The Cheapest Car on Earth

tataThe citizens of India will soon be able to purchase the cheapest car on earth. It is only USD $2,500. It has no radio, no tachometer, no power steering, no power windows, no air conditioning, and one windshield wiper.

Indian engineers at Tata Motors have pared the car down in an effort that would make IKEA proud. The analog speedometer is only precise within +/-10 kph – but that’s okay, since it is fitted with a 30 horsepower engine.

Some corners were also cut with respect to safety, durability and emissions. Nevertheless, like discount airlines, or Ford’s Model T in turn-of-the-century America or MIT’s OLPC (aka the “$100 laptop”), this car will revolutionize travel in the moped and bicycle clogged streets of India.

Bubble 2.0? Time will tell.

With Google reaching $700 per share and other zany happenings in Silicon Valley, some are predicting a second dot-com crash. Here’s an amusing song sung to “We Didn’t Start the Fire” stating just that. (And it’s made by an online marketing firm too, natch.)

Personally, I think we need a lot more Web 2.0 companies paying employees with stock and giving things out for free before things get more dire.

Oh, and for us Gen-X and Gen-Yers, here is the definitive pictorial animation of the Billy Joel original.

How the TTC fought customer decency, and fortunately lost

The story begins with a public transit system and a lawyer. The story is interesting because the lawyer is the David to the transit’s Goliath. He’s David Lepofsky, a blind lawyer who in 1995 had a simple request for the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC): can you ask the drivers to call out the subway stops over the train’s PA system?

The TTC flatly refused, claiming calling stops would be “a hardship” and a “potential safety risk” to their drivers.

Lepofsky brought his case to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. So began two legal battles took twelve years.

The court discovered that the TTC rules and regulations already dictate drivers must call stops. And a few decent TTC employees always have. It’s even written in the TTC Ride Guide, a free pamphlet and transit map given to transit riders. Every transit vehicle is already equipped with mike and public announcement system. Some buses are even equipped with fancy flexible boom mikes for hands-free use.

In 2005, the tribunal ruled in favour of Lepofsky regarding subway stops. This Wednesday, the adjudicator ruled in favour of extending announcements to TTC streetcars and buses as well. Justice Alvin Rosenberg did not have happy thoughts about the TTC:

Rosenberg also ordered the TTC to pay Lepofsky $35,000, even though the lawyer did not request financial compensation. He says he will donate the money to charity.

“The TTC should have asked themselves many years ago, `What can we do to help? How can we accommodate these visually impaired patrons?’ Instead they resisted with all the means at their disposal…”

All total, the chronically cash-strapped TTC spent 12 years and $500,000 fighting the rulings. Let me rephrase this: the TTC spent half a million of Toronto taxpayers’ dollars fighting blind people.

But it appears the TTC will be able to stay mum. Instead of ordering drivers to do what they are already supposed to do (and that many already do), the TTC has spent an additional $2 million installing a computer voice into every subway train.

The ring that was heard around the world

Canada is still waiting (patiently, as Canadians are wont to do) for Apple’s iPhone, but analysts suggest it’s the iPhone’s spectre that has made Bell and Telus quietly drop their prices for data in the past six months:

Apple is squeezing carriers to chop their data rates to boost demand for its handset (or in Grant’s words, to set “plans that aren’t ridiculous,”) which has led to speculation that the reason iPhones aren’t sold here is Rogers’ reluctance to fall in line.

Prices are still absurd compared to those down south in the States, but both Bell and Telus now have 1GB for $100/mo. plans. Bell also now has a $75/mo. “unlimited”plan for their 3G wireless modem, and is selling an unlimited $7 data plan for the upcoming HTC Touch smartphone which is probably the closest Canada will get to an iPhone – for now.

Desperately seeking Sabia

The Globe and Mail has a well-written article showing a behind-the-scenes look at BCE and CEO Michael Sabia, and a blow-by-blow account of how the BCE privatization went down. Other topics include his stint in Ottawa in his younger years crafting the GST, Project Galileo, the 2005 bid to take over Fido, and why Telus bowed out of the bidding war:

According to Sabia and the BCE camp, no such agreement was ever struck. “Telus’s position, for instance, on antitrust remedies?” asked Sabia. “Snowball’s chance in hell.” Currie, who added to the bad blood following the auction when he described Entwistle and his team as “amateurs,” has since toned it down, but only by a notch. “The requests that Telus made of us were absurd,” he says.

Having correlated the presence of Sabia with the flatlining BCE stock price, many Bell employees do not have particularly positive feelings about his tenure at the helm of Canada’s largest telecommunications company. However, he as a person was always personable, he could respond effortlessly in English and French, and he was a straight talker – he didn’t beat around the bush. He always seemed to be trying his best, whether the stock markets thought it was good enough or not.

I had the chance to shake Sabia’s hand once, on the tarmac of a private airfield in Mississauga. And yes, he was wearing his conservatively-cut, signature red wool sweater.

The Myanmar regime is pants

Protests against the recent crackdown on Buddhist monks in Burma by the military dictatorship have gone below the belt. Lanna Action for Burma has called for the women of the world to send their underwear to Myanmar embassies:

The group, Lanna Action for Burma, says the country’s superstitious generals, especially junta leader Gen. Than Shwe, also believe that contact with women’s underwear saps them of power…

Hilton said women in Thailand, Australia, Singapore, England and other European countries have started sending or delivering their underwear to Myanmar missions following informal coordination among activist organizations and individuals.

I can get behind that kind of action. 🙂

P.S. For the record, the country is called Burma. I don’t know why North American mainstream media keep calling it Myanmar. That’s the name the military junta simply made up. If North Korea suddenly and unilaterally changed its name to Super Awesome Land, would CNN follow their lead? Doubt it.

Poetry in sweet, sweet motion – quantified by math

Cambridge University has calculated the optimal waist-to-hips ratio of the sexy woman is 0.7. Notable real world examples include Marilyn Monroe, Jessica Alba and Venus de Milo.

This echoes preliminary findings made in the 1990s by Seattle scholar Sir Mix-a-Lot, who in his uniquely audio dissertation also pointed out optimal environment and lifestyle factors to obtaining your own “motor in the back of your behind”:

# Expand your fitness regime beyond sidesteps and sit-ups
# Refrain dining on red beans and rice
# Ignore beauty advice from Cosmopolitan Magazine

Two thumbs up for copyrights

Crackberry users can breathe a sigh of relief (before going back to their Blackberries whilst zoning out their colleagues and loved ones): an Ontario Court has sided with RIM over Atari in a copyright infringement battle regarding RIM’s seminal time-wasting games, BrickBreaker and Meteor Crusher. Atari had alleged that those two games were plagarisms of Atari’s ’80’s arcade games, Breakout and Asteroids.

Historians and anthropologists agree that “BrickBreaker” has been one of the largest timewasters in the history of mankind, next to “the Great Wall of China”, “the Canadian goverment gun registry”, “the Dark Ages”, and “Australia’s $89 million Internet porn filter“. Incidentally, BrickBreaker is followed by “Blackberry Mail” on the list.

Mouser-ity report

A Rhode Island senior’s home is amazed that their resident cat, Oscar, appears to be able to sense death:

Every day, Oscar makes his rounds among the patients, entering each room and giving each patient a sniff. When he senses that someone is near the end of his or life, he will hop onto their bed and curl up beside them. Within hours, without fail, the patient will die.

I’m surprised no one was proposed the following explanation: Oscar is karate chopping these poor folks in the neck when nobody’s looking.