Big Numbers

In light of our ‘fiscally responsible’ ‘onservative government shovelling money out the door for various infrastructure projects, the failure of McGinty’s ehealth ontario initiative, and of course the impending cornucopia of largess known as Obamacare being offered up in the USA, it is worth re-reading Guns, Fraud, and Big Numbers in Canada to remind ourselves of just how often our political masters screw up basic math:

 The following essay won the Letter of the Week award on 2004-02-24 at Mark Steyn’s web site, . In honour thereof, Mr. Steyn graciously sent me a copy of his “The Face of the Tiger”, autographed: “Congratulations. A Great Letter.” ]

My Fellow Canadian ~

I once read an excellent Isaac Asimov non-fiction essay on really big numbers. Humans are in general really bad at understanding big numbers. Because of my math / science / engineering background, I’m maybe a bit better than average, but I’m no Asimov. I have though learned a few ways to help me better understand big numbers, so that I can better deal with them when I need to. This essay shows how some of those methods work.

The initial Government of Canada estimate for the gun registry database system was $1 million. Technically, I think that’s probably a bit low. Based on my on three decades of work in the field of distributed multi-user database transaction processing systems like the registry, and on some systems I’m currently working on which are of that type, I think $3 million would have been a better estimate.

If someone from the Government of Canada can provide me with a simple accounting showing some component of the system that I’ve missed, I’d be more than happy to adjust my analysis of the situation to take that data into account. My current analysis is based on the numbers I have collected from the public media over the last few years.

Given how important it is for state monopolies to serve citizens to the highest possible ethical standard, let’s throw in a factor of three-ish over my base estimate and call it $10 million, to be as careful as possible.

Now, say you had such a $10 million contract with some customers. And then, say you spent three times that: $30 million. Does it occur to you that your customers (in this case, we citizens) might be, oh, shall we say, somewhat angry? Ok, let’s say it’s another factor of three: $90 million. How are your customers doing now? Fine. Let’s throw in another factor of three, so we’re now up to $270 million. How angry are your customers now? In more primitive times than we live in, would you still be alive? But wait, there’s more. How much would we pay for another factor of three? Oh, about $810 million. Say, that’s interesting, the gun registry database system has, according to the CBC, cost $750 million.

It didn’t cost 3 times as much. Or 3 times 3 times as much. Or 3 times 3 times 3 times as much. It cost 3 times 3 times 3 times 3 times as much.
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cheerfully incompetent

VIA Rail

My few readers will have noted by now that Junior travels a wee bit – perhaps more than is strictly necessary.  In my roamings, I have had on occasion the pleasure opportunity to travel on Canada’s own VIA Rail.  For uninitiated, VIA Rail is a passenger rail service wholly owned by the taxpayers of Canada, known in the parlance as a Crown Corporation.  In this regard it is not unlike AMTRAK (USA), or any of a dozen or more European state-owned passenger rail services.  Thus it is run largely for the benefit of its employees and where passengers are noticed at all, it is with at best diffidence and more often with sufferance.

In comparing modes of transport it is often difficult to find true comparisons of merit, since the modes differ significantly enough as to pose problems finding commonalities.  Except where it comes to service.  Leaving aside private automobiles, where the service offered to the passengers is diffident at best and downright awful at times  (particularly in Junior’s chariot), passengers in Canada have two options – fly or ride the Iron Horse.   Edward the Corgi  has heard my theory before – but for those who have never heard it – thus.   On the whole and with evidence of my own eyes, Air Canada is miserably incompetent, whilst VIA Rail is cheerfully incompetent. 

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around canada – part 5 (montreal)

09 March 2010: 

weinsteins and gavinos pasta bar factory


Back in Montreal for the first time in many years (notwithstanding transiting through Dorval) and it seems to me on first glance as though that while the city structure is clearly a little distressed, what with the potholes and dodgy sidewalks (mind you, KTown can offer craters as awful as the best of them), there is much more excitement now then when I last called it home.   Maybe I am wrong, but I didn’t see too many storefronts for let, I did see plenty of sharply dressed folks and everyone seems fairly cheerful.   Despite my shocking neglect of the place, Montreal still remains my favourite Canadian city. At Wednesday night dinner comfortably ensconced in the window and indulging in a bit of people watching, I did notice that an inordinate number of vehicles flowing south on Stanley were of the Mercedes, Audi, Land Rover, BMW variety – perhaps indicative of a local economic confidence which seems to be ignored in the rest of Canada.  I suppose it is easy to overlook Montreal especially in afterglow of the Olympics and the ‘me first’ attitude of Tranna.   Thursday night off to Weinsteins and Gavinos for a meal, and then down the block to Three Brasseurs for a couple of beer, before heading back to the hotel. 

How to get there

  • VIA RAIL:  I am more and more convinced that this is the best way to travel to Montreal – no headaches with traffic, no time wasted looking for or paying extortionate rates for parking etc. 
  • By Car:  If you must insist on taking your vehicle, then of course Montreal is well serviced by several major highways leading into the city.  The roads are a bit rough in places – comes from overbuilding the infrastructure and then neglecting it for decades I suppose.   Please note that there isn’t actually much of a bypass around the city – especially to the south.

canada’s economic action plan – kingston edition

actionplanlogoThis morning I went hiking with the two fierce creatures at Lemoine Point – a fantastic and little known hiking area just west of the airport – whilst motoring towards the point, I noticed in a few places signs proclaiming Canada’s Economic Action Plan.  Notably, along Bayridge south of Princess, along Front Road between KGH and the Prison, and lately at either end of the Green Monster.   Of course at road speed it was a little difficult to read what each project entailed, and so upon returning home I hit the interwebs for a quick investigation.

According to the Federal Government website there are a few items in town (zoom into Kingston to see) which have qualified for stimulus financing and thus presumably are being ‘fast tracked’ for completion.    Very little information is available on the City of Kingston website – except a couple of reports to council wherein mention of stimulus funding is made.   Specifically the minutes of  Meeting 18-2009 (15 Sept) notes that $60mil was requested from the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund, whilst $21mil was granted for use on projects such as the John Counter Blvd expansion and others.   Which got me thinking:  assuming you agree that stimulus funds are indeed a necessary evil, which projects ‘should’ be funded?  Are the projects which have been identified the best?

xposted at kingstonist

gubmint motors (your tax dollars at work)

Well, well.   I think that 16% ownership stake in General Motors is going to take a little while longer to ‘pay off’.    Sales volume at the General is off by 20% from the same period last year as folks continue to shun the ‘pelosi mobiles’, while sales volume at Ford (which in case you need reminding – didn’t require a bailout) are up by 16%.    Great pick Dalton and Stephen.  I, for one am happy I picked up FoMoCo at $1.22 in December 2008.


Brands and companies are both displayed in descending order according to their percentage change in volume sales. There were 26 selling days in August 2009 and 27 selling days in August 2008, so the change in monthly sales volume will be different than the change in the average daily sales rate for each brand/company.

Brand Volume % 8/09 8/08 DSR*% DSR 8/09 DSR 8/08
Kia 60.38 40,198 25,065 66.54 1,546 928
Subaru 51.51 28,683 18,932 57.33 1,103 701
Hyundai 47.01 60,467 41,130 52.67 2,326 1,523
Audi 25.77 8,057 6,406 30.61 310 237
Volvo 24.78 5,826 4,669 29.58 224 173
Pontiac 23.35 29,921 24,257 28.09 1,151 898
Ford 21.25 161,369 133,088 25.91 6,207 4,929
Honda 15.21 151,814 131,766 19.65 5,839 4,880
Mazda 12.09 26,542 23,680 16.40 1,021 877
Volkswagen 11.35 24,823 22,292 15.64 955 826
Toyota 10.94 202,196 182,252 15.21 7,777 6,750
Porsche 8.69 1,526 1,404 12.87 59 52
Mercury 8.19 9,080 8,393 12.35 349 311
Nissan 0.17 97,580 97,417 4.02 3,753 3,608
Suzuki -5.46 5,749 6,081 -1.82 221 225
Jeep -6.11 22,041 23,476 -2.50 848 869
Mini -6.55 5,111 5,469 -2.95 197 203
Mercedes-Benz -7.54 17,112 18,507 -3.98 658 685
Chevrolet -9.16 168,130 185,080 -5.66 6,467 6,855
Dodge -15.80 52,562 62,422 -12.56 2,022 2,312
BMW Group -21.30 24,343 30,931 -18.27 936 1,146
Lexus -21.82 22,892 29,281 -18.81 880 1,084
Chrysler -23.50 18,619 24,337 -20.55 716 901
BMW -24.47 19,232 25,462 -21.56 740 943
Mitsubishi -25.95 6,813 9,200 -23.10 262 341
Infiniti -30.19 7,732 11,076 -27.51 297 410
Acura -36.21 9,625 15,089 -33.76 370 559
Lincoln -38.43 5,874 9,540 -36.06 226 353
Smart -44.59 1,418 2,559 -42.46 55 95
GMC -45.15 23,145 42,194 -43.04 890 1,563
Buick -51.71 8,612 17,833 -49.85 331 660
Cadillac -55.01 6,931 15,405 -53.28 267 571
Saturn -58.41 8,479 20,385 -56.81 326 755
Hummer -64.03 777 2,160 -62.64 30 80
Saab -67.80 484 1,503 -66.56 19 56
Ford Motor Company 16.99 182,149 155,690 21.49 7006 5766
American Honda 9.93 161,439 146,855 14.16 6209 5439
Toyota Mo Co 6.41 225,088 211,533 10.50 8657 7835
Nissan North America -2.93 105,312 108,493 0.80 4050 4018
Chrysler Group LLC -15.43 93,222 110,235 -12.18 3585 4083
General Motors -20.19 246,479 308,817 -17.12 9480 11438

around canada – part 4 (montobello quebec)

June 02 2009:

Chateau Montebello

Chateau Montebello

And so I find myself at Chateau Montebello Quebec -should you ever find yourself contemplating a weekend sequestered away from the distractions of Ottawa or Montreal – do consider this very pleasant retreat. 

The promotional material offered by the Hotel website does not do justice to the resort.  The entire experience, in my view, has been well calculated to inspire maximum relaxation.

How to get there

By Car – 401 east towards Montreal.  At exit 721 take Hwy 416 towards Ottawa.  Enter Ottawa and join the 417 east towards Montreal.  Exit at PineGlenn and head north towards Carling Avenue.   Join the Ottawa River Parkway from Carling and take the Island Park Drive bridge towards Aylmer Quebec – follow signs for highway 50 east towards Montreal.  Leave 50 at Thurso and take Quebec Highway 317 south and then join 148 east towards Montreal. Through Pleasance and Papineauville, to Montebello.  Look for the signs for Chateau Montebello as soon as you enter the town.

pick up your trash kingston!

signs of spring

signs of spring

Last weekend, junior and family hiked around the barriefield rock garden, through the village, and down and around constantine arena.  Such a lovely spring (at the risk of triggering a late blizzard) day.  Unfortunately one of the of the lesser remarked aspects of the end of hibernation is the blight revealed as the snow recedes.  Amid the new buds forming and the slow transformation of browned grass to green, there before us lay the ubiquitous Tim Hortons cup.    

If only it were the cups of course – rather everywhere we looked in the course of our walk it became immediately apparent that a tremendous amount of trash is swirled and whirled and caught up in the brambles and branches during the winter months.    Among the other items I discovered were:  several plastic drink bottles, one large plastic coolant container, chocolate bar and snack wrappers, small blocks of Styrofoam, and so on.  I ended up filling only a small plastic bag – but could easily have filled several large garbage bags worth. 

Which leads me really to the point of this post: namely, when exactly did kingstonians abandon personal responsibility?   Do you really want kingston to look like this?  How hard is it to place your garbage into a garbage can – or better yet take it home with you?    Of course part of the answer to that question is – which garbage can?  I can’t think of even one public garbage can in the entire area of barriefield.   

Perhaps residents don\’t think it is their problem to deal with?  I note that we seem very happy to have various levels of government collect our trash and recyclables – mostly because participation in these efforts takes very little personal effort, as the collection of our disposables is conducted at arms length financed by taxes – requiring very little in the way of active personal committment.     Perhaps it is too much to ask people not to litter, especially when we have become accustomed to having ‘the government’ take care of it.   However, I would like to think Kingstonians care about their city and the image it projects to residents and visitors –  so I challenge you – clean up after yourselves! 

Get out of your cars, go for a walk and take a bag along with you – I guarantee you will find no shortage of garbage which needs cleaning…..

xposted at the kingstonist