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.