Thursday, February 28, 2008

I don't trust Lando

Another Star Wars mystery I forgot to ask before:

According to Lando, Darth Vader and his peeps arrived before Han and Leia did. So when Han, Leia, and Chewie arrive on Bespin, Lando greets them enthusiastically, gives Han a hug, talks about his supply problems, hits on Leia a couple of times, gives them a room to hang out in, and then invites them for lunch. All the time, he is getting ready to hand them over to Vader, but he never hints that there's anything going on, or even acts strangely. For someone with "no love for the Empire", he certainly acts convincing when he's about to turn his friend over to them.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Blast from the Past

Gail was looking for some crafty stuff for Ryan to use in a school project, and came across some pencil crayons she must have bought during high school. On the front of the packaging read "You could WIN one of 6 Commodore 64 home computer systems".

The grand prize is a Commodore 64 Computer (model C64), a Colour Monitor (model 1701) and a Single Disc Drive (model 154), approximate retail value $1,200. The second prize is a Commodore 64 Computer (model C64), approximate retail value $419.95.

The contest closes August 1, 1985. <checks calendar> Damn.

$420 for a computer with a 1 MHz 8-bit processor, 38KB of usable RAM, 16 colours, and no persistent storage. You can now get a 4 GB USB drive the size of your finger for $20, which holds the equivalent of over 65,000 Commodore 64's. The processor is vastly inferior to the one in your average kid's $4 digital watch.

This shouldn't be surprising, since we are talking about 23-year-old technology. But once I realize that I shouldn't be surprised, it just makes me feel old — especially since my first computer was the the Commodore VIC-20, the predecessor to the Commodore 64, which had all of 3.5 KB of usable RAM. But I had a 16KB expansion cartridge, giving me an astounding twenty kilobytes of memory. They even had a 32KB expansion cartridge, but come on. Who could use up 32 KB of memory?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

New Leafs Strategy

I've got a great idea for the Leafs, but since today is the trade deadline, they'll have to do it fast. The Leafs want to trade a bunch of their big-name players as part of rebuilding, right? (Let's ignore for the moment the fact that all of these big-name players have no-trade clauses and have all decided not to waive them.) My idea is that the Leafs should look at who's behind them in the standings, and trade their big-name players to those teams for nothing. Send Darcy Tucker to the Kings for a third round draft pick. Send Tomas Kaberle to Tampa Bay for some minor league schmuck who isn't likely to make the big club anyway. Send McCabe and his big contract plus $15 million (to cover the contract) to Atlanta for a bucket of pucks.

Using this strategy, the Leafs gain lots of salary cap room, these other teams get good players for next to nothing, and by making the teams worse than them better, the Leafs have a better shot at finishing last next year and picking up John Tavares in the draft! Everybody wins!

Sundin bleeds blue and white

Mats Sundin has exercised his no-trade clause, effectively preventing Cliff Fletcher from trading him and picking up the kids and draft picks that this team so desperately needs to rebuild. A lot of people are going to be angry with Sundin for doing this, saying that's he's putting himself ahead of the team. Well, why the hell shouldn't he?

He's got the clause in his contract, and has every right to exercise it. He says he doesn't want to be a rental player because he's not comfortable with that concept — neither am I, so I certainly can't fault him there. He's gotta know that by doing this, he's pretty much guaranteeing that he will end his hockey career never having won a Stanley Cup. He's guaranteeing that he will never again play for a team that is any better than mediocre (since even if Fletcher and whoever the next GM is do everything right, by the time the Leafs are turned into a contender, Sundin will very likely have retired). He knows those things and yet he still made the decision to stay because he wants to play for the Leafs. How can Leafs fans fault him for that?

You could argue that this decision will not help the Leafs get better in the long run, and Howard Berger goes so far as to say that it will set the Leafs back at least a full season. This is probably true, but making the Leafs a better team is not Sundin's job, it's (currently) Fletcher's. Fletcher did his job by asking Sundin to waive the clause, and Sundin did what's best for him by saying no. Mats is one of the best players ever to wear the Leaf uniform, and also one of the best Leaf captains. Given how much Sundin has given to the Leafs and this city over the past fourteen years, he doesn't owe the Leafs anything.

Monday, February 25, 2008

They *bleep* you at the drive-thru

Hi there... I'd like two random hot beverages and two random bagels, either toasted or not, one with 1/2 a cup of melted butter on it, and one with just the tiniest scraping of some random type of cream cheese, please.
I'm sorry, sir, but we can't do that.
Why not? You do it every other day...

Gail and I are fairly regular Tim Horton's customers. Each of us stops for a tea and bagel pretty much every morning on our way to work, as well as on long drives up north and such. We've been to many Tim's locations around Ontario, but in terms of service, the two worst we've been to are the two nearest our house. It's become a running joke in our family whenever we go to one of these two: "What did they get wrong this time?" Gail drinks decaf tea and I get steeped tea, and at these two locations, we frequently get regular tea. A couple of times we get coffee instead of tea, and neither of us can stand coffee so in those cases, not only do we not get our tea, but the coffee gets wasted. They also screw up on bagel types, muffin types, and cream cheese types, or else we'll get butter when we asked for cream cheese or vice versa. Sometimes they'll cut the bagel in half, drop a slab of cream cheese in the middle and wrap it up instead of spreading it around. Other times we'll ask for butter and the bagel will have either a tiny scrape or be literally dripping.

The servers are human, so mistakes are going to happen. I don't have a problem with that, the occasional mistake is inevitable. But at these two locations, the percentage of screwed up orders is much higher that at other locations we've been to, and it seems that quality control is of minimal importance. These locations are the closest to our house, but they're not the ones we visit the most often, so it's not the case that we visit there more often so we see more mistakes. To make matters worse, we are going through the drive-thru most of the time, so we don't always notice the problems until after we've left.

After our latest screwed up order (last Friday morning), I got annoyed and sent an email to Tim Horton's customer service explaining all of this. I didn't really expect anything to be done, but I feel a little better having done something. To my amazement, I got a phone call from them (customer service) on Sunday afternoon. The very friendly person on the phone apologized for the inconvenience we had experienced, and assured me that as soon as she was off the phone with me, she would personally call the district manager responsible for those locations and get them to talk to the owners and staff and reiterate the importance of consistency and getting orders right.

I expected to get a response, but more than likely it would be a form email saying "Thanks for your email, we will investigate your problem and take appropriate steps" or something equally meaningless. The fact that I got a actual phone call was great, but I was even more impressed that it was (a) within 48 hours of my email, and (b) on a Sunday. Kudos to Tim Horton's customer service.

And to top it all off, the Roll up the Rim contest started again today, and I won a doughnut.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Musings of a Star Wars geek

We watched the original Star Wars trilogy with the boys over the last week. It was their first time seeing them (Ryan's mini-review: "awesome!"), but Gail and I have seen them many many times each. Some things you notice when you see movies that often:

Han: Chewie, lock in the auxiliary power.
Chewie: Does nothing
Han: Chewie, lock in the auxiliary power.
Chewie: Reaches over and pulls a lever right in front of Han

Right after this, Han says "We're caught in a tractor beam, it's pulling us in. I'm gonna have to shut down. They're not gonna get me without a fight!" They're not gonna get you without a fight? But you just said you were going to shut down. What kind of fight are you talking about?

Luke gets lost on Hoth, and Han goes out to find him. Once it gets late enough, they close the doors to the base, so Luke and Han are locked out. Everyone is very sad, assuming that both will die. Chewbacca and Leia are both shown very upset, and C-3P0 offers his thoughts: "Don't worry about Master Luke. He's quite clever you know, for a human being." Cut to Chewbacca, who begins to weep. I always interpreted this as Chewie thinking "...but Han's not!"

When they released the "Special Edition" versions of the original trilogy, they added scenes and changed the backgrounds and stuff in some other scenes. While watching the Special Edition movies (the ones on DVD), I can tell you from memory exactly which scenes were added, which ones were modified, and how they were modified.

"I have a [very, really] bad feeling about this" is said four times by four different people (Luke, Leia, Han, C-3P0) in the original trilogy.

When about to be crushed in the garbage masher, Leia grabs the pole she will use to try to brace the walls before the walls actually begin to move.

Why would Chewie try to choke Lando right after he helps them escape from the stormtroopers? I get that they're angry at him for selling them out to the Empire, but didn't Lando just set them free? Lando croaks "There's still a chance to save Han" and Chewie lets him go. They are unsuccessful at saving Han, but their anger at Lando is instantly forgotten and never mentioned again.

Bad audio dubbing: Aunt Beru, the X-Wing pilot that says "Stay on target", and the guy outside on Hoth that radios inside to say that walkers are approaching.

As I asked a way long time ago, if C-3P0 is fluent in six million forms of communication, why can't he teach R2-D2 one of them?

When Luke and Leia are chasing the stormtroopers on the speeder bikes on Endor, Luke says "Quick, jam their comlinks! Centre switch!" Why would the bikes have a switch specifically for jamming comlinks?

The Emperor says that he allowed the rebels to know about the shield generator on Endor, and that "an entire legion of my best troops" are waiting there. A legion of the Empire's best troops were beaten by a handful of people, a Wookiee, two droids and a bunch of teddy bears?

According to the second (prequel) trilogy, Jedi training begins in childhood and continues until adulthood. We see Yoda teaching "younglings" who are no more than six, and Obi-Wan is clearly in his late teens or early twenties in The Phantom Menace, yet is still considered a "padawan learner". Luke, who had never even heard of the Force until he was seventeen, does a couple of hours of Jedi training with Obi-Wan on the trip to Alderaan and then a fairly short period of time with Yoda on Dagobah. It couldn't have been that long — just after the Hoth battle, Han and Leia escaped into the asteroid field and Luke headed to Dagobah. The Falcon then headed for Cloud City to get repairs. So Luke's training lasts for however long it took the Falcon to get to Bespin, plus the length of time they're on Bespin. I suppose it's possible that it took months to get to Bespin and that they're on Bespin for months before Luke shows up, but there's no evidence that either was more than a couple of days. Anyway, after this short period of training, Luke leaves for Bespin (Empire Strikes Back) and Tatooine (Return of the Jedi). He then returns to Dagobah where Yoda tells him "No more training do you require", and that all that he needs to do to become a Jedi is face Vader again. Did Yoda give him the crash course? Is Luke so strong in the Force that he learns in a few weeks what it takes other Jedi fifteen years to learn?

Obi-Wan and Yoda wanted to hide Anakin's kids from him (to protect them), so they hid Leia's true parentage from everyone, even her. When Ben finally told Luke that he had a sister, he wasn't even going to tell Luke who it was, for her protection. But they didn't even change Luke's last name — why was it so important to hide Leia when they didn't even try to hide Luke?

Luke asks Leia about her real mother and she says that she was beautiful, kind, but sad, and Luke says that he has no memory of his mother. As we saw in Episode III, Padme died within minutes of their birth, so neither can possibly have any actual memories. Perhaps they could get some feelings of some kind through the Force, but why would Leia (with no knowledge of the Force) be able to do this while Luke the Jedi cannot?

During the final battle in Jedi, the rebels send their entire fleet to the battle zone. Why send the big frigates that are of no use in a battle?

Yoda says a couple of times "Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny". During the final battle with Vader, Luke clearly makes use of the dark side, since he is using his anger and hatred to give him power, and it helps him to defeat Vader. I'd call that starting down the dark path, but then he just stops and "comes back". Forever dominate his destiny the dark side did not.

And finally, when the X-Wings begin their attack on the Death Star in the first movie:
Wedge: Look at the size of that thing!
Red Leader: Cut the chatter, red two.

Maybe they watch too much TV

Nicholas (age 5) spilled something this morning and Gail got a paper towel to clean it up. Nicky asked if it was Bounty, and Gail asked with a chuckle "You mean the quicker picker-upper?" Nicholas immediately said "Yes. With cloth-like durability".

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Tom Cheek snubbed again

The Ford C. Frick award for excellence in baseball broadcasting was handed out yesterday by the Baseball Hall of Fame. The winner was Dave Niehaus, one of the Mariners' broadcasters since 1977. Not to take anything away from Mr. Niehaus who is certainly deserving, but as a Jays fan, I'm disappointed once again that Tom Cheek has yet to be named to the Hall of Fame. He has been nominated in each of the last four years, which is good; hopefully that will translate into a win one of these years.

Tom started with the Blue Jays the same year that Niehaus started with the Mariners (1977, the inaugural year for both teams), and announced every Blue Jays game, including all pre- and post-season games, from then until June 2004, a streak of 4,303 consecutive games. He began his streak five years before Cal Ripken began his, and ended it six years after Ripken's had ended. Can you imagine not missing a day of work, despite working almost 7 days a week for over seven months a year, for seventeen years?

Cheek died of brain cancer a year and a half later and has been honoured by the Blue Jays with a banner on the Level of Excellence. During the 2006 season, all the Blue Jay players wore a patch on their uniforms with the letters "TC" in honour of Tom Cheek.

I grew up listening to Tom Cheek and Jerry Howarth (who is still a Blue Jays broadcaster) doing Jays games on the radio. For me, Tom was always the "voice of summer" (I stole this phrase from Mike Wilner, another Jays broadcaster, because it couldn't be more fitting). When driving somewhere in the car, I'd ask my dad to put the Jays game on. When doing homework, I'd have the Jays game on. When hanging out in the backyard or helping my dad in the garage, we'd always have the Jays game on. When the irritating Tony Kubek or the inane Fergie Olver were doing Jays TV broadcasts, I'd sometimes even turn the sound down on the TV and listen to the radio while watching the game.

Cheek was the consummate professional — he had a great voice, knew baseball inside and out, and obviously loved the game as well. He wasn't one for "catch phrases", though Jerry had a couple. I remember going to games at Exhibition Stadium and a bunch of us yelling "Swing and a miss, he struck him out!" on opposing team strikeouts, or "There she goes!" on Jays home runs.

Anyway, congratulations to Dave Niehaus on his award, and hopefully this time next year, I'll be able to congratulate Tom Cheek on his posthumous election to the Hall of Fame.

Monday, February 18, 2008

More on fake blogs

Raymond Chen's popular blog The Old New Thing has an entry that describes these fake automated blogs that I wrote about a week or two ago. Turns out the whole idea is to host Google ads on these sites and make money that way. Strangely, the ones that I've found that link to my postings do not have ads on them, so once again, I don't understand the point.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Hittin' the slopes

After years of saying "I'd like to take the boys out skiing some time" and then not doing it, I finally did it on Saturday. Gail had lots of school stuff to do, and Sunday and Monday were supposed to be rainy and crappy (it's Sunday afternoon right now, and it's currently rainy and crappy — attaboy, weatherman), so we went out to Chicopee on Saturday afternoon. I looked at Glen Eden as well, which is about the same distance from home, but they only had full- and half-day rates and rentals, and Chicopee had 2-hour rates and rentals. For their first time out, I figured two hours would be plenty, and it turns out I was right. It was an expensive two hours ($45 for the three lift tickets and $66 for rentals), but the boys and I had fun.

The rental line was very long, and by the time we actually got our boots on and picked up our skis and got out there, we had already used up 20-30 minutes of our two hours. We headed over to the bunny hill where I gave them a short lesson on standing on skis, slowing down and stopping (the "snowplow"), and turning (again, the "snowplow"). The lift was a magic carpet, which I had never used before. It's just a conveyer belt that you stand on, so it's about the easiest lift possible. The boys both did very well — I'm not going to say either one was a natural, but Ryan didn't fall at all, and by the end, he wanted to try the bigger hills. Nicky had a couple of very small spills, but he was in more danger of falling while standing still than while skiing. Ryan would just point his skis at the bottom of the hill and go, while Nicky got frustrated because he couldn't go as fast as Ryan, and I kept having to slow down so he could keep up with me. He wasn't trying to go slow, and I couldn't see any reason why he would be, so maybe his skis weren't as tuned as mine and Ryan's. I asked Ryan to practice some turns by doing a zigzag pattern down the hill, and he did it perfectly. I was very impressed.

When we had about 15 minutes left on our two-hour lift ticket, Nicky started to get cranky and I figured he'd about had enough. We did one more run and then returned our stuff and went to the snack bar for the obligatory après-ski french fries.

It is an expensive sport, but the boys had a lot of fun, so I think I'm going to look around the classifieds or used sporting goods stores for some used equipment for the boys and myself (Gail has zero interest) so that we can bypass the rental lines in future.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pizza's not ready

The kids have a little robot thing that they got for Christmas last year. It rolls around and waves its arms and shoots little disk things and blinks its lights — and speaks in this very thick Japanese accent in the worst Engrish I've ever heard. It's hilarious. Some of the more amusing phrases:

  • Ready? Shit. (It's actually "shoot" but with the accent, that's what it sounds like)
  • Let's dance together! Is lovely!
  • I teach you how to dance
  • Uh-oh. Pieces not ready. (though I always hear "pizza's not ready")

It also says a bunch of other things that I cannot understand. Whenever I read or hear these kinds of things, I always remind myself that as broken as it is, their English is still better than my Japanese or Chinese, so I shouldn't laugh. But I do.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Clark off the hook

The NLL has lifted the suspension of Rock coach Glenn Clark after charges were dropped by Toronto Police last week. I wrote about this issue last month; the Rock got beaten by Minnesota in overtime, and after the game, Rock head coach Clark punched a Minnesota player in the hallway near the Rock dressing room. Charges of assault were filed against Clark, and the NLL suspended him indefinitely, which was their way of saying "We'll let the legal system do our work for us, so that we don't have to bother investigating anything." Three weeks later, the charges were dropped, and today the NLL decided that if it's good enough for Toronto Police, it's good enough for them. Clark's suspension lasted all of four games.

If the league is trying to shake of its "bush league" reputation, this isn't going to help. A coach hit an opposing player here — I don't care how much he was provoked, he just can't do that. Another article quotes Clark: "'ve gotta be very careful because you can't put yourself in harms way. You have to be very careful to avoid these types of situations. ...the game is performed by passionate people and sometimes those passions get the better of us. The lesson I learned is that you really have to be careful not to put yourself in that position." (emphasis added) Nowhere does Clark take responsibility for his actions. Nowhere does he apologize. The most important thing is not to get into that situation? How about not to lose your mind when you're supposed to be in charge?

I still don't think the police needed to be involved, but I think Clark should have been suspended by the NLL for the remainder of the season and fired by the Rock. I'm disappointed with both the league and the Rock for giving Clark what amounts to a slap on the wrist. He'll be back behind the bench this Friday when the Rock take on the Buffalo Bandits at the ACC, but I will not be among those cheering his return.

It's Spring!

On the heels of my last entry only two days ago, I can officially report that it is now spring! That's right, pitchers and catchers report today to spring training in Florida and Arizona, and they wouldn't call it spring training if it didn't happen in spring, right? Time to put the heavy coat in the closet, put the hats and mitts away, and get out the spring jacket!

...says the guy who had to shovel the snowplow droppings at the end of the driveway this morning in order to get out...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Friday, February 08, 2008

Fake automated blogs?

I have my blog "claimed" at I can use this to search around to see if anyone has linked to my blog entries on their own blog / web site. This is how I found out that I'd been quoted by

I did a search last night (for no good reason — same reason people Google themselves), and found several of my postings linked to really weird blogs. Each blog is a collection of articles about a certain topic — my posting on security podcasts is linked to in a blog called "Anti-Virus" (I'm not going to link to any of these potentially evil blogs here), the one on skiing is in one called "Ski Resorts", and the one about Gail being on the TV news is in one called "The Latest Premieres & Debuts". In every case, the format of the blog posting was exactly the same:

Unknown wrote an interesting post today on
Here's a quick excerpt
Several lines from my posting

Read the rest of this great post here

"Unknown" and "here" are links to my posting, and the title of the posting is the same as mine. Apparently the bot that created these postings has bugs in it; the bit about "wrote an interesting post today on" never has anything after it, and one of the blogs even has SQL errors on the page because the title of the posting they're hijacking contains quotes. Each of the blogs I've found has hundreds or thousands of postings, all in the same format, and all listed as "uncategorized". All of these "fake" blogs seem to be "Powered by Wordpress". I don't remember ever seeing these before I created my own Wordpress blog as a backup for my existing blog. I have the wordpress blog marked as "block search engines but allow normal visitors", but it seems to have found its way onto someone's hijacking list somewhere...

Call me naïve, but I don't understand the point of these fake blogs with no original content. I've heard of "splogs" (SPam blOGS), but these doesn't appear to be splogs — there are no ads, no links to anything but the blog articles, nothing that might make someone money, as far as I can tell. Now, I'm running Firefox with NoScript installed, so whatever JavaScript is on those sites is not run in my browser, so maybe there is something nasty in the JavaScript.

Or maybe I'm just being cynical. Maybe it's just someone who's written a bot that gathers together blog postings in certain catgeories as a public service. And he's not that great a programmer or hasn't done enough QA on the bot. Yes, I'm sure that's it.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

I did not Dance Naked last night

Gail and I were supposed to go to the Air Canada Centre last night to see John Mellencamp, but because of the storm, we had to miss it. We had the babysitter lined up, the boys were excited that she was coming over, we had dinner done early, the tickets were in my wallet, everything was ready. We waited as long as we could to make the decision, but the snow kept getting worse and worse as the day went on, and there were some ice pellets and freezing rain mixed in as well. Around 5:30 we made the decision that it was just too risky. If the show was in Hamilton, we probably would have gone, but downtown Toronto is a 45 minute drive with no traffic. With the weather as it was, it would have easily been an hour and a half, if not longer, and getting back after four more hours of snow would have been brutal. So, there's almost $180 in concert tickets down the drain.

Earlier in the day, I had checked the ACC web site on the off chance that they had cancelled the concert because of the weather (they hadn't) and was found out that Tom Cochrane and Red Rider were opening the show. I ordered the tickets back in November or something, and had completely forgotten about the opening act, which is surprising, since I was a big Red Rider fan back in the 80's. They opened for Rush at my second-ever concert at Maple Leaf Gardens back in 1984. I've seen Tom Cochrane live a couple of times as well, though I think half his backing band on his "solo" tours were members of Red Rider anyway.

I've been a big Mellencamp fan since the early 80's as well, and last night would have been my fourth time seeing him. He always puts on a great show. I haven't been all that thrilled with his last couple of albums — the John Mellencamp album had a few good tracks on it ("Your Life Is Now", "Eden Is Burning"), and Mr. Happy Go Lucky had a few as well ("I Saw You First", "Just Another Day"), but the rest (including the entire Cuttin' Heads album) was forgettable. I bought his latest album Freedom's Road shortly after getting the concert tickets, and I think it's his best album since Human Wheels Whenever We Wanted.(Update: I listened to Human Wheels again yesterday, and I think this new album is better.) "Someday", "The Americans", "Forgiveness", and "My Aeroplane" are all really good, and "Our Country", "Ghost Towns Along The Highway", and "Freedom's Road" are all flat-out great tracks.

Seeing how much snow fell last night and how bad the roads still are around here tonight, I don't regret the decision not to go, but it still sucks. I called the ACC last night just before we made the decision and asked if the concert was cancelled and was told that it was not. I then asked if there was any possibility of a refund since we weren't going to make it, and he confirmed my suspicions that I was SOL.

If Mellencamp comes back to Toronto (or even better, Hamilton!) on this tour, or even the next one, I'm sure we'll try to go again. I just hope that it's sometime between May and September.

Aside: For those of you who are not big Mellencamp fans and are curious (or frightened) about the title of this post, Dance Naked was the name of a 1994 John Mellencamp album.

Monday, February 04, 2008

A trip back in time

Last Friday was my annual "ski day" at Devil's Glen, organized by my second-line manager, Dave. I only ski once a year, though I'd like to increase that to at least a couple of times — maybe I'll bring the boys out with me, since (a) Gail doesn't care for downhill skiing, and (b) Nicholas is still free until he's six. Devil's Glen has an annual "Men's Day", which is when we went last year, but Men's Day can be pretty busy, so this year Dave decided to have it on the Friday after Men's Day. There was no free beer or gifts and no prize draws, but it was a little cheaper, the lift lines were almost non-existent and we had less trouble getting tables near each other for the 28 of us, so that was good. It snowed like crazy all day, which made for some treacherous driving on the way home, but the skiing conditions were great.

I used to ski all the time in high school, and now it's once a year, at most. As a result, whenever I ski nowadays, memories of skiing back in high school come flooding back...

(Everything goes all wavy as we go back in time...)

It's a Wednesday night in early 1986. I'm sixteen and in grade twelve at Dunbarton High School in Pickering, Ontario. After school ended at 3:30, I put my school stuff in my Adidas bag and head down to the tech wing where my skis and stuff have been stored all day. I find my stuff among the piles of other people's stuff and head towards the ski club bus. 45 minutes later, we're at Dagmar Ski Resort in Whitby [This is where I would normally put a link to the Dagmar website,, but it's incredibly lame (no pictures, no map, nothing) so I refuse to even link it]. We get changed, grab our lift ticket, and hit the slopes.

They're playing CHUM-FM through speakers at the top and bottom of each lift. [This was back when CHUM-FM was a pop-rock station, not the "easy listening" "adult contemporary" "really boring" stuff they play now]. All evening, we hear songs like "These Dreams" by Heart, "Rock Me Amadeus" by Falco, and "Kyrie" by Mr. Mister. I'm skiing with my friends Glen Fujino and Kevin Day (and others, sorry guys but I don't remember other names). Glen is a better skier than the rest of us, and likes to do goofy things like spin around and ski backwards in a tuck position. The guys I usually hang around with at school (Faisal, Doug, Paul, Glen) aren't here because they don't ski. My fourteen-year-old sister is out here somewhere with her friends as well, and every now and again I see her, but she usually ignores me. The big hill right in front of the chalet is called the Big Daddy, and we spend most of our time on that hill. There's a little mini-mogul run down the right-hand side, underneath the chair lift. From the top of the lift, you can go left to hit the couple of black diamond runs, but they're not really all that hard. One's called the Dive Bomber because about halfway down there's a drop-off; if you hit that with some speed, you can get some airtime. The other direction from the diamond runs, on the other side of the Big Daddy, are some other narrow intermediate runs, and beyond that are some easy ones, including one called Lover's Lane. Inexplicably, very few jokes are ever made about this name, which is surprising considering the number of teenage boys here. A guy can yell "Hey, let's go over to Lover's Lane!" to a bunch of other guys, and nobody will make any "no way, man, I ain't gay!" jokes you might expect from guys of our age group and maturity level.

At some point during the evening, we hit the chalet for dinner. This is almost invariably a burger and fries, scarfed down as fast as possible so we can get back out skiing again. At the end of the night, we return to the chalet before boarding the bus for a hot chocolate. After that, we pack up our stuff, put it in the holding area under the bus and get ready for the ride home. Glen, who is teaching himself some really weird computer language called "C", tells silly jokes the entire way home.

(Everything goes all wavy again as we return to the present...)

Things I worry about now when skiing, but didn't back then: Can I do the more difficult runs without killing myself or someone else? Will the pain in my legs stop at some point today, or just keep getting worse? How badly are they going to hurt tomorrow? Why haven't I been doing squats for the last month, like I promised myself last year that I'd do this year?

Things I worried about then but not now: how cool do I look? Where are the cute girls skiing?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

PaulDotCom and Security Now

I've been listening to a podcast called Security Now for a few weeks now. It features security guru Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte (who also hosts another podcast I listen to called TWiT (This Week in Tech)). Gibson is also the author of a hard disk recovery and maintenance tool called Spinrite, and in each SN episode, he reads an email or two from a Spinrite customer talking about how they lost tons of data when their hard disk failed and how Spinrite got it all back for them. This is not security-related in the least, but other podcasts have commercials as well, so it doesn't really bother me. The podcast itself is pretty good — it's not super technical (i.e. it's not directed toward security programmers) but it's not dumbed down either. Every other episode is Gibson answering questions from listeners regarding everything from online authentication (i.e. when using paypal or stuff like that), to disk encryption to browser security (like cookies and such) to spyware, malware, and viruses.

Last week, I heard of another security podcast called PaulDotCom Security Weekly, so I thought I'd give that a listen as well. My first impression was not very favourable.

Before I go any further, I should say that I'm no security expert, but I am relatively knowledgeable in the area. Computer security has interested me for a number of years, and I am one of the de facto security people at work. I have written (and re-written) pretty much all of the database and communications encryption code in the SQL Anywhere server and client software, and I'm also responsible for other security-related things like permissions, authentication, and auditing. My point is that I'm not ready to start my own security podcast anytime soon, but I am able to at least keep up.

Back to PaulDotCom. The hosts introduced themselves and one of the first things they did was talk about what beer each of them was drinking at the time. Immediately after that, they made fun of Security Now and Steve Gibson by referring to Security Now as a "Spinrite commercial" (and they're not far off with that, I suppose), and played a bunch of clips from various SN episodes — each clip was one where Gibson had lost his train of thought, or said "um..." a couple of times while trying to think how to say what he wanted to say. Of course putting all the clips together made it sound like Gibson was some moron who didn't know what he was talking about. On top of that, they are now sponsoring a contest for listeners of PaulDotCom to come up with videos or whatever talking about how they "made the switch" from Security Now to PaulDotCom. This is not a great strategy for first-time listeners — if the first thing you do in your podcast is tell me how much better than the competition you are, you've just set your own bar pretty high, and now you have a lot to live up to. They seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time talking about how their podcast is so much better than SN, but it was twelve minutes into the podcast before they actually discussed something security-related. It also seemed a bit hypocritical to talk about SN being a Spinrite commercial, since they asked every guest they had if there was anything they wanted to hawk, like websites or products or anything, and even came right out and said "if you're looking to hire computer people, send us an email, we know people who need work".

The word "professional" did not come to mind at all during this podcast. As I mentioned before, one of the first things they did was talk about what beers they were drinking during the podcast. They seemed quite proud of the fact that they were doing this, and referred to it a couple of times later as well. One of them made a simple mistake and amid laughter, one of the other guys jokingly suggested he "have another beer". Making fun of Gibson and SN was childish (though I did find it quite funny), and there were even a few curse words in there as well. I have no huge problem with cursing in general (as long as my kids aren't going to be listening), but again, it doesn't exactly scream "professionalism".

The weird thing is that it seems to me that PaulDotCom and SN aren't aimed at the same audience. While SN is aimed at anyone who is interested in technology and security and familiar with computers (but isn't necessarily a programmer or IT professional), PaulDotCom seemed to assume a much higher level of knowledge. They had a pretty interesting interview with a guy that works on analyzing (i.e. reverse engineering) malware, and how some of the more advanced malware programs try to avoid being detected and also avoid being reverse-engineered by covering their tracks, changing their behaviour if they think they're being debugged, and even modifying themselves. But they got way into the technical details of how this is done, which I found interesting, but I suspect many SN listeners wouldn't. They also talked about some other web-based attacks and how they could be defeated, and got into some details on specific routers (i.e. they mentioned specific model numbers and what kind of firmware they were running and so on), but some of these discussions assumed a level of knowledge above my own, and they certainly didn't stop to explain what they were talking about. The guys at PaulDotCom are certainly knowledgeable, but they seem to assume your level of security knowledge is the same as theirs. Rather than a bunch of security experts explaining things to people less knowledgeable than themselves without talking down to you (which is what I find Gibson does pretty well), this was more like eavesdropping on a conversation between a bunch of security experts who don't care if you are listening.

If you are a programmer directly involved in writing some kind of anti-virus, anti-spam, or anti-spyware software, then this is probably a pretty good podcast for you. It's probably the best security podcast for people who are already security experts. For the rest of us, Security Now seems like a better choice, if you have to choose only one. Even with my aforementioned experience in the field of computer security, I still found myself glazing over during parts of the PaulDotCom podcast, because they'd start talking about stuff with no background for those who were unfamiliar with the terms they were using. I mentioned before that Security Now isn't dumbed down, but having said that, there are certainly times when I glaze over during that podcast as well, because Gibson is going into great detail explaining what a "cookie" is or something like that. But I'd rather skip stuff because I already know it than have to skip stuff because I don't understand what the hell they're talking about. To be fair, I will probably continue listening to PaulDotCom at least for a while, because I did find it interesting for the most part. I'm not trying to "defend" Steve Gibson and Security Now, but the next few PaulDotCom episodes better be pretty darned interesting, because the whole "we're better than Security Now" thing just turned me right off. Since that was the first thing they talked about in the podcast, well, you know the whole thing about first impressions.

Update (Feb 4): I listened to the next episode of PaulDotCom on the way to work this morning, and felt obliged to update this entry, because the next episode was really interesting, and I quite enjoyed it. There was almost no mention of beer and no cursing. They mentioned Security Now but only in reference to their contest. There were a few off-colour sexual innuendo-type jokes, but no big deal. The technical stuff was at a lower level (and by "lower" I mean more technical in nature — definitely aimed at developers and security professionals) than Security Now, which as I mentioned is more aimed at security-conscious people who are not necessarily security pros. I haven't "made the switch", in that I still enjoy listening to Security Now as well, but unless the second episode was the anomaly and most episodes are like the first one I listened to (which seemed less focused than this one and I didn't enjoy as much), I'll continue listening to both. My first impression of PaulDotCom may not have been very favourable, but my second was pretty darn good.