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Friday, March 30, 2012

Robocall probe stretches to 200 ridings across Canada

And it continues.
Robocall probe stretches to 200 ridings across Canada, chief electoral officer Marc Mayrand tells Commons committee - thestar.com

Injuries rife in Israel's makeshift matza factories

One of the key themes to Pesach is human rights.  Illegal bakeries don't fit into that debate, but trying to prevent medical attention does.
Injuries rife in Israel's makeshift matza factories - Haaretz

The penny's days are numbered - CBC News

An interesting development.  I've always found it strange how the Canadian and British denominations are different.  For example:
Canadian denominations: 1 cent, 5 cents, 10 cents, 25 cents, 50 cents (although they are hardly ever seen), $1 and $2
UK denominations: 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, £2
Soon Canada will be out of the "copper" currency altogether!
The penny's days are numbered - CBC News

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Why Space Exploration is a Great Thing

For many years, I have thought that one of the best things that could happen to the US would be a new space project similar to the Apollo moon missions of the 1960s. The euphoria and economic boom that accompanied the program were stunning and haven't been replicated since. Of course, budgetary constraints did cut back Apollo, people did die and the public did grow bored, but the overall feeling was good.

I have also thought that this sort of boost could be replicated in other countries. I once tied for first in a high school civics class election on a core policy of building a lunar exploration program for Canada. While the idea obviously appealed to high school students, unaware of the cost and overall silliness of the idea, I am not alone in my basic idea.

During an interview yesterday on CBC's Q, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson outlined how he sees a renewed vigour in NASA as being central to the American future. He outlines the rapid innovation required for ambitious missions and how this spills over into other industries (Apollo brought the world Velcro, among other things). His argument was mainly based on scientific literacy for the public and increases in business. I believe that such a program would also have huge benefits for culture and unity. We don't need another space race, this could be an international project, but it needs to be bold and ambitious. The International Space Station got boring very quickly. Why? It was bureauratic and covered a previously explored region - earth orbit. Neil deGrasse Tyson is correct, each Gemini mission added new steps, there was always a new challenge. The ISS simply added new modules. Even a return to the moon might be too dull. A manned mission to Mars would be a better target.

Fanciful or not, such lofty plans would tap into the root of human creativity and innovation: struggle. Some of the fastest technological, medical and scientific innovations have come during wartime. Space exploration should be able to function as a more peaceful catalyst. While much of the Apollo program was fuelled by the Cold War and America's attempts to better the Soviets (incidentally, other than manned missions to the moon and the space shuttle, the Soviets were first with satellites, animals, humans and space stations - essentially everything), the same drive should be transferrable to international missions, the antagonist being the potential of failure rather than a human foe.

Five Minutes with a Train

The following piece first appeared on my rail photo tips site in late 2009. The version below has been edited.

One September lunchtime, I had a few minutes to spare in London so I decided to try and see Britain’s fastest train – the new Hitachi Class 395 “Javelin”. The platforms at St Pancras were gated and silent. Unsure whether I could gain access or not, I plucked up my courage to ask permission to see the new marvel of the railway.

Britain gave the world the railways. If not for the likes of Watt, Stephenson, Trevithick, and many others, Britain would not have led the way in the industrial revolution. For almost a hundred years, Britain remained the undisputed leader in railway innovation. Flying Scotsman and Mallard remain two of the most iconic locomotives ever to ride the rails. It was not all glamorous, or even a “golden age”, as the LNER (and the other big four companies) often ran very close to bankruptcy (Mallard's record-breaking run was a desperate attempt to boost the LNER's image and passenger numbers). Even as early as the 1930s, Britain began to lag behind as other countries began to investigate the possibility of diesel and electric traction.

Following the Second World War, Britain fell behind as other European nations began massive electrification programmes and North America embraced the diesel. By the time steam finally disappeared from British Rail in 1968, much of Europe had been exclusively diesel and electric for nearly a decade. Britain had some electric and a fleet of diesels whose reliability was often poor. France and Japan had taken titles for the fastest trains. It was not until the mid 1970s that the InterCity 125 put Britain back on the railway map. The iconic intercity diesel trains were notable in that, unlike in most countries, the IC 125 was accessible with a standard ticket for a journey, not an upgrade. Indeed, France and Japan had faster trains, but they were accessed by buying premium tickets. After the IC 125, the Thatcher and Major years dealt heavy blows to British Rail, boosting punctuality but cutting overall service.

Regardless of the apparent decline in the past four decades, Britain has managed to remain one of the best-connected railway nations in the world, especially when compared to North America. The Channel Tunnel project began to reinvigorate the network and the recent completion of High-Speed 1 (HS1) has put Britain back in the high-speed club. Thirty years ago, 125 mph was considered fast, but today even 140 mph (the current HS1 speed) seems a bit slow compared with France and Japan. In fact, the “Javelin” is Japanese built, a sign that railways are increasingly about cooperation rather than competition.

Privatisation has brought massive changes which, in the past year, I have been able to experience first-hand. The biggest is the chaos of an ever-changing array of franchises. While this is great fun for a photographer like myself, it is more difficult for commuters wanting a reliable service each day. It has taken over ten years for the franchise system to stabilise and punctuality and reliability are now at all-time highs – even if the occasional shock (such as National Express East Coast’s (NXEC) forfeiture this past summer) does rock the railway. Also from a passenger's point of view, ticket prices have risen steadily every year, making the railway an expensive option.

Since privatisation, the problems for enthusiasts have increased constantly. Twenty years ago, the guidelines for railway enthusiasts were quite literally one line long. A simple “do not trespass and be careful” reminder was all that was required. Now, a one-page document, often ignored, is what has replaced this simple message. It is the increasing corporatisation of the industry that has caused this to happen and enthusiasts are unhappy as a result.

Photography is still legal and, supposedly, relatively free of restrictions. However, there are an increasing number of cases where some railway staff are becoming a vigilante group – defending the railways against an apparent, but as yet completely invisible (and likely non-existent) threat. For the most part, the public abhor this and while they do mock trainspotting, they do seem to accept that this degradation of rights is unfair. I have been fortunate as I have never been stopped by staff or police in the UK for photographing trains (although I was refused a platform ticket at Cambridge). The government’s apathy can be understood in such tumultuous times, but a solution to this problem would, I expect, not be very difficult to introduce.

Tornado has been a wonderful test of both the public’s view of the railways and also the guidelines for railway photography. The public have received Tornado very warmly – even if they don’t fully understand the rivet-counting significance! Unfortunately, the railway companies have not been as welcoming. Enthusiasts were nearly denied access to Darlington station to see off Tornado – NXEC cited safety concerns (although the case screams “revenue protection” – the catch-all of the franchise world). It would seem that Tornado has reignited the country’s passion for rail. Even in the recession, preserved railways are seeing double-digit increases in visitor numbers this year. Perhaps railways in general are also still popular – after all, the National Railway Museum at York is one of the most popular attractions in the country!

The future of rail seems to be increasingly optimistic as the government has announced many new constructions projects: a North-South high-speed line, electrifying the Great Western main line and more coaches for what is an increasingly over-crowded network.

This brings me back to my quest to see the greatest hope that Britain could once again be at the forefront of railway innovation. Having arrived at St Pancras, I was surprised to see three new platforms open for the high-speed domestic service, which shares HS1 with the ever-popular Eurostar. I had expected ticket barriers and I also knew that the line closes for about 90 minutes for safety checks each day. My trip seemed as if it would end in disappointment.

I reached the barriers to find a “Javelin” sitting at platform 11, which was completely devoid of humanity as the safety inspection was taking place. A member of staff stood by the barriers, looking rather bored. After such media hype at the launch and the special introductory service to create a ready-made passenger base, I felt cautiously optimistic as I approached.

“I don’t suppose there is any chance I could go on the platform for a photograph?”, I asked cautiously. To my surprise, the gates were opened and I was allowed through for a one-on-one meeting with Britain’s newest, and fastest, train. The platform was deserted and silent. How privileged I felt to be standing alone with what is, I believe, a new beginning for rail in Britain.

Postscript: February 2012

Britain's only high-speed line is to be a central part of travel planning for the upcoming Olympic games in London. The proposed north-south high-speed line has now been announced as HS2, to be completed in the next two to three decades. While the amount of time the project will take raises the worrying prospect that it may already be obsolete by the time it opens, it does show a renewed commitment to rail. The Crossrail project in London continues to be built, hopefully bringing relief to passengers trying to travel through London, rather than to it.

The announcement of HS2 has sparked an interesting historical repetition. During the Victorian railway booms, people protested against the encroachment of the railway onto their land, their views and their communities. Now, in 2012, the same is happening as various citizen's groups protest the planned route. The speed of the project, however, does not parallel the rapid building of the 19th Century.

Oil prices continue to rise and, despite ticket price increases, rail passenger numbers are going up in the UK. Numbers are also up in other countries, such as Canada, which are not normally associated with passenger rail. VIA Rail Canada is boosting capacity in its Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor and adding a third track in many places to reduce delays. In the home of the automobile, the United States, President Obama has announced huge capital investment in high-speed rail projects, although a Republican win later this year would likely reverse all the progress.

Is there a rail revival? I would say yes, and it's global.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Ontario Northland NOT FOR SALE!

I think this is a done deal, but for what it's worth here is the petition to stop the sale.
Ontario Northland NOT FOR SALE! | TeamstersRail |

Lettre ouverte: Pour la survie de Radio-Canada, pour un débat public sur sa mission

Pour moi, Radio-Canada et CBC sont de forts symboles du Canada.  Ce sont deux services qui diffusent la culture canadienne dans un monde médiatisé par les Etats-Unis.  Sans Radio-Canada, je n'aurais aucun canal francophone à regarder.  Sans CBC, je n'aurais presque pas de programmes pertinents au Canada.  Le diffuseur public est important pour chaque pays, mais je craint que le Canada pourrait perdre le sien.  Même dans une situation économique difficile, il faut protéger Radio-Canada et CBC - les diffuseurs des deux langues officielles.
Lettre ouverte: Pour la survie de Radio-Canada, pour un débat public sur sa mission

Steel Wool Light Painting



This is a very cool technique that looks like a lot of fun. Disclaimer: I have never tried this, safety is really important! Thanks to DIY Photography for posting the video.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Delays Keep Omar Khadr at Guantánamo, Despite Plea Deal

Remember Omar Khadr?  You know, the only western prisoner left at Guantánamo?  Well, he's still there.  This article suggests that the delay lies squarely on the Canadian side.  
Delays Keep Omar Khadr at Guantánamo, Despite Plea Deal - NYTimes.com

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Ontario Northland to be Sold

Multiple sources are reporting that the Ontario government plans to sell off the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission as part of the upcoming budget. The Toronto Star has a good summary.

The most notable casualty is the Toronto-Cochrane Northlander, which will be replaced by bus service. Although the Highway 11 corridor parallels the railway for much of the route, I cannot see a bus being a suitable replacement for the train. The demise of this train would also mean that Amtrak's Maple Leaf would be the only remaining anomaly in Toronto's passenger rail service.

The Northlander is an important link between Toronto and Northern Ontario. One good piece of news is that these plans should protect the Cochrane-Moosonee Polar Bear Express, a route with little road access. Following the news, speculation as to who might buy the railway has begun. CN has expressed interest in the past, but has not yet commented on these new developments.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fog

The Toronto Area has been incredibly warm these past few days, often hitting above 20C during the day. For late March, this is extremely rare. The warmer temperatures have brought heavy fog most mornings, making for interesting photographs. Tuesday morning, this westbound freight crawled through Whitby.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Toronto

A really enjoyable visit to Toronto on Wednesday offered a chance to photograph one of VIA Rail's last non-rebuilt F40 locomotives. Only a handful of these iconic units still carry the grey and yellow. Soon, 6453 will join the other units in receiving VIA's new green livery and various upgrades.

Misleading robocalls went to voters ID'd as non-Tories

This just keeps getting more corrupt.
Misleading robocalls went to voters ID'd as non-Tories - CBC News

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Voter fraud concerns in east Toronto widespread

While Canada criticises the developing world for unfair elections, allegations of corruption are surfacing closer to home.
Voter fraud concerns in east Toronto widespread - CBC News

Not Quite the End for EMD London

According to Trains magazine, an agreement has been reached which will see the EMD plant in London continue to operate until the current on-site orders have been filled. After this handful of locomotives has been completed, the plant will close.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Encyclopaedia Britannica ends its famous print edition

A sad story for people who find it easier to use printed reference material, rather than on-screen reading.  Books are so much more stable than electronic media.  As wonderful as online collections are, they are at risk of disappearing as quickly as someone can press a delete key.  Last night, CBC's culture magazine Q had a very interesting interview with Brewster Kahle about his plan to collect a copy of every book ever published.  He hopes to safeguard them for future generations.
BBC News - Encyclopaedia Britannica ends its famous print edition

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Susan Cain: The power of introverts

Much of the world, myself included, are introverts.  For us, group work is not the best way to interact or to learn.  Perhaps group work will soon fall out of favour again and I will be allowed to think alone.
Susan Cain: The power of introverts | Video on TED.com

Friday, March 09, 2012

Comment Harper nous fait reculer en plus de huit façons

Hier, les médias parlaient des femmes.  C'était la journée internationale de la femme et on disait que le Canada est un pays où les femmes sont libres.  Mais il faut dire que le Canada de Stephen Harper n'est pas libre pour les femmes.  Cet article souligne des faits troublants chez le Canada d'aujourd'hui:
Léa Clermont-Dion: Comment Harper nous fait reculer en plus de huit façons

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Zoom Pan?

Yesterday afternoon was very busy on CN's Kingston Sub. Unfortunately, the light was also frustrating and not really nice to work with. Rather than give up, I decided to try a zoom pan. It is surprisingly difficult to make this technique work. Essentially, set the shutter to around 1/20 second and "zoom" your lens out at the same speed as the approaching train is moving. After many failed attempts, I managed to achieve this:
Overall, I am pretty satisfied with this attempt. More practice is needed and I do like this technique. Used sparingly, it can create exciting and dynamic shots.

Air Canada strike threat has Ottawa 'concerned'

Following on from the government's other cases of back-to-work legislation, it appears that Air Canada may once again be the target.  Remember, Air Canada is no longer a crown corporation and, barring a few exceptions (such as the requirement to adhere to federal language laws), is a private company.  Despite this, the government has suggested that it would order workers back to work if they were to strike.  This is a dangerous idea and further undermines the status of unions in Canada.

It is also worth commenting on the status of commercial aviation in Canada.  The international market has significantly narrowed in the last decade.  Now only Air Transat, Air Canada and British Airways regularly fly from Toronto to the UK.  A decade ago, you could also fly with Zoom or Canada 3000.  This narrowed market shuts Canada out of the world and makes this strike so pressing for the public, they have few alternatives.

Air Canada strike threat has Ottawa 'concerned' - CBC News

New allegations of voting irregularities come to light in Toronto

While I haven't posted about it before, I have been following the reports of possible election fraud during the Canadian federal election last year.  Depending on which source you consult, as many as 50 ridings (maybe more) are affected, calling the validity of the entire election into question.  While Canada remains one of the fairest and least corrupt countries, these allegations suggest that Canada is in fact slipping.  The investigations are ongoing and it is premature to assign blame, but I believe that Canada has lost its moral standing when criticising elections in other countries.

New allegations of voting irregularities come to light in Toronto: CBC - thestar.com

Sunday, March 04, 2012

March Begins with a Blizzard

You wouldn't know it today, but March in the GTA began with a blizzard, freezing rain and eventually melting. Now, the snow has all gone, but luckily, I was trackside at the peak of the blizzard.

VIA 6433 and 901 rolled through with J trains 54 and 56, Ottawa and Montreal-bound. The snow was so wet that is stuck to everything, creating a magical land of snow. It conveniently hid the GO Sub and the 401 from this shot.
As the VIA headed into the distance, a headlight appeared next to it. CN 8892 with mid-train DPU 8009 crept slowly west.
The snow then started to melt, making for a mess everywhere. With no trains due for a while, I headed home.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Network Rail Launches a Virtual Archive

This is a wonderful step towards the advancement of railway studies. An excellent source of information and the image resolution is outstanding.
Network Rail Virtual Archive

Train 92 Derailment Update

The TSB has released more information into the derailment on Sunday. They called for immediate action to look into voice recorders in cabs and potentially video cameras too. They also confirmed that the train entered the crossover at 67mph, instead of the 15mph that the crossover was designed for.
Transportation Safety Board of Canada - Communique - Rail - 2012 - 01 March 2012

VIA 6444 Recovered from the Derailment Site

Here is a Toronto Star video of the recovery of VIA 6444 from the derailment site. As you can see, the damage to the cab was very serious. The Transportation Safety Board has scheduled a news conference for this morning where they will outline further details of the investigation.