December 2003

Dialogue and differences

It’s not uncommon to find something in Jackson’s films that somehow betters Tolkien’s original, dramatically speaking. Here’s what Brian says about diction in ROTK, film vs. movie:

For what it’s worth, its tone and style is so like the other two movies — whereas the third book is so profoundly different from its predecessors, all stilted and high-tongued — that it’s another testament to Jackson’s abilities that he made it into such a well-rounded unifying piece for the story arc.

I’m re-reading the book now, and it’s all declamation and description, rather than the ordinary dialogue that began the trilogy. (Which, I suspect, reflects how the book was written.)

Think I’m going to need to see it again.

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Beginners’ astronomy books

Bob and Ann are friends with reptiles and a telescope. I wrote Bob with advice on getting started. While he’s dubious about the entry-level refractor in question — he says that they’re frustrating to use — he recommends as a starter Exploring the Night Sky by Terence Dickinson. Now that’s a young-adult title, so I spelunked a bit on Amazon to find a couple of other beginner titles that may be more suitable, also by Dickinson: The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide and Nightwatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing the Universe. Will investigate. More suggestions welcome.

What not to do during ROTK

Via the Kottke, Stupid Evil Bastard has a list of what not to do during a screening of The Return of the King, original authorship apparently unknown, as it seems to be making the inevitable e-mail rounds. Not that it’s shown up in my inbox; I hate getting e-mail like this. But it’s fine for blogging. (It’s actually pretty good.)

A 49-foot retic?

A 15-metre, 450-kg reticulated python is reportedly on display at a village zoo in Indonesia (Google News search). That would shatter the records for longest and heaviest recorded snake. But I’m extremely skeptical of this report for several reasons. One, it’s about 17 feet longer than the documented record for this species. Two, it’s been publicized before it’s been confirmed — I smell a scheme to get rich off credulous tourists. And three, everyone exaggerates snakes’ length, because it’s impossible for the inexperienced to eyeball it — how many six-foot garter snakes have been reported?

Stargazing 101

Jen gave me a 420×60-mm refractor telescope for Christmas. We’d been discussing getting into backyard astronomy again — both of us were interested as children, but neither of us had the hardware to do much about it — and this entry-level scope will give us the opportunity to try it out. Unfortunately, neither of us seems to have the astronomy books we had as kids, so we’ll have to start from scratch again in that department. Time to do a little browsing.

In the meantime, there’s a ton of astronomy software out there. I have, or had — time to go rifling through boxes — a copy of Redshift that should run on Jen’s old Windows laptop. As for Mac software, it’s fortunate that Applelust has been providing saturation coverage, thanks to the interests of its contributors: Night Sky, KStars (revisited), Starry Night Pro, Stellarium, Equinox, AstroPlanner, and more.

Christmas in New Brunswick

Fog so thick I can barely see across the Kennebecasis River. Dinner Christmas Eve was quite possibly the largest lobster I’ve ever seen on my plate. They’re making blueberry muffins upstairs. They’re just getting under way, but I’ve been up for hours — as usual, I can neither stay up late nor sleep in.

Much. Better. Now.

After going through my own version of the seven stages of grieving, viz., (1) being furious at myself for my own stupidity, (2) panicking over the financial implications, (3) lashing out over the perceived lack of emotional support from friends and family, (4) trying to replace the broken laptop dès que possible and being frustrated at one not being in stock, (5) expressing amazement at my dependency on the silly thing, etc., etc., I’ve settled myself down and sorted myself out. The sun rose the next morning. As a rule, I bottom out magnificently, but pull myself back together quickly.

We’ve decided that the new computer will be a 17-inch iMac. A little harder for me to break, and it trades off mobility — which frankly I need less of lately, what with my plethora of gadgetry — for additional features for roughly the same price. Assuming we can find one in stock, that is. The iBook is still operable, just with shattered glass in the LCD, so it will be possible to get critical files off it in the meantime and trivial to move my data over to the new computer — FireWire target disk mode, baby.

Religious bigotry targets women?

Ikram makes the following interesting argument regarding the French government’s decision to ban Muslim headscarves: “Why do those who wish to promote religious coercion target women first?” He’s thinking in terms of Christian fundamentalists whose first target is invariably women’s morality, sexuality and income-earning. In these contexts it makes sense, and there’s certainly something to it in the French case, where the concern is the hijab and women refusing to be examined by male doctors.

But the counter-example is indicated in the post’s comments: Sikh men, who, in Canada, have been a target of racism when their turbans have gotten in the way of certain Canadians’ sensibilities.

Ikram also goes on to argue that the end result will be to remove Muslim girls from school, an end result to warm the cockles of a Taliban heart. But I think it will mean that Muslim girls will end up in private religious schools instead, and end up less integrated into French secular society, rather than more, which defeats the government’s intent.


Closed iBook’s screen too abruptly today. Broke the screen. Will cost C$1,400 to replace, so it’s new computer time, when I can hardly afford it. Christmas cancelled.

Update: A bit more on the subject. It’s my fault, of course, and the kind of thing that AppleCare does not — and should not — cover. Kicking myself mightily for being so bloody stupid. Feeling absolutely, perfectly horrible.

At the moment trying to figure out the right replacement — likely a 12” iBook or 12” PowerBook. Prices run between C$2,300 and C$2,900 after taxes. Ow. Ow ow ow. But it’s just not cost-effective to get the screen fixed. At the very least I’ll have a newer, better computer that will last a little longer, instead of dropping $1,400 on a machine that has already seen extremely heavy use for two years.

I’m disabling comments on this entry. I don’t even trust my family not to make snarky comments about this, much less complete strangers, and I’m kind of a wreck at the moment, so off they go.

Update #2: You have no idea how hard it is to find an Apple laptop in a computer store in New Brunswick. I may not be able to buy a replacement for quite some time simply for lack of supply. Can I possibly have timed this fuckup any better?

Bent icicles

Photo of curved icicles seen outside our apartment

I’ve never seen icicles curved by the wind before. I took this photo from our bathroom window last Thursday.

Shawville has a posse

Lynn Wilson was in court in Campbell’s Bay yesterday over the incident four years ago in Shawville where a language inspector was followed around town by irate residents (including the mayor and, ahem, local media); CBC Ottawa and the Montreal Gazette have coverage. Locals know this issue all too well; it’s unfortunate that the only time Shawville hits the radar in the rest of Canada is when there’s a sign-law confrontation (see previous entry).

For those of you who need some background: Shawville is 97 per cent anglophone — the Pontiac MRC overall is 57 per cent anglo — and many of its residents don’t speak French well or at all. Shawville also has more little mom-and-pop businesses than anywhere else in the county. This makes clashes with the language police inevitable, since many of the shopkeepers wouldn’t be able to read their signs, receipts and labels if they were in French. (It’s also a convenient way, some suggest, to ratfuck a competitor through an anonymous complaint.)

Opus sucks?

Though I think it’s probably premature to pass final judgment — invoking the Next Generation third season rule — Colby Cosh’s verdict (and that of some others) on the new Opus strip is, to say the least, that he’s underwhelmed.

Early reviews

I won’t be able to see The Return of the King until tomorrow; I worked today — we’re putting together our Christmas issue early — and it’s snowing a little too much for our liking, so we’re holding off opening night. Reviews from the 12:01 set are already starting to proliferate across the web (never mind the newspapers): Ceejbot, Locust Wind, Making Light, Polytropos.

Correction: The Locust Wind and Polytropos links are not to reviews per se, as Nate himself points out in the comments, but to discussions of what Tolkien would have thought about the films. See the Polytropos ROTK review here.

Copyright tariff increases limited to MP3 players

This saga has been ongoing for more than a year and a half — see previous entries from Jan. 21, 2003, Dec. 11, 2002 and March 12, 2002 — but now we have a final answer from the Copyright Board of Canada regarding the CPCC’s proposed tariff hikes on recordable CDs and DVDs, flash media and hard-drive-based MP3 players like the iPod. And the news is mostly good overall. The Copyright Board has rejected increased tariffs on CDs and new tariffs on DVDs and flash cards (which can be used, after all, for data backup and your own material — I imagine that most flash media is sold for use in digital cameras) and imposed a tariff of up to $25 on hard-drive-based MP3 players. When you consider that the original tariff rate proposed was $21 per gigabyte — or $840 extra on a 40-GB iPod costing $729 — this isn’t bad at all. Read the news: CBC News Online, Globe Technology. See also Richard’s post; he’s been tracking this issue for a long time.

Update: A pretty good CBC News Online backgrounder.

White cake

White cake is the official dessert of the Pontiac. I can say that with some confidence now, having been to several community dinners, banquets and restaurants over the past four months. White cake. With something caramel-ish drizzled all over it.

Palm SDIO accessories

When I read that the palmOne SDIO digital camera was going to be delayed and rebranded, on the heels of hearing that SanDisk’s WiFi card has been delayed, I began to wonder whether there was something inherent to the Palm OS that made it difficult to produce accessories. You’d think that, with more Palm OS units than Pocket PC units out there with Secure Digital slots, there would be more SDIO accessories for Palm than for Pocket PC, but that’s not the case. Instead, we see the Palm Bluetooth Card still incompatible with OS 5 handhelds a year after they come out, and a WiFi card come out for Pocket PC months before the Palm. Here’s an article that sheds some light on the difficulties, particularly in the context of the SanDisk WiFi card (via Gizmodo).

Update: Brighthand coverage.

Ladies first! Ladies first!

Every so often I get surprised by the old-fashionedness of this place — which is, I guess, a polite way of saying retrograde conservatism. At the Mickey Creek golf course in Vinton last night for Jen’s staff Xmas party, where the staff deliberately and carefully served the women first (five men out of 22 — to be expected when there are elementary school teachers about). This might be less of a problem if they were a little quicker about it, but the women were getting dessert before the men had finished eating.

I grumbled to myself that if they made a point of serving Protestants first, or anglophones first, there would be a hue and cry across at least some parts of the county. I remembered that in 19th-century French farm households women ate after the men, and ate standing — and I thought that this was no different. But I suspect that if I were to fulminate publicly about this, people would wonder what the big deal was, exactly.

Conservative cynicism

If Scott Brison’s defection to the Liberals is, in Peter MacKay’s words, “a completely cynical, manipulative move,” then what do we call (1) making a deal with David Orchard that emphatically rejects a merger with the Canadian Alliance in order to ensure your own leadership victory and then (2) merging with the Canadian Alliance a few months later? I don’t think MacKay can claim any sort of moral high ground on this point.

Update: I swear to God, I did not read this before writing the above.

Crested gecko dies

It’s not a reptilian Golgotha over here, though you might think otherwise given my propensity to report every damn casualty in our reptile collection here. (And when you remove parasite-infested and neonate garter snakes and high-risk ringnecks from the equation, we’re doing very well over here, thankyouverymuch.)

This time it was the crested gecko, which Jen picked up a bit more than 13 months ago. He had essentially stopped eating, though we don’t know yet whether that’s the cause of death or merely a symptom of the cause. We’ll look into it. Lizard-keeping is quite different from snake-keeping; it’s not as straightforward, frankly. For example, he died fast by my standards — quicker than I could figure out what was wrong. Sigh.

NDP > (PC + CA)

Wouldn’t it be wonderfully ironic if the end result of a PC-Alliance merger is that the NDP polls higher than the new combined party? Polls suggest that possibility: the NDP is ahead of both parties now (but not combined) in one poll, and polls higher than the hypothetical combined party in an internal Liberal poll. Regardless of ideology, I love seeing untested ideological assertions — like the one that says that a united right wing would win — demolished in practice.

Starfleet Lt. Mary Sue, daughter of Arathorn

Teresa Nielsen Hayden has the definitive post on the “Mary Sue” phenomenon: Mary Sue is an avatar of the author written into a piece of wish-fulfillment fan fiction. In a nutshell, the author interacting with their favourite characters — invariably swooning over or being swooned over by said characters. Not being a reader of fanfic, I’d never heard of this before — though this sounds vaguely familiar from some of the early Star Trek novelizations of the 1970s, especially the New Voyages anthologies. Hilarious to see The Left Hand of Darkness or Bujold’s Vorkosigan series (see comments) proposed as representative of the genre.

Digital SLR covetousness

A little gadget lust is part of my normal equilibrium, so it’s not too surprising that, 18 months after buying my current digital camera — a 3.34-megapixel Nikon Coolpix 995 — I’m starting to think about upgrading to a new camera. Not that I can afford a new camera — especially not a digital SLR — but it costs nothing to think about it.

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Shawville snowplows

An unexpected benefit of living in a small town: the streets get plowed much faster. Since the snow began falling last Thursday — and if I had been smarter about it I would have taken pictures like a good blogger — the streets of Shawville have been plowed twice. So have the sidewalks. Even the laneway beside our building has been sanded. Compared with the city, where residential streets might go weeks without plowing as scarce municipal resources are spent on arterial roads, this is a pleasant surprise. I guess when you have one snowplow, you use it.

iPod as digital photography tool

I’m beginning to think I should just put O’Reilly’s RSS feed in my sidebar and be done with it. Here’s Derrick Story, he of Digital Photography Pocket Guide fame, writing about using the iPod as a digital photo storage device, thanks to the new card reader from Belkin (which, apparently, despite initial reviews, is not so slow as to be unusable). You can also view, upload, burn to CD and share (via Rendezvous — see Derrick’s earlier article on Rendezvous picture sharing) photos directly from the iPod.

(He said, looking forlornly at his aging, first-generation, 5-GB iPod that can’t do these things.)

Sony Clié UX-50; slow Nokia cameraphone

Mobitopia has a couple of interesting recent articles. One is a rather gushing review of Sony’s top-end Clié, the UX-50, which includes a built-in camera (640×480), Bluetooth and WiFi, but not a cradle or a portrait-mode option for the screen. And it’s pricey. The other article is a complaint about the Nokia 3650’s built-in camera. Apparently its advantage is ubiquity, not speed: you may have the camera with you, but you might not be able to take the damn picture fast enough.