November 2005

No, now we’ve got snow

Never mind what I said ten days ago; now we’ve got quantifiable amounts of snow — enough to cause idiot drivers to crash their cars and enough for me to shovel. Yes, me, shovel. It went well enough yesterday, though my back began to ache a bit by the time I finished the front walk. My mistake was then to go get the mail: before I even arrived at the post office my sacroiliac joint was imploding. Walking back was an exercise in fighting through the pain. Even so, that profound pain abated after five minutes of sitting down. Noted for future reference.

Train blogs

I’ve been looking for railroad blogs lately, whether they’re about the models or the real thing. I’ve found a few so far. Dogcaught features railfan photography from the Pacific Northwest, which appeals to me; Trainblog’s focus has recently been on the San Francisco Bay area and Amtrak. The Australian Railway Blog, which has been dormant for a while, features photos of neat Australian motive power. I’ve come across a few others, but they weren’t as good. I’ll keep looking, and post results here. Recommendations welcome.

Photos, Projects, RSS

Some quick site updates. The photos page has been redone to match other recent redesigns. The “Projects” link on the top menu bar now leads to, the front page of which I redesigned last week. And there’s a new RSS page that acculumates all my various RSS feeds; it turns out there’s a lot of them. RSS auto-discovery on this site has been tweaked as well: only the McWetlog’s pages will have the auto-discovery link to its RSS feed; other pages may have nothing or their own specific feeds (as an example, at the moment Photos has my Flickr photostream for its RSS auto-discovery link).

More entries below »

Blogging during outages

I wonder why it is that when my sites go down (as it did this morning, due to a router issue at DreamHost, my hosting provider), I end up blogging more than when I do when everything’s up and running?

At least I’m channeling my (legendary) impatience into something productive.

My mail management technique is unstoppable


For years I’ve been using’s rules to sort my incoming e-mail: mail from my web site contact forms go in these folders, mail from friends and family go in these folders, comment and trackback notifications go here, mailing list messages go there. While this keeps my inbox from getting totally unmanageable, I’ve had a tendency to lose track of messages and, as a result, forget to reply to them.

I think I’ve solved this by adding a new smart folder in Tiger’s The folder holds unread and flagged messages. If a new message requires action on my part — a reply, a blog post, or something else — I flag it. If not, I don’t — the message will disappear from the folder the next time it updates.

If I keep at this, I should end up in a state if I don’t reply to you, it’s because I don’t want to, not because the message got lost in the shuffle.

A site update omnibus

I’ve been doing a lot of work on my web sites lately, on the premise that when my ankylosing spondylitis flares up (as it did from mid-October to early November), I’m better able to write code than I am to write blog entries. (This has happened before; during the spring flare season I coded a whole pile of things, too: see this entry and this entry.) I can’t quite explain why, but it seems to work, and at least I don’t feel unproductive.

On this site, I’ve changed the front page again (see previous entry). While I liked the previous design in that it aggregated all my recent blogging activity from all my blogs, it was a bit buggy, and the sheer volume of Map Room posts drowned out everything else. Now each blog has its own section, with the most recent five posts for each blog. I’ve done similar redesigns on the Books and Reptiles pages; I’m still not happy with the latter, and expect to tinker some more with it. This blog has had a few stylistic changes as well, and I’m going to fool around with the category archives, too. On a more significant note, the contact page has had more detail added to it: media and reptile inquiries get additional fields in their contact forms.

The Map Room was a little more quiet during this period due to the pain, and a bit of burnout, too; I still managed to redesign the site a bit more than a week ago. My goal was to reduce clutter, and I did so by ditching the blogroll, rearranging the ads and increasing overall white space. While comment spam has been more or less vanquished, I still get a lot of bonehead submissions through the link suggestion form, so I tightened that up yesterday.

To my surprise, I’ve been posting fairly frequently to Ankylose This! — if you haven’t checked in on it lately, you may want to see what I’ve been writing about.

It’s only about a year behind schedule, but finally got its store last week, containing the usual CafePress tchotchkes, knickknacks, and other treasures — but with garter snakes on them! I’ve put up a bunch of stuff so far, but I’m hoping to add more over the next couple of days.

Remembrance Day and historical memory

In countries across Europe and North America, it’s traditional to pause on November 11 and remember the sacrifices made by veterans on behalf of our respective countries during wartime. As an historian who focused on twentieth-century Europe, and as the grandson of two air force veterans, I’m acutely aware of what it is we’re supposed to be remembering; hell, I’ve taught it. But, because of my historical training, I’ve been paying attention to how we remember those sacrifices. I’ve been fascinated by the subject of historical memory since I was first exposed to it in Henry Rousso’s Vichy Syndrome (if there’s a Canadian equivalent, I’d love to know about it).

In the same way that Rousso noted that books and films about France’s wartime experience were few until some decades have passed, I think I’ve noticed a greater emphasis on Remembrance Day in recent years. Maybe, the older and fewer the veterans from the World Wars get, the more we want to honour them before they’re all gone. (Quantifying this would make an excellent research project.) Meanwhile, I’ve noticed two things that I’d like to talk about here: the attempts by veterans’ groups to control the historical narrative and suppress portrayals they find offensive; and the role November 11 plays in small communities — something I saw first-hand as a reporter two years ago, and that I’ve been mulling ever since.

My thoughts on this subject are still half-formed, and I’m not going to mince words. If you think I’m being harsh or disrespectful, please have a look at this article, which I wrote two years ago. This post isn’t so much about veterans and their sacrifices back then, about which little more can be said that has not already been said, and said better; it’s about what we’re doing and saying about them today.

Continue reading this entry »

A half-formed Hitchhiker

Rented The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Monday night; it took me a while to figure out what was wrong with it. The problem with this movie is twofold. It captures the later, sadder, more morose Adams (think Mostly Harmless), rather than the free-form, Pythonesque silliness of the early Adams. An incoherent movie at best, it also ruined the jokes, as though they decided to save time by removing all the punchlines. Granted, it’s no great shakes to perform jokes a quarter-century old, but if you’re going to start the joke (e.g., have Arthur lie down in front of the bulldozer), at the very least finish it (i.e., have the foreman lie down in front of it for him — the absurdist punch line). If the jokes are old that you have to change them, at least replace them with new ones that are just as funny. (And make sure they’re funny, viz., if you’re going to feed Trillian to the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal, fans of the book will tell you that there can be only one way for her to get out of it. Unfortunately, the movie opted for something more mundane.) In the end, half-finished, half-performed and almost half-hearted. Catchy title song, though. (But why two sets of opening titles?)

Batman Begins

I’d heard good things about Batman Begins (Amazon, trailer), but did not get around to seeing it until last night, when we rented it. I know I’m not alone in thinking that it’s easily the best Batman movie ever done. Intense, character-driven, and most of all, intelligent; for once I didn’t think I was watching an overgrown cartoon. (Ironically, Warner Bros.’ TV cartoons have been far more thoughtful, with better writing and character development, than any of the four live-action films prior to this.)

What’s up with CN?

Back in August, when CN derailments in Alberta and British Columbia were all-too-frequent items in the news, I began to wonder whether something was up with CN in particular, rather than just random chance. After all, CN maintenance was blamed in a fatal Amtrak derailment on its old Illinois Central line and in a trestle accident in northern BC that killed a train crew. There were complaints, if I remember correctly, that CN’s lean maintenance program was finally coming back to bite them in the ass. (I’ll try to find a link.) Regardless, there was no definitive answer to the question at the time, though I’ve been waiting to see if Trains would pick up the story. (So far, not yet.)

Yesterday, there was another derailment on CN tracks — the third on the former BC Rail line north of Vancouver in the past few months. And in this morning’s Globe and Mail coverage, there’s at least a theory as to why it’s happening so often there: CN has changed operations in a way that makes railroading much riskier on that line.

Grant Young, former director of safety, rules and regulatory services for BC Rail, said the accidents indicate that something is wrong with CN’s operating procedures.
He said BC Rail restricted trains to two locomotives and fewer than 100 cars and had only two derailments in 15 years in the Cheakamus and Sunset Beach areas.
The train that crashed into the Cheakamus River in August, dumping a load of sodium hydroxide into the water, had 144 cars, pulled by five locomotives.
An accident in the area last month involved 122 cars, and the trains that crashed yesterday had 131 cars, with four engines in front and two further back.
Mr. Young said that if too much power is at the front, the engines can simply “straighten out the train” and pull it off the tracks.
Commenting on the 144-car train that crashed into the Cheakamus River, Mr. Young said in an e-mail: “BC Rail would never have allowed that train to operate in that manner as the outcome would have been totally predictable.”

Update, 11/5 at 7:55 AM: Today’s Globe and Mail reports that the federal transport minister has ordered CN to run trains of no more than 80 cars in that area; he’s also threatening CN with a public inquiry into their safety record.

Hollow Halloween

Despite our efforts — including a kickass pumpkin, decorations, spooky sound effects and, in Jennifer’s case, a costume and snake to freak out greet people at the door, the total number of trick-or-treaters to come to our door last night was zero. None. Nada. Not a sausage. Bugger-all. Kevin Philips Bong.

I was wondering why, and figured that our place is a bit out of the way for it: a row of townhouses near the highway, but not near any other cluster of houses. But Jennifer reports the same thing in Halifax, so go figure. Are children simply not going out on Halloween any more?