Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas!

To all my regular readers (and even the semi-regular readers) (and the every once-in-a-while readers) (ah heck, even the "google search brought me here and I don't know who the hell you are" readers), I hope you have a very happy holiday! For those of you who celebrate Christmas, have a very merry one, and for those who don't, I hope you enjoy the movie. :-)

The Scare

Gail and I had probably the worst scare of our parenting lives yesterday. We went to the Ontario Science Centre with Gail's mom, Carol. The kids love it, and right now there's a special exhibition on the Titanic which only goes until early January, so we wanted to see it while we had the chance. The exhibition was really interesting — there are lots of pictures and stories as well as actual artifacts from the Titanic itself; everything from third class toilets to pieces of the engines to dinnerware and pots from the kitchen, even passenger's items like eyeglasses and jewellery. Anyway, the Science Centre is in a valley, and one of the things I remember from going there as a kid are the long escalators that take you from the main entrance down into the valley where the exhibits are.

After buying our tickets, we got to the first escalator. I got on first, then Gail and Nicholas, then Ryan and Carol. Part of the way down, I heard Gail asking Nicky to stop doing something. I did't know what he was doing, and I don't really remember what happened next, but the next thing I remember is turning around and seeing Gail kneeling in front of Nicky and pulling on his leg. He had been dragging his boot along the side of the escalator and it had become lodged between the escalator stair and the side. Ryan yelled "Stop the elevator!" and then Gail also started yelling for the escalator to be stopped. By this point, we were about 3/4 of the way down, and I ran on ahead to the bottom and started frantically looking for the emergency stop button.

My parents once told me that when I was a kid and they took my sister and I to the mall, they were surprised at the fact that every time we were there, the escalators were not working. They started to get suspicious, so one time they watched me and sure enough, as soon as we got near the escalator, I'd run over and press the button. You'd think that after my extensive training, I'd be able to find and press the button in no time flat. Not this time. I found the button easily enough, but it had a little plastic cover over it — probably to make it more difficult for kids like me to press it for fun. I tried to lift it, but found that I couldn't get my fingers underneath it. I tried every angle I could to get the cover to lift, but I couldn't move it. There was another man standing next to me by this point, and he didn't know how to open it either. Finally, when the escalator stairs were no more than a foot or two from starting to collapse at the end, the man next to me hit the button assembly hard with the heel of his hand. Not only did this stop the escalator, thankfully, but it also pushed the entire button assembly in and down a little, so there will need to be some repairs done on it. Once the escalator stopped, Gail was finally able to yank Nicky's foot out of his boot and she carried him off the escalator, both of them in tears. Carol was holding on to Ryan, who was also crying, and once I knew that Nicholas was not injured, I tried to pull the remains of the boot free of the escalator. Even before I got to it, the boot was damaged beyond repair. It took me over a minute to get it dislodged, and I had to rip it in half to get it out.

Within a minute, two or three Science Centre employees appeared out of nowhere. One seemed to be a nurse or EMT or something, and immediately examined Nicky's foot. There were no cuts or scrapes and he said it didn't hurt, and he could move it around. She decided that he was fine, though she said he might have some bruising or swelling later. Another employee had a cold pack, so we put that on his foot for a while. We realized then that he couldn't wear his boots for the rest of the day, since one of them was in piceces, so we took the liners out and he just wore those. At the end of the day, I had to piggyback him to the van.

I wandered back over to the escalator to see if I could determine how the button was supposed to open. It turned out there was a red spot next to the button, with a little message saying "Push HERE to open cover". I didn't see this when trying to open it the first time. I don't know whether this was my mistake or if it was a usability problem with the escalator design. I have a feeling it's the former, but I don't know if this is because of my feelings of guilt over the fact that someone else (who I never even got to thank) was able to stop the escalator to save my son when I couldn't.

The rest of the day proceeded without incident, though Ryan was much quieter than normal (and had trouble falling asleep last night). This whole thing affected Ryan even more than Nicholas. I think it'll be a long time before he agrees to go near an escalator again (we took elevators the rest of the day at the Science Centre). A couple of times later in the day, Nicholas was very quiet and almost seemed introspective, and I'd ask him if anything was wrong, and he would just say "I'm bad". We tried to convince him that he was not a bad kid, that it was an accident. At the same time, we tried to gently let him know that he did do something dangerous, and that this is why we always tell them not to goof around on escalators. There hasn't been any pain in his foot, but he has been complaining about his waist hurting; Gail thinks she might have elbowed him pretty good while trying to pull him free. Gail also has a nasty scrape on her leg that she thinks she got when she dropped to try to pull Nicky free. She, of course, has no memory of this; she was trying to save her child and was running on adrenaline so she wouldn't have felt any pain if she'd been shot with a .44 Magnum.

To the Science Centre employees who helped, other people who stopped to ask if we were all right, and especially to the man who managed to stop the escalator, thank you.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The things you miss when you're a kid

I found out something a little while ago that was a little bit disturbing. When I was a kid, I used to watch the TV show Laverne and Shirley — this would have been in the late '70's. I have since found out that one of the recurring jokes in the show was that Shirley and her boyfriend Carmine never had sex — Shirley refused. I had no idea about this (since I was only 8-10 at the time), so who knows how many jokes I just didn't get while watching this show in my youth. That made me wonder what other things happened in TV shows at the time that I was not privy to because of my age and relative inexperience in the ways of the world.

Maybe Captain Stubing had a coke problem. Or maybe Steve Austin got addicted to painkillers after his surgery. Did Mr. Roarke want to make other people's fantasies come true because he was abused as a child? Maybe Arnold and Willis got to live with rich Mr. Drummond as a reward for being confidential informants into gang-related activities in Harlem. We already know that Gilligan's Island was a mystery drama masquerading as a comedy. Were Charlie's Angels really hookers who solve crimes? Was Jack Tripper really gay?!?! The possibilities are endless.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Movie Review: Enchanted

We took the boys out to see Enchanted the other night. Originally, it looked to me like a movie the kids would enjoy and a movie that Gail would enjoy, but me, not so much. It did look kind of funny, and a clever idea, but I wasn't too excited about seeing it. But the reviews I've seen online have been overwhelmingly positive, including a number of people who said that they didn't expect to like this movie but did. So when Gail mentioned the idea of going to see it, I agreed. Bottom line: I loved it. The boys liked it, but I think Gail and I liked it even more. It was very funny, it was sweet, it had the beautiful Amy Adams for the guys and Patrick Dempsey for the girls, it had biting social commentary (well, not really), and best of all, the Disney people had fun making fun of themselves, and I like when big companies do that.

The story, in case you haven't seen the commercials, is pretty clever — Giselle is an animated girl in an animated forest who lives with little animated forest creatures that talk to her and clean up her house and such, very Cinderella-like, while she waits for her prince to come and whisk her away to the castle to live happily ever after. The prince indeed comes, but his evil step-mother throws her down a pit, and she ends up in modern-day New York City. At this point the movie switches over to live-action, but the actors playing the formerly-animated characters keep their animated personalities, so it's basically a fish-out-of-water kind of thing. Giselle talks about "love's first kiss" and living happily ever after while Robert, the jaded divorce lawyer that she meets, tries to convince her that "happily ever after" doesn't exist. At one point Giselle, while walking with Robert in public, attempts to break into song (as characters in Disney movies are wont to do), but an embarrassed Robert asks her to stop because in the real world, people just don't do that. When she tries to clean up a messy apartment, she calls for the forest creatures to help her, as she did in her own place in the animated world, but of course in New York City, you don't get sparrows and cute little mice, you get cockroaches and rats instead.

Adams does a fantastic job of playing an amalgam of Belle, Ariel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Cinderella, basically all the "Disney princesses" rolled up into one. All the songs she sings could have come from any Disney musical, except that the lyrics are much funnier than those in The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast.

This movie might convince you that "happily ever after" may not only happen in the fantasy world. But even if it doesn't, it's certainly a couple of hours worth of entertainment.

The Mitchell Report

The Mitchell report came out last week, naming a bunch of players that took steroids or human growth hormone (HGH) over the past ten years or so. Nobody was mentioned in the report more than Barry Bonds (to nobody's surprise), but Roger Clemens was a close second. This was a bit of a surprise to me, though I don't know why. He is also a player whose career started to wane a little bit and then he had a great resurgence and is still excelling well into his 40's. Maybe it's because when you think of steroids, you think of a bulky hitter smashing 500-foot home runs, not a pitcher. Part of me thinks that you have to wonder about a power pitcher who can still hit 95 mph when he's 45, but if that's the case, you also have to wonder about Nolan Ryan, who was also able to throw in the high 90's well into his 40's. Was he juiced? My immediate reaction is "No, he wasn't on the juice! He's Nolan freakin' Ryan!", but why couldn't he have been? Say it ain't so, Nolan! (Note that I'm not saying that Ryan was using steroids, just that the assumption that he wasn't might be naïve.)

Roger's good friend and teammate Andy Pettitte was also mentioned in the report, but his situation is very different from Roger's:

  • Clemens used steroids and HGH for at least three years. He has since denied the allegations despite the bucketloads of evidence in the Mitchell report.
  • Pettitte took HGH (no steroids) for two days in 2002 while recovering from an injury. He has since admitted his usage and apologized.

In Pettitte's press release, he admitted to using the HGH, but only twice over two days, and only because he was trying to recover from tendonitis in his elbow. He was so uncomfortable about using it (despite the fact that it was legal and not even banned by MLB at the time) that he stopped.

While I think that what Pettitte did was wrong, he's admitted what he did and apologized for it, and you have to respect him for that. Clemens, who would have to work pretty hard to earn my respect based on history, continues to deny everything, perhaps hoping that people will just forget about it. I think he might find that at Hall of Fame voting time, people won't forget.

It seems ironic that if you go purely by statistics, the three players currently not in the Hall of Fame who most deserve to be there are Pete Rose, Roger Clemens, and Barry Bonds. But the HoF is more than just statistics and if you include everything else, none of the three of them deserves to be there.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Daytime running lights are a bad idea

Since 1990, all cars made in Canada are required to have daytime running lights. I think this was done as a safety measure, since vehicles with lights on even during daylight are easier to see, but in reality it was a big mistake.

The idea is sound, because it's true that cars with lights on are easier to see, especially around here where it's overcast for 75% of the winter months. The problem is that many people think that having daytime running lights on is the same as having your full headlighting system on, and when it starts to get dark in the evening, they don't think to actually turn their headlights on. This is a problem for two reasons: (1) daytime running lights are generally not as bright as full headlights, and more importantly, (2) when you only have daytime running lights on, you have no rear lights on, so people behind you cannot see you. Because the driver sees lights in front of him, he thinks his headlights are on and doesn't think to actually check the switch. Some cars solve this problem by keeping the dashboard lights off unless the headlights are actually turned on, so when it starts to get dark, you can't see anything on the dashboard. Other cars, however, seem to turn these lights on as well, so there is no indication to the driver that he should be turning his headlights on.

I can't count the number of people I've seen driving in the dark with just their daytime running lights on. They're called daytime running lights for a reason, people! In the past I've flashed my lights at them, but almost invariably, they think I want them to move over or something, so I rarely bother anymore. On a well-lit highway like the 401 through Toronto, it's not that big a deal, but if you're on a rural road, it can be very dangerous.

When I bought my first car in 1992, I got into the habit of driving with my headlights on all the time. Turning the headlights on when I started the card was just as automatic as putting my seat belt on. When I bought my Grand Prix in 1996, I got out of the habit because the car had a light sensor that would detect that it was dark enough outside, and turned the headlights on automatically. The only time I ever had to manually turn the headlights on was when it was very overcast and dark enough or foggy that I thought the headlights should be on, but the sensor did not. All three of our mini-vans have had this feature as well, so when I got my Sunfire three years ago, I was not used to having to turn the headlights on manually. Luckily, I do notice the lack of dashboard lights when it starts to get dark, so if I have forgotten to turn the lights on, I do it then.

I think that going forward, headlights on all cars should be on at all times when the car is in gear. The downside is negligible — the headlights are powered by the battery, which it itself recharged as long as the engine is running, so this is as close to free power as you're going to get. You might have to replace your headlight or taillight bulbs more often, but in the 15 years that I've owned cars, the number of headlight or taillight bulbs I've had to replace is definitely in the single digits.

To my knowledge, no car on the road today has the headlights on all the time, so perhaps there's a good reason not to do this. If that's the case, I see no reason not to disable all dashboard lights unless the headlights are switched on, so that as I said above, the driver is indirectly informed when it gets dark that he needs to turn his headlights on.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

New domain!

I've registered the domain for my blog. The blogspot URL will redirect to, so there's no immediate need to change any bookmarks or anything. Right now, you need to specify the www. prefix, but I'm trying to fix that. Update: This is done now, so just should redirect you to the blog as well.

The hosting is still done through blogger for now, and I have no immediate plans to change that, but someday I might.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

I'm a pint low

As part of our holiday "celebrations" at work, someone decided to organize a blood donor drive. This was a fantastic idea. I had never donated blood before, but I've been meaning to for years, so Matt's event was the kick the ass I needed to get out and do it. About 10 of us went over to the blood donation clinic this afternoon, about half of those for the first time. I have had a couple of issues with dizziness in the past during examinations and such (including during my laser eye surgery), so I was a little nervous about doing it, but I'm glad I did. My father-in-law has donated many times, and is such a good "bleeder" that he's only hooked up for 5 minutes before he's filled the bag. I mentioned this event to my boss, and he said that he would have gone too, but just went a couple of weeks ago. He also said that he goes every 56 days, stating precisely how often you are allowed to give blood. Good on ya, Mark.

Because it was my first time, I had to fill out a whole bunch of forms (strangest question: "In your current or previous jobs, have you worked with monkeys or their bodily fluids?"), and then they hooked me up. It took about 15 minutes to do the donation (half a litre, or one pint), during which time I felt completely fine. When it was over, I was supposed to rest in the chair for a few minutes before going to have a snack. That's when the problems started.

It started with a little dizziness, and I told one of the nurses. She immediately jumped over to me, put my chair back so that I was basically lying down, and started putting cold cloths on my forehead, neck, and arms, which she replaced every couple of minutes. Within a few minutes, my stomach was a little tingly, though I was never really nauseous, and my hands started to get tingly as well. Over the next few minutes, my stomach seemed to settle a little, but my hands got steadily worse (or maybe my stomach stayed the same but my hands got bad enough that I didn't notice my stomach anymore). Pretty soon my hands were almost white and starting to curl up, and I couldn't move them easily, so one of the nurses started to rub them. After what felt like several weeks of this (ok, maybe 10 minutes), I started to get some feeling back in my hands, and a few minutes after that, I felt much better.

During this unpleasant period of time, I thought to myself "OK, that's it, I'm not doing this again", and was somewhat surprised to hear myself think "Suck it up, princess. You'll feel crappy for a while and then you'll be fine. But with the blood you gave, up to three people might not die. Isn't that worth 15 minutes of discomfort?" As crappy as I felt at that moment, I had to agree with myself.

As far as I know, I never came close to passing out — though one of the other guys I went with almost did. He had to lie down in the chair with the cold cloths as well, but about the time I felt better, he was OK too. One of the other guys got a little dizzy though not to the same extent, but I think everyone else was fine. The nurse said that my reaction was probably due to being dehydrated — since they took some of my blood away and I wasn't sufficiently hydrated, my body started sucking blood (and therefore oxygen) out of my extremities until it realized that I was not in fact about to die, and calmed the hell down. I had a large tea on my way to work this morning (bad move — caffeine is dehydrating, which I already knew <slaps self in head>), and then I had two 500mL bottles of water in the morning, so I figured that would be enough. Evidently not.

After I recovered and was sitting in the next room eating a donut, one of the nurses came over to me and said that it would probably be better if I didn't donate again, for my own safety. I just said OK, but was a little disappointed. I went over to her a few minutes later and asked if that was based on the results of any blood tests they had done, or just based on my reaction. She said it was just based on the reaction, but that she had spoken to the other nurse that I dealt with, and they figured that it was my lack of hydration that was the real problem. She said that if I wanted to try again I could, but it would be better to wait a long time, like a year or two, before coming back. I intend to do just that, though next time I will be drinking water like it's going out of style — and not just that day either, for at least a couple of days beforehand.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Football pool redux

Remember a while ago, I mentioned I was in a football pool? No? C'mon, you remember — I had won some money in week two, and I figured I'd never win anything again because I know zilch about football? You remember now? No? Uh.... ok.

So anyway, I'm in this football pool....

So it's week 14 now, and I have not come in first or second in any weeks since week 2. But dammit all if I'm not tied for first freakin' place overall! After thirteen weeks, I have correctly guessed predicted 9 games or more (out of 16) seven times. I have only gotten less than seven right once, that was 5 in week 5. I'm still in the 99th percentile, and I'm ranked even higher than I was before - 724th overall. In total, I have gotten 110 right out of 208, or a success rate of 52.9%. It seems odd to me that being slightly over 50-50 gives you first place. I also find my success in this pool rather odd, considering all I'm going by is (a) the ESPN game preview (though they never make predictions, they just say what's happened in the last few meetings between the two teams and/or any winning or losing streaks the teams are on), and (b) the tiny bits of football information that I don't fast-forward over when listing to my Prime Time Sports podcast. Note that the ESPN preview is right there on the page where you make your picks, so it's exactly the same information that everyone else in the pool has access to. For a while, I also had a general rule of never betting against the Patriots or Colts, though I had to break that rule when they played each other (and I got it right). I have since gone against both in a few cases, but only betting that they won't cover the spread, and I've almost always been right about those too.

I should have been buying lottery tickets...

Happy birthday dad!

My mom and dad were in Toronto for a doctor's appointment last Thursday, and my dad's 70th birthday was on the Friday, so my sister told them to stay an extra day and she'd make dinner for them. Unbeknownst to my dad, we had arranged a session at an indoor golf simulator for him and me him and I he and I the two of us for that afternoon, and also for Gail and the boys to come into the city (ooooh, the city) to join us for dinner. I took a vacation day and planned on taking the train in but managed to miss it, so I had to drive down (turns out that caused a lot more problems than I originally thought — more on that later). Dad and I played 18 holes (well, 17 — we ran out of time and didn't want to pay for another 15 minutes just to play one more hole) at Spyglass. We both shot in double digits on the first hole, but then we kind of figured out what we needed to do, and did much better the rest of the way. I even had two pars.

I think there was something wrong with the simulator, though. At one point the display got so slow that I asked the guy about it, and he said he'd never seen it like that, so he moved us over to another machine. (When he rebooted it, I saw that the computer running the booth was running Windows XP Home.) The other booth was a little better, but still not great, and there was still something wrong with the ball sensor as well — sometimes. While playing the back nine, I don't think I had a drive (i.e. with the driver, off the tee) go further than about 170 yards. I'm no John Daly, but if I hit my driver properly, I can hit the ball over 200 yards. I had some drives where I felt like I hit it pretty well, and the ball went 160 yards. I can hit my 6-iron 160 yards pretty consistently, so there was definitely something wrong. We still had fun though.

After golf, we walked back to my sister's place where she and my mom were getting dinner ready. Trudy had bought a bunch of Scottish food for the party — several different types of meat pies, mushy peas, British crisps (marmite (?) and prawn cocktail flavours), and even some haggis. She's a vegetarian, but she said she had more meat in her fridge for this party than ever before. Gail and the boys were a little late because Gail was on a long-running conference call at work, but they got there just in time for Trudy's "70 Years of George Perrow" video show, containing lots of pictures of dad, many of which I had never seen before. She did a great job with that, but eventually it was time to get the kids home to bed.

Gail and I were both going to leave at the same time (since we both drove down, we had to drive home seperately), but we had a problem. Gail was parked in Trudy's reserved spot in the parking lot, but I was on the road. When we got to my car, I found that some idiot had parked behind me, partially blocking a driveway, and not even two inches off my rear bumper. There was a little more space in front of me, but not enough to get out, so I was trapped. Gail took the boys home while I stayed to figure out what to do.

I called the police and talked to the parking enforcement guy, who said there was nothing they could do, since there was no way to prove who got there first. I thought about calling a towing company to get them to move the guy enough that I could get out and then putting his car back, but since it wasn't my car they were moving (and therefore there was nobody to sign a waiver) I doubt any towing company would do it. I waited for half an hour and the guy didn't move, so I put a nice note on his windshield (where I skillfully avoided use of the word "asshole", though that was the first word that came to mind), asking him to give me a call when he left so that I could also leave. After another half an hour, we figured he wasn't going to call (or at least wasn't going to leave), so I crashed on Trudy's couch.

The next morning, he still hadn't left, but with my dad guiding me, I managed to get out anyway. This made me feel a little silly, since I could have left the night before, but I guess it was no big deal really. When I left, my dad took the note off of the other guy's windshield, so he doesn't have any idea that his lousy parking job caused any problems at all. So, Mr. red two-door Sunfire with Ontario licence plate ARJS 015, the best I can do now is to call you a jerk on my blog. Not exactly satisfying, but it'll have to do.

Some reward

Sunoco recently cancelled their partnership with CAA — you could swipe your CAA card at Sunoco stations and you'd save 1% of your gas purchase on your CAA membership the next year. Last year, this saved me about $30. Not huge, but nothing to sneeze at. Now Sunoco has their own reward program called "Performance Points". I got 1000 points for joining, and I figured over the years, I'll eventually build up enough points to get free stuff (I'm still trying to figure out what to do with my 180,000 Petro Canada points). I recently looked at a receipt I got from buying gas at Sunoco, and noticed the following:

Points before transaction: 1000
Points this transaction: 0
Points after transaction: 1000

I went to the web site to check on the rules to see why I got no points for that transaction, and found that they don't give points on regular grade gas, only on the premium grades, as well as stuff you buy in the store (i.e. snacks and stuff). Since I don't buy the premium grades, and almost never buy stuff at a gas station other than gas (I pay at the pump almost all the time anyway, so I never go in the store), this program is useless to me. I suspect this is true of a great many people. At least this way, it's one less card in my wallet, and I will now actively avoid buying gas at Sunoco stations. Why wouldn't I? I get Air Miles at Esso, Petro Points at Petro Canada, Bonus Bucks at Pioneer, and jack at Sunoco.

Another example of a company that is so desperate to make more money that they alienate their customers, and will probably end up making less.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Pioneer Days

The boys were having a conversation this morning over breakfast about loonies and toonies. I came into the conversation in the middle, so I asked Ryan what he was talking about, and he came up with this gem:

I was telling Nicky that there used to be two-dollar bills, back in the pioneer days.

Monday, November 26, 2007

I must own this

A guitar that tunes itself by measuring the pitch of each string as you play it.

Also in that story, another automatic tuning product that has a library of different tunings, and allows you to switch between them on the fly — even in the middle of a song.

Now, how do I convince Gail that I need this?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Daddy, what's erectile dysfunction?

It's Saturday morning around 7:45. My kids (8 and 5) are watching Popular Mechanics for Kids, their favourite show. I'm not watching with them, but I'm sitting in the kitchen reading the newspaper, and I can hear the TV, and I have been in a couple of times to see what they wanted for breakfast, and stuff like that. During this show, there have been commercials that featured scantily-clad models (for an HD TV), feminine hygiene products, and even one for Viagra. I'm no prude, but there is no way that a Viagra commercial should be aired during a show that contains "For Kids" in the title.

I sent an email to the National Geographic Channel telling them that someone needs to revisit the types of commercials that are aired during kids programming. Not only are these completely inappropriate for kids, but totally pointless from a marketing perspective. Their sponsors pay them for a certain amount of air time or a certain number of commercials played — would they be happy that their commercials are being played to an audience that has no chance of buying their product? It's not even that kids have little money are so aren't likely to go out and buy these products — that's true for many toys that are advertised as well. But the kids aren't going to ask for these things for Christmas or birthdays, which is pretty much the sole purpose of toy commercials. Do the manufacturers think that the kids are going to think "Hey, maybe for Christmas I'll buy mommy some of these Always with Wings, since the women in the commercial seem pretty happy about them"?

I'm not one of those parents who wants to shield their kids from the "evils" of the world so much that the kids grow up in a bubble. (If I were, I'd be pointing them at Conservapedia.) But at the same time, some things are simply inappropriate for kids. The Viagra commercials may not be explicit (they're entirely innuendo, which my kids don't get, though I think most of them are quite funny), but I still think they fall into this category.

Friday, November 23, 2007

24 in '94

If you're a fan of the TV show 24, and you know anything about computers, you have to watch this video, which places the show in 1994, rather than 2007. Not only does it capture Jack and the gang pretty well ("dammit!"), but the computer references are hilarious.

"He's hacking into the mainframe"
"We just installed Windows 3.1, there's no way!"

OK, so Windows 3.1 was about three years old in 1994, but still.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Conservapedia -- Wikipedia for the hard of thinking

Well, folks, here it is — the encyclopedia you've been waiting for if you're afraid of the truth and want to live in your own little everything-is-wonderful world. It's called, "The Trustworthy Encyclopedia". I don't even know where to start with this one. It's wikipedia except they abandoned the Neutral Point of View concept, and decide to write everything from a conservative Christian point of view (which is fine), but then treat that point of view as fact (which is not). Its criticisms of Wikipedia are funny — a Wikipedia article can present all kinds of facts about something like homosexuality, but because it doesn't explicitly say "Homosexuality is immoral" or "wrong" or "an abomination", they view this as an endorsement and therefore Wikipedia has a liberal bias. Because you are allowed to describe years and time periods using BCE/CE in place of BC/AD, Wikipedia has an anti-religious bias. Because you are allowed to use British English rather than American English on pages about British topics, Wikipedia has an anti-American bias.

The articles use all kinds of faulty logic — how can evolution be true if smart people like Archimedes, Aristotle, and Isaac Newton didn't propose such a theory? Plus, Hitler believed in evolution. A quote even hints that Hitler's evolutionary beliefs caused him to believe that Germans were superior to other races, and that Jews were to be segregated. Ergo, if you believe in evolution, you are evil. Also, atheism is obviously evil because Stalin, Lenin, and Karl Marx were atheists. And of course, the old standby, "If science cannot currently conclusively prove something, it must be false" (eg. evolution, the Big Bang, a genetic basis for homosexuality). Yup, definitely trustworthy.

Here are some "trustworthy" "facts" that I learned from Conservapedia:

  • The opening paragraph of the article on homosexuality says "homosexuality has a variety of negative effects on individuals and society at large"
  • homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to be engage in promiscuity, violent behaviour towards their partners, homicide, pedophilia, cigarette smoking, and illegal drugs
  • most hate crimes against gay people are not actually hate crimes, and hate crimes committed by gay people against heterosexuals are vastly underreported
  • abortions cause breast cancer
  • the theory of evolution is evil — "a vast majority of the most prominent and vocal defenders of the evolutionary position since World War II have been atheists"
  • "a virgin is a person of either sex who has not married"

Obviously there are going to be articles that have incorrect facts on them; I'm sure you could go through Wikipedia and find plenty of incorrect information. However, the article on homosexuality has thirty-five sections, 290 references, and at least two thousand edits. It's not like someone added some incorrect or misleading information — many people have. The virginity page doesn't even mention sex, but to give an accurate description of what virginity is would require actually discussing sex, and we can't have that, now can we? In order to "protect" people from a description of sex (and come on people, this can be done without an explicit description of how it is performed), they choose to publish something that is patently untrue. And I'm supposed to take this site seriously?

The Conservapedia article on Wikipedia is also particularly "trustworthy". The following quotes all take place within the opening two paragraphs of the article:

  • "Despite its official "neutrality policy", Wikipedia has a strong liberal bias"
  • "It has millions of entries on topics ranging from an explanation for "duh" to singles by obscure rock bands to arcane British royalty."
  • "Initially, Wikipedia was hosted on servers operated by Bomis, Inc., a company that also sold pornographic pictures."

There's even a page on how Conservapedia differs from Wikipedia. One of the 16 listed reasons is: "We do not allow liberal censorship of conservative facts. Wikipedia editors who are far more liberal than the American public frequently censor factual information. Conservapedia does not censor any facts that comport with the basic rules." This is laughable, since Conservapedia not only allows but encourages conservative censorship of liberal facts, though I suppose they are up-front about it. Also, they treat the Bible and biblical scholars as a source of "facts" and conveniently ignore scientists whose findings don't agree with their agenda.

Do I want my kids perusing Wikipedia? To be honest, no. There are indeed explicit and disturbing pictures on some pages, as well as explicit descriptions of things that an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old really do not need to have described to them. However, Conservapedia, while family-friendly, presents opinions as facts, and tries to spin homophobia, general intolerance, and anything that disagrees with their beliefs (however misguided) as "faith". Faith has as much to do with hating gay people as Islam has to do with murdering Americans. A few extremist crackpots ruin it for the vast majority of peace-loving Muslims, and similarly, the people who created this site are simply Christian extremists teaching hate and masquerading it as faith. I won't let my kids anywhere near this site until they are old enough to be able to distinguish facts from bullshit presented as facts.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Green Tea

Another example of how trying to do your part to save the environment doesn't seem to help.

A week or two ago, Gail bought one of those new Tim Horton's reusable mugs. She figured that she gets at least one (decaf) tea a day when she goes to work, so this would cut down on cups that get thrown away. Sure they get recycled and not just thrown away, but reducing and reusing are still preferred over recycling. Plus Tim's charges 10 cents less for the tea when you put it in one of these mugs.

When she stopped at Tim Horton's this morning for her morning tea, she watched what the (attendant? waitress? I refuse to use the idiotic made-up term "barista") lady was doing. First, she misunderstood the order, so she made a decaf coffee rather than tea. The thing is, she made it in a paper cup, then poured it into the reusable mug, then threw the cup away. When Gail told her that it was supposed to be decaf tea, she apologized, poured the coffee out, and made the tea in another paper cup. Then she poured the tea into the reusable mug and threw the second cup away. Even if we ignore the ordering mistake (which could have been avoided if Tim Horton's were to use my brilliant idea), she's using a paper cup, which completely defeats the purpose of having the reusable mug in the first place. When Gail asked about this, she explained that she's not allowed to put the spoon she uses to stir the tea into the reusable mug, so she mixes the tea, milk, and sugar in a paper cup, then pours it all into the reusable mug once it's mixed. (I would think that using a disposable wooden stir stick to stir the tea in the reusable mug would be less waste than the cup.) I understand the logic, but if that's the case, why bother introducing the reusable mugs at all? I suppose if you don't take anything in your coffee or tea, then there's no need for stirring and no extra cups would be used. But what percentage of Tim's customers don't take any milk or sugar? Just listening to people ahead of me in lines, it seems to me that "double-double" is by far the most popular order.

I also get a tea on my way to work almost every morning, so I was considering getting a reusable mug too. When I heard Gail's story, my first thought was that I shouldn't bother, since a cup is getting thrown away for each tea I buy anyway. Then I remembered that I always ask for a second cup, since the tea is too hot for me to hold when I get it, and the second cup insulates it. If I get the reusable mug, it's insulated anyway, so only one cup gets thrown away instead of two. There. That should put an end to this global warming stuff once and for all. You're welcome.

iPod Meme

iTunes Survey copied from cahwyguy:

How many total songs?
6919 songs, 20.9 days, 41.79GB

Sort by song title - first and last
First: A by Barenaked Ladies
Last: 99% Of Us Is Failure by Matthew Good

Sort by time - shortest and longest
Shortest: You to Me (0:04) by Bystander (entire lyrics: "Everybody says '<bleep> you' to me" — the <bleep> is an actual bleep in the song)
Longest: Octavarium (24:00) by Dream Theater (second longest is "A Change of Seasons" (23:08), also by Dream Theater)

Sort by Album - first and last
First: "Abacab" by Genesis
Last: "90125" by Yes

Sort by Artist - first and last
First: AC/DC
Last: 54-40

Sort by Album Artist - first and last
I'm not sure what this means - why is "album artist" different from "artist"?

Top five played songs:
The top song is In Between by Linkin Park with 4, and then the next 20 (the rest of Linkin Park's Minutes to Midnight album, all of Saga's debut album, and a Robben Ford song I was trying to learn on guitar) are all tied at 3. Not a very useful stat thus far. Ask me again in a couple of years.

Find the following words. How many songs show up?
Sex: 6
Death: 4
Love: 239
You: 535
Home: 42
Boy: 34
Girl: 60

First five songs that come up on Party Shuffle
1. Extra Pale by Goo Goo Dolls
2. 5 Days in May [Live] by Blue Rodeo
3. Naked Sunday by Stone Temple Pilots
4. The Journey by Joe Satriani
5. The Master & Margarita by The Tea Party

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Scaramouche! Scaramouche! Will you do the fandango?

We went to see We Will Rock You in Toronto again last night. Gail and I saw it back in August, and we loved it, and since my dad's 70th birthday is coming up, we decide to take my parents and my sister to see it. They all loved it, as did we, although the crowd didn't seem to get into it as much this time as the first time. The guy singing the lead role ("Galileo Figaro") was the usual guy, and he was very good, but when we saw it in August, the guy playing Galileo was not even the understudy, he was the second understudy, and he was simply amazing. He had easily as strong a voice as the regular lead, and I found his speaking easier to understand, since he didn't have the slight French accent that the regular lead does. The female lead, Scaramouche, was played by a Toronto girl named Erica Peck in her professional stage debut. The fact that it's her debut is unbelievable to me, since she was simply outstanding. Her acting was great, her singing voice is incredible, and she just looked really comfortable on stage. The entire cast was really good, but Scaramouche was my favourite character, and Gail's too.

While looking through the program before the show started, I noticed a vaguely familiar name in the band — the drummer was a guy named Sean Kilbride, and it took me a few seconds to place the name. He was the drummer for Haywire, a PEI-based pop-rock band in the 80's that I was a fan of. This is the second time I've noticed something like that at a musical theatre performance — when we went to see The Lion King a few years ago, I found that the musical director was a guy named Rob Preuss, who was the keyboardist for both Spoons and Honeymoon Suite back in the 80's.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Slate quotes little ol' me

I just found out that a blog entry I wrote last year about circumcision was quoted in an article on Slate magazine:

At Cut the Chatter, anti-snip Graeme Perrow retracts some of his criticism of the practice in light of these findings. "These results are certainly interesting, and if I lived in sub-Saharan Africa, I would have to seriously reconsider having it done to my kids. However, incidence of HIV among heterosexual non-drug-using men is far lower here than it is there. … I must take back my (implicit) assertion that it's pointless and has no benefits."

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Leafs, books, quirks, and Adam's fall

A few scattered things...

In the past couple of years, I've actually hoped that the Leafs wouldn't make the playoffs, so that this would send a clear signal to the Leafs' management that serious changes needed to be made, not just little tweaks here and there. They've missed the playoffs two years running now, but nothing really significant has been done, so this year, I'm hoping the Leafs miss the playoffs again so that management is replaced. Ferguson has done a lousy job of building this team, so he needs to be sent packing. I'm hoping that Tannenbaum et al have noticed the dramatic changes in the Raptors after they went out and got Bryan Colangelo (last year's NBA Executive of the Year); maybe that will force them to rethink the Leafs' situation. Rather than just getting some guy to run the Leafs, they need to go out and get the guy — someone with a proven track record who is not afraid to blow the team up and rebuild. I have no idea who the guy is (would Lou Lamoriello ever leave New Jersey?), but Ferguson just ain't getting the job done.

Wil Wheaton has a new book out called "The Happiest Days of our Lives", which is a collection of some of his best blog entries, and talking about the best blog entries on Wil's blog is really saying something. I ordered the book a few weeks ago, and shortly after, Wil (I call him "Wil" like he's a friend of mine) complained that the Canadian orders had to be processed by hand, and he was doing it himself (Monolith Press, who's publishing the book, is Wil's own publishing company). Lo and behold, my book arrived last week, and the envelope had a customs sticker on it signed by Wil himself. It's not an autographed book, but pretty close...

When I first got my iPod, I spent a month putting all my music on it, and as an afterthought, I subscribed to a couple of podcasts. Since then, I've found that my main use for the iPod is listening to these podcasts on my way to and from work every day. I don't know how I'd manage this if I didn't have a 45-minute-each-way commute. Since you asked (lookin' at you, CaHwyGuy), here are my podcasts:

  • Prime Time Sports, the FAN 590's afternoon show with the legendary Bob McCown, recently voted North American sports radio's "Air Talent of the Year".
  • Bob McKenzie - the TSN hockey analyst's five-minute podcast, once or twice a week.
  • Quirks and Quarks - CBC's science show, which has been around since the mid-70's (though not in podcast form).
  • Scientific American's 60-Second Science - a daily 60-second science report, usually a brief summary of a recent scientific discovery.
  • This Week in Tech (TWiT) - a discussion of recent news in the world of technology.

I have also downloaded, listened to, and enjoyed a couple of audiobooks from So far, I have only listened to audiobooks from guys named Stephen: Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" and Colbert's "I Am America (And So Can You)". Just the title of that second one is enough to make me giggle, and the rest of the book is also very funny; I literally laughed out loud on numerous occasions while listening to it.

I found this on Boing Boing, and could not stop laughing. Author John Scalzi has written a review of the Creation Museum in Kentucky, which is a museum that promotes "young Earth" creationism, i.e. the Bible is literally true, and the Earth was created in 6 24-hour days about 6000 years ago. The other things that these young Earth creationists also believe are mind-boggling:

  • dinosaurs walked the Earth with humans, possibly as late as when the Egyptians were building the pyramids
  • there was nothing bad in the world until Adam ate that damned apple — there was no disease, no pain, every animal was a vegetarian, snake's venom was harmless, and there were no weeds. Yes, there's a sign in the museum specifically talking about weeds, and how they didn't exist before "Adam's fall". (They didn't explain why a vegetarian T. Rex would have had such huge teeth and claws — maybe they quickly grew after Adam's fall turned this gentle giant into a vicious carnivore.) Man, you make one mistake, and everyone pays for it for the rest of eternity. God may be merciful and kind, but don't piss Him off.
  • Cain's wife was also his sister. This must have been true, since Adam and Eve were the only other people around, so it's not like he could have married someone from next door. However, before Adam ate the apple, incest was OK and wouldn't cause genetic problems. Ew.

The whole creationist thing seems to come from the dizzying logic that "the Bible must be true because it's the word of God. How do we know it's the word of God? It says so in the Bible." It's best explained by this.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

And so it begins.

I put the cover on the air conditioner on Sunday. The leaves are all raked up, mostly. I've had to scrape the windshield of my car a few times already. The kids have been wearing hats to school for a week. We all wore hats and mitts at the pumpkin patch just before Halloween. I will be putting the bikes and summer toys in the shed or basement over the next week or so, so that I can get the car in the garage. And summer's coup de grâce, It was snowing a little bit this morning as I got to work. Winter is coming.

Bring it on.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Eric Clapton vs. Elton John

Here are ten reasons why the guitar is a more difficult instrument to play than the piano:

  1. Once you tune a piano, it's tuned, and can stay in tune for years. A guitar that's perfectly in tune at the beginning of a song can be out of tune halfway through that song. Plus, the piano is always tuned the same way. The key that plays a C note on one piano will always play a C note on any other piano. Guitars can be tuned in any number of different configurations — the open top string is usually E, but it might be D, or F, or something else; it depends on the tuning.
  2. On the piano, the right hand and left hand are doing essentially the same thing. They play different notes and such, but basically the same thing. On the guitar, the left hand is fretting notes while the right hand is picking or strumming them. Fundamentally different actions.
  3. A chord on a piano is usually three notes, sometimes four. On a guitar, you frequently have to play six-note chords with only four fingers (the thumb on the fret hand is almost never used).
  4. On the piano, there is one set of keys in strictly ascending order. You always know whether one note is higher or lower than another based on whether it's to the left or right of the other note. On the guitar, there are essentially six different sets of notes which overlap. Is the 3rd string, 6th fret higher or lower than the fourth string, 12th fret? Answer: lower, but unless you play the guitar or have one in front of you, it's not obvious.
  5. Unless you press the sustain pedal on the piano, as soon as you remove your finger from the key, the note stops. On the guitar, you can remove your hands entirely and the open strings will ring unless you deaden them.
  6. If someone has never played a piano in their life, you can teach them a C major scale in about 10 seconds: Black keys are grouped in either 2 or 3. Look for the 2 black keys together, and the white key immediately to the left of that is C. Hit that key, then each white key next to it (to the right) until you get to the next C. That's it. Teach someone that, and if they find themselves at a piano a month later, they could probably repeat it. On the guitar, it would be 2nd string from the top, 4th fret, then 2nd string 6th fret, then 3rd string 3rd fret, 3rd string 4th fret, 3rd string 6th fret, 4th string 3rd fret, 4th string 5th fret, and 4th string 6th fret. Or instead of 3rd string 3rd fret, you could do 2nd string 8th fret. Or numerous other ways. I've been playing guitar for 20 years and I had to do little air-guitar fretting motions in order to figure out how write it down here. Someone who had never played a guitar before would have no chance of remembering the notes a month later. (On the other hand, playing a C-sharp major scale on the guitar is easy once you know the C major - just move everything up one fret. On the piano, I'd have to think for a minute to figure it out.)
  7. If you don't play the guitar often, playing for more than a couple of minutes causes the tips of your fingers to hurt. Piano — no pain.
  8. You've got grands, baby grands, uprights, and other types of pianos, and they all look different, but excluding quality differences, they play pretty much the same way. Playing an electric guitar and an acoustic guitar are very different. 6-strings and 12-strings are also very different.
  9. With a piano, you play a note or you don't, though you can play it louder or softer. Same with a guitar, but you can also play the note and then bend it, or hit the note below and bend up, or hit the note and slide up or down, or hit the note above and slide down, or hit the note below and slide up. You can bend strings behind the nut in some cases, and if you have a tremolo bar (aka whammy bar) or a slide, you have even more options. Plus there are natural and artificial harmonics, which are impossible on a piano.
  10. The location of a note in relation to position of the black keys tells you immediately what note it is. I haven't taken a piano lesson in over 25 years, and I can't read music anymore, but if you asked me to fine a G on a piano keyboard, I could find it right away. On a guitar, you just have to know, or remember the notes that the open strings play and figure it out from there.

Note to piano players — don't get all bent out of shape. This list was made tongue-in-cheek.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Am I a music thief, or not?

I understand the idea about why music sharing is wrong. If I want to listen to a CD as much as I want whenever I want, I should have to buy it, and the artist and record company should get some financial benefit from that. If my buddy buys a CD and I rip it, then both of us are listening to it as much as we want whenever we want, then the record company has only received payment for one CD. When I rip it, the record company and artist each lose some potential income so in a sense, I've stolen it. I get that.

Recently, I went to the local library and borrowed a CD by Liquid Tension Experiment. I listened to it for a while, and then returned it. Since then, every time I've been to the library and I look on the CD shelves, the one I borrowed is there on the shelf. In theory, every one of those times I could have borrowed the CD for another two weeks. I live in a small town, so the odds are high that I can get this album pretty much any time. I called the library (holy crap, look at me doing research for a blog entry!) and asked them if I was allowed to borrow a CD as many times as I want, and they said that as long as I return the CD to the library now and again (I can renew it without returning it, but only twice), there is no limit. This means that I can listen to this CD pretty much as much as I want whenever I want, and it's perfectly legal, even though I didn't pay to borrow it, the library doesn't pay anyone each time I borrow it, and I didn't pay to get the library card in the first place.

Here's the kicker — when I borrowed the CD, I ripped it to MP3s. It's now on my iPod. This means that I can still listen to it as much as I want whenever I want, just I could before, but I don't have the inconvenience of having to go to the library to get it out or return it. The record company is still not getting any money, nor is the artist, but they wouldn't have anyway. Was ripping this CD wrong, and if so, why? Who loses when I do this?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

NLL season - back from the dead

So there will be pro indoor lacrosse this winter. As I mentioned before, the CBA expired during the off-season, and the league set a deadline date of October 15, by which time a new CBA would have to be reached in order to avoid complete cancellation of the season. The players called the owners' bluff, and it turned out that it was no bluff, and the season was officially cancelled. That's when the players union collectively said "oh shit, they weren't kidding", and the real negotiations started. A week later, the league announced that they had reached agreement with the PLPA on a new seven-year contract, and that the season was saved. Good thing too — I'm not sure the league could have survived a complete year-long shutdown.

After the original cancellation, the press asked NLL commissioner Jim Jennings if the season could be salvaged if an agreement was reached, and he said no. He said that the arena dates had been released, and he actually used the word "impossibility". Apparently the Boston Blazers' management took him seriously, because shortly before the agreement was reached, they told the league that they would not be playing in 2008 even if a deal was reached. There's been no official announcement on this yet, but it's been mentioned in a couple of interviews with people in the know. I'm not entirely sure what Boston could have done in the week between the cancellation and the agreement that couldn't be undone — the season doesn't start for another two months — but in so doing, the Blazers will lose all the players they drafted in the dispersal and expansion drafts, and will have to start again from scratch next year, if the team doesn't fold completely.

When the season was reinstated, my first thoughts were words to the effect of "Woo hoo!". Right after that, I started to wonder how we can ever trust Mr. Jennings again, after he said it was impossible to restart the season, and yet he did a week later. Jennings is known for missing his own deadlines for announcements; the league will say that there will be an announcement on league expansion (usually a team moving or an expansion franchise being awarded) on whatever date, and a few days or even weeks will go by before the announcement is made, with no explanation for the delay. Given that history, plus the season cancellation / reinstatement thing, my respect for Jennings started to drop. But then Jennings did something very few people in leadership positions generally do — he said he was wrong. He said the cancellation of the season wasn't a negotiation ploy, he really believed the season was done, and that he's happy to have been wrong. Perhaps it was a ploy and perhaps it wasn't (though if it was a ploy, he probably should have notified the Blazers of that), but it took stones for him to admit he was wrong. Jennings has done great things for the NLL, and this admission increased my respect for him.

My respect for the PLPA, however, didn't fare so well. It's not because the players were asking for outrageous salaries — I don't know the details of the CBA well enough to have an opinion on that. I know they don't make a ton of money compared to the other pro sports — the highest salaries in the league are about $25k/year — and that they weren't asking for huge increases. But after years of telling people "lacrosse players aren't in it for the money, they truly play for the love of the game", having the season cancelled because of a labour dispute (the third such dispute in the last four years) made me feel like a liar. If they were truly playing for the love of the game, there would be no need for the PLPA at all. I don't like unions at the best of times, so maybe my judgement is a little clouded here. Note that I have no problems with the players themselves, it's just the union I don't like.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that there will be lacrosse this year, and so, dear reader, you can look forward to game highlights and lacrosse commentary from yours truly throughout the season, which will begin in late December or early January. If you're not into lacrosse but are looking for something just as insightful as my commentary will likely be, here you go.

Aside: Yes, the title of this post is a small Halloween reference.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Red Sox give Leafs fans hope

After watching the last out of the World Series, I thought "So Boston won the World Series... again", and then realized that nobody has been able to say those words for almost ninety years. On the radio this morning, Damien Cox said that this should be great news for all Leafs fans, because the Red Sox were under the thumb of greedy and/or stupid ownership for a long time, and have now won two championships in four years, so Leafs fans can be reassured that their time may come as well. All we need to do is wait forty or fifty more years...

A-Rod has opted out of his contract with the Yankees, who have also lost Joe Torre. I have hated the Yankees all my life, especially during the last 10 years when they've been a juggernaut, but I have nothing but respect for Joe Torre. Without those two, the Yankees are instantly a worse team, and it's possible they'll also lose Pettitte and Posada, and Roger Clemens might finally retire for good. This brings the Yankees back down to Earth, and thereby gives the Jays a better chance. Now all they need to do is make sure Vernon Wells and Troy Glaus remember how to hit.

They mentioned during the game last night that Curt Schilling probably would not be back in the Boston lineup next year. Don't know if he's retiring or just moving on, but that leaves the Red Sox with a starting rotation of Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz (who threw a no-hitter this past season), and possibly Tim Wakefield. That's one powerful rotation, and with Okajima, Timlin (who might retire), Gagne (who will probably not suck so much next year), and Papelbon in the bullpen, <WARNING: Extreme Understatement Alert> I think the Sox will be OK next year, even without Schilling.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A fun weekend, and baseball's over

I'm sitting in the family room watching game 4 of the World Series; lovin' that wireless internet. We had a bit of a busy weekend; Gail and Nicholas were at a Beaver camp on Saturday, so Ryan and I had a day to ourselves. We checked out the brand new Canadian Tire store that just opened in Waterdown; that'll take some getting used to. It's not set up like other Canadian Tire stores, all the car stuff is to the right while everything else is off to the left, and there's a big Mark's Work Wearhouse right in the middle of the store. I was kind of expecting one of those huge "superstores", like the one in Waterloo, but it's not nearly that big. Anyway, we bought Ryan and me each a new pair of skates and I got some new windshield wipers for the car. We then started painting a bookshelf that I've been building for Nicholas for about three years. Just before we started that, I got a big ego boost when a friend of Ryan's from down the street came to ask if Ryan wanted to come out and play. I told him it was entirely up to him and after thinking for a minute, he told the kid that he was going to stay in and paint with me.

After painting we had lunch, then went grocery shopping, played on the Wii for a while, played some game that Ryan learned at school called "fumble", which involved throwing a tennis ball against a wall, and then went out for dinner. After dinner, we came back and I continued reading Harry Potter to him (we're into Goblet of Fire now) until bedtime. We had an amazing day.

Today, the boys had swimming lessons in the morning, then we all went out to Dyment's Farm, where we froze had lots of fun. The boys played in an inflatable train, a big ball pit, a straw fort, and on a trike track (though Ryan was a little too big for the trikes), we went on a wagon ride around the farm and right along the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, and enjoyed a nice lunch of very expensive hamburgers, a hot dog for Nicky, and some really good fries. All in all, we had a good time, though it was pretty expensive. It cost about $25 for all of us to get in, and lunch was pretty pricey as well (three burgers and a large fries was $17.50, and a small cup of apple cider was $1.50). The pumpkins were only $2 each, and were pretty small, though we've been told that because of the dry summer we had, the pumpkins are small everywhere this year. We usually go to Parkside Farms in Waterdown each year for our pumpkins, but decided to give Dyment's a try this year. Parkside is smaller, but just as much fun, no entrance fee, and cheaper food, so I think we'll be heading back there next year.

I have a presentation to give on security in SQL Anywhere tomorrow morning, so I should probably not stay up too late. However, the Red Sox are an inning away from winning their second World Series in four years (and as one of the commentators said, also its second World Series in eighty-nine years), so I think I'll stay up just a little longer and watch the end of baseball for another year. Despite the fact that they're in the same division as the Jays, the Red Sox have become my second favourite baseball team. I think that happened when they came back from three games down to beat the hated Yankees in the ALCS three years ago. I also spent a lot of time in Boston during my three-year stint at my previous company, so that's probably part of it as well. Plus, you can't help but like David Ortiz. Manny Ramirez, not so much, but hey.

I'd like to write some stuff about the NLL season being cancelled (bad) and then reinstated (good), but I'm too tired tonight.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Don't tell me why you want to know

I use, which gives me stats on how people find my blog, i.e. of all the people who find my blog, where do they come from? Some of the searches that people have done to lead here are kind of interesting:

Google Search: eric lindros uncircumcised
Google Search: weird thing about linkin park FILM TALKS ABOUT TWO PERSONS HAVE CANCER ONE OF THEM PLAY SKI
Google Search: which arm did anakin lose to darth tyrannus
Google Search: there is a song i heard on q107 making fun out of bryan mccabe who sings that song 2007
Google Search: 2 player can 7up vs diet coke football game

I'm frightened to ask why someone cares whether Eric Lindros is circumcised.

Incidentally, the vast majority are from Google searches. I see the occasional Yahoo search and other searches ( I've never heard of), but easily 95% are from Google.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Just in case

This video is making the rounds on the internet. It's called "The Most Terrifying Video You'll Ever See", but that's a bit strong. It's about global climate change (GCC) and what, if anything, we need to do about it. It's strange in that the author doesn't try to convince you that GCC is actually occurring, but that we need to do something about it anyway.

The logic is hardly groundbreaking — either GCC is occurring or it isn't, and either we do something about it or we don't. If it is occurring and we take action, we're good, and if it is not occurring and we do nothing, we're good. The two risks are the crux of the argument, and he describes the two extreme cases. If GCC is occurring and we don't take action, ocean levels will rise, wiping out entire cities or possibly countries, millions of people will die and millions more will be homeless, there's worldwide economic, political, and social chaos, and life generally will suck. If it is not occurring and we do take action, we could be spending billions of dollars solving a problem that doesn't exist and we cause a worldwide economic depression. The latter is certainly the lesser of the two evils, so we need to take action against GCC, "just in case". I have no real problem with that logic, and am happy to do my share to help.

Am I going to become a vegan or vegetarian because the more meat we eat, the more cows there are, and the more cows there are, the more gas they release, thereby contributing to global warming? No, because I don't think that cow farts are really that big of a problem. I have actually seen this reasoning in defence of veganism, by the way.

Anyway, the logic he used reminded me of religion. I think a large number of people believe in God "just in case". They figure that if God exists and I don't believe, then I get to sleep in on Sundays, but I'm going to hell. If God does not exist, and I do believe, then I've wasted** my Sunday mornings and not much else. Going to hell is obviously worse, so I'll go to church. I know that there are a much larger number of faithful church-goers who believe wholeheartedly in God, and this is not something they think about — God not existing is not an option in their mind. But I think the number of "just-in-case"ers is not insignificant.

Personally, I am as "devout" an atheist as the aforementioned "faithful" are devout Christians (or Jews or Muslims or...), so the option of "God exists but I don't believe so I'm going to hell" doesn't exist in my mind. In fact, I used to be a just-in-case'er myself, back before I "came out" as an atheist. It seems that some consider "atheist" one of the worst insults you could use, like "anti-American" (or its equivalent, "terrorist") seems to be these days. Once I decided that the word "atheist" was not an insult and accurately described me, I dropped the whole "just-in-case" thing.

But the just-in-case'ers seem to be missing one crucial point. If God does exist, then he knows you're a just-in-case'er, that you don't really believe with all your heart, so you're going to hell anyway. In that case, you've wasted your Sunday mornings and you're going to hell. Worst of both worlds.

** - I also realize that people do more at church than simply pray. They learn valuable life lessons during sermons, meet people and make friends, perhaps get advice or counselling, etc. I talked with someone once who said that her mother was "the biggest atheist around", but still went to church on Sundays because she simply enjoyed it. I'm sure a lot of the just-in-case'ers really enjoy their church-going time, and from that point of view it's certainly not "wasted time". But you know what I mean.

Google just makes life better

We're heading north this weekend for my sister's birthday. We thought maybe we'd stop at Swiss Chalet on the way up for dinner, so I went to my dear friend the Internet to find a restaurant in Mississauga. I went to and found their restaurant locator. I selected Ontario from the pulldown, then selected "Mississauga" from the list of cities, and it gave me a list of locations. Each one had a "map" link, which linked to a separate page containing a little mapquest map of that location. Not too painful, and fairly quick. However, I then had to go through each restaurant listed and figure out where it is, and if it's near to where I'm going to be driving. I'm fairly familiar with Mississauga, but it took me a minute to figure out how far out of my way "Burnhamthorpe and Creditview" is. And there are nine restaurants listed.

Then I went to to, clicked "Find businesses", then entered "Swiss Chalet" in the first box and "Mississauga, Ontario" in the second. I was immediately given a map of Mississauga with every Swiss Chalet restaurant flagged. Faster and way more useful. I can plan out my route and instantly see where the restaurants are near the roads I'll be on.

As my buddy Kurt frequently says, if there's a better use for the internet, I don't know what it is.

Monday, October 15, 2007

NLL labour trouble... again

Here we go again. For the third time since 2004, the NLL is trying to negotiate a new CBA with its players. The first time, talks broke down but they decided to extend the existing contract by a year. The next year, just before the 2005 season, the league gave a deadline of October 1 and said that if an agreement wasn't reached by then, the season would be cancelled. They reached an agreement on a new 3-year contract a few hours after the deadline passed, and the season went on.

That contract expired at the end of last season, and now we're down to the wire yet again, with today being the deadline. According to the NLL website, talks broke off early this morning with no more scheduled.

I know that the owners have offered about a 3% pay increase, and the players want more, but I'm sure there's a lot more to it than that. I don't know any more details, so I don't have enough information to have an opinion on which side is right or wrong. But I think the players are in a tough bargaining position here. Many of the NLL franchise owners also own NHL teams, and they lost an entire season a couple of years ago. The NLL has even said that those owners would "not think twice about losing a lacrosse season". If they're that willing to lose a season, the players have no strength. What can they threaten the owners with?

At the same time, the owners have got to know that losing an NLL season likely means the end of the league, and whatever investment they've made would be gone. Lacrosse is still too much of a fringe sport at this point, and the NLL simply cannot afford to lose an entire season. If it vanished because of a labour dispute, many people would leave and not bother coming back. MLB is still recovering from the baseball strike, and that was thirteen years ago. Blue Jays attendance isn't anywhere near what it was before the strike, though the team won the two World Series immediately before the strike, and has been mediocre at best since then, so I'm sure that's part of it. Sure there are the die-hard lacrosse fans, but a lot of the fans enjoy watching the games, but if the league vanished, they'd just think "Oh well, that was fun while it lasted" and move on, more than likely not looking back.

Knowing the NLL's tendency to completely ignore deadlines (especially the ones they set themselves), it wouldn't surprise me for the deadline to come and go, and the season not get cancelled, or even get cancelled and then get "un-cancelled" a couple of days later, once an agreement is reached. If it really does get cancelled though, bye bye NLL.

Update: According to both Sportsnet and TSN, the season has officially been cancelled. No word from

Another update: It's official.

My little chickadee

We went to the RBG in Hamilton yesterday for a "Geo-Quest", which was a mini-course on geocaching — what it is, how to use the GPS, stuff like that. They set up a treasure box somewhere on the RBG grounds, and then gave us co-ordinates for three signs around the grounds, and we had to find the signs, get some clues from the signs, and the clues gave us the co-ordinates of the treasure box. Each of the four of us got a GPS unit to use, so the boys had fun watching how close they were getting and what direction to walk and stuff like that. Nicholas, however, seemed to have missed something that the instructor pointed out: "The GPS doesn't tell you things like 'There's a tree in your way', so you need to keep your eyes open!". More than once, Nicky would be staring so intently at the GPS to make sure he was going in the right direction that he walked into a tree or bush or person.

The boys each did a week of summer camp at the RBG this past summer, and told us about "feeding the chickadees", which they did every day at camp. After the course, we each grabbed a handful of birdseed from the desk and walked down a path a little ways to try that. I had assumed that the boys meant that they spread some birdseed on the ground and the chickadees came up to them to grab it, but it was much better than that. We held our hands out in front of us, and the chickadees were so tame that they would actually land on our hands and eat the seeds (or grab them to take back to their nests). There were also some blue jays and nuthatches around, but the blue jays never came near us, and the nuthatches wouldn't land on you, they'd just take the seeds that dropped on the ground. Standing there with a little chickadee sitting on your hand eating was just the coolest thing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Ratio

Wow...three postings in one day? AND one yesterday? AND two on Sunday? Just call me Mr. Prolific.

Back when I was in university in the late '80s (twenty years ago! Holy crap I'm old), I did a three co-op work terms at IBM in Toronto. In the third one, I shared an office with Suki (short for Sukhminder), another co-op. He happened to live in the same town I did (Pickering), so we carpooled to work a lot. I drove my dad's old 1979 Caprice Classic, while Suki drove a brand new 1989 Honda Prelude, complete with 4-wheel steering. After lots of conversations about cars, we came up with a theory that I still believe in. The theory was that the ratio of how cool a car is to how cool the owner of the car thinks it is must always be less than one. In other words, no car is ever as cool as its owner thinks it is.

We'd see cars and their drivers, and give our estimate of what the ratio was — the lower the ratio, the more out-of-touch with reality the owner was. The lowest ratios were held by the posers who'd buy an old Honda Civic (they're nice cars now, but they used to be small and junky) and add a big three-foot-tall spoiler on the back, paint it yellow, tint the windows, and then think they're driving some sort of hot rod — until they pulled away from a light and their car made a high-pitched "Wheeeeeeee" sound, rather than the more powerful VROOOM of a Mustang or Camaro. That was something like 0.2. We'd see a Corolla drive by with the driver-side window down and the driver with one arm hanging out the window and sporting a pair of $120 Ray-Bans, and say "0.4". Note that the same driver driving a much-cooler Porsche might also get a 0.4, or even less, because the car might be twice as cool (doubling the numerator), but the driver may think it's more than twice as cool (more than doubling the denominator). A beat-up old wooden-paneled station wagon with a family of five inside might rate something like 0.85.

We tried to think of the highest possible ratio. The 78-year-old grandmother who borrows her rich son's BMW to run over to the grocery store, and really has no idea about cars (so she doesn't know how cool the car really is) would be pretty high (though it could be argued that it doesn't count, since she doesn't own the car), as would be the guy driving the old 1974 Lada that he picked up at an auction for $150. But somewhere in the back of that grandmother's mind, she is thinking "this is quite a nice little car", and the guy with the Lada is thinking that he got the car for almost nothing, and that's pretty cool. Even in those cases, the ratio is still less than one.

Suki freely admitted that the ratio for his Prelude was pretty low, between 0.3 and 0.4, but then it was quite the nice car. My dad's old Caprice was a gas-guzzler that was about 100 feet long and had broken air conditioning and an analog clock that had been stuck on 3:00 for years. However, it had a powerful V8 and I once had nine adults in that car — with nobody in the trunk (though one was lying across the laps of the people packed into the back seat), so it was probably a 0.75. My first car was a candy-apple red 1988 Cavalier Z24 (that I bought in 1992). It was a standard and had a spoiler and a sunroof, and it was all mine. We're talking 0.35 tops.

Now that I think about it, a friend of mine once had a 5L Mustang with a pretty low ratio, but before that, she drove a baby blue mid-80's Reliant K car that her parents helped her buy. That ratio was pretty damned close to one.

Yes, we really did put a lot of thought into this.

Windows reminder app

Does anyone know of a good Windows-based calendar / reminder application? I'm currently using the Lightning plug-in for Thunderbird. Lightning is basically a plug-in version of Sunbird, which is a Mozilla calendar application. It has the advantage of being able to read events from my Google calendar plus add events of its own, and it can give you reminders, but the reminders seem to be flaky.

My company uses Lotus Notes for email, but after using it for a few years, I now flatly refuse to install it. I switched to Outlook for the next few years, and Outlook has a pretty nice calendar built-in. I'd set up reminders for my meetings, and a message box would pop up 10 minutes beforehand. I switched to Thunderbird for email a year or so ago, but Thunderbird doesn't have a calendar built-in, so I've been without one ever since. I discovered Sunbird a little while ago and set that up, but soon discovered Lightning — it's the same thing as Sunbird but since it's a Thunderbird plug-in, it's one less application to run. However, I have been late for a number of meetings lately because my reminders never fired. Sometimes they fire the next time I stop and start Thunderbird, and sometimes they simply fire an hour or two later. The reminder for the meeting I was late for this morning fired an hour after the meeting ended.

I'm thinking of re-installing Outlook just for the calendar, but that seems like overkill. Considering how happy I've been with Firefox and Thunderbird (for the most part), I'm quite disappointed with Sunbird. Anyone have any other suggestions?


You know today I was only asked one question, and one question only, you know what that was?
"Do you want the super size?"
You know, come to think of it, I want the whole fuckin' world super-sized.
Super-sized guns
Super-sized planes
Super-sized satellites — think about how many more channels you could get with super-sized satellites
Super-sized sales — how do you super-size a sale?
How 'bout we super-size third-world debt relief?
Super-size love
Super-size honesty
Super-size government — come to think of it, actually nah, let's not super-size the government
I'd like to super-size death
"Can I have a super-size of death?"
"I'd like a super-size of death with a Coke"
Let's super-size this song
Really, that's the goal, isn't it?
If we can super-size the record, we'll sell more records
It's a super-sized record
That is after all, our ambition
Ambition, ambition's a tricky thing
It's like riding a unicycle over a dental-floss tightrope over a wilderness of razor blades
Ambition can backfire
Ambition means more, ambition means faster, ambition means better
What if you could super — can you super-size ambition?
Does it make you ambitious if you super-size ambition?
Around here, our ambition hurts more than it helps
Around here, our ambition throws a non-perishable item in the donation bin at Christmas, and then pats itself on the fuckin' back because it thinks it's done something decent
Yeah, we're super-sizing ambition, make no mistake about it
Ambition will televise the revolution
And it'll sell more fuckin' commercial spots than the Super Bowl, the Olympics, the World Series, and the tragedy-du-jour combined
We're super-sizing, we're super-sizing the record
'Cause we're ambitious

Matthew Good
"Twenty-first Century Living"

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Tory the Tory and MMP

So we go to the polls on Wednesday, this time casting two ballots instead of the usual one. I think I've figured out who I'm voting for in my riding, and I think I've also figured out how I'm voting on the MMP issue. I see the appeal of MMP, particularly for the smaller parties. For example, there is no Green Party candidate in my riding, and if I were a Green Party supporter (I'm not), then I would have no way to actually vote for the party. With MMP, I could still support that party. Similarly, say I happen to support Party X but for whatever reason I don't like Party X's candidate in my riding. Under an MMP system, I could vote for the candidate (not party) that I think will best serve my riding, while still supporting Party X.

The fatal flaw of MMP in my mind is that 40 of 130 MPPs (that's over 30%) will be unelected and will represent no constituents. They are guaranteed to vote along party lines. Most MPPs will, to be sure, but there is always the chance that they will not if whatever they are voting on may be especially helpful or detrimental to their constituents. Voting along party lines is not necessarily a problem, but if there's something to be voted on, and Joe Party Leader says "my party is against this", he knows that those extra unelected MPPs will vote with him, so he could have 25% of the vote before anyone even considers about how the people of the province feel about it. Because there are more MPPs, it also means that the person voting on my behalf (i.e. my MPP) has less power than under the current system, in the sense that his vote will count for less. Everyone I've talked to on this issue (which, admittedly, isn't many) is also voting no.

I generally don't align myself with a particular party, mainly because I don't trust many politicians, and the ones I have trusted in the past have come from various parties. If I found that I trusted, say, the Librerals more often than the Tories, then I might call myself a Liberal, but I've noticed no such pattern. In particular, I've found in the past that I like the federal leader of a party while not liking the provincial leader of that same party, or vice versa. I did not watch the recent debate on TV, but I've heard interviews with both McGuinty and Tory, and I liked what each of them had to say (though it's probably easy to spin your agenda to sound positive when there's nobody arguing against you). Plus, my political knowledge is minimal enough that if some political leader explained an idea to me, I wouldn't necessarily be able to see any flaws in it anyway. Having said that, I have yet to see a John Tory ad that explains why he would be a good leader; all of his ads seem to just talk about why McGuinty is not a good leader. It's not "Vote for us!", it's "Don't vote for them!", which implies to me that either (a) Tory isn't confident enough in his own agenda to actually talk about it, or (b) he doesn't think there are any really good candidates, including himself, so he considers himself the "least bad" candidate. Either way, this is hardly someone I want leading the province for the next however-many years.

As an aside, obviously a politician named "Tory" would be a Conservative. But what if he wasn't? Would the Liberal Party elect a leader named "Tory"?

Look at this, more political commentary on my blog. Somewhere, John Wayne Gacy and Joseph Stalin are putting on parkas.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Music meme

I copied this from CaHwyGuy. The idea is to put your entire music collection on shuffle, and list the first ten songs that come up. Here they are (song name, with artist and album in brackets):

  1. Erotomania (Dream Theater, Awake)
  2. Rooster (Alice In Chains, Dirt)
  3. Masquerade (The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack — I'm pretty sure this is the Toronto cast)
  4. Just Good Friends (Close) (Fish, Internal Exile)
  5. If Dirt Were Dollars (Don Henley, The End of the Innocence)
  6. Do What You Gotta Do (Garth Brooks, Sevens)
  7. West Virginia (Big Wreck, The Pleasure and the Greed)
  8. Prelude: The Waking Dream (Triumph, Surveillance)
  9. This Suffering (Billy Talent, Billy Talent II)
  10. Listen (Collective Soul, Disiplined Breakdown)

Interesting how two of them (#1 and #8) are instrumental. All in all, a pretty good overview of my musical tastes, though I don't actually listen to Garth Brooks all that often.

Ripping complete!

I finished ripping my CDs today. The final total: 14 genres, 210 artists, 572 albums, 6903 songs, 20.8 days, 41.72 GB. The genres break down like this:

  • Alternative & Punk: 22 artists, 61 albums
  • Blues: 12 artists, 18 albums
  • Country: 6 artists, 17 albums (8 of which are Blue Rodeo)
  • Folk: 1 artist, 1 album (Patricia Murray, mentioned before)
  • Grunge: 3 artists, 5 albums (Nirvana, Silverchair, Soundgarden)
  • Holiday: 3 artists, 7 albums
  • Jazz: 2 artists, 2 albums (Donald Fagan and Harry Connick, Jr.)
  • Metal: 15 artists, 53 albums
  • Pop: 19 artists, 43 albums
  • Progressive Rock: 2 artists, 5 albums (Liquid Tension Experiment and Saga)
  • Punk Rock: 2 artists, 3 albums (Green Day and the Offspring)
  • Rock: 133 artists, 345 albums
  • Soundtrack: 5 artists, 18 albums
  • World: 1 artist, 1 album (Leahy, also mentioned in the above-linked post)

The ripping of all the CDs came with a cost (excluding time) — my old CD-ROM drive (and DVD writer) decided that this was simply too much for it to handle, and gave up the ghost on Friday. A few times last week, it occasionally stopped recognizing disks until I ejected them and put them back in a couple of times, until on Friday, it finally wouldn't recognize any disks at all. Didn't give me any errors, just didn't recognize that there was any media in the drive. I went out to Factory Direct on Saturday and bought a new DVD writer for $50, installed it in two minutes, and was ripping again. Even better, the new drive is faster than the old one, and recognizes DVDs that the old one had trouble with.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Audiobooks and a milestone

I signed up the other day with, which is like the of audiobooks. Don't know if I'll continue the subscription, but just for signing up, I got a free audiobook. The one I chose was "A Brief History of Time" by Stephen Hawking, which is a book I've been meaning to get for a long time. I listened to the first 20 minutes or so of it on the drive home yesterday (it's over 5 hours long), and was instantly hooked. It's fascinating stuff. Right now he's talking about the history of people's beliefs and discoveries about the solar system, like how people assumed that the Sun, moon, and planets all revolved around the Earth, and that the Earth was a cylindrical disk. Then he not only explains that people changed their beliefs as new information became available, but he describes what that new information was and how it conflicted with the existing "body of knowledege". He does all this in a writing style that is not only interesting, but done in a way that the average layperson can understand it without feeling talked down to.

Hawking, obviously, does not read the book himself. It's read by a guy named Michael Jackson (no, not that one), who has an English accent. This kind of threw me off; I always assumed that Hawking was American because of his speaking computer, which speaks with an American accent. Hawking is indeed British, so it makes sense to get someone British to read the book.

The book so enthralled me during the drive home that I completely forgot about an imminent milestone, which must have passed on the 401 somewhere between Hwy 8 and the service station between Cambridge and Guelph. The milestone was the rolling over of the odometer (100,000 km) on my car. The car is a 2004 Sunfire, which I picked up in early July of 2004. 100,000 km in 3 years 3 months comes out to about 2564 km / month, 592 km / week. Assuming 8 trips to work per week (I work at home on Fridays), this comes out to about 74 km / trip. Of course, this doesn't take non-work trips or vacations into account, but it's still eerily accurate, since the trip is about 65 km each way.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Dump and chase

Why oh why do they do this? Why do the Leafs (and probably other teams too) dump the puck into the offensive zone, and then chase after it? If they've got possession, why wouldn't they keep possession, rather than voluntarily give it up and then try to fight to get it back? I just watched the last five minutes of the Leafs-Senators game, and the Leafs, despite being a goal down and desperate to score, kept doing this. I don't get it. They pulled their goalie, so they're up 6-on-5. A defenceman races forward with the puck, his forwards are waiting at the blue line, but instead of crossing the blue line with the forwards right behind him and trying to make a play, he dumps it into the corner from the neutral zone, then everyone skates in to try and get it back from the Ottawa defenders. This almost always failed, and the Sens dumped the puck back out. This was repeated a number of times before time ran out and the Sens won the game.

Maybe it's because I've watched a lot more lacrosse than hockey in the past few years, and possession in lacrosse is everything. In hockey, it's easier to dump the puck in and try to get it back, whereas in lacrosse you don't give up possession for anything. But I still don't get it.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Going green - what's the point?

I heard an interview today on the Quirks and Quarks podcast with an environment economist named Dr. Mark Jaccard who was talking about how we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He was talking about how critical it is to do this, and how governments need to do much more to make it happen. The Canadian government set some unrealistic goals with respect to the Kyoto protocol (the goal was to reduce total emissions in 2010 to 6% less than the 1990 totals — we are currently at 25-30% above), and then did nothing to help achieve those goals except some advertising, misguided things like rebates (if you give someone a subsidy for buying a new energy efficient fridge, and then they put the old fridge in the basement and continue using it, what have you accomplished?) and simply asking people to cut down. There have been no additional penalties for homes or businesses that contribute excessively to greenhouse emissions. Quebec has imposed a "carbon tax", but decided that the homeowners themselves wouldn't pay any extra, only the energy companies, which does nothing to make homeowners want to reduce usage, and isn't that really your ultimate goal?

He also said something that struck me as very unusual for an environmentalist. The host said that many people think that if they can be efficient and reduce their consumption and such, then that "should be enough", but Dr. Jaccard says in his book that efficiency and reducing consumption is not the answer. He said they are "a significant part of the answer", but that it would be a mistake to focus solely on that. I understand that it's not the whole solution, but the implication to me was that reducing personal consumption is such a drop in the bucket that it's almost not worth the effort. For an environmentalist to even imply this was very surprising to me.

I remember a trip to Canada's Wonderland last year where I was watching one of the rides, called Cliffhanger, which takes a huge platform with about 50 seats and lifts it up, spins it around, and drops it repeatedly. Then we went to another ride called Psyclone that had a huge circle of seats and swings the whole platform while spinning it, and the one next to Psyclone called Sledge Hammer which has six huge "arms" with seats on the end of them, and spins the seats while lifting and dropping the arms. These rides run 10 hours a day, every day, from May until September. I looked at these rides and considered the amount of energy they must consume and thought "...and replacing the light bulbs in my house with the spirally ones is supposed to help?"

Similarly, I remember getting a Drive Clean test on my Grand Prix, which was about six years old at the time. I looked at the test results, and the car passed with flying colours — one of the tests said that a certain level had to be below 1500, and my car's level was something like 12. Then while driving home, I passed a bus or a dump truck or something that was belching thick black smoke into the air, dumping more pollution into the air in an hour than my car did in a year. And I have to pay $40 for a Drive Clean test?

We have a test lab at work with hundreds of machines running 24/7. We do run a lot of stress tests so it's not unlikely that a large number of them are actually in use for much of that time, but I am sure that on any given weekend, there are at least a handful of machines that are on and running the entire time but doing nothing at all. After the big blackout of a couple of years ago, it seemed that everyone went green for a short time and tried to come up with ways to reduce consumption. I remember that some of us talked about ways to automatically power off idle machines and then power them back on again when they were needed, but nothing ever came of it. Then there were no more power outages, and many people forgot and went back to their old ways. I won't pretend that I am not one of those to some extent, though I'm definitely more conscious of it than I used to be.

We have not see the Al Gore movie "An Inconvenient Truth" though it's on our "should probably rent" list. Gail saw some snippets of it somewhere recently and the bit about the polar icecaps melting which is causing polar bears to drown (i.e. this is not one of these "If we're not careful, this could happen" things, it is happening) really struck a nerve with her. She went out the next day and bought some of the fluorescent ("spirally") light bulbs to use in some of our most-often-used lights. One of our problems is that many of our light fixtures use unusual-sized light bulbs, which are not yet available in fluorescent models. I've read about people who install solar panels on their roof or build wind turbines in their backyard and use those to power their houses. Some are even able to remove themselves from the power grid completely. However, the initial cost of buying the necessary hardware is very cost-prohibitive. From what I've read, it costs thousands to install this stuff, and then takes upwards of 20 years before the initial costs are recovered in savings due to lower energy bills. I'd love to do this for the good of the environment, but I just don't have an extra few thousand dollars sitting around, and therefore I cannot justify it.

I'm willing to do my part, and I certainly understand the logic of "one person doesn't make much of a difference but if everyone does a little bit, the cumulative change can be significant". But it sounds to me that unless government steps up and forces the worst offenders to clean themselves up (or at least makes it economically advantageous to do so), I kind of feel like any changes I make in my home are meaningless.