November 2001

Thursday, November 29, 2001

[ 8:13 PM ]

Winter is here. Snow this morning turned into freezing rain during the day. The apartment is freezing and the snakes are going into hibernation: the hognose snake, the wandering and red-sided garter snakes, and the gopher snakes are down; the speckled and Potosí kings, black pines and corns are still to come.

[ 7:30 PM ]

Apparently we've been living in a firetrap all this time. Workmen are here installing metal sheets on our front and back doors so that the landlord can appease the fire inspector. They're astonished to discover that there are neither straight lines nor right angles anywhere in this building, which makes reinstalling the doors more than a bit exciting for them. We knew this all along.

[ 7:02 PM ]

Conspiracy theorists have their own take on the terrorist attacks of September 11. They believe that the U.S. Government knew that the attacks were coming, or even arranged for them to happen, and covered up its advance knowledge for its own nefarious purposes. Or they believe that the government engineered the attacks in order to start a war of conquest in Afghanistan, arrange for a pipline through that country to the oil fields in central Asia, and line the pockets of wealthy oil tycoons. Of course they don't say as much: they just cite a lot of banal data and make a bunch of unsubstantiated insinuations through sinister-sounding questions. Also, they don't appear to be able to write clearly — their writing style is about as convoluted as their logic — but trust me, that's where they're going in these links (see MetaFilter discussions here and here about them). Note the presence of University of Ottawa professor Michel Chossudovsky at the Centre for Research on Globalisation: I first saw this local crackpot on CBC Newsworld during the Kosovo war, ranting about how NATO operations there were a war crime. I think he was shouting, actually.

Conspiracy theorists once asserted that Pearl Harbor was a conspiracy on FDR's part to draw the United States into the Second World War. This assertion has been thoroughly disproven by the books of Gordon W. Prange. Not that they'd ever let anything so nefarious as proof, evidence or logic get in the way.

[ 6:32 PM ]

"We have a system designed to produce compassionate morons." Margaret Wente's latest column looks at diversity and equity education in a Toronto school. Some parents are wondering whether it's gone too far: "'In the first two months of school, my 10-year-old studied no history at all,' says Ms. Davis. 'He can tell you all about Portuguese harvest customs, vegetarianism, Filipino child labourers and children's rights. But he doesn't know the difference between the Parliament and the Senate.'"

Tuesday, November 27, 2001

[ 3:35 PM ]

VIA Rail updated its web site today. Finally — long overdue. Looks classier, but, like many recent site redesigns, a bit unwieldy. Really heavy on the JavaScript.

[ 3:30 PM ]

Save passenger rail by destroying Amtrak. Paul Weyrich, the religious right leader who coined the phrase "Moral Majority" and a member of the Amtrak Reform Council, offers this solution to Amtrak's failure to achieve self-sufficiency: start over. Let the states set up profitable high-speed train service in certain areas, with a new national service connecting those independent areas.

Monday, November 26, 2001

[ 1:55 PM ]

Number of minutes, approximately, I had to wait for a taxi last Tuesday night at the computer store after having bought my new computer: 45.

Number of taxis I saw waiting outside the C. D. Howe Building on Queen Street at 1:00 p.m. this afternoon: 11.

Total number of idling taxis I saw along Queen between Bank and Lyon: 17.

All hail the Ottawa taxi cab industry.

[ 10:38 AM ]

I haven't paid much attention to Slate since the October 26 MSN-wide makeover made it much harder to read and navigate, but prior to that it had quite a few interesting pieces in it. Looks like it still does.

Like this apologia for the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings animated film, which I eviscerated in an Amazon review. Glenn Gaslin seems to be arguing that the film was an important milestone in animation: "a showcase for inspired imagery and sheer strangeness, a near-miss magnum opus from another era. . . . Where Bakshi went wrong with Rings may have simply been deciding to tackle the beloved, unwieldy epic in the first place. The animation here is some of his most ambitious and sophisticated, but it wasn't enough to render such a complex fantasy world."

And here's Timothy Noah arguing that, in an environment in which airlines receive billions in post-9/11 subsidies where Amtrak's $521-million annual grant is begrudged by many in Congress, Amtrak should declare itself an airline and wait for the money to roll in. Lightweight, but it's about passenger rail, so there.

[ 7:11 AM ]

The power went off abruptly at around 8:00 last night. We heard a loud popping noise and I saw a couple of flashes to the south of us, then things became very dark. It looked like a good portion of the neighbourhood was out with us. We felt around for candles and tealights, which frankly we haven't used in ages, and got as many of them lit as we could — we were surprised at just how much light an IKEA emergency candle can put out. Enough to read by, if you put a couple of them together (or combine them with a less-powerful tealight or two). One per room is enough to navigate by without having to feel your way around.

I went outside to assess how widespread the damage was. Somerset was still lit, as was Bell, but Arthur, Cambridge and Bronson between Somerset and Gladstone were dark, as were the traffic lights at Bronson and Somerset. One restaurant and the adjoining strip mall — the buildings our apartment building is behind — were out, and I could see the restaurant staff circled around a table with a single candle inside. Several Ottawa Hydro vans were parked on the north side of Somerset at Cambridge (so at least I knew I didn't have to bother trying to call the power company any more). Most interesting, on Cambridge south of Somerset, past the traffic barrier, there was — it was hard to make out; it was dark, by standards city folk rarely encounter — a fire engine behind a police line. I called Florence on the cell phone (we still had phone service) and described the situation. It looked like they were using a fire hose to spray down a telephone pole (power line, whatever — technical term, please?). My best guess is that something along the Cambridge poles overloaded, short-circuited or exploded, and took out three blocks as a result.

The power came back on at 10:30, after we had gone to bed. It was out long enough to be interesting, even a bit exciting, but not long enough to, for example, thaw out the hundreds of mice in the freezer. Nor does it appear that any of our electronic gadgetry was damaged. Fortunately.

Sunday, November 25, 2001

[ 10:01 AM ]

I've given up on Internet/networking on the iBook for now. Internet access via Ethernet crossover cable was quirky and unreliable: sometimes it didn't work, and then, almost spontaneously, it would — and I had no idea what I did to change that. And, as I mentioned yesterday, enough things didn't work that its usefulness was questionable. And I never got file sharing to work.

For what I've got in mind for the thing, it may well even be better in the short run not to have Internet access: it's supposed to be my coding and writing machine, neither of which require always-on Internet, and for which Internet access might well be a too-tempting distraction. (Yes, I'm rationalizing my disappointment. Deal with it.) But more importantly, the current setup doesn't work, and it's better that I await a better solution (using the old Pentium 200 as a Linux router or splurging and getting AirPort) than continue to bang against the wall in frustration. If nothing else, both computers have CD burners.

[ 9:57 AM ]

The shitstorm I stirred up on about the crank e-mail I received has finally been pulled by the site's administrators. It took on a life of its own when Corey, trying to be helpful and share experiences like everyone else, posted transcripts of an e-mail exchange he had with a local pet store guy. The pet store guy is also on the forum and didn't like it one bit. Went downhill very, very fast after that.

Saturday, November 24, 2001

[ 12:16 PM ]

Hooked up the iBook to the PC via an Ethernet card and crossover cable. Mixed results so far. I have Internet access — in fact, I'm writing this entry from the Mac — but no file sharing. And the Internet access is weird. Some sites and services don't seem to function at all yet. For example, I can't seem to sign up for iTools, run Software Update, or, inexplicably, view Jennifer's new web site (wherein she refers to this little journal as "prolific, erudite and highly entertaining" — huh?).

Thursday, November 22, 2001

[ 9:41 PM ]

I'm completely smitten with my new iBook. For those keeping track, the specs are as follows: 600 MHz PowerPC G3, 384 MB RAM (I added 256 MB), 20 GB hard drive, DVD/CD-RW combo drive. It's hard to compare this system to a Windows/Intel setup, but it seems fast enough. Everything is beautiful, everything works. OS X is amazingly easy on the eyes, and Classic mode (running an OS 9 environment within OS X) has worked very well when I've used it (mostly for the included games).

Yesterday I hooked the AV cable up to the television to watch DVDs on it. The process was beyond simple. Movies do not mirror: the screen goes black on the laptop while it plays on the television (copy protection?). I need a bigger TV.

I took it to work yesterday and today (and have nothing to lock it to!) and discovered that this thing has obscene battery life. Lasts for hours. I've never seen anything like it. (My previous laptop, an IBM Thinkpad 380, Pentium 150, 32 MB RAM, 1 GB HD, got maybe half an hour or so on batteries. Of course, it also lasted only 18 months before the screen crapped out entirely.)

I'm already starting to tinker with the UNIX underpinnings of the OS. Bought myself a little introductory book to reintroduce myself to UNIX environments — I used them a lot at university, but not for anything more significant than e-mail, news and web hosting. Managed to set up PHP and even get it working on most of my local pages, but it's not like I understood the process. Still, I'm pleased.

I suppose the next step is to network it to the PC. Maybe tomorrow, maybe this weekend.

[ 12:34 PM ]

So it looks like I'll be somewhat less likely to develop Alzheimer's disease, based on the fact that I've been taking one form of NSAID or another (ibuprofen, naproxen, celecoxib, indomethacin, diclofenac, naproxen again) non-stop since June 1997. Now if I can just avoid death by gastrointestinal haemorrhage.

Tuesday, November 20, 2001

[ 7:55 PM ]


[ 7:53 PM ]

I received the following response to a classified ad I posted earlier today:

From: "France Paradis" <>
Subject: snake
Date: Tue, 20 Nov 2001 17:32:45 -0400

I have a same kind of cornsnake and I both it in the pet shop so they sold it to me for 50$ OK you are selling your snake to much.You are accting like a real asshole.

I wonder if other breeders have to put up with crap like this.

[ 1:35 PM ]

Went to Toronto for the reptile show last weekend; I'm afraid I was too stressed and volatile to have enjoyed myself much during the trip, and I can't imagine I was a joy to be around for the vanmates, either. Still trying to figure out why. Anyway, we sold fewer snakes than we thought we would: two garters and three corns. We sold all of Andrew's rosy boas and one of Anthony's blood pythons, though. Three pairs of garter snakes were set aside for two individuals to pick up, but they never showed. I groused about this at length, but those with more experience shrugged and said, essentially, that this was a common occurrence. (Thanks for the perspective, Kim.) The more I have to deal with the nuisances of selling directly to the public — people who badger me until the snakes are ready, then disappear; people who don't read the ads; people who haggle over five dollars — the more I understand hobbyists who simply don't bother with it. In the meantime, I try to make the various terms and conditions more obvious in my advertising.

Meanwhile, my various orders weren't ready yet, so we got off easy, coming home with only a couple of new critters. I got a hatchling eastern box turtle, Florence a male amelanistic motley corn snake (so she can breed motley corns down the road). I'm enthusiastic about the turtle and am reading up.

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

[ 10:32 AM ]

A bundle of techie news this morning that should make my life easier some time in the future. Apple has announced an upgraded AirPort base station and software, emphasizing Mac-PC interoperability and 128-bit security. The base station also has an extra RJ45 port. (This will help my plans for a mixed network.) And Blue Nomad has announced WordSmith 2.1, which adds VFS support (i.e., can save files to expansion cards) and a desktop application for Mac OS X. (WordSmith is the best word processor for the Palm platform.) Now so long as my Palm's USB chip holds out . . .

Monday, November 12, 2001

[ 4:43 PM ]

Another teaser trailer for Episode II is out. If you own the Star Wars Episode I DVD, put Disc Two in your DVD-ROM and visit the site through the player menus. Or follow this link, which apparently works.

[ 4:36 PM ]

More details on the rumored Palm m505 USB problem: according to this report on Palm Infocenter, a static charge can fry the USB chip in the m505, leaving you unable to sync by USB. Serial and infrared syncing will still work. At the moment Palm is dealing with the problem on a case-by-case basis. Just great. And I'm about to buy a laptop with neither serial nor infrared ports. It will be very interesting to see how Palm will handle this.

Saturday, November 10, 2001

[ 11:22 PM ]

Imminent changes to my home computer setup (i.e., multiple computers and a home networking environment) made me think lately that it might be wise to switch over to Rogers cable for my broadband Internet access, in spite of the fact that many of my friends have had persistent problems with Rogers's service. Um, never mind. Now it seems that John has finally had enough with their service; in tonight's web log entry he tears Rogers a new one over its decision to change users' e-mail and web addresses over to the domain. You know, all things considered, ADSL through Magma, while not as fast as cable (and it has had these odd hanging delays that I can't figure out), has been at the very least reliable. So far.

Wednesday, November 07, 2001

[ 9:47 PM ]

"You are stupid and evil and do not know you are stupid and evil." "Cubic thinker" Gene Ray ("I am wiser than any god or scientist") really needs to work on his PR skills — doesn't he know anything about starting kooky movements? Time Cube: the funniest bit of earnest online insanity I've seen in years.

[ 6:16 PM ]

Osama bin Laden's inspiration may not be the Qu'ran, but a science-fiction novel: Isaac Asimov's 1951 book Foundation, the title of the Arabic translation of which is, if you can believe it, Al-Qaeda. From the article:

This peculiar coincidence would be of little interest if not for abundant parallels between the plot of Asimov's book and the events unfolding now. ... Seldon decides to send an expedition to a remote place on the outskirts of the Galaxy and establish The Foundation, which is to become the nucleus of the next Empire. Even though the Old Empire tries to destroy The Foundation with its superior military might, Seldon's plan eventually works despite many predicted difficulties and occasional random hiccups. Seldon does not live long enough to see the triumph of his cause, but he leaves videotaped messages at a machine timed to broadcast them to his followers and instruct them at the turning points of The Foundation's history, as his forecasts are coming true.

SF author China Miéville reports in Ansible that "[t]he term 'Al-Qaeda' seems to have no political precedent in Arabic, and has therefore been something of a conundrum to the experts" and that "this is the only theory anyone can come up with." I don't know enough to tell whether this rings true or not (though I think the idea of studying the plot of the Foundation series is a bit too precious). Yow. Asimov would be appalled.

Tuesday, November 06, 2001

[ 11:22 AM ]

Sony's CLIÉ handhelds are now available in Canada. These gadgets have been generating a lot of buzz among U.S. Palm fanatics all summer, mostly due to their aggressive pricing and the fact that the N760C has a 320x320 16-bit colour screen and a built-in MP3 player. They use Palm OS and Sony's proprietary Memory Stick flash-memory cards. No idea why they haven't been available in Canada until now, but during the past week I've seen the S320 and N760C in the local Sony Store and the N760C at Future Shop. No word on Sony's Canadian site about the N610C (essentially the N760C sans MP3 chip) or the upcoming T415 (superslim high-resolution monochrome).

[ 9:53 AM ]

An excellent reason to register your m500/m505. Apparently some m500-series Palms have suddenly stopped synching via USB after months of working properly, and it's becoming increasingly apparent that this is not an isolated incident. After reading this I went to Palm's web site and registered my m505, which I've had since July, this morning. I want to make sure I don't miss out on any patches or replacements — though it's not yet clear what will be done.

Monday, November 05, 2001

[ 6:20 PM ]

B.Mac called today to let me know that the iBook I had ordered had arrived. So, delighted, I zipped over there madly after work, only to discover that the incompetent bozos had ordered me the DVD version, not the combo (DVD/CD-RW) drive version. So not only do I still have to wait, I'm highly annoyed at having been jerked around by the store. Special-ordering the wrong machine is not the sort of thing that inspires a potential customer.

[ 2:13 PM ]

I have discovered, belatedly, Unreal Tournament. I have had the computer chops (Pentium III 933 MHz, 32 MB Nvidia card) for games like this since March, but haven't played anything that needed such firepower until now. Oh damn, it's addictive. I played so much of it yesterday that the report of miniguns kept ricocheting inside my head when I tried to get to sleep last night.

[ 2:10 PM ]

The glossy snake has now eaten a second pinky mouse, and is looking downright frisky. Let's pack her full of mice and see how a happy, well-fed glossy snake behaves.

Meanwhile, our vet pulled a two-inch subcutaneous worm from our melanistic garter snake on Friday night. He's been having parasite problems for a while. We're hoping that massive, repeated doses of Droncit will take care of it. In the meantime, we're still trying to wean him onto a mouse-based diet (the flame garters switched a year ago; he's more stubborn); fortunately, we've been a bit more successful in doing so lately.

Thursday, November 01, 2001

[ 8:20 AM ]

Civilization III has been released, though I may wait until the Mac version is released next March, so that I can play it on the iBook (once I get one, still waiting for some to arrive, grumble) without monopolizing the PC. Because I can see how monopolizing the PC could be a problem with this game, having played the previous versions far too much.

[ 7:14 AM ]

Indeed, she is doing better. The glossy snake ate a frozen/thawed pinky mouse overnight. Joy!

[ 7:04 AM ]

Karen Meisner has decided to stop writing her online journal, which to me is a pity, since it's one of the few I read with any regularity. I stumbled across Thought Experiment when reading through Clarion students' online journals, and found it to be one of the more articulate, interesting and funny bits of online writing around — the back-and-forth dialogue between herself and her husband, Pär, is worthy of Carole Lombard. I'll miss it.