Samples of my broadcast, digital and print journalism
CTV News – Riding into Retirement
A Toronto police officer from the Mounted Unit literally rides off into retirement.
CTV News – Rob Ford crack scandal
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford remains defiant after police reveal they have his infamous crack video.
Storm Hunters Intercept Tornado
The Weather Network · May 22, 2011 · Lisa Varano, staff writer
A “beautiful cone-shaped tornado” landed right between the trees where storm chasers could see it.
“We got to watch the whole thing happen, start to finish,” says Dayna Vettese, a meteorologist at The Weather Network.
She is hunting down storms in Tornado Alley with a group of weather experts.
Vettese and team had been on the road, in pursuit of tornadoes, for a week before they saw one touch down in a rural area near Ada, Oklahoma – southeast of Oklahoma City – on Saturday.
“The chances of seeing a tornado are very slim. It’s one of the most elusive things you can get with weather,” says Vettese.
But last year, when the same team went on a storm chase, they were lucky. The weather set up perfectly for them to see several tornadoes.
The “Storm Hunter,” Mark Robinson, another meteorologist at The Weather Network, captured incredible videos, then and now. He says the tornado on Saturday was a surprise.
“That turned out to be the big, tornado-producing storm that we weren’t expecting. But we managed to be just in the absolute right position to see the tornado as it crossed the road about a little less than a kilometre away,” he says.
The storm hunters are continuing the chase in the hope of seeing tornadoes this week.
On the phone Sunday from Ardmore, Oklahoma, near the Texas border, Vettese said it was feeling like feeling like 45 C with the humidity.
“The sweltering heat means there’s a lot of energy in the atmosphere. And the fact that it’s so humid means there’s a lot of moisture – which are some of the ingredients we need. We do have a dry line sitting near us, which is like a front, so as soon as that comes through, we’ll get some lift,” she says.
Vettese says she is not aware of damage reports from the Ada tornado. But tornadoes left paths of destruction in other areas over the weekend.
A tornado killed a man and destroyed homes in Reading, eastern Kansas, which was pounded with baseball-sized hail on Saturday, The Associated Press reports.
Tornadoes hit the Minneapolis-St. Paul area in Minnesota on Sunday. A local newspaper, The Star Tribune, reports at least one person was killed and more than a dozen people were injured.
Stories about tornadoes continued to unfold Sunday evening. The Weather Channel reports “extreme damage” in Joplin – near the Missouri border with Kansas and Oklahoma.
Brian Dillon, a meteorologist at The Weather Network, was tracking the storms from our Oakville, Ontario office. He says severe thunderstorms will cross into southern Ontario Monday, and he is not ruling out the risk of tornadic activity on this side of the border.
“There is a chance of tornadoes in every thunderstorm because it’s that time of year. With temperatures in the upper 20’s, and humidex pushing the 30’s, the parameters are there for severe weather in southern Ontario Monday afternoon and night,” he says.
Behold the car that smells like French fries, saves money, and pollutes less
The Canadian Press · October 11, 2009 · By Lisa Varano
MONTREAL – People were once incredulous when Dylan Perceval-Maxwell told them his car ran on the discarded deep-fryer oil he collected from fast-food restaurants.
But that was before the price of gasoline rocketed past 40 cents a litre, doubled, and finally blew beyond a dollar.
Now when the environmental activist talks about his green vehicle’s savings on fuel, other motorists are keen to know how it works.
Advocates of vegetable fuel suggest it can shave more than 80 per cent off the cost of filling your tank, while reducing carbon emissions.
Perceval-Maxwell is among the small number of Canadian drivers who fuel their diesel engines more cheaply, and cleanly, with vegetable oil. He began experimenting in the early 1990s by pouring recycled cooking oil into the diesel already in his tank.
“I bought the cheapest car I could find and just mixed it in, and it works like that,” he said.
“I wanted to drive a car and something that wasn’t gasoline or diesel.”
It might strike some as a novelty trend but the concept is actually as old as the diesel engine itself. In fact, German-French inventor Rudolf Diesel originally designed his engine in the 1890s to run on peanut oil before that fuel became supplanted by cheaper petroleum.
The technique does have some drawbacks.
While diesel engines can run on vegetable oil, gasoline engines – which are more popular in Canada – can’t. And some motorists with diesel cars might find the process a little more arduous than a simple stop at the gas station.
Perceval-Maxwell gets the oil from a restaurant close to his home and stores it in a 20-litre bucket rigged up to the engine of his Volkswagen camper van. At the end of the process, his vehicle winds up with a pleasant aroma.
“It smells like French fries,” he said. “It smells a lot better than diesel fuel.”
While he was motivated by environmental concerns – to find an alternative fuel that pollutes less than diesel – other drivers might make the switch to vegetable oil to save money.
Both types of customers turn to PlantDrive, a company in Salmon Arm, B.C., which sells kits for hooking up diesel engines to run on vegetable oil.
“Every time the price of fuel shoots up, we see a tremendous increase in interest,” said president Edward Beggs, who founded PlantDrive in 2002.
PlantDrive’s $1,000 fuel system captures the engine’s waste heat, using it to preheat vegetable oil to 80-90C so that it can properly combust.
When the vehicle is turned on, it uses a bit of diesel until the engine heats up and then switches to vegetable oil. At the end of the day, the diesel engine runs again for a couple of minutes before the car is switched off.
The vehicle can also still run on diesel or biodiesel alone.
“So many people get the idea that, well, if I do a conversion what if I can’t find vegetable oil? No, you just go to the diesel pump and fill up with diesel,” said Beggs.
But the goal is to go to the pump as little as possible.
While there are wild estimates about how much the process might curb carbon emissions, it undoubtedly saves money.
Beggs used to spend $50 a week on diesel, but now he says he only fills his Mitsubishi van with that amount of diesel every month and a half. That suggests a savings of 82 per cent.
He estimates that between 5,000 and 10,000 Canadian drivers run their cars on vegetable oil.
“(But) it’s not for everybody,” he said. “I’ll discourage people if I sense that they really don’t understand anything about how the engine or the car works.”
Like Perceval-Maxwell and Beggs, most of these drivers get used vegetable oil for free through arrangements made with local restaurants. They pick it up in jugs in parking lots and filter it themselves at home.
This practice is not taxed because it is not covered under the federal excise tax, said Canada Revenue Agency spokesperson Philippe Brideau.
In the United States, regulations aren’t so clear-cut. They even reportedly tripped up California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who owed road taxes for the vegetable oil burned by his modified Hummer.
Cossie cossie cossie! (Oi oi oi!)
Make a tog day afternoon of it and explore the historic swimwear showcase at the Australian National Maritime Museum
Time Out Sydney · Issue 58, June 10 – July 7, 2009 · By Lisa Varano
You wouldn’t parade outdoors in your underwear in Sydney’s CBD, but you’d thinking nothing of strutting your stuff in a teeny-tiny Brazilian string bikini or nothing-to-the-imagination budgie smugglers before the crowds at Bondi Beach. So how did what is essentially underwear become outerwear?
A new exhibition at the Australian National Maritime Museum traces the history of aquatic fashion. From 19th century bathing dresses so heavy they posed a drowning hazard, to French designer Louis Réard’s famous 1946 bikini so small it was sold in a matchbox, each new incarnation of swimwear has caused a splash.
“It’s always controversial. At one stage, it literally was shocking to show your ankles. As the hemlines rise, it’s about exposing more of the body, and each level of exposure is always considered outrageous,” says exhibition curator Penny Cuthbert.
Passive Victorian bathing for medicinal and therapeutic purposes gave way to recreational swimming in the early 1900’s, when the term “swimsuit” was coined to refer to a one-piece leotard for active swimming.
By the 1920’s, swimwear was evolving from a functional garment for sport into a fashion statement, with geometric patterns adding some flair. The swimsuit began drawing attention to the parts of the body considered ideal at the time, such as the low-back cut common to evening dresses in the 1930’s, or the midriff-baring two-pieces during the wartime fabric shortages of the 1940’s.
The Maritime Museum’s free swimwear exhibition, featuring 300 suits and photographs, highlights the local take on the cossie. ‘Australia’s mermaid,’ the vaudeville star Annette Kellerman, boldly popularised a men’s-style swimsuit among women, wearing it for aquatic tricks as early as the late 1800s.
Speedo, the iconic Aussie competitive swimwear label, is famous for the cutting-edge design of its racing costumes and, of course, those package-hugging briefs. Surfside fashion in this nation of swimmers and beach culture has come a long way since the days of Bondi inspector Aub Laidlaw, who patrolled the beach armed with a tape measure to ensure men’s and women’s trunks had legs at least three inches long. The bikini only became legal in Australia in 1961.
Today, find you’ll find both extremes – from total modesty to wild exposure – on local beaches and in this exhibition, from Australian designer Aheda Zanetti’s burkini (or beach burqua) to Borat’s fluorescent green mankini and Rudi Gernreich’s notorious topless monokini from 1964.
Cuthbert says swimwear is about freedom, both of movement and of showing the body in public.
“It’s really a garment that from the very beginning as been about liberating the body,” she says. “It’s constantly reinventing itself because it always has to look ‘of
the moment.’ Swimsuits always really express the zeitgeist.”
Exposed! The Story of Swimwear is at the Australian National Maritime Museum, 2 Jul – 25 Oct.
Harper lands in Guelph
No byelection announced
Guelph Mercury · March 20, 2008 · Lisa Varano
GUELPH – The Conservative government will leave the timing of an election up to the opposition, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last night at a campaign-style rally in Guelph.
“I don’t know when we’re going to have the election,” Harper said.
His party will leave “playing political games with the timing of the election” to the opposition, he told about 500 supporters at Guelph Place Banquet Hall.
About 50 protesters, mostly anti-war demonstrators opposed to the Canadian mission in Afghanistan, gathered outside.
“We will be ready whenever but our job as government is to govern — to get things done for the people of this country. That’s what we’ve been doing and that’s what we’re going to continue,” Harper said.
An election must be held by a fixed election date of Oct. 19, 2009 but could be called earlier.
Harper criticized Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion for repeatedly saying he would trigger an election but not yet doing so.
The prime minister did not say when he would call a byelection for Guelph and took no questions. The byelection must be called within six months of the April 7 resignation of longtime Liberal MP Brenda Chamberlain.
This week, the Conservative share of the vote increased in three of four byelections, Harper said. Conservatives took a seat from the Liberals in Saskatchewan, while the Grits were re-elected in British Columbia and two Toronto ridings.
Harper was confident about Tory chances locally.
“Now I hear in Guelph you also need a member of Parliament. In this riding, you know who it’s going to be. (Gloria Kovach) will be the next Conservative member of Parliament, with your help, for Guelph,” Harper said.
After the speech, Kovach said she did not know when the byelection would be.
“I’ll leave that decision up to (the prime minister),” she said.
“We’re ready to go. I’ve got a strong team. We’ve started campaigning and it was very exciting for the prime minister to be here today to support us.”
Earlier yesterday, Harper was in London.
Last night in Guelph, he said Canada is more unified than it has been in decades.
“The separatists in Quebec are on their heels,” he said.
“The last two years, our economy is strong, our government is clean, our country is united — these are great times for Canada.”
Harper spent much of his 25-minute speech emphasizing what he called the accomplishments of this parliament, like cutting the GST to five per cent from seven per cent.
Falling federal taxes are “the statistic I like the most,” he said.
“The federal tax burden is falling to its lowest level since the 1960s — since before all those years of the Liberals, since before Trudeau — back to the level they were at when John Diefenbaker was prime minister of Canada,” Harper said.
Suzuki calls for action on climate
The environmentalist warns 250 travel writers in London that endless growth is a suicide course
London Free Press· February 18, 2007 · By Lisa Varano
Humans are committing suicide by destroying the planet, environmental crusader David Suzuki said yesterday in London, calling for immediate action on climate change.
“This idea that we’ve got to have steady growth forever is suicidal,” he said. “All of this talk about growth and ‘we’ve got to have more’ is just saying we’ve got to hurry up what is a suicidal course.”
Suzuki, a scientist and host of The Nature of Things on CBC television, was back in his hometown to deliver a speech to a conference of about 230 travel writers.
“You’ve spent your entire lives in an absolutely unprecedented and a completely unsustainable period of change and growth,” he told the members of the Travel Media Association of Canada.
Suzuki told his audience at the London Convention Centre growth is all they’ve known.
“You think that’s normal. You think this is what’s got to be maintained. You’ll go nuts if you go down to Wal-Mart and you can’t find something.”
The consequences of ignoring the environment struck Suzuki when he witnessed a child having an asthma attack a few years ago.
Suzuki said he’s shocked some people, after asthma attacks on smog days, are brought to hospital emergency rooms in SUVs.
“It would never occur to them that by the act of buying and driving a car, they’re part of the creation of the problem they’re dealing with,” he said.
The Travel Media Association of Canada’s annual conference had an environmental theme, “Leaving a Small Footprint: Responsible Tourism and the Power of the Pen.”
Organizer Barbara Ramsay Orr said travel writers have a responsibility to the environment.
“When you fall in love with places, you don’t want to see them ruined,” she said.
“As writers, we can raise awareness of the damage that can be done and the damage that can be prevented.”
About 250,000 Canadians have signed up for Suzuki’s Nature Challenge, which calls for lifestyle changes for the world to achieve environmental sustainability within a generation.
Suzuki said skeptics of climate change shouldn’t be fooled by theories of global cooling, proposed by fossil fuel companies.
“If we don’t put the world’s act together again and see that what we do has enormous repercussions, then we’ll continue, it seems to me, to be the problem that we are today,” he said.
Weatherman was the first to be seen on Canadian TV
National Post · January 18, 2007 · By Lisa Varano
Throwing a piece of chalk in the air and catching it, Canada’s first weatherman, Percy Saltzman, would say “and that’s the weather.” His trademark sign-off during the early days of broadcast television was the beginning of a career that spanned three decades.
Saltzman died at age 91 on Monday in Toronto. The late broadcaster had been in good health until he injured himself getting out of bed a few weeks ago and his health worsened.
Audrey Saltzman said that her late husband persuaded a nascent CBC network to air weather reports on TV. He had seen a weatherman’s report in Los Angeles and thought he could do it for the CBC.
“They said they weren’t even thinking of having news. They didn’t think they’d have weather,” she said. “But after he gave his presentation, he made a really good impression with them with his wit and his knowledge.”
Saltzman captivated everyone with his personality, she said.
“I can’t explain it. You can watch him do the weather. He made a real show of it,” she said. “I really miss the fun.”
During CBC’s inaugural broadcast in 1952, Saltzman is said to have been the first person on the air. He also worked at CTV as the first host of a national morning show in this country, Canada AM, and at Citytv and Global television as well as at radio stations.
Paul, the younger of Saltzman’s two sons, said his father preferred the chalkboard to the technology that replaced it in weather reports.
“He really used a very sweeping motion as he drew on the board because cold fronts and high fronts covered whole areas of the country,” he said, adding that his father used oversize chalk that was about three-quarters of an inch thick and four inches long.
Saltzman believed in teaching people about the weather instead of simplifying it. He did not just give “temperatures and rain and snow” but explained how weather was created, his son said.
Paul, a filmmaker who has worked as a television producer, said his father introduced him to broadcasting by having him on the air. The Saltzman boys did the weather for their father on Father’s Day in the mid ’50s, when Paul was about 12.
Saltzman was born in Winnipeg in 1915 to Ukranian immigrants. He met his first wife, Rose, when he was teaching English classes to immigrants in Montreal and she was his student. They were married for over 50 years. Saltzman had been married to his second wife, Audrey, for more than 15 years.
He went into meteorology in 1943.
In addition to being a weatherman, Saltzman did many TV interviews with well-known people. He set himself apart by thoroughly researching his guests before the interview, Paul said.
Audrey Saltzman said she was very impressed when he interviewed presidential wife Eleanor Roosevelt.
“He interviewed everybody who was anybody during his time,” she said. “He was not only a fun weatherman – his interviews were gorgeous because he didn’t talk all the time. He listened.”
Among many awards, Saltzman received the Order of Canada in 2002.
“He really enjoyed getting that one,” Mrs. Saltzman said. “I remember that [then Governor General] Adrienne Clarkson put his arms around him and gave him a kiss. She didn’t hug anybody else, but she really hugged him.”
CTV news anchor Lloyd Robertson, who co-hosted the telecast of the moonwalk in July, 1969, with Saltzman, said his colleague became an icon who made a mark on Canadian broadcasting.
“Everyone else after Percy Saltzman, as a weatherman, is a successor because he was the first. He set the stage in those early days,” he said. “I think he was the first one to ever allow people to identify that television kind of breeds personalities. They watched him every night. They talked about how he tossed the chalk and all of his idiosyncrasies.”
He is survived by his second wife, two sons, grandchildren and a great grandchild.
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