Wednesday, December 20, 2006

My Stressful Month

The last four weeks have been rather stressful for me.

The week of November 20 - 26:

I was studying for my chemistry tests. I did some practice tests and found that some of the stuff looked unfamiliar. It was the opposite to Deja vu. Deja vu is the feeling you've experienced something before when you haven't actually experienced it. But with my studying I know I had seen that stuff before, and answered similar questions but it looked so new and unfamiliar. I didn't do very well on the practice tests. That got me more stressed.

The week of November 27 - December 3:

I wrote the chemistry midterm on Tuesday and the final exam on Thursday. When I walked out I thought maybe I got something in the mid seventies for a mark. The waiting game began. I figured it would take anywhere between one and two weeks for me to get my marks back to find out if I passed.

On the Friday there was a terrible ice storm. When I got home the power was out. Most of the family had gone to bed. Not everyone though. Enough people stayed up to create enough noise to keep me awake. And without electricity I can't turn on my noise-cancelers (fan(s) and dehumidifier) so I could hear all the noise upstairs. I couldn't sleep. So I went upstairs just to hang out. At about 10:30pm people got up from their naps and at 11:00pm the power came back on. So the family wasn't tired so they stayed up to clean the kitchen. Cleaning the kitchen involves dropping lots of things on the floor. Anything that happens on the kitchen floor is amplified in the basement. That includes dropping things on the floor, foot steps, the dog's toe-nails, chairs rolling, the dog lying down and his dog-tags hitting the floor, etc.

I started feeling a little tickle in the back of my throat. Both Robin and Bruce had terrible colds. I figured I was getting it. At 2:00am I went to bed.

On Saturday I woke up with a sore throat. It got worse throughout the day.

On Sunday I woke up without a voice. We were having a bunch of people over in the afternoon so I knew that sleep then would be a fruitless endeavor. I skipped church.

The week of December 4 - 10:

The cold from Hades. I have never missed school or work for a cold. I took three days off. I don't get sick days at work so taking time off is kinda a big deal.
I continued playing the waiting game, and wondering if my cold really was just a cold. Colds don't normally knock me out like that.
On Satuday I got my chemistry marks. I passed with flying colours.

The week of December 11 - 17:

Monday: Have my transcript sent from Athabasca University to Algoma University to prove that I passed chemistry.

The the waiting game for the transcript to arrive. As soon as Algoma gets my transcript they will write me a letter saying that I have completed all requirements for a B.Sc. in Computer Science and will receive my degree in the summer. Once I get that then I take it to HR, they put a date on my contract, I sign it, and I have a one year job.

Also, on Monday I came home to a flooded basement. That took time to clean up.

On Thursday we hear there's a new hiring freeze at work. I hope this doesn't effect me. I'm told it won't.

Thursday is also the first night of Bruce's art show. This required me to be out slightly later than I would normally like to be out. Of course, normally that wouldn't bother me at all, but when you're sick, even with a cold, you still want to get to bed earlier, not later.

On Friday my transcript arrives at Algoma. The guy at Algoma tells me he could probably have me the needed letter by the new year. I tell him that's a little late and I could loose my job over it. He gets me the letter Friday night.

I wait out the weekend so I can take the letter to HR first thing Monday morning.

Friday is also the second and final night of the art show. This involved a post-art show clean up, which got me home pretty late. I want some sleep!

The week of December 18 - 24:

On Monday I take the letter to HR. They tell me because there's a hiring freeze the paper work for my hiring has to go through a bunch of hoops. I might not have a job next week. I'm told it will take two days to find out.
It is now Wednesday at 3:30pm. I haven't heard back yet. As far as I know I only have a job for 2 more days.

I still have a bit of a cough, but I don't know if it's left over from the cold or if there's mold in the basement. It seems to be worse when I'm down there. I can't smell any mold or anything. I just seem to cough more down there. But that could all be in my head.

Monday, December 18, 2006


I have a problem. I procrastinate. I don't think I'm alone on this. I think lots of people procrastinate. Today's link is Procrastination: Ten Things To Know. Students know what I'm talking about. A student's room is always cleanest around exam time. It has been scientifically proven that without a doubt it is impossible to study for an exam if there is so much as a dirty sock carelessly placed out of sight under the bed, or if any pictures aren't hung perfectly straight.

Why, right now I'm procrastinating from studying for my chemistry tests next week. I have my midterm on Tuesday and the exam on Thursday. So I have a double whammy of procrastinationitis.

I find the problem with procrastination is that not only do you not get what you want/need to do done, but you don't get anything at all done.

When I say "you" I really mean "me."

Allow you to explain:

I always have a to-do list. I prioritize my to-dos. The top of the list is the highest priority, and the bottom of the list is lowest. Now, if the top of the list is something I want to do then that implies that I have nothing I need to do. That has happened about twice in the last 10 years. Being in school generally means there is stuff I have to do that I'd rather not do.

Most of the time my number one priority is something I'd rather not do, like study chemistry. Now, my number two item may be something I'd like to do, like read a good book. So my gut tells me "read the book!" but my head says "Don't do it! You have to study chemistry."

I can't, in good conscience, read the book when a higher priority item is waiting to be done. So I end up doing neither. I check my email every two minutes. I read articles on /. that I normally wouldn't read. I write useless introspective blog entries about things like procrastination. I look for new widgets for my Opera web browser. I clean my room. I watch shows I wouldn't normally take the time to watch.

So I do things that aren't even on the priority list, while the whole list suffers. That's the worst of it. I'd rather read the book at the expense of chemistry. Sure, my chemistry won't be done, but at least the book would be read.

Friday, December 15, 2006

How's the Weather Down There?

So I'm finally recovering from my cold now. My voice is slowly coming back. My nasal congestion is slowly clearing. So today my plan was to come home from work and finally take it easy, breath (somewhat) clearly.

Instead I come home and there's Bruce and Robin greeting me. They tell me "We're evicting you from the basement."


"There was a flood in the kitchen which caused it to rain in the basement."


I walk into the kitchen and the floor is all shiny. It looks like it had been cleaned. They lead me down to the basement. They have all these buckets set up collecting water. Sopping wet towels strewn all over the place. As I approached the bottom of the stairs to the basement I realized taking my socks off would be a good idea.

The rugs downstairs are all wet. My boxes of books are wet. Some of my papers are wet. My Pocket Idiot's Guide To Chemistry is wet. Thankfully the water missed my computer and other electronics, my guitar, and my bedroom cubicle.

The couch in the basement is two thirds wet and one third dry. So we spent the evening cleaning it all up, moving the drenched rugs upstairs to dry off. We have 4 or 5 fans running downstairs. The dehumidifier is working overtime.

It turns out that a connection in the pipe that takes water to the dishwasher corroded away. The pipe came undone, and wanter was just shooting out of the pipe into the cupboard under the kitchen sink, onto the kitchen floor, and down into the basement.

Right now we have a fruit fly infestation. They mostly hang out around the kitchen sink. In order to get rid of them we can't leave food lying out, or dirty dishes in the sink. So now there's a requirement to do dishes ASAP instead of letting them sit in the sink until whenever.

Now we're washing all the dishes by hand until we can get the pipe fixed.

That'll learn me to make plans to relax in the evening.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Emails (Part 2)

In my previous post I talked about the new communication world existing on the internet. Today I'd like to concentrate on Email and the way people use it.

In my line of work communication by email is essential and frequent. I always hear about people saying that they have hundreds of emails to get through. I say "Hundreds? How do you get so many?!"

They say "Well, most of that is spam."

I get plenty of spam at home, but manage to avoid a lot of it at work. I know a number of emails that come in aren't really emails to worry about. Someone might email me asking me to do something. So I do it, and email them saying "The job is done." Then they email me back saying "Thanks!" I don't have to worry about that email. It takes less than a second to read, then it gets deleted.

But I've noticed a trend in email communication that leads to my hypothesis about why people have so much darned email and I have such little. It's this:

People don't read their emails!

Allow me to explain how this leads to more emails.

I email person A with three questions, 1, 2, and 3. Two days later I receive a reply from A with an answer to question 1, and if I'm lucky, a half-answer to question 2. The half-answer is the sort of answer that shows that A didn't really read question 2, so they don't know what's really being asked. They see a couple of words, assume they know what's being asked, and answer that question. Then they leave question 3 completely ignored.

Then I get the email back. I read it and am satisfied with answer 1, confuzzeled by answer 2, and frustrated by the lack of answer 3.

So then I have to email them back clarifying q 2, and re-asking q 3. Then they reply with the answer to q 2. Q 3 is again ignored. At this point I feel like if I email them again with q 3 I'm just bothering them. After all, they already had two chances to answer q 3, but chose to ignore it. Maybe they had a reason to ignore them. It would be nice if they just said something like "I'm sorry, but I don't know the answer to q 3 at this time."

But its happened often enough, socially, in school, in most of the places I've worked that I think it's not just a small group of people who don't do well with email. The problem seems to be pretty wide spread.

I've also found that if there's any explanations that go with my emails that increases the odds of the recipient being confused. Example:

Take Joe, an imaginary software development group leader. This means he was probably once a computer programmer. As a computer programmer, it should go without saying he knows what "Windows" means, what "departmental software" is, what an "upgrade" is, etc. I shouldn't have to explain any technical terms to him. I should just say who I am, what I'm doing, what I want, and what I want from him.

My email to Joe:
"Hello Joe,

I'm working on the team that's upgrading the department's computers. Soon you'll be receiving a new computer with the latest version of Windows on it. Before we do that, we'll need to know what departmental software you require installed on your computer, as well as make backups of your 'My Documents' folder, as well as any other data you need transfered to your new computer.

Would you please provide me with a list of departmental software you need installed on your computer.

Also, would you please tell me how much storage space your My Documents folder uses?



A week later, Joe's reply:
"Hello Andrew,

I don't know why you want to wash my windows. I don't even have windows. I work in a cubicle in the middle of the floor. The nearest window to me is three rows over, and it just faces a brick wall. I don't even have a door, just an opening where the cubicle walls don't touch.

Hope this helps.

-=Joe, project leader in software development"

This bothers me on three counts:

  1. Now I have to write back, disguising my derision trying not to call Joe an idiot, or an illiterate. (Incidentally, Joe is the 17th person to write back with just as stupid a reply.)

  2. As a student I can't help but think "Why am I still a student, and how did this guy get to where he is?!" If that's the kind of knowledge and reading comprehension that gets someone to be a project leader in software development, then with my skills I should be taking over for Bill Gates when he leaves Microsoft. But I'm stuck as a student, making student wages, doing student work.

  3. He ignored my second question.

Of course, this means I have to write an email to Joe again, this time explaining in great detail everything he should know. I'll have to re-ask the second question, which will be ignored, so I'll have to ask again.

Now, it's reasonable to assume Joe handles most of his emails like this. So lots of people have to do what I now have to do with Joe. I have to write a total of three emails, when one should have sufficed. If Joe has a team of five people, and one supervisor, that's six more people he has to communicate with. In a given time period each of those people has to send him an email with two questions each, and he goes through the same process with each of them as he does with me. Where seven emails (including mine) should have been enough, 21 are actually required.

Joe now complains, along with his underlings and his supervisor, that he has too much darned email. He also might say "Since I get so many emails everyday I don't have time to read each word in every single email!" Yet, if he did read his emails all the way through, allowing for proper comprehension he could cut down his email load by a factor of three. That reduction would save more time than it would cost to read each email.

That's my theory.

Do you get a lot of emails every day? Are you reading all of each (non-spam) email, or are you just getting the gist of it? (Or more accurately, do you just think you're getting the gist of it?)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Emails (Part 1)

The ubiquity of the personal computer with the addition of the internet, and more specifically, the world wide web have changed the way we think about communication. Older methods of communication have not been replaced by new methods. Instead new methods still exist and will continue to exist for quite some time. Allow me to illustrate.

15 years ago few people had the internet in their homes. High Speed internet in the home was unheard of. Real time duplex communication was achieved with the telephone. Long term duplex communication was achieved with letters. Faxes were used, as were ham radios. Simplex communication came through newspapers, radio, and television. (Reciprocal communication came in through phone calls and letters to the editor.)

All of those options still exist, and still serve the same purposes. The web has introduced new methods of communication: instant messaging, chat rooms, email, VOIP, and blogs. (Some older methods of Simplex communication have found a new medium on the web, but remain ultimately the same.)

Email does not replace snail mail. Emails tend to be short, quick, informal, and not much special. Letters are still more formal, and a much bigger deal. Having a correspondence with a member of the opposite sex via email is nice, but it somehow doesn't reach half the excitement of a snail mail correspondence, especially when email is open to her as an option.

Instant messaging does not replace phone calls. Instant messaging only works when the other is there. And just because the other person is there doesn't mean you have to talk. The phone works when the other person isn't there. The phone rings and we run like Ben Johnson to get it because heaven forfend we might miss a call. Missing someone on an instant messaging service is no big deal.

Okay, okay. I admit VOIP might replace the traditional phone. But, again, that's simply a new medium for an old communication method.

Chat rooms aren't new to the internet, but certainly increased in scope and popularity with the net. Chat rooms have existed on BBSs for a while now.

And, of course there are blogs. Blogs are a new kind of journalism. Without blogs how could someone like me, with little spelling or grammatical talent, be published anywhere? And here I publish as often as I like! And you can give immediate feedback. And I can write about whatever I wish. One day I write about how the McQueen's car has broken down. The next day I might share a pet peeve. The next day I may expound on an implication of my observation that your average person can't assemble a home-stereo system when left to their own intellect.

Naturally some people and some companies are a little behind the times. Some don't have emails. Where I work instant messaging is a nay-nay, but email is a necessity. I think in today's day and age email is a necessity for most people living in an information oriented society. (In other words, I don't hold it against the Amazonian pygmy for not having an email address.) But some people still have trouble with dealing with email. I'll get to that in my next post.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I'm dying

Yes, I'm dying. Of what? The common cold.

"The common cold?!" you say.

I say "Yes. The common cold."

Allow me to explain.

As far as I know I don't have any immune system depressors like AIDS or the flu or anything, it's just the way things go.

(BTW: This blog post assumes I have passed chemistry and there will be no problems having the credit applied to my Algoma University transcript in time for me to get bridged in at work without loosing my benefits for the next six months. If that doesn't happen, then don't worry. I'll survive. I'll be here for quite some time.)

When I was five years old my mother put me on a big yellow bus and sent me off to school. That was 23 years ago. And ever since then there has never been a time when I did not have school to look forward to. For the next twelve years I looked forward to graduating from high school. Then I went to college. But then I failed out and had to start college over again. Meanwhile I took a year off and did manual labour in Toronto. Then I returned to college and have been in school ever since.

Mind you, only the first four years after my year off was I a full time student. I tried my hand at aviation for another year. Then I switched into Computer Engineering Technology. That was a three year program. After that I started working at the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. While working there I decided to get my university degree. So I started going to school part time.

Ever since then I have not had very few moments where I have asked myself "What should I do now?" and the answer comes back "Andrew, anything you want!" In fact, in the past four and a half years I have only had that privilege for two days.

Last week, on Thrusday, I wrote my final exam in chemistry. If I did well on that, and the midterm which I wrote on Tuesday, then I should have had that priviledge ever since then.

Fat chance! Long story, which I won't go into here, but sleep was rare on the weekend, but disease was abundant. Both Robin and Bruce have been suffering with terrible colds. I somehow managed to stay healthy for exam time. But the day after I wrote the exam I got the cold. And let me tell you, it's a doosey. I have never missed work or school because of a cold before, except for one time. But here I am, at home instead of work for the second day in a row. (Did I mention I don't get sick days at work, so I either have to loose a day's pay, or make up the time.)

One time in university, when I was no longer working at MNR, the end of the semester was approaching. At the time I was doing some private contracting work for someone. But due to exams, assignments, etc. I wasn't able to do that much work for him. But I wasn't too worried because soon the semester woud be over and I would have a couple of weeks before the next semester started. The up coming semester was mostly a discrete math class. Up until this point I had been a math whiz, discrete, calculus, you name it, I was one of the best Sault College had. So, an easy discrete math class wouldn't be much to worry about, right?

Wrong. First, as exam week set in I got a cold. That should have been gone by the end of the week. Colds generally stick around for a week. After the first week instead of going away it got worse. Much worse. I got a sinus infection. I had never had a sinus infection before. It was brutal. It was incapacitating. I could only look at a computer monitor for so long. (About five minutes max.)

By the time the sinus infection cleared up and I could get down to work, the semester started and that math class turned out to be the third hardest class I have ever taken. Mostly due to a text book that wasn't worth the paper it was written on, and a professor who's such a bad teacher he probably couldn't teach his kids to tie their shoes. To do well in math I need either a good teacher or a good text book. I had neither. Class was three hours a day Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. Normally you do three hours a week for a university class. So, needless to say I was very busy. Once that was over I moved to Ottawa for the first time. Life in Ottawa is always busy.

So, what does that have to do with me dying? Well, I think the universe was so intricately designed so that I could never have productive free time without having to think about returning to school. If I did, nuclei would start flying apart. Black holes would start spewing stuff instead of sucking stuff in. The laws of physics would reverse and the universe would simply end.

The only way around it is to kill me off. So, I love you all (except for my looser math prof in university and the dean of my university who made me take chemistry by correspondence through Athabasca. I don't love you.)

Yes, I know this is a whiny pity party and I'm just feeling sorry for myself and I'm being way over-dramatic, but if there's one time you can do that, it's when you're sick.

UPDATE: I got my chemistry test results back and I did quite well. Better than I thought. Much. And here I am, over a week since I started feeling sick, still feeling sick. So it's official. I'm dying.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I Am Getting Sleepy....

Here I sit at work on a Monday morning. It can be said that I have a case of the Mondays.

On week days I have to get up at 5:30am. This means I should really go to bed at about 9:30. That's a hard habit to get into. Then Friday and Saturday nights come and I get to bed at 1:00am. Then Sunday night returns and I make the 9:30am attempt. By this point I'm quite used to going to bed late, not early. This makes it hard to get to sleep on Sunday night, and twice as hard to get up Monday morning. This makes for a very tired me on Monday.

So, I find myself sitting at my desk fighting off sleep. I have four options:

  1. Continue sitting here trying, in a futile attempt, to stay awake. In reality my productivity will be near zero until at least after lunch. However, it will most likely get worse after lunch.

  2. Take a quick power-nap at my desk. This has two possible outcomes:

    1. I get caught which probably gets me in trouble. In a lot of places, one would get fired for that.

    2. I don't get caught. After about 20 or 30 minutes I wake up rested and refreshed. I have high productivity for the rest of the day.

  3. Go for another break to get some caffeine. I went for one break already to get a begal and a cup of tea. The tea isn't doing much to wake me up. I need something with more kick, like Coffee. (Please, no comments about how tea has more caffeine than coffee does. It's more complicated than that.) Of course, this comes with a risk of catching wind for taking too many breaks.

  4. Blog about it.

Obviously, I chose option 4. Although once I'm done the blog I'll be left with the three other choices.

The best option is really number 2. But the problem with that is the lack of understanding about sleep and how it works. Most people know as much about sleep as they do about nuclear chemistry. I have studied both at the university level and have concluded that sleep, or chronopsychology, is much much much much easier to learn about and understand than nuclear chemistry. Most of us sleep at least once every day, yet most people know very little about it.

For example, did you know that 30 minutes of sleep is not only quantitatively different, but also qualitatively different than 90 minutes of sleep? 3 thirty minute naps is not the same as 1 ninety minute nap.

Sleep happens in cycles of 90 minutes. There are a total of five stages of sleep in a cycle. They are called Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, Stage 4 and REM sleep. Each stage is different from the others.

With 20 minute power-naps you can get into stages 1 and 2 sleep. That's good enough to give a bit of an energy boost, shave off a bit of fatigue, and feel a bit more refreshed and/or motivated. But you can't survive on it. You need stages 4 and REM to be fully rested.

With each cycle throughout the night you get different amounts of each stage. Your first two REM cycles are relatively short. Then they get longer, and your stages 3 and 4 get shorter.

How much sleep you need depends on a lot of factors including, but not limited to age, diet, physical health, hormone levels, amount of bright light and when you see that bright light.

It's also perfectly natural to take a short nap in the early afternoon.

This is just one of the many things every one should know, but few do. Anyway, I encourage you to visit The Sleep Foundation and learn a bit about sleep, and the circadian rhythm. It's a well done site with lots of information presented in an interesting and captivating way. (As long as you have Flash.)

As far as my dilemma, my employer is somewhat relaxed about these things. A second coffee break in the morning certainly wouldn't be a problem. Furthermore, I tend to stay for an extra hour and 15 minutes every day, and I'm usually caught up with my work. If productivity became a problem then I'd certainly have to look at my schedule, and daily practices, but at this point it's working. If it ain't broke, why fix it?

Here's another site with some information on sleep.

UPDATE: Apparently, the French Minister of Health wants to launch a study into the benefits of napping at work. Finally! Someone with the right idea!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Selective Memory

Sometimes I can have a real head for details; remembering them, that is. I have oft amazed friends with my ability to remember some minute details of something that happened years ago. (Although, this seems to have slowed down the last few years.) This only seems to apply to unimportant facts. Remembering things for school can still be quite a task.

There are a plethora of examples for me to choose from, but you get the point. I remember things, and people have sometimes been amazed at my memory.

One time just before I left Sault Ste. Marie for a semester, a pop machine at Algoma University ate my money. It was late Friday afternoon. Everything was closed at the time, and the next time anything would be opened would be Monday. But by Monday I would be in a different city for four months. I was never going to reclaim my money. Oh well. It was only $1.75.

Then, four months later when I returned to the Sault I went to a pop machine at Algoma, put my money in, hit the water button and got two bottles of water. This happened quite often with one of the machines. I would always return one bottle to the cafeteria. But this time I kept it.

I recounted the story to a friend later. I said "I only paid for one and the machine game me two. But just before I left last semester that other machine ate my money. I figure we're even now. Over the last four months I paid for two drinks, and I got two drinks. They owe me this second drink."

My friend made some comment implying I was cheap and/or petty for remembering such a small thing.

What I want to know is when I remember the birthday of some guy I just met once five years ago I have a great memory. But when I remember that a pop machine ate my money four months ago, I'm a cheap-skate?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Nation of Quebec

I know who won the war of 1812, but could somebody please tell me who won the Battle of the Plains of Abraham?

Monday, November 20, 2006

Shhhh! They Might Be Listening

Someone recently implied I was naive for thinking that we have better protection of civil liberties and privacy in Canada than what they have in the states.

A group called Privacy International has ranked 37 countries on privacy. Canada was #2. The USA ranked #30.

If you want to know the rest, you'll just have to read the article.

Of course, the article (or the data therein) could be filtered, or just plain made-up. Who knows.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Much Ado About Evidence

Here's a scenario for you to ponder, and hopefully respond to. Hows about we get some discussion going here?


You're charged with a crime you didn't commit. In actual fact, someone framed you. Let's say, a murder. Someone framed you for murder. The person who framed you was very smart and they managed to remove all evidences of their guilt, and substitute those evidences for evidences of your guilt.

So, you're arrested. You under-go psychological examinations. It's found that you're very capable of going to trial. You show absolutely no signs of mental defect. (What ever that means.) So then you go to trial. The prosecution starts laying out the evidence against you, and it's damning. You sit there with your jaw on the floor at the amount of evidence against you. They somehow got some DNA evidence against you!

When it's time for the defense to present, you have no alibi, you have no counter evidence. You have no reasonable doubt. You're entire defense is "Honest! I didn't do it! Please, you have to believe me!"

In the world there are two people who know in actual fact that you didn't commit the crime, it was the other guy: you and him. Everyone else hears the evidence and has to judge on that. Perhaps some people know you and say "[S]He could never do that!" (But then think of all the people who get locked away for murder who's neighbours say "He was a quiet man who seemed harmless. This took us all by surprise.")

(If you think that everyone who's in jail is guilty, you're living in a freaking dream world! Even in Canada due to interrogation methods there are people who are locked away because they confessed to a crime that they didn't commit. And let's not even talk about other nations!)

So, tell me, what should people believe? Should people believe you just because you say you didn't do it? Should people believe the evidence? What should the jury do? What should the judge do?

At what point do you accept the evidence and say "Given the evidence, it's clear I'm as guilty as sin."? Does this mean you refute the results of the psychological tests? Do you continue to be adamant about your innocence?

In other words, how much stock do you put in the evidence?

What should happen? Should you be let go? Should you spend your life rotting in prison? Or, just 25 years? Or fried?

Monday, November 06, 2006

I Don't Know What I Don't Know, And Neither Do You.

I think it was Plato who said something to the effect of "wisdom starts when you realize how much you don't know." After my many years of school, I have learned a lot. I see how much more I haven't learned, therefore how much I don't know. It seems for every thing I learn I find there's about 5 things that I didn't know that I didn't know.

Now, there are a number of people I'm sure who will admit that there's lots they don't know. It may be that they merely give intellectual assent to that notion. They may actually believe it. But I wonder how many think of the implications of not knowing what they don't know, or not knowing what they don't know that they don't know.

I have a few examples of this in mind. I might get around to them in future blog posts, but for now I'll leave you with one example.

Earlier, I posted a link to an article which said the U.N. weapons inspector said that the war in Iraq is a "pure failure" and the Iraqis were better-off under Saddam. As you may have guessed if you read that post that I'm not a huge fan of Bush. I won't explain why, for two reasons, one of which is that I don't want this blog to be a political site, and the other I'll explain in a minute.

Somebody had read that post and said to me something to the effect of "That weapons inspector doesn't know what he's talking about," or "That weapons inspector doesn't know everything."
It occurred to me later "wait a sec...this guy thinks he knows more about that situation than the U.N. weapons inspector?"

See, there's lots we'll never hear about the war in Iraq, or a whole host of other political and non-political issues. What we do hear is filtered at least through some bias, and possibly through the Pentagon. There are only a small handful of people on this planet who know enough about that situation to actually have a valid, educated opinion on that situation. The U.N. weapons inspector may be one of them. I don't know. What I do know is that I'm not one of them (the second reason I don't want to put my reasons for Bushpobia on this blog). And, unless my friend is living a double life where he's actually a spy or something, he's probably not in that small handful of people either.

I know most people who read this blog regularly. (Would you believe I get under 1000 hits per day?) Now, I don't know what you know. But, there is a very low statistical probability that anyone reading this blog actually knows enough to have a valid, informed, educated opinion about the war in Iraq. (I, personally think Bush went in to Avenge daddy. But I don't know what Bush knows. Bush may have had actual good reasons that he's not telling anybody. Reasons other than WMDs.)

What's this you say? "That's the beauty of opinions, you don't need to know all the facts to have one."

Let me ask you this. What's your reaction to someone who shoots his mouth off to you about something they clearly know nothing about, but something you know about? (Like that guy I met who tried telling me, and another computer science student how it was because he worked at a call center that told people how to reboot their cable modems.) My reaction is usually "What a donkey. They don't know what they're talking about." Then what they have to say, on other topics, loses credibility.

Now think of someone you know who, instead of having something to say about everything, says "You know, I don't know," to some things. You think "That person is willing to admit they don't know." It lends credence to what they say when they actually have something to say.

Decide which person you want to be.

And keep in mind, both Tony Robbins and Tyler Durden say "Stop trying to be perfect!" which implies the statement "Stop trying to know everything!"

Of course, this forces me to examine what I know about. Precious little. Even what I do know about, I know very little.

It also raises the question of how I know what I know. Most of it is by authority. When you go to school, you get mostly authoritative knowledge. Stuff in text books and lectures. Some would say experience is a better teacher than any classroom. I'm not sure about that. When it comes to complicated things like relationships you might have patterns that direct all your relationships, and therefor your learning and knowledge on the subject. For example, if you're co-dependent then that will shape you're relationships and you'll learn completely different things than someone who has hermit tendencies.

Also, when it comes to a skill....I'm still skeptical. Why can I write better HTML/CSS code than some people who have been doing it much longer than I? And furthermore, why do I keep changing tenses in this post?

Then there's the confirmation bias. You pay attention to evidence that backs up what you already believe, and mitigate the evidence that runs contrary to what you believe. If you're predisposed to like Bush, then you will find reasons to like him, and evidence that what he's doing is good. If you don't then you'll find evidence that he's just messed things up and doesn't know what he's doing.

And, of course, the whole thing assumes you're not insane, or in a giant Matrix-esque machine.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Firefox 2.0 Review

I just downloaded Firefox 2.0. It doesn't support display: inline-block yet. I'm disappointed. (However, it does have a built-in spell checker, which is the sole reason I spelled 'disappointed' properly.)

The War in Iraq

I saw this the other day. All I have to say is: Wow. That's not much of an endorsement for Bush.

Well, it's not like people didn't know. Almost half of all Americans knew. (But, then almost half of Americans didn't feel the need to avenge daddy.)

How much longer do we have?

Monday, October 23, 2006

They Can't Do That On Television!

I'm watching an old episode of You Can't Do That On Television. It's the Popularity episode from 1982. Christine 'Moose' McGlade said "I don't know" and didn't get slimed!

For those who don't know, on You Can't Do That On Television if you ever say "water" or "wet" you suddenly find yourself doused in water from above. If you ever say "I don't know" you get slimed. But it didn't happen this time.

You can download the episode at Barth's Burgery.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Wake Up! It's Time To Go To Bed!

What's the deal with circadian rythms?

This is how it works: The circadian rhythm is your daily bodily cycle, from the latin "circa" and "dies" for "around the day." It's controlled by your body temperature. When your temperature rises you wake up and become more alert. When your temperature lowers, you get sleepy.

When you wake up in the morning your temperature rises. It continues to rise until afternoon. Then it drops a bit. That's the afternoon lull you feel. It rises again into the evening. Then it falls, you get sleepy and go to bed.

The circadian rhythm and be somewhat manipulated by your behavior. Taking a hot bath warms you up, then your body says "Hey, I'm too hot. I need to cool down." You cool down, and get sleepy. If you take a cold shower the opposite happens.

Another thing is your diet. If you eat carbohydrates then your brain releases a chemical called sarotonin. That makes you sleepy. You can minimize the afternoon lull by avoiding carbs at lunch.

But what I want to know is why is my afternoon lull ten times worse than at night? I try to avoid carbs at lunch, but I'm not very good at it. After lunch my lull is usually pretty strong. In the afternoon I have slept through a jackhammer being operated downstairs. I can sleep upright in a chair. I have slept through an air-horn being blown mere feet away from me. I can sleep in bright lights, in heat, cold, anything it seems. Coffee or Pepsi sometimes help, but not always.

At night I need everything to be dark and quiet in order to get any sleep at all. Someone else's music, a bit of talking, the TV, someone walking around above me, the pulsating light on my laptop battery, anything keeps me awake.

I'd sure like to reverse that. I'd like to go to bed and immediately fall asleep at night, and last quiet easily through the afternoon without the aid of substances.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

A Brave New World Wide Web (Part II)


Now that Internet Explorer 7 has been released I'm excited, right?

One thing I didn't count on was that it's not available for Windows 2000, which is what we use at work. We should be getting XP soon.

Anyway, you can download it here.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Some Folks Have All The Luck

This morning I printed out my final lab reports, put them in an envelope and sent them to Athabasca University. That's the official end to the labs. I sent the lab kit back yesterday.

I am happy to report I have walked away with all of my fingers intact, my eye brows are both there, and the McQueen's house suffered no damage.

A house out in Vankleek Hill wasn't so lucky. I don't think they've found the cause. Some have speculated a natural gas leak, or a meth. lab. I suspect it was some poor kid who's university canceled a chemistry course, and had to take it by correspondence through Athabasca. He wasn't as lucky as I with his labs.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

It Sure didn't Take Long, Did It?

Well, gang, it sure didn't take long. IE 7 has been out for less than 24 hours, and the first security hole has been found.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Firefox 2.0

Soon Firefox 2.0 will be released. Oddly enough, I'm not as excited about this as I am about IE 7. For such an anti-Microsoft guy, you'd think it would be the opposite, wouldn't you?

Well, the reason is this: I'm not excited as a user. I'm excited as a developer. IE 7 means I can stop using so many freaking hacks. Writing for IE 6 and for the standards is like writing for two separate standards.

Firefox already has good compliance. I would like to see greater compliance. There are a few things Firefox doesn't support. I'd like to see that more than new add-ons.

But that's just me.

A Brave New World Wide Web

Apparently Internet Explorer 7.0 comes out today, October 18. (I'm writing this on the 17th.) And I, for one, can't wait.

With it's increased standards compliance I can start to forget about developing for v6. True, at work I'll have to still develop for v6 until we adopt v7, which at the government rate will be about 2008. (We'll be upgrading to XP soon.)

IE7 also has tabbed browsing. I've heard it isn't implemented as well as it is in Firefox or Opera. In Firefox I group related bookmarks into a bookmark folder, then "Open In Tabs." For example, I have a bookmark folder called "Blogs" where I have all my blogs bookmarked. Then everyday, instead of manually opening each blog, I open the Blog bookmark folder, and at the bottom is an option "Open In Tabs" which I click. Then All the blogs open in the same browser in a different tab. I then read through them all, pressing ctrl+w to close the tab when I'm done with it. It makes for much nicer browsing experience. You should try it if you haven't yet.

Apparently security has really been increased for this next release. This is great news. Let me explain why.

You know all that spam you get every day? I've got news for you: some of that spam is there because some of your friends use Internet Explorer. IE can download malicious code without you even knowing about it, scan your address book and/or hard drive for email addresses. It then sends spam to those address. But it alters the From field in the email so you have no way of knowing that it came from your friend. (This method uses something called Active-X, something IE uses, but not Firefox, Opera, Camino, Konquror, Safari, etc.)

So, this brings IE to the point where Firefox was a couple years ago. A point of usability. This is odd. Microsoft is usually the first to come out with new and innovative ideas. They are the bleeding edge of technology.

Now I have to wonder how I feel about this. See, when Microsoft releases a piece of junk, then that can sometimes serve to drive people to find a good alternative. That's partly why IE no longer has > 90% market share. People have simply found that other browsers are better.

When Microsoft comes out with something that's not bad then people have much less reason to look around. This helps to secure their monopoly. (Now, I don't call IE 7 "good" because, as I said, it will be usable, as opposed to "good." It's just not bad. IE 6 is just plain bad.)

Microsoft, over the past couple of years or so, has started to learn that they're not the only people around. Open Source software poses a threat. Google poses a threat. Apple poses a threat, whether they realize it or not. (Don't believe me? Get a time machine. Go back 3 years and walk through a university campus. How many Macs do you see? Very few. Then come back to the present and walk through the same campus. Now how many do you see? Many more.)

Now, this new idea of playing friendly may be their way of getting people to hate them less so they can hold their monopoly longer, and therefore more strongly, then they can go back to their old monopolistic tricks.

I would like to see a world where data storage is open, and perhaps some interfaces are proprietary. For example, HTML is an open standard, but IE, which interprets HTML, is proprietary. OpenDoc Format is open. Word, OpenOffice, KOffice, etc. may be proprietary.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister, Dot)

Doesn't it seem strange to you that Yakko and Dot Warner have American accents, but the middle child, Wakko, has a Liverpool accent?

I could never figure that out.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Change is a Four Letter Word

It's funny how the meanings of words change over time.

"Nine-Eleven" used to refer to a Porsche.

"Bad" first meant "bad", then it meant "good". I'm not sure what it means now.

"Wicked" used to mean "evil" then it meant "awesome!"

Pimp used to refer to one who made a living off the sex-trade of others. Now it's a verb meaning to supe-up, upgrade, accessorize. You know, like Pimp My Ride, Pimp That Snack, Pimp My Com .com, Pimp MySpace, Pimp My Church, and for you Mac lovers: Pimp My Safari.

Just do a Google search for "Pimp my" and you'll get a ton of results that have nothing to do with prostitution.

A few weeks ago I was in CompuSmart killing time. This young woman walks in and starts looking at the Macs. I'm an unofficial Apple salesman, so I walk up to her and ask if she's thinking about getting one. She tells me her current Windows box is having trouble with "a rather cantankerous wireless network" and is getting old and may need replacing. So I launch into my sales routine where I start extolling the virtues of Macs.

As I'm showing her some of the stuff they can do, a CompuSmart salesman walks up and asks if he can help. This rather proper young woman says "Oh, he's just pimping your products."

On the flip side, "Ass" used to be a donkey. (There's a Christmas carol that has that word in it and I have to fight back laughter every time I sing it in church.) Apparently some of our swear words used to be clean words, like @#$@, and ^&#$.

Can you think of any other words that have changed meanings over the years?

You Can't Legislate Morality

One of the advantages to going to school for ten years is that you learn a lot of stuff. One of the advantages to going to university, as opposed to college, is that you learn lots of stuff that has nothing to do with your major. Some people really don't want to learn anything except their area of concentration. Electives are mere annoyances in their "education." Whereas I've always enjoyed my electives. Often times, more so than my concentration subjects.

As a result, I've taken a number of law classes in university. I think it's fair to say that I know more about Canadian law that your average Joe. (I'm no lawyer, nor do I know very many specifics. I mostly know how it works. I don't know a lot, but your average Joe knows very little. One guy kept trying to convince we don't have the right to remain silent when arrested in Canada. We certainly do. It's in the consitituion and case law (Ibrahim v. The King.))

There are two theories of law that I'm aware of: positive law and natural law. The natural law theory says that laws come from a sense of right and wrong that we all inherently have. Positive law theory says that something is law because the powers-that-be said so; made law to keep order, not because it's right or morally superior.

Law, as a whole, is a combination of the two. Some laws are obviously positive law, like driving on the right side of the road instead of the left. Driving on the right side is not morally superior to driving on the left. We need to have a side, the actual side is arbitrary, but in Canada we drive on the right. If everyone obeys that law then order is kept.

But where people, mostly Christians, get confused when dealing with law is they assume that laws that have a moral component come from the natural law as opposed to positive law. Take killing. Murder is wrong, and murder happens to be against the law. But (and this is the sixty four thousand dollar question) is murder against the law because it's wrong, or because without it on the books chaos would erupt?

Imagine a society where murder was not illegal, but was still understood by most to be wrong. Or, where it is illegal, but not enforced by the state. Person A murders Person B for whatever reason. It may be justifiable, it may not. It probably is justifiable in the eyes of Person A, but probably not to Person B's son, Person C. Person C then goes and administers justice and kills Person A. Justice has been done, right? Well, not in the eyes of Person D, Person A's son, who administers justice on Person C. And it goes on and on.

Eventually what will happen is that revenge-for-hire businesses pop up; officially or unofficially (like the mafia). Now you have two groups administering justice; the state for all official crimes, and the other groups for the unofficial crimes, like murder. But the unofficial groups are unofficial and can't be controlled. The government can be voted out, or revolted against. It seems inevitable that the unofficial groups would come into conflict with each other.

What we end up with is chaos. It's the same thing for other natural law things like stealing, raping, etc.

But, as long as you make those things illegal and enforce those laws then you can have some semblance of order.

The sooner you realize this, the sooner Canadian law, indeed most constitutional laws, make more sense. When it comes to the same-sex marriage debate, sure you may say it's a wrong life style, and shouldn't have been made legal; Canada shouldn't be condoning, much less celebrating immoral life-styles. But what does morality have to do with the law?

There are a few laws left on the books that seem to have roots in morality rather than order-keeping. The one the comes to mind are the euthenasia laws. If I were a betting man I'd be willing to bet my entire student loan that the euthenasia laws will be struck down in my life time.

Can anyone else think of any laws that exist purely for morality reasons?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

You Know You Have a Problem When You Postpone A Trip To The Emergency Room For A Sports Game

The other day I heard the following conversation:

Person 1: Have you been watching the games lately?

Person 2: Yeah.

Person 1: Are you a Team A fan?

Person 2: Oh no! I hate Team A! I'm a Team B fan. Always have been.

To you sports fans, that may seem like a normal conversation, but to a non-sports fan, like myself, it seemed funny. I wanted to add to it at that point:

Me: Yeah, me too. I really hate Team A! That lousy bunch of jerks! After what they did to me and my family! I'll never forgive them!

One of my favorite exchanges is in a movie called "A Bronx Tale." It takes place in between Sonny and "C". Sonny, a neighbourhood tough mafia-esque type is teaching C (a nine year old boy) some life lessons. Sonny asks about C's fascination with Mickey Mantle. The year was 1960. One hundred thousand dollars was a lot of money.

Sonny: What are you, a Yankee Fan?

C: Yeah.

Sonny: So you must be pretty upset after the Yankees lost.

C: Bill Mazeroski, I hate him. He made Mickey Mantle cry. The papers said the Mick cried.

Sonny: Mickey Mantle? Is that what you're upset about? Mickey Mantle makes $100 000/year. How much does your father make?

C: I don't know.

Sonny: You don't know. If your father can't pay the rent, go ask Mickey Mantle. See what he tells you. Mickey Mantle don't care about you, so why should you care about him? Nobody cares.

C - as the narrator: "From that day on, I never felt the same way about the Yankees again."

While that may not be that actual reason I don't care about sports, it certainly validates my feelings - or lack thereof.

From an outsider's perspective, sports fans can seem a little obsessive. In psychology when one thinks one has a problem, like the OC disorder the question that's asked to find out if it's at a problematic stage is "Does it interfere with normal day-to-day living?" I'd say when you postpone a trip to the emergency room because the game is still on, you have a problem.

I could write for pages and pages on it, but since Ottawa is a big sports city, especially hockey, I'm afraid I might make too many people irate. And the last thing you want is people with problematic psychological disordes being really angry with you.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Some People Need A Hobby

Now, I'm all for giving to those that which is due them, and protecting creators of creative work from others hijacking their work and calling it their own. I'm glad we have copyright, and other IP laws protecting creators.

But, I think that we have gone too far. By "we", of course, I mean lawyers and corporate types. Most notably the RIAA who have taken to suing their customers. I think they're just upset that someone has moved their cheese. Instead of asking themselves "Okay, our key demographic has taken to downloading music instead of buying it; how can we make money from this?" they've just started suing. Suing nine year old girls, and 89 near old grandmothers at that.

All that has really achieved is now people (like myself) are boycotting the RIAA. I still buy indie CDs, but RIAA stuff? Hardly. (Thankfully, my favorite recording band is on an independant label.)

But, at least I can see where the RIAA is coming from. But there's a few things that are just plain stupid.

The Author's Guild is suing Google for making books searchable. (Yet some publishers are thanking Google for increasing book sales because the books are searchable.)

And the whole shutting down guitar chord/lyrics site? The idea is that if you want the sheet music or lyrics, go out and buy the book (if you can find where to buy it). So if you're getting the chords/lyrics from the internet, then if you couldn't get them there you'd buy them, right?

In many cases: wrong!

Most of the time I'll listen to the freaking song to get the lyrics.! The chords are slightly harder to get. It requires a musical ear. But not a great one. Anyone who plays guitar knows that most songs are based on 1 4 5, with a few 2m and 6m thrown in for good measure. (If you don't understand what that means, don't worry about it: guitarists do. If you're a guitarist and you don't understand it, then see the previous sentence.) Furthermore, chord progressions aren't copyrightable. Melodys are, and so are lyrics. But, really, how much money are the music books publishers loosing because of these sites? I don't really know, but I can't see it being very much.

They lose money if people who normaly would buy the books now aren't because of these sites. I'm sure a great number of these site users (including myself) wouldn't buy the books if these sites weren't available. So, how much of my money are they loosing? $0.00. But that's just a round figure.

And Christian music makes the whole thing even more ridiculous! For the uninitiated, churches usually buy something called a CCLI license. That allows them to play a whole long list of songs at their church events. So, if I go to Joe's Christian Chord Site and view the lyrics and chords to the latest hit worship song, assuming Joe doesn't have a CCLI license for the music on his site, then that's illegal. If I print a song off, that's illegal. But, if I take that print-out, and play it at Church next Sunday morning, then suddenly it becomes all nice and legal.

Can anyone explain the rationale to me? (I don't mean the legal mumbo-jumbo), but the actual reason. "Because that's the law" is not a reason. Tell me why it should be the law. Show me how the artist is benefiting from that structure, or how they would be harmed without it.

Again, I'm not talking about Intellectual Property protection laws as a whole. Just some of the fine-point-nit-pickiness of them.

However, I must admit that I am guilty of a few things. I have bought over 200 CDs. I also own a number of music books (mostly for church). But I will tell you one thing, if God suddenly gifts me with the ability to write music, any worship music I write, especially if it becomes a hit, will be released under some kind of creative commons licence. And any music I write, worship or secular, I will allow to be on as many lyric/chord sites as site-owners wish. I think I'd be more frustrated with seeing my music on sites with the wrong lyrics or chords, rather than them being on the site in the first place.

But that's just me.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Single Serving Friends

One day as I was walking to work I saw a cell phone lying on the side walk. I picked it up so I could track down it's owner. I brought it to the office, found it was a Telus phone. I called Telus to see if they could track down the owner. I thought this whole ordeal could get inconvenient. this phone could belong to anyone in Ottawa or Hull. I'm very busy, and I don't want to take potentially hours of my time to track down the owner.

A single serving friend is someone who is your friend for a short time, then you never see them again. For examle, when you sit next to someone on an airplane and you talk with them. You have two or three (or more) hours together, then you never see them again. (Unless you're my parents. They met on an air plane.)

But that type of single serving friend is easy to deal with. You probably never see them again. What about the guy who fixed your computer at work though? He comes by, fixes your computer. As he's looking at it, you get to chatting. Next thing you know you see him later on in the day and you say "hi" as you walk by.

But how long does it go on for? 6 months? That seems a little long, doesn't it? So, how does one handle this delicate situation?

During the summer my computer at work was screwed up so I called the help desk. They had to send someone. That someone came, let's call him Fred. He had to come a few times to fix my computer. After a few times he ended up just taking my computer away and re-imaging it. I work in a pretty large complex; he works one floor below me. So I found myself seeing him in the halls, and on the elevators and saying "hi" to him.

But it's conceivable that I will never deal with him again in a tech-support capacity. So, how long do I have to say "hi"?

Just a day or two after I had decided to stop saying "hi" to him.....well remember the phone I found on the way to work? Yeah, well it was his phone. So, now I'm back to saying "hi" to him.

Now, I do want to stay on his good side. He's a nice person, and he can severly screw up my computer if he so desired.

Does Emily Post's famous etiquette have a chapter on single serving friends?

Friday, September 29, 2006

A Change In Direction?

When I started this blog it was mainly to detail my life with the McQueen family. The reason is that life there is interesting. The reasons for this are two-fold:

  1. The McQueen family is so much different than the McKay family.

  2. Stuff (like car break-downs) happened a lot during a short time.

As for the first reason, after all this time I'm more used to it.

As for the second reason, it's only really note-worthy when it all happens in a short time. And it's only funny when looking back on it. But lately not much has been happening. True, one car was in the shop over a weekend. But it's been a long time since anything else has happened. It just doesn't feel noteworthy.

So this blog may take a turn. Of course, my readers will know that I have been straying from the McQueen stories before. So, why am I writing this post to tell you the obvious? Mostly because I haven't written much lately and I wanted to write something...just for kicks.


Western culture is hardly atheistic. Most people believe in some higher power; be it God, Allah, Jesus, or misc. Most people don't have much of a problem with that. But an awful lot of higher-power-being (HPB) believers reject formal religion. They reject the Bible and it's teachings. They may keep some like "love your neighbour" and most believe in a Heaven even if they don't believe in a Hell.

For the purposes of this post we'll refer to higher-power-being believers as HPBBs, and we'll define them as people who believe in some higher power like God, but reject formal religion.

I'm not sure why HPBBs reject formal religion. A common excuse is "too many hypocrites". (Yet there's plenty of hyprocrites in other areas, yet they don't avoid those.) Some reject the Bible because "what does a 2000 year old book have to do with today" or something else about how the Bible is irrelevant because of who wrote it, or something. Actually, why they reject formal religion is irrelevant to my point.

Now, this HPB is obviously an intangible being. It can't be directly observed by any of our five senses. So, these people are left to their own intellect to try to figure it all out.

But what gets me about that is that most people, left to their own devices, can't even figure out how to assemble a home stereo system, with our without the instructions! How are they supposed to figure out this whole God/spirituality thing?

The Real Reason

Many have asked me what happened with flight training. Why am I not a pilot? Why didn't it work out? Well, I've decided to end those questions with this picture. The picture should explain everything.

Aren't you glad I'm a computer programmer?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Talk Like A Pirate Day

Apparently, today, September 19, is Talk Like A Pirate Day. So, here goes:

Anyone have a copy of Windows XP?

Friends, countrymen, lend me your CDs and DVDs, for I want to copy them.

Anyone want a copy of MS Office XP?

Monday, September 18, 2006

We've Sprung a Leak

Throughout the summer it has seemed as though the water level in the pool had gotten low rather frequently. I had never paid much attention before this summer. I thought it was natural. But it turns out that there's a leaky valve. It just lets a little water out at a time, so it's not immediately noticeable. But the next thing you know the water level is down and the filter is just sucking the water in. Then you have to put the hose in the pool to fill up the water.

Oh well, swim-suit season is over for another 9 months. *shudders*

Who Cut the Grass?

I came home from work the other day to find the front lawn had been mowed. That's odd, the lawnmower is broken, isn't it?

Apparently, Jack took the lawnmower to a small-engine repair shop and had it looked at. They told him it was just the blade, which they replaced.

He brought it home and started to use it, but it was leaking oil! So he took it back to the repair shop. The guy takes it apart, finds the o-ring or washer, puts it back in it's rightful place, puts it back together. Now we have a working lawn mower again!

As Wendy, Bruce, and Robin took turns mowing the lawn this Saturday Jack was yelling "Watch out for the roots!" (which is what broke the lawn mower last time.)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Where Are All The Male Nurses? (Part 2)

A Male Nurse Action Figure.
Remember my first post on male nurses, or the lack thereof? It seems as though I'm not the only one who wondered about this. There's an actual Male Nurse action figure from Accoutrements.

Adventures in House Sitting (Part 5)

A few weeks ago someone from my church was going on vacation and they asked me to house sit for them. Actually, it was more of a dog-sitting job. The impression I got was sort of like "I don't care if you burn down the house, just take care of the dog."

This person, whom I shall call Dennis Walters, showed me the ropes of his house, how to feed the dog. (The sad thing is that the most elaborate recipe I know is for a dog. That doesn't speak to the complexity of the recipe for the dog's dinner as much as it does my incompetence in the kitchen.)

Overall, it was a nice time. I got some time alone in an air conditioned house. I would have had more time for chem, except it happened to coincide with the time my parents were in town, so I took a lot of time to spend with them.

Every house has it's own quirks. This house was no exception. The faucet in the upstairs bathroom needed a new washer or something. When turning the tap off, getting it to turn on 100% was a bit of a task. There was often a drip, or even a small stream when the tap was off. There was also a small leak on the top side of the faucet. So small you would hardly notice. You would see the effects. After washing hands, brushing teeth, etc. there would be a small puddle on the counter top. Nothing big. Nothing major.

Then one day, after coming home from work, then going out to dinner with my parents I came home and used to washroom downstairs. The vent on the ceiling was leaking. I found the mop and cleaned up the floor. I got a bucket and put it beneath the leak.

At the time it was raining cats and dogs outside. We were under a severe weather warning from Environment Canada. It had hardly rained my time in the house. I figured the water was coming in from outside or something. But that night Dennis called and I talked to him about it. As we were talking I thought to go upstairs and check the bathroom upstairs.

When I got upstairs the entire counter top in the sink was covered in water. There was a small puddle forming on the floor. I opened up the cupboard and found water had gotten in there too. Dennis may have lost a couple of rolls of toilet paper out of that ordeal.

He may also have to replace the counter unit. He may also have to replace the faucet. He said it was getting old and would have had to replace that soon anyway. Of course I still really feel bad about that whole thing. I offered to help Dennis out with the fixing. He told me not to worry about it. (Thanks Dennis! But if you change your mind, I'll be around for a while.)

Well, that's it for my Adventures in House Sitting. Now, I know some of you out there have your own adventures. Please share! We'd love to hear your stories.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Adventures in House Sitting (Part 4)

This house sitting adventure takes place last summer. I was living with the McQueens, but my uncle, Uncle Joe, asked me to take care of his place while he went away.

Uncle Joe has an old house in Ottawa relatively close to one of the post-secondary schools. He rents the basement out to a student every year.

On the first or second day there I came home from work to find a note on the door from the power company saying that they had to shut off power to the water heater for some reason, and to turn it on again they would have to actually have access to the water heater. All I had to do was call them and set up an appointment.

The next morning I took a shower, but the water wasn't cold. I thought it was odd, but figured there may have been some mix-up, and maybe I didn't have to actually call the power company. Now, for some reason I spent the next couple of nights at the McQueen's house. I assumed the water was still warm at Uncle Joe's.

When I returned my first shower was _cold_! I had to call the company.

Now, the water heater was in the basement, so I had to coordinate a time that I could be there, and that the tenant downstairs could be there too. That could prove to be difficult.

It finally happened. That poor student! Cold showers several days in a row!

It would figure that the company would do that in the two weeks I'm taking care of the place. Of course, it occurs to me if they're going to around shutting off people's hot water, why wouldn't they make appointments? That way they can catch people at home, so they can shut the hot water off, do what they need to, and turn it back on at one time so they wouldn't have to come back? It seems so inefficient. Sure, if they're doing that to a whole neighbourhood it may appear to make sense to do it all at once, rather than mess with appointments. But, they're going to have to make appointments to turn the power back on anyway! Why not do it all at once?

Adventures in House Sitting (Part 3)

My next house sitting experience was a little different. In fact, it wasn't even house sitting. It was apartment sitting. It wasn't just an apartment unit, it was the whole building.

At one point I had been subletting an apartment for a couple of friends who were out of town for the summer. While there, I met their supers who seemed to take a liking to me. They were a couple in their late twenties or early thirties.

When I moved out of that apartment into my own, it was in the building next door. And the super-wife was in one of my classes in university. They were wanting to go away at Christmas time for about two weeks. That year I decided to not go home for Christmas, and instead I would spend it in Sault Ste. Marie with the McQueens. The supers asked if I would house-sit for them, meaning I'd be the superintendent of this apartment building for about two weeks. I said I would.

When it rains, it pours.

At first, it snowed for days at a time. When you're taking care of an apartment, you have to stay on top of that. You have to shovel the walk ways, and salt them. If someone slips and falls, you're looking at a law suit. So, all notions of free time were buried under about three feet of snow.

Finally, on Christmas day the sun was out. There was not a cloud in the sky. I headed over to the McQueens to spend the day with them. When I got there, it turned out that Robin was sick. She had the flu. Not the stomach flu, but influenza. As I was shoveling all that snow it occurred to me that if I got sick I'd have to take care of the building whilst sick. I really didn't want to shovel all that snow while being sick. At this time, Norwalk was going around in a bad way. Lots of diseases to avoid. This was also the time SARS was running rampant.

So I spent the day trying not to get too close to Robin, trying not to pick up the flu. I figured that night "As long as I get a good night's sleep, it should all be good."

So I went to bed when I got home. At three thirty in the morning I woke up to the fire alarm. We had a pyromaniac living in the building at the time. This morning he rolled up a big ball of paper, threw it in the stairwell, and lit it on fire. Pretty soon the fire department was there putting the fire out. Everyone else could go back to bed, but noooooo not me. I was the super. I had to hang with the fire marshal and answer questions, etc. So, finally at about four thirty I got to bed.

How long do you think that lasted?

At about seven in the morning there came a knock at the door. I got up to answer it. It was a young boy, about 7 years old. He had locked himself out of the laundry room. So I had to let him back in.

On the walk towards the laundry room there was a puddle of dried up puke on the floor. Awwww nuts! Something else to clean up! And of course, cleaning that up got me worrying. "What if this is Norwalk puke? I might get sick! Then I can't take care of this building!" So I cleaned that up, and it was really gross.

After that I went back to bed to try to sleep. Guess how long that lasted! That's right, maybe an hour. (For those of you unfamiliar with the sleep cycle, a cycle is 90 minutes. Not all sleep is the same. You need cycles of 90 minutes to get any benefits from sleep. And hour here and there doesn't really do anything for you.) So I answered the phone. It was the supers calling to check to see if it was all good.

After talking to them I decided I had had enough interruptions. Luckily my apartment building was next door. I walked back home, and took a snooze in my own bed, and slept well.

It all turned out alright in the end. I didn't get sick. There was little snow after that. The only other incident was that someone smashed a bottle in the entrance way on New Years Eve.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Adventures in House Sitting (Part 2)

My second house sitting experience was for the McQueens. It was in Sault Ste. Marie. Jack, Wendy, and Robin had taken off to go somewhere and asked me to "take care" of Jane, Bruce, Max, Cerberus, and the house.

It was mostly uneventful, except for the time Bruce and I made a frozen pizza. These frozen pizzas come on a cardboard disc. You're supposed to take the pizza off of the disc and then put the pizza in the oven. We neglected to do that, and we put the cardboard in the oven with the pizza. But there was no fires or anything.

However, the back yard was fenced off to allow the dogs to run freely and answer nature's call. The fence had a gate at the front of the house. The door to the fenced-off portion was in the back of the house. The back yard extended to the side of the house, beside the garage where there were no windows.

Before going out I would open the gate and allow the dogs out to do their business. After a few minutes they would come and want to be let back in. If they didn't come back I could call their names and clap my hands twice and they would come.

One day while Bruce and Jane were at school, I had a few things to do in the city. I let the dogs out and waited. And waited. And waited. "Where the heck are those dogs?" I opened the door, looked out back and I didn't see them. I called their names and clapped my hands. Nothing.


This was during the autumn. The weather wasn't all bad yet. Perhaps they were lying around the side yard where I couldn't see them. I got my shoes on and attempted to make my way through the mine-field that was the McQueen's backyard. (That is to say, the main thing the backyard was used for was a latrine for the dogs.) I turned the corner to find the gate had been unlatched, was now opened, and no dogs were in sight.

Awwwww nuts! (I'll refrain from singing "Who Let The Dogs Out.")

So For the next while I ran through the otherwise quiet yelling "Max! Cerberus!" I went back to the house to call some people that might know where the dogs would go if they ever got away. No answers.

I ran around the neighbourhood again. Eventually I gave up. I would have to explain to the McQueens that their dogs had run away. As I got home, who should I see hanging around the front of the driveway to the McQueen's house, but Max and Cerberus! I then had the task of getting them back in the house and giving them a stern talking to.

Adventures in House Sitting (Part 1)

I am starting to run short on McQueen stories. This is good because it means things aren't breaking down, or going horribly comically wrong. However, it does make for some slow blog-writing. As you've noticed I've started ranting about various things, mostly about web browsers. (Don't worry. There'll be more browser-related rants to come in the future, I'm sure.)

However, having mentioned I was house sitting in The Door Is A Jar, just after I posted it, someone commented within about 2 minutes. They asked about house sitting, so I thought I'd take some time and talk about my adventures in house sitting.

For the uninitiated, house sitting is when someone asks you to look after their house for a while. They're usually going on vacation, and insurance would go up if no one is there. So they can either hire a professional house sitter, who's been bonded and all that, or they can ask someone they trust.

I've known a number to go with the second option, and the someone they trust has been me.

Now, the thing about house sitting is that it's usually only for a week or two. With the exception of the McQueen household, if you took a two week snapshot of someone's house most of the time nothing would go wrong. But stuff always seems to happen anyway. (So perhaps the McQueen residence isn't all that different?)

My first house sitting experience was taking care of someone's condo in Sault Ste. Marie. It was a two month job. The owners were in and out for the summer. Actually, that summer nothing went wrong. It was great!

I didn't understand the insurance thing at the time, so I thought they were doing me a favor by giving me a place to live for two months rent free!

Anyway, there are more (exciting stories) to come. But, if you have a house sitting story, please feel free to share! We'd love to hear from you!

It's Getting Colder Out

I got home from work the other day to find the fridge that had been in the garage was now in the kitchen, and the fridge that had been in the kitchen is in the garage.

It seems the McQueens acquired a dolly to move the fridge. I was not there for this fridge-moving adventure. I assume using a dolly would be a heckufalot easier than putting the fridge onto a rug and dragging it across the floor like we did with the last fridge-move.

But it's nice to have a "full-sized" fridge, with a freezer right in the kitchen. Of course, I use the term "full-sized" loosely. The fridge is still small. The last fridge didn't fully work. The fridge part didn't work at all. The freezer part only partially worked, making it the fridge part. Our "fridge" was smaller than a bar fridge. And this was for a house of seven! This fridge works, it's just a little small for a house of seven.

Of course, brother Jack has moved home, and Jane is soon leaving for school.

A Shrinking House

Change is in the air at the McQueen residence. My brother has gotten a job back home and has moved out. We're down to having one Jack in the house now. I have commandeered brother Jack's old cubicle (ie: bedroom) and made it my office. There's a nice desk in there, and a bed. It's perfect. My bedroom is right beside my office, and my office has a bed in it. All I need downstairs is a bathroom, and I'd be set!

As the summer comes to a close, Jane is preparing to head back to University. Oh how we will miss her!

Bruce has graduated from high school and will be starting on his path to higher education soon.

And I'll be sticking around at my job, at least until Christmas, on another co-op work term. I have decided against getting my honours degree.

Friday, August 18, 2006

French Cuisine, Anyone? (Part II)

A few weeks after my first incident we went back to the same place. This time, it was a similar experience, but the potatoes were burnt, yet cold.

Then when she (same waitress) gave me the change, she gyped me again. Not the twelve or thirteen cents like before, but rather about thirty five cents.

35 cents is not just not wanting to mess with pennies. I thought "Wow! This is a terrible waitress! I'm surprised she still working here!"

So this time I wrote down on the bill something to the effect of "If you didn't hold out your hand, you would have gotten a tip." and I walked out of the restaurant. When she saw the bill with the note said "What's this?" and gave the bill to a coworker, who passed it onto Craig, who gave it back to me outside the restaurant.

That time, others were unhappy with the quality of the food, so we decided that restaurant was cut. We wouldn't go back.

Now, a couple of years later, I have been to a few other restaurants in the area, and none of them seem to be able to calculate proper change. I'm wondering if the French have different math than the English folk. Or perhaps they don't teach math in Quebec or something? (Its a good thing no French restaurant owners read my blog. "Yes, I'll have toast with jam and spit, please.")

UPDATE: A year later, and I have found most places are pretty good. Although I just had another experience tonight, so look forward to a future blog post.

French Cuisine, Anyone? (Part I)

I work in Quebec. My office is very close to Ontario. I can see the Parliament Buildings from my window. In my time here I've noticed a difference between the Quebec restaurants and the English ones I'm used to. The first time I noticed this was when I went to a local Bistro.

Often times, on Friday morning, the team in which I work will take a bit of time and have a staff breakfast. We used to go to this one particular Bistro. My first experience there happened to coincide with my first experience eating in a Quebec restaurant.

I walk in the front doors and there's a bunch of tables. I notice the ash tray's, and the smoke that permeates the air. I think "That's odd. They have the smoking section at the front, rather than the back." Now, in Sault Ste. Marie, smoking has been banned in all public places. Same with Ottawa. But not Gatineau. So, seeing smoking in a restaurant took me by small surprise at first, but whatever. No big deal.

But, we were lead past those tables, through a hallway, up a few stairs into another room. Nobody was in that room. "Cool!" I thought, "Not just a non-smoking section, but one that is sufficiently divided from the smoking section. This is sweet!"

As more people came in and occupied the other tables, they lit up. There was no non-smoking section at all! Isn't that illegal? Perhaps not in Quebec. After all, apparently giving yourself, and those around you, cancer is deeply rooted in the French culture. I'm told by various people "Smoking is such a social thing. Normally I don't smoke. But I do when I'm at a party."

To that I say "Ahhh, yes. What better way to spend time with your friends than by slowly killing them."

Anyway, I digress.

So, as we're finishing our breakfasts, we're given the bill. Each of us gets a bill. The bills are placed on little plastic trays, and given to each of us. I look at the cost. I had two eggs, bacon, homefries, toast, and a glass of orange juice. It came to over $7.00! How do they justify that?! Were those eggs golden eggs?! At my university I could get the same thing for just over $4. This was over a three dollar difference. Furthermore, the quantity at this Bistro was a lot less than at the university.

So I look in my wallet. All I have are twenties. So I put one on the tray. The waitress comes back and people start paying. Most are giving her money and saying "keep the change." Now, I'm not about to pay with a $20 for a $7 breakfast and tell her to keep the change. Especially after I've just lost six months of my life due to all that cigarette smoke.

So, she gives me some change back. Not the proper change, mind you, just some change. She's off by about 13 cents - not in my favor. But it's 13 cents. Big whoop-di-freaking-do.

Now, I understand that they probably don't want to deal with pennies, but if the bill was $7.43, and a $20 is given, then err on the side of the customer. Give them $12.60 or $12.65. It's only a few cents. But if you err on the side of the business that looks really bad. If you err on the side of the customer they think "Cool. They gave me a couple extra cents!" and then they're inclined to tip more.

The other thing about tips is that I like to be surreptitious about it. It's part of our North American culture. We tip, but we don't talk about it. When you leave a tip behind, you leave it as you're leaving. You don't calculate the tip in front of the waitress either, unless you're telling her to keep the change.

So, as she's taking our money, after she had taken mine and given me the change, she was stacking the bill trays. She didn't take mine. The stack was right beside me, so I put my tray on top of the stack. She took it off and gave it back to me.


When she left I asked the table why she did that. Someone told me "Because you didn't tip her."

"WHAT?!?!?!" I had been planning on tipping her before that. I left a few pennies on the table. I figured she already got her tip when she gave me the incorrect change. They already stole enough of my money with the grossly over-priced breakfast.

To be continued....

I Don't Know How Much Mow I Can Take!

If you recall, the McQueens have had a terrible time trying to get a working lawnmower. As I mentioned in Don't Mow My Lawn, they finally got a working lawnmower.
They used it this summer. After I had come home from house sitting I was told that the lawn mower was broken.

Huhh?!?! How did that happen so fast?! They just got it?!

Apparently, someone had gone over a root whilst mowing the lawn. This bent the blade a little.

Well, there's more to the story than that. It turns out that Bruce is really fortunate he still has all his fingers.

He decided he'd take it upon himself to fix the blade. He put something below the blade, something to act as an anvil. He got something to act as a hammer to hammer the blad back to it's original shape. Tap tap tap. I believe he got the blade back to it's original shape. Job well done, right?

But then the mower didn't run smothly. Or even at all. I'm not certain as to the exact state of the mower.

When Bruce told me this story, Pastor Jack said "I think all that tapping on the blade sent the vibrations up the crank-shaft, and that may have distorted it."

I sighed saying "Not the crank-shaft! You don't want to ruin that. That's the most expensive part of the engine!"

But then something occured to me. "Wait a sec. You mean you didn't take the blade out of the moter?"


"Oh boy! Please please tell me you disconnected the spark plug while doing this."

"No. The engine was off."

I started feeling faint. "Oh boy. Bruce, count yourself fortunate you still have all your fingers! You always disconnect the spark plug when working on the engine." In fact, you should disconnect the spark plug when the lawn mower is not in use, and when filling the gas tank with fuel.

Pastor Jack insisted that the engine was off. I explained to him that that didn't matter. "Look, when you start the engine what are you doing? You're pulling on that cord. That cord is wrapped around the flywheel. The flywheel is on the cranshaft. You pull on the cord and it starts the cycle. Part of that cycle is the spark, which ignites the fuel and gets the engine started.

"That's how they used to start airplanes. By turning the propellor. It's the same principle. In fact, at Sault College we were charged a $10 fine for leaving the key in the ignition when we weren't in the airplane because if we did, and someone went to move the plane, and they moved the propellor enough, they could start the engine, and that would bad: for their hands, the airplane, and anything it happened to drive itself into.

Always, always disconnect the spark plug when working on the engine!"

Of couse, ever since the Slippery Pete incident it has been assumed I know nothing of mechanical devices work. So I had to insist that, not only had I studied this in aviation, but I had taken a small engine repair class in high school.

Now the mower doesn't work like it's supposed to.

The Door Is A Jar

While I was away house sitting, the McQueen's garage door had been opened, and then closed. Unfortunately, there was something under the door of the garage. The door closed on this something. This broke the garage door.

A garage door is really heavy. The garage door is really a complicated piece of equipment. It has counter balances, cables and whatnot to make it so you can easily lift this 300 lbs door with one arm with ease.

When the door brook, one of these cables snapped. This made opening the door a difficult task indeed. The garage repair man had to be called. He came and fixed it. It's all fixed now.

The Family Vacation

A while ago the McQueens packed up and took a vacation. I didn't go with them. In fact, I wasn't even at their house when they returned. I was house sitting for someone else. (It follows that the next few blog stories I wasn't there for, so I'm relaying what I've heard.)

I'll give you a guess as to what happened when they went on vacation.

That's right. Car troubles. Even though they had the cars checked out before leaving, that didn't stop the car from acting up. While driving through Toronto, Jane was driving the Intrepid. She recalls "Even when I had the petal to the metal I couldn't get the car past 80kph."

Pastor Jack also told me they had to get the brakes fixed while away.

But, all in all, they had a good family vacation. They all got plenty of rest.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Ain't I A Louse?

If you move your mouse over the title of my blog posts then you'll see something funny. And, now that scientists have invented magic, even if you turn off Javascript, it still happens!

Wot's this, you say, "Nothing's happening! What are you talking about?"?

I'm going to use my mind-reading capabilities and guess you must be using Internet Explorer. tsk tsk, you didn't read Browser Wars, did you?

For the love of the internet, please, for heaven's sakes, please download Firefox or Opera.

Both are absouletly fantastic browsers. The other day at work, after working long and hard to get pages looking right in all three browsers, my boss printed off some of my pages, and they looked awful. So I started doing "Print Previews" of my pages, and saw yet another area where Internet Explorer falls short. Firefox and Opera do fine, but not IE.

Sorry folks, but IE is so bad it's not ready for the home-user's desktop, let-alone the corporate desktop.

Not only is it feature-poor, it's bad at what it's supposed to do. (Case in point, you can't see the trick I'm playing on you.) And it has a really bad security track record. As of this post, there are 21 unpatched security vulnerabilities with Internet Explorer 6, only 3 with Firefox, and 0 with Opera. With Internet Explorer the highest criticality of the vulnerabilities is "high criticality". With Firefox it's "less critical".

Trust me. Try the other browsers for a bit and see what it's like. Get used to them. Then ask yourself how you lived with IE for so long.

If someone can give me a good reason to use IE, please comment. Lets hear the reasons. I've given you plenty to not use it (security, extensibility, advanced features, proper HTML/CSS rendering, etc.). Let's get a dialogue going.

Here's yet another reason to make the switch: The internet will improve. Right now web developers such as myself have to hold back on what we can do because 85% of the viewing public can't handle what we're doing. But if IE usage goes down, then web authors will start to branch out and do things they couldn't do before. They can start to do their jobs properly; they can stop spending so much time on throwing hacks together to make pages work in Internet Explorer. Then they can spend more time on making pages look good, and work better, etc.

Then Microsoft will realize that people have stopped using their browser, and they might actually make it with quality in mind. The downside then is that I'll have one less thing to complain about.