March 2006

Instant messenging is not for the clueless

You know what irritates me? People who add me to the buddy list of their instant-messenger software, then forget who I am or why they added me to their list, and then IM me to demand to know — from me — who I am and why they added me. Usually when I’m in the middle of something. Christ almighty, folks: it’s not my job to remember that for you. I don’t mind being messaged if you have a specific reason for talking to me, but I don’t have time for chit-chat and I definitely don’t have time to justify my existence on your buddy list — you put me there!

The most recent example happened this morning:

9:29:53 AM [deleted]: hi
9:30:07 AM mcwetboy: Yes?
9:30:33 AM [deleted]: how are u?
9:30:46 AM mcwetboy: Busy. can I help you?
9:31:24 AM [deleted]: can i remember your line of business?
9:31:45 AM mcwetboy: Are you messaging me to ask who I am or something?
9:31:47 AM [deleted]: can u remind me
9:32:18 AM [deleted]: because i forget how we meet
9:32:38 AM mcwetboy: Sigh. Please don’t waste my time like this. I’m extraordinarily busy.

At which point I blocked the clueless twit.

Can you imagine this happening over the phone? Someone calls you and asks who they’re talking to? It just doesn’t happen without the assistance of senility.

LOTR musical opening reviews

Kelly Nestruck has seen, and reviewed, the Lord of the Rings musical; he’s got a post that rounds up the opening reviews of this show, which are mixed. (Update: See also the Toronto Star’s point that it may be a critic-proof show.) His take, in a nutshell, is that the problems stem from the play being too ambitious:

There’s no doubt that the show has many problems. They all stem from one large one, though, it seems to me: Too much ambition. Too much of a desire to be innovative both technically and artistically. Too much respect, even reverence, for the source material. I had nowhere near as much fun as I did watching, say, The Producers, but I found elements of this show much more interesting, challenging, and beautiful. And this is coming from someone who is by no means a fan of the books and movies.
The idea of putting the entire 1,000 page Lord of the Rings trilogy onstage in one musical evening is an insane one. And the fact that it worked at all, when it was initially seen as pure folly or the punchline to a joke, is a triumph of sorts.

I’m looking forward to hear what Jennifer thinks about it when she sees it next month.

Weekend update

My ankylosing spondylitis flared up again about a week and a half ago, so I’ve been spending my time in besonders pain recently. I expect this to hit in spring and fall, but this was a bit earlier than I expected. I anticipate elevated pain and reduced mobility through the end of April.

Even so, I’ve managed to get a bit done over the past week, including a substantial presentation to the OARA on raising baby garter snakes (which I’ll turn into an article for Bob in due course) and work on a new reptile-related web site that I won’t tell you about until it’s ready. And I’ve been working on a short story. Blogging’s been a bit sparse, but I haven’t been idle; I’d go nuts if I was.

More entries below »

Out of hibernation

All of our breeding snakes — the corn snakes, the Great Basin gopher snakes, the black pine snakes and the western hognose snakes — are now out of hibernation. They were down for a little longer than usual — nearly four months — as an experiment to see whether it would help. On the other hand, we weren’t able to maintain low temperatures in our basement: I’d been hoping for 12-15°C, and got 17-18°C instead. We’ll see how it turns out.

Movable Type 3.2

I upgraded The McWetlog to Movable Type 3.2 this afternoon. The process was tedious more than anything else: perform a backup, read the documentation carefully, do a metric arseload of FTP uploading (a paid licence for Transmit came in handy here), run the installer script (which used Ajax; Safari’s cache had to be cleared before it would run properly).

This is yet another task I’d been procrastinating for months. Movable Type upgrades always intimidate me because they’re not an automated process, but in the end they’ve always turned out fine.

Fired for being a separatist, Gendron ordered rehired

As I expected — nay, predictedback in April 2004, Edith Gendron has won her case: the Public Service Labour Relations Board ruled that while Gendron’s leadership of a local separatist group represented a perceived conflict of interest with her job at Canadian Heritage, firing her was an excessive response. She’s been ordered rehired, with two years of back pay.

As a general principle, you shouldn’t be fired for your political activism; it’s interesting to note — while I haven’t seen the ruling — that the PSLRB concluded that her activism could constitute a perceived conflict of interest. There are situations, particularly in the public service, where that might be the case. It’s good to see that it’s not a hanging offence, though.

Train accidents: fewer humans, more error

Are railway accidents simply the cost of doing business? The Toronto Star has a major investigative piece on railway accidents this morning. Derailments are up sharply since 2002 (but at about the same level as 1996), but the Transportation Safety Board only investigates a tiny fraction of the accidents. The railways more or less inspect and police themselves — relying on more on technology and less on visual inspections — which may lead to some managers putting profits and on-time performance before safety.

DFL post-mortem

When I was in the midst of preparations for the Torino 2006 version of DFL, I privately predicted that I would get less traffic than I did in 2004, but possibly more revenue — and that I would get more traffic in the first week, but less in the second.

I figured less traffic on the basis of less global interest in the Winter Olympics and, as a result, less media interest to drive traffic to the site. I figured more revenue because I thought my AdSense ads would perform better despite the reduced traffic — I’d placed my ads very poorly in 2004, so despite huge media interest I made very little money. (One wants to be rich and famous; one would prefer to be rich rather than famous; I ended up being famous without being rich.) So I anticipated better results.

The question was, would I be right, and by how much?

Continue reading this entry »

Canadian brass

Van Hobbies, the Vancouver-based hobby shop and importer that was responsible for most of the brass models of Canadian prototype trains over the past few decades, is reportedly closing; the owner apparently wants to retire. When I heard this, I thought that it did not bode well for the future production of brass models of Canadian steam locomotives, especially Canadian Pacific engines (Overland has done a few CN brass steam engines, but nothing along those lines for the CPR, for which it has only done diesel models).

But I just found out that Division Point is setting up a subsidiary focusing on Canadian prototypes: in the works for this year are a J7-class CN 4-6-2 Pacific, a G3-class CPR Pacific, and a P2-class CPR 2-8-2 Mikado. There’s also a T4-class 2-10-4 for Central Vermont (a CN subsidiary) in the queue. More are planned, according to the page, including something that will no doubt be popular: a D10-class CPR Ten-wheeler.

(Van Hobbies put out a P2-class Mikado in the 1970s, but it doesn’t seem to have a particularly good reputation; my father has one and it’s given him all sorts of trouble. Personally, I’d rather see a P1, since they were all over southern B.C. in the late 1940s/early 1950s, and I never see one for sale; on the other hand, there are Van Hobbies P2s all over the place. But, realistically, it’s not like I could ever afford one.)

If you’re wondering what some of these things look like, Canadian Model Trains has pages for used Van Hobbies brass models of Canadian National and Canadian Pacific prototypes.

The wages of academe

Why, oh why, did an academic career ever seem like a good idea? Andrew Potter, filling in for Andrew Coyne on his blog, is, like me a refugee from academia, and notes with some gratification that starting professors in New York earn half the salary of starting plumbers.

And Philip Greenspun tackles the question of women in science — the question that got now-former Harvard prez Larry Summers fired — by taking a similar tack: “Adjusted for IQ and working hours, jobs in science are the lowest paid in the United States. This article explores this fourth possible explanation for the dearth of women in science: They found better jobs.” He argues that even schoolteachers are better off, especially once you figure in job security (rock solid for teachers at the point where profs are denied tenure) and the fact that teachers start earning a living wage sooner.

It reinforces the suspicion I’ve had that many academics are where they are because they can’t function well anywhere else — it doesn’t surprise me that profs are employees from hell. Those that can go elsewhere, do. As Potter writes (in the first link), “The simple fact is, trying to be an academic didn’t make me happy, it made me miserable. And, slowly, it dawned on me that there are more remunerative ways of being miserable. Or at least, less miserable ways of being ill-paid.” (Oddly enough, I’ve done both.)

(See previous entry: The road to poverty is paved with graduate degrees.)