Sunday, June 30, 2002
This letter to Locus argues, in considerable detail and with an astonishing amount of supporting evidence, that "Minority Report . . . is full of plot holes, inconsistencies, and illogic."
Saturday, June 29, 2002
SDB's take on the Amtrak situation is that long-distance rail service, which Amtrak must maintain for essentially political reasons (see previous entry), is inherently uneconomic and cannot compete with other forms of travel. Trains succeed in Europe because distances are shorter and population densities are higher (SDB has never prevented himself from stating the obvious); rail service in the U.S., he argues, should focus on short-haul, high-density areas. After shutting Amtrak down, of course.
Compact Music has an excellent collection of folk music on its shelves, but I have no idea where to begin. Is there an introduction out there to klezmer, cajun and zydeco music?
I was wondering whether there was a science-fiction club in the area; it turns out that there is the Ottawa Science Fiction Society. Must investigate.
Scuttlebutt at Basilisk Dreams Books this afternoon: the first season of Babylon 5 will be released on DVD this November, apparently.
Friday, June 28, 2002
From Slate: another vote in favour of killing Amtrak and an assessment of the profitability of Amtrak's most profitable region, the Northeast Corridor. VIA Rail looks positively in the pink in comparison.
Mr. Deeds (QuickTime trailer), the Adam Sandler remake of the classic Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (Frank Capra, Gary Cooper genuflect here), actually gets a good review from The Globe and Mail. My father will be shocked, appalled and flabbergasted he may cancel his subscription over this. Fortunately for his sanity and the security of his Weltanschauung, that positive review may just be an outlier, if this Slate summary is any indication.
Jennifer this is the other Jen, the one I'm dating seems to have given me her cold. Oh well. At least I don't feel the back nearly as much, somehow.
I'm hosting two of Jen's travel diaries on mcwetboy.net: her account of her honeymoon in Egypt (which she had had to take down due to a lack of space with her own ISP), and her new diary of her trip to the Loire Valley that's in France, pudniks last month.
Thursday, June 27, 2002
Melissa has a web page dedicated to her animals. No words were harmed in the making of this home page.
Amazon.ca Amazon.com for Canadians is now online. Too early to know what I think about it. Canadian booksellers are aghast, Canadian publishers are optimistic (competition for Chapters/Indigo). Cory's ambiguous take on the subject.
Have a look at this. Our own Paul Goulet (Little Ray's Reptile Zoo) was featured in the Toronto Sun this week. Seems he's been contracted to hunt down a crocodile-like critter spotted in the Haliburton area. The working theory is that it's an abandoned spectacled caiman. (via kingsnake.ca)
Also noteworthy about my trip to Calgary in July/August is that it looks like my mother will be getting married while I'm there. I like to multitask my vacations, but wow.
Karel Bergmann has posted a page about field herping in Alberta, which is fortuitous, since I'm planning to be in Alberta in late July and early August, and was hoping to try to do a little field work while there. (via kingsnake.ca)
Two new movie trailers worth mentioning. One is for Star Trek: Nemesis (via Slashdot) and is an official release. The other is ahem less than official. It's for The Two Towers (also via Slashdot). Nemesis is out one week before Two Towers, so it has approximately one week to live.
Wednesday, June 26, 2002
Pretzel, my normal corn snake, has laid 13 eggs.
Monday, June 24, 2002
Flare is still pretty ferocious. I can't believe I haven't yet upped my dosage to 1500 mg/day of naproxen; what have I been waiting for?
John Dvorak has been baiting Mac users for a long time what a job, to get paid to troll but I think that making fun of the physical appearance of the ordinary people who appear in Apple's ad campaign is just a bit beyond the pale. He must have his set of steak knives by now. (via boing boing, one of whom got made fun of)
Department of Ha Ha Ha . . . No: Blockbuster asks you to rewind your rented DVDs before returning them. No. I'm not going to believe this. I'm not going to believe this. I'm not going to pffft! ha ha ha ha! (via Metafilter)
It's a pity that The Hill Times doesn't archive its columnists' articles. This week, their two media columnists, Richard Gwyn (pinch-hitting for the late Dalton Camp) and Clare Hoy have and I think this is the point of the operation very different takes on the Aspers' firing of Russell Mills. (That again?)
For Gwyn, Mills was a stolid newspaperman who kept his paper profitable and survived unscathed under a series of owners with different ideological axes to grind: "For Asper to have been unable to work with Mills thus is a defining comment on Asper. No one can work with him, except time-servers and those desperate for a job.
Hoy, on the other hand, defends the right of the Aspers to fire Mills, even for the reason everyone is clamouring about. He argues that the Aspers' insistence on towing a certain ideological line is no different than elsewhere and other times. The difference, and the problem, he thinks, is simply that the Aspers were too "blatant" about it: "The difference here is that most newspaper proprietors, and journalists too, have been reluctant to be as bald-faced about that reality as the Aspers are.
These links will be useless as of next Monday. Read 'em quick, folks.
A poor article on an interesting subject: poorer rural students are much less likely to attend university, but the article only briefly touches on that, then moves on to standard-issue quotes on the high cost and general inaccessibility of a university education. One of my old professors at the University of Winnipeg, Nolan Reilly, did an accessibility study that discovered that young people from the industrial suburb of Transcona were less likely to attend university than young people from native reserves, if I remember correctly. This article reminded me that there are some surprises out there in terms of who does and does not go to university, but it really doesn't contribute much itself.
Palm Infocenter's first report on Kyocera's upcoming smartphone (see previous entry) was taken down by Kyocera's lawyers, but now the 7135 has been formally announced: it's a Palm OS based CDMA smartphone with a SD slot, 16 MB of RAM, and, apparently, a high-resolution colour screen. Plus that neat clamshell design I mentioned before. It also plays MP3 files, which I always find gratuitous it's hard for iPod-owning me to take flash-memory-based MP3 players seriously.
Ted is a national treasure. He writes one story every million years or so, but each of those stories is a goddamned jewel. He's won two Nebula awards (I was at one of the Neb banquets where he received an award, though he wasn't, and sat at a table filled with three or four of Ted's agents; that's right, three or four of Ted's agents. The guy's never written a novel, has no plans to, but just in case, there's a whole queue of agents ready to represent him).
. . .[E]ven if you're the kind of person who waits for the paperback, even if you're the kind of person who doesn't read short stories . . . ,this is the book you need to make an exception for.
Every single goddamn one of Chiang's stories that I have read and I think I've read all of them so far has astonished me with its power, its ingenuity, and its sheer brilliance. This man has so much talent it's frightening. I'll be laying hands on a copy just as soon as I can. You should too.
(By the way, Cory: almost all of Tor's author bios on the dustjacket are like that; Chiang's is nothing special in terms of its brevity.)
Apropos of my interest in doing a journalism degree (see previous entry), Jen writes, "Naturally I would be remiss if I did not also recommend that you consider upping sticks to Halifax and doing the BJ at my own dear King's College." Indeed, much to my surprise, King's has a one-year Journalism degree for people who already have a Bachelor's degree, which for my purposes is better (i.e., quicker) than the two-year MJ program at Carleton. Also, when you've got two degrees already, you don't necessarily want to get a BJ (awkward turn of phrase, that heh) that cannot take those degrees into account.
Sunday, June 23, 2002
Jonathan Kay, an associate editor at the National Post and apparently the Aspers' running dog lackey, compared journalism with sausage making at last night's public forum, broadcast on The Sunday Edition this morning (see previous entry). (Incidentally, I didn't attend.) "It's silly to make a freedom of speech issue out of this.
Saturday, June 22, 2002
The ROM Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario, by Ross D. MacCullough. McClelland & Stewart, 2002. Paperback, 168 pp. ISBN 0-7710-7651-7 $24.99
Ontarians have not had a field guide to their reptiles and amphibians for some time, at least not since Bob Johnson's Familiar Reptiles and Amphibians of Ontario (1989). Whereas Johnson's little book was illustrated with black-and-white sketches that may or may not have resembled the actual animal in question, this new pocket guide is a showcase for excellent herp photography, giving each species native to Ontario three full-colour photographs on the facing page of each written description.
It's important to remember that this is a field guide, focused on the identification of wildlife in the field, and as such is not terribly in-depth after all, it's supposed to fit in your pocket! Each species is limited to a page of description and a page of photographs, a format which, for the most part, works rather well. Information is basic (identification, habitat, diet, reproduction), concise and, for the most part, accurate.
But brevity can be risky, and errors can sometimes creep in. Describing Butler's Garter Snakes as "more slender" than Common Garter Snakes (p. 130) is, in my experience, a mistake; and the description of the Fowler's Toad's call as simply "shorter" than that of the American Toad (p. 68) is not correct either. Nor is there any distinction between the Eastern and Red-sided subspecies of the Common Garter; descriptions are at the species level, and different subspecies are not always distinguished.
Common names definitely suffer from the focus on the species level, as "Eastern Racer" and "Eastern Ratsnake" are used, rather than the more commonly used subspecies names of "Blue Racer" and "Black Rat Snake". Common names generally follow the names set out in SSAR's Scientific and Standard English Names of Amphibians and Reptiles of North America North of Mexico (2000), rather than the more familiar and widely used names found in the controversial competing list put out by Joe Collins's Centre for North American Herpetology.
In spite of the real space limitations, I would have liked to have seen descriptions of frog and toad calls and of amphibian eggs, which are dealt with only occasionally (larvae and tadpoles are well represented in the photographs), because in my experience eggs and calls are encountered often enough that having an answer in a field guide would have been a real help.
Those wanting to learn more about our native herpetofauna would do well to consult the excellent Amphibians and Reptiles of the Great Lakes Region by James H. Harding (1997). But, since that book is too large to tuck into your bag or pocket, grab this little book instead if you're heading out into the field and need to know what it is you've just found.
Friday, June 21, 2002
Watched Episode I again tonight. Yoda's a fucking puppet in that one! And to think that I was initially ambivalent about a wholly computer-generated Yoda for Episode II.
"Owning newspapers is not the same thing as forcing them to share the owner's political or personal DNA. Firing people for honestly and professionally doing their journalistic jobs and only because they haven't echoed your deep wisdom, is brutal, mischievous, short-sighted and silly." The perennially acid-tongued Rex Murphy on the Mills firing; this is his Wednesday-night commentary on The National, but I don't own a television, so I didn't stumble across this until now.
Would you buy genetically engineered food if it meant that fewer pesticides had been sprayed on it? That's the choice that farmer Jeff Wilson, writing in the Globe, offers. If you assume that GMOs are a bad thing, then it's a zero-sum game; he thinks it's an improvement. I'm not equipped to evaluate the argument, but it's an interesting one.
Leonard Asper, whose company has been in the newspaper business for about two years, claims that the real reason they fired Russell Mills, who's been in the business for over thirty years, is that Mills violated basic journalistic principles. Apparently the Aspers don't know the difference between the roles of publisher and editor (otherwise they'd have fired Scott Anderson and chewed out Mills, rather than vice versa). And I don't know about you, and I'm certainly not a lawyer, but that sounds rather libellous to me, don't you think? Add that to the wrongful-dismissal suit.
Concurrently today, a Citizen columnist is praising Mills's philanthropy and the union has taken out a full-page ad in the paper. (If the Aspers are autocratic, they're not being very thorough about it.) And I may attend this tomorrow night.
Shit. The EDC Tower is right across the street from my apartment building. I think that the media fears of vandalism and looting are overstated (they only broke the windows of a McDonald's last year), the police presence will probably be heavy, and they're unlikely to target apartment buildings. Right?
At the local Staples last night to show the various handhelds on the market to Jennifer (who may be in need of one), and they actually had an operating Sony CLIÉ PEG-NR70V on display (see previous entries: first, second). This is, of course, an extremely cool gadget, even if its C$1,000 price tag causes seizures. Got to play with it a bit tried out its keyboard (no worse than Treo or Blackberry keyboards) and, of course, twisted and flipped the screen around into all possible configurations. The only problem with the NR70V is that it's so self-consciously excessive, i.e., a thousand-dollar Palm OS handheld with a superfast processor, MP3 player, mini digital camera and thumbpad isn't really useful for anything (or at least not significantly more useful as a single device) except as massive technogeekish overkill.
Meanwhile, Palm Infocenter has a photograph of a new smartphone from Samsung that combines a Palm OS handheld and a CDMA mobile phone. Its design looks a lot like Kyocera's rumoured smartphone (see previous entry) in that it's a flip phone with the screen on one side and the Graffiti area on the other.
I have discovered that I miscounted the baby garter snakes last week (see previous entry). While trying to feed them last night, Jennifer and I discovered that two of the cages had eleven snakes instead of ten. So that means the total number of baby snakes is 42. (Don't even start on the Douglas Adams, okay?) By the way, only two of them actually ate (they were offered small earthworms).
The flare got me again yesterday (see previous entry).
Thursday, June 20, 2002
On a happier note, the second Pelee field trip movie, "Dave vs. Bullfrog", is now online (see previous entry); it's 90 seconds, 5.5 megabytes, and a little lighter in tone than the last one.
Wednesday, June 19, 2002
I'm having problems with the ex. Normally our post-relationship relationship hasn't been too bad � we collaborate insofar as the snakes are concerned, for example, and have been on reasonably friendly (if awkward) terms � but since Sunday she has persisted in taking little shots at me that push all my buttons and that seem designed to provoke a reaction in me.
Sunday: While driving back from Murphy's Point she gives me orders, and while moving the snakes out of her apartment, she flips me the finger during a tense discussion. All in the presence of my current girlfriend. Eventually she is embarrassed enough to send me the following apology by e-mail: "I'm really sorry about earlier. I shouldn't have flipped the finger to you. Ironic that now, I'll be the one looking like a monster." Unfortunately, our past history has shown that she is usually sorry about earlier; in the long run, it never mattered.
Monday: She reads this entry and somehow manages to take offense. She writes me the following e-mail: "I read your blog on moving snakes. I'm afraid I don't like the ex's part. Makes me feel unappreciated considering what I've done for your critters. That's just my take on it." Granted, we have a rather bad history between the two of us, but how on earth can she read anything hostile into what I wrote? From that reaction, it seems that she could take offense at saying hello. As for her feeling unappreciated, here is what I said in my reply:
With regards to how I've referred to you and treated you on my weblog, I think you have very little to complain about. I did my very best to keep our troubles out of public view, even if that meant I didn't publish for days or weeks at a time because I had nothing else to write about, and even during the breakup itself I didn't divulge details. So I think I did a good job.
If you feel unappreciated simply because I call you "the ex" (a reference that is factual and not insulting on its face), then I think you still have some work to do on yourself, because you're reacting to absolutely nothing at all. All things considered, you've been treated more than fairly in my writing.
Or, the short answer: "You don't like it? Tough. Not my problem."
As for feeling unappreciated because of what you've done for my critters, I could present a rather lengthy list of things I could feel unappreciated about (making a concerted effort to make the breakup as painless as possible, leaving behind a number of expensive items -- computer, TV, VCR, almost all the furniture -- that I paid for myself, babysitting your collection for three weeks, offering to sell your baby snakes for you, and so on, and so on). Do not put my generosity to the test.
Later on we resolve things somewhat. I make two suggestions to her: one, don't give me orders; and two, don't share your feelings with me if they're likely to cause conflict.
Tuesday: Conversations regarding animal feeding degenerate into an extremely tense negotiating session. It doesn't last long for her to "forget" the two suggestions of the previous day.
Today: What two suggestions? She nitpicks my blog, sending me an e-mail about a typo. Was that necessary, especially given what has gone before this week? And, when I got home from a social night out this evening, I had the following message waiting for me:
As planned, I did my errand to get guppies for both our collections. I had left meeces and wormies at work for me to pick on the way back and drop everything off at your place. We discussed this yesterday. I called you at 8:00 pm from work, but you weren't reachable at home or on your cell phone. So now everything's back home with me. I will drop off what is yours on my way to work tomorrow morning.
Suffice to say I'm not impressed. I would at least have liked to be able to reach you.
Except that, as far as I can remember, we had made no specific plans for me to be at home when she called, nor was any time set! Apparently I'm not allowed to have a life, but must wait for my ex my ex! to call.
Sigh. It's been nearly four months since the breakup, and she still won't leave me alone. Would you believe that I still get six to eight e-mails from her every day?
Part of the problem here is that she has Decided That She Needs to Express Her Feelings. Fine and good, but it doesn't necessarily follow that she has to go beyond assertive to outright aggression, and she doesn't need to harass me or to push all my buttons just to satisfy her need to express herself. In my opinion, she's crossed a line; her behaviour is unacceptable, and I'm not sure what to do next.
I know one thing she's going to hate this blog entry. But that's too bad. I just feel pushed to the limit, and she's not letting up no matter how much I complain. So I'm fighting back. Enough of this shit.
I've been thinking about taking a Master of Journalism degree at Carleton University (graduate calendar). My interest is in long-form print journalism, particularly magazine journalism, but not necessarily in public affairs environmental reporting, travel writing (in the Theroux sense, not in the travel-industry-handjob sense), science and nature journalism, cultural affairs (as opposed to straight arts and entertainment). Essentially, I'd like to learn to write the sort of thing I very much like to read. Must ponder this notion further, possibly inquire at the School, start thinking longer term. (Could I afford to live like a student again for two years? Would this be instead of or in addition to Clarion?)
A word to the wise: never, ever have a linking policy that requires prior written consent before you can link to a site. That means you, NPR. You see, it just encourages us see Boing Boing, Electrolite and now Slashdot.
I've been using the new Internet Explorer 5.2 for a spell (see previous entry). It seems to crash a lot more often than version 5.1 did more, even, than the seriously under-development Chimera. Annoying. Compared with that, IE 5.2's resetting the home page to MSN.com is only a minor (and easily corrected) gripe, possibly in retaliation for Apple's default home page changing to Netscape.
Lots, lots more on the Mills firing. From CBC Online: CanWest "very stupid" to fire Citizen publisher. "It clearly indicates that a company which is extremely powerful, wealthy and influential in the country it does own more than half the newspapers in the country is very stupid," says Carleton University journalism professor Roger Bird.
The Globe's Hugh Winsor suggests that the firing will trigger a public inquiry into media concentration. "Before the senators are finished with media concentration, David Asper may well wish that he had never made that Sunday night visit to Ottawa to can the most successful publisher in his empire."
And now the Vienna-based International Press Institute is taking notice, too. Says Johann Fritz, the Institute's director, in a press release: "It is an attack on press freedom by an unholy coalition between politics and big business.
Meanwhile, the Citizen did cover the brouhaha over Mills's firing yesterday in its print version, but I didn't think they would put the article online. Well, look at that; they did. Once there was a brouhaha, it became news; and the Citizen could focus on the controversy without necessarily taking direct aim at the firing itself. (See also the Canadian Press wire coverage on the canada.com site, also part of CanWest Global.)
Since it's a given that journalists love to write about the media itself, it's no surprise that this story will continue to have legs. Expect continued saturation coverage. That was foolish of them.
Mills comments on his firing in today's Globe and Mail.
Tuesday, June 18, 2002
An update on the firing of Ottawa Citizen publisher Russell Mills. Reporters are withholding their bylines in protest over Mills's firing in spite of likely disciplinary action. As well, there was a rally of a few hundred people yesterday at the newspaper's offices, and about 500 people have cancelled their subscriptions so far. In today's Globe and Mail, an editorial and a column by Jeffy Simpson, both denouncing the decision. They use the phrase "Winnipeg-dictated," or words to that effect, a lot. (CanWest Global's head office is in Winnipeg.) The Aspers are making my home town look bad.
Amtrak must die: "Amtrak is going nowhere. All it's doing is blocking the tracks." A long article in the New York Times Magazine by a self-described rail enthusiast, disillusioned by Amtrak's massive losses, miserable on-time performance and indifferent employees, who asks why it can't be different. Regional lines, if not profitable, at least lose less money, and subsidize long-haul money losers: ditch the centralized corporation, he says, and restart passenger rail on a regional basis. (via Plastic)
Stumbled across this feature on freelance work and self-employment on CBC's web site, which I found useful in terms of my own longer-term aspiration to freelance. Full of advice and cautionary tales from freelancers.
Monday, June 17, 2002
Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.2 for OS X adds Quartz anti-aliasing, but fails to address some bugs (especially style sheet rendering) that I've noticed. It's still probably the best implementation of anti-aliased text in an OS X browser so far.
One magazine I always enjoy reading is the Ryerson Review of Journalism. Stories about the inner workings of journalism and publishing are something I've always found interesting (the "Remedial Media" section of Frank is my favourite part of that magazine, for example). It's the aspiring writer in me. And the RRJ's stuff is always fantastic: intelligent, thorough, insightful everything journalism ought to be.
Ottawa Citizen publisher Russell Mills has been fired for running up against CanWest Global's editorial policies, though you wouldn't know it from the notice in the Citizen itself, which is brief and newspeak. (It seems to me axiomatic that the measure of a publication's commitment to a free press is the way in which it covers itself.) It's now abundantly clear that the Aspers are a bigger threat to media diversity than Conrad Black ever was.
Here's another nifty-looking gadget running the Palm OS: AlphaSmart's Dana, which, for US$400, has a keyboard, an unusually wide 560x160 monochrome screen, two SD slots and two USB ports. Weighing in at less than a kilogram, it's meant as an ultradurable laptop replacement. (via Palm Infocenter)
"The smaller Apple's market share gets, the louder the Zealots get." Brian Tiemann, who is kind of a Mac zealot himself, tackles the question of whether Mac fanatics do more harm than good to Apple's marketing efforts. I've posted a few times about how off-putting I've found some of the utterances of the Apple faithful and how, as a new recruit who was essentially drawn in by OS X, rather than the classic Mac OS, I discovered that I didn't have that much in common with that crowd. Tiemann nails it, I think, in this passage: "Apple is at last in a position where it can begin to appeal to the PC market at large on its own terms, rather than as a kooky alternative underground rebellion. As the ranks swell, the Zealots will become less and less visible, less and less confrontational and less and less of an impediment to more people switching than ever before." That is to say (to turn Tiemann's statement on its head), the larger Apple's market share gets, the less we'll have to hear from the nuts.
Ugandan entrepreneur Steven Banya wants to sell us coffee packaged coffee but, thanks to high tariffs and a perception (encouraged by coffee companies) that African coffee is inferior, he can't. "Mr. Banya, the only coffee processor in Uganda, sees a bigger picture. Africa, he says, has got to get out of the commodity-exporting business." A fascinating account (by Stephanie Nolen?) of the economics of coffee and a resurgent economy in Uganda, which sounds like an African success story.
My second coffee post in less than a week (see previous entry), and I only had my first cup in ages this morning. The Globe and Mail has posted a few interesting articles on Africa lately Angola last April, Djibouti last August and it surprises me how fascinated in them I've been.
Think Secret reports that Apple may adopt the 802.11g protocol for the next generation of its AirPort wireless networking products. AirPort currently uses 802.11b, which is 11 Mbps on the 2.4 GHz band; 802.11g would increase that speed to 54 Mbps, maintain 802.11b's range and use the same frequency, which would ensure backward compatibility. (A competing standard, 802.11a, has the same speed but a lower range, and uses the 5 GHz band, which would require new antennas.) Implications for a current wireless user (like yours truly): a new base station would be required to take advantage of 802.11g, but an 802.11b-equipped computer would still be able to connect to it (albeit at lower speeds), and, if I'm not mistaken, a new 802.11g-compatible card could still use the antennas currently built into Macs.
Up till 2 a.m. last night: after Murphy's Point, Jen and I moved 12 of my snakes from the ex's apartment to my place. My Baird's rat snake, eastern milk snake, northern water snake, Great Basin gopher snakes, Butler's garters, eastern black-necked garter, wandering garters, and flame garters are now happily (I presume) slithering about their cages back home. It took some doing: I bought a metal shelf on Saturday that was a little less wide than I had originally planned, and, when I assembled it last night, I discovered that it wasn't high enough to have all five shelves installed and have enough room to reach into each cage from the top. So I went with one shelf and placed all the 5-, 10- and 15-gallon cages on the unit; I'll have to redeploy the plastic cages elsewhere, which shouldn't be too difficult.
Meanwhile, I was at Little Ray's Reptile Zoo on Saturday, and saw (and handled) three of the garters I sold them last year. My god they're huge; they've been feeding them somewhat more than the subsistence diet that most snakes get from their breeders, so they're quite a bit larger than the remaining snakes from last year's litters. I think I can safely say that that is probably the case with all of the snakes I sold last year. I got to see what feeding entails at the zoo: I saw one of Denis's eastern indigo snakes gobble down half a dozen baby rats in front of a rapt audience of children (they bite hard; blood everywhere).
Now that I've seen her, I'm pretty sure that the female wandering garter snake is gravid (see previous entry).
Sunday, June 16, 2002
So five of us did end up going to Murphy's Point today (see previous entry) in spite of the driving rain, but the rain began to clear once we arrived, and the sun was out by the time we were finished. As usual, there is no justice. We were looking for snakes, particularly black rat snakes, but, thanks to the weather, we didn't find any. Still, we got a nice surprise right on arrival: the sight of a large snapping turtle trying to nest in a flower bed at the park gate. And when the weather is not so good for snakes, sometimes it's very good for amphibians. We saw the following amphibians: 19 red-backed salamanders, 18 of which were the lead-backed phase; one spotted salamander; one blue-spotted salamander; and five little wood frogs. Plus a whole mess of millipedes.
Friday, June 14, 2002
Africanized ("killer") bees pollinate coffee plants, which were thought to be self-pollinating, and can dramatically increase coffee yields, at least where habitat for birds and bees is protected. This has implications for the yields of organic and shade-grown coffee.
Oh my. In total, FORTY (40) baby red-sided garter snakes born today. Plus one stillborn.
For comparison, she gave birth to 26 babies plus one stillborn last year.
I took some good pictures. Now's as good a time as any to get the photo galleries up and running around
News flash: The red-sided garter snake is giving birth right now!
Heather confirms that the herps seized by the Humane Society have been largely given to the Indian River Reptile Zoo (see previous entry). This has led to some hard feelings in the local reptile community. We'll try to address this in as positive a way as we can: maybe an adoption service through the club, for example.
My current flare (see previous entry) has caught up with me at last, so I've taken the day off to stay at home and deal with the pain, which is considerable.
Florence thinks that my female wandering garter snake may be gravid (see previous entry). I'll investigate that when I'm over there this evening to move out my stuff.
With the latest online trailer for Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course, the film doesn't look quite so bad. It's much more tongue-in-cheek and irreverent than I had expected but then that's perhaps what I should have expected in the first place. Steve-o doesn't seem to take himself too seriously.
Meanwhile, I've got a request from a theatre manager in Kingston for some OARA promotional material to be displayed at the movie's opening. Very interesting.
I've rented a car this weekend to take care of the last or at least the next to last dregs of moving. Yes, three and a half months after breaking up/moving out, I still have stuff in the old place: chalk that up to not having a car, and not always being able to rely on friends who are not vehicularly challenged. Will also get some shelving and get as many of my critters over as I can, and try to do a few enjoyable things that having a car would make easier.
Had my performance review yesterday. Wasn't good, but that was expected. It's been a rough couple of years for me overall, and it's no surprise that it's affected my work, too. Fortunately I'm now in a position to do something about it (i.e., life no longer sucks), and we've got a plan for the next six months. It's doable, and strangely, I'm optimistic.
The weather for the OARA field trip to Murphy's Point Provincial Park on Sunday doesn't look really good: it's calling for rain and possible thunderstorms. I, however, remain undaunted: it's not like reptiles can't be found simply because it's raining. No time for wimpiness!
This blog is really good for tracking my obsessions. Talking to my brother on the phone last night: we noted that I was talking about Apple stuff an awful lot here. But then, I pointed out, six months ago I was talking about Palm stuff an awful lot. That's true, he said. I wonder what I'll be obsessing about here six months from now?
Thursday, June 13, 2002
Kottke Kottke Kottke. If I understand correctly, Jason got an iBook at about the same time that Meg did (they are a couple). Read his interesting take on switching (previous entry), on the Mac platform, and on the iBook in particular. (No, I'm not on Apple's payroll. No zealot like a convert.)
I finally put online the first movie from the Pelee Island field trip. It's called "Fox Snakes on Pelee Island" and it shows us capturing, photographing, measuring and tagging eastern fox snakes. It's 9 minutes, 45 seconds long, it's 15.7 megabytes in size and it's in QuickTime 5 format. My friend Brian Oehring brought the video camera and shot the footage; I merely loaded it onto my computer (6 GB for 20 minutes!) and edited it with iMovie.
And in doing so, I discovered something. I really, really like editing video. Which means that I'm in trouble.
If I decide to do more of this, it's going to get really expensive. Apart from dropping well over $1,000 on a digital video camera, there's the simple matter that if I'm going to do digital video on a regular basis, I'll need a more powerful computer than a 600 MHz G3 a G4 is a must, I think. It took my iBook about 34 minutes to encode that 9:45 video, or about four minutes for every minute of video. And my 20 GB hard drive just won't cut it either, so I'd need to get a larger internal drive, or external FireWire drives, or both. And that's leaving out going beyond iMovie and getting some serious video editing software like Final Cut Pro or something
Photo courtesy Apple Computer
Anyway. Enjoy the movie.
The female red-sided garter snake is, as of today, suddenly very active in her cage. I expect that she will give birth within the next few days, if not even sooner than that.
Wednesday, June 12, 2002
Oh, there's a good idea. The Central Canada Exhibition's new home will be out near the Rideau-Carleton Raceway, on unserviced land next to nowhere with little to no public transit access. Smart growth?
John on the New York Times article bloggers have been talking about: "[Blogging] is, in its essence, little more than a format chronological content that has been around in one form or another since the beginnings of the Web. Certainly the emphasis on the weblog as the anchor for a site is reasonably new, though not, of course, on news sites." In other words, it's as much a format as pages between covers, so why quibble about how that format is put to use? The NYT article, which covers the apparent rift between warbloggers and tech bloggers (sometimes referred to, in a derogatory fashion, as the A-list or font kiddies), is here (free registration required); see discussion at Metafilter and Blogroots.
Read iconomy's excellent Metafilter post on the Hostess cupcakes ads in comic books.
The California High Speed Rail Authority has a website, but no high-speed routes yet.
Yoda as action hero. Yoda's transformation from a puppet in The Empire Strikes Back to a completely computer-generated character in The Attack of the Clones was not without controversy within Lucasfilm, as this Entertainment Weekly article reveals. To the horror of some of the animators, Lucas insisted on Yoda as a whirling-dervish style, kick-ass little warrior: "They thought it was unseemly and undignified for Yoda to bounce through the fight like a Superball loose in a toy store." But Lucas, of course, prevailed, and for once his judgment seems to have paid off: Yoda's lightsaber duel is easily the most popular scene in the film. (via Slashdot)
Florence reports that my female Great Basin gopher snake has laid four huge eggs, at least one of which is fertile (one probably not, two questionable). Ken will be delighted to hear. Those gopher snake eggs join 10 eggs from the anerythristic motley corn snake and seven from the snow corn in an increasingly crowded incubator, with eggs from the normal corn and the black pine snake still to come.
Tuesday, June 11, 2002
Whatever it is, it's probably not good. This lump has been visible on my female red-sided garter snake for a little while. It's fairly high up in the body, above the lung or at the base of the neck. It doesn't seem cyst-like, it's too large to be a parasite, and it's not the same shape as the air pockets that presumably killed all the ribbon snakes. It might be an internal inflammation or an infection of some kind It may be benign or not.
The problem is, she's heavily gravid absolutely enormous so treating her is going to be difficult. I'm reluctant to administer medication for fear of harming the litter. I also think the simple act of taking her to the vet would be a problem: moving her at this late stage of her pregnancy may also put the litter at risk. I will have to seek the advice of my vet and find out what to do.
Industrial design at Apple featured in this Financial Times article. Jonathan Ive, the design god who came up with the iPod and iMac: "We are not interested in design statements. We do everything we can to simplify design. One of our victories and successes with the iPod and iMac is that we have removed the clutter that should, by functional right, be there." Steve Jobs: "We made a mistake with the Cube we thought a lot of our professional customers might like to have a smaller computer in exchange for giving up expandability, but we were wrong. It was a great design, but the wrong concept. But, you know, if we don't make a mistake like that every once in a while then maybe we're not trying hard enough." (via MacNN)
I used some of yesterday's post about Episode II as the basis for an Amazon review of the soundtrack CD. I ended up writing a lot about the use of themes and signature music. Eyebrows may shoot up. Unhelpful votes may proliferate. Or, more likely, it may simply be lost in the shuffle there are already 157 reviews of the damn thing.
Rained so heavily this morning that, in spite of hat and Aquanator and a short walk to work, I was thoroughly soaked upon my arrival. By early afternoon I had more or less dried out.
Monday, June 10, 2002
Apple's new advertising campaign features ordinary people (including boing boing's Mark Frauenfelder) who have switched from Windows PCs to the Mac, and targets Windows users in the hope that they will do the same.
It's a shrewd strategy. Jobs points out that there aren't many first-time buyers left, so converting Windows users is the only opportunity Apple has for growth. And they're in a pretty good position to do so: their hardware has gotten raves for its industrial design, OS X has given Apple some serious cred among the tech crowd, sales of PCs are generally flat, and Microsoft's Windows XP has not exactly been selling like hotcakes. If they can't gain some traction now, I'm not sure they ever will.
I mean, from my own perspective, Apple wouldn't have been in a position to woo me over before last year, when their industrial design changed from cutesy to stylish (I would have been embarrassed to buy a clamshell iBook or an original iMac, and I couldn't afford their professional products) and they finally produced, with OS X, an operating system that was grown up (I hate using OS 9). A considerable amount of my computer use is related to web development; a UNIX-based operating system on which I could run Apache, PHP and MySQL on the hard drive without having to poke around with Linux was what, I think, tipped me over the edge when I was laptop-shopping last fall. (That, plus being freaked by some of the issues with Windows XP.) In other words, cool industrial design + hotshot OS + unsavoury Microsquish tactics = one happy iBook owner.
A handheld device that translates simple spoken phrases: "American troops in Afghanistan are using a revolutionary device that instantly translates soldiers' voices into native languages.
Palm OS 5, which will run on ARM processors rather than the 68000-series Dragonball processors from Motorola that current Palm OS handhelds use, had its final version ship today (see news coverage from CNet; Palm Infocenter). Now the whining about backwards compatibility and imminent obsolescence (Palm OS 5 is ARM-only and cannot be installed on units currently for sale), and the confusion over newly released Palm OS handhelds that run Palm OS 4.1 (e.g., how can Sony release the Clié PEG-T655C just before OS 5 ships?), will begin in earnest. ARM-based Palm OS handhelds should be available in a few months or so.
I felt well enough by late yesterday afternoon that I caught the 6:30 showing of Star Wars: Episode II: The Attack of the Clones last night � my second viewing of this film. The first viewing frazzled my brain too much for me to be able to report on it coherently. It's certainly much more coherent the second time around: Lucas crammed too much into the frame for the human mind to process in one go; you're too busy absorbing the images flung at you to make much sense of the story.
Ah yes, the story. Does it make much sense? Sure it does, if you're sufficiently aware of the fact that Chancellor Palpatine becomes the evil Emperor of Return of the Jedi and that he and Darth Sidious (we saw a lot more of him in The Phantom Menace) are one and the same. Or if you catch on that the clone troopers of this movie become the storm troopers of the classic trilogy. Foreshadowing is everything in this movie: Obi-wan telling Anakin that he feels that he will be the death of him; Anakin's conversation with the Chancellor and his musings on politics; Palpatine's guards; the markings on Obi-wan's ship; the space-station plans Dooku took back to his master.
The musical score foreshadows too, but in an odd way. In The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, the Imperial March doubled as Darth Vader's theme and the signature music for the Empire. Insofar as those two films were concerned, this duality posed no problems: the Empire died with Darth Vader (note the harp playing the theme at the moment of Vader's death). But it breaks down in this film: the Imperial March does double duty again, but the two roles have not yet been combined in the storyline. The Emperor's Theme (which was used for Darth Sidious in The Phantom Menace, and is used to represent the Dark Side inasmuch as Luke Skywalker's Theme is also the signature music for the Force) appears as Anakin confesses to Padmé his massacre of the Tusken Raider camp, then cuts to a few bars of the Imperial March, which foreshadows his future career as Darth Vader. Fine and good. But the Imperial March appears again, with flourishes, at the end, as batallions of storm troopers march onto scores of troop transports. Here the music is truly the Imperial March, and foreshadows the rise of the Empire, but it is not yet Darth Vader's Theme. In Episode II, Vader and the Empire have yet to converge, and that is problematic from the point of view of the soundtrack's use of existing themes.
The biggest problem with this film � as it was the biggest problem with The Phantom Menace, and it will be again with Episode III � is that, unlike the original trilogy, the characters are made to fit a pre-existing plot, rather than the characters determining the plot's outcome. Because these films are backstory to the original trilogy, there is limited room for the characters to move. The Empire will rise, Anakin and Padmé will hook up, Anakin will become Vader, Luke and Leia will be born and sent into hiding and the Jedi will all but disappear. None of that can be changed; these films do not tell us what happened in broad strokes (and as a result, they cannot surprise us); instead, they tell us how and why. The films tell us that Palpatine (as Sidious) engineers a series of crises that allows him to seize absolute power (as Palpatine). Our Heros can't do a thing about it; in fact, their roles are preordained. This is why, I think, the characterization in these films is poorer than in the original trilogy. The original trilogy dealt with characters, but Episodes I to III are all about plot.
We lose, too, the thrill of discovery. There are no secrets in these films. Was it really any surprise that Count Dooku was working with Darth Sidious? Was it supposed to be? Nothing in these films will live up to the bone-chilling scene in The Empire Strikes Back in which Darth Vader declares himself to be Luke's father. There will be visual treats and interesting tidbits, but nothing quite so seismic in significance is left to surprise us. The original trilogy, in that sense, was the real story; this is just the background material � interesting stuff that we're happy to watch, but really only exists to support the original trilogy.
Which is not to say that The Attack of the Clones isn't any good. The plotting was reasonable enough, and clear enough after the second viewing, though a little too dense and convoluted � if anything, this film is far too complicated, and tries to cram far too much story into the standard running time of two hours, ten minutes. Each film in the original trilogy covered less ground, but then none were constrained by the need to explain a certain portion of the backstory, but dealt with the achievements of a limited number of characters (characters vs. plot, see above). But no massive howlers of inconsistency, or at least none above and beyond what you might expect. The question of who commissioned the clone army was pushed aside ("Who cares? Let's use it!") but that wasn't crippling. Too many planets: three in the original trilogy and in Episode I, but five here, since the Anakin/Padmé plot required returns to Naboo and Tatooine. I wonder if a way could have been found to eliminate the need to return to those two worlds; do we need to see that fucking desert planet in every film?
Visually, of course, The Attack of the Clones shines. Every major planet is stunning. While Naboo and Tatooine are all too familiar (and footnotes, design-wise), Coruscant (especially at night, especially in the industrial areas), Kamino and Geonosis are breathtaking. All that digital tomfoolery might be behind some of the more brilliant scenes: I particularly like the exchange of fire between the battle droids and
storm troopers through the dust and smoke. It's eye candy, and of course it's going to be damn fun to watch on DVD.
It might just be me, but the painful dialogue and cutesy aliens get easier to endure with with familiarity. Maybe we all just got used to the Ewoks and whiny-Luke dialogue after the twentieth viewing; maybe we just filtered out what we didn't like and focused on what was excellent about the original trilogy. Do that here.
(Note the absence of spoiler warnings in this entry. Too bad. If it was that important to you, you would have seen the damn flick already. It's been out for nearly a month.)
I'm in the middle of another happy-fun ankylosing spondylitis flare, which I think got underway some time Thursday. Certainly by Friday afternoon my back was howling. The trick, I believe, is to force myself to keep moving. This weekend I biked to Jennifer's place and back and tried my best to stay active and mobile. I still hurt � Sunday morning was particularly excruciating, slow and demoralizing � but you know, I'm going to hurt anyway, and I'd hurt even worse if I simply stayed still. Movement is everything with this disease, the only thing that can beat it; pills merely reduce the inflammation enough so that you can move again. The challenge is to overcome the pain, stiffness, fatigue and dejectedness that accompanies it when a flare comes.
Sunday, June 09, 2002
News and rumours about upcoming Palm OS handhelds. The Sony Clié PEG-T655C is supposed to be the North American equivalent of the Japanese T650, which replaces the T600 (Japan) or T615 (North America). Improvements over the previous model include a faster processor (66 MHz vs. 33 MHz), an improved colour screen (the T600/T615 reportedly has muddy colours), and an MP3 player. There is also a report about Handera's rumoured colour device, which appears to be antediluvian stylistically but a techie's wet dream.
Friday, June 07, 2002
Microsoft's Service Release 1 for its Office v. X software suite patches thousands of bugs, but also implements a little copy-protection feature: it compares the serial number you entered against a list of serial numbers of pirated copies of Office distributed widely across the net (think newsgroups and peer-to-peer networks), and disables Office if you've entered a pirated serial number. This doesn't surprise me; what surprises me is how anyone using a downloaded copy might think that Microsoft wouldn't do anything about it. Pirates can avoid this by simply not downloading the update, which is no doubt why the anti-piracy features were not widely advertised. Genie's out of the bottle now, though. (via Macslash)
Thursday, June 06, 2002
Department of This Is Not News: In the midst of a nursing shortage, doctors' bad behaviour may be exacerbating the problem by driving nurses away. (via FARK)
The Brunching Shuttlecocks on weblogs: "Finding links of interest to your readers is a job requiring dedication and discernment. To begin with, you need to keep up with current events, both worldwide and Web-specific. Secondly, you need to be have a feel for the zeitgeist of you know what? Screw this. Read Metafilter and Fark and grab some of their links." (via, uh, Metafilter shut up)
The dog upstairs is starting to bark constantly; previously it had been rather quiet vocally, but tore about the apartment in a manner that made it sound like there was a bowling alley upstairs. This is starting to approach the disrupting-other-tenants provision of the law, which otherwise expressly permits animals even if the lease prohibits them. The irony of a reptile-keeping apartment dweller complaining about somebody else's pet!
I'll try to confirm this report regarding the herps involved in the animal seizure.
My father has just seen Princess Mononoke: "Marvellous. Probably the best fantasy movie I've ever seen." Told him, I did. Haven't you seen it yet?
Animal seizure update. Sue has signed her animals over to the Humane Society, which will distribute them to zoos across the country. Many of those animals could be looked after properly, legally and locally; it'll be interesting to see what the Humane Society does with run-of-the-mill colubrids, geckos and psittacines, for example.
My brother has started a blog about baseball.
Tuesday, June 04, 2002
Belated report on the OARA's field trip and barbecue on Sunday. This year, the field trip portion of the afternoon was spent mucking about a farm near Athens, Ontario, that has in past been a good site for brown, red-bellied, milk, garter and even black rat snakes. Not much luck for us this time, though: a couple of Eastern Garter Snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis), both mad as hell; hundreds of Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica) tadpoles in a temporary pool; and we heard one Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana) calling from a nearby lake. A warm and windy afternoon is probably not an ideal time for snakes, now that I think about it. I have pictures, which I will upload one of these days.
Apple's eMac, which sports a G4 processor and a 17-inch flat CRT screen in an all-in-one design, was originally released as an education-only computer; it's now available to consumers. Now the Mac-heads, who can no longer complain that they can't buy one, are complaining about the lack of a DVD or combo drive option.
MSN Messenger 3.0 for Mac OS X was released yesterday; now I can send and receive files like the rest of you Windows-using drones.
Saturday, June 01, 2002
Updates on the animal seizure story in Ottawa (thanks, Amy). The Ottawa Citizen has three stories in today's paper: the lead story, which focuses on Sue herself; one on the strain put on the Humane Society by the 259 animals seized (if most of them are in good condition and legal, why were they seized, then?); and one on the import/export implications of so many exotic animals, which comes across as quite naïve, since unless they're undocumented Appendix I animals, there isn't any story here, and the CITES inspector quoted says as much. Basically, a lot of harrumphing as the media milks this story for as much as they can.