2010-12-31

TigerDirect.Ca Refunds

Today's email:
Dear Valued Customer,

Thank you for your email.
We apologize for the inconvenience. Keep in mind that if a customer will purchase something from TigerDirect.Ca, Customs Brokerage Fees is always FREE. (customer don't need to pay for this because TigerDirect is the one who pays for the customers)
If the UPS guys requires a customer to pay the brokerage fees, please let them know that TigerDirect is responsible for this and call us at 1-800-800-8300.

Kindly email us the receipt of customs brokerage fees that you paid (COD) and we will be processing a refund back to your account.


Thank you for visiting our website. We appreciate your business. If you have further inquiries and reply to this email, please make sure to include your entire message, so we can address it appropriately.

Sincerely,
Roy
TigerDirect.ca Web Response
I've PDF'd the COD invoice and sent that off, let's see what happens. I suspect what will happen is that I'll end up with a TigerDirect.ca credit.

2010-12-30

TigerDirect.Ca Responds

(Previously.)

Boilerplate time:
Dear Valued Customer,

Thank you for your email.

You can always check for shipping charges for the product when you are on the check out portion of the process, you can put in you zip code on the field and it will provide you with details regarding the charges that might be applicable for the order.



Thank you for visiting our website. We appreciate your business. If you have further inquiries and reply to this email, please make sure to include your entire message, so we can address it appropriately.

Sincerely,
Dennis
TigerDirect.ca Web Response
Of course, I can't let this go.
Thank you for your reply.

However, I have reviewed the check out process, and I still cannot see where I was warned about the possibility of additional shipping charges or fees.

This PDF is the order confirmation screen: http://wiki.xdroop.com/dropbox/TigerDirect-1.pdf

There is an interesting phrase here towards the bottom of the screen:

All prices in Canadian dollars. No additional duties or fees.

(see http://wiki.xdroop.com/gallery2/d/3355-1/101229163732001.jpg)



This PDF is the order confirmation screen immediately before credit card information is entered:

[link removed because it does have some privacy stuff of mine here]

Again, the same phrase is present. I see two shipping options itemized here, both UPS variants. But there is no warning about the possibility of additional fees of any kind, and the bold text above would strongly lead one to believe that further fees are not in any way likely.

If you could clear up this confusion of mine, I would appreciate it.

Let me be clear here:

I do not want to reverse this transaction.

I don't even care if I get a refund on the UPS brokerage fees.

All I want is the assurance that the next time I choose TigerDirect.ca, if I am entering into a transaction where additional fees may apply, I get clearly warned about them.

Thank you again for your attention to this matter.

On Thu, Dec 30, 2010 at 7:05 AM, Tiger Canada wrote:
I'm pretty pissed about this.

2010-12-29

TigerDirect.Ca shipping problem

So what happened:

I got a new laptop for work. For whatever reason, PCMCIA/CardBus adapters are no longer in vogue, so my CardBus ethernet card is no good anymore.

To provide a little context here: when I need to do some diagnostics with networks, sniffing or whatever, I like to do it from a VM. I also like to do it from an interface that my base OS doesn't use. That way I can remain connected to the working part of the network, hopefully, so I can use the internet to help me figure out what is going on. Therefore I need a third (after the built-in RJ45 and wireless) interface for the VMs.

So OK, I do my research and discover that I do have a ExpressCard slot on the new computer. And I'll admit it took me a half hour to figure out how to get it open. And after a bit of research I find a card at TigerDirect.ca which fits my needs.

So on 20 December 2010, I order it.

On 29 December it arrives, along with a UPS delivery dude who wants 40% of the card's value in COD charges for customs brokerage fees.

And I go, WTF? I ordered from a .ca company, why is it coming from a US address? But I pay the man because I want the card.

And I do see that it was shipped from someplace in Naperville Illinois.

Anyways, this is the email I sent to the Tiger Direct feedback email, the same day:
Greetings

With regards to the above order, it apparently shipped from a US location and the UPS agent required COD for customs brokerage services.

My expectation, in dealing with a .ca website, that the product would have been shipped from Canada. It was for this reason I selected tigerdirect to perform this transaction.

While I am happy with the device, had the possibility of further shipping fees (which approach 40% of the post-tax value of the transaction), it would have changed the value proposition of the transaction.

Can you show me where in the order process I would have been instructed to consider the possibility of additional costs due to shipping from the US?

Thank you for any insight you may be able to offer.
(Tiger Direct people playing along at home can see order D0894185.)

In fact, shortly after sending this, I ran through the order process again, and find this buried in the fine print:



Their two shipping options available to me were "UPS WorldShip CA" for $7, and "UPS WorldShip Express" for $22.

I consider this borderline dishonest, even if they could argue they are not responsible for charges incurred by the shipping company. At this point I would not order from them again.

I'll update if/when I get a response.

2010-12-19

Review: Tron Legacy (IMAX-3D)

I saw this movie in IMAX-3D. I have only seen a handful of movies in 3D, including Avatar, and remain convinced that 3D is a gimmick. A neat gimmick, to be sure, but just a gimmick.

My hope was that I could just watch the movie and let it flow over me, without me thinking about it. I didn't want to think about story, effects, characters, none of that. I'd been waiting for this for over a year.

On first viewing, overall my verdict is approval. This movie is true to the spirit of the original Tron. There were only a couple of effects which I found jarring, and only one or two plot points that made me go "wait, what?"

I read a review which said, in part:
    Successful or not, Tron was pushing the envelope, trying for something new, Tron: Legacy is paralysed by its reverence for the old.
And in a way this is true. Tron: Legacy is very much caught up by the weight of the original, and the time that has passed since the original. I don't think this is a bad thing. Those of us who love the original don't want a radical reboot of the universe; we want an updated Tron universe, but a continuation of the story and characters.
There is a lot of love for the history we grew up with here. Right from Sam's opening sequence, where he makes a well-worn observation regarding a building's fixture, we are given the signal that the creators of Legacy also remember and love the original. Flynn's office contains an old Sun i386 workstation, a beast that was old when I started with Sun equipment more than 15 years ago, but it captured the feel of the computing environment from the time. We are offered occasional updated recognizers, and a brief glimpse of the grid tanks that hark back to the original, and the MCP's carrier is present in an updated form. Jenn noted nods to both Wang and Cray.

Tron: Legacy continues the nifty sleight-of-hand that the original perpetrated. Tron was actually about Kevin Flynn, with the title character as a side kick. Similarly, Legacy is actually about Sam Flynn, and the returning character Tron is barely mentioned, even though he is present in more ways that are immediately obvious.

Legacy is also another movie about fathers and sons, a topic which rings with me a bit more now.

The jarring effect I mentioned above? When Sam returns to his garage/apartment, the garage door is obviously a CGI and the movement is just… wrong. Simple stuff, especially with the effects-heavy sequences later in the movie. But that one was the one which made me notice it.

Plot-wise, there are a few quibbles. There was one character who was so over-the-top that he was almost not over-the-top enough. There was one point where Kevin Flynn makes a completely unexpected change of mind in how he wants to carry on his quest that didn't fit. There was one point where a character tells us Gemm. My name is Gemm. and I thought well of course it is, honey.

Jenn thought the movie could have used more explanation of the plot points as things went on; I thought that the script contained enough explanation of both the back-plot from the original movie as well as providing the needed context for the more immediate action.

But these are but minor details. All that aside, I think this is a worthy successor. It is one of the few movies I've seen in the last few years that I want to see again in the theater (although probably just 2D this time, thank you). I bought the soundtrack by Daft Punk, and look forward to seeing the movie in my DVD collection.

End of line.

2010-12-11

Attention Span

Commentary on the attention span of today's Internet:

Exhibit A, a 45-minute video showing high-speed photography of various aspects of a Shuttle launch.

Exhibit B, a 3-minute video showing a Lego Antikythera Mechanism implementation.

Exhibit A has less than 10,000 views.

Exhibit B? More than 430,000 views.

2010-11-14

I Wonder

So one of the complaints of the inner-city residents is that suburban residents cost the city more to service than inner-city residents do.

I was wondering today: if one includes the unpaid, implied infrastructure deficit (the impending costs which will be required to replace, revitalize, or overhaul the in-place infrastructure) -- is that still true?

I find this all interesting, because I seem to recall that one of the main reasons FOR the amalgamated city was the fact that the suburbs was filled with a large, happy tax-base which went to work every day in downtown Ottawa, requiring Ottawa to build infrastructure that the freeloading suburbites never paid for. This was why Orleans and Nepean had balanced budgets or surpluses all those years while Ottawa had comparatively harder budget choices to make.

2010-10-26

Why I Didn't Vote, 2010

(I mentioned on Twitter that I wasn't going to vote, and some folks asked why. Since this is a complicated issue that won't fit into 140 characters, I wrote it up here and linked to it.)

I have been eligible to vote since the federal general election of 1988. Since that time I have voted in every election I was eligible to do so in, with the exception of the 2010 Municipal Election.

Why?

First, let me distract you with some irrelevancies.

The problem with elections is that just anyone can run. Anyone who has made a career of public service suddenly becomes a "career politician", something which is considered a negative label by the electorate. Ignorance seems a virtue.

The problem with election campaigns is that there are very few new ideas. Most of the platform planks which come up are either incredibly simplistic (ie zero-means-zero), incredibly naiive (ie LRT on Carling), impossible (throwing out all the collective barganing agreements the city has with the unions), illegal (several (usually fringe) candidates always want to do things that are the responsibility of other levels of government), or incredibly vague (ie being in favor of delivering the LRT tunnel on time and on budget, except if it is going to cost too much, in which case we'll scrap it and start from scratch again).

The problem with candidates is that there is, at the end of the day, very little to differentiate most of them apart. So the natural inclination is to pick on real or perceived character flaws of other candidates, blow them out of proportion, and then loudly say, "I'm not like him(*)." US politics, especially presidential politics, is almost exclusively about the "not him" gambit. The federal conservative parties turned this into an electable strategy after the Reform and PC parties merged. It has worked so well that the federal Liberals have now abandoned any semblance of policy development and will now throw all their efforts into the same "not him" strategy.

The problem with elections overall is that all of this is blown up into a firestorm by the media. Candidates prance for the media, who feed back into the whole mess by paying attention and then instigating conflict. This is the reason why the "not him" strategy works: because it is short and simple enough for a soundbite or a five paragraph article. They then tie this up with demands that the candidates possess "vision", which seems to be code for "large projects mostly funded by tax money" (see also Landsdown, the tunnel...).

The problem with the actual act of voting is that there is no way for the electorate to register their displeasure with the options being offered. Ideally there would be some way to show up and decline the ballot in such a way that the declined ballots would be counted and listed along side the number of votes for each candidate. That way you could compare the number of votes for any candidate with the number of voters who cared enough to get involved but didn't like any of the options.

Right now a dissatisfied voter has three options:
  • they can skip voting entirely, which makes them look like they don't care;
  • they can deliberately spoil their ballot, which makes them look like an idiot; or
  • they can vote for someone they don't want to win, which makes them an idiot.
When we vote, we are putting a vote for someone. This is an implied endorsement of at least something they have, be it their ideas, their record, even the order their name is presented on the ballot.

As such, I feel very strongly that campaigns and platforms need to be for something. Being "I'm not him" is not being for something.

We are not (or should not be) voting against someone. We can only vote for someone.

So all that said, we come back to why I didn't vote this time around: I did not think there was any person or collection of ideas that I wanted to vote for.

Mr. Watson is a career politician, and as such he left himself plenty of wiggle room on his promises. So he'll do what it is feasable to do. This is a safe and practical position to have. The problem is he hasn't differentiated between what he'd like to do verses what is most likely to be dropped, ie what the priorities are if there isn't enough money in the budget to do everything (and there isn't). There isn't any substance to him. And he's bailed on jobs before, leaving municipal politics to run provincially, and then leaving his ministerial job with the governing Liberals to come back to us fine folk.

Mr. Doucett never made many bones about not caring much for the suburbs, and since my place of residence (Morgan's Grant, north North Kanata) is the embodiment of sprawl,
I got the impression that he really didn't have anything for me and wasn't going to bother to try. (See this discussion I put into #NCR about Mr. Doucett's platform and sprawl in general.) His LRT-down-Carling idea was willful blindness in terms of what is actually achievable with a bureaucracy involved, and his constant windmill-tilting at the Landsdown plan was tiring. His inconsistancy in how unchallengable council decisions should be (ie absolute when it came to the OMB, except where he disagreed with it as in the tunnel and Landsdown). His vision of the city seemed to be restricted to the Glebe (and a downtown without a LRT tunnel).

Mr. O'Brien... well, after "Zero Means Zero", what more needs to be said? The only positive I can think of is that council operated very smoothly while he was on trial, and he managed a budget consensus -- the only problem being it was a consensus that totally ignored him.

None of the other candidates could even be taken seriously as someone you would actively want to see in the Mayor's chair.

So given all that, who am I supposed to vote for? Seriously. Voting for someone I don't like proves me an idiot.

For all my talk about making a protest vote, I couldn't do it in the end, it felt dishonest.

And since the turn-out was less than 50% this time, I'm clearly not alone.

The bottom line here is that the huge number of people who didn't vote represent a enormous failure on the part of the candidates and their platforms. They failed to attract the interest of those who didn't care, and they failed to meet the standards of those of us who cared and paid attention but found them lacking.

To suggest that since I didn't vote means that I don't have a right to complain over the next four years is ridiculous. As a home owner, I pay taxes, and that is what gives me the right to complain. You wouldn't suggest that since I didn't vote I no longer have the expectation of garbage pickup, would you?

To suggest that I don't take the privilege of voting seriously, that I don't respect the sacrifice of those who worked, fought, and in some cases died for that privilege, is insulting to me and those who gained me that privilege. I am not hiding behind excuses like "I'm too busy" or "I don't care". I have paid attention to the campaigns and considered things very closely and seriously. I daresay that in deciding to not to vote, I spent far more time with this issue than some who did vote.

To suggest that I should throw that vote away by spoiling the ballot, or voting for someone I don't want to, strikes me as insulting to those who gained me that privilege. Participation in governance like this is something to be taken very seriously, and the suggestion that a vote be wasted -- in any way -- tries to oversimplify and trivialize the entire process.

This was the first time I didn't vote, but I suspect it won't be the last. My previous vote was a protest vote for the Green Party, and it left me feeling dishonest. I'm not going to pretend that politics is any different than it was when I was younger, but I do know that my tolerance for it has gone way down.

And the way of the present seems to be to have more spectacularly less qualified candidates (Mr. O'Brien, Mr. Ford) which cater an overly simplistic and totally undeliverable message to the masses who want simple solutions to complicated problems.

I am not optimistic for the future, since nobody has the vision to make me so.

--

* == Statistically it is going to be a him. Totally different issue.

2010-10-16

On Suburbs

(This is a thinly edited IRC rant I put into #NCR this week.)

Doucet became clearer to me once I realized he doesn't care if I vote for him since he's not interested in doing anything for me as a Kanata resident. Which perhaps paradoxically means he's a safe protest vote, since none of Larry, Jim, or Andy do it for me.

Suburbs are a hard problem. But since we pay taxes too, we have to be part of the solution. You can't just go around wringing your hands and saying "sprawl is evil", you have to make incentives for sprawlers to de-sprawl and you have to make sure the de-sprawlers don't lose their shirt while doing so.

Also, there are reasons why people live out here:

1) it is nicer than the city
2) it is cheaper than the city
3) it is quieter than the city

...and trying to make the rest of the city into a Glebe clone isn't going to solve ANY of those problems.

The Glebe is unique:

- it is close to the city
- but it isn't super dense

...basically it is a suburb that was pre-sprawl sprawl that Ottawa expanded to envelope.

The problem I have with Doucett's transit plan is that it is masquarading as two plans. A line that does commuter rail from Kanata into the core is not going to serve local on/off traffic down Carling. It is a one-or-the-other. I mean, look at how frickin' long it takes the 85 to go from downtown to Bayshore (or maybe I'm dating myself with that comment? does teh 85 still do that run?) whereas an express from kanata lakes is 60 minutes.

Or was, anyways.

I don't want to know how long it is from Morgan's Grant, it is something I've never had to do.

Bottom line, Doucett's look-how-great-the-Glebe-is campaign doesn't sell out here in Kanata. But it looks like it doesn't sell in most places, so, like I said earlier, it makes him a safe protest vote.


...and heck, if he does pull an NDP victory: he can't be any worse than Larry was, since I doubt council will listen to him, either.

</lecture>

2010-09-29

Monetizing A Hobby

(Crossposted to the hockey blog.)

Mr. Myers at Sens Army Blog is obviously looking at the internet with a bit of jealousy in his heart these days, and is wondering why he shouldn't get paid to do the work he does.

I'll be up front: I'm picking on Mr. Myers here both because his article happened to come up in my RSS reader, and because he's been here before (see I'm Selling Out And Need Your Feedback).

As a freelance writer, Mr. Myers has every right to set both the expectation of compensation for his submissions, as well as the price he wishes to charge for that work. However, nobody is under any obligation to pay that price, with the resultant penalty that either those potential readers have to do without reading his work, or new work doesn't get created because Mr. Myers is off doing something else that someone is willing to pay him to do.

And that's the key.

The undercurrent to my reply to Mr. Myers' first go-around was "you can't sell out if nobody's buying". And the same rationale should be presented here, as well.

Economically, prices are set by willing seller selling to willing buyer. When the buyer in this case is looking at the supply of "writing done by Mr. Myers", the supply is sharply limited and Mr. Myers has a natural monopoly on this very narrow market. If the market in question is "Senators bloggers of a quality better than 'fanboys with little insight to give(*)'", the market is somewhat wider, and populated with people who will participate for no monetary compensation. Given that, the potential buyer would be foolish to pay for something he can get for free.

On the other side, the economics of internet businesses are still somewhat hand-wavey. The golden years of being paid non-fractional-dollars for low-thousand-impressions are long gone. Even a thousand viewers will add very little in the way to immediate bottom-line revenue to an internet business (see also Mr. Myer's response to my comment on his older article). So from an immediate revenue sharing angle, there is not much in the way of immediate revenue to share.

So it is unfortunate that the market has decided that the immediate value of "sports blogging" is so low that it averages out to might-as-well-be-zero for all but the highest end of the market(**).

But that's economics for you.

People who try to blog for money are like those setting up in the restaurant business. The vast majority of independent restaurants or clubs fail to last even one year before the original owner runs out of money. Done well, it is a lot of work, and even high quality writing is not necessarily a guarantee of success since the problem of attracting an audience in the sea of noise that is out there.

Or perhaps a more apt comparison would be to compare professional bloggers to professional actors. Hundreds show up at a cattle call for a single part; and most parts don't pay very well. The percentage of people who manage to make any money doing it is very small; the percentage of them who make their living is also small; and the percentage of those who get rich doing it is microscopic.

I blog because it is interesting to me at times. I'm never going to make any money doing this and I'll probably never be regularly read by anyone other than Google's search engine and myself.

You should blog because you are interested in something or passionate about something. But just having those credentials is no guarantee that you'll be able to make a living doing it.

--

(*) = so coined by Pension Plan Puppets during Toronto Star Gate. And yes, I'm under no delusion that I would fall into any other category for any of my blogs.

(**) = One of my wife's writing magazines had this tidbit in it on blogging: only the top 10% of blogs make any money. And the average annual revenue for that 10% is $19K. And keep in mind that the income from blogs does not scale linearly with the increase in popularity through that 10%.

2010-09-20

The Herd Effect

Wandering through Toronto, you can't help but hear the horror in the realization that this Rob Ford has a 43% rating in the popularity polls leading up to the Toronto mayoral election this fall. This election is his to lose, even if he's been trying hard to lose it.

I had two realizations about this.

First, if Toronto is anything like Ottawa then what is going to happen is that largely the same councilors will be re-elected, resulting in a populist mayor who is both an idiot and largely ignored by council. Ford will end up saying a lot of silly things but having no real effect on what happens in the city -- except that if he runs for re-election in four years, he'll take credit for anything positive which happens in the meantime.

Ottawa's been here already, and his name is Larry O'Brien.

Secondly, it occurs to me that this is what happens when the previously disinterested population gets interested in politics -- they get attracted to the bright shiny(*) who offers them simplistic solutions to complicated problems, and they vote as a herd.

Maybe the intellectual elite need to re-think this whole "engaging the voters" thing.

--

(*) = no judgment on hairstyles implied.

2010-09-12

Jazz vs. Bowling

Seth Godin on Jazz vs Bowling:
when we get to work, most of us choose to bowl.
Thing is, we're making bowling scores here, so it doesn't matter how good a jazz player we might be.

2010-09-09

Watson: overestimating the public's electoral awareness

Watson, on Zero-means-zero:
The public understands that there is a cost associated with living in a civilized and caring society.
The fact that they elected Mayor Larry suggests that maybe they don't, or at least they don't care and want the hurting in their wallets to stop.

2010-08-28

I Like BOB-TV

But more importantly, Alex likes Bob-TV.

Reasons why Bob-TV is better than The Wiggles:
  • Although they are both music shows, the Bob-TV is better music.
  • Having Bob-TV on in the background is like having the radio on from when I was going to school.
  • Most importantly it takes Alex three hours to watch all three Bob-TV episodes in the PVR rather than only the one hour required to exhaust the Wiggles episodes in the PVR.
One of the current crop of Bob-TV episodes in our PVR includes Rush's Tom Sawyer in them.

2010-08-19

We're number 7!

Idiot journalist:
But the good news for Canadians is that we are no far behind on the ranking — 7th out of 100 countries.
No, wrong, thanks for playing.

In lists like this your position doesn't matter so much as your distance from whatever you think your achievable score is.

Look, if these countries were in a line up and the first ten countries got something like I dunno a sane politician, then yes being 7th is pretty good. But being 11th is just as bad as being 100th -- all you get for turning up is wasted time.

But since this list we are talking about involves some kind of scoring, what's important is both the total score and the scores of those ahead (and, if you care, behind) of us. Otherwise your "position on the list" is completely meaningless.

Let's consider a hypothetical list of 100 countries where we come last. But the countries are scored on a scale of 1 to 100, and the first 99 countries get 100, and we get 99. So just looking at the list we'd say "we are the last one! boo hoo!" and "we are the only country to score below average! Boo hoo!" But the fact that we are only 1% out of the logjam for #1 means we really did pretty well.

But what do you expect -- the IS the media we are talking about.

(Posted here because the Citizen's signup thing hates me.)

2010-08-14

6K on ServerFault

Been a while, but broke 6K on Server Fault yesterday.

Seems to me like the number of questions I can answer is steadily dropping, as so much of the low-hanging-fruit turns out to be duplicates of previous answers. The questions that remain are very incident-specific, and most of then deal with details I don't know about.

But still, 6K is still nothing to sneer at. As of today, I'm ranked #42 on the site.

(Previously.)

2010-08-12

Context Fail: Flipped

As in:
A tractor-trailer has flipped on its side forcing police to close the two south bound lanes of Maitland Ave.
To me, a "flip" describes a end-over-end motion which sweeps at minimum 180 degrees. 270 degrees is more like it.

Compare: if I flip onto my back, it implies I went face-first, my feet go over my head, and I end up on my back. If I go over backwards and end up on my back, to me it just implies a 90 degree change in orientation -- in other words, I just fell over backwards.

While I'm sure that someone, somewhere has "flipped" a tractor trailer onto its side, using the terms "flopped" or "fell over" is probably far more descriptive.

2010-08-04

Balloons In Spaaaace

Problem: thousands of objects, one square centimetre or larger, in orbit around the earth.

Solution: tie big balloons to dead satellites and let them increase the orbital drag, which should eventually drag them into the atmosphere where they'll burn up.

Problem: how do you tie big balloons to dead satellites?

Solution: An orbital robot, the design and implementation of which is left as an exercise for the reader.

Don't you love science!

2010-07-24

Context Fail: Numerous.

Like this: A 50-year-old man faces numerous charges for firearms and public mischief after an armed standoff with police at a Swiss Chalet in Toronto's west end on Friday afternoon.

The word Numerous is being used here as short form for "a really large amount", when it really means "beyond number".

The legal system is a precise world. There is an actual number of charges that this man is facing, but the journalists in question realize that the reading public really don't care what this number is. And because writing something like A 50-year-old faces a really large number of charges [...] sounds like you are in grade school, the word "numerous" has been inserted instead.

It is lazy, imprecise use of language.

2010-07-09

I Like This Idea

This is going to sound a little strange when compared with past opinions, but...

This idea of extending LRT to Landsdown is an idea I like.

It seems to me that thinking about things this was is exactly what you want to do in order to promote "smart" growth. If we are going to do LRT, and if we are going to do Landsdown, then gluing the two together is to me a no-brainer.

It occurs to me that any LRT which improves the lives of those of us who live out in the suburbs is only going to encourage the growth in those suburbs. If you are serious about densification, then you have to do two things:
  • make the core of the city an inviting place to live through public works improvements like this, and
  • stop making the places you want to discourage people living in more inviting.
I mean really, why are people going to choose to live in the city over living in the suburbs? Because it is a nicer place to live.

You still have to deal with the problem that the same money in the city buys a fraction of the living space that it does in the city. There is probably no real solution to that problem. But by making the surrounding city more inviting goes a long way towards correcting the perceived imbalance, especially since you are not actively trying to make life in the suburbs more convenient.

(Timely: the Bulldog on roadworks projects.)

2010-07-03

More, On Comments

Drew Curtis, founder of irreverent Fark.com, disputes the "wisdom of crowds":
Curtis pointed to his own experience moderating comments on Fark, which allows users to give their often humorous take on the news of the day. He said only one percent of Web comments have any value and called the rest "garbage."
I have no illusions as to which side of the 99%-1% divide I reside on.

I can't decide which is more ironic -- the fact that Slashdot carried this, or the fact that TheHill.com has comments below this story.

Movie Fan Fail

Epic hate for Avatar: The Last Airbender:



My favourite? The fan who's dressed up, who says "I should have gone to see Twilight."

Epic.

2010-06-25

Green Bin Mystery... Solved!

So one of the criticisms of the Green Bin program was that during the summer, maggots would infest the bins, feasting on the organic waste within.

When we received our Green Bin, I wondered how this might be so, since the bin's latch was advertised as being Raccoon-Proof(*). Surely a closed lid that could resist raccoons would present an effective barrier to maggots, yes?

Then I come home one Monday, and find this waiting for me:



Oh.

And it wasn't just us, the entire street (plus the other two streets in the neighborhood I drive through coming home from work) was like this.

---

(*) == Yes, even though the city paper has video(**) showing this is demonstrably, laughably false; thus proving either that the Green Bin manufacturers are lying, or that they are employing stupid raccoons in Product Testing.

(**) == I find this hysterically ironic.

2010-06-22

Significance

Dilbert.com


Significance is left as an exercise for the reader.

2010-06-21

On Twitter

Yeah, see, sending out all those (almost daily, at this point) Twitters about your service seeing higher-than-normal error rates or other service problems is fine and makes you look all transparent and open such... but when Google Chrome thinks this is a representative thumbnail of your service:



...then you have an availability problem.

2010-06-18

On Comments, Again

Look what I found on the post about comments:



I really need to figure out how to turn comments off.

(Hmmm... This post doesn't have comments activated. So I'm probably safe for the future.)

2010-06-16

On Comments

I agree with this post:
I don’t see my site as a community in which I need to enable internal discussion via comments.
Freedom of speech is not the same of guaranteed access to a particular audience. You have the right to speak; you do not have the right to compel me, or anyone else who happens to be my audience, to listen to it.

If you want your own platform for speaking, go to Blogger like I did and get yourself set up.

Further, Daring Fireball says:
Comments, at least on popular websites, aren’t conversations. They’re cacophonous shouting matches.
This is particularly interesting to me right now. I have four (erm...yeah, four) blogs going on Blogger right now. I've received perhaps five on-topic, relevant comments on my posts from authors other than myself. By contrast, most mornings I have to whack at least one chinese porno comment spam from at least one of the blogs.

Finally, I have a fundamental distrust of those who would hide behind pseudonyms. There are always exceptions, but somehow hiding behind a handle implies a bit of shame, either of the name, or of the content labelled with that name. I put my real name on my posts.

Altogether it isn't worth the effort, and I think I will be disabling comments.

There is still the problem of how to see who (if anyone) is actually linking to my posts; Google Analytics does a bit of it, but I find it a bit tedious to work through.

2010-06-15

Wanted: One Clue, Apply Within

Wanted:
The directory thing you were talking about, and how when it's set up, we can save all of our work on the Server's HD rather than the desktops so the users are able to access their files using any computer
Someone's obviously taken an email and just pasted it into Craigslist.

Oddly enough this is the point of hiring outside help: you can pay people to know things that you either don't have any interest in and/or don't have time to deal with. But it would help if you demonstrated a willingness to learn a bit more.

2010-06-11

Certain Uncertainty

I'm always amused when I check the weather forecast and discover something like this:



A day set for "Cloudy with sunny breaks" gets 10mm of rain, while "Cloudy with showers" gets 1mm.

Also, the POP (Possibility Of Precipitation) is 10% less for the day with more rain.

Internet to Google: We Fear Change

Internet users rebel over change to Google search page. Google reverts changes.

Now I'm especially resistant to change, but even I think this is sad, sad, sad.

2010-06-09

I Understand Dr. Johnny Fever Now

Unbelievably, I have the power to effect change across the internet with only the slightest of effort.

Last week I mentioned a plethora of social-networking buttons that were infesting the web and picked on one 'blog more or less because his post happened to be the one I was reading when I had the time to write. As a result of that, said blogger ran an opinion poll, observed the voting, and then changed his setup.

I just wanted to share the doubling of traffic at this blog created by this firestorm of controversy I triggered, courtesy of Google Analytics:



I promise to only use this power for good in the future. And to take Cincinnati home and kiss her all over in the dark.

$100

Wait, what, really? $100 a year? $2 a week? Per family? Spread out over the year across all the purchases a family makes? That's what the conservatives have their collective shorts in a bunch over?
The impact for households with income ranging between $70,000 and $80,000 will be $95 a year, the study says. The tally jumps to $480 a year for those households with incomes between $150,000 and $300,000, the highest level examined.
Surely there must be something more relevant: the poor getting screwed, perhaps?
However, those households that fall below the $60,000 threshold will come out ahead financially, the study says. This group will benefit from new tax relief measures that will more than offset the higher cost of everyday goods under the HST.
As a Kanata home owner, I'm about to get "special levied" $100 a year for 10 years so the city can bury a hydro line.

Mr. Hudak, you seriously need a sense of perspective. Surely there are real things you can do to protect taxpayer interests rather than this cheap pandering and grandstanding?

2010-05-31

Is this a trick question?

Uninstalling APCUPSD because it doesn't work on Windows 7-64. And I get this.



...no "Next" button here. But the "Uninstall" button works just fine.

I Don't Share Well With Others

One of the thing that's baffled me over the years is this urge people have to put one-click-share buttons on their web content. The idea being that this content you've just discovered has transformed your life so much that it must immediately be disseminated to your followers such that they can bask in a similar enlightenment.

This was annoying when it was just "Digg!" "Slashdot!" "Blog This!" and one or two others. But one weblog I read through RSS takes the cake so far:



By my count that's 18 ways to share this content through the social media clouds. And it is worse through RSS, since each one of those icons is translated into a list of text links for the RSS feed. Sometimes the list of potential ways to share the post exceeds the content of the post its self!



The whole thing smacks slightly of excessive ego to me -- that your content is so important that it should be as easy as possible to spread the word. More than a bit ridiculous.

Personally if I find something that I want to share, I'll deal with the distribution of the goodness.

Similarly, if someone finds my words worth sharing, I place the burden of sharing on them, since they are the ones who want to do it.

(Oh, and in the unlikely event said blogger finds his way here -- I'm not picking on you, you were just the most handy example. You are in my RSS reader, which means I do read you, and that counts for something.)

2010-05-27

The Lawless Need Not Apply

Courtesy Craigslist, comes this ad with an oddly specific requirement:
Perform work in accordance with the provisions of the Canada Labour Code and all corporate/departmental policies and procedures related to Occupational Health and Safety.
Weird, eh? The ability to follow the law where it pertains to employment is an actual, stated requirement? Do they have positions where following the law is not a requirement?

Maybe that has something to do with this:
WORKING CONDITIONS:
  • 24/7 availability for 12 hour rotating shift work including evenings, weekends and holidays
  • Occasionally required to extend hours of work to meet work demands including occasional peak periods where required to work evenings or weekends.
So, uh, yeah, the regular shifts are 12 hours in length, except when they are longer.

Is that legal?...

(Previously.)

2010-05-19

Totally Different

The World Wide Web Diaspora is a distributed network social network in which end users run their own web servers nodes, where they generate their own content interact with other users, and decide who can see their information decide who can see their information.

No seriously, it's totally different.

Somehow.

Why does everyone try to re-invent the wheel?

2010-05-12

Survivor:Sysadmin 2 -- The Sysadminining

The drug users are back.
VACANCIES: 3

Local Ottawa firm is looking for a Server Administrator Intern. This position is perfect for students or recent graduates who are unable to find a job in their field as they have no job experience. This position is unpaid but may lead into a permanent contract position for the right individual.

RESPONSIBILITIES INCLUDE (but are not limited to):

• First point of contact for end user support.
• Manage and maintain all servers in environment and networking equipment.
• Ensure data availability by performing and validating backups, file replications and script management. PC, server, and network setup and maintenance.
• Documentation of network systems, operational procedures, network topology and

hardware inventory.
• Clear workstations of viruses, spy ware, or other malicious software
• Troubleshoot and resolve system issues and constantly work to improve existing system designs and bring new technology ideas to the table.
• Administer and troubleshoot company accounting systems and other third party and in-house business applications.

KNOWLEDGE, SKILLS and ABILITIES:

• A degree is preferred or a related field of study and a minimum of 3 years progressively more responsible experience; or any combination of training and experience that provides the necessary skills, knowledge and abilities.
• Ability to communicate with non-technical users.
• Windows Small Business Server 2008 Premium experience
• Must have knowledge of Microsoft Exchange Server 2007, Windows Sharepoint Services 3.0 and Microsoft SQL Server 2008
• Well organized and can manage multiple priorities.
• Demonstrate problem solving and decision making skills.
• Demonstrate design documentation and capacity planning techniques.

WHAT WE CAN OFFER:

• Experience working in an exciting industry
• Resume builder
• Recommendation letter

HOURS:

Preferably 10 hours per week, between 2 to 3 days per week, Monday thru Friday.

HOW TO APPLY:

To apply, please forward a cover letter explaining why you believe you are the best candidate for this position and your most recent resume.

***When applying for a position, please include the position title in the Subject line. For applications that don't specify which position in the subject line, their e-mail will be deleted automatically.
I guess playing Survivor:Sysadmin since February didn't net any long term suckers takers.

I wonder if they've found some government program that pays them to take on interns? If so, it would be a clever way to get the government to pay you to have an IT department.

2010-05-05

Angry Puppies in Parliament

A conservative senator recommended that some advocates "shut the f--k up" about pushing their agenda or risk a backlash. Naturally the opposition parties in the house are all in an uproar over this behavior, and with PM Steve off somewhere it falls to Sidekick Baird (pictured, who can always be relied upon to participate in political discourse with calm reasonability) to answer for him.

The answer? It isn't appropriate behavior....
In Question Period, Mr. Baird tried to assign blame to the Liberals, accusing them of wanting to mount a culture war against his party.
In one respect, he's right, in that if the opposition parties didn't make an issue out of this there would be no issue to address. Why not let this issue lie where it belongs, under the rug?

GOD HATES DEBTORS

Unreal.

A post by Seth Godin led me to an entry by Dave Ramsey called The Truth About Debt. Mr. Godin's article is well formed, and makes the usual pitches for avoiding consumer debt. He even comes up with some history that I was not aware of -- namely being that consumer debt was an invention to increase total consumer spending.

I don't know why Mr. Ramsay's article got linked. In it, Mr. Ramsey spends a lot of time saying that use of debt as a tool by the "wealthy" is not as frequent as we have been led to believe. But the kicker -- the reason why debt is not a good idea?
Boy, what a reach. I could spout the myth with enthusiasm, but life and God had some lessons to teach me. [...] I was confronted with this scripture and had to make a conscious decision of who was right – my broke finance professor, who taught that debt is a tool, or God, who showed the obvious disdain for debt.
That's right, debit may be bad because it means you spend more of your money to bankers rather than saving it for your own use and all that, but what seals the deal is Proverbs 22:7.

Personally, I think debt is a tool. Debt can be used to buy things that you cannot afford right now. And while using debt for investing purposes means you should buy things that appreciate -- for example, theoretically housing -- there are some things that we buy that do not appreciate that debt will probably be used for.

From Mr. Ramsey's article:
Imagine how much you could put toward retirement if you just didn't have a stinking car payment?
The problem with this is that it presents a very dim view of financial management. To wit: sure, you don't have a car payment because you paid cash for your car -- good for you! But where did that cash come from? If you want to have cash for the next car, you'd better be saving for that -- not retirement! And yes, it does mean that if you are saving for the future, interest works for you rather than against you, but in practice the difference is probably not that great. So there will be extra money for retirement, but it won't be the entire amount of the car payment.

Just because you use a tool improperly doesn't mean that the tool is bad. It is a poor carpenter financial planner who blames his tools. Isn't there something in the Bible about that too?

2010-04-20

Pity they didn't keep going

2010-04-15

Pizza Pizza Scam Scam

(Sent 26 January 2010 to sparweez223@pizzapizza.ca; no reply)

Dear sir:

On Sunday 17 January 2010, around 2:10 in the afternoon, I entered the Pizza Pizza restaurant at the Centrum Plaza in Kanata.

I ordered a slice of pepperoni and a can of pop. Whereupon the employee assisting me conducted the transaction illustrated in the attachment 'pizza.jpg', a scan of the receipt from that transaction.



When I was informed the total, I handed over the money to pay. However, since I had been standing there for a minute or two, I recalled that the cash register had been displaying the deal illustrated in the attachment 'IMG00209.jpg', a camera-phone picture of the cash register displaying the promotion "A New Walk-In Special, slice & pop $3.49".



Although I had not seen my receipt at this point, I quickly calculated that the transaction price of $3.49 would not result in a total after-tax price of $4.74. I asked the employee, and I was informed that since I had not requested the deal advertised, I could not have it as the transaction could not be reversed. I was assured that if I requested the deal next time, I could have it.

I completed my transaction, and enjoyed my pizza.

I do note that although the camera phone photo is blurry, the terms and conditions displayed on the offer appear only to limit the deal to certain types of pizza, certain types of clients (ie walk-in), and advise that appropriate taxes will be applied. Nowhere on the terms do they indicate that the customer must specify that they wish to have the deal instead of having the elements charged individually.

So I have some questions regarding this.

1. Is this a general policy to Pizza Pizza, or is it specific to this individual store, that requires customers to specify that they wish to have the deal?

2. If yes to either, why is this policy not posted on the offer?

3. If it is not a general policy, and it is not a policy specific to this individual store, why does Pizza Pizza point-of-sale equipment make it possible for a customer to buy things counter to the current set of promotional offers? Could you provide me with a contact email for the corporate Pizza Pizza person or department which is responsible for point-of-sale policies that might be able to explain this?

I would like to tell you that at this time I still consider the full price of the items reasonable value, and I still intend to visit this and other Pizza Pizza locations in future. However, like everybody else I don't wish to spend any more money than I have to. So if by specifying the offer I can save money, I will do so in future; caviat emptor.

It has long bugged me that even though many point-of-sale devices are completely computerized, the onus is still on the customer to arrange his order in such a way to minimize the expenditure. I work with computers, and I don't understand why if you have a deal that is 'a slice and a pop for $3.49', and the customer orders 'a slice and a pop', the point-of-sale device can't recognize that as a qualifying deal, and charge the deal price instead of the individual prices.

Thank you for your attention; I look forward to your reply.

2010-04-14

Flush Pharma

The Ontario government announced that they want to restrict the price of generic copy drugs to a maximum of 25% of the cost of the original, down from the current 50%. This is an issue because the generic copies are functionally identical -- being a copy of the original and all -- and therefore can only compete on price. The story goes that the current arrangement is for pharmacies to receive "kickbacks" on drugs purchased from particular vendors.

The pharmacies have responded by saying cutting these kickbacks will result in reduced customer services -- ie reduced hours, lower staffing levels, charges for deliveries, increased dispensing fees, etc.

While true, they miss the point.

There is a cost to these services. The services yield higher value to the customer, true, but there is a cost, and the difference is that up until now the customer has not been paying directly for these services. However, through the higher generic drug prices being paid, they are in fact indirectly paying for them.

Having the costs of these extra services laid out for all to see and directly passed on to the consumer is a good thing. Now the consumer can make the choice to have the extra services at an extra cost, rather than paying for services they may or may not actually use.

Memo to the Pharmacies: if you have to trick people into subsidizing services, you are doing it wrong.

2010-04-06

Stick a fork in it, it's an Ex-hibition

CBC: The Ex takes money problems to city

Seems like this train wreck keeps looking for a place to happen. The Central Canada Exhibition, or Super Ex, aquired land on Albion Road back in 2002 but still somehow managed to not get kicked out of Landsdown Park until next year. Now they admit they can't pay $200K from last year, and some articles report that unless the city forgives $600K in debt Super Ex might not run at all in 2011.

Oh, they also have no plan. Even though this year is moving year.

Why is it that these "popular" businesses always seem to need government help?

Sure, maybe the CCE was a viable business back in the '70s and '80s... but it obviously isn't one today.

Shut 'em down.

2010-03-23

CRTC: No to Fee-For-Carriage

I don't think that the broadcasters deserve extra money from the cable carriers.

The cable companies are providing me a service, that is access to a signal of better quality than I can get over the air. For that, I pay.

On the other hand, the cable companies are providing local broadcasters with access to an audience beyond their ability to directly broadcast over the air to, in effect increasing their audience and the value of the commercial airtime that they sell. They do this for free -- in any other business model, the cable companies would charge the broadcasters for carriage, to monetize the extra value that they bring to the local broadcasters.

Witness what happened when the WNPE/WNPI PBS station was almost dropped by the Ottawa cable company. It would have devastated the PBS station. The station reported that Canadian contributions made up 70% of their pledge revenues. Given a choice, I am sure that PBS would have paid a fee to be carried on the Ottawa network.

The fact that cable companies make money reflects the fact that they provide a service that has value to their customers. The fact that broadcasters are losing money reflects the fact that their audience is shrinking due to increased competition for their attention.

I don't see why I as an end-viewer should have to pay extra to compensate some broadcaster for their inability to attract my attention.

And it will be me as the end-viewer who pays the extra fees. The cable companies would be well within their rights to pass on increased costs to viewers. If such a rate increase costs them subscribers, then everyone loses -- both the cable companies and the broadcasters.

If I am going to be required to pay a per-household fee for these channels, I should have the ability to pick channels a la carte -- why should I pay for channels I don't watch? But even this in the end affects the cable companies, since it will lower their revenues. If revenues drop, profits will drop, and eventually prices will rise.

I remain unconvinced by these "Local TV Matters" commercials telling me what a good thing it is that such-and-such a local interest has access to a local broadcaster to get their message out. The issue isn't about access to a local audience -- it is about who is going to pay for the platform providing access to that audience. And while these local interests are beneficial in the long run for the community, it does not change the fact that I as a cable subscriber am going to have to pay for that platform they use.

2010-03-07

5K on ServerFault

Hooray. Broke 5K on ServerFault today.

(Previously.)

2010-03-03

There's always an emergency somewhere

Citizen writer Leonard Stern shares his horror at the lack of service in hospitals:
The complete indifference of staff was striking. My friend was still waiting for the doctor to see him, if only to offer pain relief, when the doctor decided to give an improptu computer tutorial to a junior staffer.
My comment:
It isn't unbelievable.

Know what? There's always a fire. And in the emergency room, there's always an emergency. (Thus the name). It's probably buried there under a mountain of sniffles and bumps and bruises, but there's probably a legitamete one in there somewhere.

You can't possibly expect doctors and nurses to come to work and treat every walk-in as if he was in trauma-one in ER. You can't run at "emergency" service levels constantly. If fire fighters had to fight fires 12 hours a day, six days a week, they'd get a little relaxed about it. Because, you know, there's always something on fire, and if something's always on fire, there will never be the time to make sure that the hoses are stacked and rotated properly so that they work properly when requied. So some guy would stop fighting the fire, and deal with the hoses, and make sure that the new guy knew how to deal with the hoses. Because there's always something on fire.

Similarly in your job, if there was always someone getting shafted by the system, if someone was going without help because of insufficient funding, if politicians were always treating the laws as something that applied to other people, if innocent people were getting killed by drunk drivers -- well the media would soon start to treat that as a routine state of... oh wait, bad example.

Want to get mad? Get mad at the system which ensures there are not a sufficient number of family doctors. Get mad at the people who come to the ER with a bump or a bruise or a sniffle or to fish for a doctor's note to explain some absence or other.

But that doctor who was making sure the data was entered correctly?

Don't blame him.

There's always somebody waiting on his attention.

2010-02-18

Truth

But after HP integrates 3Com, they have the whole portfolio too. In fact, not a very good one since 3Com equipment is not exactly recognised as quality. Most importantly, the people who design networks and lay out strategy remember being completely shafted by 3Com in the early 2000’s and they haven’t forgotten.
( Source )

It's true. In the late '90s when we deployed CoreBuilder 3500, SuperStack 9300 and 3900 switches as edge devices, they worked as advertised. We still have some 3900 switches in service and really the only two reasons they are being retired is 1) they don't do POE and 2) in our experience 3Com legacy hardware support totally blows[1].

We had some disquiet when we saw the 4300 family be released, they appeared to be a step backwards in a lot of ways. The 4007 switch was a big heavy boat anchor. The 4005 was a pretty good switch and probably did well as routers in general, however we had one in a hardware developer's network and it had some interesting problems[2]. When we tried to scale up, the 4005's limitations started to become restrictive, and now we have almost no 3Com gear in our network save some basic 3900s.

Since then our experience with 3Com has been less than ideal -- one customer tried to use a 4500G switch as a core router, but its limits prevented that and it had a really weird way of doing ACLs. The step up, the 5500G, was weird in its own ways.

So yes, we remember. Now we buy Cisco for core services, with Linksys or Dell for the edge. And because Dells have 3-year warranties, and are cheap enough to buy two of, we just use cold-standby as our switch-failure coverage.

--

[1] : several years back, we had 24/7, four-hour onsite advance replacement coverage on a switch that was pretty important. It cost an unreal amount of money because the switch was getting on in years. So the switch dies, and the replacement switch fails to show up as per our contract. It turns out that 3Com had sold the support contract to a company which basically did nothing except collect our money. Eventually someone had to ship us a switch via air from Toronto. Four hour onsite? Ha, ha. That 3Com switch is gone now.

[2] : Their product did IP-failover. Problem is, the 4005 didn't update its arp cache if contradictory information was seen on the network, and it took ages for the cache entries to expire on their own. (I seem to also remember that you could set arp cache timeout manually, but the switch ignored those settings.) So when the failover happened was simulated, the IP was reachable in the lab but not across the 4005s' router. First time a bug we reported to a vendor triggered an entry in a firmware update release. Oh, and the telnet interface to the management brain kept dying too, so you could only talk to the switch through a serial connection.

2010-02-12

Drugs: you're on them

See this Craigslist ad. This is for an unpaid internship. 10 hours a week, over two or three days a week, for three months. You need:
  • a degree
  • three years of experience
  • Server 2K3 and Server 2k8 experience
  • communications + problem sovling + documentation + capacity planning skills
In return, you get:
  • Experience working in an 'exciting industry'
  • Resume builder
  • Recommendation letter
Are these guys on drugs? Three years experience, including Server and capacity planning experience, for an unpaid position?

"Degree + Experience == Unpaid Internship?"

I have two words for you: In Sane.

There are three positions, so my guess is they are trolling for three desperate people and then they will play "Survivor: Sysadmin" with them. Winner gets the job.

I'm almost tempted to apply just to find out who they are.

2010-02-09

Stupid Questions

Philip Greenspun on business plans:
I said “Why can’t you show me all of the ways that your product creates value for people. Then, for each value that is generated, show me how you can turn some of that into revenue. Obviously you can’t capture 100 percent of the value that you generate because there would be no consumer surplus, but you can probably capture some. And if you’re not generating value to begin with, you won’t be able to get any revenue at all.”
This is why I didn't want anything to do with companies involved in the 'tech bubble' of '98-'01. If you can't tell me how you are going to make money, why should I invest?

Of course, I'm merely an unsophisticated investor, and therefore not the kind of person who understands these things.

2010-02-05

I have no idea what this is selling

2010-02-01

Side Effects

In a post that is more cranky-old-man-wanting-his-flying-car, Phil Greenspun mentions some unintended consequences:
[...] the nanny state required parents to move kids to the back seat to save them from the big bad airbag (a previous mandate from the government). Due to consumers not exhibiting the perfect memories that government bureaucrats depended on, now "vehicle-related heat deaths far outnumber fatalities caused by airbag injuries" (car ride tends to put baby to sleep; parent forgets that out-of-sight baby is in the car).
This is like explaining that infants fly free on airplanes, because even if they have to fly in an adult's lap they are statistically safer than they would be buckled up in a car seat in the back of the family minivan, just because the minivan is far more likely to be in an accident when measured per passenger-mile-traveled.

2010-01-30

Candidacy 101

David Reevely of The Ottawa Citizen wants to help you run for municipal council.

Part one: know your job.

Part two: be for something, not just against something.

It is sad how this advice applies in general terms to federal and provincial candidates.

2010-01-28

Manned Nasa Missions

Bad Astronomer blogger Phil Plait says America Needs A New Apollo Program.

Let's look at his arguments.

Spending on manned space programs means spending here on Earth. This is the counter-artument to the "we should spend money on Earth, not on space." To wit: a space program involves hiring lots of engineers and technicians (most of whom will work here on Earth), and buying lots of raw material (most of which will be sourced here on Earth), and generating economic activity (most of which... you get the idea).

The thing is: robotic programs have the same effect. Engineers, scientists, raw materials...

Technology Spinoffs. Most of the technology spinoffs come from technology-heavy missions, and the robotic missions use more technology to accomplish things other than merely keep the human alive. The example Mr. Plait uses:
But digital cameras owe their existence to Hubble; their light-sensitive chips can trace their lineage straight back to development of the detectors that went on board Hubble's first generation of cameras.
Hubble is... a robotic mission.

Achieving the impossible:I have to quote Mr. Plait again, since he says:
But in 1969 NASA looked to this unachievable destination and made it achievable.
The flip restatement of this is: because we can. Because it is there.

The thing of it is, if we are going to spend a lot of money on something, it had better have a purpose better than "because we can". Arguments like that get some countries to invade other countries.

National Glory:
In the late 1960s, our culture and our global reputation were crumbling. But for a few shining years we were the envy of the planet. And rightly so. We went to the Moon. NASA's manned and unmanned programs have done incredible things since then, extending our knowledge of the solar system and the Universe to places we couldn't fathom just decades ago.
..or in other words: New! Shiny! We are so much cooler than everyone else, and doing this will distract the rest of the world from noticing otherwise!

Conclusion

The problem with large, specific-target national efforts, is that once the target has been achieved the public at large loses interest in it. The original Apollo program is exhibit A for that argument.

The goal of space exploration is to increase our knowledge of the universe. When it comes to getting useful-science-per-dollar-spent, robotic missions are better than manned missions in almost every way.

And while manned missions (can) garner more media, national, and international attention, history shows that unless you can keep coming up with visually new and interesting things to do with those missions, the tax-paying public which underwrites these expeditions will question the value of continuing them.

There is also the increased exposure to risk with manned missions. The Apollo 1 fire was bad press. Challenger grounded the shuttle fleet for almost three years; Columbia's breakup grounded the fleet for two and a half.

Now, imagine if the Mars Polar Lander had been a manned mission.

But it wasn't, and Mars robotic programs continue to this day. Since that time the program focuses have been more on reliability than the "fail faster" philosophy that contributed to some of the failures.

There is also the technology argument. New technology costs more, both to design and to operate. Take for example what I believe is the best piece of technology to ever come from the manned space program: the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME). This is an engine, capable of lifting payloads to orbit, which is re-usable. It isn't a throwaway. If we are going to run routine manned missions to space, we need a robust technology -- and a reusable engine has to be robust.

Instead, Nasa wants to go back to throw-away rockets because they are cheaper to build and fire. So they want to do expensive programs -- but they want to do them cheaply.

I am not arguing against Nasa's existence. I just think that with the current level of technology, robotic missions are a better investment, both for the returns from those missions, as well as managing the risks facing them.

2010-01-23

Typical Government

Pass a law, but don't budget for or allocate any resources for compliance. Forget enforcement.

Budget cuts could axe tree bylaw
[...]David Barkley, Ottawa's manager of forestry services, said his department is fulfilling a commitment made to council to issue a tree-cutting permit within two weeks. But he said they need more staff because more people are calling with requests for permits.

2010-01-22

Sleep Position

Should we sleep with our heads elevated? (Get past the "menopause" website.)

Might be worth trying.

(Link found here.)

2010-01-18

Video: Cat in Coke Box

This video of a cat in a coke box made me smile.

That is all.

2010-01-15

Anderson Cooper: Still Self Obsessed

Anderson Cooper Sucks
So I come home the other day and Jenn has the Oprah show on. Oprah has aparrently dropped everything on the schedule in order to be there live as New Orleans sinks further into the cesspool of history. One of the pieces she showed was done by CNN's Anderson Cooper. In this piece, Mr. Cooper trolls through the mess showing various disasters and tragedies -- however, the focus of the piece is the affect that so much tragedy and misery is having on the observing journalist.

Human interest stories are one thing. I may not like them, but the people do. Mr. Cooper's piece, though, was a human interest story... where _he_ was the "human of interest".

Navel gazing of the worst kind.

It is one thing to be affected by what is going on. That's fine. Mention it even. But to shoot and edit a 120 second piece about yourself is the ultimate in faux journalism.

I've had these thoughts in the past -- I think last year CNN celebrated September 11th by having an hour-long program telling the events of the day by having the reporters who reported on it tell the story and including how the unfolding events were affecting them.

The media's favorite subject always has been itself.
(me, Fri, 09 Sep 2005 , old blog)

I mention this because I was at a customer site, and they have this gigantic lobby with lots of chairs and a flat-screen TV. Goes well in the gigantic building they are occupying, but whatever.

This TV was on CNN, and unsurprisingly CNN was doing wall-to-wall Haiti coverage. I noticed this on my way in but didn't pay too much attention.

On my way out I stopped in the lobby to write some notes to myself. There were a couple of people having a quiet meeting on the side of the lobby away from the TV, so to give them privacy I moved away from them and wrote out my notes.

When I was done and packing up, my attention turned to the TV, and wouldn't you know it -- there was Anderson Cooper, diligently covering what a horrible effect the Haiti earthquake was having on him.

He climbs rubble. He talks to people. He stops and has a quiet moment to himself (as the cameraman simultaneously steps away to give him some privacy but zooms back in so we can feel his distress.)

I find it amazing that people watch this crap, but I guess when you have 24 hours of air time to fill, your standards for quality reportage drop somewhat.

2010-01-14

Clowns

Kenneth Gray of The Bulldog contemplates the race for the Mayor's seat, and concludes it is serious business.

My reply:
Serious business? How can you say that?

Let's review the result of the last election. The mayor was sent with a mandate to keep tax increases to zero. However, practically all of the incumbents were re-elected -- presumably the very same councilors who produced the financial mismanagement Mr. O'Brien was sent to correct.

The subtext of this result is: hold overall increases, but I want my ward to keep getting goodies. Make cuts somewhere else.

While Mr. O'Brien's mandate was clearly impossible on its face, the fact that the very same voters who sent him to city hall sabotaged their own agenda meant that the last three years were in many respects inevitable.

The problem is not the elected mayor and councillors. The problem is not the lack of quality, qualified candidates.

The problem is the voters. Those who do vote clearly vote for their own interests first, and don't have any interest in a "vision" for the city.

The voters get what they vote for. And until the voters stop trying to put themselves first at the expense of every- (or any-) one else, that isn't going to change.

So bring on the Stuntman.

Every circus needs a clown, and Mr. O'Brien isn't likely to be re-elected.

2010-01-13

TLA Space Dangerously Oversubscribed

From Slashdot:
There are only 17,576 three letter acronyms. We've been warning people for years of the need to upgrade to TLAv6, which allows for a wider range of three letter acronyms, including punctuation and numbers as well as unicode support. But many major buzzword providers have refused to upgrade. The last unique TLAs will be depleted within 18 months in our field. Thanks to AAT (Acronym Address Translation), there are already far more TLAs than there are available spaces -- we've been using CIAR (Classless Inter-Acronym Routing) to separate namespaces based on subject matter and field, but it's only a matter of time before even that fails.

An actual Funny from slashdot. How refreshing.

2010-01-06

4K on ServerFault

Thanks to a burst of reputation gained on some low-hanging fruit, I broke 4000 on Server Fault today.

(Previously.)

2010-01-05

Energy Economics

No More Power Lines?
These superconducting cables contain special materials chilled to superlow temperatures, allowing electricity to flow efficiently, with little resistance. While Harris’s “hub” would run in a loop, it would demonstrate the potential for superconducting power lines that could travel long distances and eliminate the 7 percent of electricity wasted by ugly, above-ground transmission lines.
I don't get it. They are proposing to save the 7% of energy that is lost in modern electrical transmission systems by supercooling cables? How are they going to do that for less than the 7% energy cost they are proposing to save? Because otherwise it is a net loss.