Small Accomplishments

Last year at a Christmas party, one of our friends said that he'd given up chocolate for December because there was so much of it around at that time of year and it obviously isn't the best thing to be eating. i thought that was a good idea, so midway through January I made the decision to stop eating candy in general, just to see how long i could do it.

So as part of Christmas, Santa brings me candy in the stocking -- traditionally four candy bars and a large bag of M&Ms.

I'm somewhat pleased with myself that this candy is more than I have eaten over the whole rest of the year.



Wired has an Eulogy for #Occupy, a survey of what happened in the Occupy camps during 2011.

I think the biggest lesson I took away here is that humans are humans and for the most part you can't expect them to be better than themselves.  The descriptions of the GA (general assembly) and the way it devolved into violence and force showed that there were non-trivial percentages of the 99% who, given an opportunity, would try to exploit others.  In the face of this devolution, the moderate majority said nothing, and then eventually turned away, leaving the helpless and their exploiters alone in the dark.

The 1% may be habitual exploiters, but they are not the only ones -- they are merely the most successful ones.  With this realization one wonders if pulling it all down is really such a good idea, since all we would end up doing is squabbling over the wreckage.

Just another example of how direct, participatory democracy doesn't scale.

It isn't enough to hate the status quo or to want things to change.  You need real, concrete ideas of how things need to change AND real, concrete ideas of how to get there.  Occupy had neither, acting as a focus of free-floating hostility and frustration.  Since the outside world refused to engage with them -- and really, why would they? -- Occupy turned on itself, shedding its moderates.

Change is coming.  Change is inevitable.  But you have to make the change, or it will happen to you.

Occupy seemed to focus too much on the "and then you win" part of Ghandi's mantra.


The Spirit Of Christmas

You are celebrating Christmas... by stealing a Christmas tree... from a mental health fundraising sales centre.

I hate people sometimes.


About Those 10 Reasons My Emails Are Too Long

Dear Craig,

Thank you for your essay on why my emails are not getting read on account of the fact that they are too long and apparently not because you have the attention span of a high school jock on speed.  While I appreciate the (ironically) lengths you went to in order to describe the problem, I do have some issues with your specific ten reasons, which I will go into below.

You don't know what you are trying to say.

Yeah fair enough, that happens, but usually I don't know what to say because you've given me a five word trigger like it broke, what up with that? And I don't know about you, but most of the time the answer is a bit more complicated than because you are a moron who doesn't know what to do with it, an answer which itself is almost three times the length of the trigger; being politically correct (and more accurate) takes more words than that.

You don't know what you are talking about.

Well I'm probably an anomaly here, but if you could see my sent-items it contains a bunch of emails complaining to people that the things they've stuck me with the responsibility for I don't know anything about. Besides, as we saw in point one, you probably don't know what we are talking about either. At least I'm up front about it.

Your signature is unnecessary.

Now if my signature is fifty words with an animated .gif plus a corporate-mandated useless "legal" "disclaimer" appended to it, then yes it could use some trimming. But mine isn't. Two words for my name, two words for my company name, and a .jpg that has the company logo on it.

Email is mail. It isn't a tweet. It isn't an instant message. It is possibly (or probably) saved for long term information. It could possibly be dragged out in court. So given all that it should be a little more formal, and presented nicely. It doesn't take any extra time, since that's the template my mail reader pops up when I ask for a new message.

I understand if that all you are doing is spitting out missives like it broke, what up with that? you might not want incriminating information on future copies like your name, but frankly if you are doing that, you should be using an instant messenger. (Or Twitter, however the hell that is supposed to work.) Not email.

At least when I'm sent to prison for failing to stop whatever scheme is in play, I won't look like an illiterate felon.

You are writing a book. Emails are not books. If there is additional information, attach supporting documents.

So you're OK with large volumes of information as long as they are easily-ignorable, probably-inconvenient-to-search, written-by-me-in-a-separate-editor large volumes of information? I thought the whole point of this exercise was to get the information read, not to make it easier for you to tune it out.

Look, if I have to write it out, it is probably going in an email. If it has to be "doc-u-fied" in the future then there's copy&paste into Word and we can then get on with the important business about arguing about the formatting details. But when it is you and me, it is going in the email. If you want supporting documents, then google can help you with all the supporting documents you want.

You are spamming.

Look, the definition of "spam" is not "stuff I don't care about." This is the corporate culture in this company where email is used to keep everyone in the loop with stuff which might or might not be immediately and directly relevant them. When you do it (because your boss told you to) then you are "spamming," too. And if you don't do it, then you become a hindrance to the way that the company runs.

You are rambling.

Context is everything. The answer to "how do I..." is almost always "why do you want to..." and there's usually details that matter that give context to even a "yes" answer.

I don't know where you work, but most of the time when I ask a question I want to show some context -- like the customer or situation, like that I've done at least paper-bag levels of research on my own, like I'm concerned that making this change will have an effect on something else important -- before bothering you. Your time is valuable. So I'm not going to treat you like my personal living google unless I have to.

You are forwarding a mess.

I try not to say "See?" at the tops of the email threads I forward back. There are two reasons for that.

First, I'm rarely involved in long email threads. When I reply, I usually try to trim everything after the email I'm immediately replying to (and usually savage that down to the key points I'm addressing). My sent-mail folder keeps a record of the thread, most of the time, if I care; and involved stuff all goes through the RT system, which keeps a record of every email sent in the issue for ever and ever.

Second, if I do find myself with a problem, I'll put a two-sentence summary at the top of the email I forward you -- but you'll get the last exchange or last couple of exchanges because sometimes there's no substitute for seeing how the hole was dug.

It shouldn't be an email.

If we need to have a record that it happened, or what was said, or what was decided -- then yes, it should be an email. Phone calls, meetings, whatever should always be followed up with an email that highlights at a minimum what happened. Why is always better. Because I'm going to keep that email I sent you and hang you with it in three weeks when you deny it ever happened.

It should be multiple emails.

Sometimes. You are right with this one. Yes. Important information can get lost if it is buried in an omnibus. But again, sometimes we need to bundle things up so we can try to keep all the relevant issues together so nothing gets missed. For some, that's easier in a single message.

You don't edit your emails.

I do. I know I'm writing potentially for history here -- in the future, someone (most likely me, but you never know) is going to be looking for this email, for evidence about this point in time or this specific issue. So I try to write clearly. And that means words, usually more than simple words.

My conclusion

I think the problem here is that we disagree how email should be used. I think it should be used like writing a letter: formal, detailed, a self-contained snapshot of whatever we're talking about including the relevant context. It should have your name at the bottom of it, like you are professionally accepting responsibility for whatever the content is. It should be written like it will get read out in court at a trial or printed on the front page of the newspaper.

If what you are doing isn't that, then you are using email wrong. Mostly, you are using email when you should be using an instant message.

So we go back to my first point -- I think the problem here isn't that I write long emails, it is that your attention span is too short. Maybe you are over-worked with your own responsibilities and feel overwhelmed. But frankly we have to work together, and that means sometimes you bother me and sometimes I bother you.

We work in a complex world with complex projects and complex tools. If everything was simplified down so that high-school dropouts could do our jobs, then that's who would be doing them -- and getting paid a heck of a lot less than we are.

Suck it up.



Standing Desk: 2nd Iteration

So using the cardboard box as a keyboard base makes the whole thing kind of rickety.  So I brought in a monitor hutch from home and repurposed the overhead cube shelf that I took down immediately upon taking up residence here:

This makes things a lot more stable to type on.  The keyboard is maybe a little low for my tastes now.

The other unexpected benefit is that using both the hutch and the cabinet on top of the desk has radically increased my available desktop space, since things can go under the various surfaces now.  This might be abused by my packrat tendencies but I hope not.  I have not had a cabinet or drawers at all at this desk, and that's sharply limited my ability to hoard.

All the things I read on the net about standing desks claim that it only takes about a week to get used to them -- for me it took much longer.  The first week I had to start sitting early in the afternoon.  Then one co-worker brought in a half-inch rubber mat (one of those jig-saw type floor coverings) and I found that using that made a huge difference.  At this point I can stand without thinking about it for several hours, although late in the afternoon I'm still finding that when I want to think, I end up sitting down.

I briefly tried using the laptop LCD panel as a second screen, and found my eyes/glasses are not good enough to read the tiny fonts on the laptop from that far away.  So I gave up on that fairly quickly.  I guess since my glasses prescription hasn't been changed in like 12 years it might be time to do something about that...



I guess I am officially old

dwmw2 comments about sys-v semaphores in LVM:
It's a generalisation. Of course it isn't 100% accurate but it's a good predictor. It's much the same as "code stored in BZR or SVN probably isn't worth the pain of trying to get it out of its antiquated version control system to look at it" — there are exceptions, but they are few.
Am I the only one who remembers digging around in sccs archives while dealing with "the new hotness" that was RCS?

These "ancient" vcs systems didn't exist when I got started.



Economic Idiocy

Blather on:

"The actual government on the Canadian side needs to actually start regulating their toll rates because we have the highest toll rates in Ontario for a bridge that has the highest volumes," (Windsor West NDP MP Brian) Masse said. "I can't understand why we continue to allow that situation to exist when it's clear that volume should actually dictate price, and we should actually be reducing the rates."

Welcome to Economics 101.

Volume is a symptom of demand. Demand is driven by accessibility and prices. Prices are used by businesses to throttle demand and maximize their revenues -- that's why they call it "business", not "charity". So if you have a situation where more people want your service (ie use of a bridge to another country) than you can serve -- you raise prices, which reduces some people's willingness or ability to pay. So profits per transaction go up, and total volume goes down.

Now in the case of the Ambassador Bridge, there are no other bridges to compete with this one, so it enjoys a natural monopoly over international travel in this location. Building a second bridge will increase carrying capacity, and over time, the prices should come down.

Just making things cheaper will not, in the long run, help anybody.

The fact that people without an understanding of economics (or those who choose to pander to citizens without an understanding of economics) continue to get elected is a sad, sad commentary on the electorate today.


Tech Fanboi-ism

I'm a little put off by the ecosystem of Apple bloggers.

Right now Microsoft is going through the release of Windows 8 and their Surface tablet-thing.  And the Apple bloggers I follow are all going around to the new Microsoft Stores to play with them.

They do have some valid criticisms, but too often their complaints boil down to:

  • It is different from the Apple product, so who would want one? or
  • It is exactly the same as the Apple product, so why not just by an Apple product?
I also enjoy the discussions on price, where they note that the Microsoft product is more expensive than the Apple product... so why not just buy the Apple product?... studiously ignoring the fact that Android devices are typically cheaper than Apple products.

This is the same ecosystem that recently went through a spasm of criticizing reviews of non-Apple products for not explicitly calling out the manufacturers for doing something in a similar way to Apple.  One went so far as to imply it was a conspiracy to deny Apple the credit it so richly deserves.  Or something.

Look, the list of Apple products I own or have owned is embarrassingly long:

  • iPod Shuffle 1st gen
  • no fewer than four iPod Nanos of various generations
  • iPod Touch
  • iPad (3rd generation)
  • iPhone 4
...so I think I can say with some authority that the Apple product experience is excellent -- if that's the way you want to work.  And if it isn't the way you want to work, an Apple product is painful.

Some people don't want to be told how to do things.  They want to explore, to make their own ways of doing things.  And I think that's fine.  But Apple products are not going to meet that need.

The point of Surface and Windows 8 is to try to bridge the Windows desktop with a tablet environment, so that there is program and interface consistency   Say what you want about the iPad, they make a very poor tablet extension of a Windows desktop environment.

Sometimes to find better things we have to try new things that may or may not look good initially (or ever).  But rejecting something on the grounds that it is different/the same/more expensive is short sighted.

You don't like it?  Fine.

Don't use it.



Driving Miss Crazy

One of the memes that floated around recently on Jalopnik was the idea that just being able to drive a manual transmission does not, in and of itself, make one a better person.

Thing is, I disagree.

In the context of driving, if I can use a manual transmission and you can't, that means I can do something you can't, which in the context of driving makes me a better driver than you (all other things being equal).

If you can't drive a manual, well I'm sorry for you.  It is possible to drive a car extremely well without knowing how to drive a manual*. No, not knowing how doesn't make you a bad person, or even a bad driver.  But the fact that someone who has a skill you don't could be considered better than you in relevant context is just life.

* == ...unless, of course, the car has a manual transmission, in which case it isn't possible to drive it well, if at all.  Duh.


Gone, Just Like That

...or wherever it is that computer recyclers send old computers to.

Over the last six months or so, the Dell Dimension 5150 that's been the family's main "business" computer has been having problems powering back on after being turned off. Described online as "the dreaded blinking orange power light", it required much fiddling to get the computer to restart. Most of the time the voodoo required has been unplugging everything (including the power cable), letting the capacitors drain, then connecting only the power and monitor cables -- and hoping. Then repeating as necessary when it didn't work.

Three weeks ago it took me a half hour under the desk to get it to start again, and Jenn said well if this is the case then it is time to replace it.

Some fiddling around on Dell.com and I came away with an entry level Inspiron 660 of some kind with a decent amount of RAM. I decided to go the cheap way because as you went up in price the main cost sink was a gaming-caliber video card and frankly we don't game on this computer and probably never will. All it has to do is have two people logged into it full time (me and Jenn) and not fall over when Nathan logs into it at the same time. We mostly just use web browsers and text editors on it. So a fancy video card? Not much point. Besides, I still have the nVidia card that I added to the 5150 to get multihead (of course the fact that I never did multihead with it is irrelevant).

I might have liked an i7 processor instead of the i5 I came away with, but I couldn't figure out how to order an i7 without having a monster video card as well.

So I took the implied savings from that and went off to Tiger Direct and ordered myself a 256GB SSD. I have a SSD in my work laptop and I don't think I'll buy a computer which boots off of rotational media ever again. This new Dell boots so fast that the Windows 7 animation doesn't have time to finish before it flips to the login screen.

Getting this all together and transfering the data from one system to another was is an ongoing pain. The Easy Transfer Wizard didn't transfer anyone's IE or Firefox bookmarks and a few other things didn't seem to get transferred either. I've got the old boot drive installed in the new system so that I can get the old data off of it. Once we're happy with that I'll replace it with the 1TB drive from the old computer, and that'll mean I'll have 2 TB of storage -- plus the SSD to boot from.

Crazy. Although it means that for the first time in a long time I have more RAM, CPU, and storage in my home system than I do in the laptop that work issued to me.

So in less than three weeks I've gone from not thinking about a replacement to being replaced. And it happens that one of the vendors we do business with is having an electronics-recycling day today. So along with the old Voyager (which died a year ago September), a Netopia R910 router that's older than God, a busted Compaq laptop, and a big box of IDE disks, I've put out the 5150.

Maybe I'm excessively sentimental, but it seems sad that something I've used so long is getting unceremoniously turfed so quickly.


Trying A Standing Desk

Grabbed some cardboard from the back room and McGyver'd myself up a basic standing desk:

No idea how long I'll last.

The advantage of doing it this way is that it will take all of about five minutes to undo when I give up.


Shocking News About Electric Cars

Slashdot is linking to an article which talks about the net environmental impact of electric cars.

The highlights:

  • The production of EVs has twice as much of an environmental impact as the production of typical gas-powered cars; and
  • In places like Europe, where a good chunk of the electricity comes from renewable sources, EVs do indeed provide a benefit to the environment. However, "In regions where fossil fuels are the main sources of power, electric cars offer no benefits and may even cause more harm."
  • You have to run electric cars longer to see net benefits -- which calculate at about 30% net reduction over typical gasoline engines at 200000km. 

This basically confirms what I've been saying for years: the source of the electricity for electric cars matters when considering the total environmental footprint. Electric cars are not a zero-emissions way of transportation -- they are fundamentally an emissions-transference vehicle, transferring the emissions from the car's tail pipe to where ever the electricity is generated.  Which is fine if you use wind -- but we don't.

There is also the consideration of efficiency -- would using natural gas to make motion in a car be more or less efficient than using natural gas to make electricity, use that to charge the car, and then make motion?  This seems like an apples-to-apples calculation that would be easy to make.

And while 30% is nothing to sniff at, could we make more efficient traditional cars more easily?

Bottom line, electric cars are mostly about moving your pollution somewhere else.


Take The Train... Please

Today's complaining on the CBC's Radio One program Ontario Today was about the cancellation of train service to northern Ontario.  This one particular line that was being cancelled cost $400 more per passenger than it recovered in revenues, to the tune of $24 million a year  (edit: according to the CBC website, it was the Northander, serving Toronto and Cochrane and points in between).

One caller called in to complain, hey, the British have committed $9 billion over five years to improve their rail services, why can't we do that?  And the in-studio guest was saying yeah, European and US governments are investing in rail and we're backing away from it and he doesn't understand why.

First of all, hello! The European situation is vastly different.  Europe as a whole has a population density that North America can only dream of -- 700 million people in an area only three times the size of Quebec.  You can't swing a cat in Europe without hitting a population center.

That leads to two consequences that drives rail in Europe:
  • There are way more people in any given area.  That gives you a far larger supply of potential passengers.
  • You don't have to carry them as far, because you can't physically go very far (when compared to Canada in general, and Northern Ontario in particular).  
This gives the conclusion that either
  • because of the population density, you'll have many more people interested in a given length of track -- rail is far more likely to be run profitably; and
  • your tax base is much deeper in any given area meaning the per-taxpayer costs of subsidizing the same rail line is much lower.
You can't compare European rail with Canadian rail.  It just isn't anywhere near the same proposition.

Second, even the States, where the in-studio guest claimed Obama was pushing rail investment, the guest neglected to add the important qualifier: between population centers.  The US land mass is slightly smaller than Canada, but since their population is ten times ours, they can approach the population densities in some areas to make rail a real possibility.

The only place in Canada where rail is growing, in terms of investment and ridership, is the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor -- in other words, in the only place in the country where population densities approach European values.  (Plus the spur to Ottawa.)

See how that works?

But getting back to the subject of subsidizing rail use -- the above-mentioned rail service costs the government $400 to move a person from one end to another of the line.

Where's the other number?  What's the cost to the government to supply roads and infrastructure in order for a private car to deliver a person from one end to the other of the now-abandoned rail line?

Government subsidies of this kind of rail service amount to a subsidy of a way of life, and frankly people are going to have to consider if we as a society can afford to continue those subsidies.  People seem to want all the amenities that come from a population density, but want to live out in the undeveloped northern areas -- and want other tax payers to pay the cost of the difference.


Gas and Dash

I was listening to the radio today and the CBC was interviewing extended family of the man who died as a result of a gas-and-dash on the weekend.  The interviewer was asking questions like "Why was he going out there over $112?" and "Why is management taking gas-and-dash losses from the employees?"

Well first, he's going out there after $112 A) because it is coming out of his pocket if he doesn't, and B) because frankly that's a lot of money, especially for some guy working in a gas station.  It is probably around two days after-tax take-home -- and that's important, since gas-and-dash losses are not tax deductible.  That thief was driving off with two days of his money, and he's not about to just sit there and watch it go.

I worked in a gas bar in the 1990s and it was the same thing.  You kept the binoculars close because unless you could get the cops involved in a gas-and-dash, that money was coming out of your pocket.

And while I don't think the people who steal this way really care one way or another, I don't think it is common knowledge that this money comes out of the employee's pocket.

You're not sticking it to "the man", you are sticking it to someone who probably can't afford to drive like you do.

As to why the gas stations do this -- well as I've shown, since at least 1990 it has always been that way.  But really I think most people don't know -- or have conveniently forgotten -- about this whole underclass of employment where the fundamental requirements are that you are required to stand upright and convert oxygen into carbon dioxide.  There's always a line up of more people like that, so management treats them like crap basically because they can replace fired/quitting employees at the drop of a hat.  They hate their employees because they're lazy and unmotivated and trying to rob the store blind -- and the employees hate management right back and remain unmotivated and feel entitled to "extras".  It is a vicious circle.

Not all employees are like this.  You get the intelligent and motivated people, but they're usually working their way up (where "up" means "out of here") and will be able to get a better job.  So they're gone too.  So why care?

And why would customers care?  Treating employees right costs money, and that translates into higher prices -- and when it comes to a commodity that is gasoline, service isn't worth anything.

So here we are -- we've raced to the bottom so fast we've bounced off it.

And some guy has died for $100.


See you next year when it happens again.


Glenn Hetrick is the highlight of Face/Off

One of the TV shows I watch with Jenn is the Syfy series Face/Off. (Wednesday on Space.)  It is a Survivor-meets-effects-makeup show where they start with a bunch of people and each week one of them gets sent off the island, until you are left with one "next great effects makeup artist".

One of the things which the series producers probably don't want to hear is that one of my favorite parts is watching head judge Glenn Hetrick interact with the contestants.  The highlight is always his initial greeting to the contestants on the reveal stage -- his "Good Evening" ranges from "we've never met, not even the ten weeks or so we've already been running" to "polite disinterest" to last week's new one "I've got a late dinner reservation so let's get this over with".  You could almost gamble on what Glenn's greeting is going to be like, and it always amuses me.

This week's show had some changes to Glenn's personality.  He was the celebrity surprise visit midway through their work processes, and he was unusually positive about almost everyone.  On the reveal stage, he greeted the contestants with a "Hello" which was a "hi guys you all know me I'm just friendly Glenn here" type greeting.

The absolute gem of the show Glenn-wise was after the first reveal, the unfortunate editing choice was to cut to a held shot of Glenn sitting there with a somewhat stunned look on his face that said "WTF is this thing you are offering me on my stage".

Personally my choices with regards to the offerings are almost always different than the judges.  There's an inherent conflict in many of the challenges which are orthogonal to the show's stated goal of showcasing effects make up tallent.  This week it was Chinese new-years dragons, and only one team produced something that looked like a new-years dragon.  And the judges said, do we reward the team that delivered to the challenge's spec, or a team which produced something really interesting?

One of the offerings this week they panned was a snake/rabbit head, and to me that was the only one that looked like a real creature to me.  Even the bright coloring worked, it said to me this is a creature that is painted and polished up brightly to wear some ceremonial garb, which was colored with the same bright colors.  And while the details were lost at a distance, I thought that hiding them that way worked, that you saw more the longer you looked at it.

I'm not big on these "bicker" shows that highlight the conflict between contestants, but there's enough here that I'll keep watching.

PS: Dear SyFy, rolling that spoiler-laden video promo for the show on every page for the show, every time the page is loaded, gets annoying really fast -- and I only loaded three pages.  Roll it once, if you have to, then post a damn cookie like every other site in the universe does so that it doesn't roll again for -- I'd say a week, but at least an hour.  If I want to watch it again, I know where to find it.  But I don't.  So stop it.  Love, me.


Mayor Ford's Defence

Mr Ford's mooted defenses:

  • He didn't do it.
  • But if he did do it, he didn't mean to do it.
  • But if he did do it, and he meant to do it, it wasn't illegal.
  • But if he did do it, and he meant to do it, and it was illegal, it isn't an offence sufficient enough to deserve the prescribed punishment.
It's just like Larry O'Brien.

Personally I think he (Ford) is going to get off with only being sternly told to repay the money he's already been told to repay.  But arguing that the punishment doesn't fit the crime (which he didn't mean to do anyways) isn't the answer.  If you have a problem with the law, change the law.  Don't ignore it (or encourage others to ignore it).

One way or another it is highly unlikely he'll find himself with the burden of elected again in Toronto.

Maybe he can collaborate on Mayor Larry's book.


Why Facebook's Stock Is In The Tank

So here I am minding my own Facebook page, and I see that there are some advertising things for me to look at (see right).

Now Hiring.

Now Hiring.

Now Hiring.

Guaranteed Approval for some credit card.

And a PSA for Nurse Practitioner Clinic*.

Anyone who wonders A) how Facebook is going to make any money and B) why their stock is tanking should consider the quality of these advertisements, the frequency with which they will entice click-through yielding value for the advertisers, and the halo effect that these quality advertisements have on other, future advertising that will inevitably follow.

*== NPCs are a whole other problem.  They are inevitably only going to be only marginally better than Telehealth is, in that NPCs will at least be able to put a band-aid on your minor boo-boo before defaulting to the advice to "go to the emergency room" if there's anything even remotely possibly wrong with you.  How this eases pressure on emergency rooms is beyond me.



So Jenn and I went to see The Dark Knight Rises last night.  The previews show to us were:

  • the upcoming Twilight movie (which I didn't understand at all)
  • The Bourne Legacy (which I also didn't understand at all)
  • Taken 2 (which I only barely understood because I'd seen the first one)
  • The Hobbit (complete with singing -- which was cool, but I don't want to watch three hours of it)
  • The Campaign (a Will Farrell movie, so no understanding at any level is required)
  • Man Of Steel (a Superman reboot?)
Now maybe this is an unfair sample.  I was at a Batman franchise movie, after all.  But by my count, that's five "franchise" movies, and a Will Farrell movie -- and let's face it he keeps making the same movie over and over again so it might as well be a franchise movie.

Wonder why Hollywood is in trouble?  This.  No new ideas are worth anything unless they are presented in a framework that is somehow familiar, that demands credibility based on something that has come before.

Even if that credibility link is weak -- witness "Battleship".  Oh, and Total Recall -- The Total Recallering.  Who the hell thought that was a good idea?  I don't think I have read a single positive review of it.  Anywhere.

Combined with my problems with the feature presentation last night -- the picture was gorgeous, but the sound wavered between incomprehensibly loud, incomprehensibly soft, and just plain incomprehensible (I don't think I understood more than about 30% of what Bain said) -- maybe I'm just too old for the movies now.


I Love Engineering

The MRO team nailed it:

That's MSL "Curiosity" descending to Mars in the parachute phase on Monday morning.

Just think: math made this picture possible.  This is so cool.

(Previously: 12)


Called Shot

The MRO team is going to try to repeat the feat of taking a picture of one space probe from another.



Does Nobody Think Things Through Anymore?

So this showed up in my email folder yesterday:

That's right: in order to celebrate the American olympic team, Mattel is offering a model of a German remake of a British car -- a model that is manufactured in China or Thailand.

That there's absolutely nothing American about this car has apparently escaped everyone in the decision-making process that led to this model being offered.

Now while there's little that can be done about where the model is made, there have been tons of quality American-designed and built cars rendered as Hot Wheels that would be a more fitting salute to their athletes -- and I say that as someone who has a poor opinion of American-made cars.


Site-specific User Accounts

So in the course of solving the problem that lead to this page's creation, I happened upon the Nagios Exchange site page with the plugin that I ended up using.  The page in question notes that the plugin requires the perl module Array::Compare, but says that it isn't available through the popular yum repositories.

With 15 seconds of Googling, I found it in RPMforge, a factor which simplifies my life immensely.

So.  How best to share this knowlege?  It turns out that I'd have to create a user account on the site just to leave a comment on this page to that effect.  And frankly, that's too much overhead.  Unless I can create an account and log in as a pre-validated user -- something that OpenID permits me to do from my Gmail account -- frankly I'm not going to bother.

It seems insane that in this day and age there are still sites that expect you to create and manage separate digital identities.  I'm not saying make it impossible to have separate digital identities, but for a hit-and-run comment, anything more than about 15 seconds and four clicks is really too much effort and I'm not going to do it.

The StackExchange family of sites know how to do this.  It is easy.

It should be everywhere, at least as an option.

...and yes, I'm well aware that I've just spent far more effort complaining about the problem than I would have had I just created an account and moved on.


Almost Done

This is probably the news that everyone has been waiting for.

After the full-body iodine scan this morning, the doctors decided there were no abnormalities.  There wasn't the predicted all-around study they've done every time before they "just wanted a couple of pictures".  I didn't even get fed through the C/T scanner.  Just 45 minutes on the table under the high-energy plates, and the doctor was happy enough.

This is the perfect result of the test: no abnormalities, no cautionary immediate follow-up imaging.

(And a whopping great bacon cheeseburger for lunch.)

So this means we can start believing that this cancer is really gone.  That this can be the last time the word "cancer" is mentioned with that certain weight that it can carry.

The rest of this is merely book-keeping and accounting.  I'll have to re-do this full-body radioactive iodine scan every three to five years for the rest of my life, just in case the cancer is dormant somewhere, hiding out.  And starting in September there will be a new regular regimen of blood testing to make sure my artificial hormone balance is appropriate with possibly annual visits to this particular doctor.  But in general we can go back to our regular wonderings and complainings about the routine aches and pains that life accumulates.  We don't have cancer still hanging over us.

We'll never get the year and a half of life back that this took.  Hopefully this will just be one story that the kids remember being told rather than experiencing, something to remember to mention to their doctor when they're 30 and doing their own annual physicals.

I'm still not sure what to take away from this as a lesson.  It is true that at times the medical mechanism moved slowly and opaquely.  But I went from being told "let's get an ultrasound of this lump" to "the biopsy returned cancer-like cells" in less than four months, and from there to the surgery in less than six weeks.  So when there's a problem, the system moves quickly.  Keeping everyone informed, well that's not something they do so well.  I guess it shows that in my case the system, generally, worked.

It has been said that life is what happens while you are making other plans.  At times, Jenn and I have wondered if we've been bad-luck magnets between the cancer and the autism and the associated combinations of events those bring.  But with the help of everyone around us we have managed to come through the cancer trial, and right now with both boys' medium-term outlooks looking stable, the autism is probably in the best shape it is going to be.

Thanks to everyone who has walked with us -- and those who continue to walk with us -- through this journey.


RIM CEO Interview Thoughts

Quick thoughts on the interview with RIM CEO Thorsten Heins in CIO Magazine:

  • He makes the interesting claim that RIM is losing market share in the smartphone arena mostly because the all-touch segment of the market is growing like crazy.  The keyboard segment of the market is growing much more slowly, but still growing.  So year-over-year RIM is ahead on handsets shipped/in-use, but because touch is growing like gangbusters the percentage numbers are dropping (down to something like 7%).  It's all relative.  But it is plausible.  If you have to have a keyboard -- and many people do -- RIM devices are king, between their high-quality devices and the BES network in behind it as a killer feature.
  • That said, the BB-10 device to be first launched will be touch, then a keyboard BB-10.  He is clearly hoping for non-trivial percentage penetration into the touch segment, especially the consumer and BYOD segments since that is where the growth -- and therefore the money -- is.
  • He says the carriers (presuming the US carriers mostly) see touch as a duopoply -- iOS/Apple and Android/Samsung.  Neither Motorola (ie Google) nor Microsoft are mentioned, even though Microsoft is also trying to ramp up their market penetration.  Personally I see the Motorola buy by Google as the most disruptive thing coming to Android over the next 18 months as Google starts to favor itself in Android distribution -- further weakening an (IMO) already bizarrely weak segment.  Short of a currently-invisible killer-app inherent in Windows-8/Metro, I don't see Microsoft playing extensively in the mobile phone segment (but tablets might be a different story depending on application portability).  The time is right for RIM to abandon its past devices and move to the BB-10 platform.
  • There's no discussion of tablets here, but they have to be thinking about them.


iPad Mini

Two quick thoughts on the alleged 7-inch iPad mini:

  • On the one hand, it doesn't make sense to have a 7-inch iPad if you accept the rumors that the next iPhone will be a 5-inch (or slightly larger).  Apple would start to have sizing creep -- the classic iPhone, the iPad mini, the iPad-2, and the current iPad resolutions.  One of Apple's hallmarks has always been consistency and simplicity, and while in the long run perhaps they'd add two more resolution families, I don't think they'll do both at the same time.  Based on that thought, I think that the iPhone 5 will be the same size and resolution that the iPhone 4 is -- because it fits in the pocket, more or less -- and the iPad mini will become a reality, giving Apple dominance across all three size formats.
  • Simultaneously, the argument that Apple won't introduce the iPad mini this fall because they'll potentially miss the valuable holiday season short-changes Apple's ability to get supply lines running very quickly.  And an Apple announcement in this space would have the side-effect of devastating sales in the segment, holiday or no holiday.  Apple is the prime mover in this space and has the luxury of announcing the product when it is ready -- not necessarily having to prepare for a particular calendar event.


What Twitter Is Really Up To

Gizmodo has seen the future of Twitter:

In fact, Twitter is discouraging developers from re-creating that same Twitter experience in different clothing (Tweetbot, etc.) and encouraging them to build apps into Twitter. That turns Twitter the soapbox into Twitter, Inc. the platform.

Gizmodo compares this to Facebook.

Here's what I think when I hear about "apps" and "consistency of experience": Twitter is trying to change their service from a place where users come to create content into a place where users come to consume content.

The reason is simple: content creators generally do hit-and-runs -- they take up their timeslice on the community soap box then move along. Consumers will stick around longer and thus be more exposable to advertising, which is good for Twitter in the long run.

This is a hard trick to succeed at -- take a large service with an established following and successfully carry forward both your service reputation and a critical mass of the audience through a complete paradigm shift.

Offhand I can't think of a company that's succeeded at that. Apple, maybe, although what they've done is more using their previous line of business (boutique PCs) as a reputation boost to invent totally new businesses (smart phones and tablets), and growing those new businesses like crazy such that they eclipse the original.


Mr. Gilligan's Car

On the sale of a Lotus Esprit:
[...] the S1 Esprit's build quality hovers somewhere between competent home craftsman and something Gilligan threw together so that hilarity might ensue.
Sad, yet probably true...


The Moon

Watching some of these science shows that Jenn comes up with on the PVR leads to some interesting thoughts.

For example: maybe one of the most important components in a planetary system that will spontaneously start to support life is: a large, single, moon.

Here's what I'm thinking:

  • Life on Earth is dependent on the infusion of complex elements and molecules, formed in the core, and probably started in the ocean depths where those elements and molecules are brought together under great pressure near undersea volcanoes -- the subduction and induction zones caused by continental drift.
  • Continental drift may be partially enabled by the constant tidal kneading of the crust by the moon's gravitational force as it orbits.
  • The crust on the Earth is much younger than it would have been had the Mars-sized object not collided with it 4.5 billion years ago, a collision which formed the Moon.
  • Life on Earth is protected from solar radiation by a strong magnetosphere, generated by the rotation of the molten core, rotation which probably received a whole whack of energy in the collision which formed the Moon.
Put together, it argues for Europa being another credible site of life formation -- at least on the primitive level -- deep pressures, water, and potential volcanoes caused by tidal forces from Jupiter.

Here's more: a video that shows how the Earth's magnetosphere helps protect the planet from coronal mass ejection (CME) events.  But relevant to this discussion is the observation that CME events have pretty much stripped any free water away from Venus, making life there unlikely, at least in the way that we understand.  The take-away from that: Venus doesn't have a magnetosphere, which to me means that either Venus' core isn't spinning the way Earth's is, or that Venus' core has a significantly different composition.  And looking at the topography, there isn't clear evidence of specific volcanic activity, or plate tectonics in general.


Sennheiser HD 500A

After using these Sennheiser HD 500A headphones, for a week, I can say that
  • they are really comfortable; and
  • they are much better quality than the MP3's I'm listening to.
We got them a couple years ago when the therapists that were working with Alex wanted him to do this "Active Listening" therapy, where special music/sounds were played to a child in order to stimulate parts of the brain.  Like all of these medical things, it was incredibly expensive, something like $250 for the CD and the headphones.  Not really sure that it did any good in the long run, as Alex quickly decided he didn't like the headset on his head.  The headphones today go for $140 on eBay, so I guess we did get some kind of value for the money.

But I found these headphones in the basement on the weekend while digging through boxes (ie "ineffectually moving things between piles") and figured I'd bring them into the office.  I have recently gone through a couple phases of music listening, first commandeering an old iPod of Alex's that isn't being used, then deciding I'd just listen to the music through iTunes on the laptop directly.  I still have the iPod earbuds for use when I am on the road, but these headphones are great for the office.

I used to listen to music directly off my phone, and I still do sometimes when I am in between calls while wearing the headset, but I've tried to become more battery-use conscious because I've had some days where I've been critically low on battery.



OK, perhaps I'm overstating things a bit.

Anyways.  Last Friday I went to see the supervising oncologist who's been dealing with the post-operative management of my case.  After some poking and prodding, he said that as far as he's concerned, I'm cancer-free.  I had the cancer, I had the thyroid out, I had the ablation, and the scans don't show any anomalies that any of the experts are concerned about, so that's it, we're into managing remission.

So I'll do the follow-up radioactive iodine scan this summer before the trip west.  This won't be as big a deal as last fall's exercise.  The radioactive dose is much smaller, and although I'll have to go off the drugs and then be isolated for four days afterwards, the whole period of time is much shorter.

So yeah, Dave: 1, Cancer: 0.



I don't understand all the hue and cry over the F35 procurement.  Everyone getting excited that these things are going to cost far more to buy than originally (and repeatedly) said.  But the Auditor General caught on, and now the light of day is being shone on not only the process, but the aircraft itself.  That's what oversight is supposed to do.

Now if we were looking at this 10 years from now after paying for the things, then yes this would be a scandal. Misleading parliament in order to engineer the result you want is a very serious charge.  But ahead of the fact worthy of a minister taking the fall?



Why Politics

Why did I go into politics? I went into politics because that cute girl in highschool said I'd never amount to anything, so I became a politician in order to either flex my power and impress her, or at least maybe kill some grotty theatre cause she cared about.


Slap Me, Captain Obvious

Everything old is new again.  Today it's Gawker's Nick Denton saying that comments on the web are hopeless. And we've been here before.  The only real difference between the two articles is that Denton puts the signal:noise ratio at 1:5, where as the Fark guy put it at 1:99.

And again, I can't decide if the bigger irony is the comments on the CNN article... or the Slashdot article about the CNN article.


Long Drive

Took five hours last night to go from the Terry Fox Esso in Kanata to our hotel on Sherbrooke in Montreal. Left at 5PM, arrived at 10PM.

And only about an hour, maybe an hour and a half of that can be attributed to me
  • trying to clear snow out from under my driver's side wiper blade by reaching out the window, lifting it up and then letting it whack back on the windshield;
  • but breaking it in the process, causing it to fall off the car;
  • having to get off the Queensway at Metcalf without a driver's side blade;
  • confirming that the plastic retaining clip is, in fact, broken;
  • driving to the nearest gas station on Bank Street;
  • discovering they don't have wiper blades;
  • walking up Bank Street to the next gas station, finding they do have wiper blades but that they are A) "All Season" blades not winter blades, and B) not the right size;
  • buying a blade anyways on the theory that a sucky, mis-sized blade I can mount is better than the properly-sized Reflex blade I can't mount;
  • walk back up Bank Street, pausing only to fall on my right knee;
  • mount the new blade -- which takes more time than it should because of the complexity forced by a universal mount on the blade that I've never seen before plus less-than-clear instructions in the package;
  • get back on the highway, which from Bank Street and Catherine requires one drive to down to Laurier, across to Nicholas, then back up to the highway;
  • drive to the Canadian Tire on Blair because A) we know where it is B) we know how to get there C) it is more-or-less on our way;
  • buy a proper blade;
  • mount it;
  • get back on the highway at Montreal Road.


What is it with gas stations not stocking wiper blades any more? I remember a few years back I tried to buy blades at gas stations (back when I was horribly disappointed with those complex, crappy winter blades that Canadian Tire was exclusively selling) and came up empty. So I'm not really surprised that the first station didn't have any blades. Perhaps I'm more surprised that the second station did.

Then I decided to continue down the 174 instead of heading back to the 417. We managed between 60 km/h and 80 km/h most of the way, although there were a couple of instances where we were the only lights on the road visible for several minutes at a time. That made me nervous because the snow was pretty deep in places, and if I managed to throw the car into the ditch we might be waiting some time before someone found us. Even though the snow had let off a lot when we got off the 174, there were still huge piles of it on the road and I did wonder at time if pressing on, or at least not backtracking to the 417, would prove to be one of those things you go "well in hindsight..." about.

It was also perhaps the first time that I really missed the Subaru since it went three years ago now. The Legacy would have laughed at those conditions -- it has laughed at worse -- and while the Mazda was adequately safe, it never felt glued to the road the way the Legacy did.

We stopped in Hawkesbury for Tim Horton's and a pit stop, and at that point I got the first indication that I'd hurt myself more than a little bit -- I couldn't put power through my leg, although I could stand on it.

When we crossed over to Quebec -- just after we got on the 40 -- we collected up behind two snow plows. Those plows are kind of impressive to be right behind, you can see the huge amount of snow that they remove from the road. That was pretty depressing, as it was something like 9PM at that point and we passed a sign saying Montreal 66 while we're going 40. I was resigned to riding their wake all the way in, which would be (pause for brief math break) around an hour and a half. But no, after we passed a construction site, both plows peeled off into Rigaud.

After that we made some good time, maybe a little too good. I didn't think I was overdriving the conditions, but the fact that we'd just been at the head of a parade, and then released, and not passed by crazy quebec drivers? That made me think maybe I was over-doing it a bit. But before we made the island, a couple of nuts driving 4wd monsters in a big hurry to get to their accident whooshed past us, and that made me feel a lot better.

Then it was a simple matter of following the Google Maps directions I'd printed out, and we arrived at the hotel pretty much bang on at 10PM.

That's easily one of the more complicated drives I've had to make.

One upside: all that tedious motoring along at sub-walking speeds and then rarely achieving, let along exceeding, 90 km/h on the way here means we probably got great gas mileage for this trip.


Dear Minister Toews:

Dear Minister Toews:

I read with interest your endeavors to rid Canada of Child Pornography (Tories on e-snooping: ‘Stand with us or with the child pornographers’, 13 February 2012). Clearly child pornography is a crime against the most vulnerable of victims and undermines the very fabric of Canadian society when we stand idly by and permit it to happen.

That said, your bill to require ISPs to provide warrant-free "lawful access" to law enforcement agents is potentially a huge violation of personal privacy. While I am the first to stand with you in condemning those evil child pornographers and to accept that in the battle of the just there will be some collateral damage, it occurs to me that there is an easy compromise to be reached here.

I'll make you a deal.

Modify your bill such that lawful access:
  • can ONLY be provided in cases DIRECTLY under investigation for child pornography and/or terrorism*; and
  • the evidence leading to the requirement for such lawful access must be presented to, and approved by, a judge within 16 business hours of the lawful access demand being placed on the ISP (ie if the evidence would have supported a warrant the police can get one after the fact -- and the evidence collected from lawful access would not be admissible in justifying the warrantless access itself); and
  • any and all information or evidence gathered directly or indirectly without a warrant is inadmissible for any and all other charges which may be contemplated or arise from such information; and
  • that any and all public officials accept personal, extraordinary, total and complete liability for maintaining the secrecy and privacy of this information collected against accidental or malicious release;
...and I'll support your bill. Focus the law against the targets you want to apply it to, don't make a dangerous tool for investigators to get "creative" with. We can balance the requirement of the police to move quickly with the obligations to maintain citizen privacy. Otherwise, I'll have to stand with those who say: Better a goodly number guilty men go free, than one innocent man be wrongly convicted. Which may include the child pornographers. For ours is a country of laws and due process.


Google, Are You On Crack?

Why the hell would somebody want to +1 an advertisement?!


Boomer Debt

This week there was an article doing the rounds showing how older Canadians are still piling on debt. One economist went so far as to describe the behavior as being "punch-drunk" on debt.

The Globe And Mail followed that up by claiming Really, an increase in household debt isn't all bad. This response, I think, is more than a bit stupid.

Debt, fundamentally, is about trying to benefit today by bringing into today some of the value of future earnings. And like any tool, there are good uses and bad uses.

A good use would be paying for a university education, either for yourself or for your children. The net future value of that debt exceeds the carrying cost of that debt*.

A bad use of debt would be to bridge the gap between earnings and lifestyle. That is, accumulating debt to drive better cars, live in nicer houses, take nicer vacations, in such a way that there is no viable expectation that this debt can be discharged. And the evidence is that this, rather than investment debt, is the activity that the boomers are indulging in.

The Globe even falls into the boomer trap of wistfully noting:
Everything about the new generation now headed for the “retirement years” will be different from its predecessors – its family makeup, its aspirations (people aren’t as likely to downsize, especially with so many adult children returning home) and its tendency to keep borrowing.
To claim that "it is different this time" is a trap that so many people fall into again and again and again. Like the time it was different in the late '90s about the dot-com boom. Or the time that it was different in 2007 with low-pay or no-pay mortgages in the states. Or in 2012 in Canada where houses, already at historically unaffordable levels, "could only go up" in price. Or in 2014, where historically low interest rates could never possibly rise.

It is a fundamental law that what goes up must come down. The only exception to this rule are things which always go down, like the post-inflationary value of money. What gets borrowed must, at some point, be paid back -- which means you must have a plan at some point in the future for spending less than you make so that you can actually pay money back.
It’s risky to be punch-drunk, and many people are courting more than a bit of risk; but in risk is the possibility of growth.
Risk can be related to growth, but only if that risk is in an area where growth is even possible. To suggest that we should keep blindly borrowing and consumption-spending so that we can grow the economy is short-term stupid.


(*) == in general. A Masters degree in basket weaving may not be a long term net financial positive.


Calling Bob Rae the best option for the Liberal leadership is like saying Newt Gingrich is the best option for the Republican nomination -- frankly it's more a scathing condemnation of the alternatives than an actual positive endorsement.


Day 15231: Poor Judgement

...like driving. I made a bunch of stupid mistakes today, fortunately none of them had permanent consequences.


Living In The Future

Instead of white boards, we have these:

They look great -- especially the large one in the conference room -- but I find it takes a bit of getting used to, because the first few times your brain thinks you are going to write on the wall instead of a board that is five centimeters in front of it, and you crash the marker into it.


Poor Impulse Control

This is stupid, but I'm going to do it anyways: Hmmm.