By Tom Henheffer - Monday, July 11, 2011 - 0 Comments
Canadian researchers are looking to change the way things are measured
As with so many yo-yo dieters, the weight of a kilogram is constantly in flux—at least at an atomic level. But Ottawa researchers are hoping to get the kilo’s waistline permanently in check by changing how it’s measured.
The kilogram is currently defined by the International Prototype Kilogram, a golf-ball-sized cylindrical weight made out of platinum alloy. Because a kilogram is a physical object, it constantly releases and collects atomic particles, meaning its mass—and the mass of all kilograms—is always changing. ““If [the IPK] moves up or down the others have to follow,” says Barry Wood of the National Research Council in Ottawa. “It’s totally artificial.”
Wood and his team are heading up a movement to measure kilograms against the charge of an electron, a natural constant, using a type of specialized motor called the watt balance. “You can lift mass with a motor,” he says. “If I know how much current I’m putting into the motor, that tells me details about how much I’ve lifted.” Since the NRC purchased the watt balance (pictured below) from the British government two years ago, Wood has been using the room-sized metal machine to determine exactly how much current is needed to lift a kilogram. The data, which has so far cost $2.5 million to collect, is compared to two other watt balances in the U.S. and Switzerland, and used to calibrate the devices to make their results consistent.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
A group of skywatchers set their sights on secret space missions—including a U.S. Air Force project
An orbiting weapons platform, a spy plane, or a decade-old, billion-dollar money pit. The U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space planes are a cloak-and-dagger project, but their secret orbits are known, and that discovery was made, in part, by Canadians. They’re part of an international organization of volunteer skywatchers who’ve been tracking secret government satellites for over 30 years.
The purpose of the planes is now a closely guarded secret, but they started as an open NASA project before being moved to the air force, so some information about them is known. The first X-37B is on the ground following its initial mission, which lasted from April to December 2010, and its sister is currently in orbit. They look like miniature versions of the space shuttle, with stubby wings for gliding at high altitudes, a solar panel array that keeps them powered in space, and a cargo bay about the size of a standard pickup truck’s bed. They’re also fully robotic, and their launches led to speculation, especially from the Chinese and Russian governments, that the U.S. was attempting to weaponize space.
But well before the rocket boosters ignited, members of SeeSat-L, a mailing-list-based international organization of skywatchers, were already working to crack the secret of the crafts’ orbit. “There’s this question of secrecy, and how much should the public know about what’s going on in space,” says Ted Molczan, 58, a Toronto-based lifelong skywatcher and director of SeeSat’s online newsgroup. “If it’s in an orbit that isn’t published, then it’s of interest to us.”
By Tom Henheffer - Wednesday, April 27, 2011 at 12:50 PM - 1 Comment
Devoted to his parishioners, he took special care in honouring the emergency personnel who risked their lives for others
George Olsen was born in Kirkland Lake, Ont., on May 2, 1942. The second child of Cliff, a plumber, and Susie, a nurse and homemaker, he was a quiet child, but one who took charge. “If we played army, he would always be the general,” says his younger brother Cliff. The family was staunchly Catholic, and the Church fascinated George. As a kid, his favourite game was mass: he’d deliver the sermon and enlist Brenda, his older sister, and Cliff, as altar servers.
When George was six the family moved to Susie’s hometown of Killaloe, Ont., two hours west of Ottawa. They took root in the local church, and George and Cliff served as altar boys. Cliff was never particularly interested, but the parish priest noticed George’s enthusiasm and took the boy under his wing. “George showed all signs of wanting to be a priest,” says Cliff.
In fact, George had decided to enter the clergy before he even graduated from elementary school. But while he was unusually well-behaved and attentive toward his schoolwork, he was a typical child. He’d spend afternoons wrestling with Cliff or playing shinny on the creek that bisects Killaloe, and delivered papers to save money for clothes or to buy gifts for his mother. When he got a bit older, a neighbour taught him to dance. George was a natural, and spent many nights of his teenage years driving girls crazy at a nearby pavilion. “He was so smooth,” says Cliff.
By Tom Henheffer - Tuesday, March 29, 2011 at 11:37 AM - 9 Comments
The lucrative industry is booming in New Brunswick
The Quebec government’s environmental worries have ground to a halt the drills driving shale gas development. But in neighbouring New Brunswick, the lucrative industry is booming with full provincial support.
Earlier this month, Quebec’s environment watchdog published a report recommending a shut-down of shale gas wells in the province until more research into their ecological impact can be conducted. Pierre Arcand, the province’s environment minister, announced a moratorium within minutes of the release. But Bruce Northrup, Arcand’s counterpart in New Brunswick, quickly followed the news by telling reporters that his government would not be enacting any similar restrictions. “We’ve been very clear since day one,” he said. “We’re not putting a moratorium on.”
This stance has angered environmental groups, such as the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, which have been quick to note that drilling in the United States has led to chemical spills and natural gas in drinking water. They say New Brunswick’s industry—which has seen $374-million worth of investment since the province’s natural gas reserves were discovered in 2000, and which could one day produce $225 million in annual royalties—must be halted to give the government time to beef up its regulations.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 3:09 PM - 1 Comment
Israel’s Trophy system tracks and destroys anti-tank missiles
When insurgents launched a rocket-propelled grenade at an Israeli tank in the southern Gaza Strip last Tuesday, they had no idea they were about to make battlefield history. Within a heartbeat of the trigger pull, a smaller rocket was automatically launched from the vehicle and detonated in mid-air, wiping out the RPG before it could cause any damage.
The event marks the first time the new Israeli Trophy system, a vehicle-mounted defence mechanism that identifies, tracks and destroys anti-tank missiles, has eliminated a projectile in active combat. Developed by Israeli weapons firm Rafael, it has only been in limited deployment for two months, but is now poised to be widely integrated over the next year. “The system will significantly reduce the anti-tank injuries in the next confrontation,” said Brig.-Gen. Agay Yechezkel, a spokesman for the Israeli military.
The system isn’t cheap—it costs about $1 million per unit—but is so advanced that it can even track projectiles back to their origin, alerting soldiers to the location of insurgents. Considering it also saved the Israeli tank crew’s lives, Trophy may be well worth the price.
By Tom Henheffer - Friday, March 11, 2011 at 3:37 PM - 0 Comments
Catherine Hardwicke should stop fixating on making pretty pictures
Shot and edited by Tom Henheffer
Produced by Claire Ward
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, February 24, 2011 at 1:15 PM - 5 Comments
Mountain biking, motorcycling, skiing—he was always looking for that adrenalin rush
Taylor Bruce was born on Dec. 15, 1992, at Ottawa’s Grace Hospital. He was the first son of Gene Bruce and Peggy White, two country musicians who met on tour, got married, and decided to retire their road-weary F150 and have kids. Taylor was fearless, constantly smiling, and hated being confined. Every morning Peggy and Gene would find him rattling the bars of his crib in their Nepean home for attention. That stopped within a few months, once he learned how to flip himself over the edge to freedom. “One of his uncles said to me, ‘Taylor does everything he knows all at once, every somersault, every skip.’ He was an extremely physical boy,” says Gene.
He also had his parents’ ear for music, but nothing excited him more than the roar of a revving engine. “As a tiny guy, he could draw every imaginable type of machine, whether it was a crane or a bulldozer, always from memory,” says Gene. “He could identify individual vehicles just from the sound of them—or tell me the year by the shape of a headlight.”
Despite his talents, Taylor had a hard time at school—he had verbal and physical tics, got into fights, and was constantly teased. At the start of Grade 2 he was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome. He’d fly into rages at home and had a hard time making friends, but that all started to change when, at seven, his parents bought him a cheap Canadian Tire bike. “He went flying down the hill—he was trying to get the bike to jump. I said, ‘Okay buddy, you’ve got to look for cars,’ ” says Peggy. “He’d say, ‘yeah, mom,’ then take off and go off the sidewalk.” Once Taylor went mountain biking with some of Peggy’s friends. The group loved his determination so much they scraped together extra parts to make his bicycle a viable mountain bike so he could tag along again. “That bike was his saving grace,” says Peggy. “He loved the adrenalin—the rush of going fast.”
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 8:41 AM - 0 Comments
He was a lung cancer survivor and hometown hero for pulling a man from a burning building. ‘It was almost like smoke wanted him.’
Antonio Montenegrino was born in late 1922 to a poor peasant family in a small village in southern Italy. When he was three, Antonio’s father, Joseph, left to find work in Argentina to support the family. He never returned, and his mother, Angela, was forced to give the baby up to her brother, George Raso. But Raso starved and beat the boy, forcing him to work as an indentured servant at his flour mill. At 16, Antonio pulled a gun on his uncle. “He said, ‘You will not hit me anymore. I’m leaving,’ ” says Emanuel, his youngest son.
Antonio spent the next two years knocking on his neighbours’ doors with a spade on his shoulder, offering to till land in exchange for a bale of hay or a bucket of olives. At 18, he fell in love with Stella Mammoliti. But the Second World War had broken out, and Antonio was drafted. He was stationed at a small airport in a rural village, where he worked as a smoker, creating cover to foil strafing Allied planes. “He didn’t care about war,” says Emanuel. “He had this beautiful woman he was in love with, he was afraid of losing her, so he said to hell with this and on pain of death went AWOL.” Antonio married Stella, but was eventually dragged back by the military.
In 1945, after the war, the couple had their first son, Joseph. He died in infancy, but was followed by five more boys in the next 10 years.
One day, while walking home from church, Antonio heard women screaming and came upon a blaze at a neighbour’s house. Dousing a blanket in water and wrapping it around himself, Antonio ran inside and pulled out a badly burned man just as the building collapsed. Though he became a hero in his village, the family still lived in a dilapidated farmhouse with no electricity. Being uneducated and illiterate, Antonio couldn’t earn enough in buckets of olives and hay to feed the family. So, in 1959, they decided to move to Canada.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 12:20 PM - 2 Comments
The only living thing the swan won’t charge is Lou Maieron, the owner of the fish farm where Brutus landed five years ago and has stayed since.
Brutus is naturally grumpy. He lowers his beak, spreads his wings and charges anything that comes near his pond, be it birds, kids or idling trucks (that one left him with a broken leg). The only living thing the swan won’t charge is Lou Maieron, the owner of the fish farm where Brutus landed five years ago and has stayed since. And the animal even hated him, until Maieron fixed his leg following the truck incident. “I’m his buddy now. He comes to me, grunts and I pet his head,” he says.
But the temperamental bird has landed Maieron in court five times. It started in 2009 when a Natural Resources inspector, on site to check Maieron’s fish farm, noticed Brutus. He reported him to a wildlife officer, who fined Maieron $180 for possessing a migratory bird without a permit. But Maieron, a seasoned biologist (and the newly elected mayor of Erin, Ont.—he figures publicity over the incident helped him win), is familiar with the Migratory Bird Act. He says the charge is baseless because Brutus arrived on his own and is free to leave. “Anybody who has ducks or geese visit their property and feeds them, according to this officer, will be charged.” He told the officer he’d buy the $10 permit, but was refused, so he went to court.
The case was initially stayed. The Crown fought that decision and won the right to an appeal, but not a new trial. “Surely you have better things to do,” Justice Norman Douglas told the Crown. But the prosecutor pressed on. The court will decide on Jan. 26 whether an appeal will be heard. Maieron then gets to go on with his life, or prepare for a full trial. “Brutus, ya bastard,” he affectionately tells the swan, ldquo;look at what I’ve got to go through because of you.”
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
Engkeys will be controlled by teachers in the Philippines and will teach English
Korea has a shortage of affordable English teachers, but the Philippines have plenty, so the South Korean government instituted a $1.3-million pilot program to bring instructors to the classroom through robotic avatars called Engkeys (a portmanteau of English and jockey). The robots, at just over three feet tall, are being used in 29 classrooms across the southeastern city of Daegu. They’re preprogrammed to dance and play games, and are remotely controlled by the Philippines-based teachers. “The kids seemed to love it,” Kim Mi-Young, an official at Daegu’s city education office, told news agency AFP. The robots also feature a flip-up LED screen that bears the image of a Caucasian woman that, through motion-detection technology, mimics the facial expressions of instructors a country away. The government is still planning to send a $9,000 Engkey to every one of the country’s kindergartens over the next two years.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
Groupon accuses Australian competitor of domain-name squatting
Groupon, the daily-deal website that just turned down a US$5.3-billion buyout offer from Google, has had nothing but success in dozens of countries around the world—but things are different in Australia. The company, which launched in 2008 and now operates in 37 countries, is postponing its formal launch in the outback because of another daily coupon company: Scoopon. According to Groupon CEO Andrew Mason’s blog, Scoopon tried to register Groupon’s trademark in Australia and bought the groupon.com.au URL before his company had the chance.
Domain-name squatting has become a problem for Groupon, but the company offered to buy the address from Scoopon for US$286,000 anyway. Mason says the offer was initially accepted, then turned down, and that Scoopon’s founders are now hoping Groupon will buy them out. Instead, Groupon is suing Scoopon for filing the trademark in bad faith. Mason says it could take more than a year to resolve the suit, but that his company will still offer its daily discounts in Australia under the temporary name of Stardeals. In the meantime, the 30-year-old CEO is asking Australians to show their support by joining Groupon’s Facebook group and posting a note urging Scoopon to accept the $286,000 offer.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 11:20 AM - 0 Comments
Well, something must be terribly wrong, because butterfly populations are plummeting around the globe.
“A lot of people view butterflies in a way analogous to the canary in the coal mine,” says Arthur Shapiro, an entomologist at the University of California at Davis. “If butterflies are going downhill, something is wrong.” Well, something must be terribly wrong, because butterfly populations are plummeting around the globe. The graceful fluttering of the marsh fritillary and delicate beauty of the Grecian copper could soon be squashed out, and the large tortoiseshell, a spotted orange butterfly once ubiquitous in England, is now classified as regionally extinct.
In Europe, where there’s a wealth of data thanks to a decades-long culture of professional and hobbyist butterfly monitoring, scientists are reporting a 70 per cent reduction in populations across the board. Four of Britain’s 62 species of butterflies have gone extinct in recent years, while a further 19 are threatened and 11 near threatened. North American scientists report similar numbers.
Intensive farming is believed to be the primary culprit in England and Western Europe, where subsidies from governments and the EU support mega-farms that strip grasslands, the habitat for many species of butterﬂy. “Europe has been inhabited for thousands of years and the natural environment adapted to that,” says Chris Van Swaay, a spokesperson for Butterfly Conservation Europe.
Climate change is also taking its toll, pushing many species of European butterflies north to cooler weather and forcing the mountain butterflies of North America into higher elevations. But, says Shapiro, they can’t keep running forever, and many species require too specialized a climate to run at all.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, January 20, 2011 at 8:20 AM - 1 Comment
Starbucks’s decision to drop its name from its two-decade-old logo led to a swarm of negative reaction online, in the news and in under-caffeinated lineups everywhere.
Starbucks’s decision to drop its name from its two-decade-old logo led to a swarm of negative reaction online, in the news and in under-caffeinated lineups everywhere. It was pretty predictable—numerous studies have shown that customers loathe label-fiddling, as the likes of Wal-Mart, Pepsi and the Gap (which was forced to revert back to its old logo due to negative reaction over its redesign) have all discovered in recent years.
But marketing experts say there is an upside. If successful, the move could lead Starbucks to the same level of über-brand recognition as the wordless Apple and Nike logos. This would come at the perfect time, as Starbucks is currently planning to increase its expansion into international, non-English speaking markets, with its number of stores set to more than triple (from about 400 to 1,500) in China alone. Now it just has to hope that “the logo formerly known as Starbucks” actually catches on.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 10:40 AM - 8 Comments
New research suggests a possible cause of dolphin and whale strandings: severe to profound hearing loss
When weakened by disease, starvation or injury, dolphins succumb to an instinctual fear of drowning. Seized with panic, they swim to shallower and shallower water to keep breathing, and often wind up stranded on a beach, where the sun, sand and wind quickly end their lives.
Now, thanks to new research from the University of Southern Florida (USF), scientists have discovered one of the elusive root contributors to whale and dolphin strandings—deafness.
“Whales and dolphins are acoustic animals. They use sound to feed, they use sound to breed, they use sound to fulfill every biologically important goal of their existence,” says Michael Jasney, an ocean-noise expert with the National Resources Defense Council, an international environmental group. “If you take away their ability to hear, you take away their link to the world.”
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 9:20 AM - 12 Comments
An Ottawa man is fighting for the right to slaughter and process meat for his friends
Four squad cars squealed into Mark Tijssen’s yard with their lights blazing, just after dark on a cold November night last year. Tijssen, who was having dinner with his nine-year-old son at the time, politely showed the officers around his Ottawa property before being charged with several crimes under the Ontario Food Quality and Safety Act (OFQSA), including killing uninspected animals and distributing meat without a licence. It was all because he had slaughtered a pig and given a friend some of the meat. “I didn’t set out to be an activist or a revolutionary—I grew up on a farm,” says Tijssen, 48, a Canadian Forces major. “There was no need for this.”
Tijssen is now fighting the Ontario government for the right to slaughter and process meat for his friends and neighbours (the law allows him to process it for personal use), a practice he claims was legal before the OFQSA was quietly brought into force in 2005. His trial begins Feb. 14, and could result in $100,000 in penalties. He had the chance to settle the case for a $1,000 fine, but refused.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 9:00 AM - 1 Comment
A 300-m-tall skyscraper will soon be constructed in the Taiwanese city of Taichung
A 300-m-tall skyscraper complete with eight propeller-powered, Zeppelin-like elevators that spiral around its exterior will soon be constructed in the Taiwanese city of Taichung. Dubbed the Taiwan Tower, the behemoth is supported by eight spires with individual glass and concrete “pods” sprinkled between them for living and office space. It’s meant to look like a gigantic tree, a design inspired by the shape of the Taiwanese island itself, while the bizarre elevators are supposed to resemble floating platforms in video games, which have become an integral part of Taiwanese culture.
The tower, set to begin construction in 2012, was designed by Dorin Stefan, a Romanian architect. He included a geothermal plant, natural ventilation, solar cells, wind turbines and a rainwater collection system in the blueprints to make the building environmentally friendly, as well as space for offices, apartments, and a museum. Taiwan’s government, which is funding the project, hopes the concept will be a draw for tourists, who can view Taiwan’s third largest city from observation decks built into the bottom of the balloon elevators.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 3:00 PM - 0 Comments
The city of Durban is offering residents $4 a week for their stored urine, which can be turned into fertilizer
The south african city of Durban is buying urine from its residents in a bizarre scheme to reduce water usage and increase sanitation. The port city installed waterless toilets in the gardens of 90,000 homes in 2002, following a cholera outbreak brought on by a widespread lack of access to proper washrooms. But as soon as the modern outhouses—which funnel urine and feces into tanks attached outside—were installed, residents started converting them into shacks, living rooms and garages, or tearing them down. Some believe close contact with waste brings misfortune; others simply saw an opportunity to grab raw materials or add on to their houses.
Now, in an effort to get people to actually use the toilets, the city is offering residents $4 a week for their stored urine, which can be turned into fertilizer. With almost half the city surviving on less then $2 a day, Teddy Gounden, who heads the project, told the AFP news agency he hopes the money might just be enough to overcome superstition: “South Africa is a water-stressed country. We cannot afford to flush this valuable resource down the sewer.”
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, November 25, 2010 at 12:00 PM - 3 Comments
Caribou are disappearing at an alarming rate. But some think they know how to save them.
For years, First Nations groups and scientists have been warning about the decline of caribou. Now, with some herds wiped out completely and others suffering declines of up to 97 per cent since the 1980s, governments and resource companies are finally taking note.
The threat to caribou was an especially hot topic last month in Winnipeg at the 13th annual North American Caribou Workshop, normally a low-key event dominated by scientists and researchers. First Nations—asked to consult based on their millennia-long relationship with the animal—made up more then half of the participants, and the workshop attracted representatives from the governments of Greenland, Russia, the Canadian Prairies and territories, and major natural resource companies including AbitibiBowater. Avrim Lazar, president and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada, the trade organization that represents forestry companies, says many of those in the industry are starting to plan developments around caribou.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, November 18, 2010 at 1:00 PM - 11 Comments
When you need massive reforestation, aerial planting is the answer
Massive planes, once used to blanket the earth in land mines, could soon be dropping a very different kind of bomb—pointed containers with saplings inside. “There is renewed interest in massive reforestation and shrub planting,” says Moshe Alamaro, an MIT researcher. “Aerial reforestation is the way to go.”
Alamaro collaborated with U.S. aerospace company Lockheed Martin in the late ’90s to replace the tedious and back-breaking work of manually planting trees by dropping saplings from the sky. The idea, which could see nearly one million trees planted per day, was based on research done at the University of British Columbia in the 1970s. The concept involved using a small fertilizing plane to drop saplings in plastic pods one at a time from a hopper. But it wasn’t very fruitful—most pods hit debris during pilot tests and failed to actually take root.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, November 11, 2010 at 10:40 AM - 5 Comments
RIM has finally unveiled a working demo of its rival to the iPad—the BlackBerry Playbook
Research In Motion has been locked in a bitter battle with tech rivals like Apple, but lately it seems shareholders couldn’t be happier. The company, which has been losing ground in the battle over smartphones, finally unveiled a working demo of its rival to the iPad—the BlackBerry Playbook—last Tuesday. Company co-chief executive Mike Lazaridis debuted the seven-inch, multi-touch tablet at the Adobe MAX conference in Los Angeles, showcasing its integrated camera for video conferencing, high-definition screen and full Flash support—all features the iPad has been criticized for lacking.
Apple CEO Steve Jobs has dismissed the Playbook as being “too small,” but RIM shareholders seem to disagree. The device, which hits store shelves as early as next March and is marketed as the world’s first “professional” tablet, drove RIM stock up 5.8 per cent on Tuesday and 10 per cent overall last week.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, November 4, 2010 at 1:40 PM - 0 Comments
In Seoul, StarCraft is a sport with pro athletes, and big salaries. And now the rules of play are about to change.
Heavy metal music booms and strobe lights flash on a sleek, multi-level black stage as the standing-room-only audience cheers. They’re captivated by two stone-faced players sitting apart in logo-covered black booths, their fingers filling the air with the machine-gun sounds of rapid-fire keyboard clicking. It’s the first round of the GomTV StarCraft II Open, the largest StarCraft II competition in the world. Taking place in Seoul, South Korea, from Oct. 18 to Nov. 13, it’s a holy sacrament in what has become all but a national religion.
StarCraft is a fairly successful, if outdated, sci-fi military simulator where players build bases and armies and attack one another. But it has the status of a sport in South Korea, with half of the 11 million copies sold worldwide spinning in the country’s PCs—meaning almost one in 10 Koreans owns a copy. Two cable channels are dedicated solely to streaming StarCraft matches, and career players, known by nicknames like SlayerS_`BoxeR`, Flash and [ReD]NaDa, practise up to a dozen hours a day to hone nearly superhuman reflexes.
There are 12 professional teams and 300 licensed pro gamers in the country. Many earn six-figure salaries thanks to lucrative sponsorship deals, and the biggest championships draw live audiences of well over 100,000 people. Thousands of teens dream of the day when they can go to live in a dorm with other gamers and do nothing but sleep, eat and play StarCraft at a professional training boot camp, and the air force even has a StarCraft team, started as a PR move to accommodate top gamers during their compulsory time in the military.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 11:57 AM - 0 Comments
Some companies offer employees extra time off
When it comes to attracting and retaining top-notch employees, rewards—pay, benefits and programs for retirement savings—are often the bottom line. After all, everyone has to pay the rent. And for many companies it’s a way of differentiating themselves from the competition. Take, for instance, Conexus, a small credit union in southern Saskatchewan. “We know Saskatchewan is a little hot in terms of the market,” says Delia Ermel, the company’s interim executive vice-president. So, she says, “we want to make sure we attract the best and brightest.” To do that, the company offers full medical insurance, a pension plan with matched contributions and annual bonuses when it meets yearly business goals. Management reviews the reward packages annually and makes minor tweaks, then keeps the staff abreast of changes through an annual update. On top of regular vacation time, Conexus offers 72 hours a year of flexible “Your-Time,” which employees can use to do whatever they want. And the company emphasizes a flexible work-life balance, giving employees time to work out of the office, get to doctors’ appointments or take care of their family. “We like to take a holistic approach to our rewards,” says Ermel. “What motivates me may be totally different than the person sitting next to me.”
Alison Konrad, a professor at the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business, says that’s the right idea. “Employees are more diverse in the kinds of needs they bring to employers,” she says, “so a narrow set of benefits isn’t as effective as a broader array.” She says remaining fair and flexible is the best way to keep employees happy. Ermel says that’s exactly why her company is doing so well. “We try to stay as open-minded as we can,” she says, adding that as a result, “we’ve got a motivated and engaged workforce.”
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 11:41 AM - 0 Comments
McDonald’s manages to remain current and innovative thanks in part to its approach to fostering leadership
Though the most famous burger chain in the world opened its doors 80 years ago, McDonald’s manages to remain current and innovative thanks in part to its approach to fostering leadership. “People could copy everything about us,” says Len Jillard, McDonald’s chief people officer, who joined the company in 1972 at one of its fast-food joints in London, Ont., “but they’d never be able to copy our people and how we make them.”
All employees—even those flipping Big Macs—are asked to draft their own personal career plans. They’re given the opportunity to go through coaching and career planning classes, and are evaluated on their leadership potential. Some are even sent to Hamburger University, an advanced employee training school in Illinois. The company also has a Leadership Institute, an online training community. “Nobody can declare him or herself a great leader,” says Gerard Seijts, a professor at the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business. “Leaders have to be developed.”
At Chubb Insurance, which also scores well on leadership, it starts with setting the right example. Ellen Moore, the company’s president and CEO, says the key is remaining transparent, holding managers accountable, and listening to suggestions from employees at every level. The Toronto-based company shares its broad business plans with its workers, and consults them in town-hall style meetings that Moore often oversees. “That level of transparency with your staff,” says Moore, “makes them feel there’s a real commitment from leadership.”
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, October 28, 2010 at 8:40 AM - 0 Comments
Power from waste
Residents of 200 households in Oxfordshire, U.K., are cooking with their own poop. They’re part of a co-operative project aimed at reducing energy costs by recycling household waste into odourless, clean-burning biomethane. The fuel is created by taking waste sludge from treatment tanks and placing it into special “anaerobic digesters” that are filled with a special mixture of bacteria and heated to produce raw gas. This is then sent to a biogas plant, which produces biomethane that’s piped back into homes for heating and cooking. Since most of the infrastructure exists, implementation is relatively cheap, costing less than an estimated $7 million per 500 houses in some circumstances.
British Gas, Scotia Gas and Thames Water are heading the venture, which is expected to help meet an EU requirement that 15 per cent of Britain’s power come from renewable sources in the next 10 years. It’s estimated that the heating demands of 200,000 homes could be met if the waste from every Briton was treated in a similar way. Other companies are also working on such plans, with 500 Manchester homes set to be literally cooking with their own gas by the end of 2011.