September 2004

“In the wake of”

“In the wake of” is how journalists avoid the post hoc fallacy: instead of saying that it happened because of something — which they either cannot or are disinclined to prove — they say that it happened “in the wake of” something, or words to that effect. They’re implying a connection, but they can’t come right out and attribute causality. (For example, this CNet article says that Apple increased its online storage limits for its .Mac customers “as other e-mail providers … have been increasing limits” — as, not because.) Sad to say, I used this expression a lot during my brief journalism career: clearly I’d picked it up through news-junkie osmosis. And because it was so very useful.

Local politicians caught

The local-paper-I-used-to-work-for published a major jawdropper of a story last week but, for whatever reason, telegraphed it.

Five local politicians and one bureaucrat have been charged — and, since the article says they were fined, presumably convicted — under provincial electoral law. Their offence? Having their municipalities or organizations reimburse them for attending a $200-a-plate fundraiser for the provincial Liberal riding association. For the record, the people charged are as follows:

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The key phrase is “comparably equipped”


News flash: Macs are less expensive than PCs.

Don’t believe me? It’s true — when you compare them to similarly equipped PCs. I mean, sure, when you use a stripped-down, bare-bones system with shared memory instead of an AGP graphics card as your reference point, Macs do seem pricey — particularly when, as some slashtards are wont to do, they compare low-end PCs to top-end Power Macs solely on the basis of processor speed.

But, as Paul Murphy wrote on LinuxInsider last month, when you compare Macs to brand-name PCs with the same specs (RAM, hard drives, optical drives, screen size, I/O, software), Macs actually come out ahead — and this was done before the new G5 iMac played hell with the price/value equation. Speaking of which, according to osViews’s Harry Rider, a G5 iMac is actually $300 cheaper than building your own PC from parts! (Assuming, naturally, that you don’t pirate the PC software.)

Apple used to charge as much as $7,000 for Macintoshes. That was over a decade ago. (Received wisdom dies hard.) They’ve been getting cheaper all the time, to the point where a 15-inch PowerBook now is cheaper than a 12-inch iBook three years ago, and a 15-inch TiBook in 2001 went for more than a 17-inch PowerBook does now.

Ribbon snakes in Quebec

Northern Ribbon Snakes (Thamnophis sauritus septentrionalis) have been found in Quebec. They were observed for the first time in this province in 2003 — they were not known to exist here prior to that — when a population was found along the Quebec shore of the Ottawa River. Here’s a report of some subsequent observations of ribbon snakes in Quebec from this year. With pictures.

B.Mac closure update


An update to my previous entry about B.Mac’s closure of its Ottawa store: MacNN is reporting that, according to a Montreal Gazette article (update: behind the subscriber wall), B.Mac has closed three of its four stores overall and may lose the fourth. The Gazette article apparently blames a declining user base; what limited information I have seen blames managerial cock-ups. It usually is, whenever a store closes, though management always blames something else — market conditions, the competitors, the suppliers.

Worldwide sales have been no worse in the last few months than they’ve been in the previous few years — in fact, they’ve been a little bit better for Macs, and obscenely good for iPods. And when you factor in the rise of the Canadian dollar over the past year and a half, which has meant an effective price cut of a few hundred dollars on a new Mac, the opportunity for sales should be even better. If B.Mac hasn’t been able to keep its head above water recently, it’s not because of market conditions, because they’ve never been as favourable in years, from what I can tell.

One factor: location. According to one commenter on the MacNN story, B.Mac’s Montreal stores are poorly located: one in an industrial area, another downtown but not at street level. Ottawa’s was in a suburban strip mall: downtown residents had to take the bus for an hour to get to it. (Hint: Don’t advertise in trendy downtown alternative papers and situate yourself in Nepean.) Apple’s retail strategy, on the other hand, obsesses about location: their stores show up in new, upscale or trendy shopping areas, and they’re always high-traffic areas. It’s true what they say: location’s everything.

The Franklin and South Manchester Railroad

For decades, the ne plus ultra of model railroad scenery and scratchbuilding was John Allen’s Gorre and Daphetid Railroad. But, since his death — and the subsequent loss of his layout in a fire — was in 1973, few photos of this masterpiece have made it online. (There’s a fan page and a mailing list.)

But this is not the case with what is generally seen as the G&D’s spiritual successor, the Franklin and South Manchester Railroad. Its creator is model-builder George Sellios — making craftsman kits is his day job — and scores of his incredible model structures are the highlight of this layout. (Occasionally, wags note, you may see a train on it.)

There are literally hundreds of photos available online on various fan sites. (Figuring out which, if any, of these sites is quasi-official I leave as an exercise for the reader — I gave up.)

From hobbies to hobby horses

John Bruce, who wrote a very smart online essay called The Sociology of Model Railroading (see previous entry), also has a well-written blog, where he makes a point of covering everything but trains — and politics. (With a couple of exceptions in each case. The latter I can understand: I’ve been turned off by blogs that would otherwise be interesting were it not for the toxic political views. But not the former.) So he covers academic politics, workplace issues, questions of faith, personal experiences, and fiction — sometimes I’m not sure whether an entry is part of a longer work of fiction or a personal experience. Anyway, it’s interesting (albeit unclassifiable) stuff — exactly what a personal blog ought to be.

They’re hiring

When I quit my job at the Justice department early last year, I wondered how long it would take them to hire a replacement. To be honest, I wasn’t happy there, and I thought to myself at the time, with some satisfaction, that it would take me less time to find a new job than it would take them to replace me.

It turns out that I was right, though that’s not to say that I’ve been finding jobs quickly: after being down two English legislative revisor positions for more than a year and a half (another of my cohort went and became a jurilinguist), they’re finally hiring. I just didn’t think I’d be on the other side of another job, looking for work again, when they did it.

(Actually, I should mention that my own job situation is not entirely dire: I’ve literally been waiting for a phone call for nearly two months. They say the delay is “due to circumstances beyond their control”, so at the very least I’m not yet out of the running. And it’s definitely a job worth waiting for.)

Basilisk Dreams goes under

Via Locus Online, news that Ottawa’s specialty SF bookstore, Basilisk Dreams Books, is going out of business — a victim, they say, of chain bookstores and the Internet.

[O]ver the past year and a half, there has been a significant decline in sales, this is likely to continue and even be exacerbated over the fall and winter months, since the attributable causes are on-going. The large chain bookstores, who appear to be favoured by publishers and distributers in respect to delivery and payments, as well as direct sales through the Internet, have sliced into our business. To maintain our stock of new releases and backlist titles has become an on-going battle, both to secure delivery and to cover our financial commitments.

Unfortunately our Eighth Anniversary Sale did not generate the results we had hoped for. Even prolonging the sale for the whole month of August was equally disappointing. We could not attract sufficient clientele to keep us in business.

Specialty bookstores always complain about the chains and Amazon, but their former customers have other ideas about their lack of success — often it’s something else. Not that I know anything about these guys: when I was in Ottawa I always sort of enjoyed the store — though I found the customer service a little too hands-on — and will be sad to see it gone. Sometimes they had books that were otherwise hard to find, even online, and browsing the physical books is something that Amazon can’t replace. (But they’d never heard of Lucius Shepard or Howard Waldrop!)

Still, out here in the sticks, choosing Amazon over a 1½-hour drive and trying to find parking in the Glebe is kind of a no-brainer, regardless of the 30 per cent discounts.

New project: Ankylose This!

You may well ask what I’m up to when I’m not declaring war on half my family and friends. You may wonder what my follow-up to DFL will be. Wonder no more. Announcing Ankylose This! — a group blog about living with ankylosing spondylitis.

Like DFL, it’s a Blogger-based blog (oh boy) that makes use of a furnished template rather than one of my own questionable designs. (This makes for quicker launches, less procrastination, and a focus on writing — which is what I’m good at — rather than design.) Unlike DFL, it’s a group blog: I’m hoping that other AS-afflicted bloggers will contribute.

I don’t think there’s anything else like this (though I’d love to be proven wrong). Certainly not for ankylosing spondylitis: most sites are community support groups rather than blogs. No idea how this will turn out, but it could turn out very well indeed.

Reptile show results

Another reptile show gone, another three snakes sold — a wandering garter, a red-sided garter, and a newborn corn snake with a kink in his spine that nonetheless was eating well. Sales about what I’d expected, though I’d hoped for more.

I’d raised the prices on the garter snakes a touch to reflect their age and size and no one complained — the people who really want garter snakes will pay a reasonable price; those that complain if I charge more than $20 wouldn’t have paid a lower price anyway.

We came back with three snakes, so we’re dead even in terms of mouths to feed: a new baby blue-striped garter snake; a yearling (albeit small for its age) female Baird’s rat snake, so we can pair up my male; and, from Stewart, a new Okeetee corn snake, because Jen likes them a lot.

That Yonge Street myth

Kudos to James for bringing to our attention that this thing about Yonge Street being the longest street in the world is a crock of shit. Yonge Street ends at the Holland Marsh and is only 56 km long; calling Highway 11 (as Yonge Street then was) Yonge Street and tacking on another 1,840 km is just as valid as adding about 2,200 km to Winnipeg’s Portage Avenue by extending it (as Highway 1) to Horseshoe Bay, British Columbia.

Will Alberta go Green?

Imagine the following intriguing scenario: the Green Party defeats the Conservatives to become the government in Alberta.

Farfetched? For the next election or two, yes, but not necessarily beyond that. Just ask Preston Manning. In a piece in today’s Globe and Mail (registration may be required), he argues that, based on past history, the next party to govern Alberta will not be one of the two current opposition parties:

No provincial government has ever been replaced by its traditional opposition. When Albertans change governments, the party in power has always (thus far) been replaced by a new group with a big, new idea.

The Liberals, replaced by the UFA, replaced by Social Credit, replaced by the Progressive Conservatives. There’s 99 years of Alberta political history in a nutshell — and in each case, the new government came out of nowhere.

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Mishaps expected as this site is redesigned

Expect some weirdness and broken things as parts of this site are moved over to a new design. Much of the site has already been updated over the past week or so, as some of you no doubt have noticed. Today I started changing this blog over to the new design, but I’m not finished yet; as of this moment, for example, the sidebar will be wonky on the monthly and category archive pages and the individual entry pages.

There is some new content here and there, though, if you know where to look for it. I’ll have more to say about that later on, when my head doesn’t hurt quite so much.

Wheelchair on the Transitway

Seen from Florence’s apartment this morning at 9:10 a.m., a motorized wheelchair being driven along the Transitway towards Hurdman station, blocking bus traffic along the way.

Motorized wheelchair on the Transitway

Motorized wheelchair on the Transitway

I’m fairly certain that it’s illegal to drive your motorized wheelchair on the Transitway (speed limit 80 km/h at that point). Especially when there are perfectly serviceable sidewalks along each side of that bridge. Definitely a WTF moment.

Quantifying “holy shit”

Traffic for DFL throughout its active lifetime: from August 15, when I started it, to August 31, when I wrote the last entry:

DFL traffic

It was posted to MetaFilter the night of August 22/23, which provided a slight uptick from the west coast on the 22nd. The traffic on the 23rd was wholly MeFi- and blog-driven. By the afternoon of the 24th the Reuters article had been filed and had begun to disseminate among online news sources, including Yahoo! News. From there other news organizations — if they could get a hold of me, since I was getting six to ten media requests every morning, too many for me to respond to — began picking up on the story.

This is what snowballing looks like.

Points of failure

Persona’s fibre-optic cable connecting its Pontiac-area customers — in Bryson, Campbell’s Bay, Île-du-Grand-Calumet and Shawville — to the rest of the world was cut at about 2:30 yesterday afternoon. It’s taken until about half an hour ago to be reconnected; I’ve been offline in the meantime, naturally.

Fibre cuts can sometimes mean days of downtime even for large population centres, so I should count myself lucky that I’ve only been off for 18 hours. Still, for a web junkie like me, 18 hours can feel like forever.

One of the things that bugged me about Blogger, in re the preceding entry, was that it represented an additional point of failure. Most of the time, when doing my web projects, I have to deal with a minimum of two: my ISP, Persona; and my hosting company, DreamHost. Both are far from perfect: Persona’s DNS server has an annoying habit of crashing, sometimes several times a day, which means I’m off for a minimum of half an hour each time. And the server on which my domains are hosted periodically reboots, meaning that they’re unavailable for 20 minutes or so — which isn’t bad, considering, but those 20 minutes always seem to happen when I’m trying to do something. (To their credit, DreamHost is always excellent in keeping its customers advised of serious problems, so I’m reasonably happy with them.)

Adding a third point of failure was just asking for it, I guess. (Probably one reason why I went to Movable Type last fall.) All things considered, though, everything held up reasonably well during last week’s craziness. I shouldn’t complain too much.