May 2006

Another Butler’s garter update

The Butler’s garter I referred to in previous entries (here and here) has now died. She had refused to eat earthworms over the weekend, which just does not happen with this species, so we knew her time had run out.

We’ll do a necroscopy this evening and find out what killed her.

Overall, though, I’m neither disappointed nor embarrassed (unless the necroscopy shows that we fucked up somehow). Six years is an extremely good run for this species, three times as long as the record. And the remaining Butler’s garter is still going very strong — she’s the big, hungry one who likes to bite.

At some point I should write an article on the long-term care of this species.

An update on that Ledbetter editorial

More on the fallout from Richard Ledbetter’s editorial in the Pontiac Journal two weeks ago. Two more letters responding to the editorial were printed in The Equity yesterday — here’s where I explain why people write letters to the competition around here. Both letters, plus two others, were also printed in the Journal.

Mine didn’t see print, nor was Ken’s, but I’m gathering that they got a lot of letters about that editorial, if the snippy, defensive tone of Ledbetter’s editorial in this issue is any indication.

Continue reading this entry »

AirPort Express failures

I note with interest this report on HardMac (via Gizmodo) that more than 200 Airport Express base stations have ceased functioning 13 to 18 months after purchase — because, you may recall, so did mine.

From the report:

Today, with over 200 reports of APX defects, we can draw some conclusions:
- as we originally suspected, it predominantly affects users living in 220/230V-based countries (98% of the reports).
- all defective APX have been manufactured by Foxconn during S2 2004
- as a result, all defective APX have a serial number starting with HS42, HS43 or HS44.
- most of the defective APX have a product number either A1084 or A1088.
We are still missing proof that the large amount of defective APX is based on a design or component failure, even though we also suspect a Samsung-branded fuse to be part of the problem.

It’s interesting, but not necessarily surprising, that the serial number of my defunct AirPort Express begins with HS44; my replacement base station’s serial number begins with 6F53. And, true to form, the old station lasted a bit more than a year — though I’m not in a 220V region. Interesting.

More entries below »

In Soviet Russia, zoo visits you!

Never mind the zoo inside our apartment; there’s plenty of activity outside as well. On our lawn, we’ve observed the following, sometimes in large numbers: crows, robins, pigeons, blue jays, purple grackles, chickadees, woodpeckers (not sure which species), one or two other bird species I can’t identify, red and black squirrels, and a green frog. In the immediate vicinity, add gulls, toads and a skunk to the list.

The neighbour’s bird feeder doesn’t hurt; neither, for that matter, does the mess that passes for a trash bin behind the restaurant across the laneway. (I should add stray dogs to the list.)

Update, May 28: I forgot to mention red-winged blackbirds — with the noise they make, I’m not sure how. And I heard gray treefrogs calling nearby last night. (And there are spring peepers everywhere in this town.)

Update, May 29: As of today, add a family of rabbits and a pair of mourning doves.

Pretzel lays eggs

Thirteen of Pretzel’s eggs are now residing in our incubator; she is now her usual gaunt and hollow post-deposition self. For some reason, her first clutch is almost always 13 eggs.

The eggs should hatch in late July; assuming no complications, the babies will be available after they’ve eaten three consecutive meals of frozen/thawed pinky mice — probably no earlier than late August, unless they decide to be stubborn.

Megnut goes food-only, full-time

Meg has lately been posting more and more food-related content on — a change I’ve liked a great deal, being kind of interested in the subject myself — and today she’s made it official: her blog is now completely about food, and she’s doing it full-time. Always good to see another blogger trying to make a go of it, particularly when it’s someone I’ve enjoyed reading for years.

Letters to the competition

One of the advantages of having two local newspapers — though each paper has significant shortcomings, believe me — is that neither misses an opportunity to point out the competition’s troubles (example) or just plain take a shot at them, cheap or otherwise.

So it’s no surprise that today’s Equity contains two letters to the editor regarding the Journal’s editorial about John Paul II High School. (See previous entries: My response to Richard Ledbetter; More about that editorial.) One is from Ken Whicher, the principal of the high school, and another is from a graduate with a B.A. who objects to Ledbetter’s gross characterization of the school’s graduates as a bunch of underachieving rejects.

The Equity is a weekly, the Journal is a biweekly, so the Journal basically has to go another week before being able to respond. The two papers’ animosity towards another is well-known — it goes a bit beyond professional — so it’s no surprise if people write to both papers, or to just the opposition, to complain, especially if they have little faith that the one being complained about will print the letter. (I sent my letter to the Journal only; I’m still boycotting The Equity as a result of how I was treated when I worked there.)

Anyway, you can read the letters on The Equity’s web site here — until May 24, anyway, when page four of the next edition replaces it.

Glossy vs. matte


This page, which I found via Fraser’s comment on this FatBits post by John Siracusa, explains, in technical terms, the difference between the glossy screens on the new MacBooks (see previous entry) and more traditional matte screens:

Both anti-glare and anti-reflective LCD screens serve a distinct purpose. Anti-glare LCD screens may be better suited to office environments, where spreadsheets, word-processing, and similar tasks are the norm — along with many light sources and less flexibility in screen placement. Anti-reflective, on the other hand, may be better suited for graphics, gaming, and multimedia applications — like watching DVDs. While anti-reflective high-gloss LCD screens may seem superior in all facets, they are better suited in indoor environments where ambient light conditions are not as bright. This way the user gets ambient light reflection reduction without sacrificing any image quality. Anti-glare, on the other hand, may be better suited to the outdoors or indoor environments with brighter or direct light. In this situation, the user may be better off sacrifice [sic] image quality for maximum ambient light reflection reduction.

This might suggest that a MacBook would be just fine at home, but perhaps less so in libraries with lots of fluorescent lighting — though not every library is as strongly lit as a cubicle warren. Probably equivalent to a CRT, both in terms of colour depth and reflectivity.



Random thoughts on the new MacBooks, the iBook replacements Apple announced this morning:

  • I wonder what the impact of these new “glossy” screens is; they’re probably better than matte screens in some cases, but worse in others.
  • The base model is $100 more expensive in the U.S. than the previous base-model iBook but, thanks to the rising Canadian dollar, is actually $100 cheaper here.
  • Everyone notices that the black model is more expensive than a comparably equipped white model — by US$150/C$140. Given the popularity of the black iPods, it’s understandable that Apple has decided to market black as a premium (more exclusive) option.
  • Like the Mac Mini (previous entry), the MacBooks come with Intel Integrated Graphics rather than a dedicated video chipset and RAM. I wouldn’t run Aperture on these things, nor would I use them as primary machines. As part of a laptop/desktop combination, they’re fine.
  • Because of the memory requirements of the integrated graphics chipset, the RAM must be paired for better bandwidth; they come standard with 2×256 MB.
  • The graphics notwithstanding, the MacBooks have lots of features that the iBooks never did: gigabit Ethernet, monitor spanning, closed-lid operation, digital audio in/out — the iBooks never even had a microphone port.
  • Apple isn’t arbitrarily crippling features on its low-end machines any more. Nor are the processors significantly slower. The video chipset is now the main differentiator between these computers and the MacBook Pro models (which also add an ExpressCard slot and a backlit keyboard).


  • Neat keyboards: they’re recessed so that the keys are flush with the rest of the computer. Will have to see one close-up in the polycarbonate.
  • The hard drive is apparently user-replaceable.
  • You can’t upgrade the low-end, 1.83-GHz model to include a DVD burner.

Open/save dialog delays


It turns out that the long delays I sometimes experience when trying to open or save a document — the application hangs for several seconds — is due to issues with iDisk syncing: “The problem lies in the fact that the local iDisk (stored in /Volumes/iDisk) has symbolic links (aliases) to folders on the remote iDisk (/Volumes/your_mac.com_name). When OS X lists the local iDisk’s contents, info for these folders must be loaded from the remote iDisk, which can take some time.” For some reason I assumed it had something to do with the external hard drive I bought last fall.

ATV theft

Bean’s — the gas station/garage/ATV and snowmobile dealership behind our building — was broken into overnight; two ATVs were stolen. This morning, their gate backing onto our lane was wide open. An officer stopped by; he was canvassing the residents to see if they’d heard anything.

Don’t for a moment think that rural areas are free of crime. There are petty thefts, and break-ins — and, more spectacularly, drug busts — all the time in this area. That country folks don’t lock their doors isn’t necessarily indicative.

More about that editorial

I’ve received some nice compliments for my letter to the editor regarding Richard Ledbetter’s editorial in the Pontiac Journal about the potential closure of Jen’s high school; I seem to have hit the nail on the head.

I’m not the only one up in arms over that editorial. It has not gone over at all well, and not just at JPII: the staff at PHS is reportedly just as upset. I’m given to understand that complaints have been made to the teacher’s union. There will probably be quite a few angry letters to the editor over this thing; it will be interesting to see how many will see print. (It matters a great deal, from the perspective of journalistic integrity, whether any do.) In any event, I expect that the Journal will find the education beat rather hard to cover from now on.

Butler’s garter update

Dept. of Not Dead Yet. The problematic Butler’s garter snake (see previous entry) still has a bit of life left to her: she ate two nightcrawlers last night. (Sometimes, snakes that do not normally eat mice but have been trained to do so will, at certain points, refuse to eat mice but will continue to eat their original food; more about that here.)

Geriatrics and Butler’s garter snakes

Butler's Garter SnakesI’ve had two female Butler’s garter snakes (Thamnophis butleri) in my care since October 2000. They were only a few months old at the time, which means they’re now approaching six years of age. That’s nearly three times the record of two years in Slavens (which is no longer being updated), and I’m quite proud of being able to keep them alive for this long.

I’ve been wondering when we might start running into geriatric health issues with these snakes. Larger garter snakes can easily pass 10 years (Piss-Boy is at least nine), but smaller natricines seem to have shorter lifespans — Storeria’s record, for example, is somewhere between four and seven years — so Butler’s garters might be similarly short-lived.

Continue reading this entry »

Axle sensors

Off to Renfrew yesterday afternoon to deposit accumulated cheques (our banks are there, not here); between the Ontario-Quebec border and Renfrew we passed over no fewer than six pairs of parallel cables stretched across the road. I was going to Ask MetaFilter about it when we got home, but it turns out the question has already been asked, and answered: they’re axle sensors, which measure traffic and average speed. These were all on county roads; I wonder what they’re up to.

My response to Richard Ledbetter

You may have heard that Jen’s high school — John Paul II High School — is facing possible closure at the end of this year. The past few months have seen consultations and a campaign to save the school, and emotions have been running high. I’ve been trying to stay out of it — I need another scrap like I need a root canal — but I have been paying attention.

In this week’s Pontiac Journal, editor Richard Ledbetter has an inflammatory editorial that, like much of the debate, sheds more heat than light. Here are some excerpts:

Continue reading this entry »

Pretzel is definitely gravid

Pretzel, our breeder female corn snake, refused to eat last night, and she’s definitely carrying eggs. She usually lays in mid- to late May, so she’s right on schedule. She still looks a little thin, though; I wish we could have gotten more mice into her. I shudder to think how hollow she’s going to be after egg deposition.

We’re going to have to buy them all over again

Oh dear. Lucasfilm is releasing two-disc sets of each of the original Star Wars movies: each set will include the 2004 remastered version and the original, unsullied theatrical version. Which means Han shoots first, Jabba doesn’t show up, Clive Revill is the Emperor in Empire, Vader says “Bring my shuttle,” and the Jedi songs are the originals — and the films don’t look like patch-jobs between early 1980s and late 1990s technology. I’m actually having trouble believing this. Via Slashdot.

Flare time

I’m still trying to nail down flare season: I’m aware that my ankylosing spondylitis is worse in the spring and fall, but it’s impossible to be more specific than that. If it’s affected by seasonal weather changes, for example, the onset will be different each year; and there are probably other factors as well. Because I’m a compulsive planner, I’d like a bit more predictability; as it is, I’m reluctant to make any long-term plans for spring and fall in case I’ll have to cancel them — especially travel, which is hard on my system to begin with. So what do I block off? March through May? October and November?

This year, it hit in early March and persisted for four weeks; in 2002, though, I spent the spring largely pain-free. I’ve had flares in the fall, but not in the fall of 2003. I suspect I was simply too busy to get sick during those periods (or possibly I was too active to get stiff), in the way that people get the flu as soon as they take a vacation: their bodies hold themselves together until they can fall apart at a more convenient time.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that I think I’m back in flare again, as of Sunday.

Design changes in real time

I’m fooling around with the site’s design at the moment, so things are liable to look rather weird for the next couple of days or so, until I settle down and stop playing with the CSS.