July 2005

Feeding corn snake babies; more eggs

Enough time had passed since their hatching that it was time we tried to feed the corn snake hatchlings. We’ve had trouble getting Pretzel’s babies to eat at the outset before, but this time we were luckier: five out of six ate their first meal without difficulty. The severely kinked one — the one that Jen manually pipped — did not eat, but it had not yet shed; again, Jen had to help. It’s not unusual for snakes to refuse their meals the first few times; to have only one refuse is the best results we’ve had with corn snakes, ever.

Meanwhile, Pretzel laid another ten eggs, which look good and are now in the incubator. She looks as gaunt as she usually does immediately after deposition, but not emaciated. I was worried for a while that she hadn’t fed up enough between clutches. But all is well, I think. Now to fatten her up before hibernation.

R.I.P. Commander Canarvin

Almost but not quite absent from the obituaries of James Doohan (Star Trek’s “Scotty”), who died this morning aged 85, is the fact that in 1979-1980 he had a role in a live-action Saturday morning children’s TV series, Jason of Star Command (fan sites here, here and here).

Jason was one of many programs from Filmation, a studio that produced a whole shitpile of low-budget cartoons from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, including the animated Star Trek, Fat Albert, Tarzan, Flash Gordon and a bunch of cartoon versions of sitcoms. With animation and even music constantly being reused, they emphasized quantity rather than quality, and boy did they ever produce; that rotating thing in the credits (“Produced by Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott”) was permanently etched into my retina by the time I hit the fourth grade. For more, see part one and part two of a feature on Filmation.

I remember watching Jason rather avidly — I may have even had a pre-pubescent crush on Susan O’Hanlon. It later occurred to me that “Commander Canarvin” kind of looked like the late 1970s version of James Doohan, but I couldn’t remember enough about the show to make the connection until today’s obit provided a title.

As an aside, that character actors are remembered primarily for their roles, with their catchphrases as their epitaphs, is a real pity; they’re invariably finer people than the dreck they perform in, or the lines they’re given (Slim Pickens’s Wikipedia entry is filled with quotes from his better known movies, for example, which has little to do with him, I think).

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Interlibrary loans in jeopardy

Shipping books is expensive. I discovered this when I started selling off the last of my academic books via Amazon’s Marketplace program: the shipping credit was never enough to cover the postage, and was sometimes short by several dollars.

In this context, libraries have had a singular advantage: a subsidized rate for interlibrary loans. When I was a graduate student, and required all sorts of obscure, only-one-copy-in-Canada books for my research, I practically lived on interlibrary loans. Rural libraries, whose collections are understandably limited, absolutely rely on it.

But now Canada Post is trying to end the subsidy, which means, suddenly, that cash-strapped libraries will have to pay high rates for books that most will not be able to absorb. Whether or not Canada Post is justified in wanting to save the money, this will kill interlibrary loans as a service, and diminish the available resources of many rural libraries. In some cases, it may well be cheaper to buy the book online. There’s something perverse when shipping from Amazon is free with a minimum purchase, but shipping library books back and forth costs a fortune.

Alternatively, libraries may set up their own, ad hoc shipping services. When the cost of domestic stamps skyrocketed in Germany, I was told, utility companies hired students to deliver notices by hand. Raise the cost of a service, and people will cease using it. Rural libraries may resort to in-house, long-distance deliveries within a regional network — an employee in a minivan — if they can, but resources outside the local pool would remain elusive.

I expect a political solution, though.

Update (July 23): Told you, I did.

Spotted turtle survey photos

Here’s something I did during my enforced time offline: I finally got the photos from the 2003 Spotted Turtle Survey online, only two years and three months late (see previous entry). I procrastinated uploading them for the longest time because I had a hard time winnowing them down. I’ve frequently had that problem when trying to pick from too many photos; I think I’m finally over that, though, because I managed to pick the 27 best photos from more than 170. And I think these photos are awfully good even if I do say so myself. (For more on the survey, see my report from the 2001 trip.)

96 hours

For an outage of its size, it couldn’t have been better timed. Around noon on Friday, the cable company’s line to our home was cut. Don’t know how; presumably by accident, possibly by a passing vehicle or by the work crews working on the front and back walks.

Didn’t really notice until late that evening because we were busy, first picking up, then entertaining, David and Rita, who’d come for a visit. One drawback to rural life is that cable company technicians are stretched pretty thin — particularly after a big storm that no doubt fried some infrastructure. They couldn’t come before today; we’d be without cable television or any Internet access until then, a total of four full days.

But, because we had company for most of that, it was no real hardship at all — it’s not like I’d be glued to the computer working on web projects when we had people over in any event. And I was able to keep busy elsewhere yesterday and this morning. To my surprise, withdrawal symptoms were mild. There may yet be hope for me. Anyway, it was back up before noon today.

Meanwhile, though, we enjoyed ourselves, despite my back flaring up, which required me to retreat periodically and take some downtime. One of our little field trips was to Rolling Acres Farms, a few kilometres south of here, which has just opened a store selling their hormone-free beef. Barbecued up some of it on Sunday; some of the best beef I’ve ever tasted, and I’m not kidding. (I’d link to their URL if it worked.)

A thunderstorm’s mixed blessings

The thunderstorm last night brought considerable relief — temperatures inside the house are now back to the mid-twenties — but it knocked out cable (and Internet) for the rest of the evening. It’s at times like these that I’m reminded of the fragile infrastructure out here: I lost track of the number of times that the power went out, outage duration anywhere from one second to one minute. (Update: There were outages all over the place; the storm was more serious than I thought. Update update: This serious.)


This blog is four years old today, which means it’s lasted longer than some marriages I’ve seen. Spooky.

Protection rackets

Is it just me, or are the people who sell supplemental insurance or extended warranties a lot more aggressive about it lately? I just got off the phone with a semi-coherent phone jockey from MBNA Canada — I have a MasterCard with them — who was trying to sell me insurance for my credit and debit cards. Now I thought that credit card companies’ protections against loss and fraud were adequate, and said so; but he persisted — conjuring up all kinds of disaster scenarios that would be very unfortunate if I had to endure them — to the point I had to hang up on him. At the end of the call I couldn’t help but wonder whether mysterious charges would start appearing on my statement as a result of my failure to pay protection — that’s how bothered I was. A truly unpleasant experience, as most of my experiences with customer “service” have been lately.

It’s not the first time. Lately, it seems that I can’t buy a piece of consumer electronics without getting asked about an extended warranty. Normally I decline them. But on at least two occasions — when I bought a DVD player from the Sony Store 2½ years ago, and when I bought Jen’s digital camera last Christmas at Best Buy — I actually had the sales rep talk down the quality of the product I had just agreed to buy. They’re not built the same way they used to, they say. The laser on that DVD player could get misaligned. Digital camera production is shoddier than it used to be. Etc. In other words, they’re not nearly as interested in selling the gadget as they are the extended warranty: it’s no surprise where the profits lie.

They’re making money by selling fear: their profits lie in the difference between the actual failure, loss or theft rate and what we believe — what they make us believe — that rate is. If their products were truly that unreliable, they’d never make any money at all. If their products are reliable and we believe them to be so, professional thieves may be their only hope.

Fun with fans

A fun fact during this heat wave (34°C at the moment). We’ve had three fans burn out on us during the past month: a ceiling fan in the kitchen, a floor fan in the living room, and, this morning, a small table fan in my office. Fans are vitally important when it’s hot out: they take an uninhabitable room and make it merely intolerable.

You are number 6

It was a hot one around here today — the kind of day around here where mammals hide in the basement and snakes shit all over their cages and in their water dishes (an all-too-obvious byproduct of being fed last Friday). And one of the eggs that Jennifer manually pipped yesterday actually turned out to be viable: our sixth baby corn snake is emerging as I write. Unfortunately another kinked one, and damned if I can figure out why.

Useful Music

More than three years after I uploaded an old conference paper and a couple of sidebars from my graduate school music history research, I’ve finally completed Useful Music. Completed, both in the sense that work is finished and in the sense that it’s closed; at one point I thought I might do something with it, but not now. It’s a memorial to the plans I had before I ran, screaming, from academe. Looking back on it, I’m surprised at the clunky writing and lack of insight; apparently I’ve come a long way in a decade.

Corn snake hatching update

Two baby corn snakes have emerged from their eggs so far.

Update (12:30 PM): Two more have emerged, one of which appears kinked in two places (damn). One still hiding in its egg, one apparently viable egg not yet pipped, the rest questionable to no good. (Incidentally, this would normally be considered a crummy clutch — only five out of 13? — but my standards are lower lately.)

Pipping now

The corn snake eggs are beginning to hatch. Two have pipped so far; none have emerged yet. It can take a few days for every snake to pip their shell and crawl out. With any luck, those that made it to this point will all be out by the end of the weekend.

Update: As of 10:40 PM, a total of five have pipped; none of them have crawled out yet. Another two eggs look good but have not yet pipped; the remaining eggs have collapsed or gone mouldy.

Que la vie continue

They’ve filled in the trench out back; presumably we’ll get our steps reinstalled tomorrow. Grass is beginning to sprout out front. Jen says we’re getting concrete slabs for parking on.

To Renfrew today for a bit of shopping. Two sailfin mollies for the fish tank, a stand for my music keyboard (to get it off the floor and off my desk; it plugs into my computer for GarageBand, and will do until I get a piano), some folding chairs in case we get company (hint), a lampshade that turned out to be too big, and enough frozen salmon fillets to keep Jen happy for at least the next week or so.

I think some photos of the new place are probably in order. I’ll see what I can do.

Changing links

Those of you who read this blog via its RSS feed may have noticed that all the daily links from my del.icio.us account disappeared today. They’ll be back, but in the blog proper, not just spliced in via one of Feedburner’s neato features; in other words, the links are moving from the sidebar (from which they have also disappeared today). It won’t appear here until I actually post a new link to del.icio.us, so until then I’ll have no assurance it’ll work, but it should look a lot like what Matt and Paulo have on their blogs. (See Paulo’s entry for a how-to.)

In a similar vein, I’ve manually spliced in the tag-specific feeds for my del.icio.us links into my category archives: for example, the ten most recent links tagged with “mac” will show up in my Mac category archives. It’s an imperfect implementation, but it’s more than adequate for now. (I used this plugin to implement the <MTIfCategory> tag, inside each of which was a specific call to the relevant feed using this plugin. Repeat 39 times. A little labour-intensive.)

My goal, in all this monkeying around, is to make all these links more visible, so you don’t miss them. Hope it all works.

Home on the work site

For about a week we had an eight foot trench dug along the front of the building.
Construction Site
Originally uploaded by aedra.

Shortly after we moved to our new home — a three-bedroom townhouse on two floors — construction began on our eight-unit building; two units (not ours) were having basement leak issues, so the weeping tile had to be replaced. No small task.

So, our lawn — the first time in years that either of us had an actual lawn attached to our residence — disappeared under the treads of orange-coloured machinery. (I said to Jennifer as a bulldozer pushed earth outside our living room window one afternoon, “I’m having an Arthur Dent moment here.” She understood.)

For a week, we had a deep trench along the front of our building; our front entrance was taped off like a crime scene. It’s since been filled in. Now our front yard is a field of dirt — bare until the grass, seeded Thursday, begins to sprout.

Presumably they’ll start work on the back half next week, at which point we’ll have to move the car to the front and abandon the back.

Not exactly the nicest thing to deal with when you’ve just moved in and were looking forward to enjoying a bit of grass, but the place is nice enough in other ways that I can put up with it. (I also like the fact that the landlords are willing to pay for this kind of maintenance; it’s a good sign, but I know these folks well, and I know what their standards are like.)

Minor modifications

Now that things have settled down a bit, I’ve started tuning up this site here and there. While I procrastinate some of the more ambitious changes (i.e., an overhaul of the Hire section and this blog), I’ve worked on tightening things up a bit in the About, Contact, Photos and Reptiles sections. I’ve also given Trails a major redesign; it now matches the rest of the site, and should work better, too.