Friday, October 27, 2006

Canada Post allows workers to discriminate

Yesterday, Canada Post gave its delivery workers in Vancouver permission to refuse to deliver a paid advertising flyer that some of them found offensive.

This is a dangerous precedent, and one that should be reversed immediately. As long as the material is legal, Post Office workers should have no right to refuse to deliver it.

If individual posties can decide which mail is fit to deliver, we could see, for example, Muslim posties refusing to deliver ads for winemaking shops, Jewish posties refusing to deliver ads for restaurants that serve shrimp and pork, posties who are members of the United Church refusing to deliver ads for bottled water*...where would it all end?

The Post Office has a legal monopoly on mail delivery, making it a public trust that must serve all Canadians who have information to convey. It cannot be in the business of censorship, or allow its workers to determine what mail is fit to be delivered.

A few years ago our courts decided that a private business person in Ontario, Scott Brockie, had no right to consult his own conscience in deciding which organizations his company would work for. The decision was firmly upheld on appeal, at considerable cost to Mr. Brockie**. If that is the law for a private business -- which had plenty of competition waiting to accept the work it refused -- then surely it must also be the law for a public monopoly like the Post Office.

If the printed material itself is legal, then the Post Office must deliver it. Postal employees who refuse must be disciplined or dismissed. Nothing else meets the test of fairness.

(* When I posted this, the United Church of Canada was campaigning to get people to stop buying bottled water and donate that money to third world water projects.)

(** There is a lot of information about the Scott Brockie case on the web. If you have time to read only one article, see

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A conspiracy or just a bug?

My son showed me that if you save a text file containing the sentence "bush hid the facts" (typed exactly like that, without the quotes), and then open it in Windows Notepad, all you see is a row of 9 rectangles. At first glance this looks like an "Easter egg", a surprise planted by programmers, like the flight simulator game in Excel 97. But hiding Easter eggs in a Microsoft program will get you fired these days.

It turns out that the explanation is more mundane, and there are many sentences that will do this to Notepad. It's all explained (to programmers, anyway) at:

What's really happening here is that Notepad examines every text file it opens to see if it was written in Chinese (or some other non-Roman alphabet). But text files don't actually contain anything besides the text -- certainly nothing that could indicate the language or font used. So Notepad simply assumes that if the order of bits in the file matches a string of Chinese characters, then that's what it must be. And if Notepad isn't configured to display Chinese, it displays a rectangle instead of each Chinese character.

Besides "bush hid the facts", here are some other sentences that behave this way in Notepad.

"this app can break"
"What are you doing"
"Matrix can not lie"
"Osamabin laden leading all terrorist"

and my favourite,

"We can blast Microsoft for a new bug"

If you're observant, you'll notice that there are exactly half as many rectangles as the number of letters in the English message Notepad should be showing. You can even make up your own messages that break Notepad -- if you can understand the instructions at the blog post linked above.