December 2004


Yesterday contained multitudes, and had its sad and happy moments.

Our first task was both long-expected and a sudden surprise. Our friend Ann Olson died Saturday; her funeral was yesterday morning. She’d been living with the knowledge that her cancer was terminal for the past year; nevertheless she was still irrepressibly positive. She didn’t fool herself or anyone else into thinking she had a chance, but was still determined to live her life to the fullest. Her husband, Bob, gave the eulogy, and it was wonderful: funny, and warm, and full of affection. She will be missed by a great many people.

The funeral was in Maitland, just east of Brockville; we went through Merrickville to get to and from. On the way back, naturally, we stopped for a bite and a stop at the most dangerous model railroad store in these here parts. Here, Jennifer decided to exact her revenge for last April’s iPod incident and bought me what she called “an early birthday present”, viz., an A and B set of HO-scale C-Liner diesel locomotives in Canadian Pacific livery. Of course I was all flummoxed and discombobulated.

Since she decided to up the ante, I raised her; later that evening I bought her a digital camera. Now the flummoxing and discombobulation were on the other foot, so there!

Suffice it to say, the two of us are doing very well with, for and by one another. In some ways I think Bob and Ann (to segue back to the beginning of this entry) make great role models: they always seemed to complement each other’s strengths. We could do worse.

Good news on the snake health front

The Baird’s rat snake had internal parasites — specifically, Strongyloides. Treated with Flagyl and Panacur; will repeat Panacur in a couple of weeks. Fortunately not transmissable except via fecal contact so the rest of the collection ought to be fine. And once she’s clear of the little worms, she should start putting on some weight. She’s been eating well, but — as I guessed — the Strongyloides, which can inhabit the entire GI tract, were skimming the nutrition off the top. No wonder she’s so teensy.

Fricking laser beams

When I was editing regulations at the Justice department, one of the earliest files I was handed made it illegal to point a laser beam at an aircraft. At the time I thought it was hilarious: don’t fire a fricking laser beam at a plane! The Dr. Evil Regulation. Not laughing any more. Holy shit.

More entries below »

Manos: The Hands of Fate


One of the goodies I got Jen for Christmas was Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Essentials, a two-disc set consisting of Manos: The Hands of Fate and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The latter film will probably turn into a holiday tradition in our household. It’s Manos I want to talk about here.

Again: Oy.

That concludes my discussion of this awful film, this awful-out-of-focus-overdubbed-badly-edited-cornball, morimaite-sincahonda, hoom

Um. It’s pretty bad. The MST3K folks had a field day with it. There’s a reason why this was voted the most popular of their episodes, and why it’s on the Essentials DVD.

Before you rush out and view this film, prepare yourself by reading the Agony Booth’s review of Manos and this Mimosa article, which looks at the experiences of the crew who worked on the film. The poor bastards.

In other MST3K news, my father gave Jennifer Vol. 3 of The MST3K Collection, which contains another batch of short films. This is worth noting because one of them features famed Florida reptile impresario Ross Allen — the Steve Irwin of his time: the Everglades rat snake, Elaphe obsoleta rossalleni, was named after him — chasing down wildlife in the Everglades. None too gently, either: this wouldn’t pass muster today, not by a long shot. And there were two dreary Union Pacific safety films, one on level crossings, the other on workplace safety, both of which taking forever to plod to the point. Yech. Of course, if they weren’t bad, you wouldn’t have wisecracking robots in silhouette there, would you?

Update: Here’s Jen’s take on Manos. Yes, she has a blog now.

A snake health update

On a happier note, our recalcitrant checkered garter snake has just eaten a half-pinky. Jennifer hypothesized that all the guts and goo might stimulate the appetite. I’m not sure if that’s what did it, but, what the hell, she ate. And I was on the cusp of hibernating her.

Vet appointment for the Baird’s rat snake on Thursday, which is pretty quick, comparatively speaking.

Another sick snake

Our female Baird’s rat snake, which we picked up from John and Paula (via Kim) last September, isn’t looking so good. She was small and thin for her size when we got her; at the time we assumed that she just hadn’t been fed enough. But, three months later, she still looks small, even more gaunt than before, and listless. Now I’m beginning to think that it’s internal parasites — maybe a long-term infection that’s been siphoning off the nutrition and stunting her growth. Or something.

Time to call the vet and get a fecal sample done. If it is parasites, then treatment ought to be straightforward; with any luck she’ll start sprouting once she’s healthy again.

Knowing my luck, she’ll drop dead before we can get her to the vet, or it’ll be something much harder (and more expensive) to treat.

The post-Christmas post

Turkey, anyone? Actually, we’re almost out — the advantage of getting a small bird. Even with just the two of us there’s not much left, though that might merely be a testament to our tryptophan-addled gluttony.

Christmas makes cats go batshit. No, I don’t think Jennifer inadvertently switched the summer savory with the catnip (though they do look suspiciously similar). But now they’ve got all sorts of new things to play with. Discarded wrapping paper! Empty boxes! (New clothes get covered in cat hair before I even get a chance to try them on to see if they fit.)

Today, Goober knocked over and scattered an opened chocolate orange twice. Does he like dark chocolate? No — he was after the wrapper.

Dept. of Dangerous Gifts. The $40 iTunes gift certificate I gave Jennifer may have started something insidious: I’m sure she found more than a dozen albums she wanted to get. And the electronic labeller she gave me has already seen heavy use; I had no idea I’d get as compulsive as was depicted in ads for these gadgets a decade ago. (No, I haven’t labelled the cats. Yet.)

Devil cat

Kittens in the second half of their first year are nothing but trouble: think kittenish freakouts in an adult cat body. Also, they haven’t figured out their limits yet. Getting a cat to stop doing something is no small feat in itself, but it’s an extra challenge with Goober. He simply doesn’t know fear. I’m not kidding: he doesn’t even run from the vacuum cleaner. Try training a cat like that. Yell at him and he doesn’t even flinch.

We’ve been trying to make him leave the snakes alone. Maya’s quite inured to the presence of wriggly things inside cages, and doesn’t make any serious attempts on them. Then again, she is pretty listless. But Goober hasn’t gotten used to them yet. Time and again, he’s pouncing on top of their cages, freaking them out to no end. Scaring my poor critters!

Trouser, my male corn snake, who’s never struck at a human being, took a swing at Goober through the glass a while back (obviously, before hibernation). When we moved the female hognose snake into a 15-gallon tank (larger digs), he scared her so much that her hood stayed flattened all day. Put her off her feed, of course. These are captive-bred snakes, well accustomed to human contact, and even they know that cats is trouble.

Today, whilst farting around on the computer, I heard a snake’s tail vibrate in a cage behind me. Snakes don’t have to be rattlers to buzz their tails when they’re scared. I looked around, and there was Goober, sitting on top of the (empty) corn snake cage, bothering the Baird’s rat snake as he was dangling off the inside of his lid. (He does that.) A yell, a swat, and a timeout in the bathroom for Goober.

I keep telling myself that it’s natural for his age, and that he’ll grow out of it.

Tonight he got into the catnip in one of the kitchen cupboards. Spread it all over the kitchen floor. How is this going to be a disincentive to him jumping on the counter?

Right now he and Maya are tussling and bouncing off one another. That’s better, cats: beat each other up. (Actually, it’s surprising how well they get along with one another.)

And now we have a fish. Who knows what’s going to happen next.

A little redesigning

Design changes all over the place. First I wanted to redo the front page to make it a bit more usable — providing at a glance the sort of information someone visiting my site might be looking for (most recent entries, snakes for sale). It’s also now partly a disambiguation page — from that page you can get to nearly all my projects within two clicks.

Then I ended up applying the changes to the rest of the site — several sections are already changed over; the rest will be done sooner (or later). Most of them are minor: principally, the sidebar photos and the maximum width of each page. Hopefully these are changes for the better.

Probably lots of rendering errors on IE/Windows, which I’m unable to check. Send in your bug reports, with screenshots if you can provide them.

Roast duck

We tried to roast a duck for the first time tonight. It turned out quite well. Carving it was another matter.
Roast duck
Originally uploaded by mcwetboy.

We’ve been meaning to try duck for a while: I’ve had it before, but never cooked it myself; Jennifer’s never had it.

Because of the holidays, ducks are more readily available at the supermarkets, so we picked one up today. Armed with a simple recipe from Brome Lake Ducks (though the duck did not come from them), we gave it a go. It turned out very well. We certainly liked eating it. Carving it, though, was a bit more complicated — Jen says it’s not like carving chicken or turkey at all.

Shawville loses its pet store

Today Jen pointed out that the Pontiac Pet Shop, which is just down the street from us, has closed up. She’d noticed it in the past week. My first reaction was surprise; I’d expected the store to succeed. It’s too bad.

I covered the store’s opening in September 2003; here’s part of what I wrote:

[The owners’] market research suggested that there was demand for a pet store in the area. According to data provided by Shawville Revitalisation, more than $1 million is spent on pet expenses [in the area] — including food, supplies, services and the animals themselves — every year.

On the other hand, we ourselves didn’t actually shop there very often. And we have more animals than the average, non-farming resident. Or rather we didn’t buy there very often; we stopped in a lot, but they frequently didn’t have what we were looking for. They didn’t carry reptile supplies, they didn’t have the cat things we wanted, and their selection of cat food was poorer than the supermarket’s next door. So we ended up going elsewhere, even though we wanted to give them our business.

Pet stores make money on supplies, not animals. But the store’s limited selection of animals may have had an effect on their other business lines. From my article:

The animals offered for sale reflect [one of the owner’s] preferences: small, purebred dogs and cats; ferrets and small rodents; goldfish; and finches and budgies. There are no larger birds such as parrots, more exotic fish, reptiles, amphibians or invertebrates — or, for that matter, run of the mill dogs or cats — at this time.

My bet is that $300 dogs would be a tough sell out here. Pet stores are a marginal business in the first place. I don’t know, but maybe it was too limited and upscale in its selection to succeed. Maybe they didn’t need a storefront on Main Street with purebreds; they needed a big barn in the outskirts with all sorts of stuff — everything from aquaria to horse tack.

Who knows. I don’t know why the store closed; I’m just musing about what it’s like to do business in this town. I wonder whether specialty stores can survive out here. We have a lot of small department/general/discount stores that sell a surprising amount of stuff, with considerable overlap. I’m not sure if one thing alone is enough to keep a business going — even the local newspaper sells cleaning supplies.

I’m beginning to think I’m jinxing local businesses. Of the three business openings I covered in my brief time as a reporter, only one is still open: the Curves franchise. Don’t tell the Chamber of Commerce.

Comment spam is getting worse (but not for me personally)

The comment spam problem has taken a new turn recently: it’s gotten so bad that it’s taking down the servers hosting the blogs they’re polluting. In response, some hosting providers are disabling comments and even blogs system-wide.

Here’s a recent e-mail from my own hosting provider:

We have seen a significant increase in weblog comment spam lately. Movable Type installations seem to be the worst hit, but Greymatter is also affected. The increase in comment spam has been causing a lot of server instability. We have begun blocking connections from the IP addresses we have found to be the origins of most of the spam, but that will most likely only work temporarily. We request that everyone with a weblog application installed please do what you can to reduce the likelihood of your site being a target. Install any applicable anti-spam plugins or disable comments on your weblog altogether. Let us know if you have any questions.

More on how bad it’s been getting from Ben Hammersley and Reid Stott.

So the upshot is that even if your own blog is protected (hint: MT-Blacklist) or is otherwise unaffected by comment spam (no comments, or uses Blogger), and even if your web site doesn’t even have a blog (but others on your server do) this has an impact on you.

The Movable Type team has concluded that the bulk of the problem is a bug that causes page rebuilds even when a comment is filtered. In a nutshell, every time one of Movable Type’s scripts runs, the server does some work. Every time a new entry is made or a comment is made to an entry, a script runs and several pages are rebuilt. That’s a lot of server activity and a lot of rebuilds if you have a lot of comments. The problem is that there’s too much activity even when the comments are blocked. A fix is coming. (See also this and this.)

Apart from the hit to the shared servers on which my sites are based, which should not be minimized, my blogs are relatively unaffected. On this blog, comments were disabled on new entries in July, and since then I’ve shut off the older comments in stages. DFL’s comments have long since been closed; even so, it, like Ankylose This!, uses Blogger, which has a method for filtering URLs to prevent the presumed boost in the Google rankings (it’s believed that you score higher in Google searches the more pages link to yours, which is the whole premise behind this comment spam nonsense).

That leaves The Map Room, which is protected by MT-Blacklist. And I automatically close comments on entries older than 45 days — which helps, because it’s older entries that are usually targeted. Still, it gets its small share of comment spam, which I excise as soon as I can.

I appreciate that many, many bloggers have it much, much worse.

Snakes get you laid

iTunes gets you laid (via Cult of Mac). Lots of other things get you laid too, apparently.

You’re all wrong. Snakes get you laid. I’m serious. On more than one occasion, while doing reptile displays, I’ve had a largeish snake out — a bullsnake or a black rat snake, for example — and have been surrounded by a group of reasonably young, attractive women. (Somewhere along the line things changed, and — anecdotally — it seems that more men are afraid of them now than women are, in all age groups.) Now nothing sordid came of that, of course, but even I could appreciate the ice-breaking potential. (Sorry Wes, but it seems to be a lot more effective than the “naked salamander dance of love” line. Snakes is cooler than newtses.)

But more importantly, it’s worth pointing out that I met Jennifer while holding a big black rat snake at an educational display. (As I like to say, she came over to the table with lust in her eyes — for the snake. Too bad it wasn’t one of mine.) So how about that?


We rented Hero last night. With a narrative structure (and naïveté) seemingly poached directly from Rashomon, delivering one alternate, colour-themed flashback after another, the film is far more effective than if it had played its rather thin plot straight. Though it’s a bit repetitive. And slow-paced (which also reminds me of Rashomon). It’s also a pretty film. Its presentist and somewhat heavy-handed celebration of Chinese unity has been noted elsewhere, and is a bit jarring: apart from the propaganda value for the current regime, it’s not contextualized enough (other than the opening map). (To be fair, even Shakespeare’s plays frequently toed the Tudor line.) Still very watchable, especially if you don’t know what’s coming (note the absence of spoilers in this mini-review) and you like the weirdness that comes off a different narrative form. Oh yeah, and freaky wu xia swordfighting.

Sidebar redesign

As you may have noticed, I’ve been farting around with a new sidebar design over the weekend. It is now ridiculously wide, which has some advantages (a Flickr photo that both fits and is large enough to see properly). I will probably keep tinkering with it until I’m satisfied, if that ever happens.

PHP register globals and OS X

I’ve got PHP running on my computer (OS X is wonderful that way). Unfortunately my PHP files weren’t sending variables to one another, viz., when foo.php?bar=3 was loaded, the variable $bar wasn’t picked up. This meant that coding PHP-based web pages locally was a bit problematic.

As usual, Google is my friend. This discussion provided the answer, namely, that register globals were turned off by default as of PHP 4.2.0. (I’m running 4.3.2.) You turn them on again by editing httpd.conf: add php_admin_flag register_globals on between <IfModule mod_php4.c> and </IfModule>. A restart and hey presto, it works.


The CBC has RSS feeds. Go nuts. Laugh at the clueless EULA. Via Boing Boing.

Two thoughts, now that I’ve subscribed to a few:

  • There aren’t any descriptions; it’s just the headlines. That’s not very useful: it forces you to load the web page. It’s not like the Holy Mother Corp is relying on ad revenue from those pages. Not having at least a summary or an excerpt is quite dated.
  • A single news feed for their non-local news would really be handy; I have to download five separate feeds to get it all.

The verdict: surprisingly lame, but it’s better than nothing.

Recycling and animal control

The things you find out when you check with town hall. Sometimes you have to be really proactive; they don’t necessarily broadcast these things on a regular basis.

There is curbside recycling in this town. Every second Wednesday (including today).

And, next month the animal control officer will be going door to door registering cats and dogs. Yes, there’s a by-law, and it requires cat licences. Saw that in the paper today, and I investigated. It turns out that this is not new: we should have gotten licences previously for our current kitties. Oops.

It’s $8/year per cat, for a maximum of two cats. That seems a little excessive: I mean, I’m the last person to argue on behalf of cat ladies (see previous entries: Animal hoarding, Cat ladies) but in Ottawa they let you keep up to five.

Of course that’s not the real reason I wanted a look at the by-law, as you well know, but the animal control contractor is only asking after dogs and cats. I’m crossing my fingers that sections 9 and 10 and Schedule II of the Regulation Respecting Animals in Captivity (CARCNET page) mean what I think they mean.

O-Train to Gatineau

If you’ve ever had to deal with the Ottawa River bridges during rush hour, you’ll agree wholeheartedly with Harry Gow’s suggestion that Ottawa extend the O-Train to Gatineau. The City of Gatineau doesn’t seem all that interested — they’ve got their own, busway-based solution. But both transit systems are spectacularly poor at getting people quickly across the river: essentially, each cross-border bus has to go through two downtown bottlenecks. A rail crossing would be eminently sensible.

Hibernation and regurgitation

An update on my last post on this subject. Hibernation is now officially under way: the two black pines went down yesterday. Last Thursday I finally found some low and wide 28 L Rubbermaid containers that were perfect for the task. It remained to melt holes in the sides with a soldering iron, add aspen and a water dish, and clip the lid down (it has locking handles, but I take no chances: we used a dozen clips apiece). Right now it’s 14°C in the hibernation area (about four feet away from where I’m sitting), a good temperature. We’ll check on them periodically, but otherwise they’re out of sight, out of mind until early March or so.

Meanwhile, the recalcitrant checkered garter did eat strips of fish fillet — our usual standby, ocean perch — on Saturday, as expected (see my section on problem feeders). Only to puke them back up again yesterday. For a while it looked like she was about to die on the spot, but she’s still with us this morning. Regurgitation in and of itself is not necessarily a problem, nor is it necessarily symptomatic of something more serious, but we’ll definitely be keeping an eye on this one.

We’d gotten the two checkered garters as insurance: they looked awfully small when we got them, and I wasn’t sure they’d survive. I thought that a year later they’d be over the hump, and I actually seriously considered offering this one for sale. Good thing we waited.

Travel writing

If you’ve been following my links — and you should; they’re over there on the sidebar — you’ll have noticed that I’ve linked to a few travel writing resources. I’ve long been interested in the genre — if nothing else, I enjoy reading it, especially the non-service-journalism, non-luxury, off-the-beaten-track stuff. It’s a little disheartening to find out what a grisly business it is, with writers getting next to a pittance for their work. In part, that’s because publishers can: lots of people want to be travel writers. Anyway, in addition to these guides on travel writing, there’s also a blog that covers “the travails of travel writing.” (Most of these links were found via Gadling, an adventure-travel blog.)

I can think of at least two friends who will find this stuff very interesting.

Related: My travel writing links.

Ne tutoyez plus

In Quebec, one is more prone to use tu instead of vous than in France, where tu (like du in German) is reserved for informal talk, as with friends and family. Now a hospital in Roberval is trying to reverse that, requiring its staff to use the formal vous in most interactions with patients. I’m not sure how successful this is going to be.

L’hiver est arrivé

The view out my living room window this morning.
Heavy snow in Shawville
Originally uploaded by mcwetboy.

It’s taken me some time to figure out which forecast is more applicable to Shawville: the Pontiac forecast, which ostensibly applies to our region, or the Renfrew forecast, because Renfrew isn’t far away at all in a straight line. It turns out it’s Renfrew’s: last night, the forecasts called for a few centimetres of snow in the Pontiac and considerably more for Ottawa, Gatineau and Renfrew. And we’ve got quite a bit on the ground now, as you can see. (Pontiac’s forecast applies more to the uplands around Otter Lake, I’m guessing.)

It’s a good thing we got new tires last month; the old ones were worn and wouldn’t have done well at all. We got all-season Michelin Destiny tires rather than snow tires: the back lane in this photo is as snowbound as our route ever gets. I won’t be surprised to hear that Highway 148 is more or less bare today; they’re pretty good at keeping that road clear.

Hibernation time

It’s snake hibernation time again, for the first time chez moi since the winter of 2001-2002. (Florence did the hibernating in 2002-2003; nobody was hibernated last winter.) As it turns out, the living room in our apartment is not well insulated — the floor is quite chilly — which makes the closet a great spot to stow chilling snakes.

So far, the adult corn snakes and gopher snakes have been put into hibernation. (For technical details, see my page about hibernation at, which describes what I do with all of my snakes.) The pine snakes will follow once I get large enough containers to hibernate them in.

We’ve also put the two non-feeding corn snake babies — one of which has never eaten in its 3½ months of existence — into hibernation, in the hope that their systems will be kick-started by the spring. (They’re even refusing live pinkies, so it’s this, force-feeding or letting them die.) Another possible candidate for hibernation is one of the two yearling checkered garters, which has refused her last two meals: first I’ll try kick-starting her appetite with fish fillet — sometimes offering a garter snake something other than mice can restore its urge to feed.

Between last month’s sales and the hibernators, feeding time will become quick and easy — for a while.