Venezia

July 4, 2014

Richard and Lorraine in Venice

Greetings from the Centurion Palace in Venice, Italy. After an extended travel time of about 24 hours — and limited sleep of about 2 hours — we arrived in Venice at around noon yesterday.

This is an incredible place to visit and certainly a photographer’s paradise. I will have lots of images to share once we return back from our trip.

We have walked a little over 20 miles in two days and I think we have covered most of the city. The tourist areas are busy but step away from those areas and the beauty of the city is truly remarkable. And without crowds.

We will be heading out to our ship tomorrow and I will be unplugged for about ten days or so.

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Magic Ahead

July 1, 2014

20130824_barcelona_290

This was my first view of the Disney Magic just as we were boarding the ship in Barcelona last year. The Magic was completely refurbished in October of 2013 just after our cruise. An extensive renovation literally from bow to stern.

We return to the Magic in a few days for a cruise that originates in Venice, Italy and makes its way to Greece and Turkey.

cruise

Our flight leaves Toronto tomorrow evening. We fly out at 9:15pm and we arrive in Venice on Thursday around noon local time. We’ll have two and a half days to take in Venice before we board the ship for a ten-day cruise. And then back to Venice for a couple of days.

This is all of our luggage for the two-week adventure in Europe:

bags

I have a small camera bag which contains a Nikon Df body, a 24-120mm and 50mm lens, a Sony RX-100 compact camera, memory cards and a portable hard drive. 8 pounds.

My luggage is in a very tiny Samsonite bag. 14 pounds.

Matthew has a backpack and he is carrying the computer and tablets. 12 pounds for the backpack and 8 pounds for the MacBook Air and two iPads.

And Lorraine has a small rollaboard — which in the picture above appears to dwarf all of the other bags — and that one weighs in at 16 pounds. We carry a surprising amount of clothing in a very small set of bags largely due to the wise advice at OneBag. We will carry everything on to the plane and save on baggage fees and walk directly off the airplane.

Our oldest son will be house-sitting for us. Hopefully no wild parties while we are away.

It has been a crazy few months leading up to this break. I can really use the time to disconnect and unwind.

I’ll post as I am able.

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Hard Ride

June 16, 2014

I usually get a couple of long rides in over the weekends. This weekend I was only able to get out once. A bit over three hours on the bike.

I did the first 40k on my own. Lorraine joined me for the next 20k. I think Lorraine really enjoyed a more challenging loop and she handled the climbs and the S-curves with ease.

After I dropped Lorraine at her car, I had another 20k to get home. The wind was blowing pretty hard and the weather was decidedly cooler for June. After 60k or so, I was beginning to feel a need to fuel. It was morning and all I had before the ride was a protein shake and a small snack bar at the 40k break.

Oh well. Get back on the machine and get back home.

The winds in this area can be challenging. I find them to be a bit discouraging especially when I am fighting headwinds all the way back home. And, as you can see from this chart, my heart rate was elevated just trying to keep to a 26 – 28 kph pace. I was about 10k from home. Not much longer. I think I can make it. So tired. So sore.

beforechase

And then it happened.

A shadow to my left. I look back. There he is. Another rider closing in.

I hate being gapped. I’m not sure why. It just doesn’t feel right. An attack. So, what would a reasonable cyclist do after  70k of hard riding?

Hammer down.

afterchase

Look at those numbers! Heart rate near 170. Spinning 102 rpm. Pushing over 37 kph against 20kph+ headwinds. I’m surprised I’m still alive to tell the tale.

endchase

That little race lasted for about 8k until the other rider finally relented and turned off at Westbrook. Or maybe that was part of his loop. We were pretty much neck and neck the whole time. My numbers improved a little. Heart rate was down to about 145. Funny how a little competition changes everything. With roughly the same heart rate, I was cranking about 12 kph faster. The headwinds did not seem quite so bad at that point.

I didn’t tell Lorraine about the race home. She knew that I did not take it easy on the way back because of the elapsed time. But I don’t think she would understand why I didn’t just smile and wave and simply let the rider pass.

Hard ride.

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Vanhawks Valour

June 13, 2014

This is so cool. Vanhawks has a strong Kingston connection and they demonstrate an example of great Canadian innovation. Their Kickstarter project achieved over $800,000 in funding.

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We voted last night. And the electorate of Ontario provided the provincial Liberals with a majority.

I was disappointed with the outcome of the election and my son was concerned with my reaction. I shared with him a few of my thoughts.

A government that we can afford does not look like this:

Ontario Debt

Since 2005, the Ontario government has almost doubled the total debt of the province. And the Liberals proposed a budget which not only raised taxes but also raised the deficit and the total debt of the province.

Neither approach is sustainable.

Hiking taxes on the top income earners of the province really doesn’t accomplish very much. With a budget deficit of roughly $12 billion and total debt of $300 billion, the $300 – 600 million revenue uplift is insignificant and will do little to deal with the financial challenges that face the province.

Increased spending can only be achieved through increased debt. Looking at the basic net-debt to GDP ratios, Ontario’s ability to raise money through debt offerings will become increasingly more expensive particularly if interest rates go up.

OnDebtRatio

When Drummond filed his report back in 2012, he offered these words to the Ontario government:

Ontario faces two serious fiscal challenges. The first is to get out of the current large deficit. This will take many years, but the task does not end there. It goes almost without saying that every effort must be made to bolster future economic growth rates, and much has been done in that regard, such as reinvesting in education and reforming the tax system. But with a looming slowdown in the expansion of the labour force that is almost upon us and with the province’s weak productivity growth of late, Ontario cannot count on a resumption of its historical strong growth rates. This means that the sharp degree of fiscal restraint needed over the next few years to eliminate the deficit may see a point of some reprieve, but not much. Spending simply cannot return to recent trends.

But perhaps his most telling comment in his report to the government:

Ontario faces more severe economic and fiscal challenges than most Ontarians realize.

The newly elected government will reintroduce the Liberal budget within 20 days. I have no idea how they intend to carry out such a fiscal plan given the reality of Ontario’s financial situation. Here are the highlights of their fiscal plan:

- eliminate the $12.5-billion deficit by 2017-18.

- create a 10-year $2.5 billion Jobs and Prosperity Fund to partner with industries poised for growth. Measures include $10 million for a nine-month paid community work and service program to help graduating high school students, and $5 million in grants for the next two years for new small-scale manufacturers.

- invest $15 billion in transit projects in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area, including the electrification of GO Transit commuter trains and a downtown Toronto subway relief line.

- invest $14 billion in roads, bridges, highways and other transit projects outside the GTHA, including $1 billion to support the development of the Ring of Fire in northern Ontario, with or without financial help from the Harper government.

- provide up to $230 million to expand access to natural gas in under-served communities, including agricultural communities.

- increase taxes for individuals earning more than $150,000.

- increase the minimum wage to $11 on June 1, 2014, and index it to inflation after that.

- create an Ontario retirement pension plan which could be integrated into a CPP expansion in the future.

- guarantee that every Ontarian has access to a primary care provider.

- continue to reduce health-care wait times, focusing on referrals to specialists.

- fund 20 more hospices.

- continue to expand the scope of practice for nurses and pharmacists.

- provide wage increases to child-care workers outside the public school system.

- continue the 30 per cent off tuition grant for post secondary education.

- promise to build new campuses and create spaces for 15,000 more post secondary students in Ontario.

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Use Your Head

May 29, 2014

crashed-cyclist

Listening to CBC Radio this morning, they covered the debate on whether helmet use should be eliminated for all riders. The argument against helmet use goes like this one on bicyclesafe.com:

Focusing on helmets distracts people from what’s more likely to actually save their lives: Safe-riding skills. I’m not against helmets, I’m against all the attention placed on helmets at the expense of learning how to not get hit by cars. Helmets are not the most important aspect of bike safety. Not by a long shot.

Research has failed to show any net protective value of bike helmets. That’s because while helmets help in some ways, they hurt in other ways. The problems cancel out the benefits, and so there’s no overall safety effect. Probably the main negative impact of helmets is that drivers pass helmeted cyclists more closely than unhelmeted cyclists (because unhelmeted cyclists seem more vulnerable), and so helmeted cyclists are more likely to get hit.

The importance placed on helmets has negative social effects. It paints cycling as a horribly dangerous activity, and is it any wonder why few Americans choose to ride bikes in that kind of climate? Cyclists who choose not to wear helmets get demonized as “stupid”, even though the research shows that they’re not at any greater overall risk than helmeted cyclists. Governments get motivated to pass mandatory helmet laws, which always have the effect of decreasing the number of cyclists. This is ironic, since the thing that’s most correlated with cycling safety is the number of cyclists on the road, but helmet laws result in fewer cyclists, making it more dangerous for those who remain.

Statistics Canada did a report on bicycle helmet use in 2009:

In 2009, more than 11.4 million people aged 12 and older reported bicycling according to the Canadian Community Health Survey. Of these, more than 4.1 million, or 36.5%, reported wearing a bicycle helmet all the time.

Several provinces have mandated the use of bicycle helmets, as wearing a helmet can help prevent or limit the impact of head injuries. In British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, their use is mandatory for all age groups. In Ontario and Alberta, the legislation applies to children under 18.

People in the two youngest age groups were least likely to wear a bicycle helmet all the time. These were adolescents aged 12 to 19, only 30.6% of whom did so, and young adults aged 20 to 34, 30.5% of whom did so.

Women were more likely to wear a helmet—40.2% of female cyclists did so, compared with 33.8% of their male counterparts. Among males, those aged 12 to 19 and 20 to 34 were least likely to wear a bicycle helmet.

Mikael Colville-Andersen gave a Ted talk on why we shouldn’t wear helmets:

A rebuttal to his arguments can be found here.

I would never ride without a helmet for these reasons.

Ride safe. Wear a helmet.

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His and Hers

May 28, 2014

colnago-epq colnago-acr

Colnagos. An EPQ for him and and AC-R for her. I guess I will be doing a few more group rides from now on.

So wonderful to have Lorraine join the cycling community. I will have to help her learn the rules of cycling — all 95 of them.

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Economic Imagination

May 23, 2014

Imagination

Three economists went out hunting, and came across a large deer. The first economist fired, but missed, by a metre to the left. The second economist fired, but also missed, by a metre to the right. The third economist didn’t fire, but shouted in triumph, “We got it! We got it!”

A few recent predictions by economists.

The first from a former colleague, Doug Porter, chief economist at BMO:

Like many economists, Mr. Porter is ratcheting back predictions of much higher interest rates ahead. He points out that strong investor demand for Canada’s recent issue of 50-year bonds (with a yield of less than 3 per cent) suggests rates could stay low for quite some time. We may be in a “brave new world of low-for-long interest rates,” he said.

For investors, slow growth and low interest rates means “modest” financial market returns. BMO said a balanced portfolio will generate just 5.6 per cent a year in the next 10 years, compared with 7.8 per cent a year over the past two decades.

The second from a session which featured former US Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke as a guest speaker:

Bernanke, 60, does not expect the federal funds rate, the Fed’s main benchmark interest rate, to rise back to its long-term average of around 4 percent in Bernanke’s lifetime.

The average life expectancy in the U.S. is about 78 years.

The Bank of Canada seems a bit more upbeat in their forecast:

Core inflation is expected to stay well below 2 per cent this year due to the effects of economic slack and heightened retail competition, and these effects will persist until early 2016. Total CPI inflation is forecast to be closer to 2 per cent over the coming quarters and remain close to target thereafter. The Bank continues to expect Canada’s real GDP growth to average about 2 1/2 per cent in 2014 and 2015 before easing to around the 2 per cent growth rate of the economy’s potential in 2016.

Consensus from three economists: prolonged low growth and prolonged low interest rates.

We got it. We got it.

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