Sunday, December 07, 2008

What is Advent For?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Monday, September 29, 2008

Getting Started on Seesmic

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

Wall-E briefly reviewed, sort of

I'm quite late posting my review (I watched the movie months ago, shortly after it was released in cinemas), but here it is, finally.

This film is brilliant in so many ways. It pays subtle homage to other sci-fi movies, including 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Wars, E.T., and Short Circuit. In the credits there's also plenty of visual homage to Seurat, Van Gogh, and even Atari. Rarely have I enjoyed a film so thoroughly, and the inside jokes for Apple fans are sprinkled throughout - from Wall-E's solar charging completion sound (taken from a rebooting Mac) to the Axiom autopilot (a synthesized Macintalk voice) to the video-capable iPod on which Wall-E views the Broadway musical that taught him about romantic love. There are clever touches and Easter eggs throughout — among the space detritus circling the Earth, Sputnik bobbing in the wake of the ship carrying EVE and Wall-E to the Axiom, and as the Axiom roared past the moon, the lower stage of the Eagle lunar lander, a lunar rover, and a U.S. flag, all reminders of NASA's Apollo space program. Much has been written about the relationship between Wall-E and EVE, but EVE's rebellion against the "Directive" revels in the notion that love can ultimately triumph over all obstacles. Robot love, that is. A bit of a stretch, perhaps, but the humans eventually pick up the hint.

How ironic that future humans are revived from their sybaritic stupor by a lonely, geeky trash compactor and his feisty robot girlfriend. More importantly, perhaps, is the surprising level of cultural self-parody (and criticism) throughout. In fact, it reminds me of The Story of Stuff. Many commentators bristle at the (supposed) environmental scaremongering they see in the film. On the contrary, the movie's dystopian view of our future is entirely appropriate.

Dismissive reviewers might want to look in the mirror to see if they bear any resemblance to the dumbed-down captain of the Axiom, since they seem to have missed the point of the film entirely. There are plenty of movies that cater to philistines. Wall-E is not one of these. If you haven't seen it, rent or buy the DVD when it comes out in November.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Monday, September 01, 2008

The US Election Just Got More Interesting

Some people think Sen. McCain picked Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to woo Hillary Clinton supporters disenchanted with Sen. Obama's failure to name Sen. Clinton as his running mate. It's probably not that simple, but one can't help wondering if indeed gender was indeed a major issue in this case. Is the American public truly ready to accept a woman as its potential next president? Perhaps, perhaps not.

One thing is clear: the US Republican Party is trying to differentiate itself clearly from the Democrats on pro-life issues, and Gov. Palin's pro-life stance seems pretty obvious. For one thing, she said about her youngest child Trig, who was diagnosed in utero with Down Syndrome:
We knew through early testing he would face special challenges, and we feel privileged that God would entrust us with this gift and allow us unspeakable joy as he entered our lives. We have faith that every baby is created for good purpose and has potential to make this world a better place. We are truly blessed.
OK. Now if that doesn't bring into stark relief the difference between a pro-life and a pro-choice (really pro-death) position, I don't know what does. Regardless of your politics, the pro-death position is really no different in principle from the "useless eaters" philosophy that led to the Holocaust. And this should make us think carefully: what do "pro-choice" people really believe? That some human lives (e.g. theirs) are more valuable than others (in this case, unborn children). This should be clear. Don't let the arguments about "a woman's right to choose" fool you. A right to choose what, exactly? To kill her unborn child. In other words, murder.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Real-world Fuel Economy

Yesterday, with my fuel gauge reading empty, I filled up my car (a 1996 Honda Civic CX hatchback 5-speed). Regular petrol has gone up over 100% since I bought my car new 12 years ago, so its fuel economy is even more important now. At every fillup, I reset the trip odometer and take careful note of total fuel consumed. For the most recent period I had gone 648.1 km, the fillup was 37.562 litres, so the car used 5.8 litres of fuel per 100 km traveled. This matches the highway fuel economy specified in the 1996 Civic brochure, which is impressive because I mostly drive in the city. By avoiding traffic and shifting into the highest gear as soon as possible, I often exceed the city fuel economy rating of a SmartCar! My next car will be... you guessed it, another Honda. Like this one.

Friday, August 01, 2008

MIT Energy Storage Breakthrough — About Damn Time, Too

Folks, this just might be it — the Holy Grail of energy storage for off-peak use. Researchers at MIT have apparently found a way to greatly increase the efficiency of electrolysis. If their discovery can be made commercially feasible, our current dependence on fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas) for power generation and transport fuel may become a quaint relic of the past:
Inspired by the photosynthesis performed by plants, Nocera and Matthew Kanan, a postdoctoral fellow in Nocera's lab, have developed an unprecedented process that will allow the sun's energy to be used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen gases. Later, the oxygen and hydrogen may be recombined inside a fuel cell, creating carbon-free electricity to power your house or your electric car, day or night.

The key component in Nocera and Kanan's new process is a new catalyst that produces oxygen gas from water; another catalyst produces valuable hydrogen gas. The new catalyst consists of cobalt metal, phosphate and an electrode, placed in water. When electricity -- whether from a photovoltaic cell, a wind turbine or any other source -- runs through the electrode, the cobalt and phosphate form a thin film on the electrode, and oxygen gas is produced.

Combined with another catalyst, such as platinum, that can produce hydrogen gas from water, the system can duplicate the water splitting reaction that occurs during photosynthesis.

The new catalyst works at room temperature, in neutral pH water, and it's easy to set up, Nocera said. "That's why I know this is going to work. It's so easy to implement," he said.
James Barber, a leader in the study of photosynthesis who was not involved in this research, called the discovery by Nocera and Kanan a "giant leap" toward generating clean, carbon-free energy on a massive scale.

"This is a major discovery with enormous implications for the future prosperity of humankind," said Barber, the Ernst Chain Professor of Biochemistry at Imperial College London. "The importance of their discovery cannot be overstated since it opens up the door for developing new technologies for energy production thus reducing our dependence for fossil fuels and addressing the global climate change problem."
Given the projected demand growth vs. production decline of oil, this discovery comes not a moment too soon. It brings us closer to a hydrogen-fueled future.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Mr. Rooter

I had to work from home today because the plumbers arrived to inspect and clean out our sewer drains. Our next door neighbour had a sewer line backup that flooded their basement just before Christmas. The line had to be replaced, which meant removing a large tree from their front yard and digging a trench up the lawn from the sidewalk to the house. Since our home is about the same age, we decided to have our sewer line checked, and we're sure glad we did. Some tree roots had grown into the joint between our main sewer line and the city sewer line, and there was a partial obstruction. Using a high-pressure hydroscrubber, the plumber cleared away the tree roots and the buildup inside the pipe. In the future we have to call the City Waterworks office for a regular inspection. I'm just glad we caught this problem before it got serious enough to require excavation.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Monday, June 02, 2008

A community grieves and asks "Why?"

I've lived in the Calgary neighbourhood of Dalhousie, since July 1997, shortly after I got married. It's a safe, pleasant neighborhood, with lots of walkways and green spaces and tidy, well-maintained homes. I've been taking my son CJ, now eight years old, to a school playground near our home since he was six months old. On these walks, I can't help but notice that the homes in the area don't suffer from a bland sameness imposed by strict architectural controls. So each home has a unique personality and character—each one different, and in its own way, charming.

5588 Dalhart Hill NW was one such home.


Sometime in the evening of Tuesday, May 28, 2008, a young husband and father by the name of Joshua Lall took a knife and fatally stabbed Amber Bowerman, the tenant who lived in the basement suite, then he went upstairs to the master bedroom, fatally stabbed his wife Alison and his daughters Kristen and Rochelle, aged five and three, and then he went to the nursery where he stabbed himself, leaving his youngest daughter Anna, aged one, the sole survivor. The murder-suicide was discovered the next morning, and the horrific news spread quickly, not just throughout Dalhousie, but to the entire city and beyond.

This happened not far away from my home. As soon as I learned the address where it all took place, I typed it into Google Earth, measured the distance, and scrutinised the aerial view. I knew the what, who, and where. But the most important question—why—remains unanswered as I write this.

This evening, June 2, I attended an information session organised by the Calgary Police Victim Assistance Unit, to help Dalhousie deal with the aftermath of the killings. Some families at the town hall meeting knew the Lall family directly. They were struggling to find a way to honour the memory of the family, and one woman who knew the Lall family well choked back tears as she spoke. I saw Cesar and Marichu, fellow neighbourhood residents whom I know from my university alumni association. I met Laurie, an old acquaintance, who often shared a bus ride with Joshua Lall on the way to work. I also met Claire, an old friend who, as it turns out, moved into the area a few years ago. We're not sure what to tell our children.

The news stories cite anonymous sources that claim Joshua reported hearing voices in his head, that he was having a mental breakdown, that he was stressed at work, and so on—the usual sorts of explanations for what can properly be called sheer madness. We're all trying to make sense of what has happened. By all accounts a loving, devoted husband and father, Joshua had committed acts of unspeakable evil. What made him do it?

The mere mention that Joshua may have feared he was possessed by the devil elicits a certain queasiness in many people. Surely in the 21st century we're beyond this kind of superstition! This was a case of undiagnosed, untreated mental illness, nothing more.

I so want to accept the mental illness explanation. It's so... rational.

However, I can't dismiss the possibility of a supernatural explanation so easily. Two days before the murders took place, I experienced possibly the strangest dream I can recall. I'll leave out the details, but suffice it to say that the events in my dream involved people going into a house from which they would never leave.

At the town hall meeting, someone suggested that the residents of Dalhousie should pool their money, buy 5588 Dalhart Hill NW, have the house demolished, and establish a small park, so that we as a community can achieve some sense of closure. This strategy is similar to what one Amish community did with their one-room schoolhouse after five girls were fatally shot in it.

I think it's the best suggestion I heard at the town hall meeting. It may be the necessary step towards healing for our community. Necessary, but not necessarily sufficient. In my 4 April 2008 blog entry, I had written:
Sin affects people around us as well, including our family and friends. Sin is corrosive, and it weakens our ability to discern and do what is good.
Little did I know that less than two months later, I would be forced to ponder the meaning of what I had written, in such stark terms.

Friday, April 04, 2008


An anonymous coward called "foesoftheignorant" scolded me for one of my posts from over a year ago, in which I pointed out that certain types of poor choices we make can have lasting, life-changing negative consequences. For example, we might have sexual intercourse with someone we've just met in a bar. We might then contract a sexually-transmitted disease. If it's HIV, it could mean a death sentence. Or, ignoring the advice of our friends, we might choose to drive after consuming alcohol, and cause an accident that kills or maims us and others. One careless moment can lead to a lifetime of profound regret.

What would be a constructive thing to do in this situation? A person of integrity might use their own sad experiences to warn others about the perils of making poor life choices. When I was a child, our grade school brought former drug addicts to speak to the class about the living hell they'd gone through. I resolved then and there to not become a substance abuser.

We often engage in rationalizing that our sins affect only ourselves, but this, like so many other lies we tell ourselves and others, is ultimately the result of a prideful, selfish delusion. Sin affects people around us as well, including our family and friends. Sin is corrosive, and it weakens our ability to discern and do what is good. Sin leads us away from God.

Tonight I listened to the deeply moving testimony of a former heroin user and alcoholic who was several times given up for dead. It's a miracle that his marriage has lasted thirty years! It was only his faith in God's love and mercy that brought him back from the dark night of the soul into which he had descended. He accepted the consequences of his actions, repented of his sins, and asked for forgiveness.

We may not have undergone such dramatic, harrowing life experiences, but we should still think about those occasions when we've ignored the "still, small voice" within that is calling us to do what's right, instead of what just "feels good" at the moment. Indeed, our spiritual immaturity can lead us to do some incredibly foolish things. To guard against this, we should examine our conscience frequently — and as soon as possible, avail ourselves of sacramental reconciliation.

The truth can certainly set us free, but first we must face it honestly.

Saturday, March 01, 2008


Well, it's now all over the Internet, here, here, and here. Long story short: recently revealed Microsoft internal emails show that Windows Vista was not only far from ready when it was released for sale to the public, Microsoft's own executives knew this, and Microsoft's partners (such as Intel, HP, and Dell) also did. Yet despite this, they all pushed Vista with a campaign about "The Wow! starts now." Filthy stinking liars, all of them. No wonder the Vista launch was met with widespread skepticism and sometimes outright disgust. Vista was called a chrome-plated turd, and worse. All those negative reviews? Utterly deserved. Computerworld's Gregg Keizer writes,
Last-minute changes... broke drivers, forcing key hardware vendors to "limp out with issues" when the operating system launched last year, according to a presentation... that was made public this week.
From the same publication, Mike Elgan opines:
Everybody's talking today about "Drivergate" — internal Microsoft e-mails that show senior Microsoft executives personally struggling to use hardware products sporting the "Windows Vista Capable" sticker. The e-mails also show that Microsoft lowered its standard for some hardware compatibility, apparently to help Intel impress Wall Street. This revelation is simply the latest in a long series that add up to one inescapable conclusion: Windows Vista sucks.
Gee, tell us something we don't already know.

PCMag's Lance Ulanoff wrote:
Overall, Microsoft's chief concern during this time appears to be everything but the consumer.
So, not only does Microsoft treat its customers as suspected criminals (with such nonsense as Windows Genuine Advantage and user-hostile product activation), they utterly disregard the interests of their customers in order to maximize their own revenue (e.g. through selling multiple versions). Whoop-dee-do.

Recently, to prop up lackluster retail Vista sales, Microsoft reduced the price. Brian Caulfield's take in Forbes Magazine? Microsoft's Cheaper Vista: Don't Bother.


Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. I wouldn't bother running Windows Vista even if it was free (as in beer). If I really wanted free, I'd run some flavour of Linux. As it is, MacOS X serves my current needs well, and I'm not even running the latest version.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Times, They Are A'Changin'

I used to read PC Magazine (PCMag) regularly, even after I started using a Mac (in 1996) as my primary computer. If I recall correctly, I started with PCMag Vol. 1 No. 3 (and I've kept my Vol. 1 No. 1 issue of PC World magazine). PCMag was one of my main sources of information about personal computing, along with Byte, Macworld, and MacUser. This was all well before the web was invented — no Slashdot, no Ars Technica, no Digg, no Gizmodo, no Engadget. PCMag occasionally ran articles about Macs, just so their readers would know about that other computer. The overall tone of the articles tended to be dismissive. My, my, how times have changed. Now, MacOS X 10.5 Leopard is a PCMag Editor's Choice. Edward Mendelson writes:
Leopard again raises the question of whether to switch from Windows to a Mac. I've found Vista to be a major disappointment that tends to look worse the more I use it. I still use Windows XP for getting serious work done in long, complicated documents. But OS X is easier to manage and maintain and I vastly prefer OS X to Windows for Web-browsing, mail, and especially for any task that involves graphics, music, or video. Leopard performs all such tasks even better than previous versions did—and Leopard is the only OS on the planet that works effortlessly and intuitively in today's world of networked computers and peripherals. Leopard is far from perfect, but it's better than any alternative, and it's getting harder and harder to find good reasons to use anything else.
So, just in case it isn't crystal clear — a Mac is, or should be, the No. 1 choice of anyone who's buying a new personal computer for multimedia use. And nowadays, that's almost everyone whose budget allows for more than a bare-bones $199 Linux desktop PC or an Asus Eee.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Vista SP1: Don't Hold Your Breath

A lot of people I've spoken with who've tried Windows Vista did so only because it came preinstalled on their new PCs. It's not as though they were eager to "upgrade" from Windows XP. In fact, the opposite was often true: many wanted to go back to Windows XP after experiencing Vista. In case you were wondering whether the upcoming release of the first service pack for Vista would reduce its suckage, wonder no more. Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal has been testing Vista SP1, and he observed:
In briefing me on SP1, Microsoft made a big point of saying that great progress had been made in the past year in making Vista work properly with add-on devices, such as printers. I tried my 2003-vintage Hewlett-Packard printer, which hadn’t worked properly with the original Vista. It still didn’t work well with SP1.
In other words: Vista SP1 still sucks.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Horror of Vista

Phil Greenspun relates a horrific tale of software gone awry, which underlines how perfectly awful the Vista out-of-box experience can be for some unfortunate souls. It's not unlike having the transmission fall out just after you drive your brand new car off the lot. Yes, apparently it can be that bad.

No wonder people are sticking with Windows XP, or switching to Macs. Those who switch to Macs, like entrepreneur Mark Cuban, often become fanboys. In some cases, whole families switch to Macs — permanently. A priceless quote:
Adapting to life on a Mac was effortless, and delivered a much easier, better and more intuitive computing experience for everything I needed and wanted to do than any of the Windows-based PCs that littered the previous two decades.
Nowadays, I often wonder why anyone would even consider buying a Windows PC.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Resurgent Apple

Writing in the New York Times, David Pogue notes that Apple's Macintosh computers are enjoying new popularity and he asks his readers why now? The comments, especially from those who recently switched to a Mac from a Windows PC, are revealing. It might be tempting to dismiss the discussion as fanboy/girl-ism, but there seems to be more than anecdotal evidence for Apple's changing fortunes. More and more people, it seems, plan to purchase Macs as their next computers. Apple's latest operating system, MacOS X 10.5 Leopard, has been getting considerably more positive reviews than Vista.

There are many good reasons to consider a Mac as your next computer. Here's an excellent one: there is much less malware that affects Macs, compared with Windows. Exhibit A: SilentBanker, a trojan horse that invisibly monitors your online banking transactions, and then proceeds to rifle through your accounts. You can get your PC compromised by visiting an infected website (and these include legitimate sites you might normally visit, not only obviously dodgy ones). Thus far, SilentBanker affects only Windows systems, including Vista. Uh-oh, indeed.

New Year's Resolutions

I will try to write better. I will try to provide more potentially useful information. I will do more analysis before writing off-the-cuff. I will try not to neglect this blog even if no one is reading it — and if someone is actually reading it, why? It's not as though I'm saying anything that hasn't already been said in so many ways, and said better.

I promised myself that I wouldn't write my thoughts down unless I really wanted to leave behind something of myself that I wanted people to remember me by, and for a time I ended up posting to Usenet (those of you who've been on the internet since before the web was even invented, you can find some of my old posts by searching Google Groups).