Air quality indices (AQI) in Canada and around the world

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Who is IQAir?

IQAir is a privately-held company based in Switzerland with manufacturing facilities in Germany. While the website goes to great lengths in establishing the need for clean air filtration in our lives, and in how their organization is more like a public service, they are still a family-owned company, with no presence in the stock market, so they will never have the need to make concrete information on their earnings or revenue, public.

Going to their website, they have extensive information on the effects of good and bad air, what factors affect air quality, and so on. And this is to say nothing about their wonderfully-presented air quality measurements, dotted all over a global map, allowing the user to zoom into any city and neighbourhood to view the air quality on a street corner where someone had purchased one of IQAir’s air quality monitoring devices, and has, supposedly, placed it on their balcony or somewhere outdoors.

In the end, the grave concern over air quality, which is something which has been on people’s minds in North America these days, is being used to push product. They sell air filtration devices for your home, replacement filters, and even face masks (a dozen N95 masks sell for $99CAD — pricey, I think). I noticed their household air filtration units can set you back as much as $1799CAD. But if you really want to spend money, you can get a whole-home HVAC system for as much as $4500CAD. They sell to homes around the world. This amounts to big money, and fear of the effects of air pollution is a cash cow that will forever give milk.

The information they provide on air quality, far from being a public service, ends up being promotional, with the real sevice being to the company, to sell products that will solve the problem they describe on their website. Thus, while being science-like in their presentation, they stop short of being truly scientific, because of the inherent bias of making a profit. They are a business, not a universtiy. On the face of it, the data gathered consists of air monitors purchased by individuals who purportedly all dutifully read the instructions and set up the monitors where and how they ought to be set up. I am sure that no representative of IQAir came out to a neighbourhood in Karachi, Beijing or Mexico City to set up these monitors for their clients to ensure a proper setup.

Of course, once properly set up, these air monitors “call home”, meaning the data is likely displayed directly on the device, and likely to an app on their cell phone, but it is also sent directly to IQAir, so they can add you to their world map for measuring air quality. But this application of IOT is specious in that a device that you paid for is sending information back to the company to help them promote their product and establish their brand as being the leaders in air quality management.

Maybe this still sounds innocent on some level, until perhaps they sell that information to your insurance company, and they in turn jack up your premiums when they see what crappy air you’re breathing in. While I am being speculative, what would stop them? They’re not accountable to their shareholders, because there are no shareholders. They’re family-owned. I wouldn’t be surprised if insurance companies aren’t already banging on their doors willing to pay IQAir top dollar for that information. Including: who owns that device? and does that person have a policy with us?

It would be fantastic to be able to seek out independent studies of air quality on such a grand scale. But for now I express a concern that we appear to be conflating a profit-motivated promotion with a public service.

Meanwhile, it is also likely that their IQAir Foundation is also a tax shelter. Pushing its site visitors to “join the movement!”, such community activists still need to purchase an air monitor at $419CAD a pop (with same-day shipping) and set it up for the purpose of “community air monitoring”. For some, 420 bux is a hard pill to swallow, but it is a small price to pay for their small contribution to the world. IQAir’s complaint is that there needs to be more of these stations in the world. Of course, this is because not enough citizens are doing their part and buying their air monitors. But of all of the sales gimmicks, this has to be one of the best. I can only imagine the number of salesmen in other markets selling anything else that could only wish that they could so nicely hook up community activism to the command to that community to “buy our stuff”. I have to admit, it is pure genius.

But how do IQAir air purifiers rate at cleaning air?

The only IQAir product tested by Consumer Reports was their IQAir HealthPro Plus Air Purifier, currently priced at $1714CAD and received a rating of 70. For comparison, the one I own with about the same score, is a Honeywell InSight HPA5350BC which was retailing for about $420CAD and had a CR rating of 71. I happened to buy it on sale at Canadian Tire for $280CAD. The Honeywell has a 5-year limited warranty. The higher priced IQAir model has a 10-year warranty.

IQAir was ahead in “predicted reliability” and owner satisfaction (both 5/5, compared with Honeywell’s 3/5). But in many places where it counted, the Honeywell scored equal or better. They rated the same in removal of dust, pollen and smoke (5/5), whereas the Honeywell was better at doing that with the fan at low speed. The Honeywell’s fan ran quieter at high speeds, giving it 3/5, compared with IQAir’s 2/5 for that criteria. Both air purifiers are recommended for large rooms, but the Honeywell was cheaper to own, having an annual cost of $200 for replacement filters and the like; compared with $247 for the IQAir. While the IQAir boasts a remote control (the Honeywell doesn’t), Honeywell has an automatic mode which senses the air quality and automatically adjusts the fan speed to suit (from personal experience I can tell you it works as advertised), while the IQAir tested had no such thing. The Honeywell at 20 pounds is lighter than the IQAir at 34. As for energy star compliance, the Honeywell has it and the IQAir model they tested didn’t have it, although I noticed many energy star compliant air purifiers on the IQAir website, so this could be an older model.

The filters themselves: CR says Honeywell has “multiple pleated filters”, but I can tell you there are exactly 3 pleated HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filters that came in the box, and it takes all 3 to place in the unit. IQAir’s HEPA filters are also similarly pleated, but CR says they also have “carbon” with it. I checked IQAir’s website, and the filters for the HealthPro appear to consist of mini-pleated glass microfiber, with the activated carbon filter as a seperate filter. IQAir does not recommend a replacement timeline, but on the “3” setting, they can last for what works out to every year and 8 months. Compare with the Honeywell HEPA filters which have to be replaced every 12 months. There is also a pre-filter with the Honeywell that has to be replaced every 3 months. Even with more frequent changes, Honeywell’s cost of ownership is still cheaper.

In all, I can only conclude that you should shop around, compare, and don’t think an expensive unit is necessarily better in every way from a unit that is 1/4 of the price. If you know people who have used such products, ask them what their experience with it was like. Ask yourself: what are your criteria for a good air purifier? For me, I frankly don’t care about having one with a remote control, since I already have too many remote controls for other things, and it is not something I would use frequently, so I am likely to lose it anyway. I just like my air purifier to sit there and do its job while I go about my life. Having an automatic mode was perfect for that. I can cook, clean, open the balcony door, and it just “does the right thing”. I am not sure of such automation is on the most recent IQAir models.

The reach of IQAir

IQAir has had enough data collection that its AQI rankings have been cited by The New York Times and  other major media.

Two mysteries are: 1) how easy/difficult is it for an average consumer to set up and collect the data; and 2) what criteria goes into an “Air Quality Index”. We can see that it is a number. It starts at zero (many locations have a zero rating) and ends as high as you like. I don’t see where this is explained. Indices, like the Consumer Price Index, for example, set “100” as a “standard” number or reference number to determine price increases and decreases. But for AQI, a rating of “100” borders between moderate and unhealthy.

Depicting two Alberta wildfires close to Edmonton, Grand Prairie and Red Deer, with the air quality detectors recording the air as very safe (green) in nearly all directions. You might even notice that some locations even have an AQI of 0 (zero). Further east, Prince Albert, Saskatchewan and Saskatoon have ratings around 110-117 (moderate), on par with the Greater Toronto Area.

The IQAir website wins top marks for presenting its data in a way that is visually presentable to average people. But I am impressed about this as a promotional tool, not as a scientific study. Mostly because what constitutes an AQI score appears to be a mystery, and it shouldn’t be. The best I can come up with is “low number equals good”, “high number equals bad”. In British Columbia, I saw many communities with AQI ratings below 50 (good), surrounding an active forest fire. Since it also shows wind direction, many communities still show green downwind of a fire.

AQI’s of different kinds

Environment Canada keeps track of an Air Quality Index, scaled from 1 to 10, with numbers above 10 possible. Numbers from 1 to 3 are low risk; 4 to 6 is moderate risk, and 7 to 10 is considered high risk. Above is “very high” risk. I had found at least a bit of information on how forecasts are made, and at least some clues as to how the data is gathered here. Right now, Environment Canada has the AQI at 6 for Toronto, and 5 here in Mississauga. For the “5” rating, they had issued a special Air Quality Statement with their weather reporting today.


Another Look at ‘Politics and the English Language’

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I had only read the novel 1984, but the tome that really influenced me more was George Orwell’s prior short essay written in 1945 entitled Politics and the English Language. You can google a PDF for yourself quite easily, or you can purchase one of many college-level readers used in composition courses which will contain the essay, probably with better formatting. My understanding is that it is not being used as often these days in courses on prose style or rhetoric.

The impression it had left on me in my early 20s was quite profound, and has influenced my writing to this day. Orwell’s message in this essay was quite simple: that one’s written expression should be free of tired, overused phrases that do the thinking for us. Such phrases and words to a large extent cloud our meaning. As a result, we fail to make our point effectively, or at all. His aim was to get us to express ourselves authentically, in everyday English, free of tired jargon, deadwood phrases, and other forms of unnecessary pretense that end up generating more smoke than light in terms of our self-expression. And, of course he encourages us to break any of his rules lest our use of language has to become even more awkward in the following of said rules.

The 1940s was a time of high-minded-sounding rhetoric. The Nazis were just defeated and fresh in everyone’s mind; Stalin was still the dictator of the USSR, and England and the rest of Europe were rebuilding and repairing themselves from the damages of World War II. Surely, political rhetoric, slogans, and catch phrases were not in short supply in Orwell’s day. Germany nearly invented propaganda; while England and America were quickly adopting their own brands of propaganda during and after the war. Noam Chomsky points out much later that propaganda has been felt to be necessary by the elites in power to generate “necessary illusions” and “emotionally potent oversimplifications”, so that consent of citizens to any new government policy can be manufactured on demand (hence the phrase Manufacturing Consent, also the title of one of Chomsky’s books, co-authored with Edward Herman).

Such was the influence of George Orwell that by 1992, Edward Herman wrote a book called Beyond Hypocrisy, which featured an extensive glossary which he called the Doublespeak Dictionary. So, to update Orwell’s laundry list of tired political phrases, here is a more recent sample of political phrases used to the point of losing their original meaning, cited by Herman: Antisemitism, Benign Neglect, Communism, Environmental Terrorists, Freedom Fighter, National Interest, Special Interest, and so on.

Orwell would agree with Vaclav Havel, who was quoted as saying: “Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality, while making it easier for them to part with them.” This is because to facilitate the illusion of dignity and morality, you need language. Rather than using language as a means of authentically expressing one’s self, it is now used as a means of mind control. But mind control is a kind of double-edged sword in the sense that, while you give yourself identity, dignity, and a sense of morality and purpose, one can also blind one’s self to transgressions committed in its name. The reason is because the same language can be used in a way that sterilizes one against feelings of guilt when committing transgressions against others, particularly the perceived enemies of their cause.

Of course, the current decade has some of the greatest howlers of tortured English that I think we have seen yet: “speaking my truth”, “cancel culture”, “problematize”, “heteronormativity”, “womxn”, “latinx”, “intersectionality”, “privelege”, “shaming”, and of course, the big 4-letter word: “woke”. That is far from a complete list. I could continue: “lived experience”, “othering”, “platform”, “content provider”, “punching down”, “queering”, “spaces”, “they/them” as a singular pronoun, and “voices”.

All of them are just phrases that become overused as time goes on as ways of hiding and blurring clarity more than making meaning more clear. Phrases like “cancel culture” have been overused by members of all political stripes to the point where all life and meaning have been eviscerated from it. “Speaking my truth” is made more subjective by calling it “my truth”, and thus weakens and trivializes the word “truth”.

I particlularly find the recently-coined phrase “content provider” offensive. I am a writer of essays for this web-based journal. What writer feels any sense of dignity in calling themselves a “content provider”? It describes absolutely nothing about exactly what “content” is being “provided”. “Content” could refer to music, essays, news articles, videos, conspiracy theories, online stores or online pornography. There is nothing about the phrase “content provider” that distinguishes my writing from, say, E-Bay, YouTube or InfoWars.

Much of the rest of these phrases and words appear to be designed, not necessarily to make the world more open minded, but instead to further isolate the users of these very phrases from mainstream society, thereby defeating their own object and making further discussions into nothing more than an echo chamber where the message never properly gets outside of the closed circle of “woke” people. The stilted words appear designed to provide a barrier to entry for everyone else (since most people don’t know what “woke” people are talking about), which has the function of actively preventing their ideas from becoming mainstream. Language, which usually facilitates delivering a message, is now being used to prevent any hope of widespread adoption of ideas or actions in support of oppressed groups.

In nearly all cases, there is more than likely a word or phrase in everyday English that could convey one’s thoughts more clearly. And that has been my guiding principle throughout university. To free one’s self of all of these catch phrases is to make your thoughts your own, shorn of all pretense.

I wish to proceed with some criticisms as to why not everyone thinks as highly as I do about Orwell’s essay. To get a sense of the criticism, I will repeat Orwell’s six rules here:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.

It is one of the most simple style guides around. It is a style guide for the modern times. But even with rule 6 in place, the rules are still considered rigid by many writers. I am sure to have broken rules 1 to 5 somewhere in this essay; and Orwell himself admits to breaking these rules in his Politics and the English Language. I think of this set of rules as an ideal, while knowing that I am likely to be accused, as other writers would be, of overusing rule 6. Yes, I break these rules, but if I stop myself, I would need to ask if I am about to say anything ridiculous by applying rules 1-5? Maybe, but probably not.

Rule 4 is controversial, since, while using active voice makes a passage more readable, it makes the person in the sentence the subject of it. “I went to the movies” makes me the subject (active voice), while “The movie was attended by me” makes the movie the subject instead (passive voice). The latter sounds pretty bad, and Orwell would have something like this in mind when he made that rule. The idea of an inanimate “thing” being the subject of a sentence might not sound right unless you really want to discuss that “thing”, and you really want to treat the person as incidental. This is the ideal for scientific writing, where there is an effort to discuss what is observed; no one is interested in the observer. Then there is rule 5: of course where the specific topic is within a specific scientific field, it is difficult to avoid scientific terminology that might sound strange to a lay person.

Others have their hair on fire because if you reduce English to a basic subset of basic words as Orwell suggests, then what hegemony does that play to, they would ask? I am not sure I follow this line of reasoning. From reading, Orwell was aiming at clarity throughout his essay. The entire point was not to silence people, but to enable them to discover their true voice, free of carelessly predigested words and phrases that all of us are prone to use from time to time. You can only become active against the current hegemony if you know what injustices you are fighting against, and can communicate this clearly to others, so that others may engage in the conversation more holistically. It prevents this kind of stuff:

Bottom line, what it will ultimately require to end all the tragedies we see unfolding around us is a round-up of the Luciferian “elites” – and their minions in government positions and all areas of private life – those who aspired to and who have engineered and are now peddling as fast as they can to accomplish the decline and fall of the United States of America – and other countries. In short, the “New World Order” crowd.

Patricia Robinett, Thought Crime Radio web log, June 2, 2022

This quote is from a far right-wing web log. The topic the author was writing about was the recent Uvalde, Texas school shooting at Robb Elementary School. Who does the author have in mind as the enemy here? The word “elites” is in quotation marks, so while these “elites” appear to have have connections to people in government, they also have connections to people in “all areas of private life”. So they could mean anybody. The author never offers proof of the existence of these “Luceferian elites”, nor proof of the existence of their “minions” which apparently can be seen everywhere. The “New World Order crowd”, whoever that is, is not helpful in clarifying who is being referred to, or how their identification has anything to do with getting government to support the gun lobby, which I think is the point of the article (protecting children from crazed gun-toting people is mentioned in passing, however). Clarity is an endangered species in this example. It didn’t help that Breitbart was cited as the source of their information.

Another criticism is that Orwell appears to reduce Fascism to problems of English usage. It kind of looks that way, and it sounds excessively reductionist on the part of Orwell, but consider that fascism with its attendant use of propaganda is nothing without mind control, and the only way into the minds of the masses is through a constant drum beat of language, images, and video. Using simple words is something anyone can do, and a deliberate application of Orwell’s rules disrupts one of the most important avenues that propagandists keep having access to. Orwell reminds us that propagandists only have access to our mind through language because we have chosen to allow it. Clearing our minds of jargon is important to knowing our own thoughts and in making them known to others. It is also an important part of intellectual self-defense against the deluge of propaganda we are all immersed in in our culture.

On Media Centrism

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A current default chart from Ad Fontes Media.

Ad Fontes Media is “famous” for their “Media Bias Chart”, an ever-changing chart that is now in version 6.0. The charts are customizable, so that you don’t have the thicket of media logos printed on top of each other as in the image you see to the right.

I took a closer look to see if I agree with the chart, and I believe that the spectrum of opinion depicted here is too narrow. Even if you go the the fringes on this chart — what is considered “the far left” and “the far right”, it is my opinion that all media outlets depicted operate within certain paradigms, and offer similar viewpoints. The problem is, though, much of what is “far left” appears to amount to opinion and little actual news; whereas what is on the far right is similar, with an added dose of misrepresentation and fabrication.

The definitions of “left” and “right” themselves are suspect also. Am I to believe that MSNBC is in the nearly identical part of the political spectrum as Democracy Now? I am a fan of both news sources, and I can say that this is a bad comparison on many levels. For one thing, DN! is a single news program dealing with politics, labour and peace issues; while MSNBC is an entire cable news network. Even individual programs within MSNBC will have a range of opinion to the right of DN. I would even consider Rachel Maddow to the right of DN, but not terribly far. DN is a newscast, branding itself variously as “The War and Peace Report”, and “The Quarantine Report”; while MSNBC is more than 70% opinion, and talking heads. DN earns its leftist cred by its choice and angle of its news; not necessarily by  opinion. Where MSNBC, like all major networks, would discuss war by bringing in military generals and politicians; DN will bring in medical personnel, and peace activists.

In addition, DN and MSNBC are lumped together as the “hyper partisan left”. DN hasn’t really had much nice to say about either party; while MSNBC has actually been the Cable News answer to Fox’s Republican cheerleading. MSNBC has advertisers to answer to and have to colour inside the lines; DN is donor-driven, and has its viewership to answer to, and are not answerable to capitalist forces in any important way.

Another curious mention is Jacobin, probably considered “hyper-partisan left” because even their subscription instruction suggests: “If life has treated you well, you should feel guilty about it and subscribe at the high-income rate for the cause. Your help will allow us to subsidize subscriptions for others”, offering separate rates for the financially priveleged and for the disadvantaged. I am given to believe they are what right-wingers often think about as forming “the socialist agenda”. These people, who genuinely are solidly leftist, are lumped in the same “hyper-partisan left” pigeonhole as MSNBC. Would MSNBC have an interview between Noam Chomsky and David Barsamian? Or use the phrase “class struggle” in a sentence? Jacobin did both in their most recent issue.

There are other things that make me scratch my head. Is The Atlantic, a magazine which has on its staff a former Republican presidential speechwriter considered “left of centre”? On what planet? Also not sure what TMZ and Vogue are doing anywhere on this list. Is there now such a thing as “right wing” or “left wing” fashion and celebrity gossip? Also, I see that The Weather Channel is at centre, perfecting the art of telling us the temperature outside while walking the tightrope between left and right. Thank God.

Bloomberg, Financial Times and MarketWatch are considered “dead centre” in this distribution, but I wouldn’t expect articles from these financial market publications to ever publish anything that questions the capitalist system. It is clear what is meant by centrist is just a reporting of business news that does not favour Republican or Democrat. After all, investors need a tolerably balanced news source to know where to invest their money. But partisan balance is not the only kind of balance. Would they give equal time to union leaders in reporting labour disputes? Would they interview wildlife biologists or indigenous leaders when reporting about pipeline construction? Or the construction of anything? Would they give equal time to protestors who have good reason for a project to not go ahead?

Kinky muckraking journalism without the messy controversy.

I decided to be a bit adventurous and go for the looniest lefty publication I could find in the distribution. That would be a website called Wonkette. I never heard of the publication before researching this article, although I have heard of publications on the far right of the spectrum, since their association with Trump had generated much publicity (Brietbart, Fox News, and InfoWars are examples). What can I say about Wonkette? I think it is MSNBC with much more colourful language. They introduce a Trump tweet with: “Here’s old shithead, so you you can see him lying.” Colourful invective and f-bombs aside, their articles appear to show evidence of research from more mainstream sources like Forbes and The New York Times. Their merch suggests support for the usual Democratic party suspects: Face masks depicting Kamala Harris and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, for example. They also sell clothing with messages along Democrat themes. In other words, it appears uncertain whether they really are an alternative voice, once you go past the colorful language referred to earlier. While they are sometimes a hilarious read, I have yet to read an article that uses the phrase “class struggle” in a sentence or read a report on labour issues of any kind.

The numerical nature of the rating system on the Media Bias Chart is also suspect. It gives the illusion of scientific precision to what is essentially subjective data, resulting in a placement on a purportedly partisan basis that is incosistent. They rate individual articles as well. It is also not clear what specific criteria they are using to rate articles and websites.

“Partisanship” is implies support for a political party, but it doesn’t mean the same thing as “balance”. Labour groups, environmental groups, youth groups, civil rights groups, anti-poverty groups, have all been frozen out of public discourse in nearly all major media, whether in print, online, or on television or radio. To read the New York Times, one would be excused for thinking these groups didn’t exist at all. Same for MSNBC, although they will support nearly anything along Democrat party lines. While CNN is less partisan, they are just as silent about groups organized in the public interest such as these.

The only way the major media could be called “left” (as right-wing people love to label them as) is if the voice of the public is shut out of public discourse, reducing news reporting to little more than the he-said-she-said banter between pundits, politicians and other highly paid talking heads, as these media has successfully done.

Websites I wished I created

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A wall clock once sold at

I would bet that there are a lot of people who wished they created a website called Faux News. “Faux”, being French for “Fake” (as in “faux fur”), but could be pronounced by un-knowing English speakers as “Fox”. A stroke of genius.

There are actually four sites that I am aware of with the same name:

  •, The “.com” website is a single-page website which has retouched photos intended to parody the political news of the day. There are no articles or text on the site. The “.org” website has “fact-free” satirical news articles and some graphics, but is extremely limited in its output.
  • The same can be said for a third site I found,, which is not much more than a barely-set-up website with test postings and test graphics. The latter one is registered to an owner in Utah; the first two are registered to an owner in Scottsdale, Arizona.
  • There is a fourth domain,, which just generates a blank page. A whois lookup suggests that it is owned and operated by InFaux Holdings of New Jersey.

    At first glance, you could be excused for thinking there was going to be a fivefold increase in taxation in 2013.

    Most of these websites are registered with GoDaddy and are all subject to a legal dispute, according to publically-available registrar information. The content in these sites is pretty much frozen from update, which is sad. There is so much possibility here. It isn’t just making fun of the gaffes of Fox hosts or presenting bizarre bar graphs (much like the real ones on Fox, famous for its mislabelled axes, pie charts that add to more than 100%, bar graphs that don’t start from 0, and other liberties taken with graphs that cause misleading impressions to be made.But Faux News won’t go away, now morphing to a Facebook group, and in at least one subreddit. I have a problem with it in that its full capability is not exploited; most of the humour is juvenile and from a YouTube Faux News video, the delivery could be better. I can say the same for a podcast by this name, which is less satire and more juvenile banter. When it is good, its satire amounts to goofy character sketches. Maybe they are poking fun at some particular interviewer or host, but it is unclear. But that isn’t satire. I can appreciate that satire is

    Honestly, could you have made this bar graph up as a joke?

    sometimes difficult to write. At the “easiest” level, it still requires research, since satire becomes more effective according to how much you know about the topic. But for Fox News parodies, you have to realize that most of this stuff writes itself.

    Faux News can claim some kind of connection to the fact that the online world is rife with “information” on every nutty idea that exists. I am not sure if I need to accuse Fox news of passing on information “because it exists”, since I would accuse them of far worse: of being the ones to creatively conjure up information into existence. In less polite circles, we would call that “bullshitting”. Whether it is misleading with bar graphs, or presenting impossible pie charts, it would appear as if NewsCorp will stop at nothing to present its own view of the world, without much regard for the truth.