Belgium, the safest country in the world?

Belgians are quite convinced that they live in the safest country in the world, or at the very least in one of the safest countries on the planet. They are also absolutely sure that North America is an incredibly dangerous place because, so they think, firearms are freely available to all.

The picture of North America as a smoking garbage dump with scruffy gangsters running after each other, shooting and killing as much as possible, may well be nothing more than a grim caricature in the movies, but most Belgians are convinced of its reality.

As is so often the case, prejudice is simply wrong. These are the numbers I found regarding murders:

Belgium, the safest country in the world, had 963 murders in 2004 or about 9.6 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Canada, the country where I live, which is largely unknown in Belgium, except for some fallacies about Quebec, had 622 murders in 2004, or about 1.9 per 100,000 inhabitants.

The US, according to Belgian and European propaganda, the most horrible country on the planet, had 16,137 murders in 2004, or about 5.5 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Belgium, is often compared to The Netherlands (Holland) and it is usually assumed that statistics will be similar. This most certainly does not apply to murder rates. Holland had 223 murders in 2004, or 1.35 per 100,000 inhabitants.

I think that this certainly puts an interesting light on Belgian beliefs.

UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that the Belgian data are wrong. Indeed, the number 963 is not the number of murders but the number of homicides and the number of homicide attempts added together. While I am able to find the seperate data, I can find no reasonable explanation for this except for known inaccuracies of unknown magnitude or a desire to create doubt. I will therefore continue to use the number 963 while stating that this number is quite probably an exaggeration.


Walking along the lower Don river

These days, I stay in all day, often days in a row without even opening my front door. I only come out for the Japanese classes in the JCCC where I am volunteering, and to buy some food when I have nothing left. But from time to time, I go stir-crazy, and feel like a walk. Yesterday, I decided to go for a walk along the lower Don river, one of my favourite walks. There are very few high buildings along the way, and therefore, the GPS is pretty reliable.
Although I thought abut it, I didn't stop at Todmorden Mills this time. I decided to concentrate more on the river, just in case I would see the salmon run. I did, but unfortunately, there was no running. All the salmon I saw were dead.
The Don river is obviously a difficult river to conquer for fish that hope to spawn, but it is nevertheless fascinating to see these majestic fish in this urban environment. Posted by Picasa

Chipmunk in the Don river valley

I saw this chipmunk running over the trail along the river (which is paved in asphalt, by the way). These creatures are so fast and agile, that I was convinced I would not see it anymore. But there it was, just sitting on this tree.
I think it is just unbelievable that wildlife like this can be found in the centre of Canada's largest urban development, at walking distance from Bay Street, the economic centre of the country. Posted by Picasa

Chipmunk in the Don river valley

The quality of this picture is not as good as I had hoped. The reason is that I had to change the camera sensitivity to 400 ISO, making the picture more grainy. Nevertheless, I was very happy to be able to make this close-up of a chipmunk. It shows that even a casual photographer can spot and take pictures of these extremely agile animals, without all the gear and time professional photographers usually need. This picture is a good example of what I am trying to show: things anyone can see, things that are more or less common, and therefore never make it into the tourist brochures and books that typically only show unattainable dreams. Posted by Picasa

Dead salmon

It seems that the fall Toronto salmon run has started. This is a dead salmon in the Don river. I saw several of them today (October 1st, 2005), and I also saw several of them last week (September 24th, 2005). Unfortunately, so far, I have only seen dead ones. I hope to be able to see a few jumping ones as well. The pictures probably won't be as sharp, but it would be a pleasure to see the spectacle.

Unforunately, not all of the little dams on the river have been prepared for the salmon, so their chances of spawning successfully are not too good. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to see that the Don river, probably the most urbanized river in Canada, still sees salmon going upstream to spawn. Posted by Picasa

Raccoon in the Don River

This raccoon was looking for food in the Don river. Maybe it hoped to find a dead or dying salmon. It was slowly getting darker at the time (18:49) but it was definitely still a lot lighter than when I took pictures of the raccoons closer to the downtown core. It seems that they adapt to the circumstances. They need, or feel that they need the protection of darkness in the core, but not as much in places where there are less humans around. Posted by Picasa

Reliable high tech?

LG likes to portray itself as a leader in electronics. That may very well be, but I was really amused when I saw this gigantic advertisement on Toronto's Dundas Square.

It is no secret that Toronto can be quite hot in summer. However, this picture was taken on September 22nd, 2005. I have never heard of a temperature of 57C on that day. Actually, according to the Weather Network, the maximum temperature that day was 25.4C. 16.7C was the minimum temperature. So, just in case you were wondering, this wasn't a Fahrenheit temperature either.

I wonder how reliable a company's electronics are, if it doesn't even manage to get its advertisements right? Caveat emptor! (Let the buyer beware). Posted by Picasa

Trousse pour sains personnels?

As you know, I am a programmer.
Not one of those "highly skilled, highly educated specialist professional and ultra arrogant expertologists" of the current generation that don't even know the difference between a bit and a byte, but an old fashioned programmer of the first pre-IBM desktop microcomputer generation. We had no career planning, no where-I-want-to-be-in-five-years goals, no SUV-and-high-maintenance-bitch dreams, and we used no unintelligible lingo. In other words, we couldn't care less about our "professional image'. We did however have a simple goal: to use computers to their fullest, and to make sure they were reliable.

Our type of zeal does not only apply to computers, but it applies to any field of human endeavour. Language, for example. A while ago, when shopping in the Dominion on Toronto's Gould Street, I couldn't help but notice this fascinating "Trousse pour sains personnels".

No one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes. The rotating light of a police car might distract a driver and make him cause an accident. A lonely mosquito in an operating theatre may cause the surgeon to forget his scalpel while closing up his patient. A screaming boss might cause the programmer to forget a minus sign and hence send the rocket into deep space instead of to the moon. But, what could possibly cause people with even the most mediocre of skills to let this type of thing slip by?

I truly wonder what type of language/printing/advertising/... "professionals" one needs to come up with this type of phrase. They must be true geniuses. Posted by Picasa


Sakurako Handa

Handa Sakurako, the daughter of Handa Mizue, a lady whom I deeply respect, died in a car crash July 14th, 2005.

Although I did not know her personally, I do feel and live with the pain and sorrow of her family and the people who knew her.

Life is unfair and unpredictable, but although she is no more, she has had a significant positive impact on the world. Her life was too short, but it was certainly not in vain.

An example to be followed.


GPS - Pinpoint precision?

When I talk about GPS, many people think I am a technophobe. Let it be clear: I love technology, and I couldn't live without my toys. I use them for my job, obviously, but I also enjoy them in my free time. However, I do not enjoy toys because they are cool. I enjoy toys because of what they do for me.

GPS is fantastic. I have a Garmin GPSMAP 76CS and I use it all the time. I am very happy with it. But, it is not perfect, very far from it.

First of all, GPS is based on satellite reception. That means that the receiver needs to be able to see those satellites. That works fine on a boat deck, in a field, even on a highway. It works a lot less well in the centre of a city. Downtown Toronto I lose satellite contact all the time. This is a smaller problem for people who drive cars, because they are more in the middle of the road, but for pedestrians like me, it is somewhat dangerous to walk down the middle of Toronto's Bay Street as if we were cars.

There are of course other possibilities to lose satellite contact besides high buildings. Walking in a forest or bushes with dense foliage is another surefire way. In my experience, smog and fog are enough to lose contact. We have a lot of smog and humidity in Toronto right now, and it is perfectly possible for me to walk allover downtown, without a single satellite lock.

And then, if and when it works, the pinpoint precision is often laughable. Yes indeed, I have seen the GPS tell me it had a precision of +/- 2 meters. However, far more often, it tells me it has a precision of +/-115 meters up to more than +/- 200 meters.

The picture shows you a test I did one early morning. I followed the same track as well as I could, counting the tiles on the sidewalk so I would be within a few centimeters of the same track. I walked from my building West to Yonge Street, North on Yonge Street, East on McGill Street and then through our driveway back to the front of the building. I did this five times. You can see the result in the picture. The red line indicates where I walked according to the map.

I think the message is clear. GPS is great, it gives you a good general idea of where you were, where you are and where you are going, but it is by no means precise, least of all in a big city.


A flight of cormorants

Fishing black-crowned night heron

Fishing black-crowned night heron

Two cormorants taking off

Flying black-crowned night heron

The Toronto Islands are a sanctuary for quite a few animals and plants. Canada geese are everywhere, so are wild ducks and gulls. In this picture, there are also a few cormorants and even a black-crowned night heron.

Smog is not only unhealthy, it makes for very ugly pictures. This is the skyline on May 25th, 2005.

This is how the skyline looked like on June 23rd, 2005. Nice and bright!


PATH - The Underground City

PATH is informally, and more friendly, called the Underground City. It is a set of interconnected walkways below street level. These walkways connect the major buildings of the financial centre to each other. It is a fantastic system to move from building to building in a comfortable temperature when it is either scorching hot or icy cold outside. A lot of the walkways are nothing but shopping centres in disguise and they have stores lining the path, with food courts sprinkled in.

Close to the starting point: The Eaton Centre. The real starting point is the Atrium on Bay, but since it not accessible from Yonge Street at this time, I think it better to consider the Eaton Centre as the de facto starting point.

A map of the entire PATH-system

Food Court

Going to Commerce Court

A map of the Richmond-Adelaide part of PATH

Going towards Commerce Court

Going towards Commerce Court

Going towards Commerce Court

Going towards Commerce Court

Going towards Commerce Court

Food Court

Food Court

Going towards Commerce Court

Commerce Court

Another view of Commerce Court

Another view of Commerce Court

Another view of Commerce Court

Another view of Commerce Court

Another view of Commerce Court

Another view of the PATH level of Scotia Plaza.

The elevators in Scotia Plaza, the skyscraper with the red granite exterior, are quite an experience. There are two levels where the elevators can be taken. To go to an odd floor, one must take an elevator on this floor. To go to an even floor, one must take an elevator one floor higher. There are also several corridors with elevators on each of these floors. Every bank of elevators services a different set of floor.

Typical sign in the underground city (officially called PATH)

The basement level of BCE Place.

The basement level of BCE Place.

This is the South end of the underground city. From here, you enter Union Station.

The Toronto Harbor Commission building. The geography of Toronto's lakeshore has changed since the time and the building is no longer at the harbour. I haven't looked into its current use, but I do know that the main floor is a steak house.

The building of the Toronto Harbor Commission (detail). Notice that it says 'harbor', not 'harbour' as is normal in Canadian English spelling.