Monday, March 31, 2008


Karen is out tonight with Bethany, at a special series of meetings at our church. The meetings are on the Tabernacle, which was the Old Testament "portable temple". While Karen is out I prepared a surprise for her. Tonight I used our new set of hair clippers to given Joel a haircut. I'm sure she'll like it. And if she doesn't, it should grow back in 4 to 6 weeks. Practice makes perfect!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Consequences of Earth Hour

We are now 26 minutes into the great Earth Hour Blackout. Organizers are calling upon people all over the world to turn out the lights, turn off the TV, and stop using electricity for 1 hour. Here in the Eastern half of North America this is from 8:00-9:00pm.

One can question whether sitting in the dark will encourage people to think about energy conservation and carbon reduction. I should think one hour of sitting in the dark will cause most North Americans to decide that nuclear power plants are not such a bad thing after all. The attitude will be, "I don't mind nuclear, just so long as the lights don't go out again!"

However let's consider the consequences. What if 50% of the people on the eastern half of North America really took Earth Hour seriously, and then at precisely 8:00pm turned off all devices that use electricity. What would it do to the power grid? You can't generate electricity and send it nowhere. Electricity needs to be generated and put on the power grid at the same rate as it is used. If 50% of the devices that use electricity get turned off at precisely 8:00pm, there will be chaos on the power grid. Now perhaps it would reduce the carbon footprint if we manage to toast half of our power plants, but I suspect this is not the intent of Earth Hour.

Just a footnote: Earth Hour is the brainchild of the World Wildlife Fund. I'm pleased to see that the World Wildlife Fund and the official Earth Hour website are both still online during the event. It's a nice accommodation for those who would prefer to surf the web rather than sit in the dark. Note that the Earth Hour website is running very slow, so I guess lots of people are surfing right now.


Conversation this afternoon:

Hannah: Can you play camper with me?
Daddy: I can't. I have a lot of work to do.
Hannah: I'm going to tell Mommy.

Telling Mommy did not in fact get her what she wanted.

I asked Joel to sweep the floor, which he did. Then he floored me by asking if there was anything else he could do. I asked him to "swiff" the hardwood floors. I was so impressed that I told him he had earned some extra computer time. So while he's walking over to the computer he looks down at the baseboards and suggests that he wipe them down before he has his computer time. I think the aliens have picked up my son. They're good at creating a physical image of a real human child, but they miss the subtle parts of the personality. 8-)

Someone Else's Fault

It's someone else's fault. It's always someone else's fault. When you are the Provincial government it is the Federal government's fault. Never mind that the Federal government did some serious budget cutting in the 1990's, got it's financial house in order and now enjoys budget surpluses. The Provincial government doesn't have enough money, won't make the politically unpopular choice to cut spending, and so the financial problems are someone else's fault.

Same for the City government. Infrastructure is falling apart, there isn't enough money and it's someone else's fault. After all, the alternative to blaming someone else is to make the politically unpopular choice to cut spending. Mind you, give the Provincial government their due. They aren't afraid to raise taxes. Our City government jumped through a lot of hoops, raided the contingency funds, and took money the Province offered for infrastructure and put it into the general fund, before they decided to raise taxes.

One of the problems with the City government is that the Mayor was elected on a platform of freezing taxes, but the City Council made no such promises. Hence a lot of deadlock. The Mayor is a business man who is used to giving orders. Council quite rightly points out that they too were elected by the people. But unfortunately nobody is ultimately in charge.

Finally I'd like to point out that the alternative to raising taxes and cutting programs is to cut waste and increase efficiency. Unfortunately whenever council talks about cutting waste and increasing efficiency, the city management comes back with a plan to cut services. Oh, you want us to cut waste? Sure! Here's a plan for collecting garbage every second week and closing all the sports arenas. Don't like that plan? Oh well, we tried. Having spent 13 years in the business world, this approach neither impresses me nor fools me. It's time for city council to show leadership by saying:
  • City management will deliver a plan to cut waste and increase efficiency by 2% a year without cutting services. If they can't do it, we'll find new management
  • When the provincial government gives us money for infrastructure, we'll spend it on specific infrastructure improvements
  • we'll build a reserve fund, contributing each year until it reaches 5% of the overall budget. We will not raid the reserve fund for general program expenditures. The reserve is for emergencies.
  • effective immediately city taxes will increase each year automatically at the rate of inflation
  • city government will focus on the basics of keeping citizens safe and providing basic infrastructure. Rather than raising taxes, we'll have user fees that target the specific users of specific services.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Types of Political Supporters

I think it's important to distinguish between thoughtful adherents to a specific political philosophy, the party loyalists who merely love politics, and the mindless yahoos.

The conservative movement has thoughtful, thoroughly convinced philosophical conservatives. There are those are just part of the Party because they like being involved in politics, the thrill of winning and the political process. There are also yahoos who just like to make outrageous statements to get some laughs (or at least a reaction).

The left has its own versions. There are philosophical liberals and socialists. They tend to be naive, but are relatively harmless. There are also the yahoos on the left whose answer to every problem is, "the government has lots of money; let them fix it". But for the political left is it the ones in the middle who are the most dangerous. With a small dose of ideology and a big desire for power, they can do a lot of damage to the economy of a country and (dare I say it) the moral fiber of a country. By moral fiber I'm not referring to a specific religious creed or even to deism, but to matters like industriousness, self-reliance, clear thinking about cause and effect in criminal justice, etc. Again, it is the ones in the middle who are the real danger. I put Trudeau in this category. Most of the bad things in this country (from a Constitution that doesn't include Quebec) to the criminal "justice" system, can be laid at the feet of Trudeau.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Paul Potts Concert

Last night I had the opportunity to go to a concert by Paul Potts. Karen phoned me up at work and told me that she would try to get me a ticket if I wanted to go. And I did! Ottawa's Centerpointe Theatre has excellent acoustics, and held a sell out crowd of 1,000 people. Potts came with a 14 piece orchestra, and a lead musical group called "The Three Graces" (who did an interesting rendition of Phil Collins "Against All Odds" in Italian). Potts himself was suffering from a cold but did a good job of the songs from his CD, as well as some new material including Ave Maria. As a side note, I know a very small amount of Latin but it was enough to know that I wasn't too impressed by the lyrics of Ave Maria (that's the convinced Protestant in me). Anyway, it was an enjoyable evening, and could only have been better if Karen had been there with me. Thanks Karen!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Jack Layton is well known for criticizing large successful corporations as being fatcats. I guess he reserves his admiration for small and failing companies. But I have to wonder if he'll criticize the big highly profitable phone company now that the Ontario Teachers Pension Fund owns it? Probably not. His wrath will be reserved for banks (which are primarily owned by pension funds). It doesn't have to make sense; it just has to be a good sound bite showing how much he cares for the little guy.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


Time for some updates:

I'm done with the snow. Buying that snowblower just might have been the best purchase I've ever made. As of Friday we had 10 feet of snow this winter, but over the weekend we got hit with another foot and a half. I left my roof rake in the back yard where it would be within easy reach. And it would be within easy reach if it were not for the 4 feet of snow in my back yard.

I was reading Hannah her bedtime stories tonight, and one of the stories was from the Bible. She said, "Why did Jesus die on the cross?" A good question. I tried to explain the concept of sin to her, and the fact that we all sin. She had no problem with the possibility that she is a sinner. In fact she said, "I keep all my sins just in case a monster comes around." I think we'll need to work with her a bit more.

I'm typing this update on my new laptop, which in addition to having a fast processor also has wireless-N, so I can use it anywhere in the house.

There were some more layoffs at work, and a couple of my friends were let go. The business world can be fun when you knock yourself out and make a big sale to a happy customer. But in my 12 years in the private sector there have only been two really good years when everyone wasn't worrying about their jobs. But I continue to hang on. S.D.G.

For those who are wondering about the picture of me with the Prime Minister, I attended the Manning Centre for Building Democracy's Networking '08 Conference a couple of weekends ago. There was a reception on the Thursday night where I got to meet the PM. The next day I met Preston Manning, Ralph Klein, Stephen Taylor (of the Blogging Tories) and several others. It was very interesting, bringing together several hundred conservative politicians and thinkers. Issues discussed included health care, euthanasia and how to win close elections. All in all it was an interesting event. I'm glad Karen suggested I go.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Biggest Investing Mistakes

Some of the blogs I visit are listing their top 3 investing mistakes. Here are mine:

(1) Not starting early enough

Like most people this was my biggest mistake. I was young, working for the government and was contributing to a pension plan. Money was tight, but if I'd managed to carve off $25 per week from when I first started working my situation would have been much different. In fact, if I had eaten less meals in the university cafeteria, I could have started even earlier. But like everyone, it's hard to start, and as a result I'll be working into my 60's.

(2) Investing in High Tech / Catching a Falling Knife

I avoided some of the worst investments in hi-tech during the bubble, but I wish I'd sunk all my money into banks (or a mattress) I'd be a lot better off today. I did learn a valuable lesson about not trying to catch a falling knife. I bought Nortel at $70 per share when it was down from $120 per share. I reasoned that it had been $120, and it was worth $120 and it couldn't possibly go lower than $70. But in fact it wasn't worth $120, and it bottomed out at $0.68 per share. Now I know better.

(3) Forgetting about dividends

In the heady days of the hi-tech bubble it was easy to disparage a 3% dividend. But Jeremy Siegel's research demonstrated the importance of dividends. In any case, I should have recognized that dividends serve the same purpose as dollar cost averaging.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

What does Shawn look like?

Those who don't know me personally might wonder what I look like. I'm the guy on the left side of this photograph (though I don't think it's a really flattering photo).