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Toronto City Life » 2013 » September

Archive for September, 2013

Extraterrestrials among us

Posted on September 26th, 2013 1 Comment

There are many things that, at one time, were the exclusive domain of the tinfoil hat brigade. Claims such as the government spying on everyone, or that that same government is engaged in a global plot to enslave its citizens under corporate rule through coercion, outwardly hypocritical violence, fear and intimidationsecrecy, open criminality, and many massive rights violations, all promulgated by a colluding mass media as perfectly normal and certainly not worth informing you about.

Seems like those tinfoil-donning lunatics were onto something; it even turns out that tinfoil is pretty good at blocking out the types of radio waves that can affect a human brain. So these days, when those same crazies talk about visitors from other planets, I’m much more apt to take a few moments to hear them out.

I’m still on the fence about the existence of extraterrestrial creatures. Yes, I think the chance that other life exists out there is extremely good; intelligent life too. But I can’t remember ever seeing a UFO or anything that might look otherwordly so I can’t rely on any personal experience.

When I have to resort to trusting the accounts of others I steer towards those who have some established credibility. Paul Hellyer, former Canadian Minister of National Defense,  for example, seems like a pretty solid bet. Not only was Hellyer a rarity among politicians (he had some qualifications for his position!), but he has remained a sensible and balanced public voice maintaining that UFOs are real and being covered up by governments worldwide. Contrasted against the way governments operate, Hellyer’s claims seem even more plausable.

Here’s what he had to say earlier this year at an official-looking “hearing” on UFOs and ETs in Toronto:

The truth is out there.

Filed under: B Sides, Patrick Bay, Videos

Mr. Gorbachev, bring down this wall!

Posted on September 25th, 2013 2 Comments

You may have heard the term “paywall” — it’s when a web site limits the amount of content that you can see unless you sign up with them for a fee. This typically happens after you’ve viewed a predetermined number of articles, and that number is reset on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis (depending on their setup).

All of Toronto’s major daily newspapers have put up paywalls, including the Toronto Star, Toronto Sun, Globe and Mail, and National Post.

And they’re all just awful.

Much hooplah was made about a developer that bypassed the New York Times paywall a couple of years ago, yet little (if anything), has changed since. David Hayes, the developer who cracked the NYT paywall, claims it took him a lunch hour to write the bookmarklet that bypasses the newspaper’s paywall.

A couple of days ago when Sarah was hitting the Star’s paywall I decided to take a quick look at what would be involved in getting around it. Twenty minuted later I had bypassed the paywalls of all of the above papers, including the New York Times (before I’d read anything on the topic, I should add). It took another 30 minutes to produce a small, generic site script that makes the dewalling process just a little easier and faster.

I’m not blowing my own horn here. I’m no super genius and this “hack” could be accomplished by anyone with rudimentary web development experience. In fact, both Hayes’ code and my own are almost unnecessary; with a few extra steps, you can bypass these paywalls with no extra software or crazy hacking skills. Chances are good that you already know how to do it.

I can see some extra benefit to a utility that would assist in automatically navigating the paywall beyond the first article — so that you could click on the web page links instead of having to load article by article — but this was more of a proof-of-concept thing, and the proven concept is that paywalls are unfortunately simple to defeat.

I’m not currently posting my dewalling code publicly. However, I will detail why this problem exists, and what the papers can do to fix it (if you’re from any of the aforementioned newspapers, feel free to give me a shout).

So Why Are Developers So Dumb?

I don’t think they are :) And to be honest, I totally get why things were done this way.

When a typical web browser grabs the web page you request, it sends out some limited information for the listening web server on the other end. This includes listing the browser’s capabilities (what kinds of content it can handle), specifying what it’s looking for (usually the URL of the web page), and cookies.

The receiving web server has that, plus an IP address, to identify an individual reader over the internet.

The IP isn’t unique to you, it’s unique to your internet connection which may be shared by many devices (like the the internet box thing, a.k.a. residential router, in your home). Browser capabilities can’t be assumed to be unique, again, because of that shared internet connection thing. And cookies can be cleared with the click of a button.

Given these limitations, how are web developers supposed to identify unique readers while ensuring that other legitimate readers can still access the site?

Better to err on the side of caution and just use cookies, sometimes along with IP, rather than accidentally block readers. Paywalls are necessarily leaky.

So What Should They Do?

This is a tough one.

It’s tough because it puts the limitations of technology up against corporate culture and profits.

What this does is really call up the need for reflection on how the papers profit from their content, and to me it’s an all-or-nothing proposition.

One option is for the papers go all-in and make certain articles, sections, features, etc. fully pay-only. That means having to log in to access them, otherwise it’s an excerpt, or some sort of teaser, to the general hoi poloi.

Another, more Zuckerbergian option is to offer access in exchange for personal information. I’m not necessarily averse to this, but it also requires a content lock-down of some sort.

The current paywall solution is somewhere just above both of these, being easily circumventable but still acting as a deterrent to the average web user.

I would gravitate towards the nothing end of the scale with a nag solution where on every X views of an article, the non-subscribed reader receives a temporary pop-over message suggesting that they subscribe. IP address on the server could be used to determine how often to do this — it seems unlikely that shared connections would all be connecting to the same content source, and even so, all it would produce is a nagging reminder that people really do like the content. It’d be sort of like a local rating system with an option to subscribe.

Beyond that, there could be a mild nag every time, for non-subscribed users. This starts to get close to being just plain old fashioned inline advertising, which would be the next solution before nothing at all (full, free access to everything).

Of course, since the papers have full control over their sites, there’s theoretically no limit on how inline advertising could be accomplished. There’s the always classy Toronto Sun wall-to-wall background…

sun_bg

…but if that’s not the newspaper’s style, I’m sure there are other and more elegant approaches.

Ultimately, the decision is whether or not to lock away content. Logins are reliable, which is why they’re so popular. Identifying users without them is inherently unreliable. Either content can be locked away completely, or it should be assumed to be open to everyone. The seemingly in-between paywall solution is actually in the second family by reasons which I’ve explained earlier.

Astute web developers will point out that other mechanisms are available to bypass some of these limitations: Flash shared objects, or persistent browser databases. While these are a step beyond simple cookies, both are easily deleted as part of most modern browers’ cache management. In other words, they’re not much better than anything mentioned so far.

Browsers impose these limits to provide a level of privacy protection, and without requiring readers to manually enter additional information like a username and password, it’s tough if not impossible to pinpoint an individual human being. Without this exactness, any paywall or content blocking system is bound to be flimsy. The solution, at least at the present time, won’t involve technology; it’ll require high-level decisions about what will be locked away from the general public and what won’t.

Filed under: Dispatches, Patrick Bay, Pictures

Rob Ford’s mother drops hints that her son is mentally ill

Posted on September 25th, 2013 5 Comments

I’m taking some license with what Diane Ford actually said about her son at the unveiling of his portrait earlier this week. However, the painting, which was created by a fellow council member at the behest of Ford’s mother, did incite some interesting comments in her:

“While I’ve had it the last few days, I stand back and I look at it, and I can see 10 different personalities — I can see all of Rob’s personalities in that picture,” she said in her own speech.

Note how she qualified the sentence by re-iterating that Rob Ford has multiple personalities.

One could probably excuse her wording if she were a newer immigrant and meant to imply that she sees Ford’s complex and vibrant character, the many sides of his personality, in the painting. But the Fords have been Canadian natives way longer than I have, so what’s their excuse?

Yes, I suppose the Fords’ magnificent ignorance could extend all the way to simple, everyday English. But Diane didn’t stop there:

The painting was temporarily moved to a part of the mayor’s office visible to the public. It will hang permanently in the Etobicoke home of Diane, who began prodding Crawford to do it three years ago.

“When it was finished,” she said, “and he brought it over, I was actually very excited, very thrilled, and when he unveiled it in my living room, it was the wow factor. Ah, I couldn’t believe it, I just couldn’t believe it. And I said to Gary, jeez, all of that colour, I mean, it’s great, but why? He says, ‘Because that’s Rob Ford. He’s very colourful.’”

Another very telling statement there. Ford’s mother was surprised by all the colours used to portray her son — clearly the “10 personalities” were not represented by any colourful and bright aspects of the painting in her mind. And this is Ford’s mother, the one person you’d expect to see their offspring through the most opaque of rose coloured glasses.

She might not have said it outright, but Diane sure did imply it: Rob Ford suffers from Dissociative identity disorder, and confirms that none of his multiple personalities are particularly bright, colourful, or cheerful.

Of course, that could just be the drugs.

Filed under: B Sides

Robbie exercises his rights

Posted on September 17th, 2013 2 Comments

It’s rare that is happens, says John Elvidge of the city clerk’s office, but sitting mayors do have the right to poke their noses into the various standing committees at City Hall, including sitting in on and taking part in votes, exactly as Rob Ford did on Monday night. It’s an executive privilege.

It’s the second time Ford has done this in a week, this time on the 2014 Service Level review for the Parks and Environment Committee. The Committee, which meets irregularly once every three months or so, makes decisions on things like spending on public parks, gardens, and outdoor programs.

The vote before the Committee on Monday included a number of potentially sizeable increases which were not spelled out in any detail that I saw, although considering the fact that only existing services were listed, it seems that the numbers should be straightfroward to estimate.

Regardless, Ford declared that the as-yet-unspecified amount was too much, voted the item down, and walked out before another motion was adopted to move everything under the purview of the 2014 city budget process. Dougie was also absent for this follow-up vote.

“We can’t have these lefties spending like drunken sailors,” Ford said after his rare appearance at the parks and environment committee.

Ford says a lot of things about money at City Hall.

Things like swearing that freezing property taxes is “job one” for his administration, a claim which he rescinds drastically and early on after being voted into office (actually defending a hefty property tax increase in the process). Then, after being unable to come up with any alternative ideas to fund various city projects, settling on optimistically championing a property tax increase, then a month later calling for a property tax freeze yet again. And all of it in the unabashed service of business, which Ford says is tantamount to working for the common man.

So when Ford says that he’s getting involved in cherry-picked committee votes to curtail leftie spending, or for the benefits of the taxpayer, or any of his other disproved, divisive, and derisive nonsense, let’s just say I’m very skeptical.

Filed under: B Sides, Patrick Bay

Summer of Ford

Posted on September 13th, 2013 Be the first to comment

Rob Ford’s office published a video today thanking Toronto for a great summer.

Maybe this is supposed to take everyone’s mind off of another certain video?

This obvious campaign piece was apparently passed by the Integrity Commissioner before being put put online. Remember her? The woman Ford wanted to have fired because she was doing her job? The same Integrity Commissioner which who’s decision Ford didn’t see fit to abide by because, well, he can do whatever he wants?

I wonder if there’s a stronger word for “irony”.

Filed under: Patrick Bay, Videos

Another promise made

Posted on September 13th, 2013 Be the first to comment

Rob Ford is basking in the knowledge that he has personally wrestled Toronto’s unemployment rate down to the ground where he beat it senseless and left it soaking in a pool of its own blood.

Unemployment, it seems, is down – that’s true.

But people are having trouble making the connection between this news and Ford’s efforts:

Pressed by reporters to explain how, exactly, he had managed to slay the beast of unemployment, Mr. Ford said he has been cutting red tape, making the city safer and cleaner, fighting gridlock and campaigning to build subways. The last, obviously, is a work in progress; the others, pretty hard to quantify. “We’ve made it a business-friendly atmosphere,” the mayor said, “and you have to have business experience to do that, and obviously I do.”

Others too are having trouble with is on a conceptual level:

Councillor John Parker, who represents Don Valley West, said, “I frankly think that the case [the mayor] is making is a bit of a stretch. As the Canadian economy grows, Toronto’s economy grows with it.”

Mr. Ford said in his speech that, “we have adopted a very aggressive plan to fight gridlock.”

Mr. Parker, who sits on the works committee and the Toronto Transit Commission, said he is unaware of such a plan.

I’m not insinuating that good news is unwelcome, just that taking the credit for something you didn’t really do is pretty weak sauce.

And even if I were of the opinion that I’m just, like, #1 top business guy in Canada and when I snap my fingers jobs fly out of my ass, I still think I’d have the tact to say something to the effect that I’d contributed to the unemployment rate.

Oh, Fordo.

Filed under: Dispatches, Patrick Bay

The farce of the Nobody trial

Posted on September 12th, 2013 Be the first to comment

The 2010 G20 demonstrations, along with the repeated slaps to the face that Torontonians received from the courts afterwards, were about to become a clean sweep with the cops completely exonerated in caging (literally) 1,1100 innocent people and breaking  many laws in the process.

Those thousand Torontonians who had no charges laid whatsoever were submitted to quite brutal and demeaning conditions, often after being illegally assaulted by gangs of police who made up their own laws and rules as they went along.

The abuses by police far outweighed any provable good they did on that weekend which, judging by what the cops allowed to happen, had nothing to do with protecting Toronto or its citizens.

The incident of Adam Nobody, though probably more provoked than most bystanders those days, has demonstrated some of what went on that day, resulting in the first (and probably only) conviction of a cop for assault.

Constable Babak Andalib-Goortani, now convicted of assault with a weapon, plus three other officers had the chutzpah to make up vivid stories about Nobody as a troublemaker that day (having made no such notes in their notebooks). At least that’s what the judge thought. The same constable also removed his name tag and badge number before the assault.

Together these would seem to be aggravating charges, no? After all, the police viciously pile charge upon charge on innocent people they want to put the squeeze on. But as we see repeatedly they escape with, at worst, a paid vacation and the reassurance that their brothers, sisters, and supervisors are working hard to serve and protect their asses.

Among the rare times I’ve had an interaction with police that didn’t include them being confrontational and aggressive, one — some physical threats from meth-cooking neighbours — further demonstrated this simple fact to me. They went to their door first first to let them know who was complaining, then visited us to tell us that he’s known to them but that his “alleged” drug production (which the landlord spent many months and much money cleaning up after), and her “personal choice” to prostitute herself out of their premises, were none of our business and we would just have to get along. And while in our place acting like we were ticking them off with our very existence,  they took the time to snoop around, a courtesy they did not extend to the neighbours.

Not accurate? Let’s do the math:

1 conviction to 1000 wrongful arrests, assaults, Charter Rights violations, etc. = 0.1% justice rulings in favour of innocent citizens, 99.9% justice rulings in favour of armed, trained law-breaking paramilitary forces (especially on that day). The established facts are simply that when it comes to crunch time, the Toronto police do not serve and protect the community or citizens, and the courts will back them up.

Of course it’s not fair to say that all cops are in on this racket, and every once in a while we see a successful prosecution, but with numbers like these and story after story of cops getting away with pretty much anything and everything, it is completely fair and accurate to say that this corruption is systemic and far reaching.

Filed under: B Sides, Patrick Bay

An ugly truth revisited

Posted on September 11th, 2013 Be the first to comment

My earlier assertion that there’s little, if anything, to hold politicians to account when they or their office break the law, has been re-affirmed by some very stark statements made by the City of Toronto’s Strategic Communication Director, Jackie DeSouza:

“It is the honour system; a lot of this is based on trust.”

An issue has arisen over emails, sent or received, that in the normal course of business are deleted. Those emails reside on the city’s server and can be restored, but DeSouza said it is up to the mayor’s staff to go looking for them.

In other words, even though there are very clear laws about how Freedom of Information requests are to be handled, ultimately it doesn’t matter a smidge if either Rob Ford or any of his unelected staff (not that that should make a difference) decide that it doesn’t.

Ford has not responded to interview requests on the issue, but on Sunday he slammed the media for requesting documents from his office “almost to a point of harassment.”

“For what? For what? What are they looking for? There’s nothing there,” the mayor said on his radio show during a chat with co-host Councillor Doug Ford, who then accused the Star and other media of “Pravda journalism.”

I’m not sure what “Pravda journalism” is supposed to be, but I do know that the word “pravda” is the Russian word (and a couple of other languages), for truth.

Filed under: Dispatches, Patrick Bay

At long last, relief

Posted on September 11th, 2013 Be the first to comment

Okay, so it’s not exactly a concrete plan of action or anything, but finally it’s looking like Metrolinx is investigating a downtown relief line for the Yonge subway. I say finally because the subject of at least one downtown relief line has been floating about for some time (and certainly far longer than any TCL post would indicate).

The problem is a two-fold, compound one at the present time:

  1. This seems to be a far second consideration for almost everyone with a say in the transit debate, from Metrolinx to Karen Stintz. Most of the focus is on building new lines to the suburbs and this is just the beginning of starting to think about the topic.
  2. The downtown lines are already pretty crowded as it is. Take any downtown train, streetcar, or bus — especially when the weather’s a bit iffy — and you’ll get the idea.

So while there are big efforts underway to get more people onto the downtown lines, there’s almost no effort to expand the already crowded system — certainly not from the Ford administration.  If something doesn’t change, and soon, the disaster will be one of Fordian proportions.

subway_disaster

Filed under: Dispatches, Patrick Bay, Pictures

Smitherman’s husband found and a mystery blooms

Posted on September 11th, 2013 2 Comments

Boy did I need a break from the Ford news cycle — and what a doozie of story to do it on!

I wasn’t aware of this but apparently Christopher Peloso, husband of former mayoral candidate George Smitherman, went missing late on Monday afternoon.

He was found just before noon today, needing “immediate help” but alive near some train track in the western section of downtown. There are no indications that going missing like this is something that Peloso is likely to do, and turning up injured near train tracks even less so.

Obviously something strange and interesting happened, and that’s about the only obvious thing we know right now.

What happened to Christopher Peloso?

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Filed under: B Sides, Patrick Bay