Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

How much do we love data

Let me count the ways

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Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press archives

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Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press archives

Back in the days when the Harper government was almost completely scandal-free, the federal Conservatives made the curious and cynical decision to get rid of the mandatory long-form census.

The move was curious because academics, public servants, journalists and other researchers rely on data to do their jobs. The move was cynical because certain segments of the Canadian populace have little love for academics, public servants, journalists and other researchers.

Without raw data, you can't have science. Without census data, you can't paint accurate demographic pictures of any particular place or make informed decisions about public policy.

But the Conservatives decided to kill the mandatory census anyway, betting the move would play well with a base of voters who resent any government intrusion into their lives.

What the feds failed to realize is voters of all ideological stripes are actually in love with data. Sports fans spend endless hours scanning team and individual-player statistics. Investors watch the stock market obsessively in an endless effort to discern patterns. Even casual movie-goers find themselves engrossed in weekend box-office statistics.

Why do we care so much about numbers? Humans actually appear to be hard-wired to seek them out. Many evolutionary biologists believe we owe our success as a species to our ability to perceive subtle changes in our environment. As an organism, we just can't resist swallowing up packets of information.

In spirit of evolutionary determinism, today's column is devoted to little parcels of data. Prior to editing, it contained precisely 30 paragraphs, 1,047 words and 6,400 characters.




THE height of the Red River, in feet above normal winter ice level, at the James Avenue monitoring station on Saturday afternoon.

That's 0.95 feet above the height of the Assiniboine Riverwalk, which stands at 8.5 feet James and could resurface within a week without a torrential amount of rainfall across the Red River basin.

According to Winnipeg's water and waste department, the riverwalk has been submerged since April 27, or 55 days and counting. There was moderate flooding across the Red River basin this year.

In 2012, when there was no flood whatsoever, the riverwalk was under water for a grand total of five days, from March 21 to March 25. In 2011, a record flood year across the Assiniboine River basin, the riverwalk was under water for a remarkable 156 days, from April 1 to Sept. 3.




THE city-wide average mosquito trap count in Winnipeg on June 22.

That's eight adult female mosquitoes below the 25-insect threshold that would trigger a nuisance-mosquito fogging if two conditions are met: The first is a minimum city-wide average trap count of 25 or more for two days in a row; the second is one quadrant of the city sporting an average trap count in excess of 100.

In the middle of August 1993, the average nuisance-mosquito trap count in Winnipeg was 926, according to data provided by Winnipeg's insect control branch.

Mosquitoes were so numerous that summer, children with their eyes swollen shut from mosquito bites showed up at inner-city clinics, Free Press reporters Larry Kusch and Brad Oswald wrote in a front-page story on Aug. 11. The city's medical officer -- back then, Winnipeg had its own health department -- warned residents not to go outside at dawn or dusk.




THE number of regular-season and playoff games the Winnipeg Blue Bombers have played since last winning the Grey Cup.

On Nov. 25, 1990, the Bombers blew out the Edmonton Eskimos 50-11 in the CFL championship at BC Place Stadium. Since then, the Winnipeg Football Club has made it to Grey Cup five more times, but lost every game, bowing to the Calgary Stampeders twice (1992 and 2001) and once each to the Eskimos (1993), Saskatchewan Roughriders (2007) and B.C. Lions (2011).

The average margin of defeat for the Bombers in those five losses was 8.6 points. Prior to this losing streak -- and 23-season Grey Cup drought -- the Bombers were 10-9 in the championship game.

The Vegas odds against the Bombers winning the cup this year are 10-1.




THE number of kilometres of combined sewers serving about one-third of the City of Winnipeg.

Combined sewers carry both surface water runoff and sewage. Newer areas of the city have separate storm drains and wastewater pipes.

The contents of combined sewers are pumped toward the city's North End Water Pollution Control Centre through pipes known as interceptors. But during severe downpours such as the one that blasted parts of the city on Thursday, the capacity of the interceptors can get overwhelmed.

When that happens, rainwater-diluted sewage spills into the city's waterways. This happens an average of 22 times a year, with an average of 18 of those discharges taking place during the summer-recreation season.

A decade ago, when the province ordered the city to upgrade its wastewater treatment, replacing the combined sewers was part of the plan. But the cost of replacing all 1,280 is now pegged as high as $4 billion, on top of $1.8 billion worth of sewage-treatment upgrades.

A less expensive solution proposed by city engineers is to build underground storage tunnels or tanks to hold rainwater-diluted sewage for the duration of storms. The contents of these tunnels or tanks would then be pumped toward the North End sewage-treatment plant.

This may not fully eliminate discharges, but their frequency could be reduced to as few as four every year. Though the environmental benefits or reducing the discharges from four to zero are minimal in terms of reducing nutrient loads into Lake Winnipeg, politicians are having trouble swallowing the idea.

No elected official wants to sign off on allowing feces into the river.




THE City of Winnipeg's projected population on July 1, 2013, according to Statistics Canada.

The population of the Winnipeg metropolitan area -- which includes the city and 11 nearby municipalities where the majority of the workforce commutes to Winnipeg -- is projected to be 789,300 on Canada Day.

The Winnipeg area consumer market, for the purposes of estimating the likes of potential Ikea customers or NHL ticket buyers, is 976,000.

When Winnipeg was incorporated as a city, in 1873, the population stood at 1,869. That's a precise figure. One hundred and forty years ago, no one would have expected us to stop counting.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 23, 2013 A1

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott and the winner of the 2014 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award.

Bartley’s work has also appeared on CBC Radio and Citytv as well as in publications such as The Guardian, explore magazine and National Geographic Traveler. He sits on the board of PEN Canada, which promotes freedom of expression.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives


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