2009-12-28

Green Waste

I find it more than a little frustrating that these stupid Green Bins (plus the household collector bucket, which confusingly is white) that we have been given functionally require liners.

But the best part is that the only "Green Bin" friendly liners that are available in my local Metro (the one on March Road at Carling) are "fully compostable plastic for municipal Green Bin programs that accept plastic".

This goes directly against the hand-out that came with the Green Bin says explicitly: "no plastic bags, not even the compostable kind."

Lovely. Metro is selling a product we can't use.

2009-12-26

Wrong Approach

Ontario drivers get ready for 'tremendous' fine increases
Ontario will ring in the new year with hefty new punishments for several traffic infractions, including a $2,000 ticket the first time you follow a fire truck too closely and a possible prison sentence the second time.

Drivers caught violating a range of traffic laws will soon face licence suspensions, demerit points and fines that are double — and even quadruple — what they are now.
Yeah yeah, this won't work.

The cops even admit it:
Windsor police Sgt. Steve Bodri said he hopes the province's new measures for bad drivers have an effect, because little else has.

"In the new year, we're going to start some campaigns to target aggressive driving," he said. "If it requires writing more tickets, then we will."
I noted this back a few years when the local police when through a phase designating some areas as "Community Safety Zones". And in those "Safety Zones", fines for traffic infractions were doubled.

I observed that merely doubling fines wouldn't do anything to act as a deterrent. Let's face it, the province could raise the penalty to be summary road-side execution, and it wouldn't be a deterrent if there continued to be NO POLICE OFFICERS AROUND TO CATCH THE OFFENDERS.

More regulation, more fines, and no more cops does exactly nothing except possibly punish the people who were going to get caught anyways -- and if the penalties for infringement goes up, there's more incentive for the police officers to exercise "discretion" and just issue warnings instead. Meaning that more regulations, more fines equals less deterrence.

Here's an idea. Streamline the Highway and Traffic Act so that it is actually possible for the average driver to know what it is all about and comply with it all. Reduce the fines to administrivia, but keep the points. Double the police officers. Remove their power of road-side discretion. Watch the people who get caught start to accumulate points and losing their licenses -- just as the system was designed. Watch other people take notice of this. Watch the compliance level increase.

Of course, putting more cops on the roads would cost money and be unpopular in a society where crime is actually falling. So it will never happen.

Instead, the politicians will continue to pass new and exciting laws and fines which will do exactly nothing except make them look like they are doing something.

2009-12-25

Sysadmin's Holday Wishes

Christmas wishes from The NetWorker Blog:
In the spirit of this site, I hope that:
  • You’re all able to take a break;
  • All your backups run smoothly while you’re on that break;
  • No-one needs a recovery while you’re gone, and if they do –
  • Someone else knows how to do it.
...which is pretty much what we all hope for, isn't it.

2009-12-18

Ares 1-X a fraud?

Buzz Aldrin on the Ares 1-X launch:
Turns out the solid booster was - literally - bought from the Space Shuttle program, since a five-segment booster being designed for Ares wasn't ready. So they put a fake can on top of the four-segmented motor to look like the real thing. Since the real Ares' upper stage rocket engine, called the J-2X wasn't ready either, they mounted a fake upper stage. No Orion capsule was ready, so - you guessed it - they mounted a fake capsule with a real-looking but fake escape rocket that wouldn't have worked if the booster had failed. Since the guidance system for Ares wasn't ready either they went and bought a unit from the Atlas rocket program and used it instead.

2009-12-14

Unoriginal Thoughts

So I split the sports blog into two blogs. What the heck, Google blogs are free, right?

Turns out that there's already a hockey blog called "Healthy Scratch". However it is about the Washington Capitals, and it doesn't seem to have any hockey content newer than 2007. So while they were here first, I'm here now, and in the last year I've pumped out more items than they did total.

So for now I think we'll just keep things as they are. If another change is required, we'll just do it.

2009-12-04

Kanata Kourier-Standard -- A Free Paper That Isn't Worth What You Pay For It

I wanted to title this article "...completes its slide into irrelevance", but it was pretty irrelevant anyways.

The Kanata Kourier-Standard and I have a strange relationship. The K-S is a free community paper that is published once a week. Like all the other weekly community papers, it has a mix of op-ed, stale news, and community sporting information.

Oh, and advertising. But more on that later.

When we lived on Evanshen Crescent, the K-S showed up weekly on our doorstep. I made a point of going through the paper whenever it arrived, as it usually contained a weekly police report of the incidents reported in Kanata. This let me keep a feel for the pulse of the community and whether or not I needed to be concerned about anything.

When we moved to Klondike in 2002, the weekly delivery continued, and I continued to read the paper when it arrived.

Sometime in the first two years the paper stopped showing up. While the delivery had not been 100% reliable up to that point, it did show up more often than it it didn't. But it took a while before I clued in to the fact that it had not been showing up. At the time I wondered if it had something to do with the urban/rural boundary in the expanded City Of Ottawa, as we had occasionally received Ottawa Rural Community Updates in our mailboxes.

A year or two after that, I happened to be out on my front lawn getting my ass kicked by dandilions or the like, and a gentleman went by with a shopping-cart full of that week's K-S, and I though, oh maybe we're about to start getting them again. But we didn't that week, nor the vast majority of the weeks that followed.

In any case, I stopped caring.

A couple years ago we changed how we do groceries. And when we do groceries on Wednesday, there' a dump of this week's K-S in the store. Since it has been free, I have been picking it up again. And I found that little had changed, although perhaps the advertising content had increased as an absolute percentage of the total content provided. Oh, and there were fewer police items to be found.

Earlier this year, the K-S made a big deal of the fact that they were changing their publishing schedule, to a new format published a day earlier than they had been. I noted at the time that the new format seemed to include less content and (even) more advertising. Looking at the paper in following weeks did little to change that initial impression.

This week, the K-S is in a public fight with city councilor Wilkinson over the paper's decision to stop running a weekly column for each of the two councilors with wards covering urban Kanata. While there was little in the way of real content coming from the councillors that you couldn't get from elsewhere, it was a method that the councilors could use to communicate to their constituents.

While it is entirely the right of the paper to withdraw any free services that it is offering, I feel that this step completes the K-S's transition from weekly community paper to advertising circular. As such, I don't think the K-S is worth the time or effort on my part it costs.

2009-11-26

Cellphone Ban

Number of warnings handed out by Ontario police for using a cellphone while driving in the last month: > 1000

Number of people I've seen talking on a cellphone or texting: > 0

2009-11-20

More Vaccine Nonsense?

Today's meme in the autism blogosphere:

Scientific Link To Autism Identified
[...] Autism was one of most difficult illnesses The Center had attempted to analyze. If it hadn't been for so many parents insisting that vaccines were responsible for the condition, we might never have found the fact that the stabilizer in MMR and a few other vaccines is hydrolyzed gelatin; a substance that is approximately 21% glycine. It appears that, based on readily verifiable science, the use of that form of glycine triggers an imbalance between the amino acid neurotransmitters responsible for the absorption rate of certain classes of cells throughout the body. It is that wide-spread disruption that apparently results in the systemic problems that encompass the mind and the body characterized in today's
'classic' autism." He also added, "The use of our model indicates each of the disorders within Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is attributable to different disruptions in homeostasis. [...]
This study does not explain why there still no statistical correlations between vaccines and ASD/Autism. To me, it seems to be merely another phantom mechanism that would explain such a correlation if one existed in the first place.

Further study will undoubtedly happen. One would hope that they would compare the vaccine stabilizer's behavior in neural-typical individuals to that alleged in those diagnosed with ASD.

While interesting on first glance, right now I would write it off as more pseudo-science vaccine scare-mongering.

Memo To Mayor Larry The Loon

...if the city can't find $36 million to pay off the light rail contractor we stiffed the last time they looked at LRT, how the hell is the city going to pay the $2 billion for this new tunnel project?

2009-11-16

Free Money

Some Random Blogger: I want to sell out and have banner ads on my 'blog so I can make some money.

Me: They don't work. How many ads have you clicked on?

SRB: Oh. Yeah. Right.

2009-11-13

No on Landsdown

David Reevely quoting Nik Nanos on Landsdown Live:
Honestly, if you're opposed to Lansdowne Live, the Nanos poll provides you what you're looking for in a poll. Here's the argument, buttressed by what Nik Nanos himself told city council:

1) Lansdowne Live is a huge and important move with a unique piece of land. Morally, moving ahead with it demands significant public support.

2) The poll shows doubt about the proposal. Not massive opposition, but skepticism and uncertainty. People are not convinced. They are not in support.

Therefore

3) We should not move ahead.
I like it.

2009-11-10

3K on ServerFault

Apropos of nothing, I rolled over 3000 points on ServerFault yesterday.

Also, I failed to mention that the promised stickers did in fact show up in the mail a few weeks ago. Cool!

(Previously.)

Customer Feedback

So before I went away on my trip, I received an email from WebEx that looked like this:
From: Joe Schwartz
Sent: Saturday, October 31, 2009 3:04 PM
To: Dave Mackintosh
Subject: Please Advise

David

Collaborate with colleagues, customers, and prospects—any time, anywhere. Count on WebEx online collaboration to streamline communication throughout your organization.
[sales pitch excluded]

In other words, an email appears in my inbox that is from some guy I've never heard of, and has a subject of "Please Advise". And it is a sales pitch.

This, I think, is boarderline spammy behavior.

So just for giggles, I sent him an email back:
From: Dave Mackintosh
Sent: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 8:51 AM
To: Joe Schwartz
Subject: RE: Please Advise

Hi Joe

I have a couple of pieces of feedback for you.

First, you can remove my email from your lists as my intent on sign up was merely to test a web browser configuration for use with your product for a customer I was working with. The customer is quite happy with your service and continues to use it regularly. However, at present I personally have no direct need for this service.

Second, I find the subject line of your email to be misleading – it has absolutely no relation to the content of the email. I would categorize this as a boarder-line “spammy” message based on that. I realize that you personally have no direct control over what your auto-mailer sends, but if you could send this back upstream you might get a better response to your campaigns.

Thank you for your time.
I'll probably never hear anything further on this, but I figured leaving a blog post which associates the company name "WebEx" with "email spam" where Google can find it is the least I can do.

2009-11-09

2009-10-23

I'm Home Sick Today

...so I have the time, and inclination, to stare dimly and uncomprehendingly at things for long periods of time. And eventually, I learn something.

See, I have a VM running Linux which handles the storage of Cloud Camera pictures. And once a day it generates the time-lapse movie of the day's pictures. And because I'm a sysadmin who believes if you don't measure it it didn't happen, I'm running software on that VM which records how busy the VM is and what it is doing.

Which led me to stare dimly at this graph for a while:



...which records the ethernet activity on the VM over the last day or so.

So what you need to know to make sense of this graph is that the camera is an IP camera, looking outside at the clouds going by, which FTP's an image every six or ten seconds (I can never remember which and can't be bothered to check right now) to the VM. This happens from around 5AM until around 9PM every day.

(The end result of which occasionally winds up here.)

But why is there more traffic in the early morning and the late afternoon? Look, it repeats every day:



And then it hit me: it is dark in the early morning and from late-afternoon on.

This IP camera has a night-vision mode which isn't entirely useless. It can see in the dark pretty well -- but the images it produces in the dark are bigger, because the noise in the CCD sensor can't be as efficiently compressed by the JPEG algorithm when the picture is predominantly dark.

And I'm rather pleased by that deduction.

Of course, I'm home sick, so my standards of "what is interesting" are probably somewhat looser than they usually are.

2009-10-19

The Hat: Replacement Quest Part V

Today I checked the mailbox... and:



Yes, a box from Tilley. I wonder what is in it?



Yep, Tilley made good on their guarantee. They even returned the old one, although they've writen "VOID" on the label in the old one, to ensure nobody tries to "redeem" it again.

I must also note that their turn-around time may be better than illustrated here, because I didn't check the mailbox on Friday -- so the hat might have been waiting for me there all weekend.

Now my only problem is -- I have two hats!

Thank you Tilley!

(Previously.)

2009-10-16

COPYRIGHT VIOLATION PREVENTED.

So I'm reading Wil Wheaton's RSS feed, right?

[crickets]

...and um yeah he's been talking about this guest spot he's doing for The Big Bang Theory, right? And I watch TBBT*, right? And he's posted this link to the YouTube site with the promo for us to watch, right?

Well yeah, except:



So... since I'm in Canada, I can't watch it. Even though I watch TBBT every week, without any concern for "copyright issues".

YouTube: Fail.

CBS: Fail.

Well done, chaps, I'm going to have to wait until Tuesday to see this thing.

*(Note: It has just occurred to me that if you write it as ThBBT, it sounds like Bill the Cat's raspberry.)

2009-10-13

The Hat: Replacement Quest part IV

Two small items of note:

First, I finally sent off the dead hat to Tilley on the weekend. We'll see how long it takes for a replacement to get sent to me.

Secondly, I caved and purchased a replacement, because I need something for the trip in November, and walking around in the rain without a hat is bugging me.

Funny thing is, Nathan now teases me about the hat: "Cowboy hat! Cowboy hat! Yippie Ki Yi Yay!" I guess the two months I have been without it are such a long time in his world that he doesn't remember me wearing one all the time.

(Previously.)

2009-09-29

Getting Exited Over Small Things

So I'm kind of pleased with myself.

There is a web site that I am a user of called Server Fault, where people post questions regarding corporate-type computer issues. I've been a member since they opened it up to the public, and since then I've kept reasonably active.

It has a mechanism called "reputation", where you get points assigned to you by the rest of the community based on how the community views your contributed questions and your answers to other questions.

So yeah, it's a game. But as a side-effect of the game, you frequently can get high-quality answers to questions in a short period of time.

It's an addictive game too. My first boatload of points came fairly quickly, and since then I've set myself the goal of keeping my reputation above 10% of the total number of asked questions. This means I only have to score one upvote on every 100 questions because you get 10 reputation for each upvote.

The operators of Server Fault have decided to mail out some promotional stickers to the top 70 users of each of their sites. And wouldn't you know, as of today I am the 55th top user of Server Fault. Not quite top-50, but I've gone up in the rankings over the last couple of weeks, so top-50 isn't out of reach. But it means that I do qualify.

Up at the top there is my "reputation" for ServerFault as of today; the link is to my current page.

It is a silly game, so not really much of an accomplishment in the big picture. I couldn't keep up the same rate of progress on SuperUser, which is another site they run. Although I think that is more due to the questions being of a subject that I can't answer, plus the sheer volume of the questions asked on the site.

But still, there are only 54 people of the 19362 registered on this site ranked above me on this site.

2009-09-18

Subway

The best part about Subway used to be the bread. They made great bread.

Then two things happened: first, they decided to do a side-cut for loading subs (link unavailable, holy cow, was it really 2001?), and then second, Quizno's convinced everyone that a sandwich wasn't a sandwich if it wasn't toasted.

While Quizno's makes a fine toasted sandwich, the problem of "making a fine toasted sandwich" is different from "making a fine sandwich". The key is bread.

Originally, the Subway bread was beautiful. The guys in the back would have to seriously screw up for me to not get excellent, excellent bread; and such screw-ups were very rare. I have no idea how they continued to make such good bread, but they did.

Then along comes Quizno's. The Quizno's sandwich is optimized for toasting -- it is a different kind of bread, one which takes the toasting very well. Now as a side-effect, I really really hate the Quizno's bread once it has cooled off, but when it is warm, it is excellent.

Subway looked at this and decided that the 'hook' was the 'toasting'. So now all the Subways have got these quick-toaster ovens where they can quickly toast the sandwich prior to final assembly. It is part of the process which is bolted on to their formula, and it shows: it doesn't flow the way the old process did.

Subway bread doesn't toast well. Well, it toasts OK, but at a cost of driving out anything that is good in the bread. Instead of moist, soft bread that makes you think "fresh out of the oven", you get dry, toasted bread that makes me think "fresh out of the four-day-old cupboard".

So I never get my sandwiches toasted at Subway.

...wow, that went on a lot longer than I thought it would.

I did the stupid 15 Films Meme on Facebook

Rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen movies you've seen that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than fifteen minutes. Tag fifteen friends, including me because I'm interested in seeing what movies my friends choose. (To do this, go to your Notes tab on your profile page, paste rules in a new note, cast your fifteen picks, and tag people in the note -- upper right hand side.)

(I'm not going to tag people. Except Mike, 'cause he kinda asked for it.)

1. Ocean's Eleven
2. Pump Up The Volume
3. Hackers
4. Sneakers
5. Minority Report
6. Tron
7. Unbreakable
8. Ferris Bueller's Day Off
9. The Killer (1991)
10. Matrix Revolutions
11. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
12. 2010: Odyssey Two
13. The Real McCoy
14. Undercover Blues
15. Star Wars (IV - A New Hope)

Update: Damn, I knew I missed something: Star Trek. One of Mike's buddies picked Star Trek 2 for his list. I'd pick Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country instead, but yeah, it's missing. I'd probably drop Minority Report off my list to make room for it.

(Previously.)

2009-09-16

Stormtroopers Drinking

2009-09-09

Traffic Tickets Are Good

As Ottawa tries to nag drivers into complying with local road laws, Slate reports that traffic tickets have their good side:
From 2001 to 2006 (in New York City), the number of fatalities in which speeding was implicated rose 11 percent. During the same period, the number of speeding summons issued by the NYPD dropped 11 percent. Similarly, summonses for red-light-running violations dropped 13 percent between 2006 and 2008, even as the number of crashes increased.
The article describes that in Paris, the opposite dynamic is taking place: more citations issued, while crashes decrease.

Traffic law enforcement in this city is a joke. With all due respect to the brave officers out there on the front lines, there is a nearly universal disdain for traffic regulations in Ottawa.

A lot of it is peer pressure -- if I see someone blow through a stop sign or fail to signal or whatever, there is an increased chance that I will do it myself.

Now to be sure, the laws themselves don't help their own cause. Coming west on the 417 past Moodie, this is an alleged construction zone -- four lanes of freshly laid and painted blacktop climbing the hill to Kanata. The limit here is 80 km/h. It will be raised to 100 km/h once the "construction" is "finished" (whenever that happens). But even before then, you'll routinely see people doing in excess of 120 km/h here. What you won't see very often is any traffic enforcement.

Traffic enforcement is a can't-lose proposition:
  • increase revenues
  • increase respect for the law
  • decrease crashes and associated costs and injuries
If we decide that the laws are too draconian, then it is the laws which should be fixed, legislatively, and not with the "discretion" (read: lack of enforcement) which happens today.

2009-09-08

Welcome To Ottawa, Mr. Ignatieff

As predicted, the Conservatives are about to announce reforms to the much-maligned Employment Insurance scheme. This move comes shortly after the Liberals announced the intention to force an election, and walked out of the non-productive "working group" set up over the summer.

By doing this, Mr. Harper hopes to force Mr. Ignatieff into an unpleasant choice: either defeat the government and kill the very reforms he was rattling sabres over in the spring; or back off on the election posturing and look indecisive.

My view: let the Conservatives bring forward their proposals. It is likely that these proposals will go further than anything the Conservatives would normally bring forward, in that they are effectively bluffing, counting on the Liberals to steam more towards an election than actually getting things done.

However, if the Liberals let the EI reforms ride, then the joke is on the Conservatives. While it would mean that the Conservatives would then be able to point to EI reforms as something done on their watch, at the end of the day it should be about getting results for Canadians and not taking the credit.

I would much rather see the Liberals call the Conservative's bluff, perhaps forcing them to call an election on their own rather than pass their own proposals.

But given Mr. Ignatieff's total failure to be anything other than "not the Conservatives", I suspect he'll go for the election anyways.

2009-08-24

How Refreshing

Here's something refreshing: a new pitch to city council requesting use of one of their under utilized facilities. Let's see how this pitch stacks up!
  • The facility in question is owned by the city -- check!
  • The facility has inadequate parking to fill the facility with people -- check!
  • The facility is practically unserved by public transit -- check!
  • The owners are proposing to attempt to run a sporting franchise of a type which has failed multiple times already in this facility -- check!
Oh wait, it's just as stupid as the other ones have been. The only difference is this is Baseball at the Jim Durrel White Elephant as opposed to football at what's left of Landsdown Park.

If these guys want taxpayer support, I say no. If they want to put their own money up, then giddy up.

2009-08-21

Inadvertent Disincentive

Hyundai is offering an additional $1000 rebate if you trade in a 1995 or older car at purchase time.

This made me curious as to how likely are they to be getting any Hyundai cars in trade.

While we can't know for sure, we can guess. I went to AutoTrader.ca and hit their advanced search. If you search on Hyundai cars alone, you get almost 1350 hits. If you search on Hyundai cars that are 1995 or older... you get none.

Honda, by comparison, gives you more than 3700 hits for all years, and 147 for cars 1995 or older. A low percentage, to be sure, but still infinitely more than Hyundai.

Think about that. You are trading in a car that's done almost fifteen years, in exchange for a car that isn't likely to do the same.

I have to admit that when we bought the Yaris last year, we test drove a Hyundai Accent 4-door. The price was right, and the offer on my Subaru was six times what we got for it from Toyota -- in total, we would have saved around $3000 on the price of the Yaris all told. And yet, on the test drive I already knew that we were not going to buy it before we made the right turn out of the parking lot. It was a case of sit down, put the car in gear... and right away, the decision "no" was floating in my head.

I'm not trying to bash Hyundai here... I was just curious about the apparent longevity of their cars.

2009-08-17

Who's Agenda Is This?

West End Action asks if Smart Growth is really Smart (empahsis mine):
The article in the blog talks about how the leading political classes have larger duck houses - paid for by taxpayers - than citizens have regular houses. Typically, the proponents of more dense cities and smaller housing want it for others, but not themselves.
This is something I've often felt, but never actually saw in print (virtual or otherwise) until now.

2009-08-13

Building for the ages

Tom Limoncelli finds a quote he likes at the Sears Tower, and idly offers it for use by sysadmins:
"Therefore when we build let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such Work as our descendants will thank us for and let us think as we lay Stone on Stone that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them and that men will say as they look upon the labor and the wrought substance of them, 'See this our fathers did for us.' " --John Ruskin
It would be nice to think that what we build is meant to last forever, or even merely for years. But in this business, it doesn't.

Recently I've been called back to a previous employer's site, and it warms me a bit to see that systems I set up ten years ago are still doing today more or less exactly what I left them doing. But when I compare those systems to the computers of today, it is amazing that they are still around at all. In many circumstances, continuing to operate such a set of systems could even be considered irresponsible. (Not in this case -- the computers are original development and verification environments for a product which is still being supported.)

Ten years is a long time in this business, and to find something still running after that long is a rarity. This business operates on waves of change, and that change is only likely to continue into the future.

2009-08-11

My God, Larry, We've Missed You

Mayor Larry O'Brien says this morning:
After a press conference for the Ottawa Chinatown Gateway project Tuesday morning, O'Brien said the city was "operating at the maximum capacity fixing some of the major problems we have," and would not be seeking additional funding to improve sewer infrastructure in flood-affected neighbourhoods. “In a couple of years, absolutely, we’ll be going back to our federal and our provincial partners and looking for more significant funding,” he said.
Updated this afternoon:
"It's not the position of the city to wait two years for that," said Brent Colbert, O'Brien's chief of staff. "We're going to find out what needs to be done and then we're going to put in our applications to begin that work as soon as we have a sense of where that is."
How the city managed to run while Mayor Larry was off obtaining his "ringing endorsement" is totally beyond me.

2009-08-10

Hello RSS Reader!

(Non-RSS reading readers can ignore this.)

I've hacked around so that my planet RSS feed comes through the same location as the old Wordpress one used to. There's at least one person with the old wordpress RSS feed in their reader, and he's going to get a whole lot of noise.

If this is you, and you want to cherry pick what you get rather than the whole flood, I suggest you start by looking at the home page at http://www.xdroop.com/404.html and picking the one(s) you think might be interesting.

Happy Reading!

Evergreen 747 Water Bomber conversion:

Saw a reference to this while flipping through a Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine this weekend:



What gets me is the way the 747 visibly starts to lift from the shooting aircraft as all the water leaves the bomber.

See also this longer video.

Claimed capacity: 90,000 litres. By comparison, the CL-415 capacity is just over 6,000 litres. The Martin Mars conversions operating on Canada's west coast have a operational capacity of around 27,000 litres.

Wikipedia suggests the Evergreen is not oprational, due to the US Forestry Service wanting bombers to deliver fire-retarding foam instead of water; the retardant is denser than water, and this means a full load in the Evergreen would be heavy enough to cause concerns about the aircraft's service life.

2009-08-08

Parks and Parking

One odd coincidence which popped into my RSS reader on Friday was a discussion about how free parking really isn't and how parks for parks' sake may not be the best thing.

There is a problem with land use for parking, to be sure. My favorite example of awkward parking design is the Centrum Mall out in Kanata. When we first moved out to Kanata in '99, the mall was rightly derided as a pedestrian-hostile parking lot partially ringed by widely spaced mall emplacements. Well ten years of development later the mall is much less of a pedestrian-hostile parking lot, but only because the developers have continued to build stores in what was previously parking space -- the AMC alone has lost more than half of its parking spaces just to store construction, and has to share what's left with those new stores.

I suspect that the problem now is that there isn't enough parking for the prospective customers of these stores to get to them with any reliability. I know that when I go on the weekend, I'm frequently forced to orbit, looking for a place to park so that I can go somewhere and spend my money. It would be ironic if the mall development basically ended up strangling their own properties because the customers couldn't get there.

And even though there is a "bus station" at one end of the mall, public transit is so laughably bad in the rest of Kanata that local residents for the most part won't even contemplate it.

One link I saw this week (can't find it in my reader right now) advocated removing parking from in front of stores along one particular area so that more stores could be constructed, presumably to encourage more commerce. The problem with this logic is the same: those prospective customers have no access to the area where the stores are, and are therefore unable to boost your commercial activity.

As for the parks, the above link talks about Landsdown Park:
The Friends of Lansdowne Park want to see professional sports completely removed from the park, and have it reserved for small-scale events only, such as the Farmer’s Market, citing a desire to create a Lansdowne Park for all Ottawans to enjoy.
The thing is, such a plan would ultimately benefit only the immediate locals in that this "park for all Ottawans to enjoy" would be practically inaccessible to 95% of the population due to a lack of usable public transit and practical local parking. To say nothing of the fact that by removing all commerce and sports you'd remove the motivation for 99% of Ottawans to even contemplate visiting. It would probably turn into a venue used most prominently for Winterlude, and largely ignored by everyone except the homeless the rest of the year.

What's the point of all this? I dunno, besides the fact that urban planning is hard?

I think most of the pundits look back with some imagined fondness for an allegedly simpler time where you could walk everywhere. They ignore the fact that a small-town feel can't scale.

You want a walkable city that had a large population? How does London in the 1890's grab you?

The "wealthy" have always had the luxury of living closer to nature, and away from where they conduct business, more or less. The invention of the automobile democratized transportation in a huge way, leading to the invention of the subdivision, where the more middle class could live in a less urban environment.

And I think that's one of the things that many of these pundits forget. If people didn't want to live out in the suburbs, nobody would. But the fact that developers can't (or are prevented from, NIMBY-style) build attractive, dense urban housing shows that the problem isn't the builders. It's the population.

I don't want to live in an apartment block, and let's face it -- anything less really doesn't scale to the population densities required by modern cities. My wife wants her own four walls, with separation from the neighbours. Sure, it's only four feet of separation where we live, but it's separate.

If there were no suburbs, where would I be living? Tokyo-style, in a tiny apartment, that would cost me as much as my suburban home did? Or more, considering I wouldn't have any place to put the things I conspicuously consumed, and would therefore have more available money. Sure, maybe the environment would be appreciative of such a sacrifice, but I don't see how my standard of living would be any better. Or, indeed, the SAME.

And that's how these discussions have to be had. Not on how intensification would make life better for those already there. But how it would make life better for those of us who currently make different choices.

2009-08-07

Another Milestone

Another technology slowly fades away.

Yesterday I dropped my membership in three of the five email lists I am subscribed to. I did so for a couple of reasons. First, I'm not reading them very often any more. This is due to the fact that I don't watch my personal email like a hawk any more -- sometimes it can be several days before I get back to it. There is also a volume issue. The CentOS list in particular is very noisy, and it is difficult to stay on top of it, even if all you are doing is deleting threads you don't care about. And frankly, I'm not sure I'm interested in the CentOS list in particular any more; too many questions are bumped as "not CentOS-specific", whatever that means, and there are too many flamewars over nothing.

The second reason is that for computer help and information, I now have two new homes: ServerFault.com and SuperUser.com. Part of the attraction is that both sites use a "reputation" value to show how the rest of the community rates you as a participant. Reputation has to be given by other users. Of course since it's measureable, everyone is jumping in and trying to game the system; however the side effect is that there's quite a strong community already which has a wide knowledgebase. Frequently you can get good (or at least usable) answers to your questions within a couple of hours at most.

This action leaves me with three mailing lists. A low-volume Autism list (oh, and I just remembered, an even lower-volume Autism list), a RedHat Kickstart list that I forgot about yesterday, and a svn-related list I've tried many times to get dropped from. The RedHat list will probably get dropped today, but I'll keep the Autism ones. If I have to, I'll just black-hole the svn-related list in the hopes that its list software is smart enough to drop me when I start bouncing everything back to it.

So goodbye mailing lists.

Between this, dropping my home server, moving my 'blogging and email to Google, and dropping my web hosting, I've sure made a lot of technology changes in the last year.

2009-08-06

The Hat: Replacement Quest Part III

Thanks to a comment on the RIP Tilley Hat post, I now know what to do.

I've become a facebook 'fan' of Tilley Endurables, and one of the discussions lists precisely what to do:
For Canadian and International customers, please mail to:
Returns Department: Tilley Endurables
900 Don Mills Road
Toronto ON Canada
M3C 1V6

Score. So now I have to box up and mail The Hat.

They've offered to send back the hat if I want to keep it. On the one hand, it has been with me practically every day for 9 years. On the other hand, it's done.

I'll have to think about this a bit.

The Hat: Replacement Quest Part II

Website feedback sent to Tilley Endurables, with regard to my deceased headgear:

I purchased a hat back in September of 2000 while visiting Skagway Alaska as part of my honeymoon cruise. Since that time the hat has become a key part of my daily wardrobe, whatever the weather; and as Ottawa, Canada is my place of residence, weather indeed the hat has seen. I estimate that there have been fewer than 60 days in the following 8 years 10 months that I have not worn the hat; so while I can hardly claim to have not gotten my money's worth out of it, I feel I must take you up on your guarantee.

Indeed, my hat has sadly reached the end of its life at the hands of a washing machine. Please see http://shove-monkey.blogspot.com/2009/07/rip-tilley-hat.html for the sad evidence of a hat come to the end of its career.

In the interests of obtaining a replacement, I visited a local store, as instructed by the owner's manual for the hat -- right in my sock drawer, where I recall you said it would be -- but sadly they directed me to contact you to make arrangements for an exchange.

I have made a brief perusal of your website but have obviously missed the section where I might find instructions for beginning this process. If you would be so good as to forward me a link or a set of instructions, I would be most appreciative.

Thank you for your time and attention.

2009-08-05

The Hat: Replacement Quest Part I

Today I made my first attempt to get the hat replaced.

We looked on the Tilley Endurables website and noted that the CAA membership office near us happened to be listed as a vendor. The Owners Manual promises that if the hat wears out, one might only present it at a vendor and one would obtain a replacement.

This is actually the second time we've tried this. The first attempt was made on Sunday, but apparently the CAA still respects Sunday as a day of rest for their employees, since the office was closed. Real Life being what it is, today was the next available time to make such a trip.

However when we got there, the staff informed us that they don't do the replacements and advised us to contact Tilley directly. They were not particularly clear on the reason, although when perusing their inventory we noted that my particular style of hat was not available at the time. They admired the build of the hat as much thicker than some of the modern offerings, and appreciated its history.

And Nathan was a popular hit in the office, too. He's such a flirt.

Still, this expedition was ultimately a failure. So the next step will be to contact Tilley directly.

2009-08-04

Customerizing Criminals

...or maybe the other way around?

Aparrently Scotiabank has a fool-proof program to detect criminals at the door to their branches. It involves a red, octogon-shaped sign stuck prominently to one of the inside front doors:


Crime
Prevention
Program
In Effect

For the safety of
our customers and staff
please remove your
hat, hood, and dark glasses
before entering this building

Your cooperation
is appreciated


That's right, citizens! Scotiabank can now tell if you are a criminal by WHAT YOU WEAR. Feel safe, since criminals would never enter such a facility without such subtle signals displayed, and we all know that peaceful, law-abiding citizens such as yourselves would never choose to dress yourself in such a shameful, shameful manner.

As a customer who's personal style is emphasized by a (now deceased) hat and who's eyes require protection in bright light, I can only assume that this means I am well on my way to a life of crime.

I've seen this in two branches in west Ottawa: the one on March Road north, and the one in Bells Corners.

(...and yes, if you look closely, you can see that I was wearing both my hat and my dark glasses when I took this picture. I can only presume that since I was not also wearing a hood, my intentions were recognizes as non-criminal in nature and I was permitted to conduct my business. After I took the pictures (it took a couple tries before I got a relatively non-blurry example) I half expected to be chased across the parking lot by the rental cops diligent branch protection staff, but alas, I escaped.)

Uh... what?

Today while filling up the car at the gas station, I noticed this curious little icon:



The second picture shows the context of the icon.

It looks like a radar gun of some kind. Or maybe a bar drinks dispenser or a faucet. Or a camera. The circle is red, not green, so whatever it is isn't permitted; but there's no diagonal red slash, so whatever it is isn't prohibited, either.

I wonder what they are trying to tell me.

Stop Treating RSS Subscribers As Second Class

Know what I hate? Today I hate bloggers who don't blog very nicely for their RSS subscribers.

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. It is a specially formatted http link on many web pages that lists some or all of the recent content generated at that website. The idea is that a RSS Reader can poll that link on a regular basis, and then inform the user of that RSS reader that there is new content. This means that the user can get on with the reading without having to manually visit each site.

For people who have a lot of websites that they want to see content from, it is a huge timesaver. I have 187 subscriptions in my Google Reader right now, and it would be prohibitively time-intensive to manually check that many sites. My old method of checking, which was to separate all links by topics and then open each topic into separate tabs once per day and then go through them during the day, would not scale with this many links.

Authors need to realize: RSS subscribers WANT their content.

However. Periodically I get an article in my Google Reader that is clearly incomplete. I'm going to pick on Star Stryder today simply because he's the straw who broke the camel's back. Star Stryder's latest offering ends, in my Reader:
But…. well… Let the pictures tell the story. (Not all mine.)
[IMAGES COMING - I'm on a connection that doesn't let me get images uploaded]
Wait, what?

If the images are part of the post, and the images are not attached to the post, then DON'T PUBLISH THE POST YET.

Why?

Because once your article is read, I'm probably not going to see it again if it gets updated because of the way that Google Reader works. I'm not going to keep a history of your posts active in my reader because I have 187 feeds, and keeping that kind of history for 187 feeds becomes unmanageable.

So your article, which is intended to impart some information to me, comes across as a tease: I'm going to have something really cool here but you won't get to see it sucker.

I've seen this maybe half a dozen times this long weekend, and this particular one just tweaked me off.

Please. Don't post until you are ready. Some of your readers won't come back to see what you've done, and if you keep doing it, your readers are going to drop you.

2009-07-29

Idiot Conservatives

So what are we to take away from this?
Finley emerged from a Conservative caucus meeting to blast as "straight out of academic fantasyland" a proposal by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff for a 360-hour minimum work requirement for employment insurance benefits.

"Mr. Ignatieff is going to have to come forward with specific, detailed, financially responsible ideas that won't raise taxes for Canadians who can least afford it at this point in time," Finley told reporters.
Well, how about:
  • Conservatives think unfairness is the way to go; and
  • governments who turn "small deficit" into a "more than" $50 billion deficit while reducing taxes don't have any "fiscal responsibility" credibility left.
The Liberals and Conservatives appear to be in a race to see who can screw things up the deepest in as little time as possible. This makes me long for the days when they just insisted that everything the other guy wanted was wrong but carried on ignoring each other anyways.

2009-07-25

RIP Tilley Hat



Turns out there might be a right way and a wrong way to wash a Tilley hat.

Washing was overdue -- the hat would freeze solid outdoors in winter, and was sticky and nasty when it got wet in the rain.

Thing is, even after the trip through the washing machine, it was still sticky.

The hat's roots are in Alaska, on the cruise that Jenn and I took for our honeymoon. Considering there were probably less than sixty days in the ensuing eight years and ten months that I did not wear the hat, I don't think I can claim that I didn't get my money's worth out of it.





Time to go looking for another one! Maybe I'll try getting Tilley to honour the lifetime warranty on the dead one first.

2009-07-20

Engineering (May 2008)

The Mars Phoenix lander on final approach, captured by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter:



Look at the zoom on this page. You can see the heat shield still attached, the full parachute, even the tether lines.

BA says it best:
Think on this, and think on it carefully: you are seeing a manmade object falling gracefully and with intent to the surface of an alien world, as seen by another manmade object already circling that world, both of them acting robotically, and both of them hundreds of million of kilometers away.
Now _that's_ engineering.

Update: APOD for 30 May has Phoenix's descent in a wider context.

I still think this is one of the most significant engineering photographs ever taken.

2009-07-17

Engineering

The LRO has imaged the Apollo landing sites. The Apollo 14 site is especially impressive:



Now that's cool.

2009-07-16

Tell me the problem, not the solution

One of my customer companies is a startup. As a startup, they've currently got a CEO who is also CEO of a bunch of other companies. So this guy regularly jets around North America guiding his companies.

He's acquired a phone solution which is some kind of VoIP tied to his laptop. So where ever he happens to be, he can use the same phone, the same phone number and the same kind of calling plan.

The problem is he got it without talking to at least one of his IT people (ie, me). Which is a problem.

Yesterday he lands, and almost immediately I start getting a stream of email from one of his co-workers complaining about how this phone thing doesn't work. The phones depend on some sequential ports being available for them to use, so they want these ports set up for a bunch of IPs. However, we can't plug ports on the firewall directly to multiple internal IPs.

I get the name of the vendor out of them, and go off to their web site. There's no links to self-help. Only an invitation to describe your problem and indicate which customer of theirs you are. So I email back to them, sorry I can't help, open a ticket and tell them you have a blah-blah firewall and need help getting it set up.

Well a day later I get slightly more threatening email from them. They've decided they want some external consultant "who has experience with the blah-blah firewall" This doesn't put me in a much better frame of mind, because while this guy may know his stuff, he certainly doesn't understand all the "why"s that led to the firewall being configured the way it is.

As an almost off-hand comment, the email suggests I look at this link describing how to make a baby linksys router work. While the document in question was useless, I did see how to make the URL to their knowledge base; looking through THERE eventually nets me a document describing how this VoIP thing also depends on ports 10xxx and above.

And I happen to know that ports 10001 through 10009 are already in use. Which makes solving the problem a political issue, not a technical one.

This meant that the root cause was that the VoIP solution depended on fixed resources which happened to already be in use at our site.

So, what is there to take away from this?
  • If you are a user, describe the problem. Send links to any documentation, if you have it, up front. Don't just describe what you think the solution should be.
  • If you are a solutions vendor, make your documentation reachable from the main page (or a click or two beyond that) so that when poor IT people get dumped with your product having a problem, they have a fighting chance to get it sorted themselves. This means you as a vendor DON'T have to get it sorted.
  • And if possible, be flexible about what network resources you are going to use. Don't insist on fixed resources (like ports) if you don't have to.

2009-07-14

CRTC Should Stay Out Of My Network

Canadians support reasonable Web traffic shaping: poll
Most Canadians support the idea of Internet traffic management as long as all users are treated fairly, a new poll suggests.
Now I'm not an ISP or anything like that. I do have a hand in running a small network that services multiple companies in the same building, along with some light hosting.

My position is: it is my job to provide a certain standard of service to my customers, and I don't want the CRTC saying that I can't use specific technology to stop behavior which is detrimental to my customers.

It's my network. I should be permitted to let, or deny, packets through at my sole discretion. Should my customers disagree with my discretion, then they are quite free to take their business somewhere else.

So in the case of the "big" ISPs like Bell and Rogers, my support is for the big guy.

2009-07-07

May: No New Crazies Required, Canada Has The Greens

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party Of Canada, says there is no need for a "Pirate Party" in Canada, because the Greens are already in favor of copyright reform.

She gets a little wheezy walking around there. One would think that not having to run the country or even come to Ottawa she might get herself into a little better shape... or at least do a better job of controlling the pace at which they are walking during the interview.

2009-06-23

Pop Quiz:

Does the Linux Desktop Innovate Too Much?
Yet in the middle of all these experiments, nobody seems to be asking a basic question: Does the average user want any of these things?
Personally? I really don't care. But unlike every other pundit out there, I recognize that my use case is highly specialized.

See, in my line of work I can be logged in to any one of literally dozens of systems running almost as many different variations in OS, distribution, release, particular package set, and patch level. When you have to touch this many systems, the problem quickly boils down to: how can I easily make all these differences go away?

So is new shiny going to help me? Not unless new shiny can be trivially (and I mean trivially) added to Solaris 2.6 and Red Hat Enterprise 3.10. And while it may be possible, we know it will never, ever be trivial.

So the way I end up working is this:

I have a Vista laptop. (Justification. Moving on.) From there I putty to as recent a system as I can find. On that system, I install my .screenrc, and run screen. Inside screen, I ssh to each machine to do whatever needs doing.

In the unlikely event that I actually need an X applicaiton of some sort, I have a VMware installation on my laptop, inside which I run a CentOS 5.x VM. And then I ssh with -X or -Y to the target system, and run whatever nasty X application I need to.

With this system, I've almost totally removed the need to know anything about the desktop. By picking CentOS, I've managed to ensure that I'll rarely have to learn anything new, since CentOS' upstream changes extremely slowly.

If anything useful comes up, I'm sure it will dribble its way down to my VM eventually. Years from now. Like maybe when it actually works.

Like I said at the top, this workflow isn't the typical linux user's workflow. But maybe it will give someone some insight into how some of these computers are actually used.

2009-05-30

Sesame Street is 40

Quick: go and see the best moment from Sesame Street!

Well, maybe not THE best, but one of my favorites.

2009-05-27

Not sure who's stupider here

Your choices:

The Conservatives, who
  • campaigned on a premise that there was no crisis, surpluses would continue, and life would be good;
  • got into office and immediately announced a fiscal update that was going to be $30 Billion in the red;
  • announced six months later that things were really much worse than forcast and therefore the deficit was going to be more than $50 billion (that's more than)
or The Liberals who
  • demanded $30 billion of stimulus spending in the first place but will now be delighted to jump all over the Conservatives for making the hole deeper than demanded
And they wonder why people don't vote.

2009-05-22

Talking to the TV

I got a phone call at the office today. Today, my youngest was watching TV, and when the TV asked him who he was, he answered it back. He then went on to participate in the other segments of the program -- singing, moving, jumping. I am at once thrilled that my youngest is participating, and sad because he is participating in a way that his elder brother is yet to do.

Autism is an isolating condition. In our case, the vast majority of children we have any significant exposure to are also challenged in some way. And when compared to this set of children, my eldest does very well. He has potential that some of them don't, has learned things some of them have not.

But every so often I get a snapshot of life in the neurotypical world -- a child wearing the same jacket as my eldest, who explains to me that his birthday is only six weeks before my son's. An interaction that I've never had with my son.

Sometimes it is a wonder how quickly children develop, but sometimes I fear the gap my son is facing is only increasing, no matter how hard he works.

2009-05-15

Programming Note

To: programming@ctv.ca
From: me

Hello,

I am writing to you to express a frustration with a couple of shows being broadcast on your network, specifically Law And Order, and to a lesser extent, Fringe.

My complaint is that both programs are obviously filmed in a widescreen format, however are being broadcast in a non-widescreen transmission. The net effect of this is that the shots which are carefully framed to take advantage of the widescreen format are wasted, as characters or other on-screen details frequently "fall off" the edges of my non-widescreen TV. Specifically, shots framed wide to have two characters talking to each other from the edges of the widescreen can be reduced to two talking noses, or even be gone completely.

While I am sure that the programming executives at the networks from which you obtain your programs all have nice plasma widescreens with which to enjoy their TV, some of us are still stuck with 1995 technology, and are likely to be so stuck for quite some time.

An acceptable compromise would be to broadcast the show in a "letterboxed" format.

My questions for you are:

Is there a reason why the shows are broadcast in this manner?

Is there a reason why the shows can not be broadcast in a "letterboxed" format?

Is there a more appropriate place that I should raise such issues?

Thank you for your time.

--
David Mackintosh

2009-05-12

Agent Smith Brawl from Matrix 2

2009-05-07

Panspermia

Isn't that a great word? It refers to the theory that life isn't an Earth-only process.

This article on Panspermia Flowers is about Freeman Dyson's insistance that we refocus our search for extra-terrestrial life procedures somewhat:
“I would say the strategy in looking for life in the universe [should be] to look for what’s detectable, not what’s probable,” Freeman Dyson said on Saturday at a conference in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
“We have a tendency among the theorists in this field to guess what’s probable. In fact our guesses are likely to be wrong,” Dyson said. “We never had as much imagination as nature.”
Dyson holds up the flower as something detectable, and therefore something we might find; for example flowers growing on Europa.

My problem is that he is basically saying we are looking for life as we know it because we are extrapolating from the only life we have as examples; instead, we should try guessing as to how life might work and look for evidence of that, instead!

Because, you know, our guesses could be better than our examples.

2009-04-23

Well heck, it isn't our money, is it!

My comment on this endorsement of city council's decision about Landsdown Live:
Yeah. Lets pump $100 million we don't have into a stadium which will still not be serviced by major transit, will lack parking, and be surrounded by a noise-adverse residential community -- all for the benefit of a private sporting enterprise (one which echos several past enterprises which have cratered repeatedly) that will use it all of seven or eight times a year.

What could possibly be a downside to that?

That said, I am opposed to soccer in Kanata for the same reason. $100 million we don't have is too much money for either boondoggle.

2009-04-22

Why did they do that again?

So let me get this straight. The US shovelled a ton of money into GM so that it could avoid going bankrupt, because that would force it to renegotiate debt and supplier arrangements, reduce product lines and brands, and reduce its workforce. So what did GM do?

Yep: renegotiate debt and supplier arrangements, reduce product lines and brands, and reduce its workforce.

And now it might go into bankrupcy protection anyways.

...makes sense to me, boss.

2009-04-18

NO to Landsdown Live

From my Red Glory post:
The bottom line on both proposals is that they depend, either explicitly or implicitly, on public money. And right now the public is out of money. Wen we are having trouble keeping the streets cleared of snow, when we are closing libraries, when we are pissing away money bribing people to do something that they are going to do anyways, there's no money for sporting ventures.

2009-04-17

Automotive Reflection

Sometimes you get perspective from an unexpected place.

This week the Toyota went in for its regularly scheduled service, and since we still needed two cars, we borrowed my mother's Protege-5. The last time a car was in for service we borrowed my mother-in-law's BMW 325i, and what got me reflecting was how similar the cars appear, yet how totally different they were to drive.

For some reason I could never come to grips with the BMW. I like the theory of the rear-wheel drive; the traction control was a bit annoying, but let enough wheelspin through that you were warned against carrying on to much. However the 5-speed is really weirdly set up, first gear is so short that I never used it, rolling off from a standing start in second most of the time. The steering feedback, driving position, sightlines, throttle and brake behaviors, all felt wrong in a way I can't really define. I was never comfortable driving the car.

The Mazda, on the other hand, I was quite at home in almost immediately. Once the seating position and mirrors were set up, everything just felt right. Clutch, throttle, brakes, steering, driving position -- everything. It felt more "at home" to me in ways that even the Subaru never did.

Even though the BMW had more power, better handling, and is all together a "better" car, I had more fun driving the Mazda around.

I wonder if this is because of the time I spent learning to drive in our family's old '85 Civic, or the '86 Civic that I owned some years later. My formative years were spent in those cars, so perhaps it is hot a surprise that the Mazda, a similar small-car front-drive layout, feels so natural to me. The Subaru, and the current 626, felt/feel much bigger and tend to wallow more; however due to their larger size I had different expectations for how they'd feel.

Just interesting to think about what cars tend to suit me, interesting to wonder what that says about me.

2009-04-13

Canada's Olympic Chances, 2010

CTV: Do you believe?

Here's my answer.

2009-04-12

Confession Time

As of this weekend, for the first time in something like ten years, I am not running a server at home.

I decided that I was not using the system in the basement for anything other than dhcp and dns -- and my wireless firewall does dhcp, and I can get DNS practically anywhere. (Well, except maybe Rogers.)

So I've rebuilt the computer into a Vista workstation. That way I can use it for things that I'll actually use -- watching videos, surfing the web, photos, that kind of stuff. And now that Vista has a half-decent backup widget, I'm not totally freaked about the possibility of keeping my data on it.

Aaaand... thanks to VMware, if I do need another OS for whatever reason, I can run it on the desktop.

Still, I wonder why there is a sense that I've given up in some way.

2009-04-05

Blackberry Firmware Upgraded

I upgraded the firmware on my Blackberry 8100 to the "latest", which as of now is 4.5.0.124. This is always scary, since there's a long period that the Blackberry goes through while booting the firmware for the first time where you start to wonder if you've bricked it. My strategy this time was to start the upgrade and then leave the room for an hour.

Good news: it isn't bricked.

So having done that, I played around with the Bluetooth connectivity between it and my Vista laptop… and discovered that no, you still can't do anything useful with it through Bluetooth. The phone will act as a "modem" (ie some sort of wireless network devices) but you can't sync it, or access the files on it, or anything like that. Further research suggests that the problem is that the Vista drivers to do stuff like that are not available yet.

On the plus side, the phone now claims a couple more bluetooth services exported, including music source… so if I ever get that bluetooth head unit I've been wanting for the last two years I will be able to play music from the Blackberry to it.

I'm not sure I like the new mail reading interface -- having two lines for each message means I can't pack the messages in per screen that the old firmware did. It's all about information density, baby...

That said, HTML mail reading is pretty good. Once you turn the auto-image-download off so that you don't blow your data plan, that is.

And the web viewer is better, or at least it is nicer to look at. I don't like pushing an arrow head around the screen with the trackball though. But it works, so it is OK so far.

Image viewing is much faster, and the media player is better too.

So maybe now I need to find myself some nice themes for it…

2009-03-30

Dear Numbers-Obsessed Social Networker:

This is a response to the article: Dear Web ‘Celebrity’ Who Never Follows Anyone Back, I think you’re missing the point of social media.

Two opinions:

First, why should I follow you back? Are you interesting? Just because you find me interesting is no reason to get petty because I don't find you interesting. If a WebCeleb followed all 15K followers he had, he'd get... well, he'd get 15K users worth of updates -- ie a flood of stuff that would drown out any use he might have had for Twitter except as a broadcast medium. All because Twitter's filtering tools SUCK, since basically it boils down to "everything please" or "no thanks".

If you are interesting, I might follow you if I think I might have a conversation with you.

Second. If you are interesting but I don't think I would have a conversation with you, or I suspect that due to your 15K followers you'd never see my pitiful attempts at conversation, I'll throw the RSS feed of your tweets into my Google Reader. That way I'll see what you say, if you are interesting, and I can dump your RSS feed easily if you get boring.

So.

In conclusion: be interesting, and don't get stuck in the trap of equivocating "number of followers" with "importance".

Look to Star Trek for guidance: "Don't try to be a great man, just be a man and let history come to its own conclusions."

And yes, I just went there.

2009-03-23

Music

There's a reason why you can't sell "hi-fidelity" CDs these days. That reason is simple: audiophiles are a dying breed.

Today, kids don't spend their money on a sound system for the living room. They spend their money either on an iPod, or on a car stereo.

And what's common to both these musical players?

They are both used in what can only be charitably described as HOSTILE ENVIRONMENTS.

If you are rolling down the road at 120 km/h or sitting in traffic, there are going to be other noises in your environment. Your car, other cars, pedestrians, city noises in general. Subtlety isn't going to get recognized in such an environment.

So naturally, people want music that can stand up to the environment. Thus, the flatter, bass-enhanced type of music that we see these days.

Music has changed from an end in itself to a lifestyle accessory. An enhancement, something that makes the day go by a little more easily.

And while that means that "music as art" may be slipping away, it does mean that there are more people who want music as part of their lives.

2009-03-16

Clay Shirky on Newspapers

Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable
The newspaper people often note that newspapers benefit society as a whole. This is true, but irrelevant to the problem at hand; “You’re gonna miss us when we’re gone!” has never been much of a business model.

2009-03-10

Prize Time

Ontario lottery corporation blasted for Benz giveaway amid auto crisis
During question period at the provincial legislature in Toronto, Conservative MPP Ted Chudleigh asked the Liberal government why the OLG is giving away 22 Mercedes-Benz B200s during its April "License to Win" competition, instead of cars made by Ontarians.

[...]

Responding for the Liberals, Smitherman said he agreed "entirely" with Chudleigh's question and added he had a face-to-face meeting over the contest with OLG chief executive officer Kelly McDougald.
No word on whether McDougald defended the decision on the basis that the Lottery Corporation wanted to give out prizes people would actually like.

Archeology

James Allen said something very interesting:
Someone yesterday said that I got it wrong about Honda and Michael Schumacher back in January. Sure, it did not work out, but they were talking… In the old days stories like that ended up being wrapped around fish and chips after 12 hours. In the modern age they are carved forever into the ether.
(Emphasis mine.)

It is interesting how the Internet appears somehow more permanent than some of the media which has gone before it. Posts made ten years ago are almost as findable as posts made today; our collective history is available to everyone as never before. The history can be accessed in as raw or as filtered a format as you'd like.

True, in 200 years it is likely that practically none of it will remain, and as a resource for the future it is likely lacking; archeologists won't be able to resurrect a RAID group from a single recovered drive. But it is interesting that our ability to recover the near past from internet activity is changing how we think about permanence.

2009-03-02

Happy 6th Birthday SnipSnap

Just over six years ago, I installed my first instance of Snipsnap. Snipsnap is the wiki-blog (or "bliki", to use an invented word) software that is running on my wiki site. According to the software, since then I've added over a thousand entries.

The wiki has gone from a private tool, to a website exposed from my systems at home, to a website that's on its own dedicated box in a hosting facility.

I've had many thoughts about the software, chief among them that I don't like the java thing that runs it; I have even done some rough planning on designing a replacement. This would change some of the things I'd like changed, while leaving intact the syntax of the actual entries.

The one thing that SnipSnap has going for it is that it has a relatively short learning curve. This means that it is easy to get information into it, and once you do that the inertia of the existing information acts as a deterrent to throwing it away and replacing it with something else.

Eventually I'm sure I'll have to do something about it, either finding the gratuitous time required to write my replacement, or change to something else. The software isn't being developed any more and it is only a matter of time before either it won't run in a modern environment or someone finds and exploits some gaping security hole.

But still: six years. That's an age in Internet time.

2009-02-24

Quick Edit

Quebec experiments with photo radar
The Quebec government is trying out photo radar and red light cameras at 15 locations across the province in an effort to break profit from the bad habits of some drivers.
Fixed that for you.

2009-02-20

QUESTION FOR CITY HALL

With all the falling-over-each-other going on to give bus riders incentives to do what 95% of them are probably going to do anyways, I have one question:

Given that I am one of the approximately 4 in 5 city residents who do not take the bus; and

Given that I am a taxpayer and therefore subsidized this bus service before, during, and after the strike; and

Given that I was just as inconvenienced with traffic and weather delays, lost opportunities, and other general misery as everyone else in this city; and

Given that I am a taxpayer and am therefore on the hook for the cost over-runs of the aformentioned service and incentives:

WHERE IS YOUR CONCERN FOR MY VALUE FOR MONEY?

Thank you for your time.

2009-02-19

Memo to West Coast Salesmen:

...don't call me at the end of your day. I'm putting my kids to bed and don't want to talk business with you. Call me before the end of my day.

2009-02-10

I did the stupid 25-Things Meme on Facebook.

1. I don't do memes.

Ok, that's more "topical" than "random", so maybe you want some more "random".

2. The following stunts are performed by trained professionals. Do not attempt this at home.

3. Never sign a contract that includes the provision for "other duties as required".

4. I don't have 25 Facebook friends. Oh wait, I have 35. How did that happen? I'm not going to count my real friends because I suspect the answer to that would depress me.

5. Gabriel Pizza is the official pizza of this un-meme participation post. AC Delco is the official auto parts supplier to this un-meme participation post. Reproduction of this post or portions thereof without the express, written consent of Major League Baseball is a violation of the Man-Van Act of 1887.

6. I'm getting older and find that no, I don't want fries with that any more. Sometimes I want salad. I still like my salad drenched in French dressing, but at least I'm eating it more often.

7. Objects may be closer than they appear.

8. I don't watch Mythbusters just for the explosions any more.

9. It is 21:50 on a Tuesday. Do you know how far under water your retirement funds are? I know how far underwater mine are.

10. The only time I've run out of gas, I was driving an old car with soft back springs that meant the fuel pick-up got starved before the tank was actually empty. Actually that car was soft all around -- it was so bad that in an emergency-strength threshold-braking maneuver, it was literally easier to look out through the sun roof to see where you were going than to bend down and look out the windshield. It was great for scaring tailgaters though, if you just brushed the brakes the rear bumper would go up like eight inches and make the tailgater think that I'd just stood on the brakes.

Wow. That was like three things, so I'll skip ahead in the numbers.

13. I'm skipping ahead in the numbers. Live with it. Again, more "relevant" than "random", but... yeah, live with it.

14. I can't remember what the last movie I went to the theater to see was.

15. Win: http://spacex.com/multimedia/videos.php?id=31

16. I've passed on A-K suited on the button pre-flop. I've also shoved all-in with the hammer under the gun. Most of the time I'm a tight-passive player, but can turn aggressive at unpredictable times.

17. Penicillin makes me paranoid. Difficult-to-live-with paranoid. The doctors tell me it shouldn't, but every time I've had it, it happens.

18. I've never been a driver in a car accident more serious than a 10km/h bump. I know some people who would have bet heavily that I wouldn't have been able to say this at this age. (Or even ten years ago.)

19. I may be better than I think I am -- but I don't think I'm very good. But maybe I am.

20. I have a Backstreet Boys song in my music library. I listen to it often. Well, maybe "frequently", not "often".

21. Blackjack. Pay me.

22. This statement is false. It's also blatant padding because I'm running^Whave run out of things, interesting or otherwise, to say.

23. Twenty Three is the largest prime number under 25.

24. I like Ocean's Eleven because I used to watch it a lot when Alex was very tiny. It makes me remember how I felt when Alex was sleeping on the couch with me. Most fo the time I feel Alex is getting better every day, but sometimes I miss that tiny little boy.

25. I am overwhelmed by your awesomeness -- you win.

Done.

2009-02-09

ToyPedia fishing for help

So I got an email the other day from someone associated with ToyCollector.com. He was announcing/asking-for-help-with their new project, ToyPedia. This is a project to catalog every toy ever made. Their estimate is over a million items that could possibly be included.

I clicked over and had a look, but there's precious little content there so far, and the organization is pretty thin even in well-defined areas such as Hot Wheels.

The problem is that you can't just put up a wiki and then open it up to the masses. You have to bring something more to the table than just an idea and hosted software. You need:
  • An organizational layout. Categorizations. Trees. Some areas which are well defined as an example.
  • Some content. You need to have something that will draw people in such that they will get something out of the visit without requiring them to contribute.
  • An editorial staff willing and able to ensure that the organization stays consistent, follows through and cleans up the contributions so that the contributers see the point of helping while making sure that the overall quality and polish of the site stays up... which unfortunately will require chasing off the trolls.
Without that, all that, all you have is yet another hosted idea. The best sites are ones where a small group of people add the initial content, and then through word-of-mouth (and google searches) interest grows naturally. You can't just go from "idea" to "cool, useful project". There's a lot of work and pain in between that can't be skipped over.

Personally, I don't much see the point of yet another wiki. The "gold standard" is always going to be Wikipedia and its individual spin-offs. In my case, the Hot Wheels Wiki is where I occasionally add content, even though I don't really like the layout and categorization rules they have chosen.

So, good luck ToyPedia -- I'll check in on you in a couple of years to see if you've managed to get anywhere.

2009-02-03

Strange night at Poker Stars

WTF was up with PokerStars tonight? The ring games were plugged, and the client refused to add me to the (ridiculously long) queues to get into one. So I resorted to a Sit-n-go. And what do I find?



A nine-way sit-n-go featuring up to 8 sitters! Two other people came and went, and I eventually finished second to one of them... but initially it was me, and 8 people sitting out. It wasn't fun, and I nearly bailed on it myself.

Strange night.

2009-02-02

Wordle of RedGlory

Wordle: like game hockey

Wordle knows.

2009-02-01

Spirit in distress?

On Sunday, during the 1,800th Martian day, or sol, of what was initially planned as a 90-sol mission on Mars, information radioed from Spirit indicated the rover had received its driving commands for the day but had not moved. That can happen for many reasons, including the rover properly sensing that it is not ready to drive. However, other behavior on Sol 1800 was even more unusual: Spirit apparently did not record the day's main activities into the non-volatile memory, the part of its memory that persists even when power is off.


Now that's rocket science -- getting a probe designed for 90 days to go 1800.

Spirit isn't written off yet, but this is probably a sign that the end of the probe's usefulness is coming to an end.

2009-01-25

Randall Denley on Stephen the Stimulator

Says Randall:
An unnamed "senior government official" says former tightwad Stephen Harper will be borrowing $64 billion over two years and going on a spending bender the likes of which we haven't seen. Just to be clear, and not to get the unnamed official into trouble, he/she said there will be a $64-billion deficit. The tightwad and bender stuff are just things that we know.


There's also rumors of a tax cut for you and me.

So, to sum up:
  • The government is going to spend lots of money it doesn't have; and
  • plans to pay it back with less of a tax base.
All this from the same clowns who, the day before the election, swore up and down that there was no economic crisis, a deficit would never happen, and aren't those Liberals evil for suggesting otherwise?

The voters got the government they deserve. If you vote for idiots, don't be surprised when that's who ends up running the country.

Lotto Update

Back on 9 January, I cashed in my free ticket from last time, and got another $4 quick-pick for the draw ($10 million I think). And while the $4 I spent of my own money got me nothing, my free ticket has earned me... another free ticket.

So that makes my net since tracking this:
  • Spent: $8
  • Win: $4
  • Net: -$4
So we're leaking money, but we're not doing it a too extreme a rate.

2009-01-05

Anti-Spam.

So, having fixed the mailflow yesterday, and done the following things:

  • set up greylisting on the primary MX

  • set up greylisting on the secondary MX

  • configured sendmail to bounce the two top fake addresses that spammers use when faking my domain

...today's spam count in my inbox is 1. One spam. No bounces, or challenge-responses, or postmasters, or what have you.

I just checked in my gmail "spam" folder, and there are only two messages there, one of which I put there because we no longer do business with the store that sent this message.

While I am sure that things will get worse again, I'm pretty pleased that I've been able to make things a bit better so simply.

2009-01-04

...well, nuts to me.

I take back everything bad I said or hinted at in the previous post.

Seems that when your $ORIGIN is .com, and your MX record is

MX 10 mail.xdroop.com

...the internet obediently tries to send mail to mail.xdroop.com.com, even though it doesn't exist.

I can't believe I missed that.

Literally fifteen seconds after fixing that and pushing it, the spam is flowing again.

So that means everything bad that's happened during my stay with Tera-Byte has been my fault. They have been a perfect host during my stay -- I never had to think about them or worry about them. And I think I got good value during my stay too.

2009-01-02

...well, nuts.

Turns out that when you tell the Tera-Byte people "I'll just let the hosting expire", they interpret that as "delete it now".

So for the next two days, parts of the internet will have the wrong registration information and will be looking at tera-byte for DNS information on my zone. Except that they've deleted said information, so I am off the air to parts of the internet for a little while.

Moral of the story: don't talk about letting the hosting expire until AFTER the TTL on the DNS record has passed since the time you change the name servers of record.

Corollary: start the migration off of a hosted platform more than three days before the hosting is due to expire.

Nice.

Overall I am still happy with my time at Tera-Byte and would recommend them to anyone asking about shared hosting.

Update: it looks like my own version of my zone is missing some magic that Tera-Byte uses to decide if it will let systems relay mail for me. When I telnet to their mail scanner, it refuses to relay. So I'm probably screwed until the zone records time out, which means all my mail will come as a flood on Sunday some time.

Things To Do

My Tera-Byte hosting is up for renewal, and I've decided not to renew it. The main point of having the hosting was to host the weblog; now everything which isn't on the wiki computer is at Google, so there isn't much point.

I am keeping the domain name, though.

This is all a scramble because the renewal is the 4th of January, and I only got notified about the renewal on 25 December.

So I have to:

  • set up new DNS hosts

  • copy the content from Tera-Byte

  • set up the wiki computer to re-serve the Tera-Byte content while I figure out a longer term strategy for those pieces

  • set up the primary and secondary MX relaying

  • set up anti-spam on the wiki (since that will be doing primary mail)


Longer term it might still be a good idea to move all mail to Google Domains. I looked at that a while back but didn't like it. The Google Domains only offered 2GB per mailbox; meanwhile Gmail was giving me over 6GB (and currently it is 7.2GB, of which I am using about 300MB). Also I have to admit I am a bit disappointed with the anti-spam on Gmail, I am still having to deal with a bunch of spam messages every day I look at that inbox... although it is true that at least I don't have to keep hand-holding the antispam like I used to have to.