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"Where Abraham Lincoln had his famous team of rivals in his administration, this is something different. The Trump White House seems more akin to the final scene in Reservoir Dogs, where everyone is yelling and pointing a gun at someone else".

I do like me a bit of sassy journalism ;).
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Our new head of state in Canada is a female astronaut... how frickin' cool is that!?!!!

Former astronaut Julie Payette to be Canada's next governor general

She is also a computer engineer with a commercial pilot licence, and is also an accomplished athlete, pianist, and choral singer.
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The FCC voted today to overturn net neutrality in the USA

The Internet: invented by the US, adopted by the world as a great tool of democracy and equity, abandoned by the US in 2017.

Linux QoTD

May. 12th, 2017 12:07 pm
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Every time I log into my server at home, I get a message from the "fortune" program (not "fortune -o", heh). I thought today's was worth sharing:

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
— Eleanor Roosevelt

It's good to keep in mind.

Today's media makes me gasp every single time I see it (and I've been watching it for over a quarter of a century ... not constantly, mind you)... to me, it's not just concert footage, it's like watching a geological event. There is something surprisingly transcendent about it (your mileage may vary). It also seems relevant to the quote :).

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I think this sums up the generally accepted Canadian approach beautifully: "freedom of speech protects your right to an opinion, not your right to an opinion left uncontested". I would love to imagine that the same applies elsewhere, but people do seem to argue otherwise (which fairly obviously stems from a culture of privelege and kleptocratic principles [where if someone isn't losing something then you're not winning]). Every time I read more about this story, the phrase "stupid is to the bone" comes to mind.

The opinion article that the above is based on, is here: Senator Beyak can complain about free speech all she wants. Fact is, she earned her demotion. It is subtitled, "Beyak is not being silenced. She is instead being made to endure something known as 'consequence'". There is a lot more on Beyak's intransigence if you care to go look. It's people that refuse to face consequences for their actions (or inactions) that pose an existential threat to society, civilization, and life on Earth as a general catetory (I don't even feel I'm engaging in hyperbole when I say that, fyi).

In other news... I ran across this really messed up music video two days ago and thought I should share it with all y'all.

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You know times have gotten bad when government decisions can drag scientists out of their labs and onto the streets. I participated in the "Death of Evidence" march in Ottawa in 2012 and the scientists that participated were fairly consistent in saying that they'd rather be doing their research than marching publicly through the nation's capital. I just got this email from the President of the Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP) calling for global solidarity with scientists in the United States now. For a professional society like CAP to state that it "strongly endorses these marches" is exceptional language for exceptional times (and a stance that I both agree with and support, fyi). At the same time, there are those in Canada (and elsewhere) that stand ready to poach the best talent as it attempts to flee both the USA and the UK. Here is the whole email:

April 22, 2017 designated March for Science Day

The 2017 U.S. budget proposal submitted to Congress by the White House on 16 March 2017 contained some very bleak news, including a whopping 31% reduction to the Environmental Protection Agency, with smaller but nonetheless damaging cuts to the Department of Education, the National Institutes of Health, NASA, and the Department of Energy's Office of Science. The National Science Foundation did not even garner mention in the budget proposal.

A march in support of science entitled the Scientists' March on Washington, that had been organized prior to the budget announcement, has blossomed into a much wider March for Science to be held on Earth Day, April 22, 2017. There will be over four hundred marches held in locations across the globe, including seventeen cities in Canada. The number is likely to grow as that date approaches.

The CAP strongly endorses these marches. I urge you to consult the March's URL to find out details of the event nearest you, and to get out and show your support for science!

I will be participating in the march in Montreal; if you are in the area and plan to attend, let's participate together; send me an email at the address below to let me know. CAP Past President Adam Sarty will be participating in the march in Halifax, while CAP Vice-President Stephen Pistorius will be participating in the march in Phoenix, Arizona, alongside our APS colleagues as he is representing the CAP at meetings of the American Physical Society in Phoenix at the time.

We hope to see you this coming April 22, marching for science.

Richard MacKenzie, P.Phys.
CAP President
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Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

— Emma Lazarus
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Just emailed...

The Honourable Ahmed D. Hussen,

Given the deplorable behaviour of the government of the United States of America with regards to the targeting of those with Muslim religious, ethnic, or national ties, and the unconsionable rejection of refugees (many of whom can trace their plight to actions on the part of the United States), it would seem prudent in both the short and long term at this point in time to immediately repeal the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement. The situation to the south of the border is just going to get worse and if Canada is truly committed to mitigating the terrible situations that refugees find themselves in, especially now that they are being abandoned or even demonized by such a major world power as the United States, we must be proactive in sending a message that there are still humanitarian countries left in the world that are concerned with the ongoing refugee crises happening in so many places.

As many have said since the executive order was signed, the basic premises that the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement was signed under have been substantively undermined, and it now presents a grave risk to refugees and exposes Canada to potentially unwelcome scrutiny if it fails to take timely action. I, and others, recognize that the government in Canada must be cautious in its actions such that they not be viewed as directly attacking the administration in Washington, D.C.; however, for Canada to accept refugees rejected by the United States for ideological and political reasons (and who are in danger of having their rights trampled because of their religion, ethnicity, or country of birth or origin), would send a signal to the citizens of the US, Canada, and the world that (strongly) oppose this latest turn of events that there are international repercussions to such small-minded, mean-spirited, and potentially deadly policies against the most vulnerable populations in the world. While we cannot count on rational behaviour from the leaders of our largest trading partner, we can at least make the right choices in those areas where we have some autonomy and disentagle ourselves from the dangerous course being set by the US administration. Repeal the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement now.

Yours sincerely,

Phelonius Friar
Ottawa, Ontario

cc: The Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister responsible for the Status of Women (since the executive order will disproportionately affect women all over the world), and The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau (because he is the face of the Canadian government and is talking the talk, but Canadians and people all over the world need to see him walking the walk too).
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As part of my ongoing series of quixotic letters to those in power, I present the following.

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau,

With regard to the sale of Canadian armaments to the Saudi Arabian regime, I think the Liberal government has failed an important test of whether they are fundamentally different from the previous (and globally reviled) government here in Canada. Whether or not the weapons and weapon systems Canada is selling to the Saudis are going to be used in the direct oppression and murder of civilian populations, it will assist in justifying their continued brutal practices through the legitimacy that comes with the sale of such equipment to them by a nation such as Canada. I have been following with great interest the talk around betterment of the environment in Canada for aboriginal peoples and other potentially positive directions being contemplated, but this foreign policy decision is such a catastrophic failure to act in an ethical and moral manner, my hope for any real change in the governance of this country just evaporated.

One week ago, I finished the requirements for my B.A. Honours in Women's and Gender Studies degree (or Feminist Studies as I like to say) and have a year left at university to complete my B.Sc. Honours in Theoretical Physics as well before going into graduate studies (on top of a successful 25 year career in the international high technology field)... I have seen a few things in my life and like to think I have a fairly clear perspective of "the big picture". While you may call yourself a feminist, and have shown strong indication that you support a feminist agenda in some particular cases, the decision to sell weaponry to the Saudi Arabian government is a decidedly anti-feminist decision as their indiscriminate targeting of civilians in Yemen demonstrates (we hope it is indiscriminate, perhaps it is discriminate and deliberate as part of a campaign of terror, which would be in keeping with their general behaviour). I know you are aware that modern feminism is all about identifying and undermining those power structures that disproportionately oppress women, and I appreciate that you are at least not actively campaigning against the notion of feminisms like so many do. However, here was a golden opportunity to take a huge step to disrupt just such a collection of power relationships (and one of the most repressive in the world), but Canada has chosen to side with oppression and take a huge payoff from those oppressors to turn a blind eye, and that is simply the wrong thing to have done.

I would like to close with a quote by Albert Einstein – often misquoted but the idea tends to be accurate even then – that seems particularly appropos to me in this case. It was spoken by him in tribute to Pablo Cassals in 1953, "What I particularly admire in him is the firm stand he has taken, not only against the oppressors of his countrymen, but also against those opportunists who are always ready to compromise with the Devil. He perceives very clearly that the world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it." I think that quote should be on plaques on the doors to both The House of Common and The Senate (and maybe in every bathroom stall and on the tables in the parliamentary cafeteria, but that could be seen as somewhat extreme I suppose) as a caution to consider when making government decisions.

Yours sincerely,

Phelonius Friar
A Canadian citizen

If nothing else, I guess I am at least sincere... I do wish I had been more careful not to conflate Trudeau's purported feminism with the policies of the Liberal government or Canada, and I know he said it would be government by cabinet (which I think is generally a good thing), but this part of the portfolio – the optics of what this country does – seems to have fallen to Trudeau, and this is bad optics that greatly diminishes anything he says in the future regarding human rights in general and feminism in particular.
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The war rages on, and like in any war, nobody wins — but also like any war, even if the tyrants prevail, it is still a matter of time before they fall... and fall hard.

Hi, my name is Phelonius Friar, and I use an ad blocker when I surf the web.

I have since they existed, and will continue to do so until they are no longer needed.

I am shocked, when I use someone's computer (most often in workplaces, where you would think a barrage of distractions would be most problematic) and they don't have an ad blocker installed. I can't even look at the screen, much less focus on the content I'm trying to access with moving visual clutter on the edges of and embedded in every web site there is. I access one web site a lot... the expansive KoL Wiki, because I play the (most excellent) game Kingdom of Loathing (I've apparently been playing for over seven years, wtf???). Anyway, the wiki displays the following along the side of my screen when I visit: "Hello! Thank you for using Coldfront services. If you would like to help us cover our costs, please consider disabling Adblock for this site. Thanks!" (and there is a spot for another advert at the top). In fact, I access it enough, and I am so appreciative of the fact that they make the site available, that a couple of years back, I thought: "well, I do want to support them, so I will disable ad blocking on their site". Madre de dios O_o... it was like being punched in the face... over and over... non-stop. No! Zero stars! Would not recommend, and will not repeat! Needless to say, ad blocking was very quickly re-enabled. I went so far as to send them an email asking if I could just send them money to "help cover their costs" (I seriously appreciate the site and don't mind supporting them). I never heard back.

Why this post? A friend just sent me a link to an article that I had already seen a reference to, but didn't follow up on because it was an article from The New York Times. The issue is that, for better or for worse, they have recently made viewing their articles contingent on me either disabling ad blocking for their site, or paying for a subscription. I will do neither because I will not support an organization that wishes to commit a violent act against me (that's enabling behaviour, and it is bad for all concerned... and yes, I feel as though violence has been done to me when exposed to the sorts of online advertising that seems to be popular these days... not to mention I have political and ethical issues with much of what is being advertised most of the time), and I do not access their content often enough to be able to justify paying for a subscription (think if I did this for every information outlet that took a similar approach... it would quickly exceed any amount of disposable income I have ever had). Furthermore, like the KoL Wiki, I am not presented with any additional options that match my needs, so I just close the New York Times tab quietly and move on with my, slightly more ignorant for the act, life (neither viewing their article, nor their advertising content). Like it is with other media content, I am very strongly supportive of providing some financial support to allow the continued production of the sorts of writing, music, video, etc. that I enjoy; however, I have to be given an option where I know that a) I am actually supporting the artist, writer, etc., b) allows me to do so easily, and c) provides a believable value proposition (don't get me started about academic articles, where to download a 6 page PDF costs $35US and up... and I know the authors do not get a single penny of any of that money because academic authors provide content for free in return for publishing that information... and yes, I know, the publisher needs to make money to continue to exist, but I can't be asked to support a deeply flawed business model and be expected to sing its praises).

Before going any further, I want to stress one thing. I do not feel as though I have any right to being able to access the content on someone's web site for free (me having to look at ads is a form of payment). I feel that web sites like The New York Times and I have an implicit contract: they set the terms of my being able to access their content, and I can accept or reject their terms as I see fit. If the only way they can stay in business is to scar the eyeballs and brains of people trying to read the news with garish ads designed to rip your attention away from the content that got you there (I never said I wouldn't have an opinion about it, heh, I just said they had a right to theirs as well), or offer an unpalatable (to me) pay-for-play option, then they have the right to deny me access over the web. Ultimately, because it's an important news site, society is poorer for how that turned out in my case (don't worry, I'm not aggrandizing myself, but multiply my eyeballs by thousands and I think I have a valid argument). I also wanted to say that I think the diminishment of editorial intervention and curation of information due to the collapse of the publishing industry makes society poorer as well (it no longer costs anything to reproduce content, so any industry that relied on control over the means of production and distribution... books, music, movies, etc.... are only hobbling along because of increasingly draconian copyright legislation and the fear of imprisonment or huge fines for regular citizens, and would completely collapse without it because they are not innovating how they operate because of those protections). Self publishing (for all manner of media) is a wonderful option, but there is something to be said for having professional editors and label/imprint/etc. managers... it has been my experience as an editor and publisher myself that it makes a huge difference in the quality of the end product (no matter how good a writer or musician or videographer happens to be). So... the broken business model that is hobbling along right now is also squeezing out an entire class of intermediaries that I think are still very much needed (yes, self-publishing artists can hire people to do the job, but how many have the resources to do so, or the inclination to let someone else touch their precious work?). I like polished works (and rough works... it depends on my mood and the kind of work it is) and want a workable, sustainable, solution to be found to this problem.

What is the answer? Well, I definitely have some ideas, but they are sufficiently ambitious and would require such widespread agreement and adoption, that they are effectively hopeless fantasy. Some (problematic) ideas include ubiquitous and transparent microtransactions (an anonymous tag that would transfer some very small amount to any site visited or a small amount for any content downloaded); the tagging of content such that (from my web browser), I can push a button and elect to transfer a preset amount to the creator/source of the content (no matter how I got it); an Internet tax that automatically did the microtransaction payments (the monthly amount would be built into the subscription price for Internet access and then divvied up to any sites visited at the end of the month); or actual government subsidies to providers of certain kinds of web content (news, educational materials, etc.). In short, there is no real answer to the problem, but organizations like The New York Times are drawing ever more stark battle lines. I honestly don't mind being advertised at (as part of a transaction where I am provided content in return for providing access to an advertiser to my eyeballs), but only when it's tasteful and discrete... e.g. clearly tagged advertisement links in search results, as an image on the side like on Reddit, as a basic (non-animated or garish) thin banner ad on a site. Until such a time as I can safely browse the 'net without the distraction of intrusive advertising, my ad blocker will remain universally on.

As a final note, I regularly send (small, affordable, amounts of) money to the folks who do Kingdom of Loathing (KoL) because I derive ongoing enjoyment out of playing that game. In return, I get a nifty in-game item for my cash. I should stress that one can play KoL without ever giving them a cent... they rely entirely on voluntary payments, and have done so since they started over a decade ago. It is an amazing creative endeavour and they even have a full time staff that they pay from these voluntary payments. They do not rely on advertising revenue at all (although they did try once, and it was quickly dropped because it neither enhanced the experience, nor brought in the amounts of money they were promised by the organization [Google] serving up the ads). So, when I say I will support sites that provide me with value, I do put my money (what little of it I have) where my mouth is. I do something similar with Tympanik Audio, a music label, where most of their stuff can be listened to for free on Bandcamp or the like (officially put there by the record company and/or artist), but if I like something, I will pay for the album (their pricing model does not feel like gouging either, so I feel like I'm getting a good value at the same time). Similarly for specific indie artists like Josie Charlwood, Computer Magic, and Princess Chelsea... I'll cough up the dough to directly support them. And to wrap up... once upon a time, I was responsible for a multi-million dollar international high technology project (a high-availability/fault-tolerant scalable supercomputer which, I might add, was delivered successfully on time and budget). It required many custom and semi-custom systems, and we would contact companies that did similar things to what we needed about whether they could/would adapt their systems to our specific requirements. In some cases, these were large companies... in other cases, they were small. Universally, they would fall all over themselves to satisfy my every whim. But here's the problem: it didn't always fit in with their larger business model and was not a sustainable way to conduct themselves. It was a short-term win, but didn't move them forward in the long run (and sucked up a whole bunch of resources that could be used for better purposes), and in some cases I had to push back hard to force them to undergo a process of self-reflection about whether they were better off with my business or without it (in some cases, they realized it would hamper their business and in others, they realized it aligned well with their direction). I would always win in the short term because I had the money to throw at the problem, and the company would have a short term win for having made a sale; however, we both lost in the long term because they sidelined important resources to satisfy my particular project even when it didn't give them a product they could take to other customers, and I lost because the product I was usuing was dead-ended (for maintenance and evolution) even before I bought it. I see the current war over, as it is called, the monetization of the web, as being a perfect example of an insatiable drive to pour incalculable resources into a business model that is doomed to fail (e.g. newspapers sold ads and subscriptions when they were paper, so "that must be the way to succeed on the web"... not), when that same amount of resources could be dedicated to making something new and sustainable (a win-win).

... etc. ...

Le sigh...

Aug. 8th, 2015 12:32 am
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I just read an article and had to vent my spleen to (at?) the NDP... the "New Democratic Party" to those who don't know Canada's political parties... This is just the tip of the iceberg for why the NDP sucks these days. They earn their pejorative interpretation of their acronym, "Not Destined for Power", fair and square it seems.

This is a prime example of why I see Tom Mulclair as being no better than Stephen Harper. Instead of framing the refusal of Harper to participate in the "consortium debates" as another example of his lack of leadership and accountability, and using the forum with the other party leaders to have a frank discussion about their visions of a future for Canada, Mulclair and the NDP make it all about politics. The NDP is as sucked up into their own navels, and disconnected from what Canadians really want and need, as the Conservative party.

Tom Mulcair says a debate without Stephen Harper 'wouldn't make much sense'

I would also like to add that I was horrified that the page had a dominant logo that stated "Tom Mulclair [maple leaf] NDP". It rings of "Harper's Canada" or the "Harper Government of Canada", and is indicative of much of what is wrong with the Canadian political system. We need a little more collaborative democratic process and a little less "Prime Minister as Monarch".

I cannot view the NDP as an alternative to the despotic style of leadership that we have seen under Harper. As such, you will not have my vote in this coming election, and I will actively steer people away from the NDP (to where, of course, is the question since the field is so deeply crippled with its paucity of vision). You have fallen very far in the eyes of this former NDP activist and organizer, and it is a sad day for Canada that the Conservatives will easily take the next election because of a lack of leadership on the part of the NDP and the Liberals (who are so creatively bankrupt as to have crowned name recognition as their leader in hopes that it would hide the fact they had no ideas left between the bunch of them).

For a previous grumble I sent to the NDP, please see:

Senate abolition and the NDP

See also the essay I wrote quite a while back:

Are Canadian Prime Ministers Too Powerful?
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Maybe I'm getting more curmudgeonly in my old age, but I just spent 15 minutes sending an irate email to another organization with a staggeringly shitacular web site. Take a look and let me know if I'm being unreasonable in my very negative analysis...

I would have liked to participate in your campaign to generate interest in research in Ontario, but the web site is very poorly designed and hostile to interaction.

I don't click on links that don't let me know where they land (there was no hint that the images weren't going to be links), the "alt" text was not displaying (huge accessibility issues... I am using the current version of Firefox, fyi), and the photos don't necessarily tell me what the research area actually is that is behind it. I am busy and don't have time to play "guess the functionality" with a web site -- there are no captions, there are no navigational cues... it's an impenetrable wall of vaguely related images, not a user interface. I am a huge supporter of raising public awareness of issues related to research (in Ontario and everywhere else on Earth), so visiting this site after a friend sent me the link because they thought I would like it actually made me angry (if you hadn't guessed by the fact that I was upset enough to write this email). I have seen this sort of site before and it is, at best, kitchy; but at its worst, it is an exclusionary design concept that isolates each piece of information rather than presenting an integrated informational experience. Who would have the time or patience to click on 50 images to unlock the link to a page that they would then have to read before "voting"? Who is your audience for this web experience? What value is the vote tally that this web site will presumably result in? There is not even an indication, that I could see, of what effect my vote would have other than the simple joy of clicking on a button on a web site. I would have expected better from the Council of Ontario Universities.

Yours sincerely,


P.S. And seriously? A wheelchair device for the generic research area of "accessible transportation"? What about people with mental or cognitive disabilities? Invisible disabilities that impede the use of public transit? This is 2015, not 1975! And that's just the tip of the iceberg with your choice of images and products. Nuns? What does the image of a nun have to do with the general notion of public health? Not to mention it displays a huge insensitivity to First Nations people after the recent release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report on residential schools. I realize that these two instances refer to specific inventions or people, but as an interface to the research subjects, they are highly problematic. I could go on (I could write a paper on the subject there is so much to work with), but I will spare you any further analysis.
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I am starting in on a very, very interesting looking (and free) course from Harvard on the edX platform: "Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science". It is a 10 week course that examines cooking from a scientific perspective: why things do the things they do when we cook. The supposition is that by understanding what the processes are and how they work (individually and together), that we will be able to be more creative, expressive, and successful in the kitchen. Well, as anyone who knows me knows, I love to cook (and eat, let's not forget that) so this sounded right up my alley. The course is given by an applied mathematician, a chemist, and a physicist and features a dozen or so of the most innovative and experienced chefs of our generation. What's not to love? Oh... it has already started (it's three weeks in) and I hadn't had time to even look at it until today, so I watched the introductory video set and went over the syllabus and stuff just now, and none of the assignments or laboratory experiments are due until the end of September, so there's plenty of time to catch up (otherwise I was probably just going to cut my losses and drop it)! What's not to love? Aaaand... when they say experiments, they really mean heading into the kitchen to cook. Week one: make cola; week two: sous vide eggs; week three: make ice cream; week four: hot vanilla flan; week five: ... well, you get the idea. What's not to love, right?

In the introductory video by the chef José Andrés, at the end he is standing in front of a chalkboard with the following quote on it by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry:

If you want to build a ship, don't gather people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

I had never seen it before, but for whatever reason it really captures something important about the way I approach life and everything I do. A natural critique of the quote is that it's poetic, but won't actually build you a ship (in fact, the critique was made to me when I presented someone with the quote). It's hard to express how I feel exactly, but I made an attempt with the following:

The former makes building a ship a terrible chore and concentrates the creative and technical processes involved to a small handful of people who must use coercion (at least through wages) to make it happen. Perhaps it will have a good chance of resulting in a ship, but to me it is a philosophy of paucity and simply another method of creating power-based relationships. The latter makes the building of a ship an unbridled collective passion and will always bring people together to find a way amongst themselves to accomplish the task. This is predicated on a philosophy of unbounded wealth (not unbounded resources, but it requires a broader definition of wealth than what is generally permitted) where richness comes from experience and the process, rather than material goods and the end product. To be clear, it has been my personal experience in industry and in the arts that this is not all hand waving, naval gazing (pun intended), and good intentions: you will get a ship this way too.
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I watched that documentary I linked to in my last post all the way through and felt compelled to write something in response. It kind of makes me sad because Ottawa could definitely be so much more than it allows itself to be. I'm also sad that any time I meet someone who is creative and full of life, my only advice to them is to find a city (or town, or hamlet) that is not Ottawa and they will stand a chance to shine. Ottawa eats its own for the most part in my experience (Parliament Hill isn't the only place where politics happens around here) and I've seen such talent wasted as they dash themselves senseless on the unforgiving and uninterested shoals of Ottawa city life. Anyway, in response to the video's question: "what do you think our elected officials need to do to make Ottawa a cooler and more vibrant city?"...

I think street food and street performers should be deregulated (I might phrase it unstragulated) and that would be a good start. I could do my own documentary on what elected officials need to do to make Ottawa a cooler and more vibrant city (I could go on for hours), but even the smallest of details are so badly hamfisted that I despair of a breakthrough in my lifetime. The fact is that it seems worse every year. As a minor example, I was in the market a while back and could not find a chip wagon when I went looking for one with a friend from out of town... they've apparently been banned (along with food "carts") from that area ... What the heckskie? I agree with the statement in the documentary that what makes a vibrant city is for it to facilitate the gathering of people where things are happening (or to bring people together and allow things to happen), wherever that might be. There are huge issues in Ottawa with that, but I will go back to the smaller and seemingly trivial instance of "the chip wagon"... it's a place where you can at least say hello to other people who are out enjoying the day and grabbing a bite, but all we are apparently allowed to do is sit in restaurants at tables (where talking to your neighbour is generally discouraged from an etiquette point of view)... even when we travel downtown, we are forced to isolate ourselves in the company of others. There is no fun to be found in that sort of environment. Yes, there is fun to be "found", but it's never just "there".
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I finished a quick introduction to Ruby on Rails called "Web Application Architectures" from the University of New Mexico through Coursera (one down), but have had to give up on the "Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided" course from The World Bank (one down). It had some neat stuff, but their quiz and assignment deadline structure didn't work for me. The first three weeks had the flexibility I needed and reasonably generous deadlines (I had to use one "late day" of ten to get full marks on a quiz), and I even turned in the first peer reviewed assignment (it works by you having to anonymously review two or three other people's assignments and your anonymous peers review yours... a process that works surprisingly well when computer grading just won't work). Unfortunately, and bizarrely, the fourth week had one day of leeway before the hard deadline (which was this morning) and the main project is due tomorrow... there was no way I could do it with my schedule. I will say that it was a valuable course because I am now armed with a considerably better knowledge of the specifics of climate science that prove that human activity is overwhelmingly responsible for global warming. I am going to further arm myself by taking a course through the EdX platform called "Making Sense of Climate Science Denial" from the University of Queensland in Australia (one to go). I don't know that I will have time to complete the coursework, but I will consume the information being provided. Given the climate (if you'll pardon the pun) of the wholesale muzzling of scientists (including statisticians) in Canada by our current government, I'm sure a better understanding of this phenomenon will help me by providing tools to combat this terrifying trend. I am also continuing to work on the Stanford Online human physiology course "Your Body in the World: Adapting to Your Next Big Adventure" (two to go).

In more pedantic news, I got the last wall built in my basement that was required to guarantee a cat-free area of the house and I can start to properly set up my workshop, music studio, and a games area down there. Before you get the wrong idea, it's a tiny house with a tiny basement and all of the things I have described will be (yeah...) tiny, but they will be distinct and I hope will open up sorely missed avenues for creativity and relaxation. It's a lot of work to go, but now I can start on the job at least! I am also nearly where I want to be for the way my bedroom is set up (a proper bare desk for doing my homework on... a thing I realize I need so much so I can focus... I can't focus especially if there is a computer available on the desk) — it is more of a sleep, relaxation (got a couple of Poäng chairs along a wall, very nice), and study area now than a data centre and R&D lab, heh.

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The Official Canadian Temperature Conversion Chart:

50° Fahrenheit (10° C)
· Californians shiver uncontrollably.
· Canadians plant gardens.

35° Fahrenheit (1.6°C)
· Italian Cars won't start.
· Canadians drive with the windows down.

32° Fahrenheit (0°C)
· American water freezes.
· Canadian water gets thicker.

0° Fahrenheit (-17.9°C)
· New York City landlords finally turn on the heat.
· Canadians have the last cookout of the season.

-60° Fahrenheit (-51°C)
· Santa Claus abandons the North Pole.
· Canadian Girl Guides sell cookies door-to-door.

-109.9° Fahrenheit (-78.5°C)
· Carbon dioxide freezes makes dry ice.
· Canadians pull down their earflaps.

-173° Fahrenheit (-114°C)
· Ethyl alcohol freezes.
· Canadians get frustrated when they can't thaw the keg.

-459.67° Fahrenheit (-273.15°C)
· Absolute zero; all atomic motion stops.
· Canadians start saying "cold, eh?"

-500° Fahrenheit (-295°C)
· Hell freezes over.
· The NDP are elected as a majority government in Alberta.

... I guess that explains why I can't thaw my keg <makes ready to happily gnaw on ice>.

Let's just hope the Alberta NDP don't fuck up as badly as the Ontario NDP did...
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I do want to post about my trip to Fermilab, but I have vowed to finish at least a major portion of my overdue homework before I do. In the meantime, as a followup to my browser-rantings, here is further reason why Chrome will not and cannot be a replacement for Firefox and an open-source non-commercial browser:

Google tackles 'malicious' Chrome extensions

Sounds like a good idea, right? Until you read: "The change means older extensions added outside the store will be disabled"... which means that Google will come into your house or business and change the way your computer works whether you like it or not. Not really what I want to happen when I use a web browser.

In further news, every school term I try to buy myself a little techno-treat. I have all the equipment I need for my home studio, so no more purchases there (there are plenty of "wants", but no more "needs"). However, I needed a new keyboard for one of my computers (I spilled a beverage on it and even after my attempts to clean it, it was still sticking, so I need to clean it again and it might just be borked), so I bought a nice keyboard for myself as a treat: a Ttesports Poseidon Z mechanical switch keyboard. This is the first mechanical switch keyboard I've had in decades and I *love* it (if you remember the original IBM "Type M" keyboards, this is the closest thing you'll find to it these days). My typing speed instantly went up and I make less mistakes typing because there is better feedback when I type. It's also backlit (more of a gimmick than anything), so I can work in the dark if I want (something I like to do at night: I don't like to need room lighting on top of everything else... hey, contrary to popular beliefs, troglodytism does not necessarily imply a low cultural level), but can easily turn the lighting off. One edumacational thing is the keyboard apparently has "blue switches". When I bought it, I was confused that it had something to do with the colour of the backlighting, which made no sense to me (yes, I'm a little embarrassed at the moment... I was unhip to the lingo apparently, heh). In fact, it has to do with a brand of keyswitch made by the company Cherry and used by many keyboard manufacturers now. There are blue, brown, red, and black switches apparently, so named for the colour of plastic used in their manufacture. Here's a good article describing the difference between mechanical and membrane (the most common type nowadays) keyboards, and between at least blue, brown, and black switches:

Mechanical Keyboard FAQ: Pick the Right Switch

Doing a little research, the "red switch" keyboards are like the black switch ones except they have a "lighter" travel:

Mechanical Keyboard Guide

(this link is cool because it talks about a whole bunch of other keyboard-related things besides the switches, including the shape of the keys, how the characters are put on the keys, etc.)

Edit: Just because I don't want to post it in its own post, I just did something quite interesting that I will recount here: I recovered a lost LibreOffice file on my Linux system. Specifically, I used a program called "scalpel" to scour my hard drive looking for anything that looked like a deleted LibreOffice Writer file. It found over 500 deleted chunks of information lying around on the hard drive that looked like that sort of file, including LibreOffice files left on there by the previous owner of the computer (definitely reason enough to make sure you wipe the crap out of your hard drives before throwing them out, selling them, or passing them on to someone else!). The instructions are here:

Recover accidently deleted Libreoffice document .odt files using Scalpel

What I specifically did (after I added the configuration lines specified in the article above, and commented everything out except for "odt" files) was create a directory on my USB stick and pointed scalpel at that, e.g. "scalpel /dev/sda5 -b -o /media/Kingston/recovered_files". As I said, it found many files that it recovered. To search through them, I used a word that I knew would be in the lost document (in this case, an author's last name) and the zipgrep utility (because LibreOffice save files are just a bunch of XML text files zip'ed into a single "odt" file), e.g. "for i in *.odt; do echo $i; zipgrep -li Floridi $i; done 2> /dev/null > search.out". Looking at "search.out", I just had to search for "context.xml" and the filename above that line had a reference to the author in question in it. I had 6 hits... 5 were earlier or later versions of the file (without the lost information), and 1 of them was the file I was looking for! It took quite a while to run scalpel on the whole hard drive partition, but it's good to know I have a way of recovering from momentary acts of carelessness or stupidity (in this case, it was an elaborate string of events, including a dead laptop battery, that allowed me to trash the recovery file I wanted to keep and keep the file I didn't need).
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Did you know that the current neo-Conservative government (under the iron fisted rule of Stephen Harper) in Canada is determined to make you and your loved ones suffer — no matter where you live in the world — as they fill the pockets of their supporters with money once made from giving hope to those who were diagnosed with cancer and other illnesses?

"this country has been an international leader, the world's largest single supplier of medical isotopes used in nuclear imaging, for more than 50 years. But all of that is about to end. Buried deep in the federal budget bill, now winding its way toward approval, is something called the Nordion and Theratronics Divestiture Authorization Act. [...] The federal government is determined to close Chalk River's isotope production as planned in less than two years, and when it does up to 40 per cent of the world's isotope supply will vanish, with no new supplier ready and waiting to fill the void."

The made-in-Canada isotope shortage

Way to evil it up Canada... murder any orphans lately while you're at it? Oh, you are... nice. Just fucking nice.

Edit: And apparently we're dumb as a sack of hammers as well, with no creativity or vision at all...

"Turks and Caicos Premier Rufus Ewing met Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa, where he says the two leaders spoke about exploring a more formal relationship. Ewing described the meeting as a "courtship", [...] but Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird suggested Monday that Canadians are dreaming if they think they'll have a province in the Caribbean any time soon. [...] Some provinces, however, appear open to the idea."

Visit to Ottawa by Caribbean island premier
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I have so much to post about, but after driving 8.2% of the way around the Earth (3268km) and spending 3 weeks with no more than a few hours of sleep at a time while working in a hazardous environment and a constant crisis mode, I think I will wait until I'm more coherent.

What I want to talk about today is the latest insanity from Firefox. I downloaded an update and they completely fuxxored its user interface. They have basically cloned the look-and-feel of Chrome (if I'd wanted to use Chrome, I'd download fucking Chrome, I hate that stupid menu icon at the top that we're supposed to use for everything with that program), moved all the icons that were at the bottom and which made total sense there (status bar at the bottom... it's one of the things I really liked about Firefox) to the top, redid their tabs interface so you can't tell the difference between where one starts and the next one ends ... or the title bar, they blend right into the window's title bar. And then in their support section, when people started to bitch, they informed us that they are shocked that we don't love it because it was designed to make the web experience for us so much better and was extensively tested by users before being deployed. So, Firefox developers are telling us that we're obviously idiots or at least uncultured sods if we can't see how brilliant the user interface they inflicted on us without warning is. They also instruct us to learn how to love it (see Dr. Strangelove for another thing we are supposed to learn to love).

The good news is, they have add-ons we can use to set the user interface back to the old way (apparently if you install four add-ons, it works about the same way too). Ummm, if you want me to be a happy user, allow me to switch back and forth between to the two and allow me to decide whether or not the new interface is the best thing ever or not. Telling me I'm supposed to like something like this smacks of Windows_8-ism and its ilk.

Not. Impressed.

Heading to bed... have slept probably 12 hours in 3 days... will try and write some positive stuff this weekend. Until then, here's a little teaser (it makes me smile):

You must be shorter than this to ride this ride

(and yes, I was standing flat on the floor; and no, I'm not notably tall)

Edit: I just submitted the following via the Firefox feedback page (please submit your own feedback, whether you agree or disagree with me: for Firefox to have any chance, if there is any at this point even, they need to hear from users of all opinions):

I just "updated" to version 29 and when it restarted, it stabbed me in the face. I detest the Chrome user interface (especially the stupid menu button in the corner that is now glaring at me from my Firefox window) and that is one of the reasons why I used Firefox (the other main reason was that some of my core add-ons like Zotero only worked in Firefox, but just about everything supports Chrome now as well). As a start, my status bar should be at the bottom of my window, and I want information there. There is hardly any way to tell where one tab starts and the next ends, and it blends perfectly into the title bar of the window making the whole thing a busy mess that is confusing to navigate. I have tried to use the new interface, but everything still takes me longer to do with the new layout than it did with the old. If it had come as an option, I would not have been angry, but it didn't and I am afraid I am. The discussions I read in the Mozilla forums when I went looking for how to "fix" the user interface did nothing to decrease my upset since I am now apparently an uncultured idiot who should know that the new interface is something I should be thrilled about. With all the hullabaloo recently regarding the Mozilla Foundation, things were looking bad for Firefox's future... I was hopeful that things would not continue on that path. This decision by the Firefox team and the responses I have seen are straight out of the Microsoft Windows 8 playbook. I expected better from Firefox. I am quite disappointed in what has just happened and I can't help but think that I have just witnessed the final passing of an age in Internet history.


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