By macleans.ca - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - 0 Comments
A look inside our third annual Rethink Issue
How long does “now” last? Research ranging from brain science to music to cultural ethnography suggests a moment in time lasts about three seconds. That’s how long it takes to shake hands. It’s also how long you can remember a phone number without committing it to memory. So if the present lasts just three seconds, any time longer than that must be the future.
It’s with the near future in mind that Maclean’s presents our third annual Rethink Issue. Our first issue in 2010 turned the magazine on its side, and unveiled a broad tableaux of forward thinking, including an interview with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates on the future of education, and a major story contemplating manned exploration of Mars. In 2011 our Rethink Issue was enlivened by stories featuring augmented-reality technology—illustrations that came to life when viewed by computers or smartphones.
This time around, we’re focusing on an immediate and practical look at the future: the ways in which technology is changing how we live—everything from the way we get to work, to how we look in the mirror, to how to get the last bit of ketchup out of the bottle. And in honour of the Rethink Issue’s third anniversary, we’ve given this edition three different covers.
Robots and flying cars have long been considered integral to life in the future. So where are they? Aside from robotic vacuum cleaners and Christmas toys, robots don’t seem to have much presence in everyday life. But as national correspondent Charlie Gillis explains in “The robot invasion,” robots are already taking over warehouses and will soon invade construction sites and other workplaces to take over a variety of dirty, dangerous or difficult jobs. At home, many mundane jobs, such as cutting the grass or painting the house, could become the domain of robotic help. Flying cars are also set to move from speculation to reality with one functional model going into production next year. (“Back to the future”)
The near-future of politics will be defined by the increasing sophistication of voter micro-targeting. These techniques mean politicians will soon arrive at your doorstep with a precise notion of your interests and intentions based, in part, on how you’ve communicated with political parties in the past (“Elect Big Brother”).
Finally, humans may soon be able to augment themselves via high-performance genes or other revolutionary techniques that will improve performance, remove scars, heal the body or simply emit personal designer scents (“Tomorrow’s people”).
The future promises to be practical and useful. And it’s a lot closer than you might think.
This magazine has long been a supporter of stern sanctions against Iran. Now comes evidence these policies are starting to have a real and dramatic effect on life inside Iran.
Since late last year, Canada and most other Western nations have imposed a series of harsh economic measures aimed at isolating the rogue nation and bringing its nuclear program to a halt. While Iran remains the single biggest threat to peace in the Middle East, these moves have often proven controversial within Canada.
In September, for example, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird closed Canada’s embassy in Iran and expelled the Iranian embassy from Ottawa. This move was widely termed a “mistake” by the diplomatic community. TD-Canada Trust was also subject to heated criticism this past summer for strictly interpreting new banking restrictions on individuals with substantial dealings in Iran.
It appears these multi-pronged, multi-national efforts are finally bearing fruit. A European oil embargo has pushed Iran’s oil revenues down an estimated 60 per cent compared to last year. Israel’s Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz puts the loss in revenues at US$45 billion to $50 billion. Shutting Iran out of international foreign exchange markets has also caused a significant decline in the national currency, the rial, which fell 25 per cent over two days in early October. This in turn has stoked inflation. Steve Hanke, an economist at Johns Hopkins University and senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, estimates Iranian inflation is now almost 200 per cent a year—well into the devastating range of hyperinflation. Reports from inside the country suggest staples such as rice have more than doubled in price over the past three months.
Iran has been working hard to sell oil outside the embargo to countries such as China and India, but it seems clear sanctions and diplomatic isolation are having a major impact on economic stability within the country. Last week saw a crackdown on currency traders, street protests and a volte face on domestic subsidies from the Iranian parliament. The sanctions are making life inside Iran increasingly less comfortable, particular for the well-educated middle class. And widespread internal dissent holds the greatest promise for real, necessary change in Iran. (For more on Iran click here.)
By Chris Sorensen - Wednesday, November 9, 2011 at 11:30 AM - 4 Comments
The latest in geriatric research looks at slips, trips and tumbles
Visitors to the basement of the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute’s new 13-floor building on “Hospital Row” could be forgiven for thinking they had unwittingly stumbled upon a super-villain’s subterranean lair. Several floors below the ground, technicians monitor computer consoles perched above a deep chamber that houses three giant fibreglass pods—each with an interior about the size of a spare bedroom. A claw-like system dangles from the ceiling, waiting to hoist one of the pods off the ground and carry it along a track into a neighbouring chamber, where it is placed atop a set of giant hydraulic legs bolted to the cement floor.
There are, however, no plans to take over the world with this high-tech equipment, part of the institute’s new Challenging Environment Assessment Lab, or CEAL, a computer-controlled motion simulator system similar to those used to train pilots and astronauts. Except these simulators, part of a $36-million initiative to make Toronto Rehab a leader in geriatric and neurological rehabilitation research, will be used to replicate more mundane environments like icy sidewalks and household staircases—both of which are responsible for a staggering number of injuries among elderly and disabled Canadians every year. “We take on the big problems,” says Geoff Fernie, the vice-president of research at Toronto Rehab, as he levels his gaze over the glasses perched on the end of his nose. “Stairs kill and maim three times as many people as car accidents.”
In Canada, one out of three people over the age of 65 has a slip or a fall every year, and they are responsible for nearly 20 per cent of injury-related deaths and two-thirds of all hospitalizations among the same age group, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. And falls break more than just brittle bones. They also shatter confidence and can often mark the beginning of a rapid decline in health and quality of life among the elderly, a growing national health issue for an aging Canadian population.
By Angelina Chapin - Wednesday, November 9, 2011 at 11:10 AM - 0 Comments
What a white rapper from Vancouver can teach M.B.A. students about risk-taking
It’s a Sunday night in Manhattan, and the only place in the world where 40 white people have their fists in the air chanting “I’m a African.” Their ringleader is performer Baba Brinkman: a tall, gangly man who is explaining to his audience in the off-Broadway theatre how the theory of evolution is captured in the lyrics of New York City-based hip-hop duo Dead Prez.
Brinkman’s riff on their song, which argues that until 60,000 years ago Homo sapiens all lived in Africa, is a part of his rap guide to evolution—the second in a series of educational rap guides he’s produced. The songs unpack such Darwinian principles as natural and sexual selection using the analogy of the rap industry: just as certain organisms are selected to survive in nature based on favourable qualities, certain rappers are selected by their audience to succeed based on talent.
In January, this caught the attention of Anat Lechner, a professor of management at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “He’s a walking example of innovation, differentiation, value-adding and the bizarre,” says Lechner. “These are exactly the things we teach business students to do.” This year, she commissioned Vancouver-raised Brinkman to make the rap guide to business, which turned out to be a collection of six songs. (“Classical economists have been hittin’ the bong / Cognitive biases are mad strong,” he raps on a track called Walk Like an Amoeba.) He performed a selection for Stern’s incoming class in August, and Lechner will use the album to illustrate principles such as risk-taking in her courses.
By Michelle Magnan - Wednesday, November 9, 2011 at 11:00 AM - 2 Comments
Native Shoes are like their more prosaic cousins–but dandier
Damian Van Zyll De Jong grew up on Vancouver’s west side devoted to two things: skateboarding and snowboarding. Maybe three. Van Zyll De Jong always loved shoes, but he was bored with the selection. On the way home from a snowboarding trip, he told his friends he thought he could design something better. He wanted his kicks to be funky, functional and, most of all, unique. So in 2009 the Vancouverite founded Native Shoes. “I twisted everything I grew up loving into my own little rendition,” he says, “and I just put it out there.” The brand’s nine styles, including his takes on Chuck Taylors and boat shoes, are injection-moulded and made with EVA, an ultralight material that’s odour-resistant, animal-free and washable. Some of them have holes, leading to an obvious comparison with Crocs. “They’re two very different brands but we use the same material, so it’s easy to be pigeonholed in that group,” he says. “It reminds me of the Mac and PC ads.”
Native is the cooler Mac kid, of course. South Park creator Trey Parker, American singer Travie McCoy and TMZ reporter Harvey Levin are fans. Paparazzi have photographed the kids’ line on the offspring of Halle Berry, Barack Obama and the Jolie-Pitts. Canadian rocker Bif Naked has a Native habit that started when Caroline Boquist, co-owner of Walrus boutique in Vancouver—a woman who “knows everything and is the epitome of cool”—gave her the sell job: “Local. Hot. Like Crocs but better.” Continue…
By Scott Feschuk - Tuesday, November 8, 2011 at 8:20 AM - 6 Comments
Come on, scientists, enough with curing diseases. Where’s the innovation that matters?
Many of you have chosen to devote your lives to preventing disease and curing illness. Enough with the selfishness already.
The time has come for you to join together, buckle down and deliver on the innovation that humanity really wants—namely, the kind we see in science fiction movies.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s great and everything that some of you are toiling to rid our planet of the scourge of malaria. But FYI, I still can’t order up a burrito supreme from a replicator and eat it in my hovercar.
Here are the things we’d like now, please.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Monday, November 7, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 2 Comments
The Steve Jobs biographer on the Apple founder’s genius, cruelty, obsessions, and indifference to money
In his final months, Steve Jobs opened up all aspects of his life to his sanctioned biographer, Walter Isaacson, granting more than 40 interviews. In an exclusive Canadian interview, the author of Steve Jobs talks about the computer mogul’s genius, and his dark side.
Q: You write that Jobs was “the ultimate icon of inventiveness, imagination and sustained innovation,” but you could also add master salesman to that list. Wasn’t his greatest product himself?
A: No, I think his greatest product was actually Apple, because it combines his marketing skills with his engineering and design skills. At Apple, everything is integrated—all functions of the company. He was a master showman; he knew that the unveiling of a product should be a grand moment. But he personally helped design the packaging, so when you opened an Apple product you felt a bit of excitement as you saw the iPhone in the little cradle. I know that seems silly and small, but it was marketing tied in with the sort of whole aura of owning an Apple product.
Q: So was his ability to synthesize all of these various things in itself singular?
A: Yes. Look at the grand philosophy of Steve Jobs: it’s to control the user experience from the silicon chip to the shirt on the store clerk. The hardware, the software, the content and the devices are all tightly integrated, and the marketing is part of that as well. Companies like Microsoft and Google make software they license out to other people who put it on hardware and it’s sold in other people’s stores. That’s a good business model, but it doesn’t make for artistically pure and delightful products.
Q: When Jobs first approached you to write a biography about him in 2004, you turned him down. Why was that?
A: Well, in a casual conversation, he said, “Would you ever think of writing a biography of me?” And I thought, well, he’s younger than me, and in the midst of an up-and-down career, so I said: “You know, maybe 20 years from now, when you retire.” I didn’t realize that he was sick, and once I did I also realized he was transforming industries while battling cancer, and what a dramatic story that was.
Q: But the turning point came when his wife, Laurene, approached you in 2009 and said it was sort of now or never?
A: Yes, we just happened to be together, and she mentioned, “If you’re ever going to write about Steve, you ought to do it now.” It was right after he went on his medical leave that involved a liver transplant in ’09, and I hadn’t really focused on the fact that he was that sick. He had just transformed the music industry and was doing it to the telephone industry, so it was a pretty dramatic time.
Q: He was a famously controlling guy, yet he pledged that he wasn’t going to interfere with your work. Did he keep that promise?
A: Yes, except for a cover he thought was ugly. He started expressing that sentiment strongly to me, and said he would only keep co-operating if he got some say over it. I thought that was a great offer, since he had a great design sense.
Q: What did he object to about the first cover?
A: Oh, it had a little picture of him when he was young inside of an Apple logo. It was gimmicky.
Q: When he called you, was it one of those infamous Steve Jobs conversations?
A: Well, he expressed himself clearly and forcefully, but I knew enough about Steve that it neither surprised me nor worried me, because that was his way of being honest. He could be brutal, but it wasn’t something you were supposed to take personally.
Q: He was also a charismatic figure with an ability to get people to buy into his vision, which was so powerful his friends referred to it as his “reality distortion field.” How did you deal with that?
A: I tried to talk to as many people as I could. The tough thing about Jobs is that he had such a strong personality that those around him remember the exact same meeting in different ways, like the movie Rashomon. Even the scene of his resignation from Apple—I interviewed Steve and three other people, and I got four different versions.
Q: Your book is filled with examples of Jobs’s wilful cruelty to others. Is there one instance of his callousness that really stood out for you?
A: No, just the opposite. He could be tough on people, [but] it was never deeply cruel. It was all about the moment, and it ended up creating a team of brutally honest star players who loved to have strong conversations and disagreements. Once you learned to take it, it was in some ways inspiring.
Q: Inspiring for some people, right? I mean, you’ve quoted one of his friends saying that his big question for Steve was, “Why are you so mean?”
A: Right, but that’s about snapping people’s heads off, or saying rough things. You judge it by the outcome, and even the friend who said that remained close to Steve to the end, and was at the memorial service.
Q: One of his former girlfriends suggested to you that he had narcissistic personality disorder, and the former CEO of Apple called him bipolar. Do you think there was an element of mental illness in Steve Jobs?
A: He had an incredibly intense personality, and certainly felt like he was special and all the rules didn’t apply to him. But I don’t think there was a mental disorder.
Q: Jobs was adopted at birth into what was a pretty loving family, but some people still see that as an explanation for his later behaviour. Do you think he had abandonment issues?
A: He said his adoptive parents made him feel special and chosen. But I do think that there was a journey throughout his life for understanding and enlightenment that had, as one of its elements, figuring out who he was and his place in the world.
Q: You’ve dealt with that spiritual side of Jobs too, what you call “his compulsive search for self-awareness.” Was he self-aware?
A: Oh, yeah. He even had a good sense of humour about himself. If you asked, “Why are you so tough on people?” he would say, “That’s who I am. I don’t want to be one of those artificially polite people who never can make a dent in the universe.”
Q: That attitude manifested itself in a kind of binary viewpoint as well, where products were “amazing” or they were “sh—y,” and people were “enlightened” or they were “a–holes.” How was that outlook linked to his success?
A: I think it gave him the temperament of an artist, which is either “It’s perfect” or “It sucks.” That separated him from most technology executives, who put out version 3.1, then 3.2, and never try to nail it. I think that passion was also the reason he wanted end-to-end control over all the products he made. I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t know what causes somebody to become such a perfectionist, but that’s the way he looked at the world. Even the original Macintosh team, he made them sign the inside of the computer case because, he said, “real artists sign their work.”
Q: In the book there are a lot of scenes of Jobs crying when he’s confronted, or told no, or even when he’s happy. Was that manipulative, or was he really that fragile underneath it all?
A: I don’t think his crying was manipulative, I think he was a very emotional person who could be deeply touched by the people he loved, such as his wife, or by a great design, or even a beautiful piece of ad copy.
Q: In 1985, he was ousted from Apple, the company he had founded. What lessons do you think he absorbed from that?
A: I think his real learning experience was after, at NeXT Computer, where he got to indulge all of his best and worst instincts. He wanted to make the product a perfect cube, and over-designed it so that it became overpriced and flopped in the marketplace. So I think that once he came back to Apple he realized he had to be more sensible and more mature. In a broader sense, that’s the whole narrative arc of the book, whether it’s in his personal life or in the way he ran Apple the second time or even the way he handled cancer, which was in a romantic and poetic way at first, but he quickly then looked for the most advanced scientific ways to handle it.
Q: What about his relationship with money? Compared to a lot of moguls, he lived a fairly simple life with a modest house in Palo Alto.
A: Yes, he lived in a normal house in a normal neighbourhood, having dinner almost every night around the kitchen table with his family. He didn’t try to become a celebrity or have an entourage. When he was very young and went to India on a pilgrimage, he was penniless, and a few years later he was worth more than $100 million. He said money didn’t matter to him much when he had none, and it didn’t matter to him much when he had all he could possibly want.
Q: He was a guy who was capable of acts of generosity, but not particularly generous. You write that his philanthropic foundation was left to wither.
A: Right. His wife is a very noted and active venture philanthropist who has started Education Track, which is a great after-school program in America, but Steve focused more on work. And I think that when we look at what’s going to transform education, all the good work of the non-profits might not end up being more important than the invention of the iPad, which could transform education for everybody.
Q: You quote Bill Gates as saying that he wished he had Steve’s taste. But in some ways Jobs’s obsession with design was almost paralyzing. You tell this amazing story about him refusing to put on an oxygen mask after his liver transplant because he didn’t like its looks. Did he care too much about form?
A: Well, he cared passionately about it. But how else do you explain why the iPod and the iPhone and the iPad were completely transformative, whereas rival products have trouble catching hold? There’s an artistry infused into them that doesn’t exist in HP tablets or Microsoft music players.
Q: You write that Jobs was a genius, but not overly smart. What do you mean by that?
A: He didn’t approach things in the rigorous, analytic way that a Bill Gates would. When Steve came back from India, he said, “I learned the importance of intuition as opposed to just relying on Western rational thought.” And that ability to use intuition, imagination and aesthetics in assessing a problem allowed him to think differently. He was ingenious more than simply being really smart.
Q: Sometimes that became a trap. When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, he spent nine months trying to heal himself through juices and diet. How he could he be so dumb?
A: Well, he had a poetic, alternative aspect to his personality that went back to his hippie days. His romantic side first looked for alternative ways to deal with it. Then he engaged his rational side and ended up with the most advanced cancer treatments based on DNA sequencing and targeted therapies. So, as always, with the cancer, with his work, with his personal life, the romantic side of Steve connects to the sensible side of Steve.
Q: The devices he created or helped create at Apple are a huge part of his legacy right now. But technology changes so fast that soon even the most amazing of them will be obsolete. Will his accomplishments seem so amazing 20 or 30 years down the road?
A: I think he will be judged by how well his greatest creation, Apple the company, fares. Devices come and go. The question is, can you continually reinvent the future by connecting artistry with great engineering? And I think at the moment, the people at Apple who trained under him can keep that legacy alive, just as the people who trained under Walt Disney could do it.
Q: Did the public reaction to his passing surprise you?
A: The emotion surprised me, but it’s connected to the emotion inherent in the products he made. He knew how to make a connection. I can’t imagine any other business leader provoking this outpouring upon their death. I just think people felt that Steve Jobs was able to create things that showed he had an understanding of our desires.
Q: In the book, you compare him to Henry Ford and Thomas Edison, and say he’ll be the sort of business leader who will be remembered 100 years from now. But you’ve also written biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Albert Einstein, and you don’t invoke their names. Jobs doesn’t belong in that pantheon?
A: I think he’s very much like Benjamin Franklin in being inventive. Franklin knew how to tie imaginative ideas to practical products—the lightning rod being the best example. And he was always curious, always driven. As for Einstein, he’s in a different quantum orbit. He was the ultimate person who knew how to think different, to use the words in Steve’s famous advertising campaign.
By Erica Alini - Monday, November 7, 2011 at 9:30 AM - 1 Comment
With or without soil, living walls are energy efficient
Mike Weinmaster and Patrick Poiraud have their own interpretation of “going green.” They mean it literally. The founders of Vancouver-based Green Over Grey Living Walls and Design plant herbs, flowers and even trees vertically on city buildings. “We wanted to integrate gardens in the middle of a concrete jungle,” says Poiraud, who has degrees in botany and ecology. His company just completed one of the largest vertical gardens in North America, a 2,680-sq.-foot green feast of more than 120 plant species covering the once dreary facade of the Semiahmoo Library in Surrey, B.C.
The wall does not contain an inch of dirt. The plants are inserted between layers of porous, synthetic fibre material that acts as a growing medium for the roots. The irrigation system ensures water, filled with minerals and other nutrients, circulates vertically, trickling down from top to bottom, where it’s collected and recycled.
Similar systems have been in development for decades—but for very different purposes than greening cities. As a researcher at the University of Guelph in the mid-1990s, Alan Darlington studied using vertical gardens as an air filter for Mars-bound spaceships. Growing plants vertically, he discovered, could provide astronauts on an 18-month round trip in outer space with a constant, space-saving supply of fresh air. Darlington, the founder of Nedlaw Living Walls, soon realized the system had applications here on Earth, too. His green walls include metal perforated pipes that draw air toward the plants’ roots, where bacteria break down pollutant particles more efficiently, acting as a indoor biological purifier, he says.
By Anne Kingston - Friday, November 4, 2011 at 10:10 AM - 50 Comments
A proposal to replace the beaver with the polar bear as our national emblem causes fur to fly
And what a geyser she hit. Within hours of her statement, inflamed blog posts and “shocked and appalled” letters to the editor were flowing from the inhabitants of a nation built on lust for the once-fashionable, highly lucrative beaver pelts, one so great the Hudson’s Bay Company adorned its coat of arms with four of the rodents in 1678.
Since then, Castor canadensis has become enmeshed in the mercantile fabric of the country, as apparent in the swift reaction from Michael Budman and Don Green, co-founders of clothing company Roots, which has had a beaver on its logo since 1973, two years before the animal received official emblem status from the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau. They immediately launched a “Save the Beaver” petition online, collecting more than 6,000 signatures by early this week. The senator’s remarks also triggered response from foes of the aquatic rodent, rallying a group of 100 Ottawa-area farmers who’ve seen trees destroyed and land flooded by a surging beaver population.
By Jessica Allen - Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 1:50 PM - 0 Comments
Experimental archaeology recreates ancient brews after analyzing pottery shards and bronze vessels
When it comes to food these days, everything old is new again, which isn’t that surprising after years of genuflecting in the church of molecular gastronomy. The only altar left for foodies to worship at is an old one. Jars of preserved goods, just like grandma used to make, line the kitchen shelves of countless restaurants. Noma, voted the best restaurant in the world last year, fashions most of its dishes from ingredients foraged from the Danish woods. Menus, including the one at Chicago’s Next, are built around a particular time and place, like Paris circa 1906. Chefs, including Charleston, S.C.-based Sean Brock, hunt down long-forgotten varieties of grains, vegetables and fruit, and Toronto’s own Jamie Kennedy prefers the rare Canadian heritage breed of wheat called red fife.
And then there’s Patrick McGovern, an archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum who, after analyzing the residue that lingers in the nooks and crannies of millennia-old potted vessels, is bringing ancient elixirs back to life. It’s gastronomical nostalgia on steroids.
McGovern, a pioneer in the field of biomolecular archaeology who did undergraduate work in chemistry and has a Ph.D. in Near Eastern archaeology, has collaborated on five beverages with Sam Calagione, the award-winning founder and president of Dogfish Head brewery in Delaware: Midas Touch, an Iron Age beer based on samples found in the king’s supposed tomb; Chateau Jiahu, a Chinese blend of grapes, rice and honey based on the oldest sample of booze ever discovered; Theobrama, a 3,200 year-old Honduran chocolate drink; Chicha, a corn beer with Peruvian lineage; and Ta Henket, an Egyptian ale being released in December with 18,000-year-old components.
By Tom Henheffer - Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 1:40 PM - 2 Comments
How Microsoft’s affordable Kinect video game system is changing the world of advanced robotics
A sudden gust of wind blew a six-bladed, remote-controlled helicopter over a white bus half buried in bricks and busted slabs of concrete. Jimmy Tran, a Ryerson University doctoral candidate, scrambled at the multi-levered controls as the device shot toward the horizon. “I had to land it as fast as possible,” he says. “ I didn’t want to hit power lines or cars.”
Despite his efforts, the hexarotor, now a mess of shattered blades and smashed chip boards, sits among the piles of electronics at Ryerson’s Network-Centric Applied Research Team’s (N-CART) lab. “That’s 5,000 bucks, another 1,000 for the parts to repair, plus man hours,” says Alex Ferworn, who oversees N-CART. But it could have been much worse—if not for one piece of hardware cradled under the helicopter. Ferworn’s group uses robots and computers to help search and rescue, bomb disposal and crime scene investigation teams. The day the chopper crashed they were testing a new technique to map rubble using a 3-D scanner that generates images to help rescuers.
And that scanner did not cost tens of thousand of dollars, like the scanners on most unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). It cost $150, and it came from a Microsoft Kinect video game.
By Charlie Gillis - Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 1:30 PM - 6 Comments
Car companies are increasingly taking safety out of your hands and letting computers do the work
The implication, of course, is that they don’t trust us. Why build a car that commandeers the brakes and wheel if not to eliminate that pesky statistical variable known as “human error”—which is to say, the fallibility that makes us all kin? The sooner we accept this truth the better: in Canada alone, 2,100 people die in traffic accidents each year. Fully 90 per cent of accidents are attributed to driver error.
But there’s something about piloting an automobile that stirs the inner irrationalist, which might explain the glee YouTube viewers have taken in video captured during a recent car safety demonstration in Gothenburg, Sweden. The exhibition was supposed to show off the vaunted “city safety” feature on Volvo’s S60 sedan, which applies brakes automatically in the event of an imminent crash.
Instead, a dais full of journalists was treated to the spectacle of the shiny, orange sedan plowing headlong into the back of a strategically placed transport trailer, then bouncing back after impact with its windshield wipers flapping ridiculously. Erik Coelingh, technical leader of Volvo’s so-called “active safety” program, recently told Maclean’s that the braking system had failed due to lack of power from an improperly charged battery. But there was no avoiding the tsunami of ridicule this sort of footage tends to elicit. “What’s the problem here?” snickered one Web commenter. “It came to a complete stop, no?”
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 1:20 PM - 8 Comments
How the wealthy are shooting for the stars—privately
On Aug. 24, an unmanned Russian cargo spaceship bound for the International Space Station (ISS) crashed in eastern Russia, sent down by engine failure in its Soyuz carrier rocket. Russia temporarily grounded all launches to the ISS to investigate, but the crash underlined a pressing problem: since the U.S. retired its aging fleet of space shuttles in July, any astronaut or cargo heading to the space station has no choice but to hitch a ride with Russia. For a ride on the Soyuz, NASA pays about $56 million per seat—and the cost will go up to $62.7 million in 2014.
It must be a blow to American pride. The U.S. doesn’t want to rely on Russian rockets forever, and other nations like China are pushing ahead with ambitious space programs. But NASA doesn’t plan on building more shuttles. The U.S. space agency is shifting its focus to deep space exploration, and intends to buy rides into low Earth orbit (where the space station is) from private companies instead.
Like a commercial airline, these companies will sell rides not only to NASA, but to academics, businesses, and the curious public, too. A handful of ultra-wealthy entrepreneurs are backing some of the most ambitious ventures in space travel. SpaceX was launched by Elon Musk, who co-founded PayPal and is CEO of Tesla Motors; Blue Origin comes from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos; and Virgin Galactic is an offshoot of Virgin Group, founded by Sir Richard Branson. New Mexico is completing a taxpayer-financed commercial space terminal, Spaceport America, with Virgin Galactic as its anchor tenant.
By Andrew Coyne - Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 1:10 PM - 12 Comments
What’s the result of the hundreds of billions of dollars the government spends on innovation? Bupkes.
For more than 30 years, people have been sounding the alarm at Canada’s disturbing decline in relative productivity, at our appalling lack of innovation, at a record of investment in R & D that can only be described as depraved. And for more than 30 years, governments have been doing something about it.
Have they ever. The federal government helps industry to innovate to the tune of $5 billion every year, delivered through more than 60 programs spread across 17 different agencies: the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP), the Business Development Program (BDP), the Technology Demonstration Program (TDP), the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative (SADI), the Automotive Innovation Fund (AIF), the Strategic Network Grants (SNG), the Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR), the Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE), the Business-Led Networks of Centres of Excellence (BL-NCE), the Centres for Strategic Research on Innovative Technology Networks (okay, I made that one up), on and acronymically on. And that’s just the feds. There are hundreds more innovation programs at the provincial level, and who knows how many others lurking among the nation’s municipalities and universities. The agricultural sector in Ontario alone requires no fewer than 45 such programs, courtesy of seven federal and provincial departments. All on top of the flagship federal tax incentive, the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax credit. Altogether, Canada is reckoned to provide among the most generous systems of R & D support in the world, behind only Spain and France.
By Paul Wells - Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 1:00 PM - 18 Comments
NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen on how cooperation is key to punting the Tories
“Everyone’s interpreting May 2 differently,” Nathan Cullen told me the other day over lunch at a reliably secluded Ottawa spot. May 2, you’ll recall, is the day we had a federal election. Stephen Harper won his majority. The New Democratic Party won 103 seats.
Nathan Cullen is a New Democrat. “There’s a lot of people in our party who are interpreting this incorrectly. They think we’re predestined to win power the next time. I take the other view.”
Which is? “We should co-operate.”
“We” here is the NDP and the Liberals. And maybe the Greens. Or not. Cullen isn’t nailed down on the details. Those would be settled through discussion and negotiation before the next election. The goal for that election would be to have a single candidate, Liberal or New Democrat (or Green) (or not) (to be confirmed) running against the Conservative incumbent in those ridings the Conservatives now hold.
By Nicholas Köhler - Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 5:00 AM - 6 Comments
Infrared beams, military tracking software—how we’re waking up the lumbering giants
Moose aren’t native to Newfoundland, but the province has proven a paradise for the spindly-legged interlopers. All the island’s estimated 120,000 moose—some say there could even be as many as 200,000 munching through the landscape—descend from six moose brought there as hunting fodder over a century ago (two in 1878, from Nova Scotia, four more in 1904, from New Brunswick), an arrival coinciding, happily for the moose, with the decline of the predacious Newfoundland wolf, now extinct.
Today, Newfoundland boasts what’s understood to be the world’s highest-density moose population, a scourge to motorists. With as many as 800 collisions a year, everyone has a story about hitting one, vehicular encounters that can be fatal for drivers as well as for moose. “They’re basically a one-tonne animal on these long legs,” says wildlife scientist Tony Clevenger, who recently wrote a report on the trouble. “The whole body comes right through the windshield.” These accidents each year result in deaths—one so far in 2011, “but last year we had two, the year before that four,” says Eugene Nippard, a leader of the Save Our People Action Committee, which lobbies the province for anti-moose measures. (Nippard speaks longingly of the days when authorities still allowed charities to raffle off roadkill meat.)
All this makes moose an emotional, and frequently political, issue in Newfoundland. A class-action suit, stickhandled by accident and injury lawyer Ches Crosbie, the son of Newfoundland politician John Crosbie, has been filed against the province. Some propose a major cull of 50,000—an unpopular option for outfitters, who make a tidy living guiding U.S. hunters (“because the success rate for hunting moose in Newfoundland is—you know—better than anywhere in the world,” says Clevenger). Moose were even an issue during the recent provincial election: the Grits pledged to erect fencing and negotiate a settlement with class actioners. The Tories (who won) announced pilot projects that will see $5 million spent on 15 km of fencing and two wildlife detection systems.
By Cathy Gulli - Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 5:00 AM - 68 Comments
A little-known treatment by a Canadian-born chiropractor to the stars may be the key to his comeback
Ted Carrick is listening to Sidney Crosby’s heart. The NHL superstar is strapped into a computerized rotating chair that has just spun him like a merry-go-round. It is, as Carrick likes to tell people who visit his lab at Life University near Atlanta, one of only three “whole-body gyroscopes” in the world, and it’s integral to his work as the founding father of “chiropractic neurology.” He uses it to stimulate certain injured and diseased brains.
Crosby, who plays for the Pittsburgh Penguins and has been famously sidelined with a concussion since January, is Carrick’s newest patient, and this day in August is the first time they’ve met. Carrick leans in close, his balding, tanned head looming inches from Crosby’s face, and rests the stethoscope on his chest. “Let’s make sure you’re not dead.”
Satisfied, Carrick turns to the others in this cramped blue room, who include Crosby’s agent Pat Brisson, trainer Andy O’Brien and several chiropractic neurologists or studentsin- training wearing white lab coats. “He’s fine,” Carrick says. “It’s going to be good.”
Nodding to his colleague Derek Barton, who usually operates the lab equipment, Carrick signals to restart the gyroscope—with one difference. This time Crosby will be turned upside-down while he is also spun around. He hasn’t experienced this dual action yet.
Barton and Carrick discuss the appropriate speed setting the gyroscope. Then Barton enters Carrick’s directions into a computer that controls the gyroscope (chiropractic neurology uses no drugs or surgery), and tells Crosby to keep his head pressed against the back of the black cushioned seat. Crosby, wearing a grey T-shirt, black shorts and white ankle socks, scans the crowd on the other side of the clear plastic cylinder surrounding the machine. The door clangs shut. Above it, a stack of red, yellow and green lights shines while 10 high-pitched beeps signal the gyroscope is about to start. Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Continue…
By the editors - Thursday, November 3, 2011 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
In the spirit of rethinking the ordinary, this issue offers a new way to enjoy the magazine
Our second annual Rethink issue is all about innovation—how people, ideas and technologies are changing the world as we know it. Sometimes innovation is about taking a fresh look at an existing idea or industry. Assistant editor Kate Lunau reports on the group of billionaires who are racing to create a new era of private space travel that could, in the near future, allow anyone to buy a ticket into space. Other times, innovation turns long-held notions upside down—in an exclusive Canadian interview, Steve Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson talks to national correspondent Jonathon Gatehouse about what really motivated the genius inventor.
Innovation also applies to journalism. And so, in the spirit of rethinking the ordinary, this issue offers a new way to enjoy the magazine. It uses a technology called “augmented reality.” When certain pages of this magazine are viewed through the camera on your computer webcam or smartphone, they will literally come to life, with audio, video and 3-D content. Augmented reality is a relatively new technology. Maclean’s partnered with the Halifax-based firm Ad-Dispatch to develop the experience. It isn’t as complicated as space travel, but it takes magazines to another level— beyond the printed word. More importantly, it’s an innovation that’s a lot of fun to use.