Its Amazing What Consumers Want

I got passed today by a BMW X1. This car has to be the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. It resembles a BMW 328i xDrive Touring, except it has a blunter nose and a slightly elevated ride clearance.

It really is a station wagon for people who'd prefer a SUV.

(Oh, and digging around: in Canada, it's almost $10K cheaper than the 328.)


The Difference Between The Tea Partiers and The Occupy-Wall-Streeters

The message from the Tea Partiers:
We don't think we are getting good value for our tax dollars.
The message from the Occupy-Wall-Streeters:
We don't think we are getting good value from other people's tax dollars.


Post Ablation Report

Hi folks

This should be the last update for a while.

We went through the ablation process last week and had the full-body-scan this morning. The results are that all the right parts are lit up nicely like they've absorbed the iodine and should be killed. The scan revealed a couple of suspicious bright spots in my upper chest, but those are probably just lymph nodes and while they may have cancer they are lit up with the iodine so they should also be killed.

The scan also revealed more thyroidal cells in my tongue than would be expected normally, but again, they are lit up properly. This is most probably because in pre-birth development the thyroid actually develops from the same group of cells that the tongue does, but it is not a concern.

At this point there's no reason to assume that the treatment hasn't been successful.

I'm back on my thyroid hormones and eating normal food again. My energy level crashed during the ablation period, but is coming back, and we should be on track to being normal again for next week.

The next step is to get onto a stable dose of the long-term thyroid hormone and monitor various blood chemical levels. Also there we will repeat the iodine scan in six- to eight-months or so; that will require me being on the iodine diet again for a couple of weeks, then another radioactive iodine dose although not nearly as large as what I received last week. It is hoped that the magic thyrogen drug will be more generally available then and I won't have to go through the hormone withdrawal as well.

If all goes well, there shouldn't be any more intervention-type treatments to go through for this.

I would like to thank everyone for their support over the last while, it really made a difference.


World Getting Smaller... Again

I noticed this to some extent when I had the surgery in June, but this time somehow the experience is harder to go through.

As we approach the time when I'll do the ablation process, I can feel my world slowly getting smaller and smaller with each day that passes. It starts in small ways -- the expected limitations from withdrawing the thyroid hormone changing the way my brain works and the way my body feels. Then losing my clearance to drive, making me dependent on others for flexible transportation. But I figured I could always take the bus outside my front door to Bayshore or something if I wanted to get out on my own.

Last Friday I was at the old office and decided that instead of waiting for someone to drive me home, I'd just walk. It's only 3KM (2.8, according to the GPS track I made of the walk) so no big deal -- I once walked in Toronto from the Queensway to the foot of the CN tower, a walk of about 3 hours, just because I had the time to kill (and OK because I didn't understand the way the buses in Toronto worked) -- so no big deal. Well that turned out to be a mistake as I was exhausted all weekend from that.

Now, walking up the hill twice a day with the boys for school is getting to be too much and I need naps in the afternoon.

I can't consider the bus ride without an escort, just in case, and I can't walk down to the store at the end of the street by myself without an escort, just in case. (Of course the diet means there's no point in walking down to the end of the street these days since I can't eat or drink anything once I get there.)

It is frustrating, especially considering that I still have a week of this diet and no hormone -- and the hardest part, the ablation, is still to come. For 48 hours following the radiation does, I have to stick to my room with meals dropped off at the door. No visitors.

For the surgery, it was the same kind of thing, but much faster: last drive the night before surgery, last meal the night before surgery, last drink, then no wallet, no glasses, no watch, no ring, and finally as I was wheeled into the operating theater -- no nothing, just me as a hunk of meat on a table. And then over the following three weeks those things slowly came back to me and my world's boundaries were pushed out again.

At least I know those boundaries will be pushed back out again, that I'm not at a high risk of being permanently restricted.


Radiation I

Hi folks

Week 1 of the low-iodine diet is complete. With two weeks off the artificial thyroid hormone and a week of changed diet, I'm starting to slow down somewhat, so I'm more or less off of work from this point in.

Tuesday we went into the General for the first round of radiation testing: the imaging scan and the uptake test. On Tuesday there was a bit of a mystery happening, as they told us they were only going to take two images with the radioactive tracer in me -- then they immediately took three! They then decided that they wanted an all-around series of higher-resolution images, and a CT scan, so we had to wait for a time spot on the machine to get those done. Through all this they told us there wasn't anything to worry about.

When we went back on Wednesday for the uptake test, they showed us the results of the imaging sequence. I have some kind of proto-thyroidal duct down the back of where the thyroid used to be, probably a remnant of my pre-birth development. Since I don't have a thyroid any more, this tissue is trying to act like a thyroid and so lights up the same way that a thyroid would. The doctors have decided that this tissue is at low-risk for turning cancerous and will very probably be killed by the ablation process anyways. So nothing to worry about.

So the next step is the ablation on Wednesday afternoon, followed by the full-body scan the following Monday.


Preparations continue

Time for another infrequent update.

I have begun the preparations for the Ablation treatment. I stopped taking the artificial thyroid hormone last Tuesday, and so far I've been OK. There have been a couple of rough days, but for the most part I am not making mistakes and feel physically OK so I am still working. Not driving though, that's a pain.

Tomorrow we start the next phase: starting the low-iodine diet. I want to thank everyone who's had ideas about how to get through this two a half week stage. My mom went down to the states and found a container of non-iodized salt, and we've found lots of recipies and substitutes for the things I do eat, so I think we should do OK through it.

The first radiation dose is not until the 20th, and will be a small dose for the uptake test.

So we are making good progress through this.

Thanks everyone for sending your wishes and ideas.


Fact Checking 9/11

More people died in motor vehicle accidents on 9/11 than died in the terrorist attack that day.
My response:

I [...] hate to fact-check you[,] but Wikipedia claims total motor vehicle deaths for the entire US was 42,196 for 2001, which works out to 811 per week, or 115.6 per day. Even if we round up, we'd have to assume that day to statistically have been exceptionally bad to account for almost an average month's worth of motor vehicle deaths through the entire country. (I couldn't find per-week statistics for motor vehicle deaths for the time period surrounding 9/11, as I'd expect them to be higher since nobody could fly for two days and many more people ended up on the road -- plus even more people were irrationally scared off of flying and ended up driving for weeks, or months, afterwards).

(Also I see that the total motor vehicle death toll for 2001 was lower than both 2000 AND 2002.)

What would be more interesting would be to see if you could correlate the increase in highway deaths to the costly and intrusive security theatre that the US has indulged in since then with a proportionate drop in flying, since if someone drives rather than flies, they are statistically more likely to be hurt (air travel is still has the lowest fatalities-per-passenger-mile-traveled) and compare THAT increased number to the 9/11 death toll (and then compare that number to the costs spent on security theatre, essentially calculating how much the US is spending per death to kill more of its citizens).

I'm not trying to disagree with you, I think it is high time the western world got over this stupid obsession. However in the long run, facts will beat hyperbole.

Worldwide, not US, but point taken.
My response:

Wikipedia again: It is often reported that air travel is the safest in terms of deaths per passenger mile. The National Transportation Safety Board (2006) reports 1.3 deaths per hundred million vehicle miles for travel by car, and 1.7 deaths per hundred million vehicle miles for travel by air. These are not passenger miles. If an airplane has 100 passengers, then the passenger miles are 100 times higher. The number of deaths per passenger mile on commercial airlines in the United States between 1995 and 2000 is about 3 deaths per 10 billion passenger miles.

Yahoo! Answers, quoting WebMD: There are about 56 million deaths each year worldwide. About 1.7 million are the result of traffic accidents. That would mean the percent of deaths around the world annually as a result of traffic accidents is about 3%.

Assuming these figures are correct, then that gives an average daily death toll of motor vehicles as 4657 (call it 4700). So world wide, your argument probably holds.

SkyscraperCity: The Geneva-based organization said 1,292 people died in plane crashes in 2006 -- a drop of 11 percent on the previous year.

It occurs to me that neither value can seriously be compared unless we see the passenger-mile-traveled for both types of transport.

But I think I'm beating a dead horse here, so I'm off.



Hi folks

Time for your infrequent update.

First off, the bad news. We have received confirmation that the three lymph nodes taken by the surgeon during the procedure have all tested positive for cancer cells. This is apparently not uncommon with this type of cancer, and doesn't actually change the immediate future.

The better news.

We have also received the schedule for the next set of procedures. The first step is a radiation uptake test, where they inject a small amount of radioactive iodine in me and then a day later measure my neck for how much gets absorbed. The purpose of this is to detect "atopic" thyroid tissue, ie thyroid growths outside of the "normal" thyroid. This would be a rare occurrence, but if positive would require us to stop this procedure and re-engage with the surgeon to have these removed.

Assuming I pass this, a week later I'll get the "ablation" treatment. This is a large dose of radioactive iodine intended to kill any small clusters of thyroid tissue still in my system.

To prepare for this I have to stop my thyroid medication starting the beginning of September and go on the low-iodine (effectively, low-salt) diet. Once I go off the medication I won't be permitted to drive and will have all kinds of side effects.

For the five days following the ablation I will be literally radioactive and will have to be relatively isolated. Although the risk to other people is low, the doctors want me to keep away from people in general and from children in particular.

After the ablation I will get a full body scan, which is where they feed me into a machine and try to decide if any of the mysterious dark spots are more cancer. This is probably where we'll get a feel for the mid-term prognosis -- if the cancer has been removed and we're waiting for re-occurrence, or if it won't come back and I'll have beaten it.

So during four of those five weeks I'll be on effectively a no-salt diet. If you have ideas about what might be edible without any salt (this pamphlet here: http://www.thyroidcancercanada.org/userfiles/files/LID_pamphlet_PDF.pdf illustrates what the restrictions are) I would like to hear them -- even if my finicky food eating habits make this might be even harder.

It is expected that I won't be able to work due to the side effects of not taking the thyroid medication during most of this procedure which will last about five weeks -- two weeks to prepare, a week between the uptake test and the ablation, then two weeks to recover. I'm working with my employer to structure things so that if I can be productive, I will, but without there being visible dependencies on what I am doing. Right now my return-to-work target date is October 10th.

Thanks everyone for your kind words of support through this, and I hope we'll only have better news as we proceed.


Welcome to 2011

Problem: Cisco's ASA-Launcher for a brand-new, just-breaking-the-seal-today, ASA-5510, doesn't work*. The asa-launcher just goes off into space; running it from the management web page results in a web page that pops up, tells you "don't close this web page", and does nothing else.

Solution, according to Cisco: a whole lot of random fiddling with sho ver and other commands, all of which accomplish precisely zero.

Solution, according to random web forums on the internet: downgrade the version of Java running on your management computer to 5.0 update 22.

That's crazy, what does Sun Oracle have to say about that?
We highly recommend users remove all older versions of Java from your system. Keeping old and unsupported versions of Java on your system presents a serious security risk.
(Not to mention all the other more modern crap that will get broken with a downgrade.)

Remember when Java was going to mean Write-Once, Run-Anywhere? Yeah, me neither. Java's never been like that. It's more of a Write-Once, Fuck-Around-With-It-For-Ever-Then-Get-Pissed-And-Give-Up, Run-Nowhere kind of pain.

Dear Cisco, it's 2011 for fuck's sake. It is far past time to be brewing something a little newer than this. And shipping a brand-new box with ancient firmware in it that basically can't be managed by a modern workstation? Amateur hour stuff. Why the hell do you think people pay you a ridiculous amount of money? Because they don't like money? I've wasted basically two hours on this crap. Which is probably nice if you are a cisco professional services engineer, but I'm not. My customers expect results.


*= ignoring the fact that the beautifully printed quick-start guide is incredibly wrong. When it says:
If you have an ASA 5510, connect the inside Ethernet 1 interface to a switch {...}
...you are supposed to understand that it means the management interface instead.


Solved My Filtering Problem

Today I think I solved my iPhone-blocking filtering problem.

To briefly review: I receive something in the order of 300 messages per day, some of which are very large. I don't want to forward all of these messages to my blackberry (or, possibly in the future, an iPhone) because I don't care about the vast majority of these messages. They are generated by robot, and most of them will wait until I have a reasonable interface with which to read them.

To get around this issue, I have been using Blackberry (or more accurately, BES) filters to control what does or doesn't get sent to my handheld.

And none of the iPhone-toting people I found could tell me how to do this.

This came to a head recently -- in search of our own dogfood, my company has transitioned our corporate email to a new hosting system, and as a side effect of that I had to pave my blackberry to get it to register with the new service. And as a side effect of that I had to re-do all my filters, and I could not figure out why one particular co-worker's emails were never forwarded to the handheld.

It was annoying.

So the solution turns out to be ridiculously simple:

Use Outlook (or more accurately, Exchange) filters.

It works like this. I have some filter rules set up on my inbox so that messages I don't want on my handheld get moved to a second folder which I call Inbox-Filtered-Out. Anything left gets sent to the handheld by default.

The filtering rules had to be written differently, since the Blackberry can be set to not-forward by default. I basically have to write my rules so that things get filtered out by default, which is difficult; I have settled for a rule which catches the vast majority of messages and then exceptions them.

So my rule is:
  • For all messages with normal priority:
  • EXCEPT messages that are To: or CC: me; OR are from (explicit list of people);
  • MOVE to Inbox-Filtered-Out.
If I find people are abusing the LOW or HIGH priority, it will be a straight forward matter to copy the exceptions to the other priorities.

I'm sure this will require some tweaking, but with this set up I can probably have an iPhone without too much risk of blowing a dataplan. Only problem is, my new 9100 will be with me for another 18 months or so before I am eligible for a new phone.

I'm really just embarrassed that it took me this long to figure it out.


Collision on Tour de France

Everyone else gets an opinion, why not me!

This is the video that includes the collision between the TV car and the cyclists, resulting in injuries. Watch it through, then watch the slow-motion at 1:00 over a couple of times.

Here's the screen-grab at the 1:03 mark:

...and at the 1:04 mark:

Note that the side of the road has a flip-up pile of dirt in front of the tree that the car is avoiding. This forces the car into the road, and into the cyclists, who seem to react by turning into the car. The driver probably could have cut it a little finer, but we are talking inches here. So had the driver not avoided the flip-up, the car might have taken out the entire leading pack instead of just the few cyclists that were hurt.

Bottom line though is that the car should not have been on the same piece of road that the cyclists were on. I don't know what the "standards" for having team cars and TV cars in among the cyclists are, but it looks like one of those ludicrously dangerous scenarios that have only avoided serious incidents through sheer luck.


Health Update

Just a quick update on how things are going.

I have more or less recovered from the surgery. I find I still get tired more easilly than I did before, but Jenn has cleared me to drive on my own and I have been doing some of the errends and taking-kids-around that aleways needs doing and so far there have not been any problems. I am making arrangements to go back to work half days a few days next week to ensure that I really am up to going back full time the week after.

Doctor-wise we are still in a holding pattern. My meeting with the surgeon, which was supposed to happen on Thursday, has been put off two weeks because the pathology reports were not available. I don't meet with the post-op process doc until the 28th of July, so there is still some time to go before we get the shape of the next move.

I would like to thank everyone who's sent in well wishes during this process and especially those who have been generous in helping manage the kids and the house while I have been less able to.


Brief Review: The Damned Busters

One of side effects of a hospital stay like I had is that you get some time afterwards to recuperate. Shortly before I went into the hospital, I went to the bookstore and came out with a couple hundred dollars worth of books* to read during my convalescence.

One thing that caught my eye was Matthew Hughes' The Damned Busters. Personally I'm not much for the simplistic comic-book type illustration cover, but the text on the back is what sold the deal.

The premise, according to the back, is this: an actuary accidentally summons a demon while playing poker** and, through refusing to sell his soul, causes Hell to go on strike. To get Hell rolling again, the actuary is offered the Ultimate Deal -- and then goes into crime fighting.

Personally, the sequence of events covered by this, the first 90- or so pages, is nothing short of brilliant. The author makes several religious observations that I have made myself, although his conclusions and resulting story directions are nothing I'd contemplated. I found myself nodding along and laughing as he writes yet another thing that I'd argued myself.

Frankly after that, the rest of the story threatened to be a let down.

But being blessed with a lot of spare time right now I pushed through the next couple of dozen pages, and the resulting ride was worth it. I found myself captured again by the actuary's antics as The Actionary.

My endorsement can be summed up by saying I'm disappointed that I have to wait until April for the next installment.


* == and thanks to a couple of years of hoarding gift certificates, wasn't out any actual money for them.

** == Nit alert: he's actually in the process of manufacturing a poker table when the demon is summoned. The text on the back scans better, sure, but running into something like that on (thumb thumb thumb) page 13 is a bit jarring.


Ontario Energy Policy

I think it is time people put up or shut up.

The problem with "green" policy is that you'll find support from the majority for that policy -- until it starts to directly affect those being asked for support.

Take gas prices for example. Right now we find the NDP of all people wanting to take the HST off of gas in order to make it more affordable.

In related news, we had a visit from an Ontario Conservative canvasser on the weekend. He asked us if we were supporting the Conservatives, and we said no, no thank you. He said well then are you OK with your hydro bill exploding over the next ten years?

I said to him, "Well how else are you going to regulate consumption growth? I think the last ten years has shown us that asking people nicely to reduce usage is completely ineffectual."

He muttered something about just getting cheap hydro electricity from Quebec, and I said, "How are you going to pay for the infrastructure to get that electricity to Ontario? And why on earth would the Quebec government sell electricity cheaply to Ontario when the Americans are ready and willing to pay more?"

This election's alleged issues already seem to be about blatantly putting short-term self interest ahead of any kind of rational long-term planning.



I think it interesting that some of the most powerful images of the Shuttle program are being collected at the end of the program. Things we have not seen before. These are some of my favorite images ever.

Endeavour in one of the last night launches for the program:

A long-range photo of Discovery approaching the ISS:

Atlantis re-entering the atmosphere, captured from the ISS orbiting above:

A video showing Discovery's final launch -- but taken from an airplane several miles away. This video showed me visibly just how fast the shuttle gains altitude, something that is hidden by the very long powerful zoom lenses that NASA uses to document launches.

Similarly, here is Endeavour's final launch showing the booster trail casting a shadow on the cloud layer present over the pad:

The STS system is still one of the greatest engineering feats achieved, and keeping it in service through 30 years is a remarkable achievement.

(Previously: 1, 2)


Personal Devices At Work

Two sides of the user-provided-devices-in-the-enterprise coin.

Mark says it's all good.

Bob points out why it isn't.

Personally I am more on the side of "No." This is because as an IT person, I understand more of the security and technical implications that having random personal devices used for corporate business.

The bottom line here is, as always, money. Supporting a device costs money. Dealing with the security implications either costs money or can cost a huge amount of money should something go wrong.

I think when users think that corporate IT is "getting in their way" and "not helping them get their jobs done", they are missing the point.

Yes, IT is here to help you get your job done. However, it isn't here to help you get your job done in the way you feel is best for you. Corporate IT is here to ensure that the entire company's interests are looked after so that the company can get its job done.

This means we get to balance things like
  • the cost of supporting applications, systems, and hardware -- this means we like to standardize, so that we can minimize the potential combinations we have to support;
  • the costs of security -- meaning we have to consider the risks of devices getting lost, or applications going bad, or company data getting stolen, or (worst case in my opinion) protecting company data from disgruntled or malicious staff;
  • the costs of refreshing -- how frequently do we bump to a new OS, or application rev, or new hardware platform;
  • the costs of new technology -- blackberries, iPads, whatever, if someone wants them we have to understand how they fit into all of the above categories.
And let us be honest here, all of this are costs incurred beyond the initial price of the device. When someone says "I want to use..." they are not thinking about what it will cost the company to support that.

Personally I like the company giving me equipment. It means that it is the company's problem when things don't work. It means that fixing those things happen on the company's time. I don't like some of the tools I am obligated to use, but I understand why the company picked those tools that we did.

Best of all, it provides a clear differentiator between "my stuff" and "customer/company stuff".


Another In A Long Line Of Lasts

This is very possibly the last time a space shuttle orbiter will be hoisted in the Vehicle Assembly Building for mating to a fuel tank and booster stack.


Browser Simplification

So today Slashdot has turned the hoards of the internet loose on Mozilla's discussion about removing the URL bar from the browser window design.

My thoughts on the matter are Chrome-driven. As an administrator I frequently enter URLs into the URL bar to get to where I am going. I also like that Chrome uses the URL bar as an input to Google Search, meaning I don't need to waste screen real-estate on both a search field and an URL bar, since at any given time I'm really only likely to care about one function or the other.

More interesting to me was a link to a page which also discussed future browser design, calling such a design a "debris-free browser".

Interesting because the very first diagram he presents:

...bears a shocking resemblance to Google Chrome:

Of course he carries on and proceeds to clutter it up. But it is interesting, and perhaps educational, that the ideal he starts with is closest to Chrome.

Personally I've abandoned Firefox. Chrome works for 95% of my personal browsing, probably because 75% of that personal browsing is within the framework of google web services: Gmail, Google Reader, and Google search. I keep IE around because there are still many, many web interfaces for old switches and other equipment which require IE either explicitly or implicitly through failing to work with other browsers. This gives me a visual separation between "work" and "non-work" contexts.

I don't have Firefox installed any more, and frankly I don't miss it.


I am confused.

A volcano erupts in Iceland, and the resulting ash cloud movement forces a "no fly zone" so that airplanes don't fly through the ash.

This is, I think, the interpretation of a "no fly zone" that people understand.

So why does a "no fly zone" in Libya involve dropping bombs on tanks? I mean, you can probably make an argument for preemptively dropping bombs on Libyan planes to ensure they don't fly -- but firing missiles at Gadaffi's compound? What does that have to do with keeping Libyan planes out of the air? If we are going to provide combat air support to rebel operations, we should be up front about it rather than hiding behind the "no fly zone" and baffle-gabbing it with "duty to protect" nonsense.

This is why politicians are not trusted. Even when they appear to be speaking English, they are really speaking a highly specialized language which is both inconsistent with English and has distinct definitions for terms -- even though the politician's language happens to use all the same words as English.


Tron: Legacy

Look who I found lurking on young Sam's shelf, at 0:02:09:



So yeah, happy birthday to me.

Here are the highlights:
  • I have thyroid cancer; and
  • I'm going to be fine.
That's all you really need to take away from this.

More details.

Back in December while I was at the doctor's on an unrelated issue, she noticed that I appeared to have a larger bulge at my thyroid than I should. She ordered an ultrasound, which happened about a week later, and early in January I was told I had a 4 centimeter "nodule" on my thyroid. Therefore, a biopsy was ordered, four months later that happened. The result came back that there were cancer cells in the biopsy.

That was about four weeks ago now.

So since then I've been to visit the surgeon who will be dealing with this, and from that we've learned a lot more about this than we knew before.

There are four types of cancer. I got "lucky" and got the one that is least likely to metastasize . The 10-year survivor rate is better than 99% (which means at this point I still have a better chance of getting hit by a car than dying from this thing). I am also young, comparatively speaking, so at this point the indications are that this is a stage-1 cancer. This means the cancer has not spread elsewhere.

The surgeon will be taking my entire thyroid, plus doing some digging around in my neck while I'm "open" to look for evidence of further problems. I will be in the hospital for two or three days while they make sure there are no complications, and then off work for two to four weeks following that. The surgery will likely take place around six weeks from now.

Post-op there will likely be a "radioactive iodine" scan, and depending on what they find while digging around in me I might need some direct radiation. But this is fairly routine.

Longer term I will have to take a thyroid hormone substitute for the rest of my life, which will probably be in the form of a pill taken once per day.

And that's really it at this point.

Right now we don't know what this will mean operationally for the family. We'll plan for things as we learn about them.

So yeah, I'm going to be fine. This is a big deal, but it isn't the BIG deal.

(I wrote this out simply because it is the easiest way to spread it around.)



Kind of ironic: this banner ad:

...which gives me the reaction yeah until they make you change it.

Quick thoughts on the LastPass outage:
  • Amazing how many things I can't get into any more because my nice, safe, strong passwords are hidden in a system I can't get to.
  • Amazing how many things I can get into, because my nice, safe, strong passwords have still been remembered by the browser.
  • Although this isn't necessarily a security breech, it is still an outage since I can't get my passwords. This, I think, is going to get a bunch of people to re-think their use of the service.
  • Also enjoying the pages which come up when you try to change your password saying the service is busy, so "try again in a few hours". Yeah. I'm still locked out here, dead in the water. This convenience is costing me efficiency. If it goes on for more than a day or two (ie if I can't get this sorted by Monday) I will be in trouble, and for all LastPass's trying to keep their customer information secure -- I won't be able to justify the risk of a similar outage, however well intentioned, in the future.


Side Effects

Penguin Pete writes:
Once a way is found for something to work, there is no excuse for it not to work anymore.
I respond:
Dude... you walk right up to the answer and then...

See, the problem isn't that problems have been solved. The problem isn't that people are suddenly uninterested in, or capable of, running OSs that don't crash or setting their clocks on their VCRs.

The problem is that people have always been uniterested in or incapable of these things, and it is only the widespread availability and low cost of technology that reveals the truth:

People don't care.

If they cared, they would take the time, energy, and effort to learn how to correct these issues and would then live without the impact of these issues on their lives.

At some level they've made the choice that the pain of living with that flashing 12:00 on their VCR is less than the pain of actually reading the manual and learning how to fix the problem.

Motivating them to learn is difficult, if not impossible. Sure, learning how to set the clock is the gateway to being able to record programs when you are not already there -- but to too many people, that's magic.

My autistic son is fascinated with letters and numbers. However, I couldn't figure out how to teach him that the computer in the front room was literally an infinite supply of those very same letters and numbers. Eventually he figured it out for himself -- and now the computer is a source of infinite entertainment. (He also taught himself how to use Google, and interestingly enough learned all the Windows keyboard accelerators long before he figured out how the mouse worked.)

The point -- people have to learn the benefits of learning themselves.

Your argument that "we are going backwards" is like pointing to twitter, blogs, facebook et al and saying "look at how illiterate these things have made the average citizen!" No, the truth is that the widespread availability of these tools merely reveals how illiterate the average citizen is -- and probably always has been.

You and me, we're making strides. We are moving forward. We are making progress.

But all we're doing is dragging along the average citizen in our wakes as a side-effect... since it's easier that way for them.


Death By Electricity

I have wondered elsewhere if you could quantify "evil" for coal and nuclear power production and compare if you are better off with a known, steady release of evil (polution) vs. concentrating it and risking it all getting released at once (radiation). This page compares deaths-per-TWH* by energy source. Measuring death rate is one way of quantifying the "evil".

(Interesting note: rooftop solar is dangerous because people fall off their roofs during the process of installing it.)

But the punchline to this data, in graphical form (from here):

That's graphically the relative per-TWH-death rate for nuclear, oil, and coal. Keep in mind that if you wanted to get absolute (ie the total number of people killed by power generation source), since nuclear is about 6% of global power generation and coal is 26%, the coal block would end up four times the size of its block here while nuclear would stay the same size.

Which is safest now?

Also interesting, a comment on this page (where incidentally you can play with the graphings yourself):
Even Chernobyl itself produced 4GW for 23 years. That's 800000 TWh. Let's say it ran at quarter capacity (200000 TWh) and the absolute highball estimates from Green Peace are true (around 200000 lives lost). Such an absurd edge case of bad numbers, it's still fairly safe.
The bottom line for me is: generating electricity has side-effects on the surrounding society, one that can be measured in lives. People who argue that nuclear is ridiculously dangerous (which, during accidents, it absolutely is) are willingly blind to the fact that other "less dangerous" forms of electricity generation actually harm more people, both in absolute terms and in proportion to the actual power being generated.


Burning The Album

Says Mr. Bon Jovi:
"I hate to sound like an old man now, but I am, and you mark my words, in a generation from now people are going to say: 'What happened?' Steve Jobs is personally responsible for killing the music business."
No sir, Mr. Jobs is not responsible for killing the music business.

The music business is responsible for killing the music business.

Buying music by-the-album was always an economic crutch. The music business thrives by having people hear, like, and want to buy, one song. This is "the single", in the classic model usually driving purchase desire through radio play. The problem is, the music business likes money and wanted a mechanism for parting people from more of it at one go.

The economics of producing a vinyl single are pretty close to the LP. The LP might cost a few cents more to make since it is bigger and requires more raw materials -- but the difference to the music producers is that "more music" equals "more money" -- and at a lower per-song marginal cost, this equals "more profit".

So music consumers see that they can buy one song for $3, or 10 songs for $10, and go "hey, more value to me," and the music producers go "ka-ching!" all the way to the bank.

There is one major problem with this model:

Most of the time, the additional album content sucked.

Albums were built around the idea of two or three radio-playable singles, and padded with... well lets be diplomatic and say "other stuff". Producers were blatant about this when one considered "the single", specifically "the B-side" of the single. The other song was deliberately picked so as to not be excessively desirable in its own right; if it was, it would have been a supplementary "the single" instead, increasing revenues from those who did buy by the single.

Albums which didn't suck always were rare, and in the modern iTunes world they are even rarer.

In the old days (which for me was the '80s), $10 was a lot of money to put down on a record. Having a deep record collection reflected the spending of a non-trivial amount of money, and most of us didn't have that kind of money to spread around. So our personal collections were, for the most part, thin.

And since they were thin, we listened to them over, and over, and over again, because there wasn't anything else in our collection to listen to.

So when we decided that the rest of the album was crap, it pretty much soured us on the idea of buying music by-the-album.

Fast forward to today.

Today I can buy the one track which I think is worth buying. And the cost of that track is an easy-to-swallow, impulse-buy-friendly amount.

And I no longer have to suffer through paying for or listening to crap just to pad someone else's bottom line.

The idea of the album was broken even before the CD became the dominant form of music purchase. It was broken by the music industry itself, who pumped out piles and piles of substandard music to pad their own bottom lines. And it was broken by the one-hit-wonder artists, who were incapable of consistently writing and performing to a high standard.

If the industry can't consistently produce a quality product, is it any wonder your market won't buy it given half a chance to cherry-pick?


Dear Web Advertisers: Stop Lying

Stop lying. Just stop.

When I click on a web page, and you show me this instead:

You know what I think when I see that?

I know enough about the web to know that this is a bald-face lie. The page I requested is not "loading". You have decided to show me this page instead because it has advertising on it, and after some period of time you intend to pass me along to the page I've actually asked for. You do this because it gates access to the page I want, and I'm more likely to read, process, and retain this advertising information because I'm actively scanning it for the information I'm expecting to find instead of the ad. This is valuable mental real estate, and you're gonna monetize it. But then you dress it up with this lie, usually in very small print, along with an option for me to click through directly to the content I want -- permitting me to opt out of seeing the ad in the first place -- to try to excuse the fact that I asked for something and you are now delivering something totally unrelated to it.

I think that whatever message you might want to show me, whatever impression you want to make for your client, is going to be tainted by the fact that the first words I read on the page I interpret as a lie.

I think that maybe I've been too even-handed about this whole advertising thing. The only active counter-advertising act I've taken is to enable pop-up/pop-under protection. I leave javascript, flash, shockwave, and cookies all enabled. I don't use adblocker software. I think that my idea that this is a fair exchange -- you give me the information I ask for, and as a side-effect I permit you the opportunity to influence my thinking with messages from your advertisers -- is nothing but naive thinking on my part, and I should join the ranks who take a more active approach to stopping the pollution of my internet experience.

When I keep seeing these blatant lies prefixing your message, it turns me off advertising completely.

If you keep doing this, advertising won't pay the bills, and we'll all be poorer. And it will be your fault for chasing me away, not mine for running.

Stop trying to steal my attention.

Stop interrupting me.

Stop dressing it up with lies and negative-options.

Just stop.


Kodo Drummers in a nutshell

First: if you are going to bang a drum, make sure you have a drum worth banging:

Second: if you have a drum worth banging, make sure that there is an appropriate amount of ceremony before you bang it.

In a word: epic.



We were playing with the track on Saturday. Or rather, I set up some track, Nathan played with it, and I played with the camera.

(That jump was landed.)


After I read Clive Doucet's latest screed on how we're all going to hell in a hand cart, it occurred to me that the problem is one of scale.

Specifically: human beings don't know how to organize themselves on a large scale.

Oh I'm sure that commentators such as Mr. Doucet would insist that they do in fact know how to organize human beings on a large scale -- but the fact of the matter is, if it was possible, it would have been done.

Long time readers of mine will know my favorite saw is direct, participatory democracy doesn't scale. This discussion that Mr. Doucet is having makes me wonder if in fact human city life doesn't scale, either.

The thing is, I don't think city organization using the model of the Gleib is sustainable either.

Mr. Doucet wonders:
Yet her town’s population has been growing vigorously. It’s twice the size it was when she and her husband were high school students there. I couldn’t help but ask – ‘what’s the point of growing if your quality of life services are declining? Who is it benefiting?’
Frankly, growth isn't something that you can stop. All those people who are living in the areas of new growth -- the equivalent of our Orleans, Kanata and Barhaven -- just where does Mr. Doucet expect we would be living if these subdivisions were not here?

In infill projects like Les Soeurs de la Visitation in Westboro? Well heck no, the neighbors don't want us there. (Specifically -- they don't want that many of us there.) Or perhaps this project which the neighbours liked, but the developer said wasn't really economically viable for them to pursue again?

The other question Mr. Doucet answers -- who benefits? Well primarily, the new residents benefit. Presumably there was some attraction which brought them there, and the current residents probably increase the population enough that at least some of the locals want to stay on to raise the next generation (see also the couple that Mr. Doucet was talking to).

Secondly the existing residents benefit. New residents means new jobs and new businesses and everyone can get on with the business of raising their families and enjoying life*.

The core problem is that if you have a nice area, more people want to live there. This usually pushes prices in that area up as well as creates an incentive for builders to build areas adjacent to that nice area. Throw in a large, stable employer like the Federal Government (because all those public servants, plus those of us who provide services for them all have to live somewhere) and you have a recipe for growth.

And once that happens, the market decides what actually happens.

If people actually wanted to live in infill projects, there would be more of them. If people didn't want to live in single family homes, there would be fewer of them.

Mr. Doucet may be enlightened, but the rest of us are merely human, and that's his burden.
* ...which Mr. Doucet doesn't approve of either, but frankly that's a different issue.


Too Clever

"Do you have time to talk to me?"
"Actually I'm a little bit of a hurry. I don't. Sorry."
"What's your favorite candy?"
"I don't know. Kit kat?"
"Let's say you have 1440 kit kats."
"Would you give me 5?"
"Of course."
"Well you have 1440 minutes in your day, and I'm just asking for 5."
"This was a very special kit kat. Bye."


A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To A Birthday Party

So one of the dates in my Outlook that prompts me to write regularly appearing posts (for irregular values of "regular"... but never mind that) is SnipSnap's birthday.

SnipSnap is the software that runs my wiki instance, and eight years ago tomorrow I installed it for the first time, and I've been carting around the descendant of that instance ever since.

So happy 8th birthday SnipSnap!

But the other day I noticed something strange had happened to SnipSnap:

Yeah, a counter rolled over somewhere, and suddenly SnipSnap thinks it has been on the air for less than two months. Yet another sign that I'm carrying abandoned software further than its makers cared to.


Fringe is doomed.

Now to be clear, I've thought this for a while. The series somehow got renewed twice, but now Fox appears to be actively trying to kill it by moving it to the series-killing Friday night. But this is old news.

No, what convinces me Fringe is doomed is this article linked by the official Fringe page on Facebook, and shows up in the timelines of everyone who "Liked" Fringe:
Well, we noticed you didn't tune in. That's right -- I'm looking at you, the half million viewers who just decided that they would miss out on an episode of Fringe during its most critical ratings stage yet. [...] There are a million excuses, mister, and we're not taking any of them.
If your official page is resorting to borderline insulting the very fans you are trying to keep, your barrel of tricks is either very, very shallow -- or very, very empty.

Now yes, Fox is rigging this with the whole Friday night thing.

But really?


Sorry Fringe, we'll miss you.


7K on Server Fault

Keeping with my celebrating totally pointless milestones, I noticed that I have suddenly surpassed achieved 7000 points on ServerFault.


The StackExchange sites have a combined icon, seen here, which shows my total reputation across all of their sites. They only show the icons of sites where I have a reputation of 200 or higher. Surprisingly (to me, anyways) I have been unable to find answerable questions on the Unix/Linux site to gain enough points; I seem to be stalled at 160 or so.



I've been reading job boards for no good reason recently, and some of the things they put in are dumb.

Today's missive:
[...] and be excellent at prioritizing competing demands.
Let's be clear: anyone can prioritize competing demands. The trick comes in performing a prioritization that can be approved by someone ultimately responsible for your work.

The textbook example (that has never happened to me personally): an important, customer-facing server is in flames. And the CEO's secratary can't print some powerpoint slide handout for a meeting he's about to go into.

What's more important?

The fact of the matter is that to the company, the server is more important, but most of the time you'll get into trouble if you don't make sure the CEO gets his handout.


45GB Visually

This is apparently what ~45GB over a month looks like:

I got the web-page overlay warning me that I'd used 75% of my 60GB cap for the month. Ergo, 45GB. I know that most of the usage is the big green and red blocks in the month, and I also know what those blocks are (initial upload of a backup-over-the-internet account, and... erm... other things). The little spikes are mostly the kids on Sesame Street and playing flash games, but there are some of my working-from-home incidents in there too.

This is the first time I've ever gotten the warning, and I sort of expected it with this backup operation.

I'd like to sign up for the Rogers' site which would tell me how much usage they think I've used, as compared to what I think. However the sign-up site would not work in the current versions of Chrome, Firefox, or IE. Maybe my plug-ins are interfering with the site, but I think that unlikely because I installed Firefox, plugin-free, explicitly to do this sign up and it still didn't work. But that's another rant entirely.