Re: End the transit strike before it begins

**Note: Also appears on the Calgary Herald’s Q Blog

Reginald Tiangha, Calgary Herald
Published: Sunday, April 22, 2007

Reginald Tiangha – April 22, 2007 15:09 – I question how serious city council is on trying to curb a transit strike before it happens. You would think that they would have learned from what happened last time and tried their hardest to prevent things from getting to this point.

There were no winners when the members of ATU 583 went on strike in 2001. For seven weeks (the longest strike of its kind in Calgary’s history), Calgarians had to find alternate ways to get around. Where possible, people biked, rollerbladed or walked to get around. For the majority of people, traffic became a nightmare and the number of cars on the roads increased dramatically. Getting a taxi anywhere around town was impossible and, while lucrative for the taxi industry in Calgary, there were still complaints by some taxi companies that they were ill-equipped to deal with the demand and advocated a quick end to the strike for their own sanity.

As a post-secondary student at the time, I remember hearing about students being unable to make it to classes, being stranded at school and even missing exams. It was horrid.

Fast forward to 2007. According to Calgary Transit’s 2006 20 Year Capital Plan, public transit usage in Calgary has increased to the point that they are consistently at near-capacity during peak hours and estimate that more people are deterred from using public transit because of this.

Forty-two per cent of work travel to the downtown core is now done through public transit (compared to 36 per cent in 1995). Between 1995 and 2004, ridership increased by 46 per cent, approximately double Calgary’s population growth rate of 24 per cent.

The federal government wants to encourage public transit adoption by offering tax credits. Many new housing developments have popped up near C-Train stations which will probably entice those home owners to adopt transit for their transportation needs. With housing costs what they are today, many people are forgoing cars in order to pay for housing, and are becoming reliant on Calgary Transit for their transportation needs.

Add to the fact that many post-secondary students now use transit due to U-Pass transit fees being a mandatory tuition fee, it is painfully obvious that the demand for public transit in Calgary has increased over the years, will continue to increase, and is stronger than ever before.

Calgary Transit has an ambitious plan to expand transit infrastructure in Calgary to meet the demand. Those plans include expansions to the NW and NE C-Train lines and construction of a West line that would take the place of the current BRT line in the West and continue on all the way to Aspen Woods. In order to meet these targets, they plan on adding more train cars and busses to their fleets and hiring over 200 drivers and additional technical staff to maintain it all, which is probably why the current public transit staff feel so overworked.

With the importance of public transit and the long term plans being considered to increase service, it boggles my mind that city council continues to allow situations like these to degenerate to the point where they are now. I mean, seriously, what have they been doing all this time? I’m disappointed with the fact that it seems like the city has been dragging their heels on getting this situation resolved for so long now, especially with public transit being so important to so many people.

Furthermore, I’m not impressed that the transit union is asking for a wage hike that is higher than what many of the other city unions accepted this year (on average, a 10 per cent increase, which is the same deal that the city initially offered the transit union).

I’m not saying that transit workers don’t deserve more money. Part of the problem is that they feel overworked and thus they feel that they deserve more pay and justifiably so. No one likes working 12 hour days. However, if the city had accomplished their goal of hiring the extra 200 workers they had originally been looking for, then perhaps transit staff wouldn’t feel as overworked as they are now and may have possibly settled for less than the 15 per cent increase they desire.

Regardless, now that they have it stuck in their heads that they deserve an increase in pay higher than what most of the other unions in the city got (ex. Fire, EMS and Police), they’re not going to settle for anything less and are going to do whatever it takes in order to get it, citizens be damned.

How much more damage will it take before the city realizes that a full blown, long term transit strike can and will have a disastrous effect on this city’s economy? For many more people in Calgary, transit is now a service essential to their livelihood and a part of their daily lives.

Therefore, I believe that it’s time for city council to seriously consider declaring public transit an essential service. Considering Calgary’s population growth and that the number of people who depend on public transit solely for their transportation needs due to economic situations, encouragement by government, and environmental concerns will increase over time, public transit will eventually become a service that’s essential for many Calgarians, if it isn’t already.

I think that it’s simply gotten to the point where the city and its citizens cannot afford to cope with a full blown transit strike anymore. If city negotiators are incapable of figuring out a way to resolve or prevent these problems from occurring in the first place, then city council should take steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

The beginning of the end for DRM?

**Note: Also appears in the Calgary Herald’s Q Blog

Reginald Tiangha, Calgary Herald
Published: Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Reginald Tiangha – April 2, 2007 21:56 -With EMI Group PLC announcing today their intent to release music without any cumbersome DRM (Digital Rights Management, a technology that limits the ability to play certain multimedia files on other devices) through Apple’s iTunes music store, all I have to say is this: It’s about time.

The plan is to sell EMI music through Apple’s iTunes music store without DRM and at a higher sound quality than their regular music which does contain DRM. They plan to sell these premium tracks for an extra 30 per cent more, which translates into another 30 cents per song. The best part is that this is not an exclusive deal; EMI may choose to offer these types of downloads through other online music providers in the future.

While some people may balk at a 30 percent increase, I think $1.30 is perfectly reasonable for a file that will play anywhere with no effort involved. Although I don’t own an iPod, I do own a number of desktop computers as well as a couple of standalone MP3 players, a couple of CD Players with MP3 capabilities, a Pocket PC and a PSP.

Trying to get a piece of music to play on a device that was not the computer I had originally purchased it on usually required me to jump through a lot of hoops in order to get a file that would be truly portable, if it was possible in the first place. Also, trying to find a store that rivaled iTunes in variety and selection has been difficult. Finally, I run Linux on some of those desktop machines, which makes it difficult to play any kind of protected multimedia content on them, much less purchase any kind of legal, downloadable content. In today’s day and age where time is precious, 30 cents seems a small price to pay for convenience and interoperability.

I’m also excited at the potential this deal may have. EMI may prove to other music labels that selling DRM-less music can indeed be profitable, prompting them to do the same. If this is successful for EMI, I have no doubt that they’ll offer this service to other online music stores like Napster and thus increasing availability and consumer choice.

This may even spread to downloadable video content, resulting in video downloads that can be easily converted into other formats for playback on all sorts of devices. For me, this has the potential to open up the entirety of Apple’s iTunes diverse product catalog to someone who doesn’t own an iPod yet still wants to be able to purchase music to play on another portable device or on a machine that is not running Windows. For the consumer, I think this is a big win.

It will be interesting to see if piracy will increase as a result of this, but I’m optimistic that this move will be a very profitable one for EMI. I have to applaud EMI for finally listening to consumers and for doing what they chose to do today, and I hope that this is the beginning of the end of that pesky DRM.

In defence of Jim Playfair

**Note: Also appears on the Calgary Herald’s Q Blog

Calgary Herald
Published: Sunday, March 18, 2007

Reginald Tiangha – March 17, 2007 23:13 -With Saturday’s loss against the Minnesota Wild the latest of many in recent history (fifth of the last six), many Flames fans are already calling for Jim Playfair’s head and demanding a coaching change. They say that he can’t motivate the players and has lost the locker room. This despite many of the players saying “it’s not the coaching, it’s us” when asked about their woes. For now, I’ll give the Flames players the benefit of doubt as I would consider a coaching change this late into the season to be nothing but a knee-jerk reaction.

Obviously, Flames fans want something or someone to blame. Someone to blame our sloppy defensive play on, someone to blame the utter lack of work ethic in the offensive zone, and, ultimately, someone to blame for the fact that we just simply haven’t been winning games lately. It doesn’t matter who or what, so long as we can blame something that is responsible for this team’s utter lack of confidence at times.

Since many fans are passionate about the players (to the point where most players can do no wrong, even when they do), by default it has to go to the coaching staff (but not GM Darryl Sutter because Sutter can do no wrong either) because obviously it’s the coaching staff that can’t motivate the players. However, replacing the coach at this stage of the game might not be anywhere near the solution to solve what’s really ailing the Calgary Flames.

I’ve seen it before at various other places I’ve worked at. Middle management has trouble motivating the lower grunts. Upper management brings in someone new and things seem to improve. Three months later, things go back to the way they used to be because bad management really wasn’t the issue. It was something else. It could have been the working environment, the lack of human or material resources needed to do the job effectively, some other kind of external factor, or problems stemming from higher up in the food chain. However, because the problem still persists, you learn to realize something: it wasn’t the middle management.

Unless any of us truly knows what goes on in that locker room, the same thing may be happening with the Flames. Perhaps Playfair has indeed lost the ear of the locker room and players are tuning him out. However it could be something else entirely.

It could be Conroy’s and Warrener’s absence from the line up (and locker room presence) due to injury. It could be illness making its rounds through the locker room. It could be a purely mental problem. Heck, a close loved one of one of the staff could have died, and everyone is in mourning. Is there really anyone outside of the organization that can say for sure?

All I know is that from witnessing the Wild vs. Flames game from the stands (and the last few games on TV) is that at times, we play strong and at most others we execute poorly. This has been the problem since the beginning of the season and should not surprise anyone. However, most people ignored that when we were winning. From what I’ve seen, I’m ready to blame the players 100 per cent because the effort I saw in the beginning (say, Tanguay throwing three hits in the first) was not there for the full 60 minutes (for example, players standing around in the defensive zone while the Wild scored on us).

A coaching change this late in the game is unwarranted and probably ill advised. Sutter will probably give Playfair until the end of the season to prove himself, and would probably recommend the same to upper management.

If a coaching change were to be made, it should be made during the off-season. If that were to happen, then yes, by all means blame Playfair. If not, then we know it was something else. If it’s the players, expect upgrades (re: Lundmark, Kobasew and Ference).

In any case, I know I’ll reserve judgment until it’s all over and I would hope that Flames fans would do the same.

Re: Flames fight for playoff positions, fans fight to watch their team

**Note: Also appears on the Calgary Herald’s Q Blog

Calgary Herald
Published: Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Reginald Tiangha – March 13, 2007 17:04 – CBC, you’ve broken my heart again. The grassroots campaign started by the loyal Flames faithful I had mentioned last week to get the March 17th Minnesota Wild vs. Calgary Flames game televised has failed.

According to a letter sent from Scott Moore, former head of production at Rogers Sportsnet and the recently appointed executive director of CBC Sports, time and budget is what prevented the CBC from adding the game to their lineup for that day. However, they did manage to add the March 31 Senators/Isles game and the April 7 Vancouver/San Jose games to their lineups as regional broadcasts. Doesn’t help me that much as I’m in neither of those regions, but good for those fans that have NHL Center Ice as they’ll at least be able to watch these games somewhere.

Kudos to CBC for addressing the issue and for taking the requests to heart, but I still don’t understand why they can’t send out camera crews to broadcast four games on Mar. 17. They did the same thing on Dec. 16, 2006 broadcasting four games involving Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Vancouver with the Ottawa and Montreal games being regional broadcasts and sharing the same time slot as the early game involving Toronto.

The Toronto game is obvious as it’s the CBC and they’ve always broadcasted the early Toronto game to the rest of Canada whether the rest of Canada wants it or not. The Vancouver game is obvious as well since it’s the only late game that could have been used to complete their double-header.

This leaves Ottawa and Montreal. Montreal I can understand because the CBC usually broadcasts Montreal games on Saturdays for their French viewing audience. Add to the fact that they were playing Sidney Crosby and the Penguins and now you’ve got a game that the marketing types would assume that people would want to see. The only one that doesn’t make sense to me is the Ottawa game. Surely the Flames would be a bigger draw on TV than a Sens game. Not saying that a Flames game would draw bigger than a game involving Crosby, but at least fans across North America could see that game on NHL Center Ice via Radio-Canada.

I can’t for the life of me figure out why they are unwilling to do the same the same thing on Mar. 17 that they did on Dec. 16. So, I’m left with asking myself what the Calgary Flames are lacking that just couldn’t persuade the CBC to carry the Mar. 17 game. I’m also left asking myself who is responsible for the scheduling. Do each of the Canadian teams schedule Saturday night games in the hope that the CBC will pick them up, or is it all done randomly by some uber-computer stashed in a server closet in the bowels of NHL headquarters?

If the former, then I think the CBC should relinquish their exclusivity on Canadian games on Saturday night (they can keep their national rights as Hockey Night in Canada has been a coast-to-coast tradition for years) and should only get first dibs on Canadian games on Saturday. Once their schedule has been finalized in July, the rest of the games should be allowed to be picked up by anyone who wishes to broadcast the games regionally, be it Sportsnet or TSN. If it’s the latter, then the CBC and NHL should work together to ensure that the number of hockey games involving Canadian teams scheduled for Saturday are limited to a number that the CBC can comfortably broadcast. That way, Canadian hockey fans of any allegiance can have some assurance that they’ll be able to watch their favorite teams on TV somewhere, somehow whether it be on satellite at home or at a sports bar.

As for me, the diehard Flames fan that I am, I just purchased a single ticket to that game. See you in section 217.

Flames fight for playoff positions, fans fight to watch their team

**Note: Also appears on the Calgary Herald’s Q Blog

Reginald Tiangha, Calgary Herald
Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2007

Reginald Tiangha March 5 – 22:00 – As a hockey fan, I find it interesting that in this day and age where one can buy Pay-Per-View or programming packages that give you access to virtually every televised hockey game, where sports television stations operate 24 hours a day, and where anything can be streamed over the Internet either in real-time or tape delay, there are still games that just aren’t televised and can only be seen (or heard, I guess) through the radio. Case in point: the Saturday March 17 game between the Minnesota Wild and the Calgary Flames.

A grassroots movement has been started on the Internet by Flames fans that hopes to change all this, and they could use your help.

The problem with this particular game is that there is no one in North America broadcasting it on television. This implies that Flames fans (in Canada or the U.S.) who have purchased NHL’s Centre Ice programming package simply cannot watch this game anywhere (either at home or a sports bar with satellite). An American network will probably not pick up this game so, by default, if a broadcaster were to pick up this game, it would have to be a Canadian one.

The problem is that the CBC has paid a large amount of money to have the exclusive Canadian rights to broadcast hockey games involving Canadian teams on Saturday nights (TSN has paid for the same privilege for Wednesday nights). Therefore, a regional network like Rogers Sportsnet or a national network like TSN is legally not allowed to carry this game. Obviously, Flames fans are upset. Unlike the Edmonton Oilers vs. St. Louis game (which will also not be televised), the Wild vs. Flames game has serious implications and the outcome of this game could potentially mean the difference between the third and last playoff spots. For a team that has played spectacularly at home but not-so-spectacularly on the road, this game has meaning and diehard Flames fans who are unable to get tickets to the game want to see it.

A bunch of fans on the Calgary Flames fan community website have started an e-mail campaign to try to persuade the CBC to carry the game as a regional broadcast only, and to try to persuade the Calgary Flames to change the start time of the game from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in order to make it more broadcast friendly for the CBC (the CBC usually showcases the late game of their Hockey Night in Canada doubleheader at that time). According to the fans who have spearheaded this cause, their efforts seem to have caught the CBC’s ear but not enough to have resulted in a schedule addition (yet).

There is precedent for the CBC adding a game to its schedule in the middle of the season. For instance, this season, the CBC added the October 26, 2006 game between the Nashville Predators and the Vancouver Canucks to its schedule with, allegedly, eight days notice, so it’s not entirely impossible for this game to be added as well. At least, the Flames fans on that website hope so. I find it fascinating how the Internet has allowed grassroots movements like this one (and the Vote for Rory campaign) to become more organized, which in turn, has made them much more effective.

If you would like to see this game televised as well, I would encourage you to write the CBC and let your thoughts be known. With enough responses, who knows what may happen?

Can’t Stop Talking About Craig Conroy

**Note: Also appears on the Calgary Herald’s Q Blog

Reginald Tiangha, Calgary Herald

Published: Tuesday, January 30, 2007

January 30, 2007 11:56 – Watching my beloved Calgary Flames this season has been frustrating at times. Seeing them dominate at the Saddledome while at the same time having to endure their sucktitude on the road is hard to take. It’s certainly nothing like the nail biting, heart-attack hockey of last year where many games were decided by only one goal (and had me crawling up the walls for most of the season), but still frustrating nonetheless. So let me get this off my chest and be one of the many to say: Welcome Back, Craig Conroy!

Now, before I get labeled as either a Connie fan boy or one of those people who: a) lamented the loss of Craig Conroy after the lockout to free agency, b) became OCD over the fact that signing Daymond Langkow to the team was not the same as signing Craig Conroy to the team, c) believed that the reason that we lost to Anaheim in last year’s playoff run was because we didn’t have people like Craig Conroy on the roster, and d) believes that Craig Conroy will be the lord and savior that will lead us to the promised land (i.e. the Stanley Cup), let me tell you exactly why I’m excited that he’s coming back.

No, it’s not because he’s a media darling who can give a good interview (although they’re always fun to watch). It’s not because he’s a stellar player (he’s only gotten five goals and 11 assists this season with L.A.). It’s not because it gives us more depth in the center position (although that’s always a good thing). It’s definitely not because I’m on some ’04 Stanley Cup playoff run nostalgia trip (although those were fun times).

What really gets me excited is, well, the fact that Craig Conroy himself is excited to be back.

Many people criticize the team for not putting in a full 60 minute effort every game, their road record not being consistent with their excellent home record, and for seeming to lose heart whenever they’re down on the scoreboard. I strongly feel it’s because this team puts too much pressure on themselves to win (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all). I can only imagine how tense it must be in that locker room whenever things aren’t going so well (doubly so when the team used to be coached by Darryl Sutter).

Just watching the guy on television and listening to him on the radio talking about how happy he is to be back is like watching a kid in a candy shop. He’s a player that really, really wants to be here. This can only mean good things for the Calgary Flames. I don’t know what Conroy’s role will be on the team, and I don’t know if he’ll be put on the top line with Iginla or stuck on the third line, but I’m not counting on him to put up big numbers anyways (although big numbers are always nice and you’re welcome to prove me wrong, Mr. Conroy). As lame as it sounds, I think the most important thing that Conroy will bring to this team will be his enthusiasm. Once the locker room lightens up a bit and the boys rediscover how to actually have fun out there, I’m certain that good things will happen.

While some people may believe that Conroy will be the solution to all our problems, I, for one, know better. Our power play is still horrid and our penalty kill isn’t that good either because defensively, we’re not as disciplined as we used to be. This team has a lot more work to do in order to become an elite team this season despite being near the top of the Northwest Division.

For me right now, I’m trying not to dwell on stuff like that. The first thing I did when I heard of the news was to get me a ticket to this week’s game against the L.A. Kings (see you in Section 217; I’ll be the guy with the giant flag). Either our team will improve or it won’t. The only thing I know for sure is that I’m going to go and have a good time watching and cheering Craig Conroy’s first game back wearing the Flaming C.

Welcome home, Craig. We’ve missed you.

Labour crunch becoming mundane

**Note: Also appears on the Calgary Herald’s Q Blog

Reginald Tiangha, Calgary Herald
Published: Monday, December 11, 2006

December 11, 2006 9:25 – As I stood waiting in line this weekend to pay for my holiday purchases, my mind went back to this summer when I was waiting for service at a downtown fast food counter. The long line ups and short staffed tills were similar in both situations. What was the big difference between then and now? This time, there was resignation all around.

While waiting in line to be serviced at that fast food counter, I happened to listen in on a conversation between the cashier and an irate customer who had already been served. The conversation went something like this:

Irate Customer: “Hey! I’ve been waiting here for 10 minutes! Where’s my foo…”

Cashier (glances at a clock and rudely cuts in): “No, sir. You’ve been waiting here for 8 minutes and 41 seconds.”

Irate Customer: “But…”

Cashier: “Look. You’re just going to have to wait here like everyone else. Do you think that sucks? Well, I got news for you.”

Irate Customer: “And what’s that?”

Cashier: “Welcome to life in Alberta.” (Looks at me) “Next?”

As I placed my order for a chicken sandwich, I couldn’t help thinking if the cashier was right. There were two cashiers on duty that day, two people working in the kitchen, and a line up of about 10 people behind me. The counter could easily accommodate four, but with the labour crunch being what it was, it was probably difficult to find people to fill those places. In my quasi-supervisory role at my place of work, I know first hand how difficult it can be to attract skilled labour to fill shortages. We constantly have to find ways to make the most of limited resources. Luckily for me, I don’t work in the fast food industry.

Fast forward 6 months, I’m still short staffed and the line ups around town haven’t shortened much either. The one main difference I’ve noticed this time around is that people aren’t complaining as much. Yes, the cashiers look harassed most of the time and yes, everyone in line cringes whenever said cashier has to call in a price check or a manager in for an abort. But to everyone’s credit, I haven’t seen anyone (cashier or customer) snap at the other person like I saw the fast food cashier do back in July. Most people seem to take it in stride, although it’s obvious to me that no one seems to like it.
But with things being the way they are, what else can you do? Grin and bear it, I suppose.

Welcome to life in Alberta.