A post-holidays update

Hampton sunrise

Time for an update, I think. In the middle of December I was hit by some kind of flu-related virus: the sinuses remained dry and the sluices remained closed, but I was hit by chills and sweats for more than a week. After that, it was off to New Brunswick for the holidays, my first trip there in three years. Bittersweet, as the main reason for going was to see Jennifer’s grandparents, whose health is, shall we say, not good. It went well — what a relief. It was a quick trip: the weather was awful as usual, and extended our stay by a day; the roads are getting easier, though, and I’m getting the hang of the trip down and back. Still, I’m looking forward to the completion of the Autoroute 30 bypass of Montréal in a couple of years. We got back a week ago, but since then I’ve had to deal with a pretty bad flare, exhaustion, and a bit of unpleasant family business. Not much time or energy for blogging. Now for some catching up, though I’m still pretty sore and pretty tired.

Lind Honus Roland Crowe

Here’s some family news worth mentioning. My brother, Geoff, and his wife, Shannon, had their second child yesterday. Lind Honus Roland Crowe was born at 10:48 AM MST, weighing in at 3.9 kg. Pictures? Yes.

Work without interruption

Via Tobias Buckell, here’s an interesting talk by Jason Fried — co-author of Rework, a counterintuitive look at work culture — on why work doesn’t happen at work. “Why,” he asks, “do we expect people to work well if they’re interrupted all day in the office?” Anyone who works in an office will find his argument all too familiar: interruptions by “managers and meetings” disrupt the flow of work to the point where people actually have to go outside the office to get anything done.

For creative work, he says, uninterrupted time is essential:

What you find is that especially with creative people — designers, programmers, writers, engineers, thinkers — that people really need long stretches of uninterrupted time to get something done. You cannot ask somebody to be creative in 15 minutes and really think about a problem. You might have a quick idea but to be in deep thought about a problem and really consider a problem carefully, you need long stretches of uninterrupted time.

Fried also makes an interesting comparison between sleep and work: both, he argues, work in stages: if you’re interrupted, you can’t go back and pick up where you left off, you have to go back and start over.

Here’s why this is relevant to my interests.

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Home reorganization update

Living room upgrade 1 Living room upgrade 2

An update on our summer plans to get the apartment into shape, execution of which plans has stretched into the fall.

I bought new shelves for the kitchen in August; they replaced a bunch of increasingly beat-up bookshelves that have since been redistributed to the basement and bedroom. For IKEA geeks, they were Bestå shelves, which are intended for living room entertainment systems, but they adapted well to kitchen use.

Living room upgrades are now done. Last month I splurged and bought a 40-inch LED high-definition TV set and a Blu-Ray player; it’s a profoundly better experience than the old 26-inch standard-def widescreen we’ve been using for the past five years. All old TVs have found new homes in places other than landfills.

Last week the new leather sofa bed showed up, sooner than expected: I ordered it online and it turned up after a week; I’d been led to expect three weeks when I asked at the Ottawa store. Unlike the TV, this was a necessary upgrade: the old futon (which now goes into the basement) was uncomfortable to sit on for long periods of time, and no other sofa bed in my price range, leather or fabric, was as comfortable as this one.

Jen also picked up an Apple TV last Thursday; I’ll have my first impressions of the gadget in a blog entry soon.

HDMI cables, which we needed to connect the Blu-Ray and the Apple TV to the television, are overpriced. It cost me $30 to grab one at Best Buy; I later ordered two more from Monoprice, which arrived in a week and a half and cost me all of $12, shipping included.

The basement is largely done. We’ve sent a lot of old crap to the dump, painted the floor (except for a spot or two) and washed the walls (which got rid of the musty — i.e., mouldy — smell), and put up new shelves. Still some sorting (and a little painting) left, but it’s already an order of magnitude more habitable than it was before.

All these purchases have emptied my bank account (or will when it comes time to pay the credit card bill), but that simply means that I’ve allocated the money I saved up while working on contract for the federal government. This was what it was for, you see.

Canada Day in Shawville

Shawville Canada Day Parade 2010

As I’ve said before, Canada Day is a big deal in ultra-federalist Shawville; events take place all day and are well attended. Jennifer and I took photos of the parade, which started at 3 PM: here are mine; here are hers (her blog entry). We shot photos as a team: I used a wide-angle zoom on my digital SLR and she used a medium zoom on hers, so we got different views of the same parade. Which is good, because the parade was awfully similar to the parade we attended four years ago: fire trucks, horse-drawn wagons, antique cars, tractors, ATVs, bagpipes, and community groups — though the groups were not in attendance as much as they were before, perhaps due to actuarial reasons. They even had the same guy doing the same music as before. Maybe that’s seen as a feature.

We were thinking about doing the fireworks too, but once more ran out of steam.

Summer plans

As of today, Jennifer is on summer vacation. I’m not, because as a self-employed yob, I exist in a state of quantum superposition: I have lots of free time and, at the same time, no free time at all, which is to say that I can’t so much as take a weekend or evening off without worrying about tasks left undone. It’s hard for me to leave work behind during a vacation: I’ve blogged about maps during family Christmas visits, for example. (Yes, I’m no fun.)

There were a number of trips we could have taken this summer — family visits, science-fiction conventions, star parties — but in the end we have decided, for the moment, not to go anywhere. We’re just too tired: the past year has been tough on both of us, and we could use a profound amount of downtime. And we’d like to take some time to get the apartment into shape. I’m planning to buy some new furniture — a new couch and new shelves for the kitchen — and we really ought to get the basement a bit more organized. A little paint here and there wouldn’t hurt either. There’s a lot to be done around here — as much as you can do, really, in a rental property — and we’ll probably need the whole summer to do it, if we also want a shot at the aforementioned downtime. And me getting some work done.

Instead, we’re issuing a general invitation to our friends and family to come and visit us this summer. While we’re both big-time introverts, we do need some social contact (especially me, since my work is done in isolation and I get out seldom). We’d enjoy the pleasure of company without having to travel great distances to get it. It doesn’t happen often enough.

(I’m not going to sell the virtues of visiting us because the pool of invitees should already know them. If, on the other hand, you’re reading this and you are neither friend nor family, and in fact do not know us at all, do not visit us.)

Up to our ankles in earwigs

We’ve been dealing with an earwig infestation this month, and we’re not alone: a number of people we’ve talked to in and around Shawville have said that they’ve never seen so many earwigs get into their homes before. While they’re apparently innocuous enough and only get into homes inadvertently, there are so many of them that up to half a dozen a day have found their way indoors — and if you know about my relationship with large insects (hint: total entomophobia), you know that something had to be done about that. So we’ve been dusting window sills, doorways and the foundation with diatomaceous earth, which is non-toxic but nonetheless kills earwigs (eventually). Jennifer also found dozens of them hiding under bags of soil and the garbage can, which she stomped pitilessly. With any luck, we’ll get the numbers down to the point where hardly any will end up in the house. I have no idea why there are so many this year.

See Health Canada’s Earwig Pest Note.

A trip to the Indian River Reptile Zoo

Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake

Speckled Rattlesnake (Crotalus mitchellii) at the Indian River Reptile Zoo.

Thursday was Jennifer’s birthday. As it was also a provincial holiday and Quebec was closed for the day, we decided to mark it by a little trip to the Indian River Reptile Zoo, which we hadn’t visited in five years. It’s a little more than three hours each way, without stopping.

The Indian River zoo has always been a little different from other reptile zoos in Ontario. For one thing, the collection reflects the interests of the owner: if you like rattlesnakes or New World pit vipers, say, you’ll love it; if you can’t appreciate the distinction between a speckled rattlesnake, a rock rattlesnake and a black-tailed rattlesnake, you’ll probably walk around the zoo and say, “Huh, another rattlesnake.” That said, there are some interesting turtles there, as well as Gila Monsters, woma pythons and a black mamba, so if the collection’s emphases are eclectic, they’re at least different.

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Magnitude 5.0

USGS Shakemap

At 1:42 PM today, a magnitude-5.0 earthquake hit about 60 kilometres north of Ottawa. That’s not very far away, and earthquakes in this part of the world can be felt a lot further away because of the geography.

I’m not familiar with earthquakes. I first thought that a large truck had crashed into our building; Jennifer, for her part, thought that something was wrong with the boiler at her school. It was only when references to earthquakes from Ottawa residents started appearing in my Twitter feed that I clued in to what was going on. Then I jumped on Twitter and started reporting myself — yes, I totally became an xkcd comic.

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Returning to my first love

And now, an update on what I’ve been doing lately. (Which, as you will see, also ends up recapping the last 24 years of my life.)

In December, I finished my contract at Health Canada. I was asked if I’d be interested in returning some time in the new year, but I declined in a not-right-now-thanks kind of way. At the moment I’m not actively looking for another contract; having said that, if a good one came along, I’d have a hard time turning it down.

What I’m doing instead: I’m taking time off to write. And when I say write, I mean write science fiction.

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Sir George Head, OBE

It was only yesterday, when we tried out Google Street View’s new 3D mode yesterday, using the 3D glasses that came with the Coraline DVD, that I discovered that 3D has no effect on me — I can’t see it. My eyes are odd: my right eye is strongly dominant; to see through my left eye, I have to switch over to it. I see through one or the other, but I can’t really do both at the same time, which makes binocular vision a theoretical concept and depth perception a matter of blind guesswork. (This is why I could never catch a baseball.) With the 3D glasses, my left eye saw monochrome; my right eye saw both 3D layers. Jennifer, on the other hand, saw depth immediately and easily.

I suppose this sucks, but I’ve never known any other kind of vision — I don’t know what I’m missing. On the bright side, this means that there is absolutely no point to my paying extra to see 3D versions of movies. Nor is there any point in my buying, say, a binocular viewer for telescopes like this one, which would have required having two of each eyepiece. This is saving me money!

Observing sunspots

Solar observing I bought a solar filter a year and a half ago, but I had the bad luck to do so at the height of the solar minimum — i.e., I bought a filter specifically for the purpose of viewing sunspots at the point when sunspots were at their most scarce. Not only that, it was the most minimal solar minimum in nearly a century.

So every so often I would attach the filter to the telescope, point the telescope at the sun, and see if there were any spots. The technical term for what I saw was “bupkis.” In all of astronomy, there is nothing less interesting than using a solar filter to view the sun when there are no sunspots — it’s just a featureless ball.

First sunspot I had since heard that sunspots and prominences were returning as the solar cycle progressed, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to check it out for myself until yesterday, when I finally saw my first sunspot. Just one, and it wasn’t very big. Naturally, I tried to take a photo, which turned out less well than I had hoped: there was a lot of atmospheric shimmer, and it was hard to get the scope into focus with the camera attached. And I had to guess at the right exposure; I was usually too long, and therefore too bright — at 1/50th of a second, the sunspots were washed out, but I had better results at 1/250 s.

But at the very least it gave me a baseline for future attempts. Next time, I’ll try it with the focal reducer, to reduce the size of the sun’s image — it nearly filled the frame, which made it hard to center, and probably bumped up against the scope’s coma and curved field. With the reducer, I’ll have to take even shorter exposures as well.

And who knows? There might be more sunspots next time.

Victor Batzel, 1935-2009

I learned last week that Victor Batzel, one of my history professors at the University of Winnipeg, died last year. It was only a one-line notice in the University’s alumni magazine, so I did a little investigating.

Dr. Batzel died of pulmonary fibrosis on January 1, 2009 at the age of 73; he was a smoker when I knew him. He taught me philosophy of history, a required course for honours history students, in the spring of 1992, when he was wrapping up his term as department chair. Having Vic Baztel as your teacher was fun. Voluble, personable, ebullient, and most of all alive, he was a teacher first and foremost, and a damn good one, in a department full of damn good teachers. “His lecture style was highly kinetic. We joked that if you cut off his arms he wouldn’t be able to say a thing,” says the knowing obituary, which details his volunteer life as much as, if not more than, his academic accomplishments, and nails his larger-than-life personality. (See also the University’s press release.)

Not only that, you knew he gave a shit about you. It was a point he made clear in a conversation we had outside on the campus grounds, where he, chatting with someone else, pointed at me and said, “he’s our graduate program” — making the point that, at the University of Winnipeg, almost entirely an undergraduate institution, majors and honours students got the attention that only graduate students would get elsewhere. If anything, he was understating things: nowhere else did I get the faculty attention and support I got during my undergrad years from the U of W’s history professors, even when I was a Ph.D. student. Professors like Batzel — and Bailey, and Stone, and Young, all now retired — did that for us.

CPR #2816 at Smiths Falls, in 2004

CPR #2816 at Smiths Falls (2004)

Five and a half years (and two cameras) ago, I went down to Smiths Falls to watch the arrival of Canadian Pacific #2816, an H1b 4-6-4 Hudson steam locomotive built in 1930. After its restoration, CP ran it as a public relations and excursion train between 2001 and 2008; it’s been in storage since. Here, at last, are the photos from my trip to Smiths Falls on June 11, 2004, where I jostled with about a hundred other railfans as we took picture after picture of that rarity of rarities, a steam locomotive operating on a Class I main line.

(One thing I remember from that day was just how quiet a steam locomotive is: at rest, it’s basically a big kettle, pinging away. They’re much quieter than diesels.)


I’m quite susceptible to positive feedback; when I get it, I’m encouraged to keep at whatever it is I’ve gotten it for. I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback for my astrophotography. On Flickr, the most popular photos I took in 2009 were, by far, this shot of the Moon and this attempt at star trails photography. Even if I’ve been posting my photos to all the relevant astrophotography groups, the resulting feedback has been gratifying — and maybe a little surprising: I didn’t think they were all that good. I’ve seen better, and want to do better (which, you will agree, is the right attitude to take if you want to get good at something).

Framed This year’s Christmas gifts were in the same vein. First, that Moon photo was surreptitiously, printed, framed and presented to me as a gift. It now hangs above my piano. And second, Jennifer presented me with a Sky-Watcher eight-inch Newtonian reflector, with the intent of my using it for astrophotography. It’s not a true astrograph, and may need a new focuser and a Paracorr to really excel at that task, but from all accounts it’s a very good scope with a great bang for the buck, and it should be light enough for the HEQ5 Pro mount (I’ll find out soon enough, probably in the spring).

I’m getting the distinct impression that I should keep at the astrophotography.

Cats and snakes in the wild

Bob writes, “I just heard the debate on KQED’s Forum regarding the Sharp Park Golf Course. One of the speakers said that cats may be the principle killer of the [San Francisco Garter] Snake. Do you know if this is a valid statement and if so what is being done to stop the cats?”

Bob’s referring to the debate over Sharp Park, a golf course owned by the City of San Francisco (but is located in nearby Pacifica) that serves as habitat for the endangered San Francisco garter; I covered the story on here and here.

But he’s also talking about the impact that feral and domestic cats have on local wildife populations, which has been an increasing concern among conservationists. No matter how tame, cats are born hunters; if left outside, they will do what they do best. And with 100 million cats in the United States alone, that adds up to a lot of dead wildlife. From the fact sheet Facts on Cats and Wildlife: A Conservation Dilemma:

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Better photos, worse photos

Doofus 1

Here’s a picture of Doofus, taken while I was messing around with my new lens. Not that the AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D is itself new per se: it first came out in 1988, and is old enough that its instruction sheet refers only to film cameras. But it’s relatively inexpensive (and even at that I got a reasonably good deal on a new lens via eBay) and it generates really good results. I’ve been thinking about a new lens for a while, but it’s taken me a while to make up my mind about which one to get first. Looking forward to taking pictures of something other than our cats with it.

Meanwhile, I’ve also been using the Canon PowerShot SD 780 IS (see previous entry), and not always when I should — i.e., at home, indoors, without a flash, in low light. Let me tell you: four years shooting nothing but digital SLRs really makes you forget how much noise is in an image generated by a compact camera with a tiny sensor in low light with high ISOs. Really, it’s an outdoor camera. I have to remind myself of that.

A health update

Taking acetaminophen on top of naproxen (see previous entry) is having some effect. It isn’t making the flare go away, nor is it reducing the inflammation. But, to use a metaphor, if my pain was a particularly noisy neighbour, what acetaminophen does is add a layer or two of soundproofing: it doesn’t make the noise go away, but it does make it harder to hear and easier to bear. I’m functional, if nothing else, even though the current flare continues unabated.

I finally got a tetanus vaccine this morning, a mere six years after my doctor asked me to get one. Let me tell you, getting a vaccine is bloody difficult in this province. Doctors don’t administer them in their offices; instead, you’re supposed to go to a CLSC. Except that Shawville doesn’t have a CLSC, because it has a hospital — and the hospital won’t administer a tetanus vaccine unless you’ve gone and done something that requires it now. The nearest CLSCs are in Bryson and Quyon — 15 and 22 kilometres away, respectively — and they only do vaccinations on days when I’m at work. Grumble, frustration. In the end, I got the jab from the nurse at Jennifer’s school. To have the health care system make so difficult something that my doctor has been insisting on for years is downright surreal.

Talking about my drugs

My drugs. Clockwise from top left: naproxen, acetaminophen, codeine, pantoprazole

I’ve had ankylosing spondylitis for more than 12 years. In all that time, why didn’t anyone tell me that I could take other analgesics on top of my anti-inflammatory medications?

Some background. I first started showing the symptoms of AS in the spring of 1997, and was diagnosed at the end of the year. Before my diagnosis, I made do with ibuprofen; after my diagnosis, I went on high-dose naproxen, which made the symptoms — the pain, stiffness and inflammation — manageable most of the time. From mid-2000 to early 2001, feeling experimental, I tried a few other NSAIDscelecoxib, indomethacin, diclofenac — as well as sulfasalazine, but they were less effective: celecoxib wasn’t nearly strong enough; indomethacin did funny things to my head; diclofenac did funny things to my liver. So I went back to naproxen, the side effects of which — heartburn and ringing in the ears — were tolerable. In 2003, my doctor added pantoprazole, a proton pump inhibitor that practically eliminated the heartburn (something the misoprostol I’d been taking prior to that never could do).

So things stood until last week. If the naproxen didn’t always vanquish the pain and inflammation, it worked well enough most of the time. Flares came, frequently in the spring and fall, and they were frequently awful, but I managed to manage. I kept telling myself that while the dosage is constant, the disease isn’t.

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Doofus encounters memory foam

“Well,” said a friend upon watching the above video, “that’s one way to keep the cats off the bed!”

(We added a memory foam topper to our new king-sized futon bed. Hilarity, as you might have inferred, ensued.)

The consequence of a short summer

Healthwise, it’s been a tough summer. Those of you in the Ottawa area will ask, “What summer?” That’s exactly the problem.

Those of you familiar with my condition know that, like many people with rheumatic conditions, I do worse in the spring and fall and better in the summer and winter: it’s the transitions that kill me. (For those of you just tuning in, I’ve had ankylosing spondylitis since 1997.) This year, the transitions have been lengthened dramatically; we’ve had very little hot, summer weather and quite a bit of cooler, wetter weather. For me, spring lasted until early July; the fall started early last week, when I went back into flare. (I’m still in flare now, and it’s a doozy; I’ve been missing work.) All told, I’ve had about six weeks of summer in the rheumatic sense — i.e., warm and relatively pain- and inflammation-free. If I’m right about this, the fall is going to be brutal.

I’ve also considered the possibility that the disease is getting worse, or that my drugs are getting less effective at dealing with it. But it’s very difficult to compare pain and stiffness levels; there are too many other variables to take into account, and memory is not reliable with respect to past pain. It’s quite likely that it has often been this difficult. It was probably easier not to notice when I wasn’t working a day job.

Star trails over Shawville

Star trails over Shawville

Tonight I made my first attempt at photographing star trails, and I think it turned out reasonably well. I was kind of hoping that since I was shooting during the purported peak of the Perseid meteor shower and pointing my camera at the shower’s radiant, I might catch a few meteors streaking a straight line across the camera’s field of view. Alas, none was bright enough to leave a mark on my camera’s sensor. Not that I’m disappointed with the result by any means, though it did take a bit of work to get it (26 manually timed exposures layered in Photoshop, all of which taking place past my bedtime on a work night).

My new glasses

New glasses So I finally picked up my new glasses a week ago today, my first new pair in — get this — 15 years. My old glasses were so old, uncomfortable, out-of-prescription and unfashionable that I was embarrassed to wear them unless absolutely necessary (i.e., when driving). These ones are smaller and considerably more up-to-date (dig the half frames), but it’s taken some time to get used to them: in terms of the new prescription, which is considerably stronger; in terms of how I look in them, which is quite different; and in that I’m trying to wear them all the time. Fortunately, disinterested observers seem to agree that I look good in them, but I imagine that damn near anything would look good in comparison; the old ones were pretty bad by now.

You will no longer be surprised to learn that I was muttering about getting new glasses two years ago. It does seem to take me a while to look after the personal shite.

Previously: Eyes and eyeglasses.

Three views of the Moon

The skies were finally clear enough for astronomy last night, but with the Moon almost full, it was too bright to do any observing or tripod-based astrophotography of anything but the Moon (or Jupiter, which was up later, but by then the skies were hazy). So I photographed the Moon again. But this time I tried a few new things with my lunar photos.

The Moon (Aug. 2, 2009)
The Moon in colour (Aug. 2, 2009)
The Moon in B&W (Aug. 2, 2009)

For one thing, I increased the image’s sharpness. This is apparently considered essential in lunar photography: it really draws out the Moon’s topography. In Photoshop the tool to use would be Unsharp Mask, and when I was farting around in Photoshop CS4 yesterday (the way I learn things), I tried this out on some of my old lunar photos. But in the end I made use of the Definition slider in Aperture, which achieves similar results. The final image (top right), with Definition set to maximum, is indeed a good deal sharper than the original, without too much contrast or too many artifacts.

Once work on that photo was complete, I produced two variants, each of which with only one setting changed. In the second image (middle right), I pumped up the saturation — or rather, I maxed out the Vibrancy slider in Aperture. Vibrancy has been described as Aperture’s “smart saturation.” The end result is similar to my photo of March 9 (which also made use of Vibrancy), enhancing the Moon’s subtle colours.

The drawback is that colour fringing is also enhanced (see the north-to-northeast edge of the Moon), an effect of shooting through a refractor rather than a reflector. My apochromatic refractor is a great telescope, but it’s still an inexpensive doublet (it cost me $680 last fall, but the price has since gone up and it now runs around $830 Canadian; Orion’s EON 80mm ED is the same scope). When dealing with a bright object like the Moon, there’s going to be a touch of chromatic aberration. If I want none at all, I’m going to have to shell out serious coin for a much more expensive refractor, or shoot through a reflector or catadioptric telescope.

But I digress. The third image (bottom right) gets around the chromatic aberration by going monochrome — using only the red channel. Refractors’ chromatic aberration occurs because different colours have different focal points; since blue is the colour that has trouble reaching focus, going to just the red channel should get the sharpest image possible, I think. Besides, I like using single colour channels for black and white photography: it yields interesting results.

(You’ll have to click through to get a better look at these images; you won’t be able to tell very much from these thumbnails.)

More flooding

The basement flooded again last night, thanks to a heavy downpour that backed up the town’s sewers. Almost every unit in our building was affected. (The landlord is in contact with the town about it.)

It happened while we were in Ottawa: our neighbours called us to let us know; we aborted our plans and headed home (through the storm that caused the flood, which was exciting) to deal with the mess. Which actually wasn’t all that bad. For one thing, our neighbours had, in our absence, gathered up as much as they could from the basement floor, which had around an inch or so of water. For another, after our last flood, three years ago, we made sure that anything directly on the floor down there was either in waterproof containers, could handle an inch or two of water, or was eminently disposable, so there was no real damage to speak of.

If you can believe it, we shovelled out the water — we used the snow shovel to fill buckets of water. It was more effective than anything else we had on hand.

The landlord will probably either replace the basement drain’s valve or stop it up completely: more water comes up from that drain than has ever come out of it.

My self-restraint is unstoppable

Over the past 24 hours, I have decided against buying several things that I can afford, would enjoy, and can make a case for using, but I just don’t need them badly enough right now. So, for now at least, while it would be fun to get some more camera lenses, a MacBook Pro, or an iPhone (which many of my friends seem to be getting), I’m going to hold off from buying any of them. There are scenarios in which each of these purchases would be justified, but they haven’t come to pass yet — I shouldn’t jump the gun. My bank account thanks me for allowing it to remain flush for a little while longer.

I will, however, be splurging on astrophotography gear (despite the fact that clear skies have been rarer than hen’s teeth lately). I have to have some fun — and astrophotography is something I’m really, really keen on right now.

Eyes and eyeglasses

My retinas

My retinas: let me show you them. I had an eye exam on June 16, my first since 1994; my optometrist just sent me the images from the retinal screening. Apparently my retinas are healthy. My vision, on the other hand, has gotten a little worse over the past 15 years: it’s now +2.50/-0.75 — worse than the +1.50/-0.50 it was 15 years ago. Yes, you read right: I’m nearsighted in one eye, farsighted in the other; I believe I already told you that.

So now it’s time to replace my hideously beat-up, uncomfortable, unfashionable and now wrong eyeglasses with something new and up-to-date and suitable. Damned if I can figure out what looks good on me; everyone’s wearing these glasses with small, rectangular lenses and ginormous frames, which I’m just not used to. Kids these days, et cetera.

Gear for photographing the Moon

Photography gear

If you’re at all curious about the equipment I’ve been using to shoot my recent Moon photos, click on the above photo to see the annotations on its Flickr page.

From left to right: a DR-6 right-angle finder for Nikon digital SLRs, which is mounted on my Nikon D90 digital SLR, to which is attached a T-ring for a Nikon F-mount, which allows the camera to connect to my Televue 2× Powermate with its T-ring adapter, which, in turn, is inserted into a two-inch extension tube, which is inserted into the focuser of my Sky-Watcher Equinox 80 apochromatic refractor.

All of which is completely unwieldy on my now surprisingly flimsy Manfrotto tripod. Time for a better mount. For lunar photography, a computerized equatorial mount is overkill; I can do this with a sturdy alt-azimuth mount that would normally be used for observing. Candidates include Astro-Tech’s Voyager, Orion’s VersaGo and Vixen’s Porta II; heavier-duty possibilities include Orion’s SkyView AZ, Sky-Watcher’s HDAZ, and similar mounts. Time to poke around.

The Moon, magnified

I first tried photographing the Moon with my new 2× Powermate on May 8, but my 80-mm Sky-Watcher Equinox refractor couldn’t reach focus with the Powermate. It needed more focus travel, apparently. (The Powermate’s special T-ring adapter1 hadn’t shown up yet, so I connected my camera to the Powermate using my existing T-ring adapter and the Powermate’s two-inch eyepiece adapter.) I had to make do with this shot instead, taken without the Powermate.

I had the Powermate’s T-ring adapter on order at Focus Scientific (great people; shop there); I picked it up on Monday, along with a two-inch extension tube, which I hoped would allow me to achieve focus with all this gear. I got to test this combination out on Thursday night. As you can see, it worked:

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Employment update

Three weeks in, and I’ve decided to go part-time again — which means that I’ll be working three days a week instead of five, but for a longer period of time. (I did this for six months in 2008.) I’ll be able to juggle my multiple responsibilities a little better this way. And also not collapse from exhaustion.

Gainful employment

Today was my first day back at work at Health Canada, doing the same job I did there between July 2007 and June 2008. They called me a couple of weeks ago, wondering whether I’d be interested in coming back. A quick look at my bank balance and the recent performance of my website revenues (Google AdSense is down by half from what it was two years ago) suggested that, yes, I’d be very much interested in coming back. So off I went.

It’s been almost 11 months since I was last there, and it’s almost like I never left. It’s surprisingly good to be back.

My blogging rate is about to take another nosedive, though. Just sayin’.

Cat vs. paper

I know some cats like to shred rolls of toilet paper and paper towels, but the Doofus is particularly fanatic about it. You cannot leave any toilet paper or paper towel roll out anywhere in this house, for any length of time, before he silently and methodically tears it apart. None of my cats has ever done this before, so I’m insufficiently trained, but Jennifer’s cat in Baie-Comeau, Fritz, did this as well. Every so often (like today), I slip up and have to clean up the confetti.

Astronomical addenda

I forgot to mention that, during the high school observing session, I made one hell of a misidentification. The kids pointed to a bright star in the east, which I immediately dismissed as a plane. Except it didn’t move. It turned out to be Arcturus, the second-brightest star in the northern sky. I should have gotten that, but in my defence, my usual observing sites have obstructed views of the east. I don’t normally see anything east of Spica at this time of year.

Setting up for that session was much easier than I thought it would be: driving to the site and bringing stuff from the car in several trips is a hell of a lot less effort than trying to carry everything in your arms or on your back over several hundred metres in one trip. Who knew? Anyway, considering that we’ve had several offers of open, rural sites to observe from, car-based observing looks like a viable option. Which means that telescopes that would ordinarily be far too heavy to lug to the nearby field are back on the menu. Which means that Dobsonian telescopes — big, lots of aperture, not very expensive — are back on the menu.

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The real surprise is that I actually have readers

Imagine my surprise. Last Saturday afternoon, as I’m sitting in the car and just about to start it, there was a tap on my windshield: it was long-time reader Moira, with whom I’ve exchanged e-mail but who I’ve never met in person before, saying hello. She’s been following this blog closely enough, and knows the area well enough, to recognize where I live, and spotted us on our way out as she drove by. I’m afraid my first reaction was to try to crawl under the clutch pedal; I’m not used to the idea of having a fan base, and Moira was the first (non-media) individual to approach me in person as a result of my online writing. So I got just a little bit self-conscious, which I’m wont to do when faced with, you know, attention. Jennifer, meanwhile, was enjoying every minute (even though she reacts to attention in roughly the same way; I’ll get her for that).

Holiday photos

My grandfather's 90th

What does it say about me that I’m only now posting photos from our trip to Calgary over the holidays? (It’s even worse when you consider that in my case, three months actually isn’t that bad.) Anyway, here they are: 30 photos of my family, all wrapped up in a nice, tidy Flickr photoset. (I’m not in them, as usual: the side benefit of being the photographer.) The photos fall into three categories: Christmas morning at my grandparents’ condo; my grandfather’s 90th birthday party the following day; and a few shots at my brother’s place the evening before we left. That my niece features prominently in these photos should not be a surprise.

(We also visited the Tyrrell Museum in Drumheller during that trip; the photos from that visit are in a separate photoset.)

Caturday: It’s tussle time!

Tussling cats 3

I know what you’re thinking: “Enough with the astronomy bullshit, Jon. Give us some goddamn cat pictures!” Well, okay. I took a bunch of pictures yesterday of our gruesome twosome, who decided to have fun wrestling on the kitchen floor. They tussle all the time — it’s one reason why there are clumps of cat hair all over the house — but I hadn’t had my camera ready to catch them in the act. I wonder why they looked so guilty afterward.

The eclipse of 1979

1979 eclipse (photo by Matthew Cole) My first major astronomical experience took place 30 years ago: the total solar eclipse of February 26, 1979. Some people spend thousands of dollars to see a solar eclipse; I was lucky: the eclipse came to me. But to see it, I had to stay home from school that morning. My father’s recollection is that for some nonsensical reason or other, the schools were going to keep the kids inside during totality. Screw that, said my parents, who had three science degrees between them. So I saw the last few seconds of totality from my front porch.

Meanwhile, a lot of people came to Winnipeg in February to see it, which as an expatriate Winnipegger I will admit is not the best time of year to visit: see recollections at Behind Blue Skies and Regenaxe. Here’s the April 1979 issue of the newsletter of the Kingston chapter of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, which contained several eclipse reports, including one by David Levy.

(Photo of the 1979 eclipse by Matthew Cole.)

The Moon again

The Moon

Took another try at photographing the Moon last night, when it was almost full. This one is better than the last one, I think.

This time I shot without the focal reducer, which presented a larger image to the camera, and tried focusing with the D90’s Live View. This didn’t work so well, because a nearly full Moon is very, very bright: it was washed out in the LCD. Because it was so bright, this shot was 1/1600 second at f/6.25 (although I ended up increasing the exposure in Aperture on this one, even shots taken at 1/4000 weren’t bad).

Photographing the Moon

The Moon

Last night, I spent some time taking pictures of the Moon. I think I managed to get a pretty good shot, don’t you? (Click through for some boring technical details.)

This was my first attempt at astrophotography with a bunch of new equipment, including the camera (my Nikon D90) and the telescope (my Sky-Watcher Equinox 80), but also my first attempt at connecting the camera to the telescope via a prime focus adapter (thanks for the machining, Nathan), and my first attempt at focusing through the camera’s right-angle finder. All things considered, it turned out well; the only drawback was that when the focal reducer is added to the mix (a necessity with the adapter), the Moon is pretty small in a short-focal-length refractor, which made for a lot of cropping on the computer.

Shrinking ad revenues redux

I’ve been crunching the numbers since this post. In terms of Google AdSense revenues, February 2009 was my worst month since May 2005. I’m now making about half as much as I did two years ago.

My average daily income from AdSense declined while I worked for Health Canada full-time beginning in the summer of 2007, stabilized a bit when I went part-time in January 2008, and rebounded during the summer of 2008. Since last fall, it’s absolutely plummeted — a function not so much of my posting frequency, I think, but of the recession’s impact on the online advertising market.

Looks like I’m going to have to watch my pennies a little more closely from here on in, to make sure I stay out of debt. That, or I’m going to have to take on another contract sooner rather than later.

What I can do to improve my sites’ revenues is something I’m still working on.

Sex, drugs, GICs

Jennifer and I were in Renfrew yesterday, buying GICs from our respective banks for our RRSPs. Now, I’ve had an RRSP since 1996, but I’ve never bought a GIC before; I’ve been all about equity and asset-allocation mutual funds so far. But my mutual funds lost a third of their value over the past year. (Ouch!) Suddenly, my bank’s special 3¼-percent rate on a 30-month GIC doesn’t look so bad.

It’s not that I’m afraid of putting money into the market right now; it’s that I’d much rather make small monthly investments and take advantage of dollar cost averaging rather than make a lump-sum investment that might decline in value precipitously. I’m not entirely sure the market is done falling yet.

One advantage of being a total hermit all the time

Last weekend was an intensely social affair — had my birthday party on Sunday — that left some of my introverted friends overwhelmed and looking for a quiet place to recharge. I, on the other hand, had no problems at all and had a wonderful time all the way through, despite the fact that I am officially the Biggest Introvert Out There™, and have a long track record of seeking the exits when I’m overwhelmed by people. My theory is that this is because, unlike most people, I’m utterly by myself during the week, in my home office, with only Jennifer to keep me company on weeknights. By the time the weekend comes along, I’m fully recharged and ready for a bit of human contact — whereas if I were working in an office again, I’d probably be all frazzled and peopled-out by Friday afternoon. I usually was, when I did.

Photos from the Royal Tyrrell Museum


One of the highlights from our December trip to visit my family in Calgary was the side trip we took to Drumheller to visit the Royal Tyrrell Museum, which just might be the best dinosaur museum on the planet. It was my third trip to this museum, but I hadn’t been there for at least 16 years (and probably more). Since that time they’d added a few new exhibits frontloaded before visitors encountered the older museum; for the life of me I cannot imagine why the new material would be heavy on the T. rex and raptor side of things.

In any event, I’ve finally finished going through and uploading the photos; here’s the set. (Jennifer also took some photos with the D40; they’re available here.) Enjoy!

More fun at Little Ray’s

Black-tailed rattlesnake

More photos have been added to my Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo set; we visited the zoo again on December 20, 2008 (yes, it’s once again taken me forever to process and post photos). Highlights include Jennifer playing with tarantulas and tokay geckos, Nicole playing with reticulated pythons and albino skunks, and tortoises, um, playing with each other. (Interesting thing about that last one: both tortoises were male.) Enjoy!

Questions and answers

I make a rare appearance on LiveJournal to participate in one of the less-silly memes that propagate there: a friend asks me five questions, ranging from food to photography, and from snakes to science fiction; I answer them.

Jennifer’s in on the fun as well: her answers to different questions posed by that same friend are here.

On a related note, I’ve started something on that I’ve been meaning to start for years: a questions-and-answers section. People write me with garter snake questions all the time; if they’re okay with it (I have a checkbox on the form), I will now post their question along with my answer. Allows my e-mail reply to do double duty: they get an answer, I get another post out of it, other readers get more information. The situation could not be more full of win.

When panic follows pain

When the pain abated last week (albeit only temporarily: it came roaring back Monday), I started to panic. Which isn’t the reaction you expect when you’re feeling better!

It took me a while to figure out why, but here’s what I’ve come up with:

Every time I go into flare, I fall behind. I do my best to get as much done as I can under the circumstances while I’m hurting, but I inevitably get much less done than I would if I were in less pain. While I can generally get back to my usual production levels when I get better, there’s no way I can make up for the lost productivity. So, with each flare, I fall further and further behind; when I feel better, I’m overwhelmed by how much I now have to do, and freak out.

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On a scale of one to five

Painwise, it’s been a tough week. Let me explain how in this way:

Over the years, I’ve developed a rough scale to indicate how much pain and stiffness I’m dealing with at a given moment. Right now that scale looks something like this:

  1. Barely noticeable.
  2. Definitely noticeable, but not enough to prevent me from doing anything.
  3. Debilitating enough to prevent me from going to work.
  4. Debilitating enough to affect my ability to think; it hurts to breathe.
  5. In addition to the above, now I’m having difficulty walking.

Most of the time I sit at a two, with regular trips to one, three and four. Good days vary between one and two, flares between two and four. But on Monday I called a five, for the first time in years, and certainly the first time since developing this version of the scale. It was bad enough to make a flight of stairs intimidating. Suffice to say I didn’t get out at all this week, though I’m doing better now.

What happened? It might have been the sudden plunge in temperature — I guess a fast drop of 30 degrees will do that to me. I don’t normally expect a sudden and severe flare in the middle of winter, which is normally my best time, especially a bitterly cold winter like the one we’ve had this year. Go figure.

Wedding photos

Dave and Sarah's wedding (Dec. 2007)

It only took me a year or so, but I finally processed photos from the wedding of Jennifer’s brother before our trip to Calgary. (The wedding itself took place on December 28, 2007.) The happy couple got a DVD of the photos in time for Christmas; the rest of you can see lower-resolution versions here.

Flying to Calgary

We’re in Calgary for the holidays. Our trip on Monday was not without incident: the flight itself was fine, but our plane left Ottawa four hours late and we spent nearly an hour on the tarmac in Calgary before we could get to a gate. It turns out we got off easy: people trying to get to and from the Maritimes, for example, had a much worse time of it. Once I saw hundreds of people on the floor at the departure gates in Calgary at nearly two in the morning, I realized that this was bigger than our little flight. Neither Ottawa nor Calgary was directly impacted by the weather, but virtually every plane was delayed by weather elsewhere, as the entire system backed up. We were lucky, all things considered. At least we got where we were going.


It’s been strange, reconnecting with old friends on Facebook: for the most part, the friends I’ve reconnected with are still friends with the friends they had when I saw them more regularly. It’s an odd feeling, like coming back to the place you grew up after a long absence to discover that not much has changed when you were away. In the past 14 years, I’ve moved a lot — four different provinces. I’ve moved in and out of a lot of people’s lives: new friends I’m happy to meet, old friends I’m sad to have lost.

My five years in Shawville have been the longest stretch of time in one place since I moved out, and yet this place doesn’t seem like “home” to me. But, unlike so many friends from the Maritimes, there isn’t any “back home” waiting for me elsewhere; my family’s moved a lot too. My life does not stand still; I can’t go home again. I’d better get used to the ground moving beneath my feet, and find my groundedness in something other than place.

Beard or no beard?

Me without and with beard

I shaved my beard off for Halloween; it was the first time in seven years that I’d gone beardless. Those who’d never seen me without one — Jennifer, for example — were kind of shocked. So was I: the last time I was clean-shaven, I was about 50 pounds lighter. After I posted a photo to my Facebook profile. friends began calling for me to lose the beard for good. Of course, I’d already begun growing it back: the beard makes me look a little less round-faced (two words: “Commander Riker”) and, well, shaving makes me bleed.

So, compare and contrast: above left, me immediately after I shaved the beard off; above right, me and my beard, two weeks later. (Both immediately after the shower, so my hair is wet and scruffy.) So, what do you think? Beard or no beard?

On LiveJournal

So help me, I actually have a LiveJournal account — not so much for posting entries there, because, you know, I already have a blog or six, but to read and comment on friends’ journals there. If you’re on LiveJournal and I find you — I’m very sneaky that way — you will probably get a friend request from me. Feel free to send me one yourself.

Back to the salt mines

I went back to work this week — a six-week contract editing and writing briefing notes, correspondence and memoranda for Public Works and Government Services Canada.

This wasn’t my original plan, which was to use the fall — or at least September — to get caught up on a number of things that had accumulated during my year-long stint at Health Canada but that couldn’t get finished over the summer. But money’s money, and the gig is a good fit. And since freelancers can’t predict when the next contract will come, back to work I go.

Still, a lot of things left unfinished, including a whole whack of photographs to process, buying new glasses, tons of blogging, a major redesign of (which I’ve been ignoring for months even while it’s been drawing thousands of page views a day) and a book version of the garter snake care guide. These will simply have to wait until after this contract is done; that’ll be mid-October unless they extend me, which does tend to happen.

Fun facts about my teeth

I have no fillings. This used to be a matter of some pride for me, except for one small detail. It’s mostly because I haven’t been to the dentist in 12 years. And “no fillings” is not the same as “no cavities”: the last time I was checked — back in 1996! — I had one or two very small cavities that, in dentists’ opinion, were too small to drill at the time, but they’d drill if they got worse.

In the intervening 12 years, I either had a dental plan, but life was too chaotic (graduate school, moving from city to city) to see a dentist, or I didn’t have a dental plan and was afraid of what it would cost. (Knowing, of course, that the longer I put it off, the more likely the dentist would find something, and the more expensive it would be. And a healthy — or in this case, unhealthy — dose of procrastination was certainly involved here.)

Yesterday, I finally got off my ass and saw the local dentist, who, after the hygienist had her way with a decade-plus of tartar buildup and sensitive gums, found a total of four cavities, which will receive fillings in a month or so. So much for 36 years of dodging the dental drill. Still no dental plan, but I’d set aside more than enough money for it.

Not that I’m unfamiliar with dental work. In addition to braces, I’ve had a total of 11 teeth pulled: four eye teeth along with three baby teeth that had yet to fall out, as part of the orthodontic work, as well as my wisdom teeth. (Remind me to tell you the story about how I got my wisdom teeth out on the same day that O. J. went on his slow-speed chase along the Interstate, and how I thought the news coverage of that event was a drug-induced hallucination. Me, the next morning: “You mean that actually happened?”)

Caturday and the passage of time

Snuggling cats

In honour of Caturday, here’s a recent picture, taken by Jennifer, of Doofus, who continues to grow, and Goober, who is merely enormous. He’s catching up, as you can see.

Speaking of cats, Jennifer got a strange e-mail the other day. It went like this (typos intact):

Hello I am sorry to hear that your meow passed away. Please do not feed any of your other cats choclate. The same thing can happen to dogs if you feed them choclate goods. Unfourtanly the cat wouldn’t know any diffrent. It is quite possable that your cat has pased away due to the cookie. You can consult your vet to ask what choclate can do to a cat or dog for a clear reasion why. Since you in to since you would under stand the ingreadent that would effect the pet. sorry once again.

Nice, eh? “Sorry about your cat dying. By the way, it’s all your fault.” I don’t think you can find a better definition of asshole out there.

But here’s the thing. Our boy Brian (that’s his name) is referring to this picture of Maya appearing to eat a chocolate chip cookie. The problem for his nasty little theory is that it was taken in November 2004. Maya died in March 2007. It’s kind of ridiculous to argue that chocolate chip cookies are so toxic to cats that a single bite can kill them — but that it’ll take two and a half years to take effect. Asshat.

This is an example of something I’ve been noticing lately about some of the e-mail I get about my sites. No matter how old a blog entry or a page is, some people write in as though it went up yesterday — there’s no sense, in other words, that any time has passed. To take another example, the Ringneck Diary is five years old, but I still get e-mail from people who write in as though it’s current and ongoing. The present participle, in other words.

I wonder if I need to make things more clear. But then, an awareness of the passage of time is not our boy Brian’s main problem. Tact comes to mind. Decency. And, you know, literacy.

At the Canadian Museum of Nature

Daspletosaurus torosus (skull)

Jennifer and I paid a visit to the Canadian Museum of Nature last month. My photos: let me show you them. The focus of the photos is on the new Talisman Energy Fossil Gallery, which is quite a bit different from the old fossil exhibit, and the special Ice Age Mammals exhibit, which was smaller than expected.

Some quick points about the visit:

  1. The Museum was only half open; the rest is being renovated. The half we were in had been renovated first, I think. It was hard getting around, especially from floor to floor.
  2. My comments regarding children at the Biodome are equally applicable: museums are turning into day cares.
  3. After processing a whole whack of photos taken with the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 prime (see previous entry), I’ve noticed that the lens suffers from a certain amount of chromatic aberration, at least on blown highlights when wide open.

At the Biodome

At the Biodome this afternoon (I’m in Montreal for the weekend), I came to the following two conclusions:

  1. The presence of entirely too many children emphasizes the problem with public education facilities like libraries, museums, zoos and suchlike: anything to do with education — and especially science — is seen as for children only. As though adults, once grown up, have but to sit at home and cultivate their ignorance, and only through their offspring are they allowed to expose themselves to knowledge.
  2. Digital cameras are ruining everything — and I’m as guilty of this as anyone. Everyone was crammed against the railing or the glass, camera, video camera or cameraphone in hand, as we jostled to take our precious photos. We don’t visit any more; we’ve turned ourselves into photographers on assignment. It’s rather risible to see people try to take photos in dark rooms with cameraphones and pocket cameras under a no-flash rule; I was using an f/1.4 prime lens at ISO 1600 with as slow a shutter speed as I thought I could get away with, and I’m 50-50 as to whether any of them will turn out.

Any photos that turn out will be processed once I’m back home; there’s no way I’m working on 400 photos on this Asus Eee PC.

About our new car

Jennifer and our new car

So we picked up our new car last week: a 2004 Subaru Forester with about 71,000 km on it.

We had decided to buy a new car some time ago. Not only was our 1998 Mazda Protégé, with 211,000 km on the odometer, growing rust, Quebec’s new law mandating snow tires comes into effect this winter — no sense buying new tires for an aging car.

We’ve been doing our homework for a while; our original thought was a small wagon — we decided that we needed cargo space — and our working theory was a new Toyota Matrix or Pontiac Vibe. In the end, however, we decided to buy used again. We wanted a Forester all along, I think, but it was too expensive new. This one presented itself, and we leapt at it. A Forester is less fuel efficient than a Matrix, but most of our driving is highway driving, and we drive less than 20,000 km a year, which is nothing for country folk: I carpool and Jennifer walks to work.

It seems to be in pretty good shape — better, in fact, than the Mazda was when we bought it five years ago. I’m hoping to get seven years’ use out of it. And for something marketed first as an SUV and now as a “crossover,” it drives like the jacked-up compact car it essentially is — which is to say, surprisingly nicely.

I also like the fact that “Subaru” is the Japanese name for the Pleiades. Dig the astronomy reference.

Where the wild things are

As I mentioned two years ago, we get a lot of animals visiting us, and the bird feeder, which Jennifer has reinstated, still doesn’t hurt. So far this spring, we’ve seen a lot of birds, including grackles, woodpeckers and chickadees; and there’s also a groundhog who seems to have made a home between two front porches in our building.

I’ve created a Flickr photoset to document our visitors. For the most part, these photos were taken through our living room window, with my 55-200mm lens, and with pretty good results, considering.

Caturday: kittens and snakes

Cat and snake

When people find out we have both cats and snakes, they ask whether the two kinds of animals get along. If the snakes ever got out — and I haven’t had an escape in almost six years — the cats would almost certainly make quick work of them. But through the glass, it’s a little different.

Kittens are extremely interested in snakes, and will examine them at close range. Goober, when young, sat on a lot of cage lids, which required us to upgrade them to something stronger (he broke the 50-gallon tank lid, which is now held together with fishing line; fortunately, the box turtle it now houses is not much of an escape risk). And snakes that have never once bitten a human being, such as Trouser (our male anerythristic Corn Snake) and the Baird’s Rat Snake, were striking at him as he watched. After a while, though, he grew out of it; adult cats (at least the ones we’ve had) aren’t as interested.

But now it’s Doofus’s turn to harass and bother the snakes, who are now freaking out at him

’Tis but a scratch

So, the Doofus was de-nutted on Wednesday. Didn’t seem to slow him down any: by the time I saw him that evening, he was just as psycho as he normally is, if a bit wobblier. He’s still a playing, bouncing machine. I guess just being a kitten has more of an impact than whether or not he owns a pair of testicularities.

In our neighbourhood

At home today, thanks to heavy snow. An SQ officer stopped by this morning: Atkinson’s, the bar across the lane from us, was broken into held up last night. Since the ATV theft from Bean’s a couple of years ago, the restaurant next door has been broken into a couple of times, and Bean’s was robbed again over the Christmas holidays (snowmobiles that time). Homes don’t get broken into in the middle of the night because they’re usually, um, occupied, and during the day our neighbours watch out for one another, so I’m not terribly worried. Also, we don’t have cigarettes, significant quantities of alcohol, or ATVs. It’s still a little disconcerting to be living right next door to what is apparently the high-crime area of Shawville.

(Updated March 6 to reflect the fact that it wasn’t a break-in, it was an armed robbery; also added the thing about the snowmobile theft.)

Photo delays

I’m behind on posting photos. This is nothing new. In fact, the following photos have been waiting for me to get my act together and post them to my Flickr account:

  • Photos from CPR #2816’s visit to Smiths Falls, Ontario in June 2004
  • Photos from the Shawville Fair last September
  • Photos from the wedding of Jennifer’s brother last December

I leave it to you to figure out which one will get me killed if I don’t hurry up.

Cut his balls off, quick!

For Caturday, a couple of items about the new kitten, which — in case you haven’t heard — we’ve named “Doofus.” (“Spazz” was already taken by the female blue-striped garter snake.)

  • He’s more than doubled his weight since his arrival.
  • He attacks shadows on the wall. I’m tempted to take a picture of him in mid-air and LOLcat it thusly: “Ranger cat fights da shadowz.”
  • We wake up with strange and unexplained scratches. Devious cat is not to be trusted.
  • He set off a minor panic earlier this week when he peed on the guest bed. We’re crossing our fingers that it was a case of overexcited loss of bladder control.
  • He goes in to get fixed on March 19. Given the foregoing, that cannot happen soon enough. Snip snip, settle down.

A bleary-eyed update

Working part-time hasn’t helped much in terms of feeling tired, but that’s given the circumstances lately. Work is, of course, busy, and sometimes I think I’m doing a five-day job in a three-day span. The commutes are still long, especially when it snows, which is happening on a weekly basis nowadays. But my downtime is pretty busy, too. Normally I’m blogging, but not this past week.

First came the Chinese New Year dinner party last Friday, for which I was underprepared: I spent most of the party chopping raw shrimp and other ingredients, but it turned out well enough, and the guests were well and happily fed.

At the same time, it was reported that the Pontiac MRC — the county government — had proposed a uniform animal-control by-law for all 18 municipalities, including Shawville. I had to lay hands on a draft of the by-law, read it, freak out about it, figure out what to do about it, and draft a reply. I spent last Monday writing a letter to the mayor of Shawville, which Jennifer dropped off at the town hall on Tuesday. It’s four pages long. It has footnotes. I’ll post it at some point.

So even though I’m working part-time and I haven’t posted an entry to The Map Room for a week and a half, I’m pretty pooped. Never a chance to catch up on my rest, always something else that needs doing.

iPod stolen — and returned

What Jennifer didn’t mention in her post about our new washer and dryer — indeed, what she really couldn’t mention until the situation was resolved — was that one of the delivery guys helped himself to her iPod during their job. Don’t worry: we got it back, and I believe that charges are going to be laid.

Figuring out what had happened was trivial. Between the time that Jennifer last used it (when we were preparing the basement for the machines’ arrival) and the time we noticed it missing, the delivery guys were the only other people in the house. They were the only plausible suspects: both it and they were in the kitchen. And yet I had a hard time believing it was possible: someone couldn’t be that dumb to swipe something. It’s not like something like that going missing wouldn’t be noticed.

Apparently, someone was that dumb.

Continue reading this entry »

The trouble with vacations

I love to travel, but I don’t travel well. Stress and strange and uncomfortable beds increase my pain levels and, in turn, reduce my energy levels. I’m constantly tired. I forget to say please and thank you and all the other social niceties. I don’t move around very well. I don’t run around and do things as I should. It’s worse when I travel by road, which is annoying because I love road trips. All that time spent in the car and, if it’s a multiday trip, all those nights either in a tent or on hotel beds. The longer the trip, the worse it gets. Planes shorten the transit, so I may have to opt for plane travel rather than road travel. Either way, I’m sure to come down with at least a cold, usually the flu virus, and occasionally a norovirus. A vacation becomes something to survive, rather than something to enjoy.

Back at work tomorrow.

Looking back, looking forward

In many ways, 2007 was a trying year. The first quarter was spent dealing with cat problems and other issues, and I seem to have had some health and stress issues during the second quarter. But the second half of the year was spent back in the real workforce: stressful indeed, but a much more positive sort of stress.

Punching a clock and collecting a steady paycheque have been great for the finances, but my blogging and other projects have suffered. A lot of things planned for the past year simply haven’t happened yet, and my website income has been declining, month by month. (Even so, my website/freelance income was in line with my expectations for the year.)

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A cat update

Grooming So far, the cats seem to be getting along quite well; Goober’s acceptance of the new kitten is actually better than expected, and certainly better than we’ve seen with other cats. The kitten did manage to give his right eyelid a scratch, which necessitated a trip to the vet last week. There we learned that Goober was now in excess of nine kilograms (20 lbs) — a couple of kilos more than we thought he was. Hopefully, the presence of the new kitten — who incidentally is a playing machine who likes nothing better than to pounce on me in the middle of the night — will help him work off a bit of the excess flab.

And no, we still haven’t settled on a name. We have some candidates, but nothing’s stuck yet.

Back up to full complement

You knew that, once Maya died, we wouldn’t be a one-cat household forever. Jennifer doesn’t work that way. So say hello to our new arrival: a two-month old male kitten. We’re not sure what to call him yet; I’m open to suggestions. He’s courtesy one of Jennifer’s co-workers, who had a litter on hand. Extremely playful and looks to be well-socialized, if a little shy and jumpy so far (which is to be expected). Goober’s responding to the intrusion better than the average cat would. (He’s never looked so huge in comparison, at more than six times the kitten’s weight.)


Apparently I’ve been doing a good job at work: they’ve extended me until the end of the year. This is very good for my bank balance — I’ll finally be out of debt some time in early November. But it’s been less good for my blogging, which will have to be on life support for a little while longer. The job has been busy enough that I don’t have much energy left at the end of the day to look after my web sites as much as I would like.

But the decision to stay is a no-brainer, at least in the short term: I make more than five times as much at the real job than I do from my web activities. In the long term, though, there are two paths ahead of me: either I will resume my web projects once this contract is over, or I will enter the world of permanent, full-time work. The former option leaves the door open to future, short-term contract work; the latter option would likely entail shuttering many of my projects, or reducing them to occasional pastimes rather than regular work. I have a choice ahead of me, one that is by no means easy.

Fun facts about me

My eyes have always been odd. I was born cross-eyed enough that I was blind in my right eye, and wore an eyepatch in my preschool and kindergarten years. Corrective surgery, to straighten out that right eye, followed in the fifth grade, and I’ve been wearing glasses, on and off, ever since. To clarify, my eyes aren’t actually bad (I’ve passed a vision test without my glasses, and I go without wearing them as often as not), just odd. My right eye is slightly farsighted; my left eye is slightly nearsighted. This means that I’ll watch television across the room with my right eye dominant, and read with my left eye dominant. Binocular vision is sort of a see-saw thing with me. Glasses correct this, but I’ve been overdue to replace mine for some time — 13 years is a little long for the same pair, isn’t it?

More about my birth defects and other physical abnormalities in a future episode.

Meanwhile, it will surprise no one to know my results from a Myers-Briggs test done at work: I’m an INTJ. I certainly called it beforehand.

Close enough for government work

Shawville is only an hour outside Ottawa — close enough, in other words, for me to be able to apply for government jobs. The catch is whether I’m willing to put up with such a lengthy commute. Others do, of course, but I’ve always liked living close to where I work.

Local jobs, such few as there are, really aren’t for someone with my talents or with my health issues — it’s hard to pump gas if you can’t stand on your feet for more than an hour, for example.

So my decision to work at earning income from my web sites — the self-employment route — was more or less by default. I’d already quit the one suitable local job, and my applications for various positions in Ottawa always went nowhere. (My guess is, my extremely nervous demeanour during the interview put them off.) So, after a while, I gave up looking and started focusing on this stuff, here. I’m not getting rich from my web projects, but it’s been increasing, year by year.

But tomorrow, after a drought of three and a half years, I finally start punching a clock again: I start an eight-week temp contract — an editing/proofreading job with Health Canada.

Fortuitously, my neighbour’s commute runs right past the building in which I will be working, so I will be carpooling in with her: this makes the commute much easier to bear, insofar as my health and ecological footprint are concerned.

Blogging gets moved to evenings and weekends: it’ll be interesting to see if I can manage the double workload. If I can’t, well, it’s only a couple of months away from my projects, and I’ll be able to return to them soon enough. In other words, it’s no longer an either-or proposition: I don’t have to choose between my writing and a steady paycheque.

Aphorisms on incompetence

I worked for the government long enough not to be afraid of it. When people argued that the government was being malicious or corrupt, I countered that, in my experience, incompetence was the more likely explanation. It turns out there’s an adage (or two) for that. Hanlon’s Razor: “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.” Or Grey’s Law: “Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.” (Yes, it sounds familiar.) Via Daring Fireball.

Cecily Irene Crowe

Cecily Born to my brother and his wife at 1:43 AM MDT yesterday morning, via C-section, and weighing 3.65 kg, their first daughter (and my first niece), Cecily Irene Crowe. She was more than a week overdue, a big baby, and with a shockingly full head of hair.

A flurry of family activity in Calgary in the wake of Cecily’s birth — today, says Geoff, is the dog-and-pony show — too bad I can’t be there for it. My mother is apparently over the moon.

Health matters

Don’t look now, but I think I’m finally feeling a bit better. Over the cold, at any rate, and possibly over the flare, too. I’m also feeling a little more energetic.

Annual checkup on Wednesday accentuated the positive too: blood pressure back to normal, weight down nine pounds since last year.

So, good news all around. (He said, waiting for the other shoe to drop.)

Off her meds

I volunteer for the Pontiac Archives, which mostly involves me opening and staffing the Archives on Saturdays. It’s usually pretty quiet: many days I go without a single customer, but I believe it’s important to be available. Frequently I get people coming in hoping to use our Internet access, which, of course, we don’t let them do.

Today, though, it got weird. Shortly after I opened this morning, a youngish woman entered looking quite flustered. She wanted to check the Internet for something. More precisely, she wanted to check the Internet to see if something had occurred that would, as near as I could gather from what she was saying, be the sign of the imminent Apocalypse or something.

That’s right: she wanted to check to see if the Rapture was nigh. And she was quite agitated about it.

I suggested she try one of the public terminals upstairs in the library. She asked me whether it would matter if she didn’t have a library card.

Now really, if you’re expecting Götterdammerung, shouldn’t you be better prepared than that?

Feeling listless

It’s been a bitch of a flare. As I’ve discovered, the problem isn’t always the pain; it’s the exhaustion. I’m surprised at how early I’ve been hitting the fatigue wall these past couple of weeks. I’ve never been so listless.

Recent photography

Occasionally, I leave my house and take pictures.

Some photos from a walk with Robert and Marilee on their property two weeks ago (Jennifer’s photos).

Photos from the Ottawa Central’s open house last Saturday (see my post on FRN). It was raining, at times heavy, and my kit lens got all spotty towards the end.

Also from last Saturday, photos from our first visit to Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo in years. For this one, I put away the spotty kit lens and used my new 50-mm f/1.8 prime lens, which, you may recall, has to be manually focused with a D40. I shot without a flash, which made for very shallow depths of field (f/1.8, ISO 1600), but I’m quite pleased with the results.

Wireless network outages solved

A $20 phone has solved the wireless network problems I’ve been having for more than a year. After ruling out other possibilities (such as hardware or software problems), it turns out that our neighbour was using a 2.4-GHz wireless phone: every time she made a call, my computer — which is in a room next to her apartment — was cut off. (Jennifer’s stayed running, because it was far enough away from the interference; I’d thought that there might have been something wrong with my computer or the router’s range.) Our solution was to buy our neighbour a 900-MHz phone, which won’t interfere with the network: fortunately those are still available! Now I only have wireless router hiccups, fibre-optic cuts, DNS outages, and my web host’s variable reliability to drive me bonkers.

Silent running

I’ve decided that turning off the phone ringer during the day is a good thing, and will do so on a permanent basis. Use e-mail or IM to get a hold of me during daylight hours.

It turns out that most of the calls I answer during the day fall into one of two categories:

  1. Ladies from the Archives, calling to ask a question (usually of the PEBKAC variety, and one they eventually solve on their own if I can’t be reached). Love them to death; hate being tech support.
  2. Callers from one of Jennifer’s financial institutions who don’t seem to realize that (a) unlike me, she’s gainfully employed (so why are they calling her at home during the day?) and (b) even if she did give them her work number, what makes them think they’re entitled to interrupt her job? Better be important; usually isn’t.

So, a source of disruption eliminated. Just because I’m at home doesn’t mean I’m not at work. Got to concentrate, here.

Cats, snakes and emotional impact

In the comments on my last photo of Maya, Mike offered his condolences on our loss, to which he could relate, having had to put a cat down last year. But, he wrote,

It wasn’t quite the same when one of my corn snakes died after clutching though. How do you find it emotionally when one of the garters kicks off, or have you been fortunate enough to avoid that?

Regular readers of this blog — all six of you — will know, of course, that I’ve had more than a few garter snakes expire on me. Here’s what I wrote back:

I agree that it’s not quite the same (much as I’d like to pretend otherwise), but it was still a bit wrenching when a garter snake I’ve kept for years dies after a protracted illness, which has happened at least three times: to my female red-sided garter, who died of a liver tumour; to my male wandering garter, who died of a worm infestation; and to one of my Butler’s garters, who died from eggbinding.

I’m attached to all my animals, even the ones with little or no social interaction (i.e., the reptiles). But while I have to admit that there is a stronger emotional bond with a cat than, say, a corn snake, I’m still affected when I lose a reptile. Even if I’m not affected as much.

Either way, I feel a strong sense of responsibility: if I’m going to keep animals — especially exotic, wild animals — in captivity, I have a duty to ensure their health and, inasmuch as their little reptile brains can comprehend it, their happiness. When they die, I feel as though I’ve fucked up, even if they’re dead from natural causes or old age.

Remembering Maya

Maya's last photo We found Maya’s body at the back door this morning. Her condition had deteriorated with alarming speed over the weekend, to the point where even swallowing water last night had become too great an effort. We feared we would have no choice to put her down when we took her to the vet today; we feared that she wouldn’t even last that long; we feared that she wouldn’t last the night. Some time during the night, in the dark, she climbed out of the basement, came to rest on the doormat, and, at that point, simply stopped.

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Stress and pain

Recently I’ve been feeling more stressed than usual — which is saying something — and I was at a loss as to how to deal with it. So I kicked myself into seclusion for a week: I made no plans to go anywhere, and I turned off the phone ringer, and crossed my fingers that nothing would happen that would wind me up any tighter than I already was. Nothing did, and I’m feeling a bit calmer now than I did a week ago.

Coincidentally, I went back into flare a week ago. I think this has more to do with the season than my stress levels: I was in flare by this time last year. It was manageable until today, when pain levels went up by a couple of orders of magnitude. Flare’s in full force now. Ow.

Maya may have cancer

Maya's X-Ray Maya’s situation is much worse than we originally thought.

To the vet’s again yesterday, where an X-ray was done on her abdomen. If you look at Jennifer’s photo of the X-ray, it’s hard to see what, if anything, the problem is (click through for annotations), but the vet found something: a growth where no growth should be, about the size of a kidney. Almost certainly a tumour, and probably cancer, either lymphatic or intestinal. The former is certainly worse, but neither is exactly good. Whatever it is, it explains her inappetance.

Maya’s prognosis is poor. After four weeks of vomiting and not eating — she’s been losing about a pound a week — she does not have the strength to make her odds of surviving a biopsy any good. (The problem is the anaesthetic.) We’re giving her cortisone in hopes of shrinking the growth. It’s really her only chance of recovering to the point where a biopsy could be performed with a reasonable chance of success. Otherwise, I don’t think we have much choice but to put her down.

Another vet appointment on Monday, where another X-ray will confirm whether the mass is shrinking. That will determine what happens next.

She’s not even six years old, so of course I’m bothered by this.

Take a Valium

So the vet’s opinion is that Maya has been entirely too lethargic — and, more worrisome, not eating enough. Essentially: she may be anorexic. After puking nonstop for a week, she ended up with no real volition to eat, is the hypothesis. She’s gotten pretty gaunt in the meantime.

So Maya’s now getting Valium. You heard right: apparently one of its side effects in cats is that it acts as a strong appetite stimulant. Half an hour after getting the pill (oh fun), she’s actually interested in eating. And, more to the point, eats. Assist-feeding of the high-calorie cat food still continues, but hopefully she’ll get enough nourishment that she’ll stop looking so frail and listless.

Getting her back to her active self is going to take a while.

Maya on the mend

Maya asleep Maya is finally on the mend. She’s not quite back to her old self yet; for the past week she’s been doing little else but sleep, and we’re still syringing high-calorie cat food into her to make sure she gets enough nourishment. But it’s been a long ordeal for all of us.

When Jen left for New Brunswick on the 3rd I was left to look after the cat myself for the week. I was pretty apprehensive about this — I’d never, for example, given a cat a pill before — but was reasonably game. I mean, hell, I’ve pulled retained eyecaps off water snakes. How bad could it be?

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Persona’s problems

Persona is my ISP. For the past two days I — and every other Persona customer — have been suffering from seriously degraded connectivity: about half the addresses I would try to reach would simply not resolve. DNS seemed fine, but ping averages were occasionally high. Five different calls to five different tech support agents yielded a different answer each time (the core router was frequently fingered), but the final answer seems to be that Persona was having issues with a new upstream provider that they switched to on Monday. Everything seems fine this morning, though, so I’m crossing my fingers.

Sicker cat

Maya has not improved, so today she went to the vet, who pronounced her severely dehydrated and put her on a fast IV drip. Her illness is presumably viral, rather than something she ate, but in the past three days she’s gotten herself into a negative feedback loop: vomiting begets dehydration (especially if you can’t ingest water orally), dehydration begets more vomiting. She looks like hell at the moment, but she should be on the mend shortly.

Sick cat

Maya has come down with something; she’s been barfing for two days. A trip to the vet may be in order unless her stomach settles down. Over the phone, the vet suggested administering Pepto-Bismol through a syringe, and if you know Maya you can guess how well that went.

Having a cat barf for two days straight isn’t as bad as it sounds, especially when there’s nothing left to bring up. (Hardwood floors help.) Having a cat miss the litter box when she’s trying to pee just once — now that’s something unpleasant.


I turned 35 on Saturday, and celebrated it at three successive little parties, at different locations, that Jennifer threw for me. It worked well — each person attending each party could not have attended the other two — but man was I beat after that.

(Jennifer treated me to one of these, so my photography jones got stroked a bit.)

Overall, I’m feeling better than I did last week. Most of the phlegm is gone, and I feel less listless. If I get enough rest and maintain my equilibrium, I may yet get some work done.

So much to do

I have vague hopes of increasing both the quantity and the substantiveness of my writing on this blog. I have many new projects I want to launch that you have not so much as heard of. Web pages. Entire web sites. Short stories. Podcasts and other audio projects. In other words, I have ambitions.

But energy, not so much. Such is my problem.

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I’m bad at e-mail at the best of times, but lately it’s been getting preposterous. I’ve been owing some of you a reply for months.

Don’t take it personally if you haven’t heard from me. Appearances to the contrary, I’m actually a shy bugger for whom even picking up the phone can be a considerable effort sometimes.

Local miscellany, with photos

A few items of local interest:

Anne McGowan, the principal of ELC, is retiring. Since Jennifer is one of their teachers and I am her spousal equivalent, I attended the retirement party on the 26th, where I put my swanky new camera to use.

Eric Campbell, a local character (and yes, you better believe he was one) who was active in heritage projects, died last week; my friend Robert Wills is assembling anecdotes on a memorial page.

The Pontiac Community Bonspiel wrapped up today; Jennifer played on the Pontiac High School staff team. It was her first time curling, though she’s no stranger to the sport as a spectator. Her team finished second in its division, but before you get too impressed, note that there are twelve divisions and 72 teams in all. Anyway, I was along with my camera today, and here is the photographic evidence.

Tired of all the cat-blogging yet?

Goober in the kitchen Goober got a clean bill of health from the vet yesterday. Paw damage is superficial and will heal up eventually. He’s lost about a pound and a half since his last checkup, which doesn’t sound like much, except that it’s 10 per cent of his body mass: in human terms, that’d be like losing 18 to 25 pounds in a week. But he had weight to lose. Every day he seems to gain a little more vitality, and Maya hisses at him a little less.

Cat retrieval aftermath

Goober returned from his week-long adventure with surprisingly few scars. He’s got some blisters on his toes, and he’s lost quite a bit of weight. We’ll have him into the vet on Saturday as a precaution, but it looks like he’s got a cold: he’s running a bit of a temperature if his ears and paws are any indication, and he’s also sneezing and coughing up phlegm even more than usual (remember, we named him “Goober” for a reason: he’s always been a bit of a sneezy cat).

Goober, drying One thing we were able to do reasonably quickly: give him a bath. Goober was quite filthy, covered in the grit and soot and grime that he no doubt picked up from spending a week in the junkyard of a gas station-slash-snowmobile dealership. Our usual method of bathing cats involves a pitcher and the tub, since we don’t have a handheld shower head, but we manage. We missed a few spots, but at least he’s cleaner, if not totally clean.

He’s not eating as much as he used to. He’s been spending most of his time sleeping, which isn’t a surprise — he might be sleeping off his cold as well as his exhaustion.

Maya, however, is pissed: after more than two years of living with Goober, it takes one week apart for her to start hissing and growling at him. I think she got used to having the place to herself.

Found him!

Found him!

We spotted him a few moments ago mucking about the yard of Bean’s, the service station/snowmobile dealership across the lane from us. We ran over and cornered him inside an old freezer unit, where, with a couple of employees helping us, Jen was able to retrieve him.

He’s filthy, but alive. And not a moment too soon: the overnight low is now forecast for -31°C.

And now he’s acting like he never left …

The cat came back, my ass

Since my last report, Goober came back to our back porch twice to eat the food we’d set out for him: once between 12 and 2 PM on Saturday, which Jen missed because she was asleep (we’ve been getting very little sleep lately), and once at 1 AM on Sunday, when Jen spotted him but couldn’t catch him — as soon as she opened the door, he was off.

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Worried sick is not just an expression

When I found out that Goober had disappeared, I did not know where (or how far) he had gone, whether he had been picked up by someone or was still out in the cold somewhere, or even whether he was still alive. Those with more experience with wayward cats — including Jennifer, David and many other friends and coworkers — said that frequently cats would come back after a few days’ adventuring, and that this was likely to be the case with Goober. After all, he’d been fixed, so he wouldn’t wander as much as a tom; and since he still had his claws, he could defend himself as needed. So, odds were, he was alive, all right, probably having the time of his life, and would turn up eventually. I could appreciate the likelihood, but — as is so frequently the case with me — what I can appreciate intellectually and what I feel are frequently at odds.

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One of our cats is missing

The computer finally got fixed yesterday, so all is well at that end.

Cat with mouse But there’s a new problem: Goober got out either Monday night or Tuesday morning, and we haven’t seen him since. If you’re in the Shawville area, keep an eye out for him, would you? Jen is used to having cats come back after a few days; I’m not, so I’m a bit more frantic about this than she is. Actually, “frantic” is a bit of an understatement. So is “apoplectic,” for that matter.

What winter?

Lilac buds Last Thursday we went for a walk around Shawville so that I could take pictures of our freakish weather. It hit 10°C on Friday. These temperatures (and concomitant lack of snow cover) aren’t just screwing up nature: lilacs are budding (see photo), the grass is still green, and earthworm activity is being reported on one mailing list. It’s also screwing up my health: I lapsed back into flare over the past three days, though I seem to be doing better this morning (it’s probably not a coincidence that it’s also snowing this morning). Going almost directly from fall to spring with a week’s worth of winter is not good — I need a few good and cold months for my back to recover. It’s January and I’m from Winnipeg: I expect -25°C!

Wrapping up the holidays

Living room on Christmas morning Jen’s back at work this morning, so our holidays are essentially over. I have an ambiguous relationship with holidays and vacations, because I persist in trying to work through them, at least at a reduced rate: even if I’m off visiting relatives, I still try to get at least some blogging in. I have a hard time relaxing. It’s probably why my holidays have been steadily less ambitious for years: in 1999 I was in Europe for Christmas and the New Year, but in 2000 I stayed home — and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Making travel an occasional and optional part of the holidays, rather than a duty, makes it possible to enjoy them more. The Christmas season is stressful enough and expensive enough without travel adding to both, and I’m trying to watch my stress levels and my pennies. So this year we stayed home and, for the most part, stayed in. We got out, but no more than usual. My mother showed up for the first week and was under strict orders from me to do little and decompress (read, watch movies, go for walks), and was successful at it: Shawville is a good place for that, I’ve found.

So what’s new with me?

I posted very little here in December, and ought to bring you up to date on what’s been happening at this end.


I declared my flare more or less over in early to mid-December. The pain never really ever goes away, it just becomes a little less oppressive. It’s hard to explain why being in pain this morning is not in flare, even if it’s more intense than when I think I am in flare, but I’ll figure it out at some point. Essentially, it’s a question of how worn out and worn down I am by the experience. I have a bit more vim and mobility lately, at least. I feel better, if still quite sore. A bit more alive, a bit less depressed.

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My computer has a new kind of broken

The good news is, my Intel iMac is back from the shop and operational again — and in about half the time I expected it to take.

The bad news is, there’s a new problem: the fans are going full-blast, and the normally silent iMac now sounds like a jet engine. Resetting the PRAM and the SMC has no effect, so it has to go back to the shop. (Sigh.) At least it runs, and I can access my data, even if it is just a little bit deafening.

My working theory is that a heat sensor has been disconnected, and the computer is compensating by running the fans at maximum. We shall see.

An hour on the phone with AppleCare. It costs money, but they do look after you.

An update on my high school’s closing

I knew my old high school was closing, I knew it was merging with the nearby technical-vocational school; I just lacked the details. As it turns out, they’re renovating and expanding Sturgeon Creek to accomodate the influx of Silver Heights students, and there’s some debate over what to call the merged school: Silver Heights, Sturgeon Creek or something new. An interesting point — and what was clearly the impetus behind the merger — was the respective schools’ current enrollments: 800 at Silver Heights, 400 at Sturgeon Creek. When I was in high school, Sturgeon Creek was much larger; times have changed if the International Baccalaureat/French Immersion school is now twice the size of the technical-vocational school — and with smaller and older facilities, to boot.

Computer troubles

This is not turning out to be a good week. Computers hate me.

Yesterday I had a combined five hours’ worth of outages, between my ISP changing the IP addresses of its DNS servers without telling anyone (not least its clueless support staff, who insisted that the old IP addresses were fine despite what my router was saying; fortunately I fixed it on my own); the fourth crash of the MySQL server that powers FRN; and three hours of cursing at my wireless network. (I’m suffering the same problems connecting to wireless networks that other Mac users are confronting after the 10.4.8 update, only intermittently. I can go days without incident, then hours with nothing but.) So, yesterday was a frustrating day.

Then this morning my iMac wouldn’t start. It’s a brick. It has to go into the shop. Great.

Fortunately, I have a backup: I’m writing this from the G4 iMac — Jen’s computer. (I just wish I’d backed up my data on the main computer more recently.)

You know, I’m not really good at handling these setbacks at the best of times, but after two and a half months of abject pain (yes, it’s still going on), my emotional reserves are already exhausted. Suffice it to say, I could be doing better right now.

Flare time

I’m now entering my sixth week of what has turned out to be the mother of all flares, one of the worst I can remember since I was first diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis nearly nine years ago, and probably the worst I’ve had while on naproxen (other meds were less effective, and resulted in more pain).

I first reported it here. It was relatively mild, as such things go, for the first two weeks; then it showed me a whole new gear. For the first time, my neck and sacroiliac joint feel as though they’re fusing, not just stiff; and yesterday I started feeling numbness in my jaw and lower lip. It has occurred to me that my disease may be entering a new and much more unpleasant phase.

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Moving photos

I continue to move my photos over to my Flickr account. My .Mac home page photos have now been added. Best to take care of it before I let my .Mac subscription lapse, which I’m thinking of doing. I’m also thinking of letting lapse, since I hardly ever do anything with that domain, so, though it won’t expire until next May at the earliest, I’ve moved my Pelee Island field trip photos over as well.

What’s new with me

While my ankylosing spondylitis usually flares up in the spring and fall, this year I’ve been caught off guard by it in both seasons: it has arrived about a month before I expected it to. On Thursday the old familiar pain and stiffness began manifesting itself; it’s been worsening since then, so it’s not a brief bout. I’m back in flare again.

That will put a crimp in my plans: so much, for example, for attending the opening of the new Apple Store in Laval today, or the reptile expo in Mississauga tomorrow.

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Back home

Back from a nearly two-week road trip to (and from) Winnipeg. Reports and photos — lots of photos — to follow soon.

Three thoughts while driving from Shawville to Winnipeg

  1. Wild blueberries are endemic: there were roadside stands all along the highway right up to Winnipeg. Yesterday’s Winnipeg Free Press had a story about the wild-blueberry industry (if you can call it that; it’s pretty low-paying work), but the Freep doesn’t make its stuff available online for free, so no linky-link. Note, however, Jennifer’s post about wild blueberries in Nova Scotia. They’re everywhere — and here I thought signs advertising blueberries and home baking were unique to Highway 7 between Peterborough and Ottawa!
  2. Passing lanes are plentiful along Highway 17, and make driving so much easier. Once they were put in so that cars could quickly get around slow-moving trucks that had trouble going up hills. Now, though, the trucks go around us. They seem to be a tad more powerful these days.
  3. iPod FM transmitters are all over the place, and they’re all set to my frequency — or at least that’s my conclusion after the 20th or 30th blast of strange music over the radio as a car passes. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised about that, considering iPods’ increasing ubiquity — and, really, on Highway 17, you really need an iPod in your car. It’s that long a drive.

Never rains but it pours

Well, that was exciting. Just finished mopping up the basement. Torrential rain this evening caused the town’s sewers to back up. Which, in turn, caused water to pour into our basement — two to three centimetres’ worth, or about 1,100 litres (rough guess), which, thanks to some help from Ricky and his shopvac, we were able to vacuum up, bail out and mop up in only a couple of hours.

All in all quite lucky: everything on the floor down there was either in plastic containers or, if in cardboard, fairly low-priority stuff; damage so far appears to be light. Could have been much worse. Exhausted, though, now, so to bed with me.

Toronto, gosh

Back from a whirlwind weekend trip to Toronto, where, while visiting Tania, we visited the Apple Store at Yorkdale (which was smaller than I thought), browsed through EftonScience (a very dangerous scientific supply and telescope store), got Jen properly fitted, and visited the Toronto Zoo. Zoo photos to follow. Unbelieveably hot, humid and uncomfortable: those few extra degrees — and smog — really make a difference.

Update, 4:25 PM: My zoo photos — mostly of homeothermic megafauna, uncharacteristically. It was too muggy for me to think clearly, much less take photos, inside the pavillions.

Update, July 31 at 8:10 PM: Jennifer’s blog entry and photos.

DreamHost and revealing feedback

DreamHost, my hosting provider, has been having a whole mess of trouble lately — enough that I started a separate blog to chronicle any outages and downtime (see previous entry). Yesterday, I noticed that rebuilds on Movable Type were abominably slow — it took as long as 10 minutes to rebuild if I saved an entry. I suspected a MySQL or network issue. So I opened a support ticket.

Continue reading this entry »


I may well be terrified by large insects, but that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate them from the other side of a screen: we’ve had katydids on our kitchen windows a couple of evenings this week. There are no katydids in western Canada, so this was a new experience for me. Very neat — as long as they’re on the other side of that screen.

(Meanwhile, while out on a late-evening walk, Jennifer spotted three species of frog: American toad, gray treefrog, green frog. Not bad for one walk.)

See previous entry: In Soviet Russia, zoo visits you!

On phobias

I’m generally quite sympathetic to people who confess to being afraid of snakes, especially since I’ve got a phobia of my own — entomophobia, or a fear of insects — well, arthropods generally.

Phobias vary in intensity, I think, and mine isn’t particularly severe — or at least it’s not as bad as it was when I was young (and teased mercilessly about it). It helps that I have no choice but to be exposed to it every summer, particularly living out here. You just can’t avoid insects, so each summer I get a little more desensitized.

Continue reading this entry »

Remembering Mike Rankin

Mike Rankin’s long-time friend, field naturalist Fred Schueler, has posted a long remembrance of Mike that chronicles their time together doing field work for the Canadian Museum of Nature, and offers a look into Mike’s politics, sense of humour, and his generous humanity.

I intend to write something myself, if I can manage it; keep watching this space.

The Ottawa Citizen obituary is now online.

See previous entries: In lieu of flowers; Mike Rankin.

Canada Day

Red flags I stayed home for the fireworks, because by then I was just too sore and tired (though I could still see most of them from the bedroom window). But I did catch Shawville’s Canada Day parade, which was what you’d expect from a small-town parade. Everyone seemed to be wearing red except me. Shawville is arguably the most federalist town in Quebec, and they take Canada Day very seriously. My photos turned out very well, I think.

Thanks to my involvement in the Archives, we’d been invited to a do at the town hall prior to the parade, where I felt a bit out of place: it was a bit more formal, with a lot more politicians — mayors from half the Pontiac, our MP — than I’d expected. I don’t get out much even by Shawville standards.

In lieu of flowers

In lieu of flowers, Mike’s wife Jo-Anne has asked for donations in his name to Turtle SHELL Tortue, the Ottawa-area turtle rescue and rehabilitation centre.

Visitation Tuesday; service Wednesday. Newspaper notices in the Sunday and Monday editions of the Sun and the Citizen.

See previous entry: Mike Rankin.

Mike Rankin

Mike Rankin (2001) Mike Rankin, a good friend of mine, a giant of local herpetoculture and a founding member of the OARA, died this morning of a heart attack. We had not seen much of one another in recent years, and from time to time we crossed swords over something or other, but I was proud of him and proud to have known him. We liked and respected one another a great deal, I think, and I will miss him terribly.

I just found out ten minutes ago and I’m still in shock.

Update: I’ve uploaded some photos of Mike to Flickr.


I don’t know what happened to me that my back and hip went so profoundly into spasm earlier this week, except maybe that I overdid it a bit on the walking around on hard urban surfaces on Friday and Sunday. Seems to be subsiding a bit now, but I shouldn’t forget that just because flares tend to occur more in spring and fall, it does not mean that the rest of the year is automatically pain-free.

Amortizing air conditioning

You will recall that Jennifer and I initially decided on deferring repairs on the car’s air conditioner, on the grounds that the expense is both great and optional. Optional, at least, in the sense that you can drive without it — not necessarily that you’d want to. It became somewhat less optional after our trip last weekend: at 4½ hours each way, it was manageable, but it wasn’t necessarily comfortable. Sweat left behind on every surface our skin came into contact with, that sort of thing. That was enough, at least, to get me thinking:

Continue reading this entry »

Modes of transportation

In Gatineau and Ottawa yesterday to have a Mazda dealership look at the headlights (previous entry) and return a book to Carleton University’s map library. A librarian very generously allowed me to sign out a reference book for a two-week period; the book, a guide to managing small map collections, is a must-read as I look towards cataloguing the Pontiac Archives’s map collection this summer. I wanted to get the book back on time; and Jennifer had made an appointment at the dealership, so off I went.

Continue reading this entry »

Minor technical difficulties

I’ve encountered a glitch with Front Row: it’s not playing nice with iPhoto. I’m not sure what the problem is — probably something is gumming up the works as a result of how I brought the old data over — but I’m assuming it’s solvable. More when I find out how to fix it.

Meanwhile, I’ve gotten the Palm syncing with the new iMac — works fine under Rosetta — and I’ve even got Documents to Go working again. My Tungsten T2 came with version 5, while Jennifer’s TX has version 7 — so when I synced up her Palm with my old iMac over Christmas, it overwrote version 7 over version 5 and promptly hosed it on my Palm. Now that we’re on separate machines (she’s using the old iMac), that conflict is no longer a problem. Unfortunately, no sooner had I got that working than I realized that audio was totally hosed on my Palm: I get a faint, high-pitched whine whenever it’s on (not enough to be annoying), but no other sound. (You can tell I don’t use my PDA much any more; it’s been like this for a while but I didn’t really pay much attention to it.)

The car’s headlights are only working intermittently at the moment: they outright failed over the weekend — no daytime running lights, no headlights, no brights — but appear to be working now. Garage suspects the daytime running lights module, maintenance on which requires a Mazda dealership. Sigh — the car is determined to have money spent on it. You can ignore compressors, but you just can’t ignore headlights.

Hot, tired, bitten and pimply

Can I get skin grafts without burning off my current allotment? I’m covered in insect bites and clusters of pimples that are probably sweat-related, and boy am I uncomfortable. All told, it was a hot, sticky weekend. We were off Saturday to visit Jeff and Jenny during their volunteer weekend. Despite hot weather and our lack of in-car air conditioning, the trip there and back was bearable. But it was a hot day, and they don’t have air conditioning: even with my marginal contributions to the outdoor labour, I was overheated for most of the weekend. Fortunately, my sunburns appear to be very mild, and they have a pool.

I didn’t get a lot of sleep, either, thanks to an overnight thunderstorm before our departure Saturday morning, and the fact that I had to run Jeff’s cousin to the hospital at midnight to tend to a pool-related eye injury. Not that I sleep well in hot weather or strange beds anyway. So I was tired when we got back yesterday afternoon. Good thing our apartment is relatively cool despite a lack of air conditioning.

My photos from the weekend are up. Other people will probably post theirs shortly; I’ve created a Flickr group.

Notes on the new iMac

  • It’s fast. It’s really flipping fast. I mean, like, ninja fast.
  • It’s also surprisingly quiet. I haven’t worked on something this silent since my old G3 iBook. I can feel a fair amount of heat from the top vent so, like those scalding-hot MacBooks, this thing’s cooling system may be geared for silence over really cool temperatures.
  • The processor hardly ever breaks into a sweat. I ran a fairly CPU-intensive video conversion program yesterday as a test, and neither core was maxed out, even with other apps running as well.
  • We ordered this thing with 1 GB of RAM, which is an improvement over the 768 MB installed in the G4 iMac, but OS X took it all and wanted more. Yesterday I was staring at a 2-GB swap file. It was still reasonably responsive — that new SATA drive is also flipping fast, and hard to hear — but it will still not be difficult to justify getting that second gigabyte of RAM.
  • The Migration Assistant only worked partially well. It moved over my applications without a hitch, but choked on my user data. After a couple of attempts, I simply brought it over manually via FireWire Target Disk mode. It seems to work — certainly my apps recognize my data, including user settings and registration codes — but doing it this way might, I suspect, be the reason for a couple of the glitches I’ve encountered.
  • My .Mac/iDisk setup got a little wonky at the outset, and I had to unregister and reregister the computer. Nothing got hosed in the process, but I had to sync everything all over again.
  • Printing got strange yesterday: the printer’s output was just plain off, with line heights and vertical spacing a real hash. I wonder if the driver is hiccuping with the Intel setup. In any event, using the open-source GIMP-print driver for 900-series HP inkjets solved the issue.
  • The scanner works just fine. I’m waiting until I install The Missing Sync before trying to sync up the Palm again.
  • While I had to remove two incompatible System Preferences panes manually, all apps tested so far work properly, even using Rosetta. It’s a pleasant surprise that just about all the apps I use are already Universal.
  • Let’s talk about the Mighty Mouse. Meh. I can handle the scroll nipple; squeezing the sides is a bit more of a pain. I had to disable right-clicking because my fingers keep resting on the right side of the mouse, triggering a right-click even when I’m trying to left-click.
  • The new keyboard, ostensibly the same as the one on the G4 iMac, has a much softer, much less pleasant key action. I may have to break down and buy one of these after all.
  • Did I mention that this computer is really flipping fast?

New iMac


I was occupied last night setting up the new beast: a 20-inch, 2-GHz Intel Core Duo iMac.

Christ, it’s fast. And this big screen is going to take some getting used to. Much brighter — I had the old screen at full brightness; this one only at half. (Such an ordeal.)

A broken air conditioner

The car’s air conditioner stopped working last week; it turns out that the compressor needs to be replaced. Ouch. We’ll be deferring this repair, partly because we can’t really afford its thousand-dollar price tag at the moment, but mostly because, unlike other repairs and replacements (new tires in 2003, oxygen sensor last year), we can: we’ve been told that there’s no harm in simply letting the broken unit sit there. And I’ve done without car air conditioning before: neither of my parents had air conditioning in their cars before 1994 at the earliest, so I’m used to it. Doing without will not be a significant hardship — though I might change my mind after a long heat wave.

I’m not actually surprised or disappointed: air conditioners break down, and our car is eight years old (we’ve had it for three). It’s an occupational hazard of owning an older car.

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.

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.

Wildlife festival, and we should eat more fresh fruit

Last weekend we did our bit at the OARA’s display for the National Capital Region Wildlife Festival at Billings Bridge Mall. I organized this show from 2001 to 2003; this year, our friend Nicki was in charge. For some reason, this year they had a shortage of handleable snakes: the serpentine equivalent of “bomb-proof” horses used by riot police, which is to say, snakes that will put up with all sorts of crap from the public and not spook, freak out or (more to the point) bite. We have more than a few that fit that description and that moreover were large enough to be used in photos — the shortage was actually not so much one of tame snakes, but of tame snakes of a certain size that people could have their pictures taken with for $5 a shot — so off we went. Photos here.

We put in long hours on Friday and Saturday, and were just beat afterwards. On the way home Saturday evening, Jen got quite sick. She was bedridden through Sunday. At first we thought it was simple overexhaustion, but it was more likely a case of the flu. Especially since I came down with exactly the same thing on Monday night (through Tuesday I couldn’t even keep down Gatorade). Between the two of us, we’ve spent much of this week in bed, generally feeling like shite, catching up on sleep and wondering about the state of our GI tracts. But we’ve been doing better more recently.

This bit of flu is most inconveniently timed: my father’s visiting this week. We’re beginning construction on a model railroad in the basement. More on that momentarily.

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.

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.


I turned 34 about a week and a half ago, but birthdays don’t seem to be the milestones they once were. Though it’s spooky to think that I’m exactly twice the age of the oldest students that Jennifer teaches. One milestone that was passed some time last month: it’s been 10 years since I uploaded my first home page to the Web. It wasn’t much to look at — among other things, it had a “Separated at Birth” thing with side-by-side photos of the Swedish Chef and the Urban Peasant (?!) — but it was a start. It’s one thing to think that you graduated high school 16 years ago, but the idea that I’ve had a web site of some sort for 10 years, well, that boggles the mind a bit. The Internet is still new, right?

DFL on Northern Irish radio

I was on BBC Radio Ulster’s afternoon program, Evening Extra, for about five minutes today, talking about DFL. It went quite well, I think: I needed a bit of warming up, but once I got going, I got fired up. You’ll probably be able to catch it via the “Listen Again” feature of the BBC web site.

This is my first media do for DFL’s Torino turn; they originally contacted me last Thursday, so they’re definitely the early birds.

Cell phone cancelled

Those of you who have my cell phone number can safely delete it from your address books. After much procrastination, I’ve cancelled it — I’m just not out of the house often enough to warrant paying for it. Odd: I’m without a mobile phone for the first time in five years.

Snow day, and a belated holiday update

We declared a snow day today and stayed in: Jen got to work on George R. R. Martin’s Feast for Crows; I got to work on my sites again. I’ve been off my feed a bit for the past week or two; it’s only in the last couple of days that I’ve regained my equilibrium enough to blog coherently. What the hell: it’s the holidays, I suppose, or at least they are for Jen; I’m stupid enough to try to keep blogging and coding regardless of the day of the week or the time of the year.

Owing to the presence of a guest, the holidays were a bit more hectic and stressful than they otherwise might have been, but they went well overall. I gave Jen one of these, since her old m500 was starting to drop lines of pixels; she gave me a number of books, including a couple of hard-to-find histories of the CPR in B.C. and this hella-expensive set. So we were very nice to each other, again.

Afterwards, I found that I had a bit of financial wiggle room, thanks to extra Christmas money and a really good quarter in Amazon associate income, and so we splurged on a new television. Nothing fancy: a 26-inch, widescreen, non-HD CRT, but it’s a world of difference from our previous set. At the moment, we have no access to HD content unless we get a satellite dish, so there’d be no point in investing in an expensive LCD or plasma set even if we could afford one.

No, now we’ve got snow

Never mind what I said ten days ago; now we’ve got quantifiable amounts of snow — enough to cause idiot drivers to crash their cars and enough for me to shovel. Yes, me, shovel. It went well enough yesterday, though my back began to ache a bit by the time I finished the front walk. My mistake was then to go get the mail: before I even arrived at the post office my sacroiliac joint was imploding. Walking back was an exercise in fighting through the pain. Even so, that profound pain abated after five minutes of sitting down. Noted for future reference.

Blogging during outages

I wonder why it is that when my sites go down (as it did this morning, due to a router issue at DreamHost, my hosting provider), I end up blogging more than when I do when everything’s up and running?

At least I’m channeling my (legendary) impatience into something productive.

Hollow Halloween

Despite our efforts — including a kickass pumpkin, decorations, spooky sound effects and, in Jennifer’s case, a costume and snake to freak out greet people at the door, the total number of trick-or-treaters to come to our door last night was zero. None. Nada. Not a sausage. Bugger-all. Kevin Philips Bong.

I was wondering why, and figured that our place is a bit out of the way for it: a row of townhouses near the highway, but not near any other cluster of houses. But Jennifer reports the same thing in Halifax, so go figure. Are children simply not going out on Halloween any more?

So what’s new with me?

This time last week I was presenting most of the symptoms of salmonellosis — probably turkey-induced — and was worried that I’d have to reschedule a job interview that I had last Friday. Fortunately the more severe symptoms abated by the time I showed up to do my thing.

As for the interview itself, either I did really well, or I was magnificently wrong. Should know within the month. If all goes well, I’ll tell you who it was with; if it doesn’t, I’ll continue to plug away on the projects. If I had to bet, I’d say things look good.

Because the parking in downtown Ottawa is spectacularly expensive, I parked in Aylmer and took the bus in. Possibly the first time I’ve been on a city bus in more than a year. The ride in was smooth enough, but outside of rush hour the STO’s schedule is less than skeletal: one milk run bus per hour. It took me twice as long to get back to the car as the inbound trip, and, naturally, I was a wee bit motion sick by the time I got off the bus. Stupid No. 42 bus.

So I walked it off at the Galeries Aylmer mall, where I’d parked. Stopped by the real-estate kiosks to see what was listed. Noticed that they had the rural stuff for my area in addition to the Aylmer listings. Browsed around a bit. Saw photos of our old apartment — living room, bedroom, kitchen — replete with our cats. Froze.

Our old landlords — great people, incidentally — were putting the building up for sale; the real estate agents had been by in the spring, before we’d moved out, to take measurements and pictures. This I knew; I just didn’t expect them to be on display in a mall. I’ve been trying to decide since then whether I’m bothered by this, and, in the end, I don’t think I am: for one thing, we don’t live there any more; for another, it’s no different from all the photos I’ve posted online myself anyway. But on the other hand, it’s one thing to be relatively open about what you decide to reveal about yourself and your life, quite another to have someone else make that decision. In this case, though, I’ll live.

Saturday was Railfair, where I behaved myself and only bought one book, despite the presence of Proto 2000 Alco S3s in the right paint for only $90. I decided it’d be better to regret not having bought something than to regret having bought something; money’s tight right now. The crowds were unbelieveable, though: tightly packed, rude, inattentive to their surroundings. And not every vendor seemed all that interested in selling things. Just like reptile shows, in other words. Hobbies are not dissimilar.

Since then, not much. The AS has flared up again, and to say that I’m uncomfortable is putting things mildly. It’s the season for it, and the fact that I’ve been expecting it, to some extent, helps me cope.

It’s hard, though, because it does slow me down a bit, and while I understand intellectually that I should give myself permission to be disabled, it doesn’t make me any less restless in practice. Between this and the salmonella, I’m feeling awfully behind at the moment.

Two more reptile-related photosets

Belated photo update: I’ve created two new photosets on my Flickr account. This one is a selection of photos from an impromptu OARA field trip two weeks ago; this one is a collection of photos of my snakes engaged in the horizontal mambo. By far my most popular photos on Flickr are a couple of closeups of my corn snakes doing the nasty, presumably due to people using “graphic sex” as a search term, and getting grossed out by the results. Well, tough; here are some more.

On a related note, there are two Flickr groups roughly equal in size with roughly the same mandate: Herp Photography, which I started about a year ago, and Reptiles and Amphibians. Duplication inevitably happens with user-created groups on community sites, but it’s rare to see two of equal quality that do equally well. I wonder if we should consolidate, assuming that we even can.

Homely office

My office got a lot more liveable this week. Anticipating a major purchase of large front-loading cages for our larger snakes, on Sunday we moved the twin bed, which had been in the snake room, to my office, and moved the bookshelves and desk around a bit. As a result, the office is much cosier and more pleasant to be in — it feels lived in, rather than camped in, if you follow me.

Having the bed here rather than there not only means that house guests won’t have to sleep next to a few dozen reptiles, some of whom are rather nocturnal (then again, that idea held some appeal to some of my friends), it also means that there’s somewhere to sit other than at my desk. Which Jen and I put to good use last night as I redesigned her site: she sat on the bed with her laptop and watched, live, as I made adjustments to the code. Went quite quickly, actually — instant feedback means a great deal.

Which is a roundabout way of saying that we worked on her site last night and there’s some new material up. Go see.

Meanwhile, our next task is to make the reptile room look a little more liveable, now that there’s a big empty spot that will not be filled by a thousand bucks’ worth of stackable cages for some time yet.

On vacation

Back Tuesday afternoon from our spur-of-the-moment trip to the Maritimes; I’ve been recovering ever since. It took place because of a convergence of fortunate happenstances: the landlord’s daughter was willing to housesit and people were available to visit. So off we went on Sunday the 7th.

We spent the week at Jen’s parents’ in Hampton, which is outside Saint John, New Brunswick. During that time we did the family thing, met up with Andrea for the first time in nearly 15 years, and visited St. Andrews, Jen’s old stomping ground for eight consecutive summers.

From there, off to Halifax last Saturday to visit with Jennifer and Andrew, who treated us to the Busker’s Festival and a trip to Lunenburg.

Then, Monday, to Fredericton — or just outside it — to catch up with Jen’s friend Elaine, whom she’d not seen in years, and her family.

Bit of a whirlwind, but everything went smoothly, much to my surprise: things are not supposed to fall into place like that.

Photos are slowly being uploaded here; I’ll let you know when I’m finished.

Spotted turtle survey photos

Here’s something I did during my enforced time offline: I finally got the photos from the 2003 Spotted Turtle Survey online, only two years and three months late (see previous entry). I procrastinated uploading them for the longest time because I had a hard time winnowing them down. I’ve frequently had that problem when trying to pick from too many photos; I think I’m finally over that, though, because I managed to pick the 27 best photos from more than 170. And I think these photos are awfully good even if I do say so myself. (For more on the survey, see my report from the 2001 trip.)

96 hours

For an outage of its size, it couldn’t have been better timed. Around noon on Friday, the cable company’s line to our home was cut. Don’t know how; presumably by accident, possibly by a passing vehicle or by the work crews working on the front and back walks.

Didn’t really notice until late that evening because we were busy, first picking up, then entertaining, David and Rita, who’d come for a visit. One drawback to rural life is that cable company technicians are stretched pretty thin — particularly after a big storm that no doubt fried some infrastructure. They couldn’t come before today; we’d be without cable television or any Internet access until then, a total of four full days.

But, because we had company for most of that, it was no real hardship at all — it’s not like I’d be glued to the computer working on web projects when we had people over in any event. And I was able to keep busy elsewhere yesterday and this morning. To my surprise, withdrawal symptoms were mild. There may yet be hope for me. Anyway, it was back up before noon today.

Meanwhile, though, we enjoyed ourselves, despite my back flaring up, which required me to retreat periodically and take some downtime. One of our little field trips was to Rolling Acres Farms, a few kilometres south of here, which has just opened a store selling their hormone-free beef. Barbecued up some of it on Sunday; some of the best beef I’ve ever tasted, and I’m not kidding. (I’d link to their URL if it worked.)

A thunderstorm’s mixed blessings

The thunderstorm last night brought considerable relief — temperatures inside the house are now back to the mid-twenties — but it knocked out cable (and Internet) for the rest of the evening. It’s at times like these that I’m reminded of the fragile infrastructure out here: I lost track of the number of times that the power went out, outage duration anywhere from one second to one minute. (Update: There were outages all over the place; the storm was more serious than I thought. Update update: This serious.)

Fun with fans

A fun fact during this heat wave (34°C at the moment). We’ve had three fans burn out on us during the past month: a ceiling fan in the kitchen, a floor fan in the living room, and, this morning, a small table fan in my office. Fans are vitally important when it’s hot out: they take an uninhabitable room and make it merely intolerable.

Que la vie continue

They’ve filled in the trench out back; presumably we’ll get our steps reinstalled tomorrow. Grass is beginning to sprout out front. Jen says we’re getting concrete slabs for parking on.

To Renfrew today for a bit of shopping. Two sailfin mollies for the fish tank, a stand for my music keyboard (to get it off the floor and off my desk; it plugs into my computer for GarageBand, and will do until I get a piano), some folding chairs in case we get company (hint), a lampshade that turned out to be too big, and enough frozen salmon fillets to keep Jen happy for at least the next week or so.

I think some photos of the new place are probably in order. I’ll see what I can do.

Home on the work site

For about a week we had an eight foot trench dug along the front of the building.
Construction Site
Originally uploaded by aedra.

Shortly after we moved to our new home — a three-bedroom townhouse on two floors — construction began on our eight-unit building; two units (not ours) were having basement leak issues, so the weeping tile had to be replaced. No small task.

So, our lawn — the first time in years that either of us had an actual lawn attached to our residence — disappeared under the treads of orange-coloured machinery. (I said to Jennifer as a bulldozer pushed earth outside our living room window one afternoon, “I’m having an Arthur Dent moment here.” She understood.)

For a week, we had a deep trench along the front of our building; our front entrance was taped off like a crime scene. It’s since been filled in. Now our front yard is a field of dirt — bare until the grass, seeded Thursday, begins to sprout.

Presumably they’ll start work on the back half next week, at which point we’ll have to move the car to the front and abandon the back.

Not exactly the nicest thing to deal with when you’ve just moved in and were looking forward to enjoying a bit of grass, but the place is nice enough in other ways that I can put up with it. (I also like the fact that the landlords are willing to pay for this kind of maintenance; it’s a good sign, but I know these folks well, and I know what their standards are like.)

I know it’s been a while, and I’ll write a bit about how things have been going at some point (short version: it’s been good). Meanwhile, it’s Jennifer’s birthday today (bribe her good); not coincidentally, her new web site at is now live. So far it’s mainly got her blog, moved there from, but we’ve got plans for other things; now that the summer holidays are upon her, she’ll have time for them.

Faces of West Quebec

I was profiled in the West Quebec Post last week, as part of their “Faces of West Quebec” feature. They were passing a copy around the archives on Saturday. Originally the writer wanted to focus on the snakery, but her ears pricked up when I mentioned the web stuff, particularly DFL. So she had a lot of material to cover in a limited space. (It’s a really small paper, too: only 12 pages, tabloid. No web site.)

That article, incidentally, is the first public mention that I’ll be doing DFL again for the Winter Olympics next year. So Kate got a scoop, albeit a tiny one.

My copyright has been violated

These photos of Eastern Milk Snakes, published on this site, are mine: I took them in 2000. I still have the original, full-size, uncropped images. They have been published without attribution and without my consent, in violation of my copyright. I’m doing something about this. So far, I’m raising a stink on the mailing list where this site was first posted. Hopefully it won’t escalate beyond this, but, make no mistake, I’m prepared to escalate this. I’ve been paid for my photos before; I have to defend my copyright.

Update: I’ve sent him an invoice for the photos — a reasonable step for which there is past precedent (The Equity did it when its rival paper inadvertently published one of their photos). We’ll see how that turns out.

Update: Ian has removed the posts in question; I still have screenshots. He doesn’t see what the big deal is. Unfortunately, most people don’t, as a general rule. He made all sorts of excuses in his e-mail reply, but the simple fact is, he didn’t have explicit permission to reprint my photos without attributing them to me.

It’s extremely upsetting to see your own work published elsewhere as though someone else has done it.


Another update wherein I play catchup. See, I’ve been spending all my time on my other blogs, leaving none for you. It’s not that you’re chopped liver; I just don’t have a lot of energy lately for the kinds of posts I’ve been planning for here. Maybe I’m too ambitious.

Nothing like another bout of pain to make you uncommunicative. Nearly two weeks ago another flare started up, presumably triggered by a sharp change in the weather. Since then I’ve been dealing with varying degrees of pain, mobility, and testiness.

Fortunately things have not been abjectly miserable, even if I have been behind on my web stuff. Saw Revenge of the Sith on Friday and I’ll try to have a post up about that soon. Jen’s parents made a trip out to see us over the long weekend, and that, despite the usual (common-law-) in-law apprehensiveness, went very well indeed.

We’re also preparing for the move, which should keep me very active during the first two weeks of June. (Yes, you might hear from me even less.)

What have I been up to?

In brief, a few recent developments, each of which could take up a few paragraphs.

I did our taxes, which was unpleasant, because I had to pay money due to a mistake made a year ago: procrastinating getting onto your spousal equivalent’s health coverage means having to pay the province’s prescription drug plan premiums — which was pricey because of our combined income. Ow.

A local environment group, dormant for more than a decade, is starting up again; we went to a meeting on Saturday, where I talked way too much about organizational, procedural and structural things. Interesting bunch, and nice, too.

Installed Tiger on this machine last night. I backed up all the irreplaceable data onto two DVDs and three CDs as a precaution — unnecessarily, since the upgrade went without a hitch. I’m having fun messing around with the new OS, especially with Automator (I’ve already built a few workflows) and Spotlight.

Oh, and we’re moving to a larger place in June. That was one of the positive developments I mentioned earlier. Same town, roughly the same rent, but a townhouse: three bedrooms and a basement. We’ll have to buy appliances, but we’ll have tons more room. For one thing, I’ll have a room to myself to work, instead of sharing multipurposed space, which can’t be anything but good.

The usual sore-but-busy update

Still alive, but still sore; it’s been a somewhat unpleasant month in that regard. Expect an Ankylose This! post on the subject of arthritis and weather shortly; I hope it abates soon, because it’s awfully nice out.

What work I’ve been doing has mostly gone to The Map Room — the anniversary, a redesign and lots and lots of posting. I’m slowly catching up on some of my other projects. I’m pleased, though, with what I’ve been able to accomplish: on days of high pain it’s hard for me to be anything but inarticulate —my recent Miyazaki post is sufficient evidence of that — so any amount of writing and coding is a good thing.

Other things are coming up, including a couple of very positive developments that I probably shouldn’t mention until they’re made final. Suffice to say that I’ll be in the thick of things during the next couple of months.

Saturday night animal fun

Saturday night: the corn snakes get busy; Jennifer comes home from an open house — well, an open barn — smelling like cow, at which point Goober, who must have spent some of his youth in a barn, immediately tries to eat her hair.

Ranting renewed

Hmm. I seem to be writing more rants lately — viz., the trio of posts in the last 24 hours about the AIM kerfuffle and the post about Apple’s rumour site lawsuits a week ago Sunday. It’s been a while: I used to write a lot of piss-and-vinegar entries, but I haven’t lately, except for some deeply personal shite. I’m conscious of the relationship between stress and autoimmune disease, so I’ve had a vested interest in not getting too wound up. Also, I abhor confrontation. This means either that I’m doing a lot better or that I’ll eventually collapse from this if I keep doing it.

New(ish) reptile photos

I’ve been putting up some of my older snake photos — finally! — and putting them into albums on Flickr. First, our current reptile collection, one photo per critter, with some photos a few years old. (But they’re good photos.) Second, some feeding photos; I’ve got some more of these coming. And third and most spectacularly, photos of the Red-sided Garter Snakes being born back in June 2002 (see previous entry). Enjoy.

Birthday, meetup

So I turned 33 last Thursday, with minimal fuss. Minimal fuss is better than artificial fuss, so I was content. My father and brother sent me DVD sets: the second volumes of Rumpole of the Bailey and Looney Tunes, respectively. Jennifer gave me Gene Wolfe’s The Knight and The Wizard, about which I’ve heard good things, and an iSight camera, more on which in a moment.

The best part, though, was getting a call from my brother, with whom I hadn’t spoken since July. So we’ve managed to put all that nonsense behind us, to my considerable relief.

Friday evening was the long-awaited MeFi Ottawa meetup (see previous entry), which 11 people made it to. Considering that hardly anyone knew anyone else, we all managed to hit it off pretty well. (Compare that to the Toronto meetup Saturday, where four people stormed out after a heated discussion.) I have photos; so does Jennifer; and so do some other people.

Back in town Saturday, to buy aquarium equipment — Jennifer’s up to something — and visit with David and Rita again. Spent yesterday resting up.

Now, for some reason, I’m a little congested. Looks like I have a phlegm ration to work through.

Headaches, car repairs and procrastination

Some people get worried when I don’t post, so here you go.

The problem with a regular diet of powerful anti-inflammatory medications is that you don’t know what to do when you get a simple, ordinary headache. Both Jen and I have throbbing heads today, for unrelated reasons. She took ibuprofen. What am I supposed to take that would work where naproxen doesn’t?

As Jen mentioned in her blog, the car’s lights went screwy on us a bit more than a week ago: when the headlights were on, the brake lights — two of them, anyway — stayed on permanently. A bit disconcerting when driving at night, hence the pullover by Gatineau’s finest. Not the first time we’d had such trouble: we haven’t been able to use the headlights and the cruise control at the same time for months. Took the into the Mazda dealership in Hull last Wednesday to get it fixed, and, much to my relief, the bill was under $50.

In the meantime, however, I was stressing out over it. I imagined a much stiffer bill than what it turned out to be, and as a result I procrastinated calling the dealer. On the day I was meaning to do it — a week ago yesterday — I got an awful lot of work done. I was avoiding. Jen finally broke the logjam and booked it herself, and from there on it was smooth sailing.

If this means that I have a tendency to procrastinate tasks that are difficult to cope with, even to the point where I’m afraid to ask after the cost, then I am my mother’s son. This situation reminded me of my mother’s dishwasher, which broke down during my childhood. She went a decade without getting it fixed; in the end, when it came time to sell the house, a $40 repair got it back in operation. I think she imagined that it would be much more expensive, and therefore was something she couldn’t cope with; as a result, the dishes piled up and the ants made themselves welcome. I must make sure I don’t recapitulate that behaviour.

How cats file

Somebody please explain when cats learned how to file. We pull plastic springs out from under the fridge and stove, but toy mice from under the living room shelving. They’re sorting their toys as they lose them?

Suddenly sociable

The world is conspiring to end my reclusive ways. We’ve long wanted a MetaFilter get-together in the Ottawa area, but now it finally looks like it’s going to happen. The particulars are settling out more quickly than they usually do: it looks like it’ll be at Pub Italia on Friday, February 18, beginning at 7 p.m. Nearly a dozen people have expressed an interest; if they all show up, it’ll be one of the largest MeFi gatherings in a while, and that’s probably because we haven’t had one yet.

I stopped by the Pontiac Archives this afternoon to do a little digging into the local railroad history. (I’m a trained historian, I like railroads, and I thought I might be able to find grist for an article or two.) I ended up staying for the monthly executive meeting, where I was the youngest (and male-est) attendee by a long shot; I may be dragooned into volunteering for a few things, like cataloguing the map collection. As far as the Pontiac is concerned, I’ve been incommunicado for about a year; this was nearly a coming-out party for me. I’ve been a volunteer workhorse in the past — here I go again?

If nothing else, it’s probably not a bad thing if I spend less time in front of this screen.

More mudpuppy photos

More photos have been added to the Mudpuppy Night album; these were taken Friday night. Strictly speaking, most of these are not mudpuppy photos, but rather of the night’s activities. The lighting was not amenable, the camera’s batteries were draining quickly, and I fell on the ice. Also, I shot in “night mode” and my shots are blurrier — though more revealing — than if I had shot in regular flash mode.

Downtime and uploads

We took Venetia to see the mudpuppies last night, so additional photos should be available shortly. When we got back, our cable — Internet and TV alike — was out. Persona said this morning that a fire had cut the fibre-optic cable (see previous entry); service wasn’t restored until late this afternoon, which all things considered was pretty fast, and better than they had predicted (always a good strategy). In the meantime, I installed the new iLife and iWork suites, which arrived yesterday. (So far so good, but with surprisingly sluggish moments which are hopefully anomalous.)

Mudpuppy night photos

A mudpuppy swimming in the frigid waters of Kemptville Creek below the Oxford Mills Dam.

They’re a little late in coming, but I’ve finally posted a few photos from one of Fred’s mudpuppy nights — in this case, from Feb. 7, 2004, when a squadron of herpers from the Toronto/Peterborough area descended on Oxford Mills to see the wonder that is amphibians active at subfreezing temperatures.

Fewer photos turned out than I had hoped: my incompetence with the camera meant that I had the water’s surface in focus most of the time. (But then I was shooting madly like a good news photographer, with similar results: 61 photos taken, six used.)

Jennifer online

I mentioned this obliquely in an update to an earlier post, but it warrants its own post: Jennifer now has her own blog. So far she seems as likely to cover science-related stuff online as the day-to-day stuff. (Note that updates on our pathetic little lives may show up in both of our blogs, or on one, or the other — i.e., you’ll have to read both if you’re interested in that sort of thing.)

Also, her first digital photos — I gave her a camera last week — are beginning to appear on her Flickr account.

Me, aged one

I’ve scanned some black-and-white photos of me from 1973 and put them online here. (Black-and-white photos on glossy paper stock scan very nicely.) You’ll notice that one of them is the basis of the thumbnail at the top of each page on this site. It is my deepest regret that it’s been downhill on the cuteness scale ever since for me.


Yesterday contained multitudes, and had its sad and happy moments.

Our first task was both long-expected and a sudden surprise. Our friend Ann Olson died Saturday; her funeral was yesterday morning. She’d been living with the knowledge that her cancer was terminal for the past year; nevertheless she was still irrepressibly positive. She didn’t fool herself or anyone else into thinking she had a chance, but was still determined to live her life to the fullest. Her husband, Bob, gave the eulogy, and it was wonderful: funny, and warm, and full of affection. She will be missed by a great many people.

The funeral was in Maitland, just east of Brockville; we went through Merrickville to get to and from. On the way back, naturally, we stopped for a bite and a stop at the most dangerous model railroad store in these here parts. Here, Jennifer decided to exact her revenge for last April’s iPod incident and bought me what she called “an early birthday present”, viz., an A and B set of HO-scale C-Liner diesel locomotives in Canadian Pacific livery. Of course I was all flummoxed and discombobulated.

Since she decided to up the ante, I raised her; later that evening I bought her a digital camera. Now the flummoxing and discombobulation were on the other foot, so there!

Suffice it to say, the two of us are doing very well with, for and by one another. In some ways I think Bob and Ann (to segue back to the beginning of this entry) make great role models: they always seemed to complement each other’s strengths. We could do worse.

The post-Christmas post

Turkey, anyone? Actually, we’re almost out — the advantage of getting a small bird. Even with just the two of us there’s not much left, though that might merely be a testament to our tryptophan-addled gluttony.

Christmas makes cats go batshit. No, I don’t think Jennifer inadvertently switched the summer savory with the catnip (though they do look suspiciously similar). But now they’ve got all sorts of new things to play with. Discarded wrapping paper! Empty boxes! (New clothes get covered in cat hair before I even get a chance to try them on to see if they fit.)

Today, Goober knocked over and scattered an opened chocolate orange twice. Does he like dark chocolate? No — he was after the wrapper.

Dept. of Dangerous Gifts. The $40 iTunes gift certificate I gave Jennifer may have started something insidious: I’m sure she found more than a dozen albums she wanted to get. And the electronic labeller she gave me has already seen heavy use; I had no idea I’d get as compulsive as was depicted in ads for these gadgets a decade ago. (No, I haven’t labelled the cats. Yet.)

Devil cat

Kittens in the second half of their first year are nothing but trouble: think kittenish freakouts in an adult cat body. Also, they haven’t figured out their limits yet. Getting a cat to stop doing something is no small feat in itself, but it’s an extra challenge with Goober. He simply doesn’t know fear. I’m not kidding: he doesn’t even run from the vacuum cleaner. Try training a cat like that. Yell at him and he doesn’t even flinch.

We’ve been trying to make him leave the snakes alone. Maya’s quite inured to the presence of wriggly things inside cages, and doesn’t make any serious attempts on them. Then again, she is pretty listless. But Goober hasn’t gotten used to them yet. Time and again, he’s pouncing on top of their cages, freaking them out to no end. Scaring my poor critters!

Trouser, my male corn snake, who’s never struck at a human being, took a swing at Goober through the glass a while back (obviously, before hibernation). When we moved the female hognose snake into a 15-gallon tank (larger digs), he scared her so much that her hood stayed flattened all day. Put her off her feed, of course. These are captive-bred snakes, well accustomed to human contact, and even they know that cats is trouble.

Today, whilst farting around on the computer, I heard a snake’s tail vibrate in a cage behind me. Snakes don’t have to be rattlers to buzz their tails when they’re scared. I looked around, and there was Goober, sitting on top of the (empty) corn snake cage, bothering the Baird’s rat snake as he was dangling off the inside of his lid. (He does that.) A yell, a swat, and a timeout in the bathroom for Goober.

I keep telling myself that it’s natural for his age, and that he’ll grow out of it.

Tonight he got into the catnip in one of the kitchen cupboards. Spread it all over the kitchen floor. How is this going to be a disincentive to him jumping on the counter?

Right now he and Maya are tussling and bouncing off one another. That’s better, cats: beat each other up. (Actually, it’s surprising how well they get along with one another.)

And now we have a fish. Who knows what’s going to happen next.

Cookie monster

Cookie monster
Originally uploaded by mcwetboy.

Our cats are incorrigible mooches — the incorrigibility depends on what they’re mooching. Chocolate chip cookies? That was a surprise …

You have no idea how impossible it is to eat a meal unmolested in this house.

Still here — just hurting

Friends have been writing to ask whether I am, in fact, still here. Yup.

I’ve been posting elsewhere — especially at The Map Room, but also at Ankylose This! and on the daily links thingy. Just not here. Partly because I’ve been sick and tired — literally — and the things that I would have said here would have required more psychic and physical effort: the ankylosing spondylitis has been misbehaving itself in recent weeks. So what I’ve been able to do has been limited; because The Map Room gets most of my traffic, I’ve given most of my posting priority to that project.

A few posts have been forming in my mind during that time, but they’re not the sort of thing you can toss off when you’re in pain and exhausted. I’ll try to give them a shot soon.

And of course I’m way behind on adding more material to the garter snake site.

One thing I try to tell myself is that it’s okay to fall behind on the personal projects if I’m in pain and can’t manage. My friends, family and readers are probably more understanding about this than I am.

Railroad photo albums

My father’s been visiting since last week, and the three of us have been doing the train thing like nobody’s business. On Saturday we went to St-Constant to visit the Canadian Railway Museum and oohed and aahed over the vintage railway equipment. Unless you are also the sort of person to ooh and aah over such things as a Fairbanks-Morse Trainmaster or a Canadian Pacific Royal Hudson, you wouldn’t understand. As is traditional, I took a whole whack of photos.

Then on Monday we took a ride on the Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield Steam Train. Packed with tourists, many of whom from tour buses — it’s the fall season after all. It’s run with Swedish equipment, from the two locomotives — a 1909-vintage 2-8-0 Consolidation class and a 1960s-vintage diesel, presumably there for backup and support — to the rolling stock. Reasonably comfortable, though the animation was a bit overdone. Track conditions kept the train quite slow: 32 km covered in 90 minutes. Once again, I have photos.

On Tuesday my father and I went off to Lark Spur Line — the largest model railroading store in the area — and came away with a few model freight cars each. Lark Spur is really good for freight cars. We’ve been building things ever since. I was working on a flat car earlier tonight; now Jen and my dad are working on wooden kits of a CPR caboose and refrigerator car.

Still to come: Railfair on Saturday, after which we all may well be heartily sick of the subject.

Murphy’s Point photos from 2002

I’ve been procrastinating again. I’ve been meaning to put some reptile photo albums online for some time, but I wanted to have a homegrown photo-gallery thingy — similar to that for Trails — running in the reptiles section. The hell with that: I’ll use my .Mac web space. To start with, here are photos from a June 2002 field trip to Murphy’s Point Provincial Park.

Between the Flickr stuff, putting up older photos, and the new photos associated with my father’s visit (more on which anon), expect an awful lot of photography in the near future.

E-mail announcements

My e-mail is being discontinued. Most of my contacts have moved over to my other address, but in case you haven’t, consider yourself notified.

Lately I’ve been consolidating my personal e-mail at my main address, and my mailing-list e-mail at my Gmail account. I don’t use my e-mail much, but it’s dandy webmail (what with the address book integration) so I’ll probably forward my regular mail there when I need to use webmail on a regular basis, assuming I can work out a couple of wrinkles.

Want a Gmail account? I have a ton of invites to give away, and no one to give them to. My only proviso is that we have to be acquainted already (i.e., our first introduction shouldn’t be your Gmail request — if it is, I’ll ignore you). Write me if you want one; if you know me, you probably already know which address to use.


As you may have noticed, I now have a Flickr account (my photos). This is allowing me to do all sorts of neat things with my digital photos. So far I’m using an RSS feed to put my reptile photos on my reptiles page, and I’ve got a random photo generator at the top of the sidebar on each page. More as I find uses for all the little features. There’s an iPhoto plugin (see their Macintosh group) that makes uploading my photos absolutely painless.

This isn’t going to replace iPhoto or my .Mac photo galleries, but it’s an easy way to share photos as I take them. The social-networking functions will make this really neat too: I can view my friends’ and contacts’ photos, or search for photos based on the tags that have been assigned (such as snake or trains).

I’m sending out invites. Sign up. Seriously. Free, and it looks like there are good people behind it.

(Note that they’ve been having some DNS trouble over the past day or two, and that outages will affect my pages as a result.)

They’re hiring

When I quit my job at the Justice department early last year, I wondered how long it would take them to hire a replacement. To be honest, I wasn’t happy there, and I thought to myself at the time, with some satisfaction, that it would take me less time to find a new job than it would take them to replace me.

It turns out that I was right, though that’s not to say that I’ve been finding jobs quickly: after being down two English legislative revisor positions for more than a year and a half (another of my cohort went and became a jurilinguist), they’re finally hiring. I just didn’t think I’d be on the other side of another job, looking for work again, when they did it.

(Actually, I should mention that my own job situation is not entirely dire: I’ve literally been waiting for a phone call for nearly two months. They say the delay is “due to circumstances beyond their control”, so at the very least I’m not yet out of the running. And it’s definitely a job worth waiting for.)

A cat update

“Goober” seems to be the name that is settling upon our new arrival; we’ve bounced it and a few other ideas off other people and “Goober” gets the best reaction. He still has a head full of phlegm and a runny nose — he’s getting antibiotics as a result — so the name is not exactly inappropriate at the moment.

A bit of excitement earlier this week as he started shitting in inconvenient places, but, since we moved one of the litter boxes to the bathroom and the food dishes to the kitchen, based on suggestions from the Googling around we did on the subject, wayward shitting has not reoccurred.

He’s also got a voracious appetite and is just as pathetic a moocher as Maya is.

Healy Pass

Remember how I said that the Healy Pass photos would be up in a few days — back in April?

Ha. How little you understand my inability to choose which photos to use. (Drove Dave nuts at the paper: I’d give him a full card of photos and he’d only want a few — I just couldn’t figure out which ones were good.)

Anyway, they’re up now: 30 photos from Geoff’s and my hike of the Simpson Pass—Healy Meadows and Healy Pass trails (see previous entry).

The trails section has had another redesign, too — replacing tables with CSS elements. It may not look 100 per cent on Internet Explorer, but you’re not supposed to be using that browser any more anyway.

Unless I happen across a store of forgotten photos somewhere, that should be it for photo galleries on the trails section until I go hiking again.

Welcome to Leamington

We took a trip to Pelee Island last weekend; I’m still recovering. I’ll have more on that trip, on what we saw and what we did, in a later entry. This entry is about what we found when we got off the ferry.

Taking your car across on the Pelee Island ferry is impractical: there’s limited space on the boat and it’s more expensive. So most people opt to leave their car in long-term parking at the terminal, which at this time of year is in Leamington. (Sometimes the ferry goes to nearby Kingsville instead.)

Here’s what we found when we got back:

Licence plate graffiti

Continue reading this entry »

Security alert: Mac networks susceptible to irony

Yesterday we set up my broken-screened iBook with a surplus 15-inch monitor from Jen’s school. It still needed a new keyboard and mouse to be complete, but once it was set up we had a (somewhat awkward) second Mac workstation. I was looking forward to having a bit of networking set up between the two computers, having two Macs available in the household at any one time …

… and then irony struck. My Airport Base Station blew this afternoon. Not sure if it’s fixable — I’ve still got to do a bit of research — but here’s what happened. It couldn’t maintain a connection with the cable modem for more than a few seconds after rebooting. It could generate a wireless LAN fine enough; it just couldn’t stay connected to the Internet.

(No, I didn’t install the dodgy Airport 3.4 update. It’s a snow base station, not Extreme. At least I don’t think I installed the update I installed an awful lot of updates on the iBook last night … )

So much for that little experiment. I’ll see if it’s fixable, but it’s not worth the cost or effort to replace the base station at this moment. (It’s provided non-stop service for over two years; I don’t think that’s too bad.)

I have a cold

I have a cold. My colds happen in three stages, each taking a few days: first, a sore throat; second, congested sinuses; and third, coughing up buckets of phlegm. (The transition from stage one to stage two happened last night.) A lot of people I’ve talked to have colds hit them similarly, so this may well be typical. In recent years, though, some my colds have more or less aborted themselves midway through. Whether this is a result of my out-of-control immune system crushing the virus with especial force, or the high doses of naproxen, I don’t know. Certainly doesn’t stop me from getting nastier flu virii (in Europe in July 1997 and January 2000) or the Norwalk virus last month, but I’ll take what respites are available. I’ve been forced to take things easier in any event.

Writer/editor + translator

A problem I frequently encounter when hunting for a job in the Ottawa area is that many of the writer/editor positions — for which I am eminently suited — also expect the candidate to translate. Worse yet, they expect the candidate to translate in both directions: French to English and English to French. Trouble is, I’ve taken enough translation classes, and I know enough translators, to know that you just can’t do that.

While I fulfill the language profiles (CCC French) of these jobs, I know enough about translation to know that I am not a translator, and, if called upon to translate, I would, at best, take forever to do a mediocre job. Also, real translators generally only translate into their native tongue, not both ways.

My guess is that those doing the hiring don’t know about these nuances, and are trying to cut corners by getting their IS-03 writer/editor to pinch in with a little TR-03-level translating (Ottawa types will know what these mean), without realizing what the end result would be. (Embarrassingly bad French-language documents are by no means rare in the public service.) If it’s just a matter of managing the sending out of translation work to the Translation Bureau sweatshops, there’s no indication of that in the job poster that sparked this little rant.

What scares me is that the people doing the applying for this may not know about these nuances either. (Just because you’re bilingual doesn’t mean you can translate.)

I may apply for it anyway, but include this little rant. Might be fun.

Trails page redesign

It’s been up for a week, actually, but now I’ve finally got enough of the bugs worked out that I can finally mention the redesign of the trails section of this website. In addition to a new layout and appearance, I’ve also finally added pictures from my hikes to Eiffel Lake and Citadel Pass. These hikes took place in 1988 — when I was just a lad of 16 — and the photos are scans from slides.

Next up is the long-overdue page on Healy Pass, which I hiked in the summer of 2002 (see previous entry). It takes me forever to get around to updating the trails section — the Eiffel Lake and Citadel Pass pages were first conceived in 1999 — but I’m hoping to have that done in the next few days. (Really!) There are nearly a hundred pictures to choose from and process, and I’ve been procrastinating that rather big task.

Sam’s birthday

Sam had her 30th birthday yesterday. Sam didn’t like turning 30. She also really didn’t like having her picture taken.

And I’m sure she will be delighted to have me inform you of this fact and have these nice pictures on the web for all to see. (Don’t worry, Sam; I only have about 30,000 visits per month.)

I’m a dead man.

Bazooka barfing

Well, that was fun. Came down with the stomach flu while travelling over the weekend, which made for a fun, eight-hour trip home Sunday evening: every couple of hours I told Jen to pull over so I could gag, retch and generally paint the highway shoulder. Most uncomfortable. Wasn’t able to keep down solid food until yesterday afternoon. But much better now.

AskMe threads for future reference

Ask MetaFilter is the bee’s knees. A couple of threads for future reference:

I quit

I resigned my job as reporter with The Equity today. More than that I don’t want to say at the moment — at least not until the dust has settled.

Christmas in New Brunswick

Fog so thick I can barely see across the Kennebecasis River. Dinner Christmas Eve was quite possibly the largest lobster I’ve ever seen on my plate. They’re making blueberry muffins upstairs. They’re just getting under way, but I’ve been up for hours — as usual, I can neither stay up late nor sleep in.

Much. Better. Now.

After going through my own version of the seven stages of grieving, viz., (1) being furious at myself for my own stupidity, (2) panicking over the financial implications, (3) lashing out over the perceived lack of emotional support from friends and family, (4) trying to replace the broken laptop dès que possible and being frustrated at one not being in stock, (5) expressing amazement at my dependency on the silly thing, etc., etc., I’ve settled myself down and sorted myself out. The sun rose the next morning. As a rule, I bottom out magnificently, but pull myself back together quickly.

We’ve decided that the new computer will be a 17-inch iMac. A little harder for me to break, and it trades off mobility — which frankly I need less of lately, what with my plethora of gadgetry — for additional features for roughly the same price. Assuming we can find one in stock, that is. The iBook is still operable, just with shattered glass in the LCD, so it will be possible to get critical files off it in the meantime and trivial to move my data over to the new computer — FireWire target disk mode, baby.


Closed iBook’s screen too abruptly today. Broke the screen. Will cost C$1,400 to replace, so it’s new computer time, when I can hardly afford it. Christmas cancelled.

Update: A bit more on the subject. It’s my fault, of course, and the kind of thing that AppleCare does not — and should not — cover. Kicking myself mightily for being so bloody stupid. Feeling absolutely, perfectly horrible.

At the moment trying to figure out the right replacement — likely a 12” iBook or 12” PowerBook. Prices run between C$2,300 and C$2,900 after taxes. Ow. Ow ow ow. But it’s just not cost-effective to get the screen fixed. At the very least I’ll have a newer, better computer that will last a little longer, instead of dropping $1,400 on a machine that has already seen extremely heavy use for two years.

I’m disabling comments on this entry. I don’t even trust my family not to make snarky comments about this, much less complete strangers, and I’m kind of a wreck at the moment, so off they go.

Update #2: You have no idea how hard it is to find an Apple laptop in a computer store in New Brunswick. I may not be able to buy a replacement for quite some time simply for lack of supply. Can I possibly have timed this fuckup any better?

Bent icicles

Photo of curved icicles seen outside our apartment

I’ve never seen icicles curved by the wind before. I took this photo from our bathroom window last Thursday.

Weekend update

While I’m on the subject of the weekend, we were also in Toronto for Markus and Cindy’s wedding Saturday. A nice small affair in downright opulent surroundings — an officer’s mess at a military college. Downright nice folks, which cast some discussions about friends and friendship that Jen and I had been having that very day into sharp relief.

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