amanitas and squirrels

August 30, 2009

I recently went on an interior camping trip and watched a red squirrel acting very strange – scolding us (more than usual), fake(?) charging us, and tending his mushrooms farm with a suspecting eye. After some nosing around, I noticed that the caps on some Amanita Muscaria mushrooms were missing. Amanita Muscaria, also known as Fly Agaric contains hallucinogenic chemicals. Could this be the reason for this outrageous behaviour?

Lots of information agrees that squirrels eat magic mushrooms with some funny results. Seems like we had a high flying red squirrel whose addictions made him paranoid and protective of his stash.

I was recently talking to a privacy-focused person at work and my eyes were opened to the numerous facets of the privacy discussion. I consider myself fairly aware of privacy issues and consistently argue against the storage of irrelevant (but personal) data, the sharing of information between systems without authorization,  or the indefinite storage of any personal data. None of these privacy-breaches is typically done maliciously Рit is normally for ease of system development or with the best intentions toward a better customer experience.

I was advocating a mandatory customer card for everyone to assist a small percentage of people who had asked not to be allowed in. My intentions were good and I was doing the right thing (in my opinion). My friend across the table argued against eroding the privacy (and anonymity) of everyone to benefit a few, especially when the benefit is unsubstantiated. I pointed out that this was hardly an essential service – people had a choice not to use our services if their privacy was that important to them even after considering the help that it could provide other customers. I felt that I had a choice in keeping my information private by taking my business elsewhere.

As I sat there arguing my point, it became clear to me that there was much thinking left to do. What is a non-essential service? And, why was I so comfortable drawing that line? Recently, Alberta had to deal with a similar issue with bars keeping information about patrons entering their premises to defend against undesirables. Using my line of thinking, no one needs to go to a bar or nightclub – so they can choose to protect their privacy. But where does it stop? Do we have the right to withhold entertainment from privacy-conscious people as more and more establishments adopt this policy? What about grocery stores? Clothing stores? … Is this a subtle and slow erosion of our rights to freely move within our country?

Seems like I will be giving privacy much thought over the next few weeks. In good news for privacy advocates, Facebook recently agreed to the terms recommended by Canadian Privacy Commissioner to protect users’ privacy. I was always concerned about Facebook for several reasons, but now the responsibility for divulging private information will be more squarely on the users.

cellared in canada

August 18, 2009

What does “Cellared in Canada” or “Product of Canada Wine” mean? It means that high percentages of bulk wine or grape concentrate from other countries can be used in such a product. Beyond the fact that this is malicious false advertising, it also puts a lot of Ontario grape growers at a disadvantage. Recently, the Ontario Greenbelt Alliance protested about this in Toronto and now Jancis Robinson has written an article called The Canadian Con Contd where she derides our liquor boards for allowing it.

A couple of years ago, Tawse (if I remember correctly) released a wine called “99/1” as an humourous (and tasty) protest about our idiotic labelling laws. It contained 1% Ontario Pinot Noir with the other 99% coming from a premiere cru Bourgogne. It was delicious but drinking it made you feel like you were lying to yourself.

Why does the LCBO (and other liquor boards) continue to sell and promote this type of unethical marketing? Because they don’t really care about supporting Ontario wine since the profit margin is less and money talks. What can you do? If you want Canadian wine, buy Canadian wine. Read the labels carefully and complain as much as you can. Hopefully at some point Canada will be embarrassed enough to grow up and act like a legitimate wine producing country.

Recently, I ate (yet again) at Artisanale – Yasser Qahawish’s Guelph restaurant. Yasser has a great philosophy about food. He feels that good food should be available to everyone and that good relationships are required between the chef and his or her producers and suppliers. He counts on the farmers as part of his team and they are regularly seen eating in the restaurant.

Yasser was the chef at Osgoode Hall (Law Society of Upper Canada) for several years before the toll of commuting to Toronto from Guelph every day became too much for him. He and his partner Allison opened Artisanale in 2007 and their dream continues unfolding with tasty results. He has also dedicated a chunk of his time to training his wait staff – they know the menu, the wine list, and are courteous and friendly.

I have eaten at Artisanale five or six times and I have always enjoyed the food and the creativity in using Ontario’s local harvest. I recently enjoyed tasting raw Ontario artichokes, Ontario whitefish and Lake Erie perch. I wish I had a neighbourhood restaurant like this near me. And by the way Yasser’s frites are deadly – they can almost start fights at the table.

out of word

August 13, 2009

Yesterday, i4i, a small Toronto company, won a court case against Microsoft about patent infringement for XML tagging in Microsoft Word. Microsoft must cease all MS Word sales.

While I detest patents in general and especially for basic ideas like this or the one that RIM was hit with (email to device using push method), I can’t help but smile a little. Maybe with companies like Microsoft hit, US patent law can be reformed.

We have a neighbour who complains very much about our garden because we grow a variety of native plants like milkweed, Queen Anne’s lace, asters, goldenrod, wild columbines, rudbeckia and wild roses. We love the birds and insects that they bring and their tolerance to us never watering the garden. She is extremely concerned about “noxious weeds” like milkweed and Queen Anne’s lace because she claims they are dangerously poisonous. By the way, Queen Anne’s lace is the genetic wild relative of carrots and are not toxic in any way.

After minor research, because we have always grown milkweed and are intoxicated by its perfume and the butterflies that it brings, it became obvious that milkweed was given this unsavoury reputation a very long time ago because of cattle or sheep deaths when our neighbourhood was farmland. Milkweed is mildly poisonous if not prepared correctly. So are rhubarb, potato, monkshood, foxgloves and teems of other plants that people don’t even think twice about growing freely. In fact, you would have to eat a lot of milkweed to be poisoned by it (or become poisonous because of it as in the case of the monarch caterpillar).

Milkweed is an important part of our landscape as a source of food for butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees. In fact the Monarch butterfly cannot complete its lifecycle without milkweed. It is also used medicinally for humans for various ailments. My interest peaked recently when I heard of milkweed as food from someone reading Euell Gibbons’ book “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” and when I read the following line about food in an old copy of Toronto Life.

“… while I passed the time with a gorgeous slab of kingfish garnished with pungent milkweed-caper froth and a delectably inventive ratatouille of squash, lobster, mushroom and green eggplant puree.”

The important point is that a little research should be required by our neighbour before aggressively demanding that our milkweed be eradicated (and using herbicide to kill our milkweed which is a very probable but unsubstantiated claim by me). Ah, the joys of not conforming.

artisanale in guelph

August 6, 2009

I had an incredible meal in Guelph last weekend courtesy of Yasser Qahawish (previously from Law Society of Upper Canada). Most of the food at the table was shared.

We had “carpaccio” of Ontario artichoke and Yasser’s father’s heirloom zucchini with mint and lemon. Poached egg and artichoke chips (tempura) with Spanish bravas sauce. Grilled octopus and fava bean. Whitefish with swiss chard and cauliflower. Moules-frites. More frites. All accompanied by 2006 Roque Sestiere from Corbi√®res.

Desert was raspberry tart, creme legere cake, and chocolate mousse (because they sold out of Yasser’s chocolate cake). Coffee and espresso.