Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Canadian Blog Awards redux


Back in November, I found out that my blog had been nominated for a 2011 Canadian Blog Award. Well, the results from the first round of voting are in, and I am excited to say that I placed fifth out of 39 in the Best Personal Blog category. Thanks very much to everyone who voted for me, but we're not done yet! The final round has already begun, and now there are only five nominees. The vote counts have been reset to 0, and we vote again.

My blog got 34 votes in the first round, while the blog in the lead got 81, so I've got some ground to make up but with your help, dear reader, we can do it. Please vote, and I don't want to put any undue pressure on anyone or use guilt trips or anything, but if you don't tell your friends and family to vote too, well I guess the terrorists have won. And it's your fault.

Voting began on December 24, and ends on January 20. Go and vote now! (Note that I was unable to see the names of the nominees on the voting page when using Chrome, but IE and Firefox work.)

Again, thanks to whoever nominated me and to everyone who voted for me.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Using Krazy Glue

For all of you would-be handymen out there, here's a checklist for the best way to get broken pieces of anything glued back together using Krazy Glue. This is my tried-and-true method, the way I do it every time. I hope this helps you.Krazy Glue

  1. Take broken pieces to the workshop in the basement.
  2. Clean off each piece of the broken item and make sure you know how each piece should fit together.
  3. Clear off some space on the bench by piling the piles of stuff in the middle on top of the piles of stuff to one side.
  4. Brush away the sawdust that was created when you cut that piece of wood three months ago.
  5. Dig under the piles of stuff you just moved to find the Krazy Glue container.
  6. Remove the lid of the container and smile at the words "clog-free!" on the label.
  7. Squeeze the container over one of the broken items. Ensure that no glue comes out of the tube.
  8. Continue squeezing harder and harder so that if glue were to come out of the tube, it would be shot across the room and land on the wall.
  9. Take a thin, sharp object like a staple and try to poke a hole in the end of the tube. This didn't work the last twenty-three times you tried it, but maybe this time it will.
  10. Get a utility knife and cut a tiny piece off the end of the tube.
  11. Repeat steps 7-10, cutting bigger and bigger pieces off the end each time. Continue until one of the only two possible results occurs:
    1. the entire contents of the tube are dumped onto the items you're gluing. In this case, throw everything in the garbage before the glue dries. You're done!
    2. the entire plastic bit on the end is gone and there is still no glue coming out. Continue with the next step.
  12. Throw the tube in the garbage.
  13. Go over to the garbage can. Pick up the tube, which is on the floor next to the can.
  14. Throw the tube in the garbage.
  15. Go to the hardware store, buy a new tube. Make sure you get the "clog-free!" stuff, paying extra for it if necessary.
  16. Open the tube, place one drop of glue on one piece and hold the other piece against it for about ten seconds.
  17. Place the item on the workbench, making sure to arrange it so that there is no pressure on the repaired joint.
  18. Let it dry for a few minutes if your wife asked you to fix it, or three days if one of your kids did since they've already forgotten and have moved on to something else.
  19. Make sure you follow the storage directions on the container, so that the tube doesn't get clogged when you put it away.
  20. Six months later, when you need to glue something else, start again at step #1.

Monday, December 05, 2011


Like everything else online, the bots have invaded Twitter. Most of the time these are harmless but there are some spammy ones out there too. There seem to be two kinds of spam on twitter: the spam accounts that follow you hoping you'll follow back, and the spam accounts that mention you in a tweet along with a link to their web site. Luckily, Twitter has a very easy way of dealing with either one – you can simply block the account and report it as spam, all in one simple click. I have no idea what happens after that but I don't really care; once I've done that on a spam account, I never see tweets from it again.

There are thousands of bots out there scanning the millions of public tweets that stream by every minute looking for keywords. Say you have a business selling spatulas. You have a twitter account for your business, where you announce sales and new products and have discussions about current issues in the spatula industry. You obviously want to get as many followers as you can, and one way to do that is to follow as many people as you can. But who to follow? You can follow your friends and tell them to mention you in tweets and hope to get some followers that way, but that's generally slow. An easier and more effective way is to set up a bot.

You'd create a bot to look for the word "spatula" in any tweets, and automatically follow the account that tweeted it. Once you do, there are basically three possibilities: 1. They mindlessly follow everyone who follows them, and so they follow you back. 2. They are interested in spatulas and follow you back. 3. They are not interested in spatulas and just included the word "spatula" in a one-off tweet (and really, who hasn't?), and do not follow you back. Oh well.  This is a fine idea, and seems to work well for many businesses. I've got lots of followers who are obviously doing this (including at least three in the past week), since they are very specific business-related accounts that have nothing to do what I generally tweet about, but are related to a particular word or phrase that I used. Here are some of the more fun ones:

  • pronunciation – I posted a link to an article I wrote on how to pronounce a bunch of lacrosse players' names, and a couple of hours later, I'm being followed by "a simple resource for everything related to pronunciation".
  • fire suppression – I mentioned that a former lacrosse player now works in the "fire suppression" industry. I was shortly followed by a company that makes fire suppression equipment.
  • motorcycle helmet – A friend rides a motorcycle and I happened to use the phrase "motorcycle helmet" in a tweet. I'm soon followed by a motorcycle helmet store in California. I don't ride a bike myself, and live several thousand miles away, so they are unlikely to get any business from me.
  • wind power – this was a while ago so I don't remember the details, but I mentioned something about wind power and was subsequently followed by a company that specialized in wind power solutions. They must have gotten bored with me since they don't follow me anymore.
  • homeopathy – I tweeted something about homeopathy (the word "bullshit" was likely included), and was followed by a couple of homeopathic practitioners. I think they immediately realized their mistake and unfollowed. I'm pretty sure the same thing has happened with "chiropractor" and "acupuncture".
  • iPad – mention iPad in a tweet, and people wanting to "give" you or sell you iPads will come flying out of the woodwork.
  • domain name – I asked a friend in the business about how to acquire a no-longer-used domain name and was followed by a company that sells cheap domain names.
  • crossover – This is the funniest one. The National Lacrosse League has a new rule called the "crossover" rule. With the new rule, four teams from the East division and four teams from the West division make the playoffs unless the fifth place team in the West has a better record than the fourth place team in the East (there are only four teams in the East). In that case, the fifth place Western team "crosses over" into the Eastern division for the playoffs, taking the place of the fourth place Eastern team. I mentioned the new crossover rule in a couple of tweets, and was followed within minutes by at least three car dealerships. Only one still follows me.
  • perl – I mentioned perl in a tweet a couple of years ago and was instantly followed by an account for a perl blog. Oddly, one of the writers on that blog is named Graeme.

Last week, I started an experiment. I tweeted that I love spatulas to see if I would get followed by @spatulacentral, Your ultimate source for spatula news and information! No such luck.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Legalized magic

There is a piece of legislation in Ontario whose mere existence has me baffled. Essentially, it allows people who perform acts of magic to give themselves a title and makes it illegal to give yourself that particular title without being licensed to do so. This is like my having the ability to call myself a frobshmirtzer because I can talk to invisible aliens from the planet Frob, but if you try to call yourself a frobshmirtzer, you will get fined. I don't have to prove or even demonstrate that I can talk to such aliens, or even that they exist. I can just say that modern science doesn't have the right tools to be able to detect these aliens but trust me, I can. The government has decided that someone calling themself a frobshmirtzer without having this ability is somehow against the public good, so they have outlawed it. Only in this case, the word isn't frobshmirtzer, it's "acupuncturist".

I did a fair bit of research for this article. I look around for studies that examined the effectiveness of acupuncture, and found many that showed that it was completely ineffective, or at least no more effective than placebo. There are special tools that can be used to simulate the needles without actually inserting them into the skin (amusingly called "sham acupuncture"), and there are studies that show that sham acupuncture is just as effective as "real" acupuncture. There are studies that show that inserting the needles into random places on the body, rather than the magic acupuncture points, is also just as effective. I did find a number of studies that showed it to be very effective in certain cases, but those studies were either done by or funded by agencies that were associated with holistic medicine and therefore had a vested interest in positive results. I'm afraid that a study showing how effective acupuncture is does not carry much weight with me if it was done by the Department of Holistic Wellness at a Chinese university.

But I have to be honest here. I also found a few studies that showed it to be effective without any obvious bias in the study or flaws in how it was done. Now, I'm not a trained scientist, so I can't always look at a study and see what was done wrong; it's possible that these studies had biases (obvious, unintentional, or well-hidden) in them or other problems that discount or completely invalidate the results. I don't know for sure, so I have to take them at face value. But whenever I hear about such a study on one of the several skeptical podcasts I listen to, the podcasters (who are trained scientists) point out the flaws in the study. Long story short: if there have been peer-reviewed clinical trials showing the effectiveness of acupuncture whose results have been analyzed and repeated by other researchers (none of whom have any conflicts of interest), mainstream science hasn't seen them.

Can I say with absolute certainty that acupuncture never works better than placebo? No, of course not. What I can say with absolute certainty is that nobody has ever given a scientifically plausible explanation of how it works that is consistent with what we know about the human body and doesn't resort to special pleadings about undetectable energy fields. At best it is an unproven and controversial practice. To me, it is appalling that there is an Ontario law that gives it credence and treats it like a perfectly valid and accepted form of medical treatment.

The legislation in question is called the Traditional Chinese Medicine Act, 2006. It's a fairly short act that essentially does the following:

  • defines "traditional Chinese medicine" as "the assessment of body system disorders through traditional Chinese medicine techniques and treatment using traditional Chinese medicine therapies to promote, maintain or restore health."
  • establishes a body called the "College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario"
  • authorizes members of the College to perform acupuncture and to give "a traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis identifying a body system disorder as the cause of a person’s symptoms using traditional Chinese medicine techniques"
  • states that only members of the College can call themselves "acupuncturist" or "traditional Chinese medicine practitioner" and lists the penalties

This act seems to be a work in progress – five years later, the College has not yet been created. The government has created The Transitional Council of the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario, whose goal is to "develop regulations and establish the College". One thing I found amusing on their web site was that one of the standards they plan to create is to define "what are considered acts of professional misconduct". How do you define professional misconduct in an industry that is entirely based on fallacy?

I do not believe that all acupuncturists are charlatans, liars or cheats. I'm sure many of them, likely even the majority, honestly believe that what they are doing is effective. The placebo effect is very powerful, and confirmation bias is very difficult to see through. You likely know people, or perhaps you're one yourself, who have gone to a psychic and come away saying "wow, she really nailed it!" Then they can tell you ten facts the psychic said about that person that were exactly right. Did they mention, or do they even remember, the other thirty facts that she got wrong? "I'm hearing a name, a woman's name. Marcie? Marge? Margaret? Mary?"  "Yes, I have an Aunt Mary who died two years ago! Wow, it's amazing how she knew that!" She only got 25% of her guesses right and you think she did a great job. That's confirmation bias. It's highly possible that an acupuncturist will unintentionally take credit for those patients who seem to be positively affected by acupuncture, and dismiss those for whom acupuncture does not work as the anomalies, saying "well, it doesn't work for everyone".

I am angered by the fact that our government has wasted time and money discussing the "issue" of non-registered acupuncturists and coming up with a plan to register them. Acupuncturists make their living inserting needles into people's bodies and telling them it will heal them, when everything we know about medicine tells us that it can't work, and countless studies show that it doesn't. This practice, according to the Ontario government, is OK. But calling yourself an acupuncturist when you're not licenced to do so is illegal and you will be subject to a fine of up to $25,000 for a first offense. This is so ass-backwards that it makes my head spin.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A conversation with a 3-year-old

I took Ryan to the dentist yesterday. While he was in getting his work done, I was sitting in the waiting room pondering the meaning of life with the help of the internet, by which I mean I was reading twitter on my phone. A little boy, maybe 3, came out of the back and sat on the couch next to me. His brother and sister (around 8 and 5) sat in chairs next to the couch while their mother was paying and making future appointments. The kid that sat next to me was very friendly and we had a fun little conversation over the next few minutes:

Kid: Hi!

Me: Hi.

Kid: Do you have a brother?

Me: No.

Kid: You don't have a brother?

Me: No, but I have a sister.

Kid: You have a sister?

Me: Yes. Do you have a brother?

Kid: Ya, he's over there (points to his brother, who waves).

Me: Is that your sister?

Kid: Ya, that's my sister (points to her). Just like you have a sister.

Me: Except you have a big sister. I have a little sister.

Sister: What's your sister's name?

Me: Her name is Trudy.

Kid: Trudy? That's a good name. Are you waiting for your sister?

Me: No, she's not here. She lives in Toronto.

Kid's mom: Shhhh! Don't bother the man! He's trying to read!

Me: Oh no, that's fine.

Kid: (Picks up a sports magazine) Do you play basketball?

Me: No, I don't.

Kid: Do you play hockey? You probably play hockey.

Me: No, but I like to watch hockey!

Kid: Do you play basketball?

Me: Uh, no. I play baseball.

Kid: I play hockey!

Me: Do you? It's lots of fun, isn't it?

Kid: (pauses, looks over pictures in magazine) Do you have a kuck?

Me: Pardon me?

Kid: Do you have a kuck?

Me: Do I have...

Sister: He wants to know if you have a truck.

Me: A truck? No. I have a little car. It's out there but it's behind other cars so you can't see it. (I notice at this point that there's an ad for a truck on the page he's looking at.)

Kid: Do you want to buy a truck?

Me: I don't know. I like trucks.

Mom: (Finished paying, gathering up the kids) I'm so sorry.

Me: Oh, no problem at all! He's quite friendly, isn't he?

Mom: (Shaking head) Oh my God, is he ever.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Canadian Blog Awards

Yesterday someone left a comment on a recent article of mine. I get the occasional comment when my articles are posted to facebook but very rarely on the blog itself, so the fact that I got a comment at all was pretty cool. The comment said that the article was "brilliantly written", which is even more cool, but the next sentence blew me away:

I found you through the Canadian Blog Awards and no wonder you're up there!

Ummm, what? First off, I had never heard of the Canadian Blog Awards. That's fine, there are a zillion things on the internet that I am unaware of. But how would you find my blog on a blog awards site unless... no. CanadianBlogAwards2011

As it turns out, yes! Someone has nominated Cut The Chatter in the Best Personal Blog category. I am extremely flattered, honoured, and surprised by this. There are a few reasons I'm surprised:

  • It's just me and my blog. I like to think that at times it's insightful and entertaining, but come on. It's just me. My wife doesn't even read it.
  • I'm up against some other blogs with hundreds of regular readers. I have three members. Only one of my last ten articles has been viewed 100 times. More people read my stuff through facebook and RSS and I can't count those, but I'd bet that the average article I write here is read by less than 50 people total.
  • My content is all over the map. Personal stories, lacrosse and other sports, skepticism, technology, music, whatever.
  • Sometimes I write four posts in a week, sometimes four posts in a month. No consistency at all.

So that's why I'm surprised about the fact that I was nominated. But I'm also surprised about the nomination process itself:

  • Whoever nominated me did not tell me they were nominating me. To the nominator: First off, thank you very much. Secondly, please don't feel pressured to reveal your identity to me. If you would prefer to remain anonymous, that's totally fine.
  • The awards site itself did not contact me to tell me I was nominated.

That second one seems especially weird. The site itself (which is simply a blog with links to pages on a generic polling site) is obviously not updated very often – the 2010 award winners were announced last October, and there are only three articles since then. One of them says that the 2011 awards were delayed because of a lack of nominees. The About/Contact page talks about "this year (2010)". The Rules page talks about the 2010 awards as being in the future. It makes me wonder how many people actually vote on these awards – did the winner in a particular category get 50 votes? 500? 50,000? I have no idea. Oddly, there are also the Canadian Weblog Awards which seem to be unrelated to the Canadian Blog Awards.

Having said all that, regardless of whether these awards are voted on by 50 people or 50 thousand, it's a clich̩ but it's true Рit's an honour just to be nominated. I'm truly flattered by this, and every time I've thought about it since I found out yesterday, I smile and just shake my head. Last week someone at work told me that he enjoys reading my facebook statuses and notes (i.e. blog posts), and that made my day. Then this past Monday, someone on twitter told me that I was her favourite lacrosse writer, and that also made my day. And now this.

I never wanted to be a writer, I never studied journalism, I never even liked creative writing in school, and I hated writing essays. I started this blog on a whim in April of 2005 and have been writing about whatever ever since. It's only in the last three years or so that I've discovered that I really love doing it, and to have people tell me they enjoy what I write is amazingly rewarding. To be nominated for this award and have people vote for me is just mind-blowing beyond words. Thank you so much to my secret admirer whoever nominated me and to everyone who's voted for me.

Well, what are you waiting for? Don't waste any more time listening to me gush.  Go vote!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

I'm sorry. It's not you. It's me.

I'm really sorry, my occasional companion of several years, but I think it's over. It's just not fun for me anymore. The first couple of years were great, and I looked forward to all the good times we'd have in the future. And then last year I got really sick and had to leave you for a while. Now I'm better but it's just not the same between us, so I think I'm going to have to move on. I tried, I really did – this past summer I kept persevering despite my lack of enjoyment. I kept hoping I'd get that old feeling back, but I never did. It's no use fighting it anymore.

I've decided to quit running.

We first met in October of 2008, when I "accidentally" ran a 5k. I meant to walk it, but decided at the last second to start off running and just never stopped. I hurt for days, but it kind of felt good at the same time, and we started our relationship. I started running regularly the next spring, and by September I was running 10-15km per week and loving it. I'd be approaching home after having run 3 or 4 km, my legs sore, sweating and breathing hard but feeling good, and think "do I still have enough in the tank to circle the block once more? Or go around this crescent, just to add an extra half-kilometre?" Sometimes I would go the extra bit, sometimes not, but the thought was always there. I looked forward to my runs and was disappointed when I got up and it was raining and I had to run on the treadmill instead. Each week or two I'd go a little bit longer until one day I ran from home along Dundas to Hollybush to Parkside to Hamilton and back along Dundas home (which I know means squat to those of you who don't live in Waterdown), a distance of about 5.8 km. I remember the feeling I had coming home from that particular run. It was my longest ever and I still felt great. I started to think that by the next summer, running a 10k wasn't out of the realm of possibility.

I bought special running shoes and clothes. I ran outside during the winter as long as it wasn't too cold and the ground was mostly clear. My sister and parents bought me an iPod Nano with Nike+ for my 40th birthday, and I started "broadcasting" my runs on Facebook and Twitter. I subscribed to a running magazine. I brought my running stuff on vacation with me. I was a runner. Me and you, baby, we were going hot and heavy.

And then I got sick. February 5, 2010. Severe acute necrotizing pancreatitis. I've written about it before so I won't go into the details here, but in a nutshell, it was a nightmare. I spent two months in hospital, ate no solid food the whole time, had major abdominal surgery, and was off work for another 3 months after coming home. In the hospital, my exercise consisted of taking my IV pole for a walk around the floor – two laps if I was exceptionally energetic. Once I got home, it was walking up and down a flight of stairs four or five times, and then lying down on the couch because I was wiped out. I got home from the hospital at the beginning of April, and in mid-May, I started walking around the block (less than 1km). By the end of the summer I could walk several kilometres without being exhausted, but it wasn't until November that I started actually running again. But, my dear, things were different between us.

I started off with the path I used to take when you and I were first starting out. About 3 km, and I'd run until I got tired and then walk for a while, then run again. It wasn't as much fun as I remembered, but I'd gone through a lot and in some respects I was still recovering, so I figured I'd give it some time. I didn't go out much during the winter, and I tried to run on the treadmill now and again but you know how it is, dear, I never liked running on that thing. Then spring came and I could run outside again. It still wasn't great, and it took a long time before I could even run the 3k path without stopping to walk in the middle. I ran a lot in July, then fell off the wagon in August, got back on in September and have been doing OK since then. But I'll be honest, it really hasn't been fun for a long time.

I have yet to get back to 5k – my longest this year was 4.12km. Only a couple of times did I finish a run without stopping to walk for a couple of minutes. My stamina seemed to plateau quickly, and I got frustrated with my lack of progress. Not once did I think about running just a little longer like I used to – it was always "how long until I can stop?" Getting up early to run was a chore and I had to force myself to do it. A few times I convinced myself I heard rain so I went back to bed – only to find the ground completely dry when I did get up. Sometimes while running I decided to cut the run short because it was colder than I had expected or my legs were exceptionally sore or whatever, it was one excuse after another. But the root problem was always there – it just wasn't fun anymore.

So my dear, I'm afraid this is the end for us.  It was fun while it lasted, and I'll never forget some of the great times we had together, but I've changed and it's just not working between us anymore. It's an old cliché but it's really true – it's not you, it's me. I still want to stay in shape, so I'm going to try and hit the weight bench a couple of times a week over the winter. I hope you're not jealous. Maybe next spring when the weather gets nice again I might give you another try, but I can't promise anything. Take care, sweetheart.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Tweetdeck vs. MetroTwit vs. Seesmic

Twitter is one of the most popular web services anywhere, but once you become fairly active on it, I find the web site itself is impossible to use. If you follow lots of people (I follow a little over 300), one single stream of tweets is just too much, and trying to keep track of conversations or random people mentioning you is next to impossible. Luckily there are numerous applications out there designed to make this easier. Most allow you to separate your stream into multiple columns so you can put the people you're following into various groups; for example, I have a group with techie people (Scott Hanselman, Joel Spolsky, Leo Laporte, and the like), another group with people I've "met" online through my interest in pro lacrosse, another one for other sports people (Bruce Arthur, Dave Hodge, Down Goes Brown), and so on. This makes it much easier to keep up. You can also add a column for direct messages or mentions so those are easy to see. This makes having a conversation with someone on Twitter possible, where replies to you from others don't get lost in the deluge of tweets.

I tried three of the most popular such applications: Tweetdeck (now owned by Twitter itself), MetroTwit, and Seesmic, and made some notes on each. Note that there are lots of options in both Twitter and these applications that I never use (eg. tweeting from multiple accounts, trending topics, Foursquare, LinkedIn, etc.) so I can't comment on those. For each one, advantages/drawbacks are ordered roughly in order of importance to me.

Tweetdeck and Seesmic also have web versions that allow you to do much the same things as the desktop apps, but through a web interface so there's nothing to install. I didn't investigate these at all.


Tweetdeck is the first Twitter application that I used, and I used it for about a year so it's the one I'm most familiar with. It handles multiple Twitter accounts and you can add accounts from Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Google Buzz (why?) as well. I really only used Twitter. I occasionally updated my Facebook status through Tweetdeck, but only when I wanted to set my status to something and tweet it at the same time, which was rare.

Version: 0.38.2


  • A global filter hides tweets you don't want to see based on hashtags, other content, user, or application. This makes it easy to ignore useless Foursquare tweets.
  • The colour scheme is nice – dark background (but not too dark) with white text
  • There are versions for Windows, Android, and iPhone.
  • Pops up a little window for images from twitpic, yfrog, lockerz, and others, as well as for youtube videos.
  • Easy to click on a user or tweet and jump to it in a browser if you want to
  • I like the little whistling sound it makes for notifications.
  • You can follow/unfollow people right from the interface and even modify Twitter lists.


  • Columns are not resizable. This means that you have a maximum of six columns on a 1920x1200 screen if the window is maximized (and you can't see all of the sixth column). Any more than that and you have to start scrolling horizontally. I hate that.
  • Rearranging columns is silly – you have to click little arrow buttons to move columns right or left one position. You can't just grab the top of the column and drag it to where you want it to be like you would expect. Dragging columns works in both MetroTwit and Seesmic.
  • To mark a tweet as read, you either click on a tiny little dot on the tweet, select "Mark tweet as seen" from level 3 of a nested menu on the tweet, or click the "Mark all as seen" button at the bottom of the column. Not at all intuitive. I got around this by simply clicking "Clear all" at the bottom once I'd read everything to mark then all as read and remove them from the column entirely – though once you've done that, you will never see those tweets again through Tweetdeck.
  • If you've marked all the tweets in a column as read but not cleared them, there is no obvious indication that there are new tweets. Unread ones have a little dot next to them, but it's hard to see and not obvious at all. (This is why I clear out the whole thing.)
  • If you see a reply to someone but want to see the rest of the conversation, you can click on the "in response to" in the tweet (this feature was also not obvious). However, this link shows up on the same line as the username, date and time, and application used (eg. "Twitter for iPhone") so it's not always visible. If you can't see the link, I have found no way to get Tweetdeck to show the conversation.

Drawback specific to the Android version:

  • If you haven't updated in a while, you have to scroll through everything to get to the top. You can click on the title bar of a column to automatically scroll, but it still actually scrolls and if you have several days worth of tweets to scroll through, this can take a while. I couldn't find an obvious way to simply jump to the top or mark everything as read.



A couple of weeks ago, I had a problem with Tweetdeck popping up a weird empty "Updating" window that never went away. (It got fixed the next day.) This was not a big deal at all, but I tweeted about it anyway. A friend responded and told me that he had tried MetroTwit and had never gone back, so I decided to give it a try as well. I had a tough time ordering the advantages below since the top six are excellent features.



  • Columns are resized as they are added so if you only have a couple, they're wide but if you have lots, they're narrower but still all fit on the screen – no horizontal scrolling. This is fabulous. I have seven columns and can see them all easily. I haven't tried more but I assume if you have too many it will eventually either not let you add more or will be forced to make you scroll.
  • A big number appears at the top of each column telling you how many unread tweets are in that column, though I've occasionally seen situations where the number is off by one.
  • Clicking on a tweet marks all tweets below it as read, so you can mark an entire column as read by clicking the top one.
  • A mark appears in the scroll bar for each column indicating where the most recently read tweet is.
  • The most recently read tweet has a line and arrow at the top to indicate "you've read up to here". Very nice.
  • You can have the application's icon change to include a count of unread tweets or replies or messages or whatever. I have it set to replies only so I can glance at the icon on the taskbar to see if I have any unread replies.
  • If you hover over shortened links you will get a tooltip containing the real URL.
  • Images from yfrog, twitpic, etc. will pop up in the interface when you click on them. I prefer the way Tweetdeck pops up a window to display images, but this isn't bad.
  • The link to see the rest of a conversation is always visible and obvious (i.e. it's a link on its own line that says "View conversation").
  • All three apps will autocomplete usernames when you type a '@' but MetroTwit will also autocomplete #hashtags, choosing from those that you've previously used as well as current trending ones.



  • When you minimize the app, some more tweets come in, and then you restore the window, the columns sometimes show the latest tweet, sometimes they show the most recently read tweet, and sometimes they show some random tweet that may be in between the two, or one that may be days old. It seems random which one happens – consistency would be good. This happens when you close and restart the app as well.
  • No built-in filters, so no way to get rid of Foursquare tweets. There is a filter from something called, but I haven't tried it yet.
  • The scroll bar is very narrow and it's hard to grab the scroller thing.
  • You can follow/unfollow people but I couldn't find a way to modify lists from the application. I generally do that from the web page anyway. I only list it here because Tweetdeck can do it.
  • Not quite as easy as Tweetdeck to click on a user and jump to that user's page in a browser. It's two clicks instead of one.
  • The dark colour scheme is very dark, and the white one is hard to read. I prefer Tweetdeck's colours.
  • Twitter only. No support for Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.
  • Doesn't handle multiple Twitter accounts. Apparently this is "coming soon" but may only be available in the not-free "Plus" version.
  • Windows only. No Mac/Linux version, and no mobile versions.
  • There is an ad (OH NOES! ADVERTIZING!) at the top of one column. It's a different colour than other tweets and you can't get rid of it, but it's not really a huge deal. You can pay for the app ($14.95 Australian which is roughly the same in Canadian or US) to upgrade to "MetroTwit Plus" to make the ads go away.



I had nothing but problems with Seesmic. I installed it a few months ago and was less than impressed. I uninstalled it a day later. When I decided to write up this article, I couldn't remember what I didn't like about it, so I re-installed it and tried it for a while. "A while", in this case, turned out to be about an hour. I've given it a few more chances since then but they've always been short and frustrating.

First off, there were authentication issues. I authenticated with Twitter, but when I stopped and restarted the app (required to disable most of the myriad of plug-ins that were automatically installed and enabled (grrrrrr...)), I had to authenticate again. But this time the authentication failed – numerous times. I tried shutting down the app and trying again with no luck. I checked to make sure the Twitter site itself was up, and it seemed fine. After about ten minutes I tried again and everything was fine. Note that I was copy-and-pasting my password from KeePass so it was not a case of simply mistyping the password. This hasn't happened since then, so perhaps it was a one-time thing.

Version: They call it "Seesmic Desktop 2" but the version number was


  • It lists retweets other than my own. If a user I follow retweets a user that I don't follow (i.e. a "real" Twitter retweet, not just adding "RT" in front of the text), I'll see it in Seesmic but I don't think I will in either MetroTwit or Tweetdeck.
  • You can create a Seesmic account and it will do extra stuff like be able to synchronize your configuration among machines. I did not do this, so I can't comment on that feature.
  • Windows and Mac versions as well as Android and iPhone.


  • The columns don't resize.
  • Each tweet that you haven't read is marked with a little yellow circle, which goes away when you click on the tweet or select "Mark all as read" from the menu at the top of the column. But that's the only way to mark things as read. Not quite as bad as Tweetdeck, but worse than MetroTwit. You can clear out the tweets marked as read (i.e. empty the column), but when you close the application and start it up again, they all come back.
  • There are two buttons in the bottom left panel with no indication of what they do. One looks like a solid rectangle, the other a series of smaller
    rectangles but when I click on either of them (they seem to be mutually exclusive toggles), there were no obvious changes anywhere. There are no tooltips or text anywhere to indicate what they're for.
  • There didn't seem to be any way of determining or controlling how often it refreshes the feed. I could find no way of manually causing a refresh either.
  • At one point I had a Home column (i.e. my entire Twitter feed) plus a Sports column, made from a list I have. Several users in the sports list had unread tweets in the Home column but not in the Sports column. The tweets did show up in the Sports column some time later, but it didn't make sense to me that one column was updated while the other wasn't.
  • If you right-click on a tweet, there is a large list of things you can do (i.e. reply, retweet, block user, etc.). There is a little menu at the top of each column but if you right-click there, you just get a small and useless Silverlight menu.
  • Bug – when I tried copy-and-pasting my Facebook password, it seemed to think I was pasting in several hundred or thousand characters, as the password field kept scrolling horizontally for 10-15 seconds. My password is 8 characters long and when I typed it rather than pasted it, it worked.
  • There were about 10-15 plug-ins automatically installed and enabled. I disabled all but about three of them.


On the desktop, I've moved over to MetroTwit. It has resizable columns, and tells you at a glance how many unread tweets you have in each column without having to clear the column, and changes the application icon to indicate how many replies are unread and makes it brain-dead easy to mark tweets as read. Lots of big plusses. However, I tend to keep my Twitter application open but minimized most of the time, and the scrolling behaviour I described earlier is annoying. Big minus. When I bring up the application (whether starting or de-minimizing), ideally I'd like the columns to automatically scroll, showing new tweets, until the most recently read tweet is visible at the bottom with the unread tweets above it, and then stop scrolling. This way I can instantly see the oldest ones I haven't seen, and then continue to scroll up as I get to the newer ones. Actually I'm not sure what Tweetdeck does in this respect, since I always clear the column (because it's not obvious which tweets I haven't yet read).

I wouldn't touch Seesmic with a 39 ½ foot pole. It seems like beta software that got released too early. Maybe I'll try it again in a year or so to see how it's improved.

I still use Tweetdeck on Android because there is no MetroTwit for Android (or iPhone).

Friday, October 14, 2011

What song has the most "na"s?

The question that everyone has been wondering in the back of their minds for decades has finally been answered. What song has the most "na"s in it?


And the winner is.... Centerfold by the J. Geils Band, which has 221 "na"s, one more than Hey Jude.

No, I did not google this, I actually did my own research, as any good journalist would do. This consisted of listening to each song, typing an 'x' whenever they said "na", then counting up the x's. Why, how did you spend your Thanksgiving?

Friday, October 07, 2011

Facebook changes and rumours

From Twitter:

Scientists: Hey, I think we discovered particles that travel faster than the speed of light. World: OMG new Facebook!

Facebook made some changes to their interface recently, and just like every other time they've done this, a bunch of people lost their minds. There were postings about how to get the old interface back by changing your locale to the UK, and I heard the tired old calls of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". There were even petitions demanding that Facebook change it back. These petitions will never work.

It's not that Facebook doesn't care what its users think, it's just that they have so many users that they have to cater to the majority. If you make a petition telling Facebook that you hate the new format and demand that they change it back, and you get thirty five million people to sign it – the entire population of Canada – and print it out and drop it on Mark Zuckerberg's desk, do you know what he'll say? He'll look at the 35 million signatures of people who hate the interface and say "This means that ninety five percent of our users love it! Success!"

Meet the new Facebook, same as the old Facebook

Of course, two days after the change, the postings all stop as people become accustomed to the new interface, realize that everything they've been used to is still there though perhaps in a different place, and that the new interface really isn't so bad after all. Everything is once again fine in the Facebook world until the next time they make a change, at which time people will lose their minds once again – because Facebook has changed away from the interface they complained so bitterly about the last time.

Ever notice that the people that complain the most about the Facebook changes are those who update their status fifteen times a day and are the least likely people to leave Facebook? Facebook knows this, which is another reason they don't worry about the complaints. I'm not making judgements about people who are on Facebook a lot – I am quite active on Facebook myself, as well as Twitter, and I have my own blog fer cryin' out loud, so I'm not about to criticize others for wasting spending a lot of time online.

Regarding the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" – do you really want Facebook to keep the same interface and features forever? That's not the way the software industry works. We software engineers are always looking for ways to make our product better. Sometimes this comes from adding features that have been requested by customers, other times it's stuff we come up with ourselves. (Make a note of that word "customer" – I'll get back to that in a minute.) Facebook engineers are no different – they want to improve the customer experience. Their problem is that many people are using Facebook twenty times a day and become accustomed to how it looks and how to do things. When that changes, people are suddenly uncomfortable with something that they've been comfortable with for a long time. The fact that they have seven hundred million users also guarantees that no matter what change they make, millions of people won't like it, and we all know that people who don't like something are more likely to comment on it than those who do. How many postings did you see talking about the Facebook changes and how great they were?

Does Facebook have privacy problems? Sure they do. I used to know exactly what the defaults were and how all of that worked, but Facebook has added new features and changed things often enough that now I don't know what happens by default. I have found in the past that once you change your security settings to be something different from the default, new features tend to be off or more private by default, while if you have never touched your settings, everything's wide open by default. I don't know if it's still that way and that topic is beyond the scope of this article. I did want to mention it to acknowledge that Facebook is not perfect – for those people who read this article and think I'm some kind of Facebook fanboy who would never say anything negative about them.

You will never pay for it

Another rumour that I've seen a bunch of times is that Facebook is soon going to start charging people to use the site. I can guarantee you that these are rumours are false. Facebook will always be free. You will never need to worry about paying Facebook anything as a customer. Why? Because you're not the customer. Facebook is not in the business of building a social network, they are in the business of selling advertising. They built a social network in order to attract people to their website, and they sell those pageviews to advertisers. You are the product Facebook sells. They make far more money selling advertising than they would charging people to use their web site, since they know that a large percentage of the well over half a billion users they have would not pay for the service. never understood this.

So don't worry about rearranging your finances to have an extra few bucks a month for Facebook, and don't worry about how you are going to keep in touch with your friends in Texas or Scotland or Italy or Japan without Facebook. Will it be around forever? Who knows. But it's the most popular web site in the world right now, I don't see it going away any time soon, and you'll never have to pay for it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

9/11 was an outside job

I watched a YouTube video recently called Loose Change. This is one of the most popular 9/11 conspiracy videos out there. The description of the video on the YouTube page is as follows:

For anyone who still has doubts about 911, weigh out the facts and the overwhelming amount of evidence supporting the reality that the events of 911 were one big set-up.

This exposes the lies, disproving every aspect of the bogus 911 commission report put forth by the corrupt government.

Judge for yourselves, but investigate the facts and evidence before jumping to a conclsuion [sic].

The video is about an hour and twenty minutes long. The film is professionally shot and edited, and there are a number of computer animations which are also professionally done – what I mean by that is that it looks good. This is not something done in the basement with a hand-held video camera by some conspiracy theory nut. The film states and attempts to prove that all of the terrible events of September 11, 2001 – the destruction of the World Trade Center towers and the airliner crashes at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania – were designed, orchestrated, and then covered up by the American government. It contains descriptions of physical evidence, scientific discussions, and interviews with witnesses, firefighters, airline industry spokespeople, and scientists.

It is also complete and utter horseshit.

There are numerous web sites out there (here, here, here, here, here) that address the claims made in the film in great detail, some of them point-by-point, so I'm not going to do it here. Suffice it to say that the makers of this film get many facts wrong, misinterpret facts and evidence (whether accidentally or intentionally), and use many of the standard logical fallacies including straw men, observational selection, appeals to ignorance, and red herrings.

For me, the most damning evidence that this whole conspiracy theory is wrong is the lack of whistleblowers.  If this were a government plot, the number of people that would have to have been complicit is immense. The people that flew the airliners (who must have been OK with a suicide mission). Pilots that fired the missiles at the Pentagon. Demolitions experts that planned and planted the explosives. Air traffic controllers and other staff at the airport in Cleveland (where United flight 93 landed in this scenario). Communications experts who faked all of the cell phone calls from flight 93. There must have been some firefighters, police officers, paramedics, and other first responders that were in on it, so they could hide or destroy evidence of the explosives if any was found in the rubble. Many experts in many different fields to come up with ways that this could all happen but still look like a terrorist plot. The President of the country. Numerous senior members of the armed forces, CIA, and FBI. Who knows how many other members of the Executive Branch as well as advisors and assistants. There would have to be people whose job it is forever to ensure that any evidence found in the future is covered up, and witnesses and others involved in the conspiracy paid off or killed. We're talking about hundreds of people here.

If this was a government plot, the majority of the people I listed above must have known about the plan, or at least part of it, beforehand and agreed with it. None of them had any trouble planting bombs in the iconic twin towers in downtown Manhattan that have hundreds of thousands of people going through them every day. None of them had a problem with firing a missile into the Pentagon. Even if they didn't know about the attacks or agree with them beforehand, they've had plenty of time since then to realize what they were a part of and reflect on their role in this event. But in the ten years since the attacks, not one person has had a change of heart and come forward. Perhaps the American government has had each and every one of them murdered in such a way that their friends and families didn't suspect murder. If that's the case, why hasn't the government just killed the makers of this film for revealing the truth?

The funny part is that the conspiracy theorists describe the most complicated conspiracy ever conceived, which was apparently pulled off to perfection, and at the same time point to many mistakes that the conspirators made and clues that they left behind. So they're saying that the most evil government conspiracy ever was pulled off by a bunch of incompetent boobs.

There was no government conspiracy to kill American citizens on September 11. The attacks were pulled off by a bunch of Islamic extremists who hijacked four airliners. That, my friends, is the 9/11 truth.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Three and one from the Jays game

Quick post about the Blue Jays game I went to with my dad the other day. Three weird things and one complaint – a complaint about complaints.

Weird thing #1: At one point, the Angels had back-to-back doubles, with no outs or stupid baserunning plays in between, and nobody scored. How do you hit a double with a guy on second and not drive him in? Glad you asked. The second double was a popup a mile high to the right side, so the runner on second had to wait to see if it would be caught. The batter, of course, just kept running. When it fell in front of Bautista and behind Lind and Johnson, the runner on second only had time to make it to third but the batter made it to second. Nobody blew the play so it wasn't an error, so the scorer had no choice but to credit the batter with a double. I'm sure it's not unique in the world of baseball, but with your standard double, you can usually assume that all the runners will move up at least two bases, and a baserunner scoring from first on a double is not unusual at all.

Weird thing #2: During Eric Thames' third at-bat, the scoreboard showed that he'd flied out to LF in his first at-bat then flied out to CF in his second at-bat, so my dad and I decided that he should hit it to RF this time. I said "Put it over the right field fence!". Thames hit the very next pitch over the right field fence.

Weird thing #3: "Batting ninth, the designated hitter, David Cooper." The DH hitting 9th? Does someone not understand the concept of the DH? Yes I know: end of the season, the team is out of the playoffs, give the young kids some at-bats, and all that. Still weird.

The complaint about complaints involves Vernon Wells. Each time his name was announced, there were both cheers and boos coming from the crowd. The people booing Wells irritated me. Wells played several seasons for the Jays, and in some of those years he was very good and in the rest he was excellent. After one excellent year he was rewarded with a huge contract. Was he worth it? Probably not. But can you blame him for taking it? If someone said to you "We're going to give you $125 million over the next seven years", are you going to ask for less because you don't deserve that much? Not on your life. So he took it and promptly got injured, hitting 20 home runs only once over the next 3 years. Then he returned to form in 2010, hitting .273 with 31 homers. Are these $15-million-a-year numbers? No but again, his inflated salary is not his fault, it's J.P. Ricciardi's. Wells was traded solely because his contract was so big. He never asked to be traded (Roger Clemens) never said he didn't want to play in Toronto (again, Roger Clemens), didn't sign somewhere else as a free agent (where do I start?) and never admitted to not giving his best during games because he wanted to play somewhere else (Vince Carter). I have even heard the tired old line about "now that he's got the big contract, he doesn't have to play hard." I don't buy that for a second.

Any player playing at the major league level has likely been playing baseball all his life because he loves the game. To get to the highest level in the sport, he'd have to have worked hard and excelled in Little League, high school, college, and several levels of minor leagues where he was making very little money. His hard work and determination paid off, and he made it to the majors where he continued to work hard and excel. And I'm supposed to believe that when he gets a huge contract that ensures that he can continue playing at the highest level, he suddenly doesn't bother trying so hard anymore? The previous 20 years have been solely for the unlikely possibility of the huge payday? No. He's been working his ass off and playing as hard as he can his whole life - he doesn't know any other way to play. That refers to any professional athlete, not just baseball players, and not just Vernon Wells. Well, I guess it doesn't apply to Vince Carter.

Hey Vernon, I was clapping for you.

OK, so that wasn't such a quick post.

Educating the public

This letter to the editor appeared in the Flamborough Review on September 17, 2011:

I was puzzled – but not surprised – to read the comments offered by the provincial candidates regarding education (Review, Sept. 8). The big picture to these players is the bricks and mortar and infrastructure. They really need to pay attention to the people.

Wait, where have we heard that before? I am a parent, and the biggest concern among all parents I talk to is the curriculum.

We are inundated with fundraising for this, awareness for that. The kids come home telling us about all the “activities” they do.

Wait a minute. What happened to the three R’s?

What happened to sitting down and having a deep discussion about something relevant? Has school turned into glorified daycare?

I’m sure there are some teachers who are just fuming right now, but I don’t care. The public system is failing our kids. The adage that they “never leave a child behind” because it may affect his “self esteem” doesn’t wash with me, or many other parents. Who will worry about their self esteem when they can’t fill out a job application?

I don’t agree with technology and keyboards in primary schools. What is wrong with pen and paper? Apparently, spelling tests are too much to bear anymore. Standardized testing is also an issue with many parents. Many teachers I have spoken to say that they are pressured into spending more time in preparing the kids for these tests.

Let’s get back to basics. Our kids need a stable base of readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic, not volunteering activity time to promote corporate marketing.

Kevin Inglehart

The only phrase missing from this rant was "Back in my day..." My first thought upon reading it was "spoken like a man who hasn't set foot in a school in thirty years." Gail, who has been involved as a volunteer and on the school council at our kids' school for eight years and is currently going through teacher's college, was indeed fuming when she read it. If Mr. Inglehart had done the slightest bit of research before writing this, he might have understood the current goals of the education system and why they're different from those of years ago.

"What happened to the three R's?" – Literacy (which is far more than just reading and writing) and mathematics (which is far more than just arithmetic) have always been the core of the education system and still are, though they are being taught in a different way than in the past. When my parents were kids, and to a lesser extent when I was a kid (I'm currently 42), mathematics in primary school was mostly arithmetic and was almost entirely memorization. Here are the times tables, learn them by rote (i.e. repeating them out loud over and over and over until it's burned into your head). There you go, that's math. Did the students understand what it was they were memorizing? I'm sure some did but many did not. In public school, we had to memorize the times tables up to 12 times 12. To this day, I can instantly tell you that 12 times 12 is 144. If you asked me 12 times 13 it takes me a half-second longer to come up with the answer – but I can come up with the answer. In all modesty, I am one of the ones that understood how the times tables worked (I always did well in math and went on to get a Bachelor of Mathematics degree) but I know that some of my classmates would have been completely lost because 12 times 13 wasn't on the chart we learned memorized. That's not the way math is taught these days. Kids are not just given the answers but are taught how it works so that they can figure out the answers for themselves.

"What happened to sitting down and having a deep discussion about something relevant?" – That depends on the grade level. Just try having a deep discussion about anything with twenty 8-year-olds and see how far you get. That hasn't changed in a hundred years and so has nothing to do with this issue. But I know what kinds of projects Ryan (currently in grade 7) has worked on over the past few years, and they are having deep discussions about relevant issues.

"The public system is failing our kids." – Evidence please. Don't go spouting off a claim like this without backing it up. Show me evidence that children are coming out of public school less prepared for high school or university than they were twenty or forty years ago and I'll start listening.

"Who will worry about their self esteem when they can’t fill out a job application?" – Show me a teacher that allows a student to pass their class with high self esteem but without the basics of reading and writing and I'll show you a teacher who needs to be fired. That's not the way the public education system works, now or in the past. The difference is that now teachers consider a student's self-esteem whereas in the past they did not. Were people in Mr. Inglehart's classes ever singled out and humiliated in front of the class? Let me guess, stuff like that "builds character", right? It doesn't take a genius to realize that humiliating a student or telling him he's stupid because he didn't do well on a test or assignment does nothing to help the student learn. If a child is struggling in school and you tell him he's stupid, after a while he will come to believe it himself. Alternatively, you can give him extra help – both in the curriculum and in believing in himself so that he has the confidence to continue. If a student's self esteem is ignored and he struggles, he is more likely to hate school and leave as soon as possible. How is that good for the student or the community?

"I don't agree with technology and keyboards in primary school. What is wrong with pen and paper?" – Technology is not replacing pen and paper. Both of my kids go through plenty of paper during the school year and they do far more printing and writing than typing. But considering the pervasiveness of computers and technology in our world, how does it make any sense not to start familiarizing our children with it as soon as possible?

"Apparently, spelling tests are too much to bear anymore." – That's because many studies have shown that spelling tests are ineffective. Students learn how to spell the words in the few days before the test, write the test, and then promptly forget them. Teaching them the fundamentals of English grammar and phonics is far more effective in teaching kids how to use language.

"Standardized testing is also an issue with many parents. Many teachers I have spoken to say that they are pressured into spending more time in preparing the kids for these tests." – Then whoever is pressuring the teachers doesn't get it either. The idea is to prepare the children for life – teach them how to think, not how to answer the questions on the test. Once you've done that, they will succeed on any test you give them.

I don't know what "corporate marketing" thing Mr. Inglehart is referring to in his last line, but I assume it has to do with fundraising which he mentioned earlier in the letter. It's a fairly well-known fact that schools are given far less money now than in previous years. As for why that's true, that's a political issue that has nothing to do with the teachers or how they teach. When I was in school, all the materials we used were provided by the school itself. Now, teachers spend their own money to outfit their classrooms. Over the years my kids have read and studied many books that were purchased by (and then borrowed from) their teacher, not the school or the Board of Education. Fundraising is a way to help further equip the schools. Without it, schools wouldn't be able to afford many of the materials necessary, and programs like music and art may need to be cancelled altogether.

Mr. Inglehart needs to realize that society is constantly improving its knowledge of how children learn, and changes must be made to the education system to reflect that knowledge. Yes, sometimes money is a factor in such changes, but not always. Things don't work the same way as they did when he was a kid, but that doesn't make the changes unnecessary.

There are always people who say things like "it was good enough for me when I was a kid", but is that really what you want for the next generation – "good enough"? Don't you want "better"?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Make a teaching fairyland

Nicky was given a toy last week – a 3D puzzle of a Ferrari racing car. The puzzle was made in China, and the people who created the packaging were obviously not English-speakers. Perhaps they had access to Google Translate and decided that translating the Chinese text a word at a time was the best way to go. We had a pretty good time reading the instructions:

Use hand and head --- Training kid's flexible for their proportion on the hands and eyes. Develop them imagination ability. Make a teaching fairyland.

Design munificent --- It can be assemblaged detached over and over, and looks like veritable. It needn't any assist tools.

Perfect in workmanship --- Materials are daintiness. Safety and slightly. Full of colour printing.

It could certainly be said that it's not fair to make fun of these people because their English, as bad as it is, is better than my Chinese. This is absolutely true – I don't know a word of Mandarin, Cantonese, or any other Chinese language. But I'm not writing Chinese text for a product that will be sold in China. If that was my job, I might try talking to someone who actually speaks Chinese.  If I were to write it myself, I'm sure it would be pretty damned funny to Chinese speakers.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mini movie reviews

We saw a few movies over the past week or two; here are some mini-reviews of each. Sorry, no haikus.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon


  • Special effects were excellent, but that's becoming less of a draw, since lots of movies have effects that are just as good
  • Leonard Nimoy saying "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" was cool. A bit of a Star Trek II homage for those of us old enough to get it.
  • John Malkovich is always good


  • The movie was far too long. The robot fight scenes over the last hour or so were long and drawn out and could easily have been cut down. It was amazing that with so much stuff happening on the screen, I was still bored.
  • I find it odd that a movie that stems from a toy (I laughed at the "in association with Hasbro" during the credits) has so much violence, bad language, and even sexual content that I won't let my kids watch it.
  • There were lots of scenes of robots fighting and transforming all at the same time. I found it overwhelming – I couldn't tell what was happening half the time.
  • Several blatantly cheesy 3D effects. If you want to see a movie that gets 3D right, see Avatar.
  • I found it hard to tell the bad robots from the good robots, other than Optimus and Bumblebee. And the two little annoying and pointless robots, Comic and Relief.
  • The first Transformers movie was entertaining and while the plot wasn't brilliant, it was OK. I don't really remember the second movie. This one was somewhat entertaining at times but the plot was just dumb. Sentinal even says at one point "I created this technology that defies the laws of physics" so they didn't have to explain anything.
  • WARNING: spoilers below
  • Patrick Dempsey as the bad guy was not believable. At the beginning I could kind of understand it, but once it became obvious that the Decepticons were planning on enslaving the entire human race, why was he still trying to help them? It's not like they said they'd spare him or he had any reason to believe they might.
  • Similarly, Sentinal's whole "the only way to save our planet is to join with the Decepticons" thing was not believable either.
  • Optimus's execution of Sentinal (shooting him in the back of the head) was out of character.


Spy Kids: All The Time In The World


  • Jessica Alba! Quite possibly the most beautiful actress in Hollywood today. Can she actually act? Who cares?


  • I fully agree with the "family is the most important thing" theme, but they pushed it too hard and it ended up being corny.
  • The time-travel stuff. I know that time travel is (very likely) impossible, but some movies that involve time travel at least try to make some sense of the whole paradox thing. Back to the Future did a great job, and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure did some neat stuff with it as well. This one didn't even try, and as a result it made no sense.
  • Too many poop jokes. Then again, it's possible that "males in their early 40's" is not the target demographic for this movie.
  • The movie was presented in "Aroma-vision". When we got our tickets, we were given a card with 8 scratch-and-sniff circles on it, and when a number showed up on the screen, we were supposed to scratch the corresponding number on the card and be surrounded with the aroma of whatever was happening on the screen. This worked perfectly, assuming the aroma for each of the numbers was supposed to be "cardboard".
  • The kids who starred in the original Spy Kids movies haven't had many significant acting roles since. Their performances in this movie help to explain why.


Knight And Day


  • Cameron Diaz in a bikini! She's no Jessica Alba, but still, wow.
  • Sure he's a wacko, but I really like Tom Cruise.
  • Lots of chemistry between Diaz and Cruise


  • During the movie, I couldn't help wondering about the movie's budget for Tom Cruise's platform shoes.
  • The idea of a battery that never runs out of power is not possible. It sounded like the writers needed some small yet extremely valuable thing for the bad guys to chase after, and precious gems have been done to death, so they picked this without giving it much thought.


The Adjustment Bureau


  • I really enjoyed this movie. The concept was interesting and made you think – sort of Matrix-y that way.
  • Matt Damon. I think I've enjoyed every movie I've seen him in.
  • In a way, I wanted them to explain more about the Bureau and the Chairman and so on, but I'm sort of glad they didn't. The fact that they didn't is what makes you think.


  • Can't say I'm a fan of Emily Blunt. She was OK, but she just doesn't do it for me.  I'm not talking looks here, I just didn't connect with her character.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Ten awesome things about Fern Resort

Our family travels with a couple of other families to Fern Resort for a week every August, and we've done this for the past 11 years. We love our week at Fern, not only because the food is great and there's lots to do, but also because we're all so familiar with the place so the kids have a lot more freedom there than they generally do.

Other than the obvious "someone else making meals for you", "you don't need to clean up", "lots of fun things to do" which are true for Fern and many other resorts, here are ten awesome things unique to Fern, in no particular order:

1. Peanut butter pie

A creamy peanut-butter-flavoured pie with a chocolate crust and whipped cream and chocolate syrup on top. Nothing else to say but OM NOM NOM.

2. Mike Stewart

Mike has been the sports director at Fern forever. If you have ever been to Fern, you have met Mike. If you've been a few times, he likely knows your name. He runs tennis, volleyball, basketball, badminton, bocce, shuffleboard, all the trivia games, and more. He is also the MC and one of the performers for the Show Time! show (see below). He's friendly, he's outgoing, he's helpful, he's LOUD, he's always smiling, and he don't take no crap from nobody. He's got a lot of good stories - ask him about the time he bought the Zamboni. Another good one is when a guest and her husband asked him to join them for... well, he may not tell you all of that one.

3. The Bad Boys line, the Irie line, the No Problem line, the Go Get a T-Shirt line, and the O Canada line

You haven't played bingo until you've played bingo called by an frenetic Jamaican dude with big mirrored sunglasses. Crazy D is the bingo king of Fern. Bingo can be a pretty boring game but when Crazy D is calling it, it's always fun. He's got more energy than half the Playvillage and always gets people pumped and excited about N34 and G49.

4. Four-way beach volleyball

This is an absolute must for me every year - Monday at 1:30. Standard beach volleyball except that there are four courts arranged in a square with nets between them in a cross. You can serve and return the ball to any of the other courts. Always a fun game even when there's eleven or twelve people per team, all playing at the same time.

5. Rolls and honey

Putting honey on fresh squishy rolls is definitely a Fern thing. Every year we buy a dozen rolls and some honey to bring home.

6. The kids programs

If this list was in order of importance, this might be #1. Kids from 0 to 17 have programs specifically for them run by counsellors who are fun and friendly and outgoing. For kids 0-6, we have the Playvillage. There's a nursery for babies, an area for toddlers with swings and stuff, a big climbing structure, a ball pit, diggers, a track for motorized jeeps, a couple of trampolines, a water play area, a little amphitheatre for shows, and the "craft caboose", where they make all kinds of crafts. They have snacks, go for walks around the resort, and take a tractor ride called the Honey Bee Express. I have to say it's awfully cute seeing a bunch of 3-6 year olds on the Honey Bee waving to everyone and singing their "mighty mighty Playvillage" song. The best part is that the Playvillage is open from 6-7:30pm, which is (not coincidentally) during dinner, so you can feed your kids from 5:30-6:00, take them to Playvillage, then enjoy a nice relaxing kid-free dinner, knowing that your kids are being cared for and are having fun.

There are also Junior programs (7-9), Youths (10-12), and Teens (13-17). They do lots of sports and other activities, crafts (tie-dye T-shirts are very popular), practice skits or songs for Show Time, and sometimes just hang out and chill. This year the Juniors and Youths began programs during dinner times so parents of kids that are too old for Playvillage can have a quiet kid-free dinner as well.

7. Chocolate monkeys

Invented by Lou, who's been a bartender at Fern for 29 years. Creme de Cacao, Creme de Banane, ice cream, half a banana, and chocolate syrup. Yummy. The kids can get a virgin one that's just as good.

8. The guest video and Show Time

There's a photographer / videographer walking around the resort all day every day. On Thursday night they show a video with lots of pictures and video of volleyball games, water skiing, dancing on the pool deck, kids playing at Playvillage, pedal carts, swimming, rock wall climbing, golf, tennis, and all of the other Fern activities. It's fun to look for people in your group, and of course the kids love looking for pictures of themselves. After the video is Show Time, a lip-sync show hosted by Mike Stewart and performed by the staff including sports, Playvillage, and kitchen people, the odd manager, and even the owner's kids. Some of them are well-choreographed dance numbers while others are comedy songs that have everyone in stitches. Either way, it's a lot of fun and the talent of the staff is evident.

9. Mushball

Baseball with a mushy mini-soccer ball rather than an actual baseball so no gloves are needed. The staff play on one team, the guests on the other, and I've seen guest teams with 40 people. This makes for a long ad-hoc batting order that frequently changes between innings. Despite being vastly outnumbered and intentionally "blowing" plays involving small children ("Oh look, he dropped the ball, Ashley! Run to first, quick!"), the staff wins every week... or so they tell us. The game was a little different this year since they introduced paintball which happens at the same time, so all the teens were out doing that. The guest team this year consisted of about 5 adults and 20-30 kids under 12.

10. The Downings

With most resorts, the owner is an invisible corporation but Fern is a family business. The Downing family have owned and operated Fern for over 100 years, and the current generation running the place consists of Mark Downing and his sister Laura. Mark, Laura, and their respective spouses and daughters are frequently seen around the resort, and a couple of the girls are old enough now to work there. Mark is as friendly a guy as you'll ever meet, and both he and Laura host (and tend bar at) a cocktail party on Thursday nights specifically for alumni (i.e. guests who have been to Fern several times) where the drinks and snacks are free. Mark's father Robert is retired but you still seem him around the resort, driving his golf cart labelled "Robbie's Rocket".

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Healthiest Fast-Food Burger

Recently I did some analysis of the nutritional content of McDonald's burgers compared with those from various other "roadhouse"-type restaurants. I found that a Big Mac and large fries at McDonald's is lower in calories, fat, carbs, and sodium than any of the other restaurants I looked at. Now, let's look at just the fast food restaurants.

Here is the nutritional information that I used:

Note to Facebook readers: Facebook sometimes screws up the formatting of tables when it imports my articles. You may want to click the "View Original Post" button at the bottom of the article.

Here are the results:


Restaurant Item Calories Total fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Carbs (g) Sodium (mg)
McDonalds Big Mac 540 29 10 44 1020
McDonalds Quarter Pounder w/ Cheese 530 28 13 41 1110
Burger King Whopper w/ Cheese 760 47 16 49 1320
Harvey's Original Cheeseburger 460 35 11 39 1130
Wendy's 1/4 pound single 470 22 7 70 870
A & W Teen burger 500 26 11 41 1220

I don't go to A&W often enough to know which burger to choose (Teen, Mama, Papa, Grandpa), so I chose the Teen Burger because the numbers seemed similar to the others. The BK Whopper was dead last in every category. Harvey's had the least calories but lots of fat and sodium. Wendy's only had 10 more calories than Harvey's, had way less fat and sodium, but way more carbs.

Chicken Sandwich

Restaurant Item Calories Total fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Carbs (g) Sodium (mg)
McDonalds McChicken 470 27 4.5 46 790
McDonalds Grilled Chicken Classic 390 11 1.5 46 810
Burger King Tendergrill 370 16 2.5 37 910
Harvey's Grilled chicken 290 5 1.5 28 810
Wendy's Ultimate chicken grill 360 7 1.5 42 1090
A & W Chicken Grill Deluxe 320 9 1.5 37 1040

Harvey's is the best in each category except saturated fat, but all the grilled sandwiches are relatively similar in all categories. The McChicken (which is fried) is last in every category except sodium where it's the best. McChicken has more than five times the fat of the Harvey's grilled sandwich – this should not surprise anyone.


Restaurant Item Calories Total fat (g) Saturated Fat (g) Carbs (g) Sodium (mg)
McDonalds Large 560 27 3.5 74 430
Burger King Large 440 22 4.5 57 1000
Harvey's Large 410 16 1 61 1190
Wendy's Large 500 24 4.5 54 610
A & W Large 520 22 1.5 76 920

McDonald's is last in calories and fat, and up near the top in carbs, but is way ahead in sodium. I found this strange considering the reason I like McD's fries is that they seem especially salty. Harvey's, on the other hand, is first in calories and fat, but last in sodium.

Overall Results

You can "have it your way" at Burger King if "your way" includes more calories, fat, and sodium than anywhere else. There's no clear winner here, but Harvey's and Wendy's are the lowest in most categories. If I had to pick one winner, it'd have to be Wendy's – it's a little higher than Harvey's in calories and carbs, a little lower in fat, but 36% lower in sodium.

Notable stats for the burger and fries combo:

  • Lowest calories: Harvey's. Second: Wendy's. Highest: Burger King.
  • Lowest fat: Wendy's. Second: A&W. Highest: Burger King.
  • Lowest saturated fat: Wendy's. Second: Harvey's. Highest: Burger King.
  • Lowest carbs: Harvey's. Second: Burger King. Highest: Wendy's.
  • Lowest sodium: Big Mac. Second: Wendy's. Highest: Burger King / Harvey's.

The shocking conclusion: Having a grilled chicken sandwich instead of a burger and skipping the fries results in a healthier meal. But if you simply must have a fast food burger, opting for Wendy's or Harvey's is a little healthier than McDonald's or A & W, and a lot better than Burger King.

Spotlight: Marisa Ingemi

I have no statistics to prove this, but I would guess that there are far fewer women than men seriously interested in professional sports. By "seriously interested", I'm not talking about those who don't mind going to see a game once in a while, and can name some of the teams and superstars of whatever league. My wife could probably pick Sidney Crosby out of a lineup, but wouldn't know Alex Ovechkin from Alex Trebek. No, I'm talking about women who are "real fans". They know all the players and teams. They can look at a trade and give you an informed opinion about it. They can hear about a player being injured and analyze how it might impact the rest of the team. Before you start to compose your email calling me a misogynist, I'm not saying women can't do this, I'm just talking about numbers. There are simply far fewer women than men that are interested in sports to that degree.

So when you hear that the host of the only radio show in the United States dedicated to the sport of lacrosse is female, you may raise an eyebrow. [Correction: One of the only lacrosse radio shows - there is at least one other] When you hear that she also runs the only lacrosse blog of the 300+ blogs in, co-hosts a baseball radio show, covers baseball for two different web sites, and covers hockey for another, you would think she's not only pretty busy, but she knows her sports and is a seasoned sports reporter and writer. But when I tell you that she recently celebrated her 15th birthday, well, you can pick your jaw up from the floor.

Marisa Ingemi is a high school student who lives in the Boston area. Her first interest in sports came in 2007, when she followed her sister's interest in the Boston Red Sox, and jumped on the bandwagon when they won the World Series. She became hooked on baseball, quickly followed by hockey, football, lacrosse, and basketball. Of course, if you're going to be a sports fan, Boston ain't a bad place to be since each of their hockey, baseball, basketball, and football teams have won championships over the last ten years. I live in the Toronto area where other than the Rock, any season your team doesn't completely suck is considered a success.

After the 2008 MLB season, Marisa decided it would be cool to write her own web site, and began writing news for a fake website at home. She soon created a real website,, which only got a few more hits than her fake one, but it got her started. She started following the NLL during the 2010 season and in an attempt to learn even more about the league, she started looking for lacrosse blogs. She couldn't find one that contained as much information as she wanted so she created her own, simply called The Lacrosse Blog. A few months later, the blog was moved to, becoming the first lacrosse blog in that group, and she renamed it In Lax We Trust. Over 1000 stories and 50,000 page views later, it is one of the most popular fan-run lacrosse blogs on the internet. [Full disclosure: I am one of the eleven writers on that site.]

But just one blog wasn't enough for Marisa. She also covers the Pawtucket Red Sox, Portland Sea Dogs, and Lowell Spinners (all minor-league affiliates of the Boston Red Sox) for both and, and the Boston Bruins for Inside Hockey. She began her radio career in March 2011 with the creation of two different weekly internet radio shows: Lax Live and Beantown Breakdown. Beantown Breakdown features Marisa and a few other local bloggers talking about all aspects of pro sports in the Boston area while Lax Live is covers all types of lacrosse. But Lax Live isn't just some fan yakking about lacrosse for 20 minutes; she interviews lacrosse reporters, bloggers, players, and coaches. She's talked to such names as Andrew McKay, Connor Wilson, Teddy Jenner, Graeme Perrow (had to throw that in there), Dave Pym, John Tavares, Lewis Ratcliff, Ryan Benesch, and even NLL Commissioner George Daniel. Very few 15-year-olds even have a career highlight, but Marisa does, and it's pretty cool: her first-ever interview was lacrosse legend Casey Powell after a Blazers game in 2011.

Considering she's only been following the NLL for two years, Marisa is surprisingly knowledgeable. Ask her who the top goalie in the NLL is, and she'll tell you (hint: it won't be Chris Levis). Ask her who won the recent Brodie Merrill-for-Athan Iannucci trade, and she'll tell you who and why (hint: she'll say Edmonton and she's right). She's interviewed some big names in lacrosse and doesn't sound all star-struck (none of this "OMG OMG OMG I'm talking to John Tavares! He's awesome!!!!!1!") and asks real questions that show insight. When she interviewed me for Lax Live radio last season, I mentioned that Toronto were having problems on transition, and she asked me if Toronto regretted trading away Ryan Dilks. I had completely forgotten that Dilks came from Toronto, so I was caught off-guard. I managed to sputter out some kind of answer and hopefully didn't sound too silly. Before the interview, she had given me a list of questions she was going to ask but that wasn't one of them, which tells me that when I mentioned Toronto's transition, she thought about the Dilks trade on the fly. Despite being a touch embarrassed (which I know wasn't her intent), I was impressed.

Marisa's ultimate goal is to get a degree in journalism and then cover the Red Sox and Bruins for ESPN. There are thousands of people out there who share similar goals, and a good chunk of them likely have created blogs to get some experience and hone their craft. But I suspect the number of them who write for four different blogs, do two radio shows, and have press passes for the NHL, NLL, and minor league baseball years before even finishing high school is much lower.

Perhaps this article will be the first of many to cover this up-and-coming sports reporter. Hopefully she remembers me when she's rich and famous.