Thursday, January 31, 2008

The view from the Earth Observatory

Text, text and more text... That pretty much sums up my day. Email, RSS, webpages, advice, news... you name it! Consequently, I like sites that make me look at the world differently, or provide me with a new understanding of a particular situation.

Lately one of my favourite indulgences is NASA's Earth Observatory. I watch the Natural Hazards page in particular. Where else can you see what a sandstorm looks like? Or the Middle East covered in snow? Or see the devastation left by a tornado or forest fire?

It sounds a little morbid, but it's not. I find the site helps understand the enormous impact these disasters can have. I see a lot of cyclones in the news, but actually seeing the sheer size of a storm near a land mass leaves me with a new understanding that I don't get from weather reports or news. The images and stunning.

I also like the Unique Imagery section. What can I say? It makes you see the world differently, whether it's Fall Colors or Phytoplankton blooms.

The site is well worth a look.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Travelling to the States? I get it, already!

Tomorrow is January 31 -- the day the new entry requirements to the U.S. come into effect. I have had this date imprinted in my brain for the last several months because I look at so much travel advice. I keep track of breaking news. I've posted the updates. I've seen the ads. I've even written an article about the issue.

And then in today's mail: an "adcard" from the Canadian government reminding me, yet again, that as of tomorrow I will need a birth certificate and my driver's license to visit the States through land and sea entry points.

Why all the effort? Because people are confused. Because last time they changed requirements (for air travel) huge backlogs and delays occurred. Because if border officials have to verify your identity through another means, you will have to wait and everyone in line behind you will have to wait (etc, etc). In other words, this is not going to be a smooth or easy transition.

Why are people confused? Because the policies keep changing, and they will continue to change. Canadians will need a passport to get into the States by 2009 -- unless the U.S. pushes the date back again, or issues passport I.D. cards, or gets their enhanced driver's license program in place by then.

My advice: Treat the U.S. border as if it were any other foreign border (rather than one that we've had relatively easy access to in the past). Regardless of where you plan to go, check out entry and exit requirements before you travel (while you still have time to get any missing documentation). A passport is still your best bet if you don't already have one.

Anyone who still hasn't seen the advice can find it here: Travel Documents for Entering the United States

The best part: Apparently U.S. officials won't enforce new border ID rules until June 2009.

Friday, January 25, 2008

How safe is Canada?

If you've been watching the Canadian news at all today, you might get the impression that Australia has issued a new warning against travel to Canada. Check out today's headlines:

"Australia issues travel warning against Canada" (CTV News)
"Australia issues travel warning against Canada; says not as safe as SKorea" (The Canadian Press)
"Australia Posts Travel Warning About Canada on Website" (CityNews)
"Be careful in Canada, Australians warned" (Globe and Mail)

So what's all the fuss about? I'm not sure, to be perfectly honest. The "warning" is not new. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Australia (MFAT) has had a travel advisory (it's name for country specific travel advice) for Canada posted on its Smartraveller website for quite a while now.

Did anything change today? No. The advice was last updated and reissued on December 5, 2007 -- it says so right at the bottom of the page. The only notable change made at that time was the addition of the note about bush fires. The terrorism warning (now standard in most government travel advice) has been in place since the August 3 update. (If anyone is curious, take a look at what changed over the last two years.)

I won't attempt to comment on the content of the travel advisory (a subject for another post, perhaps), but one has to wonder why the Canadian media has suddenly realized this advisory is out there and is choosing to comment on it now?

We can critique the content of articles and of the advice itself, but the good news is the articles have people talking, and hopefully reading the government advice.