The Leanest Start-up in Silicon Valley

Kurt Varner is like a lot of young men trying to launch a business. Except that he’s living in his car. It’s kind of a necessity, it’s kind of a gimmick–and it’s kind of working.

 I JUST HAD TO BE HERE.  Kurt Varner puts in a last bit of work before retiring for the night. His feet, by the way, are in the trunk.

Drew Kelly

“I JUST HAD TO BE HERE.” Kurt Varner puts in a last bit of work before retiring for the night. His feet, by the way, are in the trunk.


Leigh Buchanan

THE AUDIENCE: Varner is making the rounds with Valley elders. Here, he talks with investor Paul Bragiel.


Leigh Buchanan

THE NOT-CAR: Varner now has a sort of base at the co-working space Hacker Dojo.

This has been a disappointing day in Silicon Valley for Kurt Varner. Y Combinator, the elite accelerator for tech start-ups, gave him the kiss-off with a form e-mail. Poor work by the Ukrainian programmers building his product forced him to perform a transnational termination. Twitter co-founder Evan Williams canceled a meeting. And after Varner himself canceled a meeting with an iPhone app developer whose advice he had sought, the developer tweeted his irritation: “How to be a winner. Nag the crap out of somebody to get coffee with you and cancel at last minute once they agree.”

It is 20 minutes past midnight. At home, Varner has a new wife and a cat that love him. But Varner, 25, isn’t going home. Instead, he swings his tan Honda Civic into the empty parking lane of a deserted, sparsely lit residential street in Palo Alto, California. Varner unfolds a sunshade across his windshield and clambers into the back, where he partly undresses and tugs on a pair of long johns. Then he squirms into a sleeping bag, positioning his skinny, 6-foot frame diagonally to fit into the slightly less than 6 feet between the back of the front seat and the outer edge of the car’s trunk, into which his legs extend. He closes his eyes and lets exhaustion duke it out with the ideas that surge ceaselessly through his brain.

I don’t actually witness anything that happens after the sunshade goes up. I’ve already imposed on this guy’s privacy enough for one day, and anyway, Varner has told me about his routine. My rental–a comparably luxurious Toyota Camry that I plan to sleep in out of solidarity–is parked a few yards away. I stretch out on the back seat, alternately dozing and gazing up through the windows at the lattice of shadowy branches swaying gently overhead. But it is cold; I am twice Varner’s age (don’t do the math); and I paid for a room at the Sheraton. After 90 minutes, I drive away, leaving Varner to his dreams.

Silicon Valley is full of dreamers, among whom living cheaply until fortune smiles is the norm. Entrepreneurs couch surf and share hostel rooms and stack up housemates like planes at O’Hare. In that context, the decision to live out of a car (legal in Palo Alto) while trying to start a business is extreme but not unreasonable. When I first read an account of Varner’s adventure on his blog, I suspected it was a publicity stunt. But if so, it was an uncommonly good one, and even if the guy hoped to exploit his experience, that didn’t mean he wasn’t sincere.

Varner defends his intentions convincingly. “I don’t want people to feel as though I’m doing this for publicity, to get attention from the tech community, because I’m not,” says the bearded, ascetic-looking designer. “All I did was write a blog post and submit a link to Hacker News.” That post, published in March, prompted a cascade of comments, from the laudatory (“Kurt, you’re my hero!”) to the critical (“From how an investor would look at it, this idea reeks of desperation”) to the scabrous (“You are a f–ing tool”). Surprised by the volume and intensity of the response, Varner thanked people politely for their advice and good wishes and ignored the vitriol. But some of the nastier comments made his wife cry.

Varner comes off very much the archetypal entrepreneur. A year before his move to Silicon Valley, he quit his well-paid position as a flight-test engineer at Edwards Air Force Base because, he says, “I wanted to do something I was passionate about.” Working by himself from his Los Angeles home, he spent 10 months designing a video-blogging site that took a few, tentative steps into the marketplace before being elbowed aside by larger players. (The Ukrainians, hired over Elance, built that one, too.) Varner resolved to try again with a different product. But this time, he would do it right, with a technical co-founder, a network of people to refer and advise him, and–ideally–a little seed capital. And he would do it in the right place. “I just had to be here,” he says.

One problem: His wife, Caroline, teaches third grade and could not leave her job until the end of the school year. And paying rent on two apartments was out of the question. In four months, the couple would be free to relocate, but “the word wait should not be in the entrepreneur’s vocabulary,” Varner says. Hungry to start and mentally caffeinated from reading Eric Ries’s new book, The Lean Startup, he scrubbed out the Civic, tinted the windows, packed a duffel bag, and drove north.

 

Silicon Valley elders, like elders everywhere, love detecting in the next generation those traits of gumption and resourcefulness that aided their own rise to the top. Varner listens, rapt, as Paul Bragiel, a serial entrepreneur and partner in the accelerator i/o ventures, reminisces about his own early days in the Valley. “I came here from Chicago in 2005,” says Bragiel, whose Amish-caliber beard spills from his face onto a bright orange T-shirt. “We had eight people living in three bedrooms. That got tons of press, too.”

Varner’s priority since his arrival a few weeks earlier has been cobbling together a network of advisers, influencers, potential partners, and beer-and-conversation friends to buoy both fortunes and spirits. He is not formally looking for money, although he wouldn’t kick it out of bed for eating crackers. During the first week here, he tweeted for showers, using the quest for personal hygiene as an excuse to meet people. (He now pays $39 a month for membership at a 24 Hour Fitness club, where he showers and brushes his teeth.) On the first night here, he sat in the car, cold e-mailing 19 successful entrepreneurs and eight respected app developers whose expertise and connections he hoped to tap. At the time of my visit, he had met with 30, including Justin Kan (Socialcam, Justin.tv) and Sahil Lavingia (Gumroad, Pinterest).

His product, an app called DailyToaster, started life as an iPhone alarm clock that could be dismissed only from a computer. Varner, a chronic oversleeper, hypothesized that if people were forced to sit down at a desk, they would be less likely to crawl back into bed. Once they were online, information spilling in from various feeds, networks, and accounts would engage their minds, waking them fully. Users would visit the site almost every day to deactivate their alarms, and Varner believed that inherent stickiness would appeal to marketers.

But as he made the rounds, he encountered criticisms: Mobile is replacing personal computers; it’s too niche to attract investors; many people sleep with laptops by their beds. “I hoped people would say to me, ‘That would be awesome. I would definitely use that,’ ” Varner tells Bragiel. “But more often than not, it was, ‘That sounds superannoying.’ ”

The new iteration of DailyToaster still includes an alarm clock. But it is entirely mobile and incorporates a voice greeting that informs users of the date, temperature, traffic conditions, calendar appointments, and number of digital communications received overnight. Naturally, there will be a social layer.

Varner talks about DailyToaster in meeting after meeting as we scurry among offices, cafés, and yogurt shops. Reactions vary wildly–Bragiel, for example, thinks the more ambitious incarnation is still too small to attract funding and recommends Varner sell it for $1.99 a pop and make what he can. The most practical advice Varner gets during my visit comes from Brian Wong, who was two years shy of legal drinking age when he founded Kiip, a company that allows game developers to reward players with real goods. A profanely charismatic dervish of a man, Wong is all over the car thing. (“It means that you’ll f–ing work your ass off and do whatever it takes.”) But he denigrates Varner’s beloved Lean Startup philosophy (“It’s called running your business as a f–ing logical person”) and orders him to stop asking for advice (“You’ve had enough meetings “). Wong urges Varner to make a video illustrating his concept and launch it on Kickstarter. “I will bet you $100 that you’re going to raise $100,000 in the next year from Kickstarter,” he says. “And I will give you that $100 to get started.”

On the street outside Kiip’s San Francisco offices, Varner is grinning. “My first seed capital,” he says.

When I ask Varner about his worst moment, he insists it’s all been good–then concedes he could have lived without the stomach bug that laid him out for a day. He misses his wife profoundly. Every morning, Varner wakes up to one of Caroline’s encouraging texts: his own DailyToaster.

Identifying his best moment is easier. Four days after arriving in Northern California, Varner met Josh Avant, a boyish 24-year-old programmer who was leaving the photo-sharing company Hipster following its acquisition by AOL. Avant lives with two roommates in a townhouse in San Francisco. “I thought Kurt had the right kind of hustle,” he says. “I wanted to help him any way I could.”

Varner’s fondest wish in coming to the Valley was to find a technical co-founder. Over beers, he showed Avant a demo of DailyToaster, and the programmer was intrigued. More important, they hit it off personally. But before committing, they made plans to hunker down for a week and build something: proof of concept for their product and their partnership.

For three hours, I sit on Avant’s couch, listening as the two volley strategies and ideas. As they talk, their ambitions swell, then ebb, then swell once more.

A chief subject of debate is the importance of starting with an idea big enough to raise money. Varner’s expenses are practically nil, although that will change if his wife has trouble finding employment. Avant, who pays $1,500 a month rent, has steeper requirements. But he has money saved and, as he sees it, very little to lose. “I’ve got nothing but a computer and some monitors and a bed,” says Avant, as he types a DailyToaster greeting into an online text-to-speech engine. “Having less means I can take more risk.”

Varner emphatically agrees. “What’s the worst-case scenario?” he says, chuckling. “I fail and can’t afford rent? I have to go live in a car?

“People who aren’t successful yet,” says Varner, “can do anything they want.”

Boost Your Creativity in 10 Minutes

All you need is 10 minutes–and some very thick skin.

Brainstorm Meeting

Getty

Trying to be innovative feels, at least for most people, nearly impossible.

Don’t believe me? Try it. Go ahead. Be innovative. Think of something amazingly new and different. I’ll wait.

Give up? (Don’t feel bad. I gave up before you did.)  Most of us don’t have a “creativity switch” we can turn on and off at will.

Our employees don’t either. Gathering your team in a room and saying, “Okay, we really need some innovative ideas… what do you have?” never works–unless you play “Kill a Stupid Rule.”

Kill a Stupid Rule is one of the tools described by Lisa Bodell, the founder and CEO of futurethink and the author of Kill the Company.

Playing Kill a Stupid Rule is not only easy, your employees will think it’s a hoot. Here’s how it works:

1. Gather a group of employees.

Then break them down into two-or three-person teams.  If possible, pair up people from different functional areas.

2. Give the smaller groups 10 minutes to answer one question:

“If you could kill or change all the stupid rules that get in the way of better serving our customers or just doing your job, what would they be and how would you do it?”

3. Then sit back.

And make sure your skin is particularly thick that day, because many of the stupid rules employees will want to kill are your stupid rules.

“At the 10-minute mark the teams will be begging you for more time,” Lisa says, “not because they’re coming up empty but because 10 minutes isn’t nearly enough time to write everything down. So don’t stop them. You’ll rarely see employees get as engaged during team meetings. Giving them more time shows how serious you are about the exercise, which is important for building your team’s trust in you and in the possibility that things will actually change.”

4. Ask everyone to write their “favorite” stupid rule on a sticky note.

Then have each place his or her rule on a whiteboard grid that has two axes: Y is ease of implementation, and X is degree of impact.

Your grid will then have four quadrants: Hard to implement with low impact, hard to implement with high impact, easy to implement with low impact, and easy to implement with high impact.

Some people will automatically assume eliminating their favorite stupid rule has tremendous impact even if it doesn’t. That’s understandable.

5. Talk about the results.

Some of the same rules will show up multiple times. Some will be rules only one person follows. Some won’t be formal rules, falling more into the, “But that’s how we’ve always done things,” category.

And some won’t be rules at all: Meetings just for the sake of meeting, reports that no one reads, multiple sign-offs for purchases or approvals….

6. Let the group pick a few easy to implement/high impact rules–and kill those rules on the spot.

Prove you’re willing to listen. Prove you’re willing to change.

Prove employee engagement is a verb, not a noun.

7. And don’t stop there.

Some rules you can’t kill on the spot. A few might require first changes in process or workflow.

No problem. Make the necessary changes; anything you do that streamlines a process and frees up employees to do real work is time well spent. Then let everyone know when those rules are killed. That way you reinforce how seriously you take their input and how important it is to make positive changes.

8. Then keep listening.

When employees know you take their input seriously, you won’t need to try to flip the innovation switch by holding brainstorming sessions to solicit ideas.

As long as you’re listening and acting on what you hear, your employees will bring great ideas to you.

Civil servants share $6B ‘severance’ without losing jobs

While federal budget cuts are sending some public servants to the unemployment line, most of those keeping their jobs will be laughing all the way to the bank with a pay raise and special lump-sum cheques of up to $150,000.

The Harper government is in the process of handing out a jaw-dropping $6 billion in special “severance” cheques to hundreds of thousands of federal workers who aren’t losing their jobs or even changing desks.

Government officials say the average payout to date has been roughly $20,000, but the highest-paid government executives and military brass could be getting cheques up to $150,000.

Thousands of Canadian soldiers not even entitled to severance will be getting cheques anyway.

In total, the government expects to have cut cheques worth about $2 billion by the end of this year.

The payouts are part of the Harper government’s move to scrap a long-standing public service perk that gives federal workers severance pay even when they quit or retire.

The government has agreed to compensate public servants for all of the severance they have accumulated to date at the rate of one week’s wages for each year of employment.

Savings offset by pay raises

While the total payout to federal workers is expected to top $6 billion, the Treasury Board estimates that scrapping severance for those who quit or retire will save taxpayers about $500 million a year.

Treasury Board President Tony Clement, the federal minister responsible for public service compensation, defends the severance changes and payouts as short-term pain for longer-term gains.

“The savings for Canadian taxpayers are significant,” he says in a written statement to CBC News. “The government is no longer liable for future accumulation of voluntary severance payouts that would continue to climb.

“This benefit does not exist in the private sector and there is a reason. It is costly and to perpetuate it would be unfair.”

But those savings could be significantly offset by public service pay raises.

CBC News has learned that in exchange for getting rid of the severance provision, the Harper government is giving public servants a special 0.75 per cent increase in wages over three years, a move that will cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars a year. The severance benefit was equal to an extra week of pay a year, or roughly 1.9 per cent.

Dan Kelly, head of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, says the government is right to be killing the severance perk, but asks, at what price?

“To spend billions of dollars in severance package for people that are not losing their jobs, people that have the best form of job security in the country, that have gold-plated pensions to leave to, just seems nuts.

“This should be taken away from civil servants.… But to trade it off for higher wage increments, I think will not pass the smell test for average Canadians.”

The union that represents the largest number of federal public servants said the severance for retirement and resignation predates collective bargaining and defended the compensation it negotiated to end the practice.

“The present government decided to end the accumulation of severance and negotiated a compensation package with some federal government workers,” said Robyn Benson, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

“At the same time, PSAC negotiated stronger provisions for severance upon layoff so the thousands of federal workers this government is recklessly cutting have a better chance of continuing to pay their mortgages and contributing to the economy.”

Toronto financial consultant Barry Ferguson represents a large number of public service clients getting the severance windfall.

“The payouts that we’ve seen that we’re talking about are somewhere in the $40,000 to $80,000 range. So, you know, these are not life-altering amounts of money, but they can certainly be life-enhancing amounts of money.”

Ferguson says most of his public service clients are being conservative with their unexpected windfall.

“In many cases, people have credit card debt, or small loans, or mortgage balances that they simply want to pay down, so we’re really seeing kind of a broad spectrum.”

Workers’ choice: Get paid now, or later

The government is offering public servants the option of immediately cashing out their severance, or waiting until they actually leave their jobs.

So far, most public servants are opting to take the money now, and Treasury Board officials say that will reap big additional savings for the government.

Since severance payments are based on an employee’s final pay rate, workers who opt to cash out now will cost the government a lot less than they would years down the road after many pay raises and promotions.

Meanwhile, Canada’s 92,000 members of the regular military and reserve forces are getting a special break from the severance buyout bonanza.

In the past, Canadian soldiers with less than 10 years service were not entitled to any severance pay, and even those in the Forces longer received compensation at a much lower rate than the general public service gets.

No matter: All members of the regular and reserve Forces will soon be eligible for compensation for accumulated severance based on the same formula as the rest of the government — one week’s pay for every year of service.

The public service windfall should not be confused with an additional $900 million in special severance being given to 19,000 federal workers who are actually losing their jobs to government cost-cutting.

Those workers are getting both the special severance connected to government downsizing, and the regular severance now being bought out by the government.

Elliot Lake mall collapse victims file $30M lawsuit

A $30-million class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of victims of the collapse of the Algo Centre Mall in Elliot Lake against the mall owner, an engineering firm, the province and the City of Elliot Lake.

At a news conference on Friday afternoon in Elliot Lake, lawyer Douglas Elliott confirmed the suit was filed on Friday in the Superior Court of Justice against several defendants, including the Eastwood Mall Corporation, the owner of the mall. Elliott said the head of the corporation, Robert Nazarian, has also been named in the suit.

“This was a preventable tragedy in my opinion,” Elliot said. “There were plenty of warnings that trouble was coming.”

The lawsuit also targets the Province of Ontario and the City of Elliot Lake.

“The Algo Centre Mall had repeated problems with it roof before the collapse,” Elliott said. “The Ministry of Labour had been in to inspect the site several times because it posed a threat to the people working in the mall area. It is our claim that the work done by the [ministry] was ineffective. Indeed the results speak for themselves.”

Doloris Perizzolo, 74, and Lucie Aylwin, 37, died when the mall’s roof caved in on June 23, and more than 20 others were hurt, though none seriously.

The City of Elliot Lake was named because it has a role in inspecting buildings and has the power to request remedial action, Elliott said at the news conference.

An unnamed engineering firm has also been named in the Notice of Action filed Friday. Elliott said he did not know the name of the firm but it apparently carried out an inspection of the mall roof within the past year and said it was in sound condition.

The lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Jack and Elaine Quinte, who owned Hungry Jack’s restaurant in the mall’s food court where the collapse occurred.

Elaine Quinte described her experience to those gathered at the press conference.

“I began to be struck by falling debris myself as my employee and I raced to get out of the area, terrified that we were going to be killed. It was a horrifying experience and I still suffer loss of sleep and I get overcome with emotion whenever I think of the events of the day.”

Her husband said there had been problems previously at the mall.

“About one year ago, a large piece of concrete came crashing through the roof of the Hungry Jack’s Restaurant, narrowly missing my wife, Elaine. We brought this dangerous situation to the attention of the mall management and the City of Elliot Lake. We were not aware of any corrective action being taken by either,” Quinte said.

Representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Doug Elliott, from the law firm Roy Elliott O’Connor, lawyer Roland Aube from Elliot Lake, and Jeff Broadbent with the law firm Feifel Broadbent Gualazzi in Sault Ste. Marie.

“Litigation is always a difficult process for people but it is one way of securing justice for those who have been injured as a result of the carelessness of others,” Elliot said.

He urged the province to “do the right thing” and set up a compensation scheme in the coming weeks to help the people and businesses affected.

“The people of Elliot Lake should not have to wait years for this case to make its way through the courts, they should get compensation now,” the lawyer said. “The province can then look to others who have been careless and may be in a position to contribute, and get reimbursed by them later.”

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty said an inquiry will be held. His announcement followed a public outcry about why search-and-rescue efforts were called off two days after the roof collapse, only to be restarted hours later after an appeal from McGuinty.

There had long been concerns about the state of the mall, with some residents claiming they were taking bets on when it would crumble.

With files from The Canadian Press

Roller-coaster hits and kills worker at Montreal’s La Ronde

Police say a man was struck and killed by a roller-coaster car at Montreal’s La Ronde amusement park.

The 35-year-old worker “inappropriately” entered a locked restricted zone where he was hit by a roller-coaster, La Ronde company parent Six Flags said in an email statement.

Ambulance services were dispatched to the Ste-Hélène Island amusement park at 1:30 p.m.

They treated several people at the site for shock, including one person who was sent to hospital.

Radio-Canada reported the ride in question is called The Vampire.

Six Flags won’t identify the ride where the accident happened, but said it is now closed.

Stronger sanctions urged by Friends of Syria

Canada, the United States and the other members of the “Friends of Syria” tried to raise pressure Friday on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad with calls for stiffer sanctions.

The call came after one of Assad’s top generals defected.

Representatives of about 100 countries met in Paris, but Russia and China — allies of the Assad regime — weren’t there. Russia and China are both holders of UN veto power.

“All of us must tighten up our sanctions,” Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said. “Russia is not on the sidelines. By its actions, it is enabling this regime to soldier on.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was even harsher in her criticism.

25 reported killed

Syrian forces killed at least 25 people, arrested scores of others and torched more than 100 homes while seizing a northern city from rebels, activists said Friday.

The violence followed the highest level defection yet from the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and came while the U.S. and others called for new global efforts to push him from power.

Anti-regime activists inside Syria cited the fresh violence in dismissing the Paris meeting of the “Friends of Syria.”

Source: Associated Press

Clinton said Russia and China “must pay a price” for blocking UN sanctions that might force Assad to step down.

“I don’t think Russia and China believe they are paying any price at all — nothing at all — for standing up on behalf of the Assad regime,” she said.

“The only way that will change is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price. Because they are holding up progress, blockading it. That is no longer tolerable.”

Baird, echoing comments from Clinton, said “the presence of large quantities of chemical weapons should send a fear up our spine and the potential there is truly horrifying. We need to strongly and forcefully draw a red line that the international community cannot stand by if Assad goes there.”

He also said Canada will contribute an additional $1 million toward humanitarian assistance.

Baird also critcized the United Nations for considering Syria as a candidate for the UN Human Rights Council, calling it a “sick joke.”

“The fact that they could even be a candidate speaks to the huge challenges that the United Nations faces. But any notion that they would sit on that council, could be elected to sit on that council, would do irreparable damage to the United Nations and would be cause for significant concern,” he said.

General leaves

The stepped-up international pressure came as Syrian Brig.-Gen. Manaf Tlass, a member of the elite Republican Guards and a son of a former defence minister, defected. Tlass’s move was the highest profile departure in 16 months of brutal government crackdowns and civil strife in Syria.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius initially said that Tlass was headed for France, where he has family members, but he later backed away from that statement, saying he was uncertain where the general was headed.

Clinton hailed the departure of Tlass, saying “those with the closest knowledge of Assad’s actions and crimes are moving away. We think that’s a very promising development. It also raises questions for those remaining in Damascus, who are still supporting this regime.”

With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press

Extreme heat bakes Central Canada

People in most of Central Canada are seeing temperatures shoot way up today, after a brief reprieve from the heat and humidity, while those in the West are in for a scorcher in the coming days.

In south-central Ontario, the heat and stickiness subsided for a day, but have returned in full force, making the temperatures feel like the mid- to high-40s.

Humidex advisories lifted Thursday were reissued for most of southern Ontario.

“Today, we’ll probably see Toronto, Hamilton, Wiarton and Sarnia break temperature records for July 6,” CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe said. “And we have seen daily temperature records break throughout the week.”

With the humidity factored in, it was expected to feel a lot hotter — in the 40s, maybe even flirting with temperatures that feel like 50 C.

By 2 p.m., the heat record was broken in Toronto when temperatures at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport hit 34.9 C, edging out the previous hottest recorded July 6 from 24 years earlier. The 1988 high was 34.7 C.

Drinking lots of fluids, finding someplace cool and avoiding strenuous exercise are some of the tips to beating the heat. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Stay cool

Heat waves can be deadly; one last summer in Quebec contributed to 10 fatalities. Here are 7 tips to keep cool.

Humidex advisories were extended east to Ottawa and Montreal on Friday for the first time this week.

“It will get worse before it gets better. It’s the kind of heat that if you’re sitting still, not doing anything, in the shade, you’re going to feel it. It’s oppressive.”

A byproduct of the heat wave is the strain on power systems. People in Toronto are being asked to ease off on using air conditioning today after a power outage in a large area of the downtown Thursday night.

Toronto Hydro says its system was overloaded because of the hot spell. More than 6,000 homes and businesses lost power after an electrical substation overheated. Fire crews had to clear smoke out of the building before they could assess the damage.

Hydro workers restored power early Friday morning, but officials warn the hot evenings aren’t allowing the system to cool down, so there could be more problems.

The heat wave lingering in Toronto for the past four days was set to get even hotter on Friday.The heat wave lingering in Toronto for the past four days was set to get even hotter on Friday. (John Rieti/CBC )

A weak cold front will slide southward toward the end of the day for the Lower Great Lakes, so conditions will be noticeably drier for Saturday, with even drier air on the way early next week.

Just as Central Canada gets some relief from the humidity, it will be the West’s turn to swelter with the same hot air mass that has been affecting millions of people the U.S over the past week.

“This high-pressure dome which has been anchoring the heat in the U.S. is shifting and will move into the western half of Canada,” Wagstaffe said.

P.O.V.

Are you dependent on air conditioning? Take our poll.

“They will feel it in the B.C. Interior, where by the end of the weekend we’ll be talking temperatures in the 40s for parts of the Okanagan Valley.”

“The heat will start to build through Alberta tomorrow and Saskatchewan for the weekend. They’re looking at an extended period of temperatures in the 30s.”

Central U.S. continues to swelter

Meanwhile, there has been no relief from a record-setting heat wave that has blanketed the Central United States for several days.

The U.S. National Weather Service reported late Thursday the mass of hot air was slowly moving into the mid-Atlantic states and Northeast.

Sarah Szenasi offers water to a thirsty bird, panting heavily and confused, in her Stoney Creek, Ont., backyard on Friday. Central Canada is experiencing a heat wave, with temperatures in south-central Ontario feeling like the mid- to high-40s.Sarah Szenasi offers water to a thirsty bird, panting heavily and confused, in her Stoney Creek, Ont., backyard on Friday. Central Canada is experiencing a heat wave, with temperatures in south-central Ontario feeling like the mid- to high-40s. (Submitted by Sarah Szenasi)

Excessive-heat warnings were issued for all of Illinois and Indiana, as well as parts of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan.

Lack of electricity will compound the misery for many in the storm-ravaged East as higher temperatures move in.

Late Thursday, nearly 230,000 people in West Virginia and more than 83,000 in Virginia were without power.

Maryland, which still had more than 45,000 without power, reported Thursday that eight people had died of heat-related causes in recent days.

More than 3,000 temperature records have been shattered in the U.S. this past week. Meteorologists say the heat will ease Saturday in the cities of Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Atlanta, Washington and New York.

With files from The Associated Press

Walters hit by Asian slowdown

The reduction in business sent its shares down by 6 per cent.

Between January and March, Walters’ revenues soared 12 per cent thanks to massive demand for its services in the Americas and South Africa, Asia and the UK.

But over the past three months, the returning recession in Britain saw revenues come in at £12.1m – flat on the same time a year earlier – and the slower banking sector in Asia caused revenues there to fall by 5 per cent to £23.9m.

Business in Europe was hit by the eurozone uncertainty, sending net fees down 5 per cent to £10m.

The company said it had moved into other disciplines in Asia, and expect a return to growth for its offices there in the second half.

Osborne and Balls trade blows as MPs vote on bank inquiry

The pair made little attempts to disguise their mutual animosity as they clashed repeatedly over Mr Osborne’s suggestions that the shadow Chancellor had known about the manipulation of lending rates when in office.

Mr Balls denied any involvement and claimed Mr Osborne’s conduct “demeaned” the office of Chancellor. “The cheap and partisan and desperate way in which you and your aides have conducted yourselves in recent days does you no good, it demeans the office you hold and most important it makes it harder to achieve the lasting consensus we need,” he said.

Mr Balls called on him to withdraw the “false, personal accusations” which were made “purely in the hope of political advantage”. But Mr Osborne hit back, and called on Mr Balls to “explain what Labour’s involvement was, who were the ministers?; Who had the conversation?; Who were the senior figures?” and said he had to “answer for his time in office”.

After the frequently ill-tempered debate, Labour backed down after losing a vote on holding a full public inquiry into the scandal and agreed to work with the Government on a more limited parliamentary investigation into the manipulation of the Libor rate.

Mr Balls said Labour would accept the limited Parliamentary inquiry but added it believed the case for a “full, open judge-led public inquiry” was still necessary and it would “continue to press that case”. “The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have made a very grave error of judgement,” he said.

The vote on the inquiry came as Barclays enlisted Tony Blair’s former adviser Tim Allan to help deal with the crisis engulfing the bank over the Libor interest rate-fixing scandal.

Mr Allan, the founder of Portland Communications, had been hired on a “corporate reputation” brief at Barclays but has now been pulled in to provide advice on handling the fall out from the £290m fines imposed as a result of the scandal.

There were also signs growing fury in the Square Mile at what is seen as “unfair treatment” of the bank and former chief executive Bob Diamond, pictured. Investec analyst Ian Gordon encapsulated the fury in a strongly-worded note accusing expenses-tainted MPs of hypocrisy for attacking bankers’ misdeeds. He wrote: “Notwithstanding that the current members of the Treasury Select Committee are (in our view) all of unquestionable integrity, there is a slight irony that these representatives of an organisation with such a rich criminal tradition were interrogating Barclays where less than 0.01 per cent of staff have been accused of attempted Libor manipulation in relation to which (thus far) no criminal charges have been brought.”

The Leader of the House, Sir George Young, has agreed to provide the inquiry into the scandal with the services of senior legal counsel. Government sources later confirmed that it was possible that this could result in a QC asking questions in a similar role to that of Robert Jay in the Leveson Inquiry.

Members of the Treasury Select Committee who questioned Mr Diamond this week had been criticised for the lack of forensic examination of the former Barclays chief executive.

Details of the new investigation will be hammered out between the main parties in the next few days. “We’ve got to sit down with the opposition and establish how this will work,” a government source said. “There is a lot to do.”

Picky about their clients? The new PRs

Founded in 2001 by Tim Allan, a former adviser to Tony Blair, Portland Communications grew rapidly from a small team of four into an international firm with offices in Nairobi and New York, representing multinational corporations and national governments.

The firm has drawn criticism both for its methods and for the clients it has chosen to represent.

Among those that have sought the services of Portland to improve their image are the governments of Russia and Kazakhstan, as well as international brands such as Stella Artois and McDonald’s. The firm attracted particular criticism for representing Kazakhstan, after winning a contract said to be worth as much as £1m a year in 2011. The government of President Nursultan Nazarbaev, the dictator of the oil-rich former Soviet country, was accused in the same year of a litany of human rights abuses, including the detention of activists, and tight control over freedom of assembly, religion and media.

The company has also worked directly for the Kremlin, providing advice on relations with the UK parliament and advising on handling negative stories.

As well as its roster of clients, Portland has also been criticised for its methods.

Earlier this year, the firm was accused of editing the Wikipedia pages of its clients to make them more favourable. This included a claim by the Labour MP Tom Watson that Portland removed unfavourable references to Stella Artois as “wife-beater” from a Wikipedia page.

In April this year, Mr Allan – who reportedly turned down an offer from Mr Blair to become the government’s director of communications and strategy in 2005 – sold his majority stake in the company he founded to the US marketing services company Omnicom in a deal thought to be worth as much as £20m.

A month later, the company announced that another of Mr Blair’s advisers, the former Downing Street communications chief Alastair Campbell, was joining as a consultant.