Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Down with Domtar!

[⋯] and the environmentalists become more and more noisy… –James May, Top Gear
Noisy indeed. And get ready for some more of this noise than the ones produced by diesel engines and other assorted machinery.

I'm an avid reader of Slashdot, and I came across this rather interesting article that stood out from the piles of technology-oriented articles: the top executive from a major North American paper manufacturer has launched an advert campaign, hopefully to offset a projected 4 per cent decrease of paper demand. Domtar Corporation, with its headquarters in Montreal, encourages people to print more documents on paper, so much as to name the campaign Put It On Paper. The implication of that title is monstrous.

So how is John Williams, president and CEO of the corporation, going to convince people to print more in a world where digital technology is starting to depreciate paper? I guess the adverts will try to refresh people's minds about appropriate uses of paper, how to not feel guilty when using paper and then some.

But I do feel guilty when I use paper in ways where the task could be done with the equivalent or less amount of effort digitally. Perhaps it's the fact that trees are cut down and branches stripped with chainsaws (internal combustion engine machinery), then lifted on logging trailers and hauled to a factory to turn the logs into pulp (more assorted machinery), to packaging the reams and hauling that stuff to a warehouse (and even more machinery), where they sit until getting shipped to retail stores or straight to the customers. Talk about guilt: the multiple shipping legs already significantly contribute to global air pollution, and then add the tree cutting and manufacturing legs. Each leg also inflates the price of the paper by bounds. Talk about guilt out of my pocket.

As much as the company claims that they are committed to sustainability, they were also the subject of some environmental disasters that I will not list. As much as I've already believed that the company's supposed environmental sustainability is pretty much bullshit, and my being against the advert campaign's ideas, let the adverts run their course. The key to ensuring that Domtar comes out the loser in all of this is to not buy paper products from them. Bullying them may just be a stretch.

Monday, 19 April 2010

In sprinting, no starts are created equal

General note: had I had the time to actually post this right after what I'm about to tell you occurred, the title of this post would have been "Waterfalls are evil" and my tone would be much, much more abrasive than what you are about to read. Alas...

In athletics, all sprint and hurdle events, which include the 60, 100, 200 and 400 metres and the 110 metre and 400 metre hurdles for those unfamiliar, are started in lanes, and competitors stay in the same lanes throughout. Whenever the race is not in a straight-line, which includes the 200, 400 metres and 400 metre hurdles, the starting positions are staggered (separate lines with lane numbers) to ensure that everyone runs the same distance.
However, in lower-level meets, organisers sometimes make the last heat of (usually) the 400 metres a large heat, making the staggered start impractical. The start would look like a distance race (curved starting line, or waterfall).

If started in that way, competitors will immediately push for the inside, causing some competitors to be either boxed in or boxed out, with some elbowing along the way. Unlike distance races where competitors have time to move out of their confines for the inside before the finish, the chances of a 400 competitor moving up out of their boxed-in position without running the risk of disqualification is very, very low.

Furthermore, at the start, the standing start must be employed, not the block or down start. This practice favours distance runners who never start down in the first place and consequently disadvantages sprinters because they mostly, if not all of the time, start down. As the 400 metres is a sprinting event, more harm is done to sprinters because the standing start is simply not in the sprinters' training programme.