Saturday, March 31, 2007

The Art of Compromise

I went to Canadian Tire today to buy some sort of oil additive for my car. While I was looking I came across one product whose directions said "add 25ml for every 50 litres of gas". The markings on the side of the bottle, however, were in ounces.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Four Blind Men and an Elephant.

"I think I misrepresent myself to everyone, because so many people have different, and often opposite, perceptions of me," said Randy.

Never Saw that One Coming

"I broke up with you because you're normal."

I has a passport!

As title says.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007


The Quebec election results are in. The Liberals get 48 seats, the ADQ 41, and the PQ 36. I'm surprised to see Dumont's ADQ with 41 seats, considering that they only had 5 in the last provincial parliament. I had expected, based on no expertise whatsover aside from a poll I glanced at a few weeks ago, that the Liberals would have a strong minority. The ADQ would have enough seats, low 20s perhaps, to make up an informal coalition of sorts with the Liberals. It's good to see the separatist PQ with so few seats. Apparently it's one of their worst showings since their first election. Haven't quite figured out what Dumont's stance on the role of Quebec in federation is, aside from a sense that it's a compromise between federalism and separatism. We won't ask to let us leave, but we hope you'll treat us as if we have. Something like that. The word autonomy is used quite a lot. Spain has a lot of autonomous regions. So many in fact, I wonder if the Spanish president isn't just the mayor of Madrid, but with a fancy title. I've learned a fair bit over the last few years about federalism across the globe, and realized that there are many more models besides the Canadian one, which isn't really inspiring and tends towards a unitary state rather than a federation. So maybe Dumont's ideas deserve a look.

Well, it's getting late so that, though incomplete, is all that I will say for now. Better informed but equally useless analysis and opinion can be found in the pages of our print media.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


I just visited Technorati, a search engine for up to date (up to minute?) information on what's going on in the blogosphere, among other blog related data.

A certain name kept popping up, so I decided to try and figure out what all the fuss was about. After all, if he's that popular, why don't I know about him, right? I search for the name and followed a link to a blog post titled "God hates Technorati"[1], which eventually led to the website of the man whose name keeps popping up.

I visited the blog of the man himself. The guy, a pastor, made a personal decision not to visit Techorati for the benefit of his own well-being. He didn't slight the service itself. He didn't tell me, nor you, nor the members of his congregation not to use the service. He just felt like he would be better off not reading the feedback about his work that he obtained through the Technorati service.

But somehow this shot him up to number 1 for Technorati keywords (he was at number 2 when I checked).

A bit touchy about our blog search engine, are we?

[1] "God Hates Technorati" is a very misleading title in my opinion. The pastor certainly didn't say anything even close to "God hates Technorati" in his original post. He didn't even say "God is meh about Technorati". In fact, I don't think he even suggests that God is aware of Technorati. Searching his blog yields 3 or 4 posts, one containing his original decision, and the rest responding to his subsequent fame. Given the controversy that ensued over the last church group to obtain fame with a "God Hates ..." type slogan, I think the title is quite over the top as well.

I have intentionally avoided naming the man at the centre of the controversy and linking to any blog posts on the matter, since I don't want to participate in the silliness. Search Technorati if you really wanna know.

The Cult I Joined

Sometime ago I joined a cult, popular amongst university students, known as facebook.

"Wait!" you protest, "That's not a cult, it's an online social networking tool!"

Such are the claims made by facebook, but I fear that claims do not make reality, and the reality is that facebook is a cult. What is the basis for such an assertion? What evidence do I have to support this accusation?

Exhibit A: Weird behaviour. I have a friend with whom my communication is almost exclusively through facebook. He knows my email, he knows my phone number, he's on my msn, but he only writes messages to me on my facebook "Wall". Why is this strange? Any of these other forms of communication are vastly more efficient, but communication through our respective facebook walls adds an extra layer of inneficiency to the communication process. Not only do I have to open a browser to read the email that tells me that someone has posted on my wall, I then have to log in to facebook to read the message.

Exhibit B: More weird behaviour. In the last two weeks, I have been looking for a place to sublet for the summer. I looked at one place that, in the end, I decided not to sublet. I sent an email to the current tenant to inform her that that I would not be subletting from her. It turns out that she is also a member of this cult. No more than a day later, I received an email telling me that she has added me as a friend on facebook. Within minutes of approving her as a facebook friend, she sent me a message telling me "alrite, but it's really hard to get summer sublet stuff done...but thanks for let me know!" Normal behaviour would be replying to my email directly. This is not normal. It is weird.

Only a cult could be responsible for such unusual forms of communication.

Exhibit C: Characteristic of many cults is unusual sexual behaviour. In facebook, this takes the form of "poking". The creator of facebook claims not to have a purpose for poking, but all facebook users know what he had in mind when he cooked up that feature. Why else would there be a facebook group called "Enough with the poking. Let's just have sex."? Zuckerberg, you dirty bird!

Exhibit D: You can leave any time you want, but would you mind telling us why? Have you ever tried leaving facebook? Your friends won't let you. A few have managed to break free, most only temporarily.

Exhibit E: Friends. Every day, I am informed by facebook that buddy and wasisname are now friends with the other fellers. I distrust any organzation that makes such liberal use of the word "friend".

Exhibit F: Aggressive recruitment tactics. Facebook will scour the contacts lists in all of your email accounts and encourage you to send facebook requests to all of your contacts who aren't already on facebook.

Exhibit G: Loss of individuality. See exhibit A. Your thoughts are no longer your own, but belong collectively to your "friends" (see exhibit E).

Exhibit H: Demands total devotion. See exhibit A and B. You must abandon all old forms of communication, and transmit messages only through facebook. You must only use your email account to receive notifications from facebook. All other responsibilities fall by the wayside as people become evermore consumed by facebook. You can see people's frustration with this when they create groups with titles encouraging facebook to do non-family-friendly things to itself because they're trying to do homework (such groups are only allowed to exist to create the illusion that dissent is allowed).

So there you have it folks. Rock solid evidence that facebook is a cult. Stay away while you still can!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Canada Farm

Offered because it has been subtly suggested that I do so, and without comment.
Lorne's and Danny's thoughts on the new equalization scheme can be summarized thus:
"We all should be equalized. Some of us should be more equalized than others."

Update: Up until yesterday, the focus was on what Saskatchewan's and Newfoundland's Premiers thought about it. Now it appears that the whole country's in on it.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Passport Absolutionals[1]

Yesterday, or perhaps two days ago if I do not write this fast enough, I made the trek to Ottawa for a second time. Even though I knew that the lineups were going to be shorter and didn't need to leave as early, I decided to leave early anyway, in order to accomodate a passenger, who would cover at least part of the gas expenses. At 6:28 I was scrambling to be out of the apartment by 6:30, when I received a phone call from my passenger telling me the she misread the time (due to daylight savings) and was not ready yet. She estimated she would need at least another hour to pack. So about an hour later, I left to pick her up. I waited in my car for about 15 minutes until I decided eventually to go knock on the door. It was another 15 minutes before she was ready, so it was around 8:00, the time I had originally planned to leave, before we got on the road.

As with last week, the traffic was pretty good, though there were more cars on the road this time around, unsurprisingly. The traffic was more consistent on the 417 than last week, though slower on average. This reminds me of the rule that we learned in driving lessons... right lane is fer drivin', left lane is fer passin'. This is one of those things that makes sense in theory, but rarely pans out in practice, and when it does, it really doesn't matter what lane you drive in. I don't recall ever being told what to do when there are more than 2 lanes, as in the case of the 417, where there are 4 for most of the length that I drove on. What are the right and left lanes? I see that most drivers pick the rightmost lane, which is fine and makes the most sense when they're near their exit, but they seem to stay put despite the fact that the average speed has slowed to lower than the speed limit, while the average speed in the centre and left lanes is higher [2]. Yeah, it can get a bit dicey when my exit is coming up, but I like to spend as much of my time as possible in any lane that allows me to drive at least the speed limit.

This week I chose to park in the underground parking of the C.D. Howe Building (the building that holds the passport offices). The hourly rate is quite a bit steeper than that of last week's parking lot, but I paid less ($6.00), since customers pay when they leave based on how long they stayed.

For some odd reason, my passenger decided to wait out the whole passport business with me. It was nice, since she offered to get me a coffee and a muffin, which she paid for (in the end, she also paid more for gas than I was expecting too), while I went to get in line. The lineup was quite a bit longer this week than last week, but still nothing compared to what it was reported to be like last week. The people standing in front of me and behind me were much more talkative than those from last week, and quite agreeable too, which made the time go faster. We were standing in line for at least an hour and a half, but it felt like no more than a half an hour. As with last week, once I got into the passport office, because I had filled out my forms online, I was served very quickly. Lucky for me too. Unlike last week, the chairs were all taken, and I had to stand. This time everything went through. I noticed the passport agent filling in one entry on the application that I must have forgotten to fill out myself, though this did not turn out to be a problem. Five minutes or so and I was out.

My passenger then offered to serve me some lunch at her sister's place. I wouldn't make that offer to anyone on the first day that I met them [3], but she was at least harmless enough that it was worth the risk for free food.

After I finished lunch I called a friend that I made some somewhat open ended plans with the previous week. They weren't as open as I had taken them to be. I got her voicemail, left a message, waited around for a while in case she called back, and then left Ottawa.

Some other things to mention:

  • It's not what you know, it's who happens to be standing two spots in front of you at the passport office. While I was waiting in line, it came up that I was almost finish a Ph.D. The man two spots ahead of me overheard this and asked me what in, and if it was related to computer science. I responded that it was math, but in an area with a lot in common with computer science. He gave me his business card and told me to send him my CV when I'm finished.
  • If you're applying for a passport during a busy time, fill in your application online if you can. I know I said this last week, but I'm saying it again this week. I was in and out in about five minutes, while those who didn't fill in online had another wait of up to an hour and a half.
  • You can learn as much, if not more, from the Passport Canada employee standing just outside the door of the offices (he has an official title, though I don't recall what it is at the moment) by overhearing what he says to other people. Many of the questions I had before I went were answered by him while I was waiting in line. The guy must have a lot of patience. He always seemed rather calm. I'm sure he spends most of the day answering the same set of questions over and over again. I'd be tempted to punch the third person to ask a question that had already been asked twice.
  • Expect nothing and you will never be dissappointed.
  • It's 11:20 at night and I feel like a coffee. I think I'll pass.
  • Speaking of Coffee. I won a coffee with roll up the rim from a coffee that I bought on the way home. It's only my third cup this year too. Beats last year, where I must have had 15 or 16 cups of coffee before I got a winning cup. If that happened this year, you could have counted on an angry post with the title "Roll up the Rim to Whine". I'm sad that this title has to get stuck at the bottom of a post, but I'm not going to wait until the next string of bad roll up the rim luck happens before I use it. So here it is.
  • I need the passport so that I can go to Tucson (Arizona, not to be confused with Tuscany Italy *sigh*) for a conference. I didn't realize that I had neglected to mention this until my sister pointed it out to me in an email.
  • Despite the fact that this time around I actually finished what I went to Ottawa to do, I got a potential lead on a job, got a chunk of my gas paid for, and won a coffee, I think I had a better time last week than this week.
  • I should hyperlink my footnotes.
  • This post hasn't been thouroughly proofread, but I'm posting it anyway so that I get it in before midnight.
[1] Absolutionals is not a word according to the worldmind.

[2] There's a quote from the movie Driving Miss Daisy, when Miss Daisy says something like "Just because the speed limit is 30 miles per hour doesn't mean you have to drive that fast" that seems fitting here. The worldmind doesn't know it, or I'm not asking nicely enough.

[3] To tell you the truth, I'm not sure I've ever made that offer.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

EDST May be Handy

He asked the guy,
"Have you got the knife?"
He caught my eye.
I fear for my life.


It kills the mood to have to explains one's art. Nevertheless, I feel that I must offer some explaination about the preceding masterpiece, lest I cause undue worry amongst my readers.

The first three lines are based on a true story involving me.

The last line is pure nonsense.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Hamster, Squirrel, or other Rodent?

Daylight savings time starts today in the U.S. and most of Canada.

I use my cell phone as an alarm clock and I had trusted that its clock phone would adjust automatically, as it had when daylight savings time ended last year, and as it had done with my previous cell phone. Also, in time and date settings of the phone I had selected "adjust automatically".

However, it didn't adjust, and I woke up an hour late.

"Maybe Telus didn't know," a friend protested.
"It's a pretty big company," I replied, "They should know."
"I just found out about it last week. Maybe they did too."
"Then Telus is a hamster."
"Well, you know, Telus is a big company, and I know that big companies suck and all, but the only way that a company that big could be that dumb is if it's actually not a company but a rodent of some kind, like a hamster."
We then got into a debate about what kind of rodent Telus is.

The last candidate before the conversation ended was the capybara, though we never decided for sure that Telus is a capybara.

Whatever kind of rodent it is, however, it knew. It just didn't do anything about it.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

As Promised

At 4:00 today, after a harrowing defeat in an online game of 7 hand poker, I left for the gym, and then went to Loblaws to go grocery shopping. I chose the worst possible route to drive to the gym. I hit every light red. I seriously could have walked faster. Driving to the Loblaws from the gym, however, went smoothly, and the parking lot was easier to navigate than usual. I was even lucky enough to get a drive through spot (technically there are no drive through spots, but that only matters on a road test). The walk from my car to the store was uneventful.

I usually follow a set route through the grocery store. This week was no exception. First I hit the produce section. I grabbed the usual apples and bananas. I wanted to visit the leafy green section, but passed the tomato section first, where I picked up three plum tomatoes. In the leafy green section, I looked around for the spinach. While I was looking, I came across something called "Mache", with a hat over the "a". The box said it's pronounced like "mosh". I don't believe the box. Maybe the box has another dialect of English in mind. Eventually I found the spinach. I've never bought fresh spinach before. The only thing I needed now was an onion. I picked a white onion. I usually pick white onions. It's easier to tell when they've been bruised or otherwise damaged. Sometimes I wonder, though, if I would be better served by one of my other onion options.

That was it for the produce section. Yet, something didn't feel right. It felt like I had forgotten something. I looked around, and looked at the little grocery list that I had written for myself. I had everything I needed. I moved on.

I picked up a loaf of bread, then headed for the meat section. I needed some chicken. I always feel like I'm getting hosed when I buy chicken at Loblaws. I suck it up, and figure that it would cost even more at A&P nearby[1].

I grabbed the smallest carton of cream that they sold. The recipe I'm using it for called for 1/4 of the amount that I bought. I guess I'll have cream in my coffee this week. I feel like such a spoiled brat.

Now it was time to buy yogourt. I ended up buying the cheapest stuff they had, which cost about half as much as everything else. Yeah, sure, it's No Name brand, but it's an ingredient in a recipe, and again I only needed a fraction of the amount that I bought. I won't be putting the extra in my coffee.

I bought a jar of jam. I thought I had enough jam for this week, but I wasn't sure, and I'm going to need it next week anyway, so I bought some. It was strawberry jam, by the way.

That was it for groceries.

In terms of the usual route through the grocery store, I finished rather early. Nevertheless, I proceeded through the remaining four aisles of my usual route, in case I had forgotten something. I did not see anything that I had forgotten, so I proceeded to check out.

There was only one checkout lane open other than the 8 items or less lane, and the lineup seemed rather long, so I decided to use one of the check yourself out machines. I think I would have spent less time in line at the one checkout lane, mainly because the product code for the plum tomatoes was nowhere to be found in the menu options, and I eventually needed the help of the attendant. The total cost of this week's groceries was $29.79.

The traffic on the trip home was not as smooth, in part due to the chosen route. This way used higher traffic streets, with more stoplights, although it's a more direct route. There was an especially bad (relative to Kingston) blockage at one point because someone decided to stop their car in the left lane of the road (the lane that I had chosen). Someone driving in the right lane decided to slow down to let me in, although this only became apparent after she had been driving slowly for a while. She probably would have saved us both time if she had just exercised her right of way, and made me wait until she had passed[2].

When I got home I realized that I had bought cracked wheat bread instead of whole wheat. I'll get over that. But I also noticed that the yogourt is fat free. What does that mean? Was it specially produced to have no fat, or is yogourt naturally fat free, like pretzels? Now I could be stuck with a much too large quantity of some low quality yogourt that has been made even worse by removing the fat. I also realized that I forgot to buy pasta. This could have been found somewhere in one of the last four aisles that I walked through without getting anything from them.

[1] Why don't I go to A&P if it's closer? Because I have a car, and I can go to Loblaws, and the prices are lower at Loblaws, and the selection is much better.

[2] Giving up your right of way to do somebody a favour usually has this effect, mainly because it's not clear to the intended recipient that a favour is being done until a fair amount of time has elapsed.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Passport Confessionals

At about 6:30 this morning I embarked on a trip to Ottawa to finish the application process for my passport. Traffic was smooth sailing, aside from wasting about 1 minute pulling into a gas station that hadn't opened yet (I was trying to get gas, of course) and a 5 minute traffic slow down on the 417 (my velocity never approached zero, which is enough to keep me satisfied in slow traffic, unlike driving through another unmentioned capital city located in Ontario).

After reading reports from as late as the beginning of this week that people were spending 4-5 hours lined up at the passport offices waiting to be served, I had planned to be standing or sitting in line until some time between 12:00 and 1:00 in the afternoon. When I arrived at the office, the lineup outside of the office seemed to be rather short. Everyone must be inside, I figured. As I got closer to the office, I found out that this was not the case, as most of the people were actually outside the office. All told, I don't think I spent more than an hour in line before I got to speak to a Passport Canada employee. Certainly no more than an hour and a half. Not bad, I thought. The employee looked at my application, made sure that I had the relevant documentation with me, gave me a number, and told me to have a seat in the chairs. I sat down, looked up, and realized that my number was next, looked down, looked up again, and saw that it was my turn already. It was going way better than I expected. I went to the appropriate wicket and handed the agent my application. She told me that the passport would be ready by April 4, more than two weeks before my travel date of April 20. Well this just keeps getting better and better. After reading and hearing the stories of other people who applied by mail months ago and still haven't received theirs, I thought that I would be lucky to get it on time, unless I forked out some extra dough. There was one last bit of information that needed to be entered into the computers, namely the info about my guarantor, which I had chosen to be my supervisor. And then... the computer made a beep. It was not a happy beep. It was a beep of disapproval. You see, my supervisor is a professor emeritus. Emeritus in university speak means retired. Retired folks don't qualify, perhaps on the basis that they might too senile to reliably identify the ones they are the guarantors for. You don't find this information on the application form, however. You have to go to the FAQs on the Passport Canada's website. It never crossed my mind to A that Q. It might have, if he weren't active (he still comes in to work most days). But if he weren't active, he wouldn't be my supervisor, and I wouldn't have asked him to be my guarantor. (Proving that it would not have crossed my mind under any circumstances. QED).

Now I need to find someone else to agree to be a guarantor for me. And make another trip.

I'm surprised at how angry I wasn't after all that. I'm not pleased. But I wasn't really angry. On my way there, I imagined myself cursing and swearing, if not out loud, then in my head, at some unfortunate agent as she told me that something was wrong, especially since I got up about two hours earlier than usual and assumed I would be tired and irritable. Yet I felt no such impulse. Perhaps it was the fact that everything else up to that point had proceeded better than expected, even though it amounted to nothing. Though I would have preferred for everything to go as expected, even if it would have meant a lot of unpleasantness simply because I don't feel like paying for gas to make the second trip. Then I wouldn't have to go back get a passport.

If I had wanted to, I could have left right away and been home by noon. Instead, I descended to the lowest level of the building containing the passport offices, found a Timothy's coffee stand, ordered the largest possible coffee they offered, sat down, drank my coffee, and tried to understand the relationship between the fractional chromatic number and the vector chromatic number. I didn't figure it out completely; the coffee ran out before I could. But I understand the relationship enough to satisfy myself for the time being. I don't think I would have totally figured it out anyway.

At some point before the coffee was done, I turned on my cell phone, which made more noise than I expected and attracted the attention of a young woman sitting nearby. I smiled, more out of embarrassment than anything else. After that, she seemed to be looking at me quite a lot. Perhaps she misinterpreted my smile.

When the coffee was done, 11ish, I guess, I took a stroll around Ottawa for about an hour and a half, then headed back to my car and drove home.

Some other things to mention:

  • I needed to pay for the parking up front. I paid for much more parking time than I needed to. Part of the reason I didn't just leave right away. If I wanted to, I could have parked my car there until 6:00. Or, as the ticket said, until 18:00. Stupid 24 hours clocks. As I was leaving, someone else was pulling in. I gave her my parking slip. She gave me $3.00. It didn't pay for all of the extra time that I paid for, but it's $3.00 more than I was going to ask for.
  • There are certain establishments in Ottawa that I've only ever read about. Upon seeing some of them for the first time, I realized that in my mind these places were virtually fictional. In fact, the people who write about the places, mostly journalists are also, in my mind, fictional characters who are written by real people. Anonymous people, but real.
  • Timothy's coffee is celebrating its 30th year. 30 years! I hadn't even heard of this place until 3, maybe 4, years ago. What was it doing for the last 27, maybe 26, years? Why didn't I notice? The nominal similarity with another popular coffee chain is also curious.
  • If you want your passport to be processed in a timely manner, use the online application process if you are eligible. Don't just download the pdf (I could link to this, but why would I?) of the application form that Passport Canada has on its website. Fill in the application online, etc. Doing this is why my passport was going to be ready so much more quickly than I expected. You have to submit in person, however, and there are other restrictions.
  • I had visions of a on office that opened into the street and a lineup that spilled out into said street. The passport office is located inside the C.D. Howe building, in a portion of the building that resembles a small enclosed mall. My visions inspired me to dress warmly. This was unnecessary. Mind you I didn't overheat until I was driving home, and the sun was beating down on me while the heat was on. I turned down the heat and all was well. In any case, if I ever offer you advice based on one of my visions, it's probably not a good idea to follow it.
  • I parked in a municipal lot. But the municipal parking lots are only part of the parking story. For example, the C.D. Howe building has underground parking. I wonder if this is the kind of parking lot where you pay when you leave, based on how long you've been there. If so, I'll park there next time to avoid paying for parking until 18:00 hours. It's also closer. Can't get any closer, really , unless I drive through the front doors, and then I've got other problems on my hands.
  • Express highways have personalities.
  • You get what you pay for/fill in warranty cards. I bought a car stereo last year with lots of features for little money. It seems to have a hard time playing CDs these days. I think it has something to do with the weather (it's worse when it's cold). It's still within the warranty period, but I didn't fill in the warranty card soon enough, so I can't get them to fix/replace it.
Well now. I've really gone on haven't I? I'll bet you're looking forward to tomorrow's blog post where I give a detailed run down of my trip to the grocery store. Don't worry though. I won't tell you about doing my laundry. That would be boring.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


I've been working on getting my passport for the past couple of days. I'm in a bit of a tight spot and I wanted to contact Passport Canada directly to see what the best course of action is to get my passport on time. I called the only phone number I could find, and was met with nothing but a recorded voice message offering me menu options, none of which included talking to an operator. Picking some of these menu options only lead to more recorded voice messages, and still no option to talk to an operator. The important thing to get from all this is that, well, you can listen to recorded messages all you want, but it appears that you can't actually talk to anyone. So imagine my surprise when I called after hours and receive a different voice message telling me that their offices are now closed! Did the machine that dispenses recorded messages go home for the night?