April 2004

Separatists in our midst

While I haven’t been blogging it, I have been following the story of Edith Gendron, who was fired yesterday by her employer, Heritage Canada, for being the president of a separatist group called “Le Québec, Un Pays.” (CBC News archives.) Surprisingly, in a town that went collectively bonkers when David Levine was hired to run hospitals, the opposition is united behind her, and her union is challenging the dismissal. I think she’ll win.

The issue is whether being the head of a separatist group represents a conflict of interest. Her job is to administer official languages grants in Atlantic Canada — decidedly mid-level. Her group is so obscure I wasn’t able to find its web site — I found something with the title “Le Québec, Un Pays”, but it was really badly done, and not necessarily the site of an organization.

It’s not, in other words, as though Raymond Villeneuve was working for the Canada Information Office. As far as I can tell, there’s no direct conflict here. Either people have the right to associate freely, and to believe whatever they like, or they don’t. Belief and association are not in themselves a conflict of interest; while it may seem strange for the president of a separatist organization, however minor, to work for the federal government, the government has no business imposing a set of beliefs as a job requirement. There’s a whiff of a witch-hunt going on here.

iTunes ×2


As advertised, iTunes 4.5 plays nice with fast user switching. It used to get confused when one user launched iTunes while another user’s iPod was still attached. That’s been resolved. And, if both users have iTunes running, you can share your music libraries as though you were on two separate computers on the same network. (Not that I tried this before, so for all I know this was the case in earlier versions.)

More entries below »

New Zires; PalmOne’s upgrade path

Also this morning, there are two new Zire-branded handhelds from PalmOne:

  • The Zire 31, a low-end handheld with 16 MB of RAM and a low-resolution (160×160) colour screen. US$149/C$229. Brighthand review.
  • The Zire 72, which replaces last year’s Zire 71. It bumps up the camera resolution to 1.3 megapixels and adds video support (not Mac supported). It also bumps up the memory to 32 MB and adds Bluetooth (yay!) and a voice recorder. It ditches the 71’s sliding mechanism that revealed the camera. But it also ditches the Universal Connector: a bummer for anyone who already has accessories. So that rules it out for us; otherwise, this would have been a perfect handheld. (Not that I’m seriously considering replacing my Tungsten T2, but had this handheld existed when I was shopping, I would have given it serious consideration, and the lack of a Universal Connector would have been a serious drawback.) US$299/C$449. Brighthand review, PalmInfocenter review.

Somewhat off-topic. The Palm OS version number on these handhelds is 5.2.8. Upgrades are the purview of the hardware manufacturers, not PalmSource (the OS company), and I’m not sure what PalmOne wants its installed base to do. They haven’t released any OS upgrades since 4.1 — you’re stuck on 5.0 if you have an original Tungsten T, for example — so they may implicitly want you to buy a new handheld to get the latest OS features. (The upgrades to the calendar and address book apps are ideal for their OS X equivalents, Address Book and iCal, what with the multiple calendar categories, address book photos, and birthdays, so of course I want to lay hands on them.)

But so many of the new handhelds lack the Universal Connector: all the Zires (except the just-discontinued Zire 71) and the Tungsten E. Anyone with a Universal Connector equipped handheld — say, the m500 series — who wants, say, a Zire 72 will have to ditch any accessories (the landline modem, the original keyboard) bought for the original gadget. Generally speaking the handhelds lacking the connector are entry-level devices: no one is going to “upgrade” from an m515 to a Zire 21. But it’s possible that someone might replace a broken m515 with a Tungsten E, and the camera-equipped Zires have definite upgrade appeal, if I’m any indication (see above). So I’m surprised that they left it out.

This may not apply to enough people for PalmOne to worry about it, but I do wonder about the upgrade path for existing users, whether it’s software or hardware. Palm originally offered regular OS upgrades at the very least. “Buy everything new again” is not something that would please a customer; it might even cost sales.

Mac software updates


A whole pile of software updates kept me busy this morning:

  • Palm Desktop 4.2.1 (apparently addresses Panther incompatibilities like fast user switching — good thing I installed this before moving Jen’s m500 to the iMac — and the Send to Handheld droplet); and
  • QuickTime 6.5.1 (new lossless codec), iMovie 4.0.1 (bugfixes), iTunes 4.5 (new features), and an iPod updater (compatibility with abovementioned new codec and features).

Whew! (And so far nothing has exploded yet.)

Security alert: Mac networks susceptible to irony

Yesterday we set up my broken-screened iBook with a surplus 15-inch monitor from Jen’s school. It still needed a new keyboard and mouse to be complete, but once it was set up we had a (somewhat awkward) second Mac workstation. I was looking forward to having a bit of networking set up between the two computers, having two Macs available in the household at any one time …

… and then irony struck. My Airport Base Station blew this afternoon. Not sure if it’s fixable — I’ve still got to do a bit of research — but here’s what happened. It couldn’t maintain a connection with the cable modem for more than a few seconds after rebooting. It could generate a wireless LAN fine enough; it just couldn’t stay connected to the Internet.

(No, I didn’t install the dodgy Airport 3.4 update. It’s a snow base station, not Extreme. At least I don’t think I installed the update I installed an awful lot of updates on the iBook last night … )

So much for that little experiment. I’ll see if it’s fixable, but it’s not worth the cost or effort to replace the base station at this moment. (It’s provided non-stop service for over two years; I don’t think that’s too bad.)

The Silmarillion in a nutshell

The Silmarillion in 1,000 words (via Boing Boing). An excerpt from the tale of Beren and Lúthien:

BEREN: Ooo! Pretty elf lady!
THINGOL: You can have her if you … BRING ME A SHINY!
BEREN: Worth a shot.
LUTHIEN: La la la
MORGOTH: Ooo baby… *zzz*
BEREN: Got your shiny!
MORGOTH: you BASTARD! I stole those fair and square!
THINGOL: Got the shiny?
BEREN: ‘s in my hand.
BEREN: Hand’s not here.
THINGOL: Crap, I really wanted that shiny.

Way funny. Probably funnier if you’ve actually read the book. Really hilarious to see the Oath of Fëanor, in Tolkien’s inestimably archaic style, condensed into “WANT SHINY!”

I have a cold

I have a cold. My colds happen in three stages, each taking a few days: first, a sore throat; second, congested sinuses; and third, coughing up buckets of phlegm. (The transition from stage one to stage two happened last night.) A lot of people I’ve talked to have colds hit them similarly, so this may well be typical. In recent years, though, some my colds have more or less aborted themselves midway through. Whether this is a result of my out-of-control immune system crushing the virus with especial force, or the high doses of naproxen, I don’t know. Certainly doesn’t stop me from getting nastier flu virii (in Europe in July 1997 and January 2000) or the Norwalk virus last month, but I’ll take what respites are available. I’ve been forced to take things easier in any event.

Breeding update

In related news, Pretzel surprised us with nine apparently viable eggs on Friday. Laid on the glass floor of her cage. Even though it’s early for her — breeding was early too because we didn’t hibernate anyone this year — we should still have seen it coming: she had stopped eating and was pacing her cage frantically, both of which are symptomatic of a snake about to lay eggs. Oh well: no harm, no foul. She’s fine and the eggs are now in the incubator. Expected hatch date: some time around June 11.

Meanwhile, the black pine snakes — which didn’t breed last year — were making whoopie in their cage on Monday. This is a good thing: unlike most of the snakes we breed, black pine snakes sell well for good prices. They’re great snakes, of course, which is the whole point. Crossing my fingers.

Reptile show update

Despite the fact that we sold a total of one ceramic dragon at Sunday’s reptile show, I was relatively pleased. For one thing, the new locale is fantastic: huge, with a high ceiling, with room for bigger tables and bigger crowds. (Which we got; it was just as packed as the old, smaller location, which is not a bad thing. The fact that the crowds weren’t buying was another issue.) For another, I was really pleased with how our own table looked:

As for the disappointing sales, I could have been marketing the stuff more aggressively than I have; when I sold more at these shows several years ago, I had a more prominent online presence. Viz., my reptile section had pricelists and descriptions. I’ve taken those down pending the launch of a commercial reptile site at a separate address; I’m working on that new site now and hope to have it up soon.

In any event, I’ve noticed that people browsing at one show sometimes purchase one or two shows later. On the one hand, I’m optimistic for the June show as a result, because there was some definite interest. On the other hand, this can be somewhat annoying, as they’re assuming that the same stuff will be there the next time. But it’s a buyer’s market right now: we need to sell more than they need to buy, and we need to deal with that fact.

I’ve also got some ideas for the next show that I hope I can get done in time.

Dozois steps down

Gardner Dozois is stepping down as editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction; he’s held that position since 1986, during which time he made Asimov’s the definitive SF magazine. He will apparently be replaced by longtime managing editor Sheila Williams (via Boing Boing).

At the same time, circulations for all SF magazines — Analog and F&SF too — plunged during this period: paid circulation today is less than a third of what it was in the mid-1980s. Whatever forces were at work to put SF magazines’ circulation in decline — I’ve heard one of them was ending the Publisher’s Clearing House subscriptions, which the magazines apparently took at a loss, so they may now actually be more profitable — you have the irony that fewer and fewer people were reading a magazine at its prime.

Apparently Dozois is returning to writing fiction. As a fan of his stuff — check out Strange Days or, for a book about his stuff, Being Gardner Dozois — I can’t be anything but pleased. I just hope he can make a living at it without becoming Howard Waldrop’s roommate.

A Waldrop blog?

The man doesn’t even so much as own a computer, so I’m hard pressed to call this a blog, or Howard Waldrop a blogger — you sort of need some kind of net connection to fulfill the links-plus-commentary paradigm. Having said that, any kind of Waldrop is cause for huzzaificatiousness, so off you go. (via Boing Boing)

VIA points the way for the blind

The Canadian Transportation agency has slapped down VIA Rail for its shoddy treatment of a blind passenger. Despite codes on John Benjamin’s ticket that indicated that he was blind and required assistance, VIA personnel left him to fend for himself — even pointing (!) to show him when he asked for assistance, and dismissed his disability as minor.

The full text of the decision is here, and bears reading. Here’s the money quote:

The Agency notes VIA’s statement that “VIA hopes that if this situation should ever arise in the future, that Mr. Benjamin will make his disability known to the person to whom he is speaking so that there will be no confusion as to the assistance that he needs”. In view of the evidence submitted by Mr. Benjamin, the fact that he requested services in advance of his travel and the fact that Mr. Benjamin was using a white cane, the Agency finds that the notion implied in VIA’s statement that Mr. Benjamin is somehow responsible for VIA’s failure to provide appropriate assistance is totally unacceptable. In this regard, the fact that Mr. Benjamin was using a white cane should have clearly demonstrated to VIA’s personnel the nature of his disability and the assistance he required. Also, the Agency finds that there was nothing more that Mr. Benjamin could have done to ensure that VIA’s personnel received the information that they required concerning the assistance he required due to his disability. The Agency also finds that VIA did not provide any evidence to justify why Mr. Benjamin was not provided with the appropriate assistance but was instead left unattended and uninformed despite repeated requests for assistance.

The CTA has ordered an apology, training and procedural changes, but it seems to me that dismissals ought to be in order for the staff who pointed things out to a man with a white cane. I mean, really. Come on.

Comments fixed

I screwed up the code when I redesigned the individual entry pages last week; comment text disappeared when you tried to post a comment. Figured it out, fixed. Post with impunity. Unless, of course, you’re a comment spammer, in which case I will delete your post, add your URL to the blacklist, ban your IP, and pee on your dog.

Writer/editor + translator

A problem I frequently encounter when hunting for a job in the Ottawa area is that many of the writer/editor positions — for which I am eminently suited — also expect the candidate to translate. Worse yet, they expect the candidate to translate in both directions: French to English and English to French. Trouble is, I’ve taken enough translation classes, and I know enough translators, to know that you just can’t do that.

While I fulfill the language profiles (CCC French) of these jobs, I know enough about translation to know that I am not a translator, and, if called upon to translate, I would, at best, take forever to do a mediocre job. Also, real translators generally only translate into their native tongue, not both ways.

My guess is that those doing the hiring don’t know about these nuances, and are trying to cut corners by getting their IS-03 writer/editor to pinch in with a little TR-03-level translating (Ottawa types will know what these mean), without realizing what the end result would be. (Embarrassingly bad French-language documents are by no means rare in the public service.) If it’s just a matter of managing the sending out of translation work to the Translation Bureau sweatshops, there’s no indication of that in the job poster that sparked this little rant.

What scares me is that the people doing the applying for this may not know about these nuances either. (Just because you’re bilingual doesn’t mean you can translate.)

I may apply for it anyway, but include this little rant. Might be fun.

All hail Bluetooth

A man, an unlimited data plan, and a whole whack of devices and software: Matt’s a convert to Bluetooth, using his PowerBook and his T68i to connect anywhere there’s a GPRS signal, among other things. His mind boggles at the idea of ubiquitous net access. It’s something I’ve been coveting for a while, and something I’ll make a priority when I safely re-ensconce myself somewhere urban.

The Species at Risk Act

I’ve always had this lingering fear that the Species at Risk Act, now law, would have some impact on me, since I keep species that are legal to keep in my current province but protected elsewhere — viz., my Butler’s Garter Snakes (which I kept under licence when I was living in Ontario) and my Great Basin Gopher Snakes (which I acquired before they were listed by COSEWIC). At the same time, I’ve been kind of avoiding having a look and seeing for sure. Which is strange, seeing as how I used to read and edit laws and regulations for a living: if any non-lawyer in the reptile community could figure this out, it’d be me, wouldn’t it?

Since I’m trying to sell a juvenile gopher snake at the moment (more on which anon), I needed to know whether or not keeping and selling a species that was protected in another province was kosher. So tonight, finally, I had a look at the relevant page on the Department of Justice’s laws site. And nearly fell out of my chair until I figured out what the Act was saying.

First it said, in subsection 32(2), that possession or sale of an extirpated, endangered or threatened species was prohibited. Uh-oh! But then it took it all back, more or less, in section 34, which states that that prohibition only applies on federal lands unless an Order-in-Council is issued that makes it apply everywhere in a given province. Essentially the Act applies on federal Crown lands only (and to migratory birds and other wildlife under federal jurisdiction, but that’s not relevant here); it can be extended if the federal government thinks that provincial wildlife protections aren’t up to snuff — it’s a fail-safe, in other words. Provincial endangered species and conservation laws are the first line of defence.

It’s highly unlikely that the federal government will issue an order affecting wildlife native to B.C. and Ontario that applies to Quebec residents.

Not only that, but the gopher snake isn’t even listed in the schedules (which lag somewhat behind COSEWIC’s own listings), and section 32 doesn’t even come into force until June 1.

So as usual, I needn’t worry. Nor, it appears, should anyone who keeps in captivity species that are protected in their native province, but legal where they are.

Star Trek comics

The Gold Key Star Trek comic series: I had two of the reprint volumes (“The Enterprise Logs”) as a kid. I remember that they were utterly unlike Star Trek in the first few issues — references to rocket motors, pink phasers, everybody but Spock in a green shirt, bald Klingons — but adhered more closely to the canon over time, I thought back then. I’m still trying to remember whether they were any good, though. Another nostalgia fix, via The Cartoonist (as so many good things are).

New eMac


The eMac, often the forgotten sibling in Apple’s product lineup, is the first Apple product to receive an upgrade in three months. Price: $1,049 or $1,299 (Cdn), depending on the optical and hard drive options. Though it now has the same processor speed as my 17-inch iMac (1.25 GHz, up from 1 GHz), it’s actually more powerful in two aspects: the processor has a 512-KB L2 cache, which means it’s a 7457-class G4, previously only found in PowerBooks (the iMac has a 7455 with 256 KB of L2); and the DVD burner in the $1,299 model is an 8× drive, whereas those found currently in iMacs and Power Macs are only 4× (the PowerBooks’ DVD burners are 2×). That at least suggests where some things may be going with other models.

Mobile edition

A mobile edition of this blog is now available, for that infinitesimally small fraction of my miniscule readership that wants to read my insignificant blog with a puny gadget. Can I help you tiny mortals?

The last thing Jesus said


The punchline to “You know what the last thing Jesus said was?” left me gasping for air, I was laughing so hard, when I saw Sam Kinison’s routine on SNL in October 1986 (Windows Media: dialup, highspeed). Presumably much cleaner than his regular routine, it was nevertheless heavily censored when the episode was rerun (in one bit on drugs, the audio was killed; they excised the Jesus joke altogether).

For a while I thought this was the funniest thing imaginable; I was 16, and it was the 1980s. Now I’m twice that age and the stand-up comedy’s a lot stronger than it used to be, and old Sam Kinison jokes don’t seem as risqué — or as funny — as they once did. We’ve come a long way.

Links: Sam Kinison Official Web Site, Kinison.com: A Multmedia Tribute to the Life and Comedy of Sam Kinison.

McWetlog redesign finally done

It only took me five months, but the individual entry pages have now lost their default Movable Type templates and now match the rest of the site. There have been minor changes to the other weblog pages as well. There will probably be some more tinkering with the sidebar, but the blog redesign is essentially complete — for the time being.

One important fix is that commenters’ e-mail will not be publicly posted if they do not enter a web site.


The projects section summarizes all my ongoing projects — all Internet-based (sites, pages, mailing lists, tribes) at the moment.

Keyboard as lust object

Drool. The only bright side in having to use a Power Mac 7200 as my workstation last fall was that it had an excellent keyboard — a good thing in journalism, don’t you think? I heard about this thing last year and can understand full well why (1) everyone wants one and (2) it’s heavily backordered until the end of this month. (Damn!) Here’s Engst’s review of the Tactile Pro Keyboard. (via Slashdot)

Update 4/8: Boing Boing and Gizmodo have picked up the story. It just got a lot harder to get one, I think.

Trails page redesign

It’s been up for a week, actually, but now I’ve finally got enough of the bugs worked out that I can finally mention the redesign of the trails section of this website. In addition to a new layout and appearance, I’ve also finally added pictures from my hikes to Eiffel Lake and Citadel Pass. These hikes took place in 1988 — when I was just a lad of 16 — and the photos are scans from slides.

Next up is the long-overdue page on Healy Pass, which I hiked in the summer of 2002 (see previous entry). It takes me forever to get around to updating the trails section — the Eiffel Lake and Citadel Pass pages were first conceived in 1999 — but I’m hoping to have that done in the next few days. (Really!) There are nearly a hundred pictures to choose from and process, and I’ve been procrastinating that rather big task.

Nikon D70 review

Nikon’s low-cost digital SLR, the D70, is now available: I saw one at the Henry’s in downtown Ottawa on Saturday, where, at C$1,899, it cost $500 more than the camera it’s up against, the Canon Digital Rebel (which has been reduced to C$1,399). Is it worth it? Wade through the review at DPReview, which, as usual, is exhaustive to a fault. (Jesus, people, is 28 pages of menu lists and histograms really necessary?) The bottom line, which you’ll find on page 27:

[The D70 is] a camera which is a significant step ahead of the EOS 300D in terms of build quality and feature set and a match, and in some instances better from an image quality point of view.
I am very pleased to see Nikon stepping up with a quality camera which doesn’t compromise on build quality, feature set or image quality and yet offers superb value for money. There’s no risk involved in the D70’s slightly higher price compared to the EOS 300D (Digital Rebel), it’s absolutely worth it.

In particular, the D70 is a lot faster than the Rebel, and in terms of shutter lag and startup times is a pretty fast digital SLR, full stop. Interesting. (via DigitalSLR.org)

Update: I should also mention Glen “Instapundit” Reynolds’s moonlighting-on-Gizmodo review of the D70.

Suburban blight

In Toronto, low-income neighbourhoods are increasingly in the suburbs — i.e., North York and Scarborough, not “exurbs” like Aurora or Richmond Hill — rather than in the inner city. In other words, Toronto is beginning to replicate European cities: in Paris, the no-go areas are the suburbs; it’s central Paris — Paris proper — that is the chic and expensive place to be.

Cicadas (oh no, not again)

The mayflies in Gimli, Manitoba were bad enough for me: some mornings in summer you’d discover that they’d covered every horizontal surface overnight. And you’d be picking them off your body throughout the day. One or two I could handle; thousands, I couldn’t. But that pales in comparison to cicadas. Brood X is emerging again after 17 years. It’s enough to make an entomophobe consider his travel plans very carefully. More via Google News (via Oliver, whose original link has expired).


Newsdesigner.com is a weblog about newspaper design. That’s not to say that it’s about fonts and layout; rather, it’s about things like choices in headlines and photography — for example, whether to include pictures of mutilated American corpses from Fallujah (the most recent entry at this point). This is gold. (via Matt)

Sam’s birthday

Sam had her 30th birthday yesterday. Sam didn’t like turning 30. She also really didn’t like having her picture taken.

And I’m sure she will be delighted to have me inform you of this fact and have these nice pictures on the web for all to see. (Don’t worry, Sam; I only have about 30,000 visits per month.)

I’m a dead man.