By Rosemary Westwood - Thursday, May 23, 2013 - 0 Comments
The push for cheap clothes includes a small Montreal apparel firm
The horrific collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex in Bangladesh last month, which left 1,127 apparel workers dead, has exposed the sprawling, fractured supply chains giant retailers rely on as they struggle to push down prices. Now details of the involvement of a small Montreal apparel firm have added to the puzzle.
Papers recovered from the rubble by the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity and provided to the New York Times show that Fame Jeans Inc. of Montreal placed an order for dark blue skinny jeans with Ether Tex Ltd., a factory on the building’s fifth floor. The papers list Wal-Mart as the end customer for, among other items, about 5,300 pairs of jeans at $4.40 each. What they also show is that companies in the industry sometimes have no idea where their clothes are made.
“We were surprised to learn that purchasing documents for an order placed 18 months ago in November 2011 were discovered in the Rana Plaza building following its collapse,” Fame Jeans CEO Alen Brandman said in a statement to Maclean’s, adding Ether Tex was not an “authorized” factory for either Wal-Mart or Fame Jeans. He blamed the order on a single sourcing manager acting “without approval.” Brandman told the Times Ether Tex did not make any more products for his company after that order, and that the rogue employee was fired. Brandman declined an interview request. However, emails contained in the recovered documents show two Fame Jeans employees knew about the order.
In an email, Wal-Mart said it wasn’t aware of the order, and that it “terminated” Fame Jeans as a supplier, though it did not specify when. At the time of the collapse Wal-Mart said an investigation found “no authorized” production at the building. Last week, Wal-Mart announced a new safety plan for its factories in Bangladesh, including inspections of all 279 locations. However, it did not commit to pay for any upgrades—a key component of an industry-wide agreement signed by more than a dozen retailers, including Loblaw Inc. As for Fame Jeans, Brandman said it has “rigorous and comprehensive safeguards” to ensure the factories it hires comply with its own ethical and safety standards and those of its clients.
By Rosemary Westwood - Thursday, May 16, 2013 at 11:32 PM - 0 Comments
Dellen Millard paid $627,000 for condo in downtown Toronto
Dellen Millard, the man accused of killing Tim Bosma after taking his pick-up truck for a test drive, spent $627,000 on a condo in Toronto’s high-end distillery district the day after Bosma disappeared.
Millard, 27, paid upfront, in-full and in cash for the 37th floor unit built by Distillery SE Development Corp. According to documents obtained by Maclean’s, Millard’s lawyer in that transaction, Mitch Korman, signed for the deal on May 7. At the time, Bosma had been missing for a day. Korman could not be reached for comment.
Hamilton Police say Bosma was killed the night he was taken. Millard was arrested four days later on May 10, and officially charged with first-degree murder on Wednesday. A day earlier police said they’d found Bosma’s badly-burned body in the Kitchener-Waterloo area.
By Rosemary Westwood - Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 4:57 PM - 0 Comments
Loblaw, owner of the Joe Fresh brand, has become the latest major retailer to…
Loblaw, owner of the Joe Fresh brand, has become the latest major retailer to sign onto a pact promising significant improvements to building safety in Bangladesh textile factories, as pressure mounts on the remaining holdouts, which include Wal-Mart and Gap.
In the last 24 hours, the Italian label Benetton, Swedish mega-brand H&M, French retailer Carrefour, major low-cost U.K. retailers Primark and Tesco, Dutch chain C&A, and Inditex, the maker of Zara, all announced they would sign on to a new accord that will shift responsibility for fire and building safety in factories directly onto retailers. An earlier version of the agreement, drafted with international and Bangladesh labour unions, had already been signed by two retailers late last year: PVH, maker of the Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein brands, and Tchibo.
“This decision reflects [Loblaw’s] pledge to stay in Bangladesh and underscores its firm belief that active collaboration by retail and manufacturing industries, government and non-governmental organization, is critical to driving effective and lasting change in Bangladesh,” Loblaw spokewoman Julija Hunter said in an email late Wednesday. The company had previously stated it was reviewing the agreement.
The accord comes with a looming deadline: brands have until May 15 to sign up. The deadline is designed to compel companies to move quickly towards making changes in some of Bangladesh’s more than 5,000 textile factories.
“It’s in their interest to sign before the deadline,” Toronto-based labour rights advocate Kevin Thomas said of the retailers who have not yet agreed to the pact. “Wednesday’s announcement will separate the companies that are serious about safety from those who are not.”
The agreement marks a fundamental shift in responsibility for the safety of Bangladesh’s 4 million textile workers. Until now, each brand has followed their own standards and audit processes to ensure safe and responsible working conditions in factories. But last month’s disaster has shown just how ineffective the current system can be at protecting factory workers employed in the country’s most important industry, where low-cost labour is the main competitive edge.
Under the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, retailers will be required to undertake independent safety inspections, publish public reports on investigative findings and offer safety training for workers and management personnel. Crucially, they’ll have to pay for mandatory repairs and renovations, and are obliged to terminate business with any factory that refuses to make necessary safety upgrades. Factory workers will have a number of “whistleblower” routes—including a complaints hotline and in-factory health and safety committees.
Thomas called the agreement “an unprecedented change,” both in Bangladesh, and the global apparel industry. Only in Indonesia does a similar type of agreement exist, in which retailers have committed to allowing workers to organize into unions. That agreement was introduced last year.
“If Wal-Mart and Gap don’t sign, there will be a double standard in Bangladesh between companies that care about workers’ lives and those that don’t,” Thomas argued. “Wal-Mart and Gap can choose which side of that divide they want to be on. In the meantime there is now substantial weight behind this accord and it can proceed while public attention focuses in on companies that fail to sign.”
Brands, including Loblaw, have been keen to prove they are serious about protecting workers rights in foreign factories in the wake of the disaster, offering financial assistance to victim’s families and promising to work with Bangladesh authorities to improve factory conditions. But a complex supply chain—where brands like H&M use no less than 166 different factories in Bangladesh alone—has deterred the kind of fundamental agreement between retailers needed to change the status quo: factories compete to offer the lowest-prices on what are often short contracts, and wages—the lowest in the world for a textile worker—and working conditions bear the brunt of international demand for cheap goods.
Wal-Mart and Gap were among those at a meeting in Germany the day after the factory collapsed, where 40 retailers discussed ways to improve safety standards. But those who sign the accord will be held to account, Thomas says. Brands who don’t meet their responsibilities could be called to explain themselves before the accord’s steering committee, or face arbitration. Though proof might only be found in an end to stories of factories collapsing or bursting into flames, labour groups argue this goes a meaningful bit further than lip service.
By Rosemary Westwood - Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 1:05 PM - 0 Comments
Readers and tweeters thank Ghyslain Raza for telling his story
Ten years ago, he was known as the “Star Wars Kid” and the subject of unwanted media attention. Now the world knows him better as Ghyslain Raza.
Since granting his first interview in a decade, Raza has emerged something of a hero as his story inspires debate about online bullying and the impunity of the message board.
Raza’s story, which appears in the current print edition of Maclean’s and L’actualité, has spread to the U.S., U.K., France and Australia. It has been shared widely on Facebook and Twitter, sites that didn’t exist when he was thrust into the spotlight as the butt of a viral video joke. Now he’s drawing praise instead of laughter.
“Thought the video was hilarious initially,” wrote one reader of the website of the British newspaper the Daily Mail. “Now seems heartbreaking. Bullying like this is worse now than it ever was due to Internet social media reaching further and remaining there indefinitely. It will always be there available if searched for. There is almost no escaping it. Glad he is able to move on.”
“Good on you mate that you’re moving on and beating the trolls and overcoming depression,” another Daily Mail reader commented.
The story was published on this website last Thursday and quickly became the most-read story of the year. Ranza’s comments about the “dark period” he plunged into in 2003 have since been highlighted by mainstream newspapers and tech blogs alike, including Gawker, Fox News, Reddit, Yahoo news, the French paper Le Figaro, Sweden’s Svenska Dagbladet, Italy’s Corriere della Sera, the Australian News Limited Network and Mashable.
The story’s writer Jonathan Trudel called the mainstream reaction to the article “striking.”
“Wow… Sincere respect for this guy,” wrote a Mashable reader. “I wish I could shake his hand.”
Another added: “Shame on those who prey on others in this way.”
On Twitter, reaction was similar.
When we forget that these are people that we are joking about so casually and callously, this is what happens…. fb.me/2epiOInKt
— Big Daddy Voodoo (@bigdaddylilcity) May 13, 2013
Ghyslain Raza, aka “Star Wars Kid”, ten years on: “I felt worthless… but you’ll survive. You’re not alone.” mashable.com/2013/05/10/sta…
— Neuroskeptic (@Neuro_Skeptic) May 11, 2013
— Nathan Sloyer (@Sloy_Boy) May 10, 2013
“Thank you, Mr. Raza, for being strong and telling your story,” wrote a Maclean’s commenter. “You endured something awful and undeserved, and now by your example you are giving others the strength and courage to endure bullying.”
But though many condemned the bullying, others argued a funny viral video isn’t itself a bad thing.
“There is nothing wrong at all for laughing at the video and finding it funny,” Shane Weeks wrote on the Maclean’s story. “I bet even his parents found it funny when they first watched it before the viral incident (if they did). What I cannot tolerate is when people feel the need to humiliate and jeer at him.”
“Laughing at the video is not a crime,” Joan Michelle Miller wrote. “If a young boy can’t handle being laughed at there are a lot of other things in life that he won’t be able to handle either. Everyone gets humiliated, every one gets made fun of, every one needs to learn to laugh at themselves. The horrible thing in this case is that people crossed a line and went as far as to tell this kid to kill himself.”
American journalist Doug Bernard argued that Raza’s original ordeal might not repeat in today’s Internet culture. ”Internet infamy just doesn’t have the same taint as it once did,” he wrote on his Voice of America blog Digital Frontiers.
Some Reddit writers blamed online anonymity for Ranza’s torment, while others argued for the benefits of web anonymity.
“People have a huge moral disconnect with the stuff they do online. If this guy said these things to them face to face they would probably take it to heart, but seeing it online gives them an easy way out of having to take moral responsibility, ” Kujaku Chan wrote.
“I personally like being anonymous but I also like to be cordial and respectful to others on the web,” countered a commentator identified as Countsheep.
Open and honest conversation would not exist at Reddit without anonymity, another poster argued.
“Anonymity is amazing, it forces people to listen to what you say instead of dismissing you as a Jew, or a black, or a gay, or all those things that happen in the real world,” wrote a user named RMcD94.
Despite the story’s revelations of the abuse that Raza endured, many readers remembered the video fondly, as a bit of fun about a young kid pulling the kind of Jedi moves that most other young boys likely tried out in their bedrooms.
The outpouring of response online to the story “proves Ghyslain was right to speak up,” says Trudel. ”It says a lot about what society has learned from the too many cases of cyberbullying.”
By 2006, the Star Wars Kid video had been viewed an estimated 900 million times. Raza’s new interview, and the debate it has created, will no doubt drive traffic to original video, which is now YouTube with 28 million hits. This time though, Raza’s not wearing the joke.
By Rosemary Westwood - Monday, May 13, 2013 at 10:45 AM - 0 Comments
Vintners from British Columbia, Ontario and Nova Scotia are embracing effervescence
Maclean’s tells the story of Canadian wine from coast to coast in words and pictures in Wine in Canada: A Tour of Wine Country. Look for it on newsstands now. Or download the app now. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek:
Break out the made-in-Canada bubbly. Champagne isn’t just for drenching champion athletes, New Year’s revelry and the French anymore. Producers at home are challenging the famed region’s monopoly on the finest sparkling wine.
Nestled among the rolling green hills of Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley near the Gaspereau River, Benjamin Bridge is part of the new wave of Canadian vineyards creating a buzz with high-calibre bubbles.
Last year a $75 bottle of its 2004 brut reserve stunned some of the country’s most discerning palates in a blind tasting—they preferred it to a $250 bottle of Louis Roederer 2004 Cristal (yes, that Cristal, from one the world’s top champagne houses).
In 2011, L’Acadie Vineyards—also from the Annapolis Valley—won a silver, the only medal awarded to a North American vineyard, at an international competition for sparkling wines held, where else, in France. And the Okanagan’s Summerhill Pyramid Winery won the “best bottle fermented sparkling wine” at the 2010 International Wine and Spirits competition in London. With a growing list of Canadian wineries chasing that bright and delicate zing, competition for the top national sparklers has become fierce. It may not be champagne, a name reserved for wines made in that region, but it sure tastes like it. And Canadians are lapping it up.
By Rosemary Westwood - Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 1:00 PM - 0 Comments
First Nations must contend not only with rising waters, but accusations of financial mismanagement
Rivers and creeks are beginning to rise again in Manitoba, and the Peguis First Nation is once again sandbagging homes in preparation for a flood season that could hit as hard as the massive floods of 2011, according to government forecasts. Meanwhile, nearly 200 of its members—evacuated during that unprecedented year of flooding—have yet to return to their homes. They are among 2,000 Aboriginal evacuees from six First Nations who have spent the last two years living in hotels and apartments—at a staggering cost to the federal government of $75 million to date.
Unable to salvage their waterlogged and damaged properties, and without anywhere else to go, thousands of First Nations people are relying on federal disaster-relief funding for housing and food, money distributed by an organization now criticized for financial mismanagement.
The Manitoba Association of Native Firefighters (MANFF) has an ongoing contract with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) to cover hotel and restaurant bills and rent for apartments for all evacuated First Nations. Last month, MANFF faced allegations of failing to pay hotel bills worth millions of dollars and racking up high charges for snacks for evacuees, including $1 million paid to a single restaurant. A mediator has been appointed to settle the dispute over unpaid hotel bills, and Aboriginal Affairs spokeswoman Andrea Richer says the charges for snacks—which at one point reached a reported $60 per person, per day—are “inappropriate and would not be reimbursed.” She added that “a management review is under way to ensure services are being delivered and tax dollars are being used appropriately.”
By Rosemary Westwood - Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 5:55 PM - 0 Comments
Facebook is clearly bringing in the cash—but what about the users?
The company’s revenue hit $146 billion during the first quarter of 2013, up 38 per cent from the same period a year earlier, but not quite the $158 billion it made in last three months of 2012, it reported Wednesday afternoon.
The results come as Facebook struggles to position itself as a leader in the mobile world—most aggressively with the introduction of Facebook Home—but also by increasing mobile users and mobile ad dollars. It fared pretty well: mobile advertising is now 30 per cent of all revenue, up from 23 per cent in the previous quarter, and mobile users grew 54 per cent from a year ago, and up another 10 per cent from the end of 2012—to 780 million active users a month.
Monthly active users rose to 1.11 billion from 1.06 billion at the end of 2012.
That good news, though, doesn’t jive with two separate analyses making the rounds—one by SocialBakers, which provides insight for Facebook advertisers, and one by Nielsen, an analytics company. Both showed declining Facebook users—by as many as 10 million in U.S. alone in the past year, according to the Nielsen report.
So why don’t the metrics match? SocialBakers quickly backed away from its findings after news reports hit the Internet, saying its figures weren’t meant for general consumption, or even all that reliable. But Nielsen is sticking behind its data.
One explanation could be that Nielsen “cannot count the numbers of people using the Facebook app,” and thus provides a picture of visits to the website alone.
Facebook’s biggest hope for app usage is the Facebook Home experiment—an app that dominates a smartphone home screen and assumes users want to turn their phone into one big (or small) Facebook interface. Though fairly fresh, recent reviews suggest users feel otherwise.
While the company has been moving to optimize the social network for advertisers, it might be hoping it will start to pay off soon because ad revenue overall actually fell in the first quarter of 2013 to $1.25 billion from $1.33 billion in the end of 2012. If overall ad dollars keep falling, that growth in mobile ads look doesn’t look quite as juicy.
Facebook users can expect to see more of these efforts to monetize their online lives. And yet Facebook won’t be able to keep making money if it forgets to whom it owes its first allegiance, and it’s continued success.
By Rosemary Westwood - Wednesday, May 1, 2013 at 2:20 PM - 0 Comments
Bangladesh disaster raises tough questions about cheap clothes
Before last week, Loblaw’s Joe Fresh was known mostly as a hot spot for cheap, stylish clothing. Few customers likely cared how the clothes were made. That all changed with the deadly collapse of an eight-storey factory complex used by the retailer in Bangladesh. Nearly 400 people are dead, and the owners of the complex—and the factories within it—that was reportedly built without proper permits, have been arrested on charges of negligence. Bangladesh’s government has vowed to inspect every manufacturer in the country.
By Rosemary Westwood - Monday, April 29, 2013 at 3:16 PM - 0 Comments
For the first time since Greece’s almost unimaginable levels of public dept sunk the European Union’s financial health like a anchor, the government in Athens is letting some public service workers go.
In a nation where more than one in four people are out of work, the jobless rate among government workers has been a perfect zero, thank to laws that made it illegal to fire a government employee. In the Greece of the past, the public service acted like a depository for political backers, with jobs-for-life often traded for party support. Politicians finally voted Monday to make it legal to downsize the public service.
The cuts will hit about 15,110 workers over the next two years, and 150,000 by 2015, potentially pushing the unemployment rate up to 30 per cent, as noted in the Financial Times. Compare that to the 586,000 public employees who lost their jobs in the U.S. from 2008, when the financial crisis hit, to 2012 (which doesn’t include the effects of deep government spending cuts known as sequestration). Or the 19,200 job cuts announced in Canada’s 2012 budget alone—a figure that could be closer to 28,000 according to some government critics.
What finally forced Greek politicians to turn their austerity on a bloated public service? More money. Greece now gets a €2.8 billion check from the EU bailout fund, which was contingent on the layoffs. It’s part of a €172 billion ($228 billion) bailout package agreed to in 2011, which itself is part of billions of dollars pumped into Greece since it took its first €110 billion ($145 billion) in 2010.
Considering those vast sums, and true questions now about whether the EU will survive, it’s hard to believe it took this long.
By Rosemary Westwood - Monday, April 29, 2013 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
The next ‘big one’: not an earthquake, but a collapse of the digital network that’s become central to our lives
It’s early on a weekday morning, in the not-too-distant future, and a packed commuter train is speeding toward a large North American city when the Internet cuts out. It’s more than just an inconvenience for riders checking their email. This train and the tracks are part of the Internet, too—fitted with computers and sensors to monitor and control the location and speed of trains, and linking every bit of transport infrastructure across the continent to the web. With the system disabled, the train is suddenly out of control.
In the city, the water supply system, automated and synched to a central, digital command centre, also fails in the Internet outage. Switches—built to shut off water when there’s a leak—spring into action and taps everywhere run dry. Above ground, the online network linking every car, truck, bus and taxi malfunctions, as do the sensors that turn lights red and green depending on traffic flows, plunging roads into gridlock. Police cars, ambulances and emergency services, each reliant on the city’s suddenly blacked-out information network, remain parked and useless.
Across the city, people are locked out of (or even in) their homes. The web-enabled security systems that people use to lock and unlock their doors have also failed. At the grocery store, there’s no way to buy food without cash: Internet payment systems go black.
This is the next “big one.” Not an earthquake, but a collapse of the digital network that is increasingly becoming a critical part of day-to-day life, linking together every item and service we use. And while such a failure may sound improbable, security and technology experts say that few people realize just how vulnerable society has already become.
The Internet is now being wired into everything. Cisco estimates 50 billion “things” will be linked to the web by 2020. “When I walk around the street, all I see are networks,” says Cisco senior vice-president and head of the company’s enterprise networking group, Rob Soderbery. “Every electronic billboard, every roadside sensor, every toll booth, every vehicle, every truck, every police car. Think about everything you see in that daily life as being integrated into the network.” Networked trains, web-enabled cars that rely on downloadable software fixes, and smart homes that are run via iPad are already a reality. “Everything around us is acquiring CPUs and communications,” adds Ross Anderson, a professor of security engineering at Cambridge University. “Pretty well everything you buy for more than 10 bucks and don’t eat or drink will be ‘smart’ in some sense.”
We have already seen how even minor glitches in these systems can cause big headaches. In 1999, Internet service, phone lines, payment systems and traffic lights across a large swath of downtown Toronto crashed for a day—all because a technician at a Bell switching centre dropped a wrench, which started a fire, which also brought down power to a hospital and stripped an estimated $1 billion in trades at the Toronto Stock Exchange.
In the past year alone, a cut cable triggered a Sprint Internet outage that grounded Alaska Airlines flights in the western U.S., payment processing problems brought down Visa services in Canada, and Netflix’s hugely popular system crashed due to a software bug. Last week, American Airlines’ entire fleet was grounded for hours due to a glitch in the company’s reservation system.
Malicious attacks are just as common, targeting everything from newspapers, including the New York Times and companies like Telvent, which provides control systems for Alberta oil and gas pipelines. In March, a hacker attack simultaneously crippled South Korea’s main broadcasters and biggest banks, and earlier this month, police in Egypt arrested three men who were allegedly trying to sabotage a critical undersea Internet cable.
Last October, the U.S. secretary of defense said American infrastructure is vulnerable to a “cyber Pearl Harbor.” “This is the pre-9/11 moment,” Leon Panetta said at a gala in New York. “An aggressor nation or extremist group could gain control of critical switches and derail passenger trains, or trains loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate the water supply in major cities, or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country.”
The risks of a breakdown (whether by simple failure or sophisticated hacker attack) are rising exponentially as more services are shifted to the web. Cloud computing, in which companies outsource hardware and some software needs to server farms all over the world, was a $60-billion industry in 2012, says the research company IDC. Microsoft’s cloud-computing customers reportedly include Aer Lingus, Dow Chemical and the University of Georgia. The New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ use cloud computing. Even governments are getting on board: Canada has been examining ways to grow reliance on cloud computing, and in March, reports surfaced that Amazon is building a “private” cloud for the CIA.
But cloud computing, like the rest of the digital world, has its vulnerabilities. The European Union’s security agency, ENISA, issued a report this year warning that cloud computing is a double-edged sword. “If an outage or a security breach occurs, the consequence could be big” across critical sectors like finance, energy, transport and even government services, the report cautioned. It called on the EU to monitor attacks and require companies to report outages and security breaches. Andrew Rose, a security analyst for the research firm Forrester, has argued that this hyper-networked future will lead to “unprecedented security challenges.”
Carlo Ratti, the director of the SENSEable City Lab at MIT, argues the nature of security challenges is not changing, just their effect. “The impact of possible security breaches can be more devastating because it’s not only digital, but it’s digital and physical,” he says. “If your computer catches a virus, you might not work for one day. But if your car, which is getting more and more like a computer on wheels, catches a virus, just a simple one that switches the pedal with the brake, then you’re in trouble.”
Given the speed that our reliance on the web is growing, we may not grasp the risks until it’s too late, Ratti says. But governments are trying. Leon Panetta’s fiery warning last fall was followed up with a cybersecurity executive order from U.S. President Barack Obama, announced during the state of the union address in February, which will result in sharing information between public and private sectors to increase cybersecurity.
In 2010, the Canadian government allocated $155 million over five years to beef up cybersecurity efforts, much of which went to the Canadian Cyber Incident Response Centre (CCIRC). But last year, a critical report by the auditor general found that the centre, seven years after it was formed, “cannot fully monitor Canada’s cyberthreat environment” because various departments and companies aren’t fully co-operating with the centre, or even aware of its mandate. There’s a “tremendous fragmentation” between government departments and industry, which hold the Internet traffic data, and the CCIRC, which needs access to it, says Rafal Rohozinski, one of the country’s leading cybersecurity experts.
The audit didn’t examine the government’s response or recovery plan for a cyberattack, which alongside earthquakes, floods and pandemics falls under the public safety department’s Government Operations Centre. Rohozinski questions whether there is such a national plan for a massive digital failure. He says Canada “lags behind” other nations.
At a cybersecurity conference in October, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told delegates his government has “worked closely with our partners to enhance the resilience of critical infrastructure like power grids, financial systems and transport networks.” Meanwhile, the CCIRC doesn’t even operate on a 24-7 basis—it’s open 15 hours, seven days a week. Rohozinski says Canadians are blind to their reliance on this infrastructure. “We don’t realize our dependence.”
Other countries do. Thanks in part to the Stuxnet virus, which infiltrated an Iranian nuclear facility in 2010, “Iran has a better overall government plan for dealing with cyberincidences than does Canada,” he says. But waiting for the “big one” in order to act carries its own risk. “What’s going to be the effect of a catastrophic effect in cyberspace?” he asks. “No one knows.” But it’s pretty scary to imagine.
By Rosemary Westwood - Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 8:42 AM - 0 Comments
Company seeks a solution for slumping PC sales
When worldwide shipments of desktops and laptops slid by their largest margin in a decade earlier this month, Microsoft caught much of the blame over its radical new Windows 8 operating system, launched late last year, and its lack of a single, familiar button. Microsoft may now be hoping that reviving the “start” button could restart sales of PCs.
In the Windows 8.1 update, the company is rumoured to be considering an option to let users boot to the old layout, with its onscreen start button, and bypass the new app-heavy layout that makes computers look more like tablets or smartphones. Windows 8 is designed for touchscreens, clearly the future of computing. But Microsoft appears to be ahead of its time: fewer than 15 per cent of computers on the market this year will be touch-enabled, according to David Daoud, an analyst at IDC, the research firm that reported PC shipments in the first quarter of 2013 were down 14 per cent from the year before. Analysts pointed to a wave of bad reviews of Windows 8 to explain the drop (90 per cent of the world’s computers use Windows). One tech columnist even declared, “Windows: it’s over.” Continue…
By Rosemary Westwood - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 5:12 PM - 0 Comments
Workers spoke of large cracks in the building, reports say
Nearly a hundred people have reportedly died and as many as a thousand have been injured in the collapse of an eight-story factory in Bangladesh, which supplied clothing to Canadian retailer Joe Fresh, owned by Loblaw.
Reports from Reuters say 96 people are confirmed dead, while the Associated Press reports 87 workers have died, in the second major deadly incident at a Bangladesh factory in the outskirts of the capital, Dhaka. In November, 112 people died in a fire in the fashion district of Tazreen at a building that supplied garments to Gap and Wal-Mart.
The Rana Plaza building, a complex of garment factories about 30 km outside Dhaka, supplied clothing to the low-cost U.K. retailer Primark and brands including Bennetton in addition to Joe Fresh, CBC news reports.
In a statement to media, Loblaw Companies Inc.’s vice-president of public relations Julija Hunter said “the large complex, housing a commercial bank and shopping mall, also included a factory that produced a small number of Joe Fresh apparel items.”
“We will be working with our vendor to understand how we may be able to assist them during this time,” the statement continues.
Workers told reporters of large cracks in the building that made them hesitant to go inside Wednesday morning, but factory managers assured them the building was safe.
“After about an hour or so, the building collapsed suddenly,” Abdur Rahim, a worker on the fifth floor, told the Associated Press.
Primark said it was “shocked and deeply saddened by the appalling incident,” in a statement to AP. The company has been reviewing factory standards, the statement continues, and will now also focus on building safety.
Wal-Mart could not confirm whether any of its products were made at factories in the collapsed building, Reuters reports, a fact which points to the complex network of sub-contracting that has fueled Bangladesh’s $20-billion-a-year textile industry.
Bangladesh’s Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir told media Wednesday that “the culprits would be punished.” It’s not clear whether his comment refers to the factory operators, or the mega-chains that hire them to produce cheap goods—an option that would only be possible once companies like Wal-Mart determined whether they indeed were the end destination for the goods.
The CBC program As it Happens posted this tweet, with an image of a Joe Fresh item buried in the rubble of the factories:
By Rosemary Westwood - Wednesday, April 24, 2013 at 12:31 PM - 0 Comments
BlackBerry executives are basking in the glow of rosy reviews this morning, with tech blogs and mainstream media hailing the new BlackBerry Q10 as the comeback device the company—and its devoted followers—have been longing for.
Praise is flowing from both sides of the Atlantic. The Wall Street Journal calls the Q10 “the BlackBerry of BlackBerry users’ dreams.” It’s “the best phone with a keyboard on the market,” claims the U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper. BlackBerry’s A-type, suit-wearing, hardcore fans “are going to love this phone,” Wired reports.
The Q10 is BlackBerry’s second offering on its new BlackBerry 10 operating system, after the release of the Z10 earlier this year. But reviewers seem to unanimously praise it above the keyboard-less Z10. TechCrunch’s Darrell Etherington called the return of the keyboard “refreshing.”
“This is a business phone, and an unabashed one,” he writes.
The upgrade to the new BlackBerry 10 operating system is “fun and responsive,” the WSJ notes. And many reviewers liked BlackBerry Hub—an app that compiles texts and emails to a single place.
In the age of apps, however, BlackBerry flounders. Offering 100,000 apps—BlackBerry’s approximate catalog—is useless if the ones you really want are missing, Wired notes. “Instagram, GroupMe, Vine, Flixster, and other apps that have thrived on iOS and Android are still missing.”
But the Q10 targets clients more concerned about being productive than playing games. Etherington notes he actually got more work done on the Q10 then he would on a competitor smartphone, including composing an actual paragraph. That’s maybe the best news of all for BlackBerry, which has staked its new name (it was formerly Research in Motion Inc.) on its reputation as the businesses world’s top choice.
Despite accounting for just five per cent of market share in the U.S., and falling behind Apple iPhone sales in Canada last year, BlackBerry proved in March that it can still make money, posting a profit for the end of 2012 and better-than-expected sales of phones using the new operating system. And it plans to sell the Q10 for more than the iPhone 5—$249 on a two-year contract in the U.S., and $199 on a three-year contract in Canada (it rolls out May 1 in Canada, and at the end of May in the U.S.).
Considering that some analysts say business clients can bring the company $7 to $10 in fees per person per month, compared to $1 to $4 for regular consumers, clinging to the keyboard—and staking claim to the corporate market—isn’t a bad plan. And if the public likes the Q10 as much as reviewers, 2013 could be a turn-around year for BlackBerry.
By Rosemary Westwood - Friday, April 19, 2013 at 3:11 PM - 0 Comments
Chechen President Ramazan Kadyrov has blasted those looking to Chechnya for the source of…
Chechen President Ramazan Kadyrov has blasted those looking to Chechnya for the source of evil in the Boston Marathon bombings.
“Any attempt to link Chechnya and the Tsarnaevs, if indeed they are guilty, are futile,” he wrote on Instagram, as the Daily Beast reports. “They grew up in the USA, their viewpoints and beliefs were formed there. You must look for the roots of [their] evil in America.”
The rebuke did nothing to stop people from wondering how the two Chechen brothers — Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev — became linked to the blasts that killed three and wounded more than 170 on Monday afternoon. Continue…
By Rosemary Westwood - Friday, April 19, 2013 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
Russia has its first woman to oversee the country’s central bank.
In June, one of the world’s most important economies will get a new central-bank governor, and make history. And it’s not the U.K.’s acquisition of Mark Carney. Russian lawmakers have officially approved, by a huge margin, the appointment of the first woman to head that country’s central bank—or any central bank in the G8—Elvira Nabiullina.
Hand-picked by President Vladimir Putin over three male candidates, Nabiullina, 49, was one of the young economists who made their names as supporters of liberal economic reform as the Soviet Union collapsed. Recently, she is credited with helping finally bring Russia into the World Trade Organization in 2012. She takes over amid fears of another recession after more than a year of slow growth.
“If by autumn we don’t see growth for some period, we may slide into recession,” Economy Minister Andrei Belousov said last week, after the government cut its forecast for growth in 2013 to just 2.4 per cent, the lowest since 2009. A former economy minister herself, Nabiullina’s close relationship to Putin has raised expectations the bank could introduce policies more in line with the government’s, including more aggressive efforts to spur growth that are widely expected to include an interest-rate cut. But that carries the risk of exacerbating already high inflation, which she’s committed to reducing. She’ll oversee expanding the bank’s supervisory power and a push to transform Moscow into an international financial hub.
An impressive resumé has led to mostly praise at her appointment. Now, she has a tough four years to make history for more than just getting the job.
By Emily Senger and Rosemary Westwood - Friday, April 19, 2013 at 12:48 PM - 0 Comments
A profile of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects
The two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings are reported to be brothers who lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The younger brother, Dzhokar Tsarnaev, 19, is now in police custody following a massive manhunt in the Boston area.
Descriptions of a “lovely” kid and “outstanding athlete” peppered the media Friday, as friends, neighbours and a former teacher recounted their shock at learning they knew the police-described “armed and dangerous” suspect of one of the most intense manhunts in U.S. history.
Dzhokar was at large for much of Friday following an unprecedented lockdown in the greater Boston area. His older brother, Tamerlan, 26, is reported to have died after a police shootout overnight. He had been taken to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the same hospital that is still treating victims of Monday’s twin bombings.
The brothers reportedly moved from Russia to the U.S. in 2002. They are ethnic Chechens—Dzhokar born in Kyrgystan, and Tamerlan in Russia, according to MSNBC. A statement from a school in Makhachkala, Russia, said the boy studied there from 2001 to 2002 before moving to the U.S. The official claimed the brothers had two sisters.
By Emily Senger and Rosemary Westwood - Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 5:47 PM - 0 Comments
Authorities continue investigating explosions that killed three
One day after two deadly bomb attacks at the Boston Marathon, authorities have collected clues from the site that could help determine who is behind what U.S. President Barack Obama has called a terrorist attack.
At an afternoon briefing from police, FBI and politicians, investigators said items related to the blast had been gathered from both bomb sites and transported to labs for examination, including strips of black nylon and nails that may have been contained in a “pressure cooker device.”
“Both of the explosives were placed in a dark coloured black or nylon bag or backpack,” said Richard DesLauriers, the FBI special agent in charge of the investigation.
More than 1,000 officer have been recruited from across the federal, state and local levels for the investigation, he said. “We are doing this methodically, carefully, yet with a sense of urgency.”
By Rosemary Westwood - Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 5:04 PM - 0 Comments
“They’ve got a long road ahead of them”
Brothers Paul and JP Norden are only a few years apart in age, and “very close.” They go to parties and weddings together, and on Monday stood side by side near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Both were hit by the explosion that ripped through the crowd of spectators, and both have lost part of their right leg as a result of the blast.
The brothers, being treated in separate hospitals, went into surgery late last night, said a close relative on Tuesday. The younger of the two, Paul, 31, lost his right leg from the knee down. “He’s conscious,” the relative said, and talking to his father.
JP is not. “He lost part of his right leg, but it was the lower part,” the relative said. “He had to go back into surgery today because he had more shrapnel in his left leg.” The 33-year-old hasn’t yet woken.
By Rosemary Westwood - Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 2:51 PM - 0 Comments
Krystle Campbell, 29, has been identified as one of the three people killed in…
Krystle Campbell, 29, has been identified as one of the three people killed in a terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon.
Her parents—thanks to a hospital mix-up—believed Campbell was alive hours after the blast, according to Boston news network WCVB, only to learn that the woman who survived was a friend of Campbell’s, and that their daughter was dead.
“She was a wonderful person and everyone who knew her loved her,” Campbell’s mother, Patty, said, the Telegraph reported. “She was always smiling and was such a hard-worker in everything she did. This just doesn’t make any sense.”
Her father, speaking to Yahoo News, said he was devastated and shocked at her death. Her grandmother also confirmed her death to the Boston Globe.
“My daughter was the most lovable girl. She helped everybody, and I’m just so shocked right now. We’re just devastated,” said William Campbell Jr.
Campbell was standing with a friend near the finish line when two bombs went off, injuring more than 170 people and killing three people, including an 8-year-old boy. The third victim has not yet been identified.
The Boston Globe said Campbell watched the marathon every year.
“She was a wonderful, wonderful girl,” William Campbell said.
By Rosemary Westwood - Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 2:12 PM - 0 Comments
Turns out that free stuff on the side of the road isn’t actually free
It turns out, free stuff piled on the side of the road isn’t actually free. Chairs, tables and TVs plastered with “free” signs cost taxpayers in the Victoria area $330,000 to clean up in 2012. Vancouver spent $1 million. Now, as university and college students prepare to move house at the end of the term, Victoria is eager to head off another spike in student detritus, part of the 650 tonnes of abandoned waste the city hauled away last year.
The Capital Regional District and the University of Victoria student society have joined in a campaign aimed at reducing the heap of household items going to landfills by 15 per cent this year, partly through proper recycling. Emily Rogers, the student society chairwoman, says a few hundred students stopped by tables set up last week for the “Junk It” campaign. But getting a car-less student to take her junk to the dump will be tough, she says, noting, “You can’t take your couch on the bus.” There are, of course, numerous private disposal businesses eager to do the job, but that costs money and it’s something students and their parents have either been unable, or unwilling, to shell out for.
Victoria has company. Last year, Vancouver crews took away nearly 21,500 items, including 7,700 mattresses. Most cities, including Victoria, levy ﬁnes for illegal dumping—Toronto collected $31,500 in 2012—but “it’s hard to catch people,” says a Vancouver worker.
Another problem in the quest for cleaner streets: the curbside economy, in which people scour for free cast-offs. Websites such as Craigslist regularly feature “curb alerts.” Rogers offers caution, though: “For every treasure on the side of the road, 25 pieces of junk are decomposing.”
By Rosemary Westwood - Monday, April 8, 2013 at 9:45 PM - 0 Comments
On some streets in Britain, celebration of a passing
Margaret Thatcher “made Britain great,” the Telegraph declared. “So completely has her legacy shaped modern Britain, so fully have she and her ideas been woven into its fabric that it can be hard to appreciate the depth of our debt to this most extraordinary of individuals.”
Revelers across England would at least agree on the reach of her legacy. So deeply do they feel Thatcher stripped bare the welfare nation that streets from Leeds to Liverpool and London filled with people on Monday celebrating her death. Some even ate cake.
Twitter erupted with anger-fueled joy on news of the Iron Lady’s death at 87:
“Working class around the globe will cheer to the end of Thatcher tonight,” reads one tweet.
“Hope that **** burns in hell,” states another.
“Fireworks and flares going off in town!” notes one from Liverpool.
“Sat sipping a proper #whisky from #Scotland one of the few industries not destroyed by #Thatcher#,” someone boasts.
Another says simply: “Let the party begin!”
And so it did.
By Rosemary Westwood - Friday, April 5, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
Everything you need to know as Liberals pick a new leader
Justin Trudeau has so soundly won the Liberal Party of Canada leadership that the Conservatives are already rumored to be crafting attack ads.
But his victory is not a done deal. There is an actual vote, which begins after leadership candidates make one final plea for support at the Liberal showcase in Toronto April 6. The results won’t be revealed until voting ends April 14 — plenty of time for the unexpected.
“The most uncertain step in the whole process has yet to come,” says Trudeau campaign press secretary Kate Monfette. That is, how will all these new “supporters” vote? And will the online/telephone voting system work?
By Rosemary Westwood - Thursday, March 28, 2013 at 2:04 PM - 0 Comments
Sprinter Oscar Pistorius could take to the track at the summer’s World Championships—despite facing…
Sprinter Oscar Pistorius could take to the track at the summer’s World Championships—despite facing trial for allegedly murdering his girlfriend.
A South African judge ruled Thursday that the track star’s bail conditions allow him to leave the country as long as he provides an itinerary at least a week before leaving, according to an Associated Press report. His passport will be held by the court when he’s not jetting off for international competitions, according to the ruling, which included a number of wins for Pistorius’s legal team. Among them: Pistorius can now return to the home where he shot girlfriend and model Reeva Steenkamp on Feb. 14; he does not have to be regularly supervised by a probation order; he does not have to report regularly to a police station; and he can drink alcohol.
Peet van Zyl, Pistorius’s agent, told the news agency that the sprinting star known as the Blade Runner hasn’t trained for two months and will make his own decision about whether and when to start racing again.
“He has no desire to compete now but it might change and it will change,” defense lawyer Barry Roux told the court during the appeal hearing.
Prosecutors opposed easing bail restrictions. Pistorius has been out on a $108,000 bail after admitting to the shooting. He has claimed it was an accident. Prosecutors argue he intentionally killed Steenkamp after a quarrel.
By Rosemary Westwood - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 3:51 PM - 0 Comments
By 2015, it could make a flight around the world
It’s shaped like a toy glider, but it could be the future of aviation. And if not, the Solar Impulse is still set to make history when it flies across the United States this spring.
The world’s first solar-powered plane will take off in San Fransisco, drop in on Washington, D.C. and finish in New York City, according to the flight plan’s broad strokes. More stops will be revealed in a press conference Mar. 28 in San Fransisco.
The trip will take three long months (from May to July), because the plane can only travel a leisurely 65 to 80 km/h. Then there’s the matter of strong headwinds, which had the plane flying backwards on an excursion from Rabat, Morocco to Toulouse, France last year.
By Rosemary Westwood - Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
‘Please rip off the Black Keys, Mumford & Sons, Lumineers’
Jody Colero paused, dropped the phone, and asked a composer in his Toronto studio to play with the guitar line in the track they were writing: “Can you take anything of any interest out of this please?” He was kidding, but only partly. Colero runs Silent Joe, a company that ﬁnds and writes music to make—or break—an advertisement. These clients, like many, were stuck on a sound. It’s an affliction, known as “demo love,” that plagues Colero’s industry. It is pervasive, and potentially dangerous.
“It starts with a piece of music being put on a rough cut” for an ad by the agency, said Ted Rosnick, CEO of the post-production house RMW Music. The clients might watch the edit a dozen times in an afternoon. “The music starts to embed itself in their hearts and minds,” said Duncan Bruce, creative director at the ad agency Publicis. Mood and emotion build, said Chris Tate, partner and composer at Pirate Toronto. “Suddenly,” he said, “nothing else works.” Continue…