 2012

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

I was recently doing some business with Larsen's Memorials in Winnipeg when I noticed in the back of their shop a stack of brand new grave markers for WWII casualties. I inquired about them, and that's when I found out about the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is a remarkable organization, headquartered in the UK, that looks after the memory of all Commonwealth men and women who served and died in world wars I and II. They do this by maintaining the memorials of all the war dead, and in some cases the cemeteries in which they are buried.

The Commission abides by the following principles:

  • Each of the dead should be commemorated by name on the headstone or memorial
  • Headstones and memorials should be permanent
  • Headstones should be uniform
  • There should be no distinction made on account of military or civil rank, race or creed
The organization has a very good web site where you can search for war dead or cemeteries. The history is also relatively fascinating. Did you know Rudyard Kipling was recruited to consult on the inscriptions on the memorials? All the work is funded by 6 Commonwealth nations, of which the UK is by far the largest contributor. Canada contributes the second largest amount.


The uniformity required in the memorials must dictate that the granite is sourced from a specific location, but the work done to engrave the markers is done locally. The grave markers that I saw at Larsen's were part of a routine 10 year replacement program. That's what surprised me the most...

Imagine: every 10 years, every memorial for every Commonwealth casualty of the two great wars is replaced. That's 1.7 million memorials in 23,000 locations in 153 countries around the world. I find that to be absolutely astonishing. It's not something I had ever really thought about, but I guess I just assumed they were replaced on an as-needed basis.

It may even seem a little bit excessive, but on Remembrance Day as you're thinking back to all those who died for our country, you can rest assured that their names will live on ad infinitum on well maintained memorials.

Sunday 4 November 2012

Glen Murray's web page

Glen Murray, Toronto Centre MPP and former mayor of Winnipeg, announced today that he's running for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party in the wake of Dalton McGuinty's resignation.

We at the Peanut wish him luck in this new endeavor. He may very well make a decent Premier. I believe that had he stayed on longer as Winnipeg's mayor, we would be in a better place today than we currently are. He seemed like a credible guy and he had some vision, but unfortunately he didn't stick around to follow it through. Perhaps the higher office of leader of a provincial party / Premier will satisfy his ambitions.

Winning an election is about connecting with people, and to that end Murray is off to a bad start with his new web site:

The web site is terrible. His picture is blurry because it's a low-res photo blown up to a larger size; the logo looks like it was ripped off from Target; the website emphatically blinks every 10 seconds as it refreshes; but most of all the layout is awful.

The most common screen resolution of visitors to this blog,, is 1280 x 800. This is what his web page looks like on that size of monitor:

Not only is the right side of the page cut off, even with a 1280 pixel wide screen, but all of the actual content of the web page is not visible. Even worse, on a traditional 1024 x 768 display you can't even see the DONATE and GET INVOLVED buttons. Literally all you see is the home page stamp in the top left corner and part of the giant banner.

That banner ... that banner is massive. Glen Murray's face alone consumes over 10% of the visible area on a 1024 x 768 display. If you've ever seen Glen in person you'll know that he does indeed have a big head. Physically. It's quite a large melon. However on a web site these are things you have control over.

Compounding the inefficiency of the web site is a vast amount of wasted space. A good web site will have a clean look and appear uncluttered, but this web site has gone to the extreme of making the welcome page almost entirely devoid of content.
To reiterate: the major problem here is that there is little to no actual content visible when a visitor arrives at the web page. The useful stuff -- Twitter feed, discussion links, news items, upcoming events, etc -- all occur 770 pixels down the page. When you add on the menu bar for the browser, the content starts at about 900 pixels. Perhaps as Premier, Glen will implement a government program to provide every computer user in Ontario with a giant monitor, but we can assume that today many people will be visiting this web site from laptops or desktops with modest monitors. If his visitors mirror those of this blog, 65% of them will not see a single link to any of the content mentioned above without scrolling down.

As for the content itself, I have to assume it will improve, but some initial thoughts are:

Twitter: this is NOT a Twitter feed from Glen Murray. It is a feed of tweets from Glen's RenewLiberal campaign twitter account, ensuring that nothing of interest will ever show up here. This ought to be a real-time feed of Glen's own tweets, and Glen should ensure that his tweets are not the usual boring drivel that most politicians are prone to. (More on my thoughts about this here.)

News: Here you will only find undescriptive links to policy statements by Glenn himself. These are not news items at all, and there is no information to grab the reader. Why not at least add a brief synopsis of the item? "Smart Government" is nothing more than a catch phrase. I'm not going to click on that. Sorry.

Upcoming Events: as of right now, the only event posted has already passed. Perhaps this should be renamed "Past Events" if they don't plan on being proactive with this.

Discussions: I'll cut him some slack on not having anything here yet, but it would have been a great idea to get a discussion ready for the launch of the web page. How likely am I to return if I see nothing there?

To summarize: I don't understand what they were thinking when they set this thing up. Premier hopeful Glen Murray will have a difficult time engaging voters if his web site is not the least bit engaging.

Glen's head actual web-site size:
warning: do not make this the last thing you see before you go to bed.

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