Monday, November 29, 2010

How your photos can help children

If you are interested in having a photo calendar or book produced, especially during the coming holidays (St. Nicholas Day, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa), then you might consider using the link below to purchase one through usharephoto, and in doing so support the Children's Organ Transplant Society. 

I sit on the Board of this grassroots organization that for the past 10 years has provided much needed support for children (and their families) waiting for an organ transplant, and also those that have received this life-saving procedure.

By purchasing a photo book or calendar through this link, a significant portion of the cost will be redirected back to the Children's Organ Transplant Society to fund expanded programs, including sending children to summer camp, and helping alleviate some of the costs for families who need to purchase medical supplies and medications that are not covered by government programs.

Should you have any questions, please let me know @ And feel free to share this link with your family and friends.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Learning about the day at a time

Jack at one year...brushing up on his geography

My sister used to poke fun at me for reading an atlas before going to bed when I was young. In fact, I still love looking through an atlas. So, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that Jack, my eldest son, who is five years old, shares that same curiosity of the world. I remember when he was just a little over one year old at Disneyland, and he was pouring over the Park map, as if ready to offer someone directions. For months afterward he would look at that same map before going to bed. More recently he’s taken to scrolling through Google Earth. And while he often zeroes in on one of the five Disneyland Parks throughout the world, he also takes delight in finding London’s Big Ben, or the Eiffel Tower, or the Amazon River. 

His interest in the world has been fuelled in part by the places he’s already visited in his short life, including: Montreal, Quebec City, California, Hawaii, Fiji, and Australia.

Jack finds his way at Disneyland 

I remember once over dinner some time ago, Jack remarked with certainty, “I want to go to Chicago!” "Why do you want to go there," his mother asked? "Because I want to know what's there," he replied, sounding very grown up. He also often quips that he would like to visit Paris and New York City. And while he hasn’t yet been, I have little doubt that he will one day visit these iconic cities.

As parents, we have had the opportunity to travel, and so my wife and I don’t discourage his geographical inquisitiveness. In fact, we often end up folding and putting away the many maps that he has collected and keeps in a box.

Recently, I wondered how I could enhance his curiosity for the world, and at the same time provide a fun, learning experience. That’s how the big tin, which coincidentally is adorned with the flags of the Canadian Provinces, came to find a place in our kitchen.

In it, I put several pieces of paper with the names of countries, along with an image of their flag, and information about that country, such as the capital, language, currency, literacy rate, and landmark.

Each day, Jack excitedly reaches into the tin and pulls out one country and reads about that place. He now knows that the capital of Nepal is Kathmandu and the literacy rate in the Himalayan country is less than 50%. In contrast, he also knows that in Finland (and Norway) the literacy rate is 100%. I wanted to include the literacy rate of a country, because I felt it was important that Jack know that while he has access to knowledge, books, and an education, it isn’t so for many people around the world. In fact, when he learned that half the people in Nepal over the age of 15 can’t read or write his eyes grew big and he said, “That’s not good.”

The first day we introduced the big tin, we had to temper Jack’s enthusiasm, because he wanted to read about all the countries in the tin at once. Letting him choose one country a day has created some fun and excitement, as he looks forward to learning about the next one.

So far Jack has learned about familiar places, such as Canada, the United States, and from the movies, Madagascar, but he also now knows a little something about Turkey, Qatar, Hungary, Egypt, Bolivia, Kenya, India, and a host others. 

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised if one day Jack tells me he wants to go to Azerbaijan.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Ferry fares not really out of line

BC Ferries' Spirit of British Columbia in Active Pass

Why would B.C. Ferries buy space rinkside at Rogers Arena? They even have a huge ad under the clock. I wonder how much those cost? Last time I checked there was no other ferry competition in BC. Where does this ad money come from, our inflated ferry rates?

This letter, by Rudy Pospisil, was recently published in The Province newspaper.

Reminds of the conversations I used to have with my father, who retired as a Captain at BC Ferries after having worked there for 42 years. “Why does BC Ferries need a marketing department,” he would often pontificate. In his mind, the real work of the ferries was done on the ships, not in some distant office, and definitely not done by some marketing people. I’m not sure that he ever bought into it, but I always told him that those marketing people help drive passengers on to the ferries, and without them he would have fewer opportunities to transport people back and forth.

Sure enough there are very few options, apart from an airplane to travel between the many islands that dot the coast and the mainland of British Columbia. And some people will have no choice but to take a ferry. But BC Ferries doesn’t hold a monopoly on where people spend their leisure dollars. And with games being televised around the world, what a splendid opportunity to promote one of the world’s finest ferry systems in the world. Yes, BC Ferries needs marketing people just as they need Captains. Some may think one is more important than the other, but in the end, each is contributing to the same goal.

But back to Pospisil’s letter and his assertion that BC Ferries' rates are inflated. (I’m sure people would still find a way to complain even if the fare was free). I wonder if Pospisil realizes the cost of operating a fleet of 36 ships to 47 ports scattered hundreds of miles along the coast of BC? Does he realize that the cost of fuel has risen sharply in recent years? Does he know that on some routes the fare charged doesn’t even come close to cover operating costs, and yet the ferry company continues to provide this public service. Furthermore, does Pospisil know what comparable ferry fares are around the world?

Tell me if you think BC Ferries’ fares are inflated. (all fares have been converted to CDN Dollars)

BC Ferries
Vancouver - Vancouver Island
Sailing time: 95 minutes
Passenger – $13.75
Car and passenger - $58.25

P&O Ferries
Dover – Calais
Sailing time: 90 minutes
Passenger - $30
Car and passenger - $40

Black Ball Ferry Co.
Port Angeles – Victoria
Sailing time: 90 minutes
Passenger - $15.50
Car and passenger - $55

Blue Star Ferries (Greece)
Naxos – Paros
Sailing time: 45 minutes
Passenger - $10
Car and passenger - $48

Inter Islander (New Zealand)
Wellington – Picton
Sailing time: 3 hours
Passenger - $51
Car and passenger - $164

Wightlink (UK)
Fishbourne – Portsmouth
Sailing time: 40 minutes
Passenger - $14
Car and passenger - $82

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Japanese ingenuity at its best

Aside from odd television programming and karaoke, I have great admiration for the Japanese. Instant noodles, the Walkman (for those of a certain age, yes there were portable music players before the iPod) high speed trains, robots and toilets that come with remotes and play music are all part of Japanese ingenuity. Oh, and my car is Japanese.

And now the Japanese have created a series of vending machines that use facial recognition technology to recommend customers a beverage. No need to think. The machine will recognize if you are male or female, or of a certain age, and will then show images of recommended drinks based on your characteristics. The time of day and temperature will also determine which drinks are recommended. Apparently, the company has done extensive market research; hence, the machine may offer a woman in her 20s a slightly sweeter beverage, while an older man might have green tea as a recommendation.

My only question is would it recognize my preference for Coke over Pepsi if I wink or wiggle an ear?

Friday, November 12, 2010

How fortunate we are

Yesterday I took my five year old son to a Remembrance Day service at Vancouver's Victory Square. Thousands crowded around the cenotaph. Poems were read, songs sung, and a lone bugler silenced the mass with the stirring notes of The Last Post.

But the most poignant moment for me came when the first shot was fired from a large field gun a few blocks away on the harbour. The booming sound startled my son. "Daddy, what was that?" he asked with alarm, pulling himself close to me.

In that instant I imagined a young boy or girl holed up in the security of their home in London or Dresden some 70 years ago asking that same question, as bombs were exploding around them. I imagined the parents masking the worry on their faces, and telling their children that everything would be okay. Then I realized that even today, somewhere in the world, a child was probably clutching their mother or father in fear and asking what that unsettling sound was. A gun, perhaps. Or maybe a bomb.

With the sound of the 21-gun salute echoing throughout the city, my son and I walked to our car and drove away. How fortunate we are.  

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Remembering Vimy

Given that tomorrow is Remembrance Day (not Rememberance, as some people seem to think), I decided to dig out a piece from my archives (okay, really it was the bottom of a filing cabinet) that I wrote after visiting Vimy Ridge, almost to the day in 1993. The article was published in a student newspaper in 1996. 

Remembering Vimy

Before I visited the Canadian War Memorial at Vimy Ridge, in France, I didn’t know what to expect. My limited knowledge of Vimy came from what I read in books and watched on television. But after witnessing the wounds that were so callously inflicted upon the earth and scrolling my hands across the monument that stands as a testament to this tragedy, I have a new understanding of what Vimy Ridge means, an understanding that can only be gained by being there.

Growing up, I was told of the sacrifices made by my grandparents, great grandparents, and even by strangers. I learned of the tragedy that consumed the world in 1914 and again in 1939. And each November I wore a poppy.

Remembering was always difficult, though—my generation never experienced anything as horrific as a world war. Not even my parents could fully comprehend. Besides, how could I remember something if I was never there? I read of the atrocities that swept across Europe, but somehow it didn’t seem real. I watched the aging veterans march by on Remembrance Day, but they seemed more like grandfathers than soldiers.

Seventy-eight years ago, thousands upon thousands of Canadians, most of them younger than I am a today, gave their lives simply for the sake of human misfortune. Others, fortunate enough to survive, would have forever etched in their memories a brutal place where they lost their friends, their innocence, and most of all the simple joys we take for granted.

As I stood on the Ridge it was hard to imagine what went on seventy-nine years ago. The clouds hung low, and a cool mist was in the air, much like it must have been during the war. I tried to picture what it would have been like during the battle—the piercing sounds of artillery fire, the final words of a wounded soldier—but there was just a serene calmness. Beautiful trees and lush grasses have replaced the blood and tears.

For those who were never there, remembering is difficult, but compassion and understanding is the greatest gift we can give to those who courageously went to war. November is a special time to remember those who sacrificed their lives. Let us never forget, for when we begin to lose sight of the sacrifices given, another senseless war will once again consume the world. To those who so bravely answered the call — thanks.

~ Ken Donohue…1996

For more information on the Vimy Ridge Memorial

A poignant reminder of Remembrance Day is Terry Kelly's, A Pittance of Time

Friday, November 5, 2010

Isn't a superjumbo a hot dog?

As much as I dislike the look of the Airbus 380 (it's an ugly beast), I equally disdain the use of the word superjumbo when referring to the world's largest commercial airplane. I have a friend who has flown on the A380 and he spoke glowingly of the aircraft's passenger cabins. This may be so, but it lacks the grace and beautiful lines of the Boeing 747, previously the world's largest commercial aircraft.

I first saw the Airbus A380 in Hong Kong, while the aircraft was performing a number of proving flights. And earlier this year while in Toronto I saw an Emirates A380 preparing for its 13-hour non stop flight to Dubai. It was an eye-catcher to be sure, as people were fumbling for their cameras, but it still did little for me.

But back to unoriginal monikers. Before the launch of the Boeing 747 in the late 1960s, the term "jumbo jet" (a term I regard on par with superjumbo) had been coined by the media to describe a a new class of wide bodied aircraft being developed. To their credit, Boeing apparently tried to discourage the media and public from using the term for the 747. Unfortunately, their efforts were in vain, as the Boeing 747 and "jumbo jet" became synonymous.

The Boeing 747, a beautiful looking airplane. Photo by

So, if it's necessary to provide a moniker for the Airbus A380, and personally I don't see the need, why then  have we chosen the most unoriginal, superjumbo? Because the A380 is bigger than the 747, therefore we shall call it the superjumbo?. Is that the best we could come up with? Reminds me how every little political scandal now ends with the word "gate", because of Watergate.

And how is it that two adjectives have now become a noun. And why does the media feel it necessary to populate every article on the A380 with the word superjumbo?

You may have heard that a Qantas Airbus A380 made an emergency landing shortly after taking off from Singapore the other day when an explosion in one of its engines caused that engine to fail. While the damage to the engine looked dramatic, it would probably have been a fairly routine landing, as its three other engines were apparently operating fine.

In one article on the incident, a reporter unnecessarily used the word superjumbo twice in the first paragraph:

Australia's Qantas Airways grounded all its Airbus A380 superjumbos Thursday after an engine failure forced one of the superjumbos to make an emergency landing in Singapore with more than 450 people on board. 

And here I thought a superjumbo was a hot dog sold on the streets of Manhattan.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Who's taxing who?

It's long been argued that airlines and airports in Canada (especially ones near the U.S. border) are often competitively disadvantaged when compared to their U.S. counterparts, because of the higher taxes and fees charged to air travellers in Canada. 

On a recent visit to the Bellingham Airport, I couldn't help but notice that the majority of vehicles in the parking lot were from British Columbia--Canadians crossing the border for a good deal. In fact, according to the airport, 60% of the passengers flying out of Bellingham are Canadian.

There are a few reasons for this, not withstanding that Bellingham Airport, or BLI as it is known by its three letter code, is just 32 km (20 miles) from the Canada/U.S. border. First, BLI is served by low-cost carrier Allegiant, which operates to seven leisure destinations from that airport, and often offers exceptional fares. 

The second point is that the taxes and fees charged on a ticket from Bellingham are much lower than on similar flights from Vancouver International. This got me curious as to the difference in these taxes and fees, and who collects what? 

Respective governments in Canada often take the brunt of criticism from passengers, and those in the industry, who have long complained about high taxes and fees on airline tickets. But after comparing fares from both Bellingham and Vancouver, I was somewhat surprised to learn that Uncle Sam has his hands in your pockets, more than most people are probably aware. 
So, here's what I did. I chose Honolulu as a destination, because, well...who wouldn't want to go to Hawaii? And also because Alaska Airlines will begin daily service from Bellingham in January. 

Honolulu's famed Waikiki Beach, with Diamond Head bottom right

Sames dates were chosen for each example. For this example I chose the same dates in April.  

Scenario 1 - Bellingham - Honolulu
Alaska Airlines
$426.20 - fare
$21.40 - taxes/fees
$447.60 - total

Alaska Airlines does not break the various taxes down when making a booking, but at $21.40 it's a modest amount. 

Scenario 2 - Vancouver to Honolulu
WestJet (Air Canada's fare was $15 more)
$497 - fare 
$110.25 - taxes/fees
$607.25 - total
Here is a breakdown of the $110.25 in taxes and fees charged on a ticket departing Vancouver. 
$15 - NAV Canada surcharge (funds air navigation system)
$15 - Vancouver airport improvement fee
$25.91 - Canadian Air Travellers Security Fee 
$1.80 - Canadian Sales Tax

$4.62 - U.S. Passenger Facility Charge
$33.04 - U.S. Transport Tax
$5.13 - U.S. Agriculture Fee
$2.57 - September 11 Security Fee
$7.18 - U.S. Immigration Fee
$110.25 - Total

The light blue represents the Canadian taxes/fees and the dark blue are those collected by U.S agencies. Surprising to many, perhaps, but you'll notice that almost half--$52.54--are U.S. taxes and fees. 

So, what does it tell us? Well, it shows that the United States isn't as tax friendly as they are made out to be, and a family of four flying to HNL would save more than $600 by flying out of Bellingham. Explains why there are so many cars from Canada parked at BLI.