• Last Post!

    I am continuing this blog at a new url hosted by Wordpress. Thanks to for all the memories!

  • Auto workers don't make $70/hour.

    (A letter to the Globe and Mail.)

    Unionized auto workers at the Detroit Three don't make $70/hour. They earn an average wage of $29/hour. Other compensation such as overtime and bonuses adds $11/hour. Health care and other benefits add $15/hour (recall that the US doesn't have universal public health insurance). So the total compensation to current workers is $55/hour.

    Where does the $70/hour figure come from? If you take the benefits given to retired workers and attribute them to current workers, that adds $15/hour. But although this is a labour cost, it clearly should not be counted as current compensation. Moreover, this cost will be reduced to $3/hour once the UAW takes over retirement benefits in 2010.

    Current compensation at the Detroit Three is about $9/hour higher than at Toyota, for example. But since labour accounts for 10% of the cost of making a car, this doesn't explain the vast gap in profitability.

    (These figures come from the article, Do auto workers really make more than $70 per hour?)

  • Why Do the Big Three Automakers Have Higher Costs?

    (A letter to the Ottawa Citizen.)

    Randall Denley's recent column blamed the woes of American car makers on "the labour-cost problem." He urged unionized workers to accept "drastic pay reductions". But high wages aren't the problem. If we count only current US workers, foreign car makers actually pay higher average wages than the Big Three do. This is because they pay profit sharing bonuses. (Foreign car makers actually have profits.)

    The real problem for the Big Three is the benefits they pay to retirees. These account for most of the labour cost difference between the Big Three and foreign car makers. Luckily for them, in 2007 the Big Three negotiated an agreement with the UAW to offload these retiree costs onto the unions. This plan should be implemented in 2010, and will greatly narrow the labour cost gap.

    In the end, labour costs account for only 10% of the cost of a car anyways. Yet, the media has rushed to blame the unions for the demise of the Big Three, unfairly in my view.

    More information can be found in the article, "Do auto workers really make more than $70 per hour?"

  • Winter Cycling

    With the transit strike, the Chaudiere Bridge closing, and recent snow storms, more people are considering winter cycling, and wondering how to start.

    For info on winter cycling, try You can start with this article by a local cycling instructor:

    Winter Cycling in Ottawa, by Graydon Patterson

    You can also read Ottawa Winter Cycling by Pete, and the City of Ottawa's Cold or Wet Weather Cycling page.

    Some years, there have been seminars at MEC on winter cycling. You might phone the Envirocentre at City Hall, which runs the CanBike courses now.

    For inexpensive but well built winter bikes (and summer bikes), check out Re-Cycles Bicycle Co-op on Bronson just south of Gladstone.

    And be sure to share your experiences on your own blog! Don't think of it as complaining, think of it as commiserating.

  • GMT timezone problem in Mac OS X Leopard

    Recently I bought a new MacBook with Mac OS X Leopard installed, and when I set the time zone in System Preferences, it just wouldn't stick. My computer thought it was in GMT (sic -- should be UTC). As a result, all my email appeared to originate from the future, among other problems.

    I searched the web and found a bunch of people who wanted to keep their computer in local time so they could dual-boot with Windows. No good. Then I called AppleCare. As usual, AppleCare was worse than useless, but at least this time they appeared to care. I spoke to a couple of representatives and they guided me through a number of possible fixes:

    1) Removing the battery and doing a special kind of hard reset;
    2) When I insisted there must be a file that specified the timezone, they checked with a product specialist and then had me delete and NetworkInterfaces.plist;
    3) Re-installing the operating system (I wish I was joking about this one)

    The next step was going to be to send my computer back for repair. I searched the web one last time, and finally hit on the right combination of search terms to bring up this blog post:

    GMT timezone problem in Mac OS X

    My problem wasn't permissions based, as his was, but he revealed the location of the timezone file:


    For some reason this was a directory on my machine, containing a file called Eastern. I deleted the directory, and set the time zone in System Preferences again. This created /etc/localtime as a symbolic link to /usr/share/zoneinfo/Canada/Eastern. And now my computer knows what time it is.

    In retrospect, I should have rooted around in /etc before, but frankly I never know when Mac OS X will use the standard UNIX configuration files and when it will use a random-looking plist somewhere.


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