October 2001

Wednesday, October 31, 2001

[ 11:19 AM ]

The glossy snake is looking stronger, healthier and more active after a couple of force-feedings and our zero-toxicity regimen of mite treatments: lots of soaking in water, mineral oil daubs, picking off and smashing the mites as we find them, and changing and bleaching the cage regularly. She'll get back on course soon.

[ 10:51 AM ]

The least hysterical coverage of the B.C. python story comes from the newspaper that broke the story in the first place, the Kelowna Capital News. They've gone beyond simply covering the story; here's the reporter's take on it, which is quite positive, humane and worth reading: his focus has always been on the negative reactions to this snake, particularly that of the local SPCA, which told Koop they would euthanize the snake if she brought it in. Or the hysteria that judges that rabbits deserve to live more than pythons (a calculus that will inevitably doom any carnivore). A favourable editorial in the same issue looks at the issue from the perspective of the editor's cats. Cat people, I tell you. Then there are the letters to the editor. I rather suspected that people in Kelowna, who are generally very conservative, small-government, butt-out-of-my-business types, would bristle at the implication that the state could seize your children if it doesn't approve of the animals you keep. Turns out that I was right. First letter. Second letter.

Tuesday, October 30, 2001

[ 5:03 PM ]

The saga of the family being forced by the B.C. government to choose between giving up their children and giving up their five-metre Burmese python is getting weirder by the day. Now there is a report that Kerry-Ann Koop has taken her python and three youngest children into hiding. Among herpers, there seems to be an emerging consensus that while the province's actions are downright draconian and enough to spook out anyone with snakes (especially if salmonella is apparently one of the reasons for the threatened seizure — anyone with kids and reptiles or birds is at risk), she could be handling this situation a lot better: letting very small children frolick with a five-metre Burm — even chewing on its tail! — is generally considered a Bad Thing. See kingsnake.ca's General Forum for ongoing discussions. Meanwhile, the press, as you might expect, is having a field day: Kelowna Capital News 10/22 (the article that set everything in motion); Kelowna Capital News 10/26; Vancouver Sun 10/26; Calgary Sun 10/29; Edmonton Sun 10/29; Miami Herald 10/29 (!); Brockville Recorder and Times 10/29; CBC TV and radio 10/29; The Globe and Mail 10/30; columnist Paul Sullivan in The Globe and Mail 10/30. It even got farked!

Friday, October 26, 2001

[ 4:30 PM ]

The utter vehemence of some Mac fanatics' reaction to the iPod has been truly over the top. (For a representative sample, have a look at the whining going on at The Mac Observer.) It's a nifty device, priced fairly considering what has gone into it, but that just doesn't seem good enough for them. Brian Tiemann, writing at Applelust.com, points out that Apple cannot possibly satisfy the demands of its fanatic core user base and stay in business. He's amazed Apple even tries. He writes:

If I were Steve Jobs right now, I would be weeping into my pillow. "What the %^$#$%# will satisfy these people?" I'd be wondering. Well, Steve, I'll tell you what will satisfy them. They want a laptop with a Cinema Display-sized screen that fits in your pocket. They want a wireless streaming audio/video player running OS X for free. They want Apple to give away its products and make its stockholders rich. In other words, they want the impossible.

I've mentioned the Amiga People before, and I'll mention them again. I think Apple's fans are in real danger of falling into the Amiga trap. Here's a relevant story. Back when Netscape was the undisputed champion of the Internet, they released a version of Navigator for just about any platform that had any adherents left, including HP-UX, BeOS, Digital UNIX — platforms that make Apple's market share look like Microsoft's by comparison. And yet they didn't release a version for the Amiga. Why? According to Netscape's product management execs, it was because of the Amiga people. The company saw them as insane, irrationally demanding, ungrateful zealots who insisted that the software be released for free, immediately, with no bugs and with complete Amiga support. A beta release was seeded, but the response they got back was so vitriolic and abusive — and yet promising that no consumer revenue would be forthcoming — that Netscape determined that pursuing that platform was a dead end for business.

One wonders whether Mac zealots are turning into the Amiga People. One wonders where the Amiga People went. But, you know, I'm not surprised. I've seen this foam-at-the-mouth fanaticism on the Palm boards (mucho trolling at Palm Infocenter, too bad for the site owners, who deserve better), where it's much the same: hysterical criticism of the companies for their failure to perform miracles. There's nothing worse than a disillusioned zealot who can't cope with reality, be it financial (yes, the company does need to make money once in a while) or technical (no, you can't have an active-matrix screen and 802.11b support with 12-hour battery life in a six-ounce handheld, for $99, tops).

[ 1:56 PM ]

Give up the snake or give up your children, British Columbia's Ministry of Children and Family Development has said to a Kelowna couple. They have nine children, including a nine-month-old baby, and a five-metre Burmese python. The Ministry may remove the children if the couple fails to give up the snake. They don't want to.

I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, as a snake keeper, I'm concerned about the implications of this action by the state; I'm quite happy to comply with wildlife laws and city by-laws, but this strikes me as a bit disturbing. But on the other hand, while Burmese pythons are usually quite gentle, they have been known to cause human fatalities occasionally, and I've argued before that large snakes and small children are a bad combination. At least, from what I can gather from the article, they appear to be housing the snake properly, which sadly cannot be said for some other keepers.

[ 6:43 AM ]

Sarcosuchus imperator: over 14 metres long and weighing 10 tons, this west African crocodile lived 110 million years ago and may have fed on dinosaurs. Far, far bigger than any present-day croc. Have a look at this little beauty!

Tuesday, October 23, 2001

[ 6:39 PM ]

And once Civilization III is finished with me, I will have Master of Orion III to deal with. Bloody hell.

[ 3:25 PM ]

Robert Wisnovsky, writing in Slate, argues that the terrorists' "peculiar use of certain loaded terms and phrases" reveals what they are thinking. And it's not what you might expect. He believes that they're not particularly Islamic: he says that "[September 11 hijacker Mohammed] Atta's use of the prophet's words to Islamicize an act of terrible brutality shows the shallowness of the terrorists' attempt to lend religious weight to what is basically a political ideology." He also argues, based on bin Laden's use of the word anifaq ("hypocrisy"), that their real target is not America or the West (except indirectly), but the monarchies of the Arabian peninsula. A very interesting and unconventional analysis.

[ 3:09 PM ]

Apple's new gadget is called the iPod. It's an MP3 player. ("Just an MP3 player?!?" cried the denizens of Mac bulletin boards, hoping for something impossibly small, impossibly powerful, and impossibly inexpensive. That, or getting their damn Newtons back.) But it's a portable MP3 player with a 5 GB hard drive and a FireWire connection. Most portable MP3 players use flash memory (either built-in or on cards), which is limited and expensive. Most large, hard-drive-based MP3 players are decidedly not portable. Therefore, this thing is amazing. And expensive, at US$399. (Another thing they're complaining about on those boards. They cost out the parts and declare it overpriced. Clearly they haven't compared the thing to other MP3 players. And apparently Apple isn't supposed to pay its workers or make a profit.) Do I want one? Hell yes.

[ 7:55 AM ]

Florence force-fed the glossy snake last night. She also discovered that the glossy has a pretty good mite infestation going. That might explain her lack of appetite. We can deal with mites. Good thing we have quarantine procedures.

Saturday, October 20, 2001

[ 5:59 PM ]

Today I tried out the O-Train, Ottawa's new light-rail pilot project, which launched last Monday. As one might have expected on the first weekend after its launch when the fares are free, the train was packed. Lots of children; people seem to have made it a family outing.

The train itself is very impressive: it's low-floor, with the floor raised above the wheels, and the seats are high and comfortable. It's also very fast — when it can be. The spur up to Bayview station, the line's northern terminus, is newly built, and for some reason the train didn't pick up speed until it was on the main CPR track. It also slowed when crossing other rail lines — understandable when you're dealing with the VIA mainline, for example. Acceleration and deceleration were very quick, and cruising speed was brisk. The line was a little wobbly, though; as a result, facing backwards wasn't good motion-sickness-wise for me, even though it's only an eight-kilometre run.

Its twenty-minute frequency will not make it very competitive with bus route 97 in terms of getting southwards, but it's certainly a pleasant trip. North of Carleton University, the track is in a trench and passes through some rather industrial areas, as well as a tunnel under the Rideau Canal. South of the university, however, it passes over the Rideau River and through a park, which is very nice. I suspect I shall be looking for excuses to ride it.

[ 5:47 PM ]

Uh oh. Sid Meier's Civilization III is coming. I'm never going to get anything done. Civ III web site is here.

Friday, October 19, 2001

[ 12:42 PM ]

A couple of calls to the local Mac stores reveal that they expect delivery of the new 600-MHz iBooks in around two to four weeks. Humph.

Thursday, October 18, 2001

[ 1:17 PM ]

Neither the glossy snake nor the hognose snake ate their live pinkies last night. Dammit. Hope they'll have eaten by the time I get home. The glossy in particular is supposed to be nocturnal, so I shouldn't get my hopes up. She's too thin, so I worry. I may need to borrow that pinky pump, Denis.

[ 11:02 AM ]

On Tuesday, Apple announced upgrades to its consumer and professional laptops. The iBook's mid-level and high-end models get a faster processor (600 MHz G3, was 500 MHz), a faster system bus (100 MHz, was 66 MHz), and a larger hard drive (15-20 GB, was 10 GB). The Titanium Powerbooks get more: faster processors (550 and 667 MHz G4, were 400 and 500 MHz, respectively, with a faster 133 MHz bus on the 667 MHz chip), larger hard drives, a more powerful graphics chip, and other goodies. The upgrades to the iBook have taken care of everything I was hesitant about (and I wasn't hesitant about much), so now I will have to check my finances and see if I can't go for it. Learning a new operating environment will be fun. Avoiding Windows XP and thumbing my nose at Redmond even more so.

Yesterday, Apple announced a quarterly net profit of US$66 million on revenues of US$1.45 billion. They're making money in this economic climate. And — what's gotten into them? — they apparently have a new gadget coming out this Tuesday. Everyone is trying to guess what it is. I'm hoping that I won't be too susceptible.

[ 10:39 AM ]

Andy Ihnatko writing in Tuesday's Chicago Sun-Times (via Apple):

I really want to applaud Mac OS X's robust networking services. If your iBook is running 10.1, you can just plop it on a desk in any office, plug it into the local Ethernet, click one doo-dad in finder, and then watch every available Mac, Windows, and Unix file server appear automagically. It worked on my own mixed network and two different wired and wireless nets I tried it with. In my sad experience, not even a Windows laptop will always find a Windows server by itself.
Well, that just about settles it, doesn't it?

Wednesday, October 17, 2001

[ 8:08 AM ]

Some thoughts about the anthrax scare. Anthrax doesn't seem very effective as a weapon of mass destruction. As a means of panicking the population, though, it seems to be very effective indeed. Some argue that the modus operandi of Al Qaeda is to kill lots of people, so the fact that anthrax is ineffective at this makes it unlikely that they're behind it. I'm not so sure. It seems to me that their modus operandi is high-profile attacks that scare the bejeepers out of us. If so, the fact that the anthrax has been sent to media organizations strikes me as significant. The panic it has engendered — no one will look at a stray bit of corn starch ever again — may have been as much of a goal as mass casualties. Like the 9/11 hijackings, it's also making use of our own domestic infrastructure to get at us, causing us to doubt the safety of a key component of our transportation/communications network (first air travel, now the mail). So I think it quite possible that they're behind this. Proving they're responsible is another matter.

Tuesday, October 16, 2001

[ 9:01 AM ]

Florence thinks my biographical note is too depressing. What do you think?

[ 8:59 AM ]

Handspring has announced its Treo Communicator line: they're Palm OS handhelds that are also GSM phones with Internet capabilities. Only available sometime next year. Always-on GPRS to follow. Expensive. Neat. These things just scream "Kirk here".

[ 8:57 AM ]

Both Florence and I are at home sick today for completely unrelated reasons. Isn't that cute? Too bad we're neither of us in any shape to enjoy it.

Saturday, October 13, 2001

[ 8:22 PM ]

Rumours that mildly upgraded Powerbooks and iBooks are about to be released abound. I'm afraid that once the upgraded iBook is available, I may have to get it. If the rumours are true, the upgrades would address my (few) concerns, namely processor speed (up) and hard drive capacity (more). Besides, I need a second computer; Florence complains that she can never surf with me around. We could use a portable. And with Apache on OS X, I can code (in PHP) on the drive, which would speed up my web development work. Yes, yes, I'm trying to justify blowing another wad of money on yet another techie toy . . .

[ 7:28 PM ]

Another new arrival on Thursday night: a young female eastern black-necked garter snake (Thamnophis cyrtopsis ocellatus). Now you know how I feel about garter snakes, but I've wanted a blackneck for a long time. This snake is absolutely stunning. No pictures yet, since Florence is in Halifax with the digital camera, but Alan Francis works with them, and has a few pictures on his site. See what I mean? Note especially the babies. Phil says they get duller as they get older, like a lot of other snakes. Me, I don't care. Sure, it's a spectacular snake right now, but what matters to me is that it's a garter snake. I'm crazy. I now have six species of Thamnophis. More, more, I'm still not satisfied.

She's pretty jumpy so far; I'll have to work a bit more on her cage, give her a few more hiding places. (But then she's not using what she has.) In body shape and head pattern she reminds me of a checkered garter snake (Thamnophis marcianus). Are they related? Checking my copy of Rossman, they don't seem to be, assuming I'm reading the consensus trees on pp. 18-19 properly. But they are sympatric — the eastern blackneck is endemic to Texas — and similar habitat may matter more. End of ramble.

[ 6:59 PM ]

Florence is off having fun in Halifax, which means of course that I'm completely useless at home this weekend. Extra back pain doesn't help either. But I am doing my best to make myself useful. (No, that does not mean dishes.) A pile of books on newsletter and magazine publishing arrived from Amazon yesterday. So far, the most useful of the bunch seem to be Newsletter Design by Hamilton, in terms of coming up with layout ideas, and Starting and Running a Successful Newsletter or Magazine by Woodard, for the business side. In between which my mind wanders as I brainstorm my reptile newsletter project. If I had to come up with a timetable, I'd aim for a test issue to be released next September, with regular bimonthly issues to begin in January 2003. Even then I may not have enough time to get it all done. Intimidating, but an interesting challenge, I think.

[ 11:41 AM ]

A neat article on the Afghan exile community in the U.S. in today's Globe and Mail.

Wednesday, October 10, 2001

[ 6:56 AM ]

"How can anyone not notice the huge glaring Bert?" A doctored image of Bert (from Sesame Street, as in Ernie and Bert) from the Bert Is Evil site shows up on a poster of Osama bin Laden in Bangladesh. The web, in one voice, says, WTF?

Monday, October 08, 2001

[ 8:48 AM ]

We had our usual news sources off while we cleaned yesterday, and found out about the attacks in the middle of the afternoon. My initial reaction: "Good." The Taliban deserve to be wiped off the planet. They are, to use my favourite expression, a waste of protein.

I am constantly annoyed by reports of people protesting the potential — and as of yesterday, actual — U.S. military response to the September 11 attacks. I'm sorry, folks, but this time violence is the answer. Or do you think grief is the sole response permitted when over six thousand people are murdered, and when a pariah state harbours those responsible (and apparently draws support from them; the reports I've read suggest that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda are more closely linked than the Taliban are letting on, with something like one-quarter of the Taliban's forces actually provided by bin Laden), so no, you can't exactly bring them to justice at the world court? Past foreign policy does not justify the slaughter of civilians. Period. Next they'll be arguing that German Jews had it coming.

Sunera Thobani would last approximately two seconds under the Taliban.

End of rant.

[ 8:43 AM ]

Offline for most of yesterday while we reorganized our office (i.e., the second bedroom containing the computer), which required us to unplug the computer for a while, then put it back together (so many wires). Don't recognize the place; it's so . . . clean.

Sunday, October 07, 2001

[ 7:45 AM ]

Live pinkies did the trick; our difficult snakes ate. The glossy snake ate for only the second time since we got her; she ate a frozen/thawed pinky shortly after arrival but had held out since. That she ate a live one makes me feel better, since she was starting to look thin. The hognose snake ate for only the first time, but I wasn't worried, since her weight was very good and Roy had warned us that she was only eating live with him. Baby corn snake #4 is the only one who still refuses to eat frozen/thawed mice; that was all we were giving it in hopes it would give in, until we blinked. Live pinkies go squeak when you constrict them.

Saturday, October 06, 2001

[ 1:33 PM ]

I just found out about this film and I'm already looking forward to it. Brilliant concept, just brilliant.

Wednesday, October 03, 2001

[ 3:25 PM ]

Eventually I would like to have an iBook with a wireless Internet connection. I've been trying to figure out how to make that work, particularly in conjunction with my present desktop computer, which I have had for only six months and have no desire to get rid of. To that end, I have three related questions.

1. Is it possible for two or more computers to share my ADSL Internet connection? Apparently yes, according to my ISP's knowledge base.

2. Is it possible to have a mixed wireless/ethernet network? Apparently yes, according to this Apple document, though I'm not quite clear on how to do it.

3. Is it possible to have a mixed Apple/Windows network? Those I have asked have said yes, but I'm not exactly sure how this would work. What network protocols, for example, not that I know anything about network protocols. And whether there are any complications with the above hardware setup.

Strictly speaking, a wireless connection is not essential, especially not in such cramped quarters as ours, but I'm interested and exploring the possibility. If nothing else, something to keep the mind occupied.

[ 3:17 PM ]

Oh. It looks like there is a way to use a Pocket PC with a Mac. Or there is about to be. Normally I wouldn't mention this, but I did refer to this issue a couple of days ago.

[ 8:56 AM ]

Yesterday was difficult for a number of reasons; today I'm at home, in too much pain to go to work. In other words, one of those reasons — back pain — has carried over.

[ 8:54 AM ]

Clarion's instructors for 2002 have been announced: Patricia Wrede, Terry Bisson, Leslie What, Geoff Ryman, Tim Powers and Karen Joy Fowler; guest editor is Patrick Nielsen Hayden.

(See my previous entry discussing the instructors for Clarion West.)

Monday, October 01, 2001

[ 12:24 PM ]

If I were ever to go back to university and get yet another degree, it might be in urban planning.

[ 11:33 AM ]

Now that I'm thinking about switching gradually over to Macintosh, Mac compatibility (see previous entry) seems more important to me. Suddenly I realize that I haven't checked this site's appearance on a Mac, which renders graphics slightly differently than Wintel machines. Take a look at the local Mac user group's home page. On my machine the lines on the background don't match up with the lined background of the title graphics, nor do the section tabs line up with the purple bar behind them — but I bet they do on a Mac. (Personally, I wouldn't have done it that way.)

Another example. I'll be releasing my garter snake articles in e-book format shortly. (What for? To play around with technology, silly.) My original plan was to provide them in Microsoft Reader format (for PCs and Pocket PCs) and in Palm Reader format (for Palm handhelds), which covers almost all the bases. Not Mac. I'll have to do it in PDF format, which is the most cross-platform of them all, to do that. Eventually.

[ 11:14 AM ]

Jeff Kirvin (Writing on Your Palm) has gone back to the Pocket PC platform. In today's column he goes into detail about what Pocket PC can do that Palm OS can't:

The Palm is a great PIM. If you only plan to use a PDA as a digital DayTimer, low-end PalmOS devices like the Palm m100 series or Sony S320 offer a lot of bang for the buck. But once you start to use the PDA as a real computer, start to do things with it like communications, multimedia, office document manipulaton, the Palm gets twitchy as the complexity rises, as you start trying to coax lots of different, unrelated products into working together as a whole. On the Pocket PC, most of those bases are covered by an integrated whole of applications pre-installed on the device.
He is essentially correct, although I disagree with his priorities. I don't need a handheld computer that can play movies and audio or run a full-featured office suite; I need personal information management, note taking, a document reader, and occasional e-mail access, so I have a Palm. It doesn't seem fair to compare the two, yet the arguments persist. Having said that, it seems to me that whatever a Pocket PC can do, a laptop could do better, and with a better bang for your buck.

It goes without saying, of course, that you can't use Pocket PC with an Apple. Surprise, surprise.