Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Greetings

To all our family, friends, clients, colleagues, associates and others who might happen on this blog:

Thank you for all of your encouragement, friendship, and for being part of our adventure in 2008!

As we wind down for this year, we would like to wish each of you a holiday season filled with the joy of being with family, friends, and loved ones. May you be blessed with happiness, good health, success and prosperity in 2009 and may you rise to meet all the challenges that you will encounter in the New Year.

best wishes
from Corwin, Jill, and Do-Ming

NOTE - These words were taken from the Lum family Christmas message from 1998 -- a decade ago -- and updated. Hard to believe that so much time has passed.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Winter Solstice!

Today was the northern hemisphere winter solstice of 2008. The actual moment that the sun returned to its northward-ascending node along the ecliptic occurred at 7:04 EST this morning. At 7:04 EST this morning I was still asleep, recovering from the previous two days.

Two days ago, on Friday morning, with a light snow in progress, and a major snowstorm predicted, I headed off to work, intending to take advantage of my non-employee status as a contractor to leave early and avoid the mess (and also shovel out the driveway). Alas, this was not to be -- a problem with a system kept me there until 6:30.

In the morning, the view from the office across the Don Valley Parkway, looking to the southwest, was not promising. Wind and falling snow limited visibility.

As more snow fell, the wind picked it up and made snowdrifts around any obstacles -- like in this picture of the parked car of some poor schlub down in the parking lot. Not my car -- I was afraid to go around to the other side of the building because of what I might see.

Like the rest of the city, things at work started to close down around 3:00. By 3:30, almost everyone was gone. By the time the problem was resolved and I got outside, this was what I saw in the parking lot:

The parking lot had been snow ploughed, but there was an island of snow around my car and that of some stranger who was evidently working even later than me. The drive home wasn't fast but I got there to find a clear driveway from the efforts of Jill and Corwin, who had gone out three times during the course of the day to clear snow.

Shortly after I got home, the city snow plough went by, and I did my bit by shoveling out the comber of snow that the plough had put into the end of the driveway.

Saturday started out sunny but cold -- and fortunately, no snow. Lorna and Michael's Christmas gift this year to Corwin, Cameron, and Robin was a performance of the Pantomime at the Elgin theatre downtown. This year's play was Cinderella.

By early afternoon, we had picked up Cameron and Robin, found parking at a public lot, and hooked up with Lorna and Michael in the lobby of the Elgin. For the rest of the afternoon, theatrical drama worked its magic on young minds. With a curtain time of 2:00, the show was over by 4:30. Although bitterly cold, we enjoyed a Toronto tradition -- looking in the decorated windows of the old Simpson's store, now a Hudson's Bay outlet but still maintaining the Christmas tradition.

Our favourite window was the one that showed a family decorating a Christmas tree, while below the floorboards, a mouse family celebrated their Christmas as well. The mice, however, looked like they went nearly to the man's hip, which prompted much laughter and remarks about "the giant rats of Sumatra" for the rest of the evening.

The day was far from over. For dinner, we went to Gio Rana's Really Really Nice Restaurant, where Cameron and Robin's parents, Chris and Liza, joined us. This restaurant, also known as "the Nose" because of the sculpture of a nose on its sign, is in a building which used to be a bank. The vault in the back is both wine storage and a dining area -- it has a table suitable for 10 or 11 people, which can be reserved. Gio Rana's is quite busy, so getting the vault is always nice, because it ensures a relatively quiet dinner away from the main dining room.

And finally, after dinner, all nine of us went to our friend Sarah's housewarming -- or more accurately, condo warming.

Needless to say, sleep came easy to all of us by the time we got home, and we were all oblivious at the moment where the sun poised at its southernmost point and began its trip back toward the northern latitudes.

This morning, we woke to another 15 cm of snow, which of course meant more shoveling, which I did with Corwin.

Shoveling with Corwin carries with it certain inherent parental dangers that involve the possibility of unexpected missiles, lovingly crafted by Corwin from snow, suddenly hitting a body part, accompanied by shrieks of mirth.

Later in the morning, we had dim sum with Madeline and her husband, Mr. Ashby. Food, however, was only a prelude to the geek happiness of getting Mr. Ashby's new computer at Canada Computers at the Pacific Mall.

Observation: due to snow shoveling and dim sum, we arrived at the Pacific Mall after the noon hour. There was no parking in the basement, but we easily found a spot outside -- unheard of for this time of year. Although we initially thought that a combination of weather and the economy was hurting business, we revised that estimation by the time we left -- the mall and the parking lot were packed, as usual.

We got home late in the afternoon, just in time to shovel the 1 or 2 cm of snowfall that had accumulated on the driveway, and to deal with the leavings of the snow plough that had come while we were out.

This was the view from the back yard looking toward the front earlier this evening as the longest night of the year began.

A new year, and new possibilities are just around the corner. Happy Winter Solstice.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A supercomputer cluster for Christmas

Physorg has an article about two scientists who built a supercomputer using 8 Sony Playstation3 consoles. The instructions for creating your own are here, released under a Free/Open Source license.

So if we can find eight PS3's that no one is doing anything with, we're all set. The other route that we could go is to use older PS2's, which we could get cheap from gamers upgrading to newer/faster hardware. We could build a beowulf cluster using 70 PS2's like the National Center for Supercomputing Applications did a few years back.

Once we get it built, I'm thinking the first problem we can work on is to simulate the massive nuclear explosion at the earth's core that a recent theory postulates as the cause of the moon's formation. This satisfies two goals -- research on something that goes bang, and research on something that might further the Ultimate Goal of World Domination.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Swiffer Will Kill Your Puppy. Or Not.

The blog post that I am linking to contains strong language, but I endorse the spirit of the author's rant.

The internet, as wonderful a tool as it is, also turns out to be equally effective at spreading disinformation, urban legends, and just plain crap.

The article referenced above speculates, without going into much detail, that possibly the attack on Swiffer originates with a Proctor and Gamble rival. This is not all that far-fetched -- can you imagine how effective a marketing campaign for your own product would be, if at the same time your competitor's product had a negative story spreading about it on the internet?

In a similar way, consider the popular e-mail that circulates about the "Stella Awards", that supposedly celebrates frivolous lawsuits:

For those unfamiliar with these awards, they are named after 81-year-old Stella Liebeck who spilled hot coffee on herself and successfully sued the McDonald's in
New Mexico where she purchased the coffee. You remember, she took the lid off the coffee and put it between her knees while she was driving. Who would ever think one could get burned doing that, right?

That's right; these are awards for the most outlandish lawsuits and verdicts in the U.S. You know, the kinds of cases that make you scratch your head. So keep your head scratcher handy.

Then it goes on to cite outlandish awards for lawsuits, phrased in such a way as to raise the ire of any reasonable person...

...except that none of the lawsuits actually happened. Snopes ends their analysis by writing

"...Yet on the other hand, we don't want to see those who have legitimate cause denied their right to sue (or in the case of the seriously injured, their right to sue for an appropriate amount). We also don't want to see corporations run unchecked, free to turn out whatever dangerous product they like because the combination of capped awards and their deep pockets render them bulletproof.

"It's a complicated issue, one not made any easier to make sense of by lists of fake cases of horrendous miscarriages of justice. One has to wonder why someone is so busy trying to stir up outrage and who or what that outrage would ultimately benefit."

So call me paranoid, but it occurs to me in this case that weakened consumer protection laws and limitations on the circumstances under which one can sue would be just great for some corporations -- the ones that want to "run unchecked, free to turn out whatever dangerous product they like because the combination of capped awards and their deep pockets render them bulletproof".

In a similar vein, one of my favourite chain emails is the I AM A BAD CANADIAN rant that I manage to receive several times a year.


I Am the Liberal-Progressives Worst Nightmare. I am a Canadian.

So the first observation is that there is no doubt about who originated this, and who this is supposed to attack. The implication here is that if you are liberal or progressive in any way, you are not a Canadian.

I believe the money I make belongs to me and my family, not some Liberal governmental functionary be it NDP, Liberal or Conservative!

This sentence is internally self-contradictory, but then what did you expect based on the lead-in? A member of a Liberal government wouldn't, by definition, be NDP or Conservative. Or perhaps the original author wanted to slam civil servants, whose small "L" liberal values allow the Liberal-Progressive agenda to be promoted? As far as the anti-taxation part, the author seems to be unaware that we are all connected to the economy. If the rant had been to demand maximum value for our tax dollars, that would have gotten my sympathy, but disconnecting from all responsibility for taxes is just silly. Damn, that sentiment may cause me to be reviled as a conservative in some quarters.

I'm in touch with my feelings and I like it that way!

I think owning a gun doesn't make you a killer, it makes you a smart Canadian.

Being in touch with your feelings here obviously means to shut down your brain and just make your decisions based on how you feel.

Despite gun control being well thought of by the undoubtedly Liberal-Progressive Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, and a significant proportion of Canadians being in favour of it, the author seeks to draw a positive association between Canadian-ness and gun ownership. I don't buy it. I can see the need on Aboriginal reservations for hunting, and on farms and in smaller rural communities for hunting and rodent control, but it is not clear to me that heavily armed neighbourhoods would serve most communities.

I think being a minority does not make you noble or victimized, and does not entitle you to anything.

I believe that if you are selling me a Big Mac, do it in English.

Here is the real heart of this screed. Being a minority does not make you noble or victimized, particularly when we come to express our opinion about how we dislike your differences. And it certainly doesn't entitle you to protection under the law when we come to kick the crap out of you, because that is an entitlement only for "real" Canadians.

Serve me that Big Mac in English, because it is clear that I don't know what a quiche is, or Tsingtao, or sushi, or biryani, even weinerschnitzel. This is a denial of the multi-cultural nature of Canada. Or even the historical nature, if you happen not to believe in multi-culturalism. But it is interesting that people can feel so threatened and respond in this way.

We're starting a major downturn in the economy. As times get harder, I expect that the "threatened by outsider" response will happen more. An example of that is the Ford dealership that ran the racist ad attacking Toyota vehicles. This example is American - I'd like to believe that this won't happen in Canada, but I've also stopped believing in the tooth fairy.

I believe everyone has a right to pray to his or her God when and where they want to.

Left unsaid, of course, is that you'd better not be praying to Allah. Or Visnhu. Or making observaces to Buddha. 'Cuz, dammit, it ain't Canadian.

My heroes are John Wayne, Babe Ruth, Roy Rogers, and whoever canceled Jerry Springer.

Here is revealed the true intellectual bankruptcy of this piece -- all of the icons invoked are American, not Canadian. What I suspect but can't confirm is that this was originally an American GOP-conservative "rally the supporters" type of notice that found its way north of the border and got edited by an enthusiastic fellow traveller.

I know wrestling is fake and I don't waste my time watching or arguing about it.

This was the only sentence in the entire piece that communicated anything useful. But remember that I, the commentator, am a conservative Liberal-Progressive, and my opinion can't be thought of as a "real" Canadian opinion.

I've never owned a slave, or was a slave, I haven't burned any witches or been persecuted by the Turks and neither have you! So, shut up already.

The conclusion, once again, from this sentence is that if you are black, or Armenian, or an English Pilgrim, or a refugee, or anything else out of what the author thinks as "the ordinary", then you aren't a "real" Canadian.

I believe if you don't like the way things are here, go back to where you came from and change your own country! This is CANADA.

If you were born here and don't like it you are free to move to any Socialist country that will have you.

Because, dammit, we don't want your kind here! See above re minorities. And while we're at it, bad people are socialists, because socialists and Liberal-Progressives are somehow related.

I think the cops have every right to shoot your sorry rear if you're running from them.

I also think they have the right to pull you over if you're breaking the law, regardless of what colour you are.

And, no, I don't mind having my face shown on my drivers license. I think it's good......

There is no controversy regarding pictures on drivers licenses -- that particular point is a distraction. Similarly, Canadian police in any jurisdiction do pull people over without regard for skin colour. There are some arguments that suggest that non-whites are targeted more often for enforcement, but if so, it is not clear to me that this happens on the road, in cars -- where practically speaking, a police officer would see the car first and might not actually be able to see past the tinted glass into the interior.

And as far as being shot by the police -- anyone who believes that they are a real Canadian also knows that the police don't make mistakes.

I think if you are too stupid to know how a ballot works, I don't want you deciding who should be running our nation for the next four years.

This bit provide extra credence to my belief that this originated originally in the US. But it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the real Canadian who wrote this was unfamiliar with the way the Canadian government works.

I dislike those people standing in the intersections trying to sell me stuff or trying to guilt me into making 'donations' to their cause.

Again, this sentence speaks of being threatened. There is a lot of fear and intolerance coming out.

I believe that it doesn't take a village to raise a child, it takes two parents.

Unspoken: they'd better not be same-sex parents!

I believe 'illegal' is illegal no matter what the lawyers think.

This sentence is just astounding. Lawyers and judges and the Canadian parliament define what is "legal", and that definition is tested adversarially every time there is an issue. It is called "English Common Law" and has been in effect for roughly a thousand years.

I believe the Canadian flag should be the only one allowed in CANADA!

Excuse me, I need to contact the appropriate ministry in every Province and Territory to tell them that they need to get rid of their provincial or territorial flags. And I guess we'd better not have any foreign flags flying in front of embassies. The author doesn't address the UN flag flying beside the Canadian flag on various peacekeeping missions, but we probably better get rid of that as well -- gotta be a real canadian after all...

If this makes me a BAD Canadian, then yes, I'm a BAD Canadian.

If you are a BAD Canadian too, please forward this to everyone you know.

We want our country back!

At the end, there is the appeal to forward the crap on to all your friends and e-mail contacts. And closing with one final, irrational appeal to bigotry, that somehow real Canadians aren't in charge in their own country.

No one who sends me this rant (and as I said, I get it several times a year) are real Canadians in the same way that the Campbell family of Holland Township in New Jersey (or is it Pennsylvania?) are real Americans. These people are possibly real Americans to a level beyond that of the real Americans cited by Sarah Palin during the recent Presidential campaign in the US.

It seems to me that people focus on a few key words, like the bogus call to emulate a standard of real Canadian-ness, and they stop thinking about the larger implications of the hatred and bigotry in the message. And that drives me nuts.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled economic crisis.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The MikeFeed -- December 2, 2008

My friend Mike is an omnivorous speed reader with enormous mental bandwidth. Through the course of the day, I get *many* e-mails from him -- each one containing a (usually) provocative subject line, and a link to an article. Mike provides enough material to keep a blog going for weeks, every day. The only reason I don't use more material that he sends me is because, well dammit, this might as well then be HIS blog.

Today, in a brief exchange of e-mail, I made a disparaging comment about BoingBoing being like the Reader's Digest of the internet. Mike thought we could do better, and I agreed. Just for fun, I thought I would summarize some of today's links from Mike and provide some (limited) commentary. I've tried to organize these by topic, but keep in mind that I get these in no particular order.

Canadian Politics

Luminosis has never been overtly a political blog, but politics is one of the few modern day acceptable blood sports. It is impossible not to be affected by politics. As a politics junkie, the events unfolding in Ottawa are pretty interesting. History will be made here, if the Opposition parties have the balls (and the capacity for the hard work) to put together a coalition to take down the Conservatives. - Harper to blame for political crisis
Reuters - Canadian government slams opposition coup plan How I Triggered a Constitutional Crisis - this is a blogger, new to me. One of the great things about being on Mike's distribution list is that I get stuff that I would likely never find myself. This one strikes me as a wingnut who created a blog just to rant about the current situation -- as of today, there is only one entry on that blog -- no history.
Metafilter - Greatest histories written in the toughest times
Canada victim of power-grabbing politicians
Metafilter items often have great comments -- the above two are no exception.

PoliticalFilter - Canada coalition deal inches ever closer
- Hmmm -- must look at the rest of PoliticalFilter.
Tories begin battle against coalition

American Politics

The GOP's "God Problem," Part Two

The Economy

Because we're all getting hit by some aspect of the economy today...

Auto execs prepare for second run at Washington - MarketWatch

Synthetic CDO's: tsunami event when major bankruptcies reaches 9

Game Tech

It is an article of faith with me that the ultimate motivation for all geekness is video games.
Shot of Xbox 360's 256MB internal storage
Best of 2008: Top 5 Wii Games
When Video Game Weapons Attack In Real Life


BitTorrent Will Destroy The Interwebs!
Boeing Airborne Laser Weapon Fires for the First Time
gOS Cloud - From zero to web browser in just a few seconds
Steam Linux on the way?
Linux Evolution Reveals Origins of Curious Mathematical Phenomenon
Vietnamese security firm: Your face is easy to fake


Jupiter, Venus and Moon to form frown in evening sky
Planet Found Orbiting Puffed-Up Star


50 Stunning Examples Of Reflective Photography
Photography, and the Tolerance for Courageous Sucking

Pop Culture

Five New Wolverine Photos

Weird Stuff and Humour

Holy Book of Bacon
6 Baby Names You Probably Shouldn't Give Your Kid
World War 2 as an animated GIF using an online game metaphor
Prayer vs. hard work checklist
Cracked - 7 Historical Figures Who Were Absurdly Hard To Kill
Found On Craigslist: Nissan Ninja Hauler Kicks Ass

What I learned from doing this post is that Mike sends me a *lot* of links. This post only contains a fraction of one day's worth!

Processing all those e-mails into a blog post regularly requires some way of autogenerating the HTML -- I need to grab the Subject line and the URL stored in the body of the e-mail, while at the same time avoiding text.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

More on the Tesseracts Twelve book launch

Derryl Murphy commented overnight on my previous post, and Dave put up some of Karen's photos from yesterday on his own blog. Karen took much nicer photos of Grace and Elaine, and includes one of Corwin, who for most of the afternoon was immersed in reading a book in a back corner, away from excitable adults...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tesseracts Twelve book launch

Saturday mornings in the Lum household usually involve a certain amount of being dazed and confused, particularly if the evening before was a late night.

On this particular Saturday, Jill left prior to the first crack of dawn to get groceries from the St. Lawrence Market, a Saturday morning ritual that she performs with Michael and Lorna.

Corwin and I indulged our state of dazed confusion until noon, by which time Jill had returned with groceries. Corwin and I left to get hair cuts from Rocco and Robert, the barbers supreme in Etobicoke. We managed to get home by 1:00pm, which left some leisurely time to get ready for the important event of the day -- the Tesseracts Twelve book launch at Bakka-Phoenix!

We picked up Michael enroute, got over to Queen and Bathurst, and for once, Towedaway, god of urban parking, smiled upon us: we managed to get a street parking spot a few doors away from Bakka. After a careful examination of the lingerie models in the window of Miss Behavin' across the street, I strolled over to Bakka with Jill, Michael, and Corwin.

The launch party was already starting when we arrived. I had an opportunity to meet (and collect autographs from) Claude Lalumiere, editor of the Tesseracts Twelve anthology; Brett Alexander Savory who wrote the Foreword; Grace Seybold, who authored the story "Intersections"; and Elaine (E. L.) Chen, who wrote "The Story of the Woman and Her Dog". Our friend Dave Nickle ("Wylde's Kingdon") was there. And of course, Jill and Michael were participating for "Beneath the Skin".

The highlight of the afternoon were readings. Claude read from the works of the three authors who weren't able to be present -- Derryl Murphy and Randy McCharles in Alberta, and Gord Sellar, somewhere in Korea. The authors who were actually present -- Jill and Michael, Grace, Elaine, Dave -- read brief excerpts from their stories.

Using the video function on Jill's camera, I was able to capture almost the entire reading. I missed the introductory remarks by Chris, the manager of Bakka, and part of the introductory remarks by Brett. A posting to Youtube may be in order.

In the above photo are Brett, Claude, Grace, Michael, and Jill.

Jill, Dave, and Grace during a lull in the signings.

Grace and Elaine. Apologies to Grace, who looks either gobsmacked or else she was goosed by Dave, whose arm you can see on the left. Actually, Grace was being surprised by someone walking up. I used this photo because it is the only shot I took that has Elaine in it. Below is a much nicer photo of Grace, signing our family copy of Tesseracts Twelve.

The turnout was great today. I talked to many friends who came to show their support. And Bakka sold a lot of copies of the book.

Important stuff (the shameless promotional part of this blog post)- If you are in Toronto, you can buy copies of Tesseracts Twelve, which are still available at Bakka-Phoenix.

For our American friends, you can buy this from or Barnes and Noble or Borders. It is almost certainly available at other fine bookstores or websites as well. Let us know if you spot it.

For those of you elsewhere in Canada, Bakka-Phoenix will ship if you order from them. or Chapters Indigo are alternative choices. Again, please let us know if you spot it in a local bookstore -- let us know the date, the name of the bookstore, and how many copies you saw. (Not that we are obsessively trying to evolve a view of the book's distribution pattern -- no, not at all).

If you visit us, and bring a copy of Tesseracts Twelve, we will do our best to ensure that you get your copy autographed by Jill, Michael, and Dave at the very least.

Finally, note to self -- Gord Sellar is reputed to be in Korea. Must check with Krystal and Peter - after all, the Canadian ex-pat community in Korea will be large, but won't be so large as to rule out the possibility of an acquaintance among them.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tesseracts 12 Book Launch this Saturday Nov 29

The story which Jill co-authored with Michael is called "Beneath the Skin" and it is available in the collection Tesseracts 12, published by Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, an Imprint of Hades Publications Inc. Mailing address -- P.O. Box 1714, Calgary, Alberta, T2P 2L7, Canada.

Edge publishes a *lot* of SF and Fantasy, but I have noticed one unfortunate problem with Tesseracts 12 -- it isn't available yet on Amazon!

We went to the World Fantasy Convention, which was held this year in Calgary over the Hallowe'en weekend. While we were there, Jill met with the people from Edge, and had a chance to do some book signings. Michael and Jill talked with Colleen Cahill, who subsequently wrote a positive review which appeared in the SFRevu website.

Karl Schroeder thinks this could be the best Tesseracts anthology yet, and hopefully a lot of people will agree with him.

There will be an opportunity to do more book signings in a couple of days -- Bakka-Phoenix Books is having a launch party for the book here in Toronto. Besides Jill Snider Lum and Michael Skeet, Claude Lalumiere (the editor) and David Nickle are expected to be there. I understand that possibly some other authors of stories in Tesseracts 12 may be there as well, but at this point I don't know which ones.

Bakka-Phoenix is located at 697 Queen Street West, in the middle of the first block west of Bathurst, deep in the heart of the Queen West Village. Directions to the store are available from their website.

UPDATE:I was wrong about the book not being available through Amazon. The issue was that I did a search on "Tesseracts 12" and got no results. However, it works just fine based on a search on "Tesseracts Twelve", which is the correct title of the book.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Jill is on BoingBoing!

Well, actually, it is the Pirate Issue of Shimmer Magazine, featured on BoingBoing. There is an image of the cover, and Jill's name is right there! Woohoo!

In celebration of International Talk Like A Pirate Day, which is today, Shimmer Magazine is offering a free electronic edition of the Pirate Issue. Only for the rest of the day, though, which is fast approaching its end.

Ahoy mateys! Get yer Shimmer Magazine download!

UPDATE - As of Saturday, September 20, the free giveaway link still works. If you like what you see, please support the folks at Shimmer Magazine by buying an actual printed copy from their website. I should also note that the Pirate Issue is a year old, and Shimmer hasn't been standing still. Their more current issues are here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Best Wedding Clothes

I am not usually a fan of wedding clothing, but this deserves special mention. The link takes you to cayusa's Flickr photstream, and a photo apparently from a science fiction convention called Dragon Con.

Jill and I need to get costumes like this for this upcoming Hallowe'en!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Digital Photo Processing

Perhaps some of you are getting the idea that I am finding excuses not to blog about our summer vacation, possibly because you might believe that the task of combing through nearly 7 thousand photographs to illustrate our five weeks (in two parts) is such a daunting task. You would be correct.

In the meantime, as a leadup, and coutesy of Mike, I am providing some before and after comparisons of photos taken with Mike's Nikon at the recent Geek Dinner -- the raw images which I posted earlier, and those same images after Mike took them and did some digital processing.

The white balance and color tweaks were done in Lightroom 2. Noise reduction and smoothing was done in Photoshop.

Do-Ming and Jill - unprocessed. Check out the good looking guy on the left.

Do-Ming and Jill - enhanced. Now you can tell that the better looking one is actually on the right.

Corwin and Ben - unprocessed. Just a couple of geeky kids.

Corwin and Ben - enhanced. Now you see the true nature of the NDS-induced zombies.

Mark and Glen - unprocessed. Apparently just a couple of regular guys.

Mark and Glen - enhanced. Now you can see the guy on the left is an Evil Genius, and the one on the right is hiding a Green Lantern insignia.

Again, courtesy of Mike, here are a couple of links on the digital workflow process from Luminous Landscape and Nikonians.

Just a reminder for when you try these techniques out on your own photos -- since these processes make changes to the image file, you should always make a copy of the image, and only work with the copy. That way, you keep your original file intact.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Batman and Sons - Rivalry

I've been a fan of superhero comics since before I was able to read. Sometimes, however, it is good to take a fresh look at the various mythos, as the dark cat has done over on LiveJournal.

Scans_Daily, also on LiveJournal, has a post of the dark cat's work in progress, Batman and Sons - Rivalry. (Scroll down after the page opens).

This is just laugh-out-loud funny, and I hope the dark cat completes this soon.

Thanks to Glen for providing the initial link.

Friday, September 12, 2008

More about the Large Hadron Collider

First, the website offers 30 incredible photos of the inside of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. [Thanks to Mike, who provided the link.]

The Montreal Gazette has a pretty good FAQ-type summary of LHC activities. And we learn that there are approximately 20 Montrealers working on the project. We also learn that the accelerator tunnel is about the size of a Montreal Metro (subway) tunnel.

UPDATE INSERTED Sep 14 - Michio Kaku of CUNY in an article in the Wall Street Journal expresses a certain amount of bitterness about the canceled Superconducting Super Collider (SCSC) project from the 1990s: "...As a consequence, Congress guaranteed that leadership in advanced physics would pass from the U.S. to Europe." However, a few sentences later he goes on to say "...While the LHC is outside U.S. jurisdiction, many of its key components come from America...", highlighting the current international nature of high energy physics research. [Note - the SCSC would have reached 40 TeV; the LHC can only reach 14 TeV].

How could I not blog about this next item? Katherine McAlpine aka "AlpineKat" is a news coordinator with the ATLAS Project at the LHC. She created the LHC Rap, the most current internet sensation (at least among geeks) which explains what the Large Hadron Collider is all about:

In the interview transcript which is linked above, McAlpine talks about LHC end-of-the-world scenarios.

I feel compelled to point out, for those who were disappointed that the end of the world did not come on September 10, that on that date only one circulating beam in the LHC got turned on. Sometime later, possibly this weekend or next week, they will turn on the second beam that circulates in the opposite direction. Once they are certain that everything works, and more importantly, that they understand the detectors, then the LHC experiment will move to the next step. That is actually the point at which the doomsayers need to be worried, because then the LHC will bring both beams together, and allow the particles in the two counter-rotating beams to collide. It is those high energy collisions that are the reason for the LHC's existence. It is in observing these collisions that physicists will gain insight into the first instants of the Big Bang. It is also these collisions that should be feared by those who believe in the end of the world.

An article by Ronald Bailey in ReasonOnLine provides an excellent summary of the so-called safety issues around the high energy collisions in the LHC:

While the LHC safety report goes through a number of scenarios, its chief point is that the energies produced in the LHC are "far below those of the highest-energy cosmic-ray collisions that are observed regularly on Earth." In fact, cosmic rays produced by phenomena in the universe "conduct" more than 10 million LHC-like experiments per second. If such energies actually produced vacuum bubbles, microscopic black holes, magnetic monopoles, or strangelets that could destroy planets and stars, physicists wouldn't be here to perform experiments in the LHC now.

With all that said, click here for a live webcam view from the LHC facility itself.

Thank you and good night.

Tech Support Solutions - Turn it OFF!

I know a number of people named Michael -- Michael the Writer, who occasionally collaborates with Jill and who we see on Tuesday nights with the Usual Suspects; Mike the Geek, who is the source of all my daily interesting internet links each day; and Michael the Lawyer, from whom I occasionally hear when his computer breaks.

Perhaps this is unfair. In a previous (business) life, I was part of a company which in the early 80s shared space with Michael's law firm. At that time, Michael acquired a disk based Olivetti word processor which I played with. This machine was beyond cutting edge at the time, when the most sophisticated personal computers one could buy were Apple II's or Commmodore 64s. It was sleek and black and expensive and it could store everything you typed. Of course I fell in love with it immediately. I managed to find the CP/M operating system on one of the operating disks, and I figured out how to bypass the word processor app load and get a CP/M prompt. But, in those stone-knife-and-bearskin days before the internet, I couldn't find out enough additional information to do something really useful -- like maybe compile Space Invaders to run on the Olivetti instead of the much less interesting word processing app.

Fast forward twenty years plus. Nowadays, Michael, like the rest of us, uses a reasonably state of the art Intel-based system running Windows XP, with video tweaked to be a little more than most lawyers would need -- because, dammit, Space Invaders just needs to be run at odd moments. His network also includes a very sweet Mac machine, but that one isn't part of this story.

I got a call from Michael on Tuesday detailing his latest problem -- a message on his screen that said "Not Optimum Mode. Recommended mode: 1280x1024 60Hz". Apparently, this problem had come up suddenly, no obvious cause. Well, Windows is like that -- things sometimes happen without any obvious cause. I didn't take this all that seriously -- based on the message, I expected that a simple right click on the desktop to reset the properties would fix this. I had Michael try this, but it wasn't successful. Michael is a lot better than the woman with whom I once spent a half hour on the phone, unsuccessfully trying to get her to "click on the start button". Remote tech support isn't my thing.

Fortunately, it was Tuesday, so I left the family among the Usual Suspects that evening and did a short hike over to Michael and Liz's house to check on the patient. (Have I mentioned Liz, yet? Liz isn't Catholic, but if she were, I am certain she would be in line for sainthood based on her having put up with Michael since the early 80s).

[Reader to insert virtual smiley face here, to make it clear that this particular cheap shot is basically humorous rather than malicious.]

After seeing the patient, it became obvious that it was not the computer, but the monitor itself that was generating the error message. More importantly, from an operational perspective, the computer was unresponsive -- my plan to right click the desktop to change the properties wouldn't work, because there was no desktop. On reboot, it would go to a black screen, with the monitor-generated message displayed. I tried a few things, including shutting down and restarting everything, and the more time consuming task of doing a repair of XP. During the repair process, the lower resolution screens were displayed, but afterwards, the normal screen display did not come up. Also, booting into Safe Mode didn't work either.

Based on some tech forum chatter which I was able to read from the Mac system, I started leaning toward the idea that possibly the monitor was faulty. With no clue, and no further ideas, I gave up and left for the night. Just to make things complete, Michael mentioned that he had some court documents he needed to prepare by the weekend.

On Wednesday, I went back. The first thing I tried was to unplug the power cord from the back of the monitor. I could also have unplugged the power cord for the monitor from the power bar, but being decrepit and fat, it is easier to do things that don't involve bending over and/or crouching.

When I plugged the monitor back in after a couple of minutes, and then restarted the computer, the restart went flawlessly. Everything came back -- Windows displayed the login screen, and I did the mental equivalent of run around with arms upraised shouting "IT'S ALIVE! IT'S ALIVE!".

So, important lesson -- peripherals can maintain erroneous electrical states even with the power shut off. If the intent is to shut it off to force a reset, consider unplugging it as well. That's my theory, and I'm sticking to it.

At home, I have to try this with the twin-disk external drive that has been failing the format command since Monday night (although it is perfectly happy with a Quick Format).

Still remaining to do -- go back to see Michael to explain, yet again, why it is important to run an antivirus update (and a scan!) at least once a week. And to do a critical files backup. Honestly, the man does criminal law, and does pretty well at it. You'd think that he could follow some simple instructions. Look at me -- I follow simple instructions quite well. Ask anyone...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Geek Dinner

We held the Periodic Geek Dinner at the Great Khan Mongolian Grill at the Pacific Mall last Friday, Sep 5.

In the leadup to this, Mike suggested a number of choices, and then proposed that we assemble at a Boston Pizza. Since we had been discussing the Mongolian Grill, or the Keg as possible dinner locations, I questioned this choice. This caused a long e-mail thread to propagate,and the end result was that the group decided on the Mongolian Grill, but the one at the Pacific Mall which up to this point I hadn't even known about, rather than the more familiar location on Don Mills Road.

Afterward, Mike admitted that he had provided an acceptable but not very good solution in order to force the group to decide on something better.

This is an interesting approach and could work just as easily on gathering business requirements from undecided users. I've been in this situation, on the receiving end. The users took everything that had been documented from the previous session, decided it wasn't adequate, and changed it. The only problem was that my users kept doing this in every subsequent session rather than finalizing on a solution.

As a group, we were much more effective this time in reaching a consensus.

Jill, Corwin, and I did some looking around in the mall before heading over to the restaurant. I took some pictures, but the photographic star of the evening was Mike's Nikon D60, the first DSLR that I've had an opportunity to get hands-on with. [Note - Mike says he got the camera and most of the associated gear used -- guess that means I need to check out Craigslist a lot more often.]

While I had come with the family, Mike, Aldo, and Glen had come by themselves. For Corwin, the high point of the arrangements was that Mark brought his son Benjamin. We had originally expected Dave and Marianna to be there as well, but (at least some of us) were sorry to hear that Dave was sick. Some of the rest of us were amused by the story of Dave being upset earlier that day. In a chat session, when told that Dave was sick and wouldn't make it that night, Mark had responded by saying, "Man, you suck! And you'd better be sick for the whole weekend!" We are nothing if not mutually supportive, but word was that Dave had been upset by the "you suck!" part. Those of us inclined to be that way giggled a bit when told this story.

The food was all right, since you can't really go wrong with the Mongolian Grill chain. The remaing photos from this point forward in this entry were taken with Mike's camera. The actual photographer would have been Mark, Aldo, or Mike (assuming anyone cares about photo credits).

Ben and Corwin, of course, ignored the crazy adults and did kid stuff. Mark describes this as a "DS induced zombie pic". Corwin was introduced to a DS game called Viva Pinata, based on the television cartoon.

The funniest part of the night occurred when we were discussing Vista, and its failings. In the discussion, Mike admitted to owning a machine that still ran Windows 2000. Aldo looked at him, and in a voice tinged with just the right amount of incredulity, said "Dude. That's ancient!"

OK, so it was geek humour, and ya had to be there. Anyway, for the record, I too still own a machine that runs Win2K. It keeps telling me that the hard drive is about to die, but (knock on wood) it hasn't done it for the last two years.

Our evening ended when the restaurant closed. Since it hadn't been too busy, they had kindly let us stay until closing time. A good gathering, lots of fun. We need to do it again, so that some people can demonstrate to some other people that they don't suck.

LHC online - we're still here

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), located on the border between Switzerland and France, came online at 04:38 Eastern time on the morning of September 10. Here is a brief excerpt from the New York Times article which was filed from Batavia, Illinois at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory:
Once upon a time the United States ruled particle physics. For the last two decades, Fermilab’s Tevatron, which hurls protons and their mirror opposites, antiprotons, together at energies of a trillion electron volts apiece, was the world’s largest particle machine.

By year’s end, when the CERN collider has revved up to five trillion electron volts, the Fermilab machine will be a distant second. Electron volts are the currency of choice in physics for both mass and energy. The more you have, the closer and hotter you can punch back in time toward the Big Bang.

Prior to startup, there had been kooky concerns, unfortunately echoed by a less than scientifically literate press, about the possibility of Dire Things Happening. These included the creation of one or more mini black holes in the LHC that would then proceed to swallow the Earth; formation of a nugget of "strange matter" which would convert everything that touched it to strange matter as well; or (my favourite) the LHC would trigger another Big Bang and obliterate the Universe. Yesterday at work, I weighed the odds of the world ending overnight, versus doing the much less interesting updates for the Wednesday morning status meeting, and I chose in favour of doing the updates.

A good thing, too, as none of the disaster scenarios happened. As pointed out by the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) and independent physicists, cosmic rays collide with particles in the upper atmosphere with much higher energies than the LHC is capable of producing. Had any of these disaster scenarios been likely, we would already have been swallowed.

For physicists, the LHC represents an opportunity, perhaps best summarized by Christopher Potter of McGill University in the Globe and Mail's article:
"This is what our entire careers have been building up to: It's the one chance in our generation to answer the biggest questions of science."

That's an inspiring thought to begin a new era in physics research.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

More FanExpo

When Corwin and I went to FanExpo on Saturday the 23rd to see Buzz Aldrin's public presentation, we stayed for the whole afternoon after it was over.

It may not have been obvious, but my son is a Star Wars fanboy, so the above photo-op, right next to the recruitment centre for the Rebel Legion and the 501st Clone Trooper battalion was a no-brainer for us.

I started going to science fiction conventions when I was a teenager, but never met anyone like the lovely young woman who allowed me to take her photo. Corwin says that the costume comes from the Kingdom Hearts video game. Clearly, my focus on books for all these years may have been the wrong thing :-)

Corwin's reason for going to FanExpo was, of course, gaming. He managed to get in several games of Halo 2 on an X-Box 360 gaming network that had been set up there, as well as some time on a Wii. I like the Wii's interactive capabilities and peripherals. Not sure that it is going to be the next game system in the family, though.

UPDATE - Mike pointed out that the woman in the photo is cosplaying as a character called Yoko from Gainax's latest anime series, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Corwin did not remember the encounter, but did so as soon as he was reminded of the sniper rifle. (Note - I expect his priorities to change radically over the next two to three years). He clarified his statement, which I misunderstood, that it was the woman's companion (not in the picture) who was cosplaying as Sora from Kingdom Hearts.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

I meet Buzz Aldrin

I had a chance to hang out with Buzz Aldrin last weekend at Fan Expo. On July 20, 1969, I was not quite 11 years old when I watched on a black and white TV in Wonowon as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first human beings to set foot on another world.

I didn't plan on doing this. Earlier this year, recognizing that my next birthday is my 50th, Jill decided that a VIP pass to the Fan Expo celebrity event with Dr. Aldrin might be a good early birthday present. She was right.

I arrived last Friday before 6pm for the autograph session scheuled to begin at 7pm. I was one of hundreds in the main Fan Expo room in the South Building of the Toronto Convention Centre. By virtue of arriving early and waiting for an hour and a half until the autograph session started, late, I was one of the first 25 or 30 in line. When it was my turn, I shook Dr. Aldrin's hand and told him I had been waiting 39 years to congratulate him on his feat. He autographed for me a large print of himself standing on the moon, similar to the image below, a shot taken by Neil Armstrong during the Apollo 11 mission.

The second event was a photo op. They staged it in front of a green screen. However,with no prior instructions provided, I had not realized that they were going to do this and had worn a shirt with green stripes in it. They took the shot and added the moon in as background. However, because of my green shirt, you can see the moon through my torso. And just above my belt, there is something that looks suspiciously like a fingerprint.

By the end of the photo session, I had been waiting in line over two and a half hours, and I had spent a total of 30 seconds or less with Dr, Aldrin. But, as I said to Jill, how often in your life do you get to approach a living legend?

The VIP Q&A session took place across the street in a pub. It included a complimentary dinner (sandwiches, salad, some indifferent meatballs and pasta -- the functional equivalent of rubber chicken). I managed four or five more minutes with him, although my supposed one-on-one was shared with two strangers named Anthony and Stephen. Not my choice or theirs -- we were arbitrarily grouped by one of the organizers, who redeemed himself by taking photos.

Buzz Aldrin got his doctorate from MIT for his work on orbital rendezvous. He later went on to do much more interesting work on cycler orbits. I had wanted to ask about any follow-up work that he might have done, but there was no real opportunity for a more technical chat.

Next day, Saturday, was Dr. Aldrin's presentation. I went with Corwin, and we stood with the rest of the audience to give him a standing ovation when he entered the room. Corwin fidgeted through the second half of the talk, but I did manage to get him and Dr. Aldrin in the same photo.

Dr. Aldrin provided a brief retrospective of his life and career. He expressed his concern that the earliest delivery date for the Ares/Constellation launchers in 2015 combined with the retirement of the space shuttle fleet in 2010 will result in a period when the US will only have access to space through its international partners. He hopes that the US space program will develop an alternate solution that will reach operational readiness sooner than 2015.

He also spoke of his wish that there might be a 40th anniversary reunion of the Apollo 11 crew and support group. My thought is that this is a neat idea, but if something like this is organized, it would be a convention involving potentially hundreds or thousands of people.

The organizers cut short the public question and answer session after two or three questions.

And that was how I got to meet Buzz Aldrin.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Not 3 regular readers -- 4!

After yesterday's post, I got an e-mail from someone I hadn't heard from for years, pointing out that I have one more regular reader than I think I do. That is very cool. So, WT from western Canada -- thanks for the e-mail, and hope you continue to enjoy these occasional maunderings!

Upcoming -- I need to blog about the great 2008 Cross Country Road trip and the second year that the Usual Suspects occupied Lake Herridge.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Tesseracts 12

Jill and our friend Michael sold a story to Tesseracts 12, edited by Claude Lalumiere. The story is a fantasy, set in medieval Japan.

Among the Tuesday night group of the Usual Suspects, Dave also sold a story. As you can see from Dave's post, all of this happened in late winter/early spring -- months ago. If I wasn't such a casual blogger, you would have known about this earlier.

Tesseracts 12 will be out in September/October this year, likely in time for the World fantasy Convention. Please BUY THE BOOK when it comes out!

Are we there yet?

Yes, I know the blog has been a posting disaster. With no new updates in the last eight months, I am not surprised that all my regular readers (all three of you) have given up. But this is the week that we'll work on catching up, I promise!