Monday, April 29, 2002
I'm enjoying Chimera 0.2.5, though it crashes often and is rather function-impaired as browsers go. I just like Quartz-rendered text with stylesheet support.
I would be derelict in my duty if I did not use this space to point out new lustworthy Apple products.
The Titanium PowerBook G4 got a number of enhancements that just add to the overall drool: faster processors (667 and 800 MHz); a 1-MB L3 cache; a 32-MB ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 graphics processor; increased screen resolution (now 1280 x 854 at the same 3:2 aspect ratio); a DVI video out connecting to those lustworthy Apple LCD displays is now possible with a DVI-to-ADC adapter (extra), while VGA connectivity is maintained with an included DVI-to-VGA adapter (you can connect by just about every video connector except co-ax); bigger hard drives (30 and 40 GB); an audio-in jack; no more infrared port; and on the low-end model, a higher price.
Meanwhile, Apple also introduced an education-only desktop computer called the eMac. It's essentially a stripped-down computer with a 700 MHz G4, a 17-inch flat-screen CRT and a vaguely classic-iMac form factor. I don't think I like the look, but I'm not the target market. That target is strictly education, be it school bulk purchases, teachers, or schools, who might want something inexpensive and durable, but more powerful than a G3 iMac. It's also 50 pounds. Oof.
The eMac's existence makes me think that Apple is now more willing to tailor its hardware products to specific market niches. I expect that those rumored rack-mount, small-size, multi-processor Power Mac G4 servers are imminent.
Science-fiction Death Watch, Part 63 (or, "Oh, crap, not him too"): George Alec Effinger (1947-2002).
Sunday, April 28, 2002
Walking in a blizzard with your face to the wind is, shall we say, unpleasant; I had to do this on the way back from IKEA this afternoon. Thick snow and fierce wind obscured visibility, and my glasses were almost completely blanketed. For some reason I found it hard to breathe. Really had to push myself; crummy weather is awfully demoralizing.
Friday, April 26, 2002
I have now confirmed that every single ribbon snake from the litter of nine we had last summer has since died. Something definitely wrong with that bunch, and I'm now quite certain that husbandry had nothing to do with it.
So much for Lampropeltis mexicana being the non-snake-eating kingsnake: I introduced my pair of San Luis Potosí kings to one another today and the female promptly clamped her jaws on the male's head and started constricting. It took quite a bit of effort to separate the two she did not want to let go. The male seems a little agitated, but otherwise very much alive. I think this incident is going to end up getting them sold off; they were sort of borderline until this point (i.e., not a question of definitely wanting them, but reluctant to get rid of them).
Meanwhile the six remaining young red-sided garters are being picky: only two of them have eaten since I've been babysitting. Must be doing something wrong. They're also thrashing and musking, so maybe one of the things I'm doing wrong is scaring the hell out of them.
I've taken today, Monday and Tuesday off to finish off moving and setting up. I'm already behind what I laughingly refer to as a "schedule". There isn't that much per se still to bring over; it's just a matter of organizing it into packable form. And then there are the snakes and their cages.
Thursday, April 25, 2002
Yow! The Baird's rat snake is actually a boy. (I tell you, every time I've guessed at a snake's sex, I've been wrong.) This has implications because the snake was being housed with the definitely female leucistic Texas rat snake. (We figured, two females, same size, same care requirements, no chance of cannibalism, what's the problem?) Fed those snakes last night; when I put the Baird's back
she began courtship behaviour. With Elaphe this happens pretty quick, so I separated them as soon as I could. In the long run this is not a problem: F. is keeping the Texas rat and I'm keeping the Baird's. Baird's rats and Texas rats are supposed to be separate species, but I guess they've only recently speciated and are still close enough to find each other, how do you say, enticing? Drown the eggs!
A Canadian version of Amazon.com may be coming. Why do I worry that somehow it won't be as good? Will I have the same access to the same inventory I have now when shopping at the U.S. site? Will the same community features be there I notice that they aren't there on the European sites (I can't speak for the Japanese site, for obvious reasons). There are some definite plusses from this move, if true, but then Amazon's shipping time and costs have already improved to the point that I gave up Chapters/Indigo altogether last year.
Tuesday, April 23, 2002
Apparently I have a big sign on my forehead that says "Bite Me" to all snakes reading it. Bad enough that the garters were in revolt and the pines were hissing on Sunday. Last night I felt like handling my rosy boa, who was active in her cage. I opened the cage door and stuck my face down to say hello. Either I forgot that opening the door means "food imminent" to some of my snakes (whereas taking off the entire lid is for handling), or I discounted it, because this normally docile snake jumped up and bit me on the nose. I definitely felt her teeth, and she drew blood, but it didn't hurt that much not many nerve endings in the schnozzle, I guess. A few minutes later I removed the lid and tried picking her up, and she tagged me again. Now, I remember that a couple of years ago, she bit and constricted Florence's finger when it was wiggled in front of her. These are the only times she has ever bitten. Moral: If ever this snake's feeding response is triggered, watch out. I just have to remember how not to trigger it.
Monday, April 22, 2002
The forecast is calling for wet flurries this afternoon. I remind you that it reached thirty degrees last week. Temps are now somewhat below normal, compared to ludicrous, heat-death-of-the-universe-is-nigh temps last week. Reptiles emerging from hibernation last week are saying dirty words right now.
Go herping in Saskatchewan, and you'll find bullsnakes, prairie rattlesnakes, and black widow spiders?
This town closes up too early. I finished up taking care of the snakes shortly after eight last night, when I discovered that the grocery store closed at six. So I resorted to restaurants along the Elgin Street strip, which, I thought, would be the least likely to close early. But there I saw a fast-food joint with posted closing hours of 9:45! What kind of jerkwater city is this where everything closes up at least two to three hours before they should? Thank goodness Dunn's on Elgin is open 24 hours.
I'm babysitting the entire snake collection while Florence is in France; sometime during her trip I'll relocate my share of them here, but in the meantime I have to trek over there. Yesterday I fed 22 snakes and cleaned an awful lot of cages. It took six hours, far longer than I would have expected. Part of the problem was that I had to figure out which mice were which: there were three shopping bags' full in the freezer. Then I had to figure out which snake got which size of mouse (F. had been looking after the feeding for a long time). It took some sorting out; in the end, many snakes got very large meals, which is atypical, but they could probably use it.
Another delay resulted from the discovery that the northern water snake was having a shedding problem. I helped her shed the rest of her skin she's jumpier than a lampropeltine would be during this process, but this was still manageable then had to deal with the unshed eyecap. This is a serious problem with snakes, up there with unshed skin on a lizard's toes. I once saw Jenny pull an eyecap off a six-foot indigo snake with tweezers, but using tweezers on a two-foot water snake was out of the question. So I had to rub the eyecap gently with a moistened finger, and eventually was able to grab a loose edge and pull the eyecap off. Oh, she was jumpy: very tame to handle, especially for a water snake, but she does not like having her head touched. But I managed. It simply had to be done.
Meanwhile, either the snakes have forgotten me, or they've gotten meaner than I remember them. A young red-sided garter snake and the black-necked garter coiled and struck at me. A Butler's garter snake musked me. A pine snake hissed at me. And Big Momma the mother of the young garters, the big puppy, the handleable garter struck, open-mouthed, at me! Though that might be due to pregnancy she may give birth sooner than I think! This is somewhat depressing. It's mostly the natricines, though some are still sweeties (water snake, flame garters, PB), and the lampropeltines are mostly okay even the gophers were reasonably well-behaved. I wonder if natricines suddenly getting aggressive is something to worry about?
I've registered the mcwetboy.net domain as a place for collaborative projects, or projects by friends, that are a little on the edgy or off-colour side. (I'm all too aware that children surf my site for reptile information; while I'm real liberal with the colourful language in this blog, I do exercise some restraint in what I link to here.) I'm aiming for a certain editorial unity of theme while having a diverse content at the same time.
First up is By GOSH, the off-kilter e-mail newsletter I did for the history graduate students at Waterloo in 1994-95, when I was working on my M.A. I thought the issues I did were lost forever, but I found three in an e-mail archive I found on Thursday, when I was going through my files at Florence's, preparing to archive them on CD. Coppardo remembers one issue that really worried my classmates: "I distinctly remember one issue where you wrote an announcement to the effect that 'the public history group will be meeting every hour on the hour until further notice.'" Do I still have that issue? Alas, no. Nor do I have the issue where I proved, with footnotes, that Barney the Dinosaur was fascist. Pity.
Thursday, April 18, 2002
I've never endured Ottawa's summers well: they're far too humid for my prairie constitution, and until seven weeks ago I was living in an apartment that was routinely warmer than the outside temps during heat waves, thanks to the poor insulation and location atop the building. I would drench the bed in sweat every night, and we'd have to drop ice cubes in snakes' water dishes (even the incubator!) to prevent the snakes from expiring in 34-36-degree temperatures.
In that context, the new apartment is an entirely new experience. It's in the basement and shielded from direct sunlight, and as a result has stayed reasonably cool. I've even had to put a fleece jacket on to stay warm, and the comforter stays on the bed. It's definitely more humid, though, which is no bad thing, since it seemed excessively dry to me beforehand. Still, this should make the summers here much easier to bear.
Summer has arrived prematurely, with temperatures in the high twenties in Ottawa. Some people aren't stuck in an office like me, though. Bastards. Clint and Stewart mucked around a park in Peterborough and found some garter snakes: Clint's pictures (digital); Stewart's pictures (film). Dave Smith found a pile of snapping turtles: first picture; second picture (jeez, Dave, by the tail?); third picture.
In the early 1990s, wing nuts protested the idea of Sikh RCMP officers being allowed to wear turbans on duty, and Royal Canadian Legion halls prevented turbaned Sikh veterans (and anyone else with religious headgear) from entering their premises. Now, a 12-year-old boy in Montr�al gets abuse shouted at him by angry parents as police escort him to school. After being sent home for three months because the school refused to let him wear his kirpan (a ceremonial dagger required by the Sikh articles of faith), Gurbaj Singh won a temporary court injunction on Tuesday.
Tuesday, April 16, 2002
Meanwhile, the wandering garter snakes are making a spectacle of themselves.
The OARA reptile display at Carlingwood Mall seems to have been a success, though, thanks to my lingering cold, I didn't enjoy it as much as I should, and I was left exhausted at the end of each day. Nevertheless it all went well aside from the young girl who panicked after the black rat snake, which she wanted around her neck, got tangled in her hair and decided to hang on by her larynx. (Note to us: let's not let that happen again!) Actually the snakes were big hits, and got absolutely handled to death, but tolerated it well. My compadres were amazed by my northern water snake's tractability this species has a well-deserved reputation for unpleasantness in the wild, so one that can be handled without it biting or defecating is quite something.
Interesting responses from the public:
- Many seemed to think that water snakes are venomous, confusing them with cottonmouths (a.k.a. water moccasins); having a water snake on display was in that sense tremendously helpful. A bigger push on water snakes is probably worth doing.
- Relatively recent immigrants from an African or Asian background often had trouble with the notion that a snake could be harmless. When I said the snake in my hands was safe, they assumed that meant I had pulled out the fangs. Those of us doing reptile education would do well to look into this, and target cultural assumptions that are neither European nor North American.
- Why do people ask if the snake is venomous after I put it in their hands?
- Long-time rural residents and cottagers are noticing year-over-year declines in frog populations. Especially bullfrogs, which of course are the most visible, so that may not in itself be significant. They're wondering why. I wish I could give them a more precise answer.
- The name "garter snake" is not ubiquitous: I've heard "grass snake", "gardener snake" and "green snake". You'd have thought people would know what a garter snake was, but then I'm from Manitoba, where garter snakes have a comparatively higher profile.
Tor Books editor Patrick Nielsen Hayden has a blog, which I discovered via Cory Doctorow's link thereto from boing boing regarding Damon Knight's death.
Damon Knight died on Sunday at the age of 80. The science fiction author and editor practically invented the Science Fiction (and Fantasy) Writers of America and the Clarion writers' workshop, grew Gene Wolfe from a bean, and wrote one of the best manuals on short-story writing ever (here's a sample). The Futurians, his history/memoir of early SF fandom, is worth tracking down.
Thursday, April 11, 2002
I forgot to mention that earlier this week F. reported that her smaller Everglades rat snake tried to eat the bigger one. That's new. ("Oi! Don't eat your older brother!") I didn't think rat snakes were that stupid.
No autopsy on the ribbon snake, but we'll be investigating this situation.
Meanwhile, Mike and I have set up the display at Carlingwood; some last minute stuff tomorrow morning that I won't have to worry about, and then I'll probably be there from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon. If I didn't enjoy myself so much when I do this sort of thing, I'd probably resent it.
Snake update, courtesy of my ex, Florence, who keeps looking after the collection until I get my act together and get my share of it over to my new apartment. She reports that the adult red-sided garter snakes have mated. This means that I had better hurry up and sell the remaining snakes from last year's litter there are six left, though Florence will likely keep a couple. Unfortunately, the last of the young ribbon snakes has died: Florence rushed it to the vet today; he discovered it was parasite free, but had an air bubble outside the lung. It died shortly after, later in the afternoon. At least two-thirds of last year's ribbon snake litter have now died; the remaining three I haven't heard about lately. Astonishing. She wants an autopsy, which would be expensive and may not prove anything.
Astrophysicist and SF author Gregory Benford has an informal conversation with Stephen Hawking. Hawking's reliance on a computer to communicate has a peculiar side benefit: "A week after my evening at Cambridge, I got from Stephen�s secretary a transcript of all his remarks. I have used it here to reproduce his style of conversation. Printed out on his wheelchair computer, his sole link with us, the lines seem to come from a great distance. Across an abyss." (via Slashdot)
Tuesday, April 09, 2002
Dr. Shafiq Qaadri on managing chronic pain: "Patients with the full [chronic pain] syndrome feel depressed, anxious, fatigued and are housebound for prolonged periods. Their pain affects their enjoyment, work, socializing and marital and family relations, and they become helpless." This passage resonated strongly with my own experience. It's against this that I must be always vigilant; I've been there and I don't ever want to be there again.
How Altivec on the Power PC which Apple markets as the G4's Velocity Engine works. There's math involved, so I don't understand much of it, but, as is often the case with me and science, I more or less get the gist. From what I can gather, it really does make a huge difference where complex computations are involved.
Monday, April 08, 2002
Something's got me, and I'b all sdubbed ub, even though I thought my cold was abating. I apparently have a cold that serves its time on weekends; for whatever reason it came roaring back on Saturday, and kept coming yesterday. It's April; I suppose catching a bug around now is normal enough. But I've got too much to do; I don't have time to feel this crummy!
Current reading: The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley, one of his neato Eight Worlds novels; and Apple: The Inside Story of Intrigue, Egomania, and Business Blunders by Jim Carlton, for the dirt on the interregnum between the Jobs periods.
When it came out a decade ago, Unforgiven was hailed as a movie that blasted apart the conventions of the Western genre. Now that I've finally seen it in its entirety (I may have caught 20 minutes or so, dubbed into French, years ago), I see what they're talking about. An intelligent, meditative film that has a few things to say about myth-making. I'm impressed. This is only the second Western (the other is High Noon) that I've been really impressed with. I'm not a fan of the genre as a genre, but I am interested in seeing something as good as this. (I suspect this will rule out most John Wayne vehicles.) Any suggestions?
Friday, April 05, 2002
Macs have an excellent reputation for retaining their resale value compared with PCs, which tend to depreciate quickly. This is great if you own one and want to trade up, not so good if you've got half an eye out for a reasonably good used one. The problem is that a used Power Mac is often not much cheaper than a new one, even when you take the difference in features into account. At least if the prices at the local used Mac store are any indication. A couple of examples.
The Mac Group is selling a used Cube for about $1,700. It's got a 450 MHz G4 processor, a 100 MHz system bus, a 20 GB hard drive, and a DVD-ROM. Compare that with the entry-level model of the new iMac: 700 MHz G4 processor, same system bus, a 40 GB hard drive, and a CD-RW, for about $2,250 plus the 15-inch LCD is included. The price difference of $550 is easily eaten up by the cost of an equivalent flat-panel display ($650 used, $900 new), plus you'd have to add an external CD burner and hard drive, which are about $300 to $400 each. A Cube with an external CD burner would still not be competitive with a mid-range, combo drive (DVD/CD-RW) iMac, which costs $2,550. Plus, while the Cube has an AGP 2x slot for its video card, only a few cards made were compatible with its form factor, the most advanced of which was a GeForce 2 MX the very same card that comes standard with the iMac! On balance, a new iMac is better value than a used Cube.
Today, I noticed that the Mac Group was selling a used dual-processor Power Mac G4 for about $2,000. This, too, caught my attention until I crunched the numbers again. The model for sale is the Gigabit Ethernet variety, with twin 450 MHz G4 processors, a 100 MHz system bus, a 30 GB hard drive, and a DVD-ROM. The video card it came with at the time (it was sold in late 2000) was an ATI Rage Pro, in a 2x AGP slot. Let's compare it to a current, bottom-of-the-line Power Mac, which has an 800 MHz G4. Not dual processors, but it's been reported that the effective speed of a machine is not simply the sum of its processors, i.e., an 800 MHz machine would be much faster than a machine with two 400 MHz processors. So I think the 800 MHz machine would be faster than our twin 450. The system bus is faster with the new Power Mac, albeit not by much: 133 Mhz vs. 100 MHz. The used machine has more RAM pre-installed (512 MB vs. 256 MB) but the new machine has a bigger hard drive (40 GB), a CD-RW instead of a DVD-ROM, a digital amplifier for Pro Speakers, and an ATI Radeon 7500 with 32 MB of DDR SDRAM in a 4x AGP slot. The new machine costs $2,550, a $550 premium over the used machine. Adding an external CD burner to the old machine would cost around $400, while upgrading the new machine's drive to a combo drive would cost $160. Adding a new internal hard drive would cost a little bit, as would plugging in a new graphics card. All in all, the two machines are very closely matched, though the new Mac has slightly better features; there isn't much of a bargain to be had for an older machine (actually, only about a year and a half old) that is roughly equivalent.
Which may in fact be the lesson of shopping for used Macs: equivalent power does not depreciate.
When customers complain about bad service, sue them. That's what Robert Novak, proprietor of online pet-supplies company PetsWarehouse.com, is apparently doing to customers who complained on an online mailing list devoted to aquatic plants. For fifteen million dollars. (More information from the defendants' side.) I'm given to understand that he's also suing contributors to the defence fund, the Better Business Bureau of Metropolitan New York for the unsatisfactory rating given to his business, and, some people worry (see Slashdot discussion here), anyone else who criticizes him or his company online. No comment, for obvious reasons.
"Ezra Levant publicity hound, media manipulator, and one-time spin doctor blamed journalists for the embarrassing spectacle in Calgary Southwest for which he was almost solely responsible." Once Stephen Harper was elected leader, according to this Pundit Magazine article, Levant immediately sprung into action, blanketing the media with statements that a sitting MP, rather than he, should step aside. Once the pressure forced him to step aside, though, he blamed the media for blowing the incident out of proportion something that he, apparently, did all by himself.
Wednesday, April 03, 2002
My friend Stewart is a cameraman, a photographer and an enthusiastic amateur field-naturalist, so he does great wildlife photography. Last year he got his first pet snake, a corn snake (of course), and he's been taking astonishingly good pictures of the little girl ever since. Here are a couple of pages of pictures of that snake (first, second), eating a mouse. Don't click if you don't like looking at a mouse getting et. Incidentally, Stewart uses film cameras, not digital. He must have quite the film scanner.
How peace came to Angola: UNITA leader Jonas Savimbi was hunted down by his former comrade-in-arms, who defected after Savimbi refused to accept electoral defeat in 1992.
Tuesday, April 02, 2002
Technological leapfrogging, taken to extremes. Think upgrading from a 386 to a Pentium was something? How about this: in India, the government proposes scrapping a network of carrier pigeons ("p-mail" p-mail!) because electronic communications have made them redundant. Next, cunieform tablets replaced by gigabit Ethernet.
How steaks are made. The author of this long New York Times Magazine article (free registration, etc., etc.) examines modern methods of raising cattle by looking at the progress of a single steer. Economics dictate many of the practices that raise environmental hackles: cows do better on grass, but are fed corn simply because it's cheaper; growth hormones generate results you can bank; cows get to slaughter in about a year and a half, instead of five years. Yet profits can be razor-thin. Absolutely fascinating; something to make you wonder about your food. (Via Rebecca's Pocket)
Yesterday was pretty loopy for me: I mostly stayed in bed and surrendered myself to my burgeoning cold, which means I'm still awfully behind in the getting-my-apartment-set-up department. Hell, I'm behind in the doing-laundry-and-dishes department. But managing in spite of the light-headedness.
On Sunday night I cooked the amazing leek-and-pancetta risotto recipe, but managed to misjudge the amount required (note to self: get measuring cups and spoons!) and as a result ended up stuffing myself with starchy arborio goodness. I know, sounds like hell.
Lots coming up: two shows for the OARA to organize, plus getting the last remnants of my things, and my animals, from the old apartment. Things should be sensible by mid- to late April or so.
"The bottom-line here is that Apple is effectively shunning owners of pre-ADC Power Mac computers.
1. Get a graphics card with a DVI port and use Dr. Bott's DVIator to connect it to an ADC monitor except that Igot rejects this option on the basis of reports of pixel loss. It is, in other words, not perfect.
2. Buy a flat-panel monitor with a DVI port instead: Formac's gallery 1740 flat-panel comes in both ADC and DVI versions. Except that Igot wants an Apple display, dammit.
3. Buy a Power Mac G4 with an ADC port. Obviously expensive, but so are the displays if you want to get a Cinema Display, don't complain about cost! A used Power Mac would suffice; and even a Cube has an ADC port.
4. Buy a used Apple display. If I'm not mistaken, the earliest iterations of Apple flat panels were DVI-based.
In short, Igot wants to have his cake and eat it too he rejects all solutions that are not perfect, and castigates Apple, the graphics card maker ATI and the Easter Bunny for not providing a solution perfect to his particular needs. This is not a surprise: Igot seems to specialize in columns that whine about the small things Apple fails to do (like this one). I wonder if he's the model on which this Crazy Apple Rumors satire is based. The perfect is the enemy of the good.
Monday, April 01, 2002
DreamHost, my hosting company, has, in a fit of lunatic generosity, upgraded its hosting packages. Now suddenly I have up to 400 MB of storage (it used to be 75 MB), up to 10 GB of throughput (it used to be 5 GB, I think), up to 3 domains hosted, and now MySQL availability. These last two will come in handy. I was already planning on adding domains, one for friends' obscene projects, one for garter snake care. Now I won't have to pay anything for them. Nice. I like my hosting company.
Good heavens, I'm actually getting a cold. Who would have thought that weeks of not enough sleep at a seasonable time for a cold would, in fact, produce a cold? I'm surprised because I've been getting surprisingly few colds since I began my regimen of insanely high-dosage anti-inflammatory drugs over four years ago; it seems that all that naproxen may be having an effect. So I'm more surprised, I think, than I should be. A cold! Wow!