Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Well of Course

Since I finished my degree and started teaching, my wardrobe decisions have been based primarily around looking halfway professional. This seems not to be a universal concern amongst professors. I know of one professor who is barely distinguishable from a homeless person. There is another who could easily be an extra on Trailer Park Boys. I don't think I'm smart enough to get away with that, however.

While blue jeans are my preferred choice of lower-body clothing, everything that I've bought in the last year and a half has been denim free. My favourite, most recently purchase pairs of jeans (identical) have both worn out, leaving me with two other pairs. One is a pair that these replaced. The other pair seemed fashionable when I bought them in 1999. However, due to a long string of bad dietary decisions, they became too small, so they got stored in the bottom of my drawer until a year or two ago. They now fit my lower-body, but don't fit in with the rest of my wardrobe, or anybody else's. I'm not sure what made anyone think they were fashionable when they were. On the other hand, they possess the distinct advantage of not being worn out, due the the preservative effects of the cardboard box in which they were stored for 6 years. I mainly wear them if I don't plan on being seen by anyone who knows me. In other words, I don't usually wear them when I leave the house.

This morning in particular, I decided to wear them, thinking I'd be in all day. Later this afternoon, on a whim, I decided to venture out to the mall nearby in hopes of finding the perfect winter coat (a lifelong quest, it seems). When I got to the mall, I realized that I had forgotten to change out of these jeans. "Oh well," I thought, "I don't know too many people who live around here anymore. Who could I possibly run into? Besides, if they laugh, I don't need 'em 'cause they're not good friends." The first store that I went to was Sport Chek. I saw a coat that I liked at one of their other locations, but the only one that they had in stock was too small. The selection at this location was better, and I managed to find a similar coat in a larger size (the main difference between this one and the first one I had seen was in the material that the collar was made of, which is immaterial to me). Even though it was bigger, I wasn't sure it was bigger enough, so I didn't make the purchase.

I thought about walking around the rest of the mall to see if I could find something in another store, but this was the third mall I visited in 4 days, and it was becoming apparent that the main difference between one mall and the next is the layout. Most of the stores that appear in one will likely appear in the other. I had already sifted through the merchandise at the stores in the other malls, and even if there were stores at this mall that I hadn't been to yet, the chances of finding something I liked were still pretty low, so I decided to leave.

On my way out, I saw the Danier Leather store, which was suggested to me after I returned from the second mall outing, but which I hadn't been to yet. I've never yearned for leather anything in the past, so I didn't expect to make a purchase. I just wanted to see what sorts of things they had, so I could go home and think about it. One of women at the cash looked familiar. It wasn't implausible that she could be who I thought she might be, since she married someone from around here (younger brother of an old friend, coincidentally), but her hair was a fair bit longer than I remembered it being, so I wasn't sure. I proceeded to check out the coats.

I had just finished looking when I noticed a display of wallets, something else on my list of things to buy (fairly low on the list, but yep, it was on there). After looking for a while, I found a wallet worthy of my pocket, so I went to buy it. When the transaction was nearly completed, the somewhat familiar cashier asked me for my name (something to do with a warranty).

"Randy," I said.

"I thought so," she responded.



And we proceeded to chit-chat about what we've been up to since she finished with Queen's. Fortunately for me, the offending jeans were hidden from her view by the checkout counter.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Season's Greetings

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Aquatic Ambivalence and Antipathy

According to this article Toronto plans to "ban the sale of plastic water bottles on municipal premises by 2011." On the one hand, if I were a Torontonian, I would welcome the potential reduction in waste floating about the city. On the other hand, the law is heading in the direction of banning the sale of things that I don't think ought to be banned, and in places I don't think they ought to be banned from being sold at. I'll start to whine when they extend the ban beyond municipal premises (if I happen to be living in Toronto, or if the place I happen to be living tries to do Toronto one better). This is not to say that I've ever been a big part of the bottled water craze. Most of the bottled water I drink is given to me, and most of the bottled water that is given to me, I don't drink. Tap water is just fine. Mostly I think you should just buy a decent reusable water bottle and use that [1]. It'll probably save you money in the long run anyway.

The ban doesn't stop at water bottles on municipal premises, however. There are a number of other things that will be banned, in phases of increasing annoyance, starting with a five-cent charge on shopping bags and culminating in a request that retailers have to provide boxes or paper bags as an alternative to paying for plastic bags. This would be good if there were some sort of agreement among the various studies that paper bags are definitively better. Apparently, there is not [2]. Besides, if people aren't going to reduce, reuse, or recycle their plastic bags (or even throw them in the garbage), they're probably not going do that for paper bags either. As for cardboard box vs. paper bags, all that I could find (not that I looked very hard) was a homespun youtube video[3]. I wonder if this was the basis for Toronto's decision? Certainly if they had a more scientific basis than this guy, the internet is keeping it well hidden. There you go. The city council is making people's lives more complicated, for no apparent reason.

Such is the nature of politics, I suppose. Even if you have no power to change what the people think you ought to be trying to change, the least you can do is waste your time enacting laws to make the people waste their time, as long as it looks like you're trying to change whatever it is you think the people think you ought to be trying to change. The net benefit to society or the environment, or whatever it is your trying to provide net benefit to, may be nil by the end of your term, but at least you'll stand a better chance of getting reelected.

[1] He says, offering you advice that he has himself only recently followed, though he's been known (mostly by himself) to reuse bottles from drinks purchased at the nearest Mac's Milk.

[2] The statement about the lack of consensus appears somewhere near the bottom.

[3] Other things found include an article from The Onion, and an article about a bound whose frontman wears a green cardboard box on his head.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Solid Economic Advice for these Troubled Times

In my quest to understand the current financial crisis, and the wisdom of our current government's policy of not running deficits and its consequent reluctance to provide a stimulus package, I decided to turn to the experts on the internet. Here is the best of what I could find.

First, a quote from the Number 2 economist of the Number 1 bank in Canada [1]

"' I think a lot of us were a bit flabbergasted by the government’s priorities,' said Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Capital Markets. 'Who exactly are they trying to impress' with the deficit-fighting rhetoric? he asked, since Canadians know very well that temporary deficits are far preferable to a deepening recession." (Courtesy of Paul Wells)

Second, a quote from the Number 1 economist of the Number 2 bank in Canada [2]

" 'I'm not a big fan of short-term stimulus packages,' said Don Drummond, chief economist at TD Bank. 'They don't really generate very much short-term stimulus and they very quickly become long-term structural problems.' " (Canadian Press)

There you have it. One expert arguing broadly against the current governments practices. Another broadly supportive. Thanks for the help guys.

I've searched a bit for other evidence either for or against stimulus packages, and haven't come up with anything better than the above two quotes. The next best argument that I've heard is, more or less, "but everyone else is doing it!" I doubt there are too many of us who didn't try using that one to defend our actions at some point in our lives. When we were in grade three [3]. I remember somebody asking me something about my friends and a cliff. On the other hand, if you compare some of the major stock indices, over the last year or so, it seems like we've already followed our friends off a cliff.

[1] Number 1 by assets and in market capitalization

[2] Number 2 by assets and in market capitalization

[3] Well I was in grade three when I first tried to use it. The truth is, I wasn't actually defending myself. I was hoping to bring my friends down with me. The truth is, they weren't actually my friends.

Friday, November 28, 2008

My Spelling is Already Bad and You're not Helping!

Well, it seems that spelling has won yet another battle in its war against me. Frequently in my class (which ends tomorrow), I have to take about parameterizations. Whatever that means. It doesn't matter. This isn't a math lesson [1]. Normally, I only need to talk about one of them at a time. You would think that forming the singular of that word would be as simple as deleting the s. But according to the spell-checkers of both Firefox and my text editor, the singular of parameterizations is parametrization. Look carefully. The 'e' after the first 't' that appears in the plural is absent in the singular. Really! What's up with that? I mean, the word is long. You could afford to leave out a few more letters, and the word would still be recognizable to most people to whom parameterizations are relevant. But why does that 'e' disappear when you form the singular from the plural?

One of these days I'll beat you spelling, one of these days [2]!

[1] The other day in class, I needed to write the word symmetric. After I had written it, it looked wrong. It was right. It just looked wrong. There seemed to be one too many m's. I asked the class what they thought. "This isn't a grammar lesson," I heard one student say. No, it's not. Nor was it a spelling lesson.

[2] I'm entertaining the hypothesis that both my text editor and the Firefox spell-check guys are using the same dictionary, in which there is an error. I'm just too lazy to figure out which spelling is the right one.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Daylight Savings Explained

I always appreciate the extra hour of sleep I get when we switch from daylight savings to standard time, although it's a bit shocking in the following days when it gets dark "so early". Now that the the switch is well past, and we're heading into the shortest days of the year, it's usually dark before I leave work. On days like this, I sometimes hope that the day will come when we are on daylight savings all year. Though I think I should put that hope behind me. I've just discovered that being on daylight savings all year would be a very bad idea.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

100 bucks says...

What have I done this time? A while ago, my credit limit dropped by a mysteriously inconsequential 4 dollars. A few days later, it was raised by the same amount. I just checked my accounts again, and it seems my credit limit has been reduced by 100 dollars. It's still inconsequential. And still mysterious. Also mysterious is that I have a balance of $30.19, but no recent transactions. Why is it that they bother to tell me how much I am in debt to them without telling me how I incurred that debt?

Nowhere to go but up

It seems the market has hit croc bottom.

East meets... the other East

Well yes.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How do I Get Ontario to Sign Up?

I just read on the CBC that Albertans will soon be paying a deposit on milk cartons. According to the article, they're the only province in the country to do that. Damn those environment hating prairie hicks.

The truth is, I would like to see the Ontario government expand the list of deposit-worthy items from wine and beer containers to all containers, plastic or otherwise.

Now, I must be honest about my intentions. I'm not all that concerned about the environmental impacts of recycling or not. My current feeling, after years of meticulous sorting, is that it's more trouble than it's worth. Kingston made it worse for me when they added grey boxes (for paper, plastic bags, etc.) to the blue boxes (now only for cans, bottles, etc.) already part of their recycling program. I just don't make that much garbage to begin with (I'm more into reducing and reusing than I am recycling). Adding another only slightly less bulky grey bin to a preexisting, bulky blue bin was just enough disincentive for me. With the amount that I could potentially recycle, both bins will always be less than half-full. Great for the pessimist, not so great for the apartment dweller with limited storage space. Not to mention the fact that the bins only go out on alternating weeks, blue one week, grey the next. It just got to be too much hassle for me. (Reports say it did save the city money, so I guess there is one upside to it.) Plus, I've been getting this growing sense that, for all the efforts that people, citizens and city staff alike, put into it, the impact is small. There may be a net benefit from doing it, but it is low, and there are probably better places to put our resources, and our garbage, if our greatest concern is the environment [1].

Now that I've established that I don't put much stock into the Third 'R', let me get to why I hope Ontario will implement a policy similar to Alberta's. Ontario already has a deposit program in place for beer bottles and cans, and wine bottles were recently added. As far as I know, that's it. You used to be able to return pop bottles, back when pop bottles were made of glass (am I dating myself here?) I can't remember the last time I saw pop being sold in glass bottles other than for nostalgia and novelty purposes. I actually don't how many milk cartons get tossed in with ordinary garbage, either in absolute or relative terms. As far as I'm concerned, buying milk in cartons is a hose-job [2]. There is a 10 cent different between a 4 litre bag of milk and a 2 litre carton. Why would anyone buy that? Yet people do. I'll never understand. Anyway, back to the matter at hand. There are things that can be returned for deposit, certain classes of bottles and cans. How often do you see them lying around? Not very often, and if so, not for long. For example, when I was moving out of my last place, I had about 12 empty beer bottles lying around, and two or three empty wine bottles. It wasn't worth the extra 2 bucks or so that I would get to make the extra stop on my way back from the grocery store to return them. So when I moved out, I just left the bottles sitting in the driveway. Within an hour, while I was still inside packing, somebody came by and made off with my bottles. I have no idea who this guy was, but I'm grateful for him and others of his type. He saved me a trip, and he cleans up after other people besides me, all for the low low fee of 10-20 cents a bottle, to be paid by the beer store. I don't even have to supply the dimes! It's great!

Meanwhile, things like plastic bottles are not covered. They could be. Plastic water bottles, plastic pop bottles, whatever. And pop cans too. I often see "Return for deposit in Anywhere But Ontario" on the sides of these things. And no surprise, they are lying all over the place in Ontario. Especially water bottles. My parents would rarely drink bottled water themselves, but they managed to fill up three or four recycling boxes full of plastic bottles from bottled water, just by going for walks. Old neighbours say the neighbourhood has gotten messier since they left. Oh sure, we should be able to count on the good people to not throw out their empty containers everywhere. But we can't, because there aren't many and they're mostly busy somewhere else. We can't really count on there being very bored retired people with nothing to do but pick up garbage either. What we can count on is people who are willing to pick up after those lazy, ignorant slobs [3] for a ridiculously low price of about 10 cents per unit. Not a bad deal in my books. So if McGuinty should decide to target milk cartons, though they don't seem to be the scourge that plastic bottles are, maybe some of those plastic bottles could get hit in the crossfire.

The article linked to above claims that milk producers object because people will stop buying as much milk. Piffle! Tosh! Those who are truly concerned about that extra 10-25 cent deposit can, I don't know, SAVE their empty milk cartons and get the deposit back next week. Also according to the article 90 percent of Albertans are in favour of it. 90 percent! So most people are probably going to be willing to put out those extra few cents. And something tells me that the remaining 10 percent who are opposed to it aren't going to boycott milk because of it. It hasn't hurt the beer industry (for which the subsidies and marketing opportunities are fewer).

So onward Albertans! Return your bottles, plastic or glass! Return your cans! Return your milk cartons! And may Ontario follow you in your hillbilly ways! Yeehaw!

[1] I think, though I am not certain, that the idea of recycling originated was a solution to a logistical problem and not an environmental one. New Yorkers (city, not state) ran out of space to put their garbage, resulting in a so-called garbage crisis. They also ran out of arable land, resulting in a food crisis. Or not. You decide.

[2] And by hose-job, I mean they actually make a profit. Milk is, or used to be, a loss leader. If you walk into the store and buy a bag of milk, they actually lose money. They charge you less than it costs them to get you into the store. So if you want to stick it to Big Grocery, go buy lots of milk in bags.

[3] Myself, I'm just a lazy slob.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A word of advice

If there is an important document that is needed on a daily basis, I might suggest that you don't use it as a bookmark, close the book on it, put the book back on your shelf, and then search frantically for the document later in all of the usual places, none of which include a book on your shelf. Or, if you do do that, remember to check your books first, starting with the ones you used most recently, of course.

Take it or leave it.

Also, I would recommend locking your car doors so that, when important documents appear to go missing because you used them as a bookmark and then left them in a book, you can feel safe in the assurance that no one took them from your car.

Not that any of this has anything to do with me.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ice by any other name

For a good three to four years, I managed to hit the gym on average about three times per week. That stopped last summer when I decided to put everything I had into finishing my PhD. I also gave up eating food that I either couldn't pour milk on, couldn't put on bread, or didn't contain caffeine. I did get into the gym fairly regularly during the month of July, but dropped it again in early August because of the defence, vacation, and moving.

Somehow, despite my sloth and substandard eating habits, I managed not to appear less healthy. I entertained the thought that my efforts of the preceding years were permanent, though I knew this wouldn't be the case. So I had every intention of picking it up again in September, but instead I picked up a bug that immobilized me on a bad day and would certainly have interfered with a workout of any kind on a good day.

Once classes had started, it became rare that I would actually have enough time to go over to the gym and get myself signed up. Even when I did, I thought that time would be better spend on research that I was getting behind on. One morning, I decided to stop by the gym to sign up on my way to the office. But, while my old student card was a suitable stand-in for a staff card at the library, it seems that the gym has higher standards. Something without a picture on it for identification purposes is preferred, I suppose. I went to the office in the math department to get things sorted out, but they didn't have any of the appropriate forms left. Come back later. I never did.

In retrospect, I'm not sure I could have managed a consistent enough exercise regimen. I probably could have made it there now and then, once a week maybe. But that's not enough to make a difference (I don't think), and other things certainly would have suffered. The costs would have outweighed the benefits.

The month of May should have been a good enough time to try starting again, except for the fact that I wrecked my toe so badly after moving again at the end of April that walking slowly was a challenge in and of itself[1]. Real exercise would have been impossible. For the rest of the summer, I was never in Kingston long enough, it seemed, to get into a good routine.

It took some time to settle into a work routine at RMC. I was ready to do some exercise. I asked around about membership fees. Things are different at the RMC gym (actually, CFB Kingston gym). Queen's gym offers laundry service [2]. You can walk in and get gym clothes in the size that you need, exercise, and hand back the clothes when you're done. It's not free, but not outrageous either, and it's very handy. I probably wouldn't have kept up with the exercise as long as I did if they didn't have that service. When I walked in to the RMC gym a few weeks ago to ask about prices, I also asked about laundry service, if they had anything like Queen's laundry service. No, they don't. Then I had the excuse that I didn't have anything to work out in.

Earlier tonight, I decided to take care of that excuse. I was surprised at how much you have to pay for clothes that you are buying to sweat in. I shouldn't have been, since the store I went to specialized not in sporting equipment in general, but specifically in running equipment [2]. I didn't feel like driving across the city to the nearest store that sells clothes of sufficiently low quality to make me happy. I scanned my brain for other stores nearby that might sell what I was looking for. I couldn't think of anything. I've been putting it off until the next day for long enough now, and I wasn't going to give myself another excuse. So I sucked it up, and bought the cheapest product they had that was appropriate to my needs, even though the quality is greater than what I need.

[At this point, you're probably thinking that this is supposed to be something along the lines of a motivational story. Keep reading.]

One thing that was always lacking at my workouts at Queen's was a water bottle. I could usually make it through the twenty minutes I'd spend doing one exercise without rehydrating. When I was done, I would walk over to the water fountain, drink up, and go exercise some more. It worked okay. It would have been better, though, if I had water with me the whole time. So, even though I was making every effort not to spend money on shorts, I ended up spending the difference between cheap and expensive shorts on a water bottle.

The brand name of the water bottle is Subzero. Which is a great name for the bottle, because you are NOT (all-caps theirs) supposed to put it in the freezer, where you actually find the temperatures that the bottle is named after. The bottle does not have any insulating properties either. Thus you cannot bring the contents of the bottle to subzero temperatures, nor can you maintain a subzero temperatures of anything you put in it. Of course, I did not buy it with the intention of doing either of those. I just want to keep the water from falling on the floor before I can drink it. Furthermore, the name of a product isn't required by law to be able to do what its name might suggest. If you saw a product with that name, though, wouldn't you think that it would be able to do at least one of these things?

Curiously, though the bottle is made entirely of stainless steel (the caps are plastic, but not fixed to the bottle), you are NOT (all-caps also theirs) to use it for hot beverages. Thus, if the name Subzero had been taken, names involving high temperatures would also have been appropriate.

I'm probably going to return it. Not because of the misleading name (though I never bought a Nalgene in part because the name reminds me of algae. I thought it was something you were supposed to use with your fish tank) but because when I looked around to find out why I can't put hot water in it, I found very little of use. There are many places selling them. Those sites just copied the information off of the tag. I found the distributors' site, which looks like it was designed by the kid who flunked his high school web-design project, contains no information about the product, and no link to the company that makes them. I don't ask for much in a water bottle, but I would like to buy one from a company that exists.

[Okay. So what was this post supposed to be? I'm not sure anymore. Not this long. That's one thing it was supposed to be.]

[1] I think the toe problem could have fixed itself sooner had the ER doctor I waited 3-4 hours to see spent more than 10 seconds looking at it, and realized that in order for it to heal, I needed to do more than keep my feet clean and change my socks. Oh well. Five and a half months later, and I'm still not dead. So I guess I can't complain too much.

[2] Actually, they offered "locker service". You paid for a locker or a basket. The laundry service was included. I opted for the basket, because it was cheaper, though it was entirely useless to me. They were too small to fit my shoes in, but I couldn't justify paying that extra few dollars a month, which seemed to matter more then than it does now, just so that I didn't have to carry my shoes around.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Counterintuitive Conclusion of the Day

Conclusion: Jack Layton and Stéphane Dion are effectively extreme right-wingers [1].

The proof is simple, based on two statements I hear a lot and which, based on their commonness, I have no choice but to assume are true without the need to question their validity.

  1. All of the parties/party leaders are effectively the same. [2]
  2. Stephen Harper is an extreme right-winger.
Because Jack Layton, Stéphane Dion, and Stephen Harper are party leaders, they are all effectively the same, by Statement 1. Thus, because Stephen Harper is an extreme right-winger by Statement 2, Jack Layton and Stéphane Dion are also effectively extreme right-wingers [3].

[1] By this I don't mean that Jack Layton and Stéphane Dion are effective at being extreme right-wingers. They are not (well, effectively, they are effective at being extreme right-wingers, as I suppose I have shown above). Rather I mean to say that it is difficult to distinguish one from the other.

[2] See footnote [1] above. Statement 1 has been put to me thus: All parties are evil. The only difference between them is the lies they tell to get elected.

[3] I'm well aware that we could apply the same argument to show that Harper and Dion are leftist moonbats or to show that Harper and Layton are probably not going to lead their respective parties into the next federal election. This effectively reduces the diversity of political persuasions, which are usually described as points on a line or occasionally a circle [3.1], to a point, thus rendering the terms "right-winger", "left-winger", and "centrist" effectively meaningless.

[3.1] It has frequently been acknowledged that a line is inadequate to describe the various political leanings. A circle has been proposed as an alternative. This too, I find inadequate, as a circle is merely a line with the ends connected. I prefer a plane, or perhaps some other 2- or higher- dimensional manifold. A non-orientable one would make things more interesting. But it is what it is, and we can't be choosy with reality now, can we? [3.1.1]

[3.1.1] Oops. I've gone and made the footnotes longer than the post again.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Political Environment

I receive, though rarely read, daily headlines from the Hamilton Spectator in my email. The particular account that receives these daily mailings only gets checked every 4 or 5 days [1]. Just today, I got around to reading the headlines. This one


caught my eye. Interesting. The Green Party must posing such a threat to Hamilton's political climate that the typically Liberal or NDP city is considering voting Conservative. This I never expected. In the short description of the article below the headline in the email, it reads
"A green slime has hit Hamilton Harbour."

Well that's not a very nice way of talking about the Green Party. I guess it's just one riding near the harbour, though. In the first paragraph of article itself, however, I found out that
"Public health officials have confirmed the slimy goo coating areas of the Hamilton Harbour is potentially toxic blue-green algae."
Oh. Don't tease me like that.

[1] This is my hotmail account. If you'd like me to receive something in a timely fashion, don't send me email there. I'm looking at you msn users. Gmail is the way to go.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Petty Colours

When I returned to Kingston this evening, there was an email waiting for me in my inbox with the subject line "Are you ready?!..." Am I ready for what? New Month Day was a while ago (or isn't going to happen for a while. We're almost as far from the last one as we are from the next one.), so it couldn't be that. I'm ready for the stock markets to recover. But hey, who isn't, right? So it probably wasn't that.

As a last resort, having exhausted all of my ideas for what the contents of the email could be, I opened it. The contents read "...To watch little coloured bars scroll across the bottom of a TV; for the talking heads; for the interminable wait for results? I know I am!" Indeed, that may be the only good part of the election for me. I'm not really interested in who wins anymore, and unless theis year's thanksgiving turkeys were spiked with ideology-altering amounts of tryptophan, I'm pretty sure I can guess who the winner is going to be. I'm only marginally interested in how many seats the respective parties get.

This election, I didn't have cable, and most of my information regarding the election came from websites of newspapers. My first exposure to election television came this weekend. I consider myself lucky that I managed to avoid it for so long. Party platforms this time around ranged from almost nonexistent to mostly unrealistic. How can I listen to one guy tell me to vote for nothing in particular and another guy tell to vote for a platform almost none of which he could feasibly implement.

Initially, I thought Dion's proposed carbon tax was a good idea, relative to the NDP's and Conservative's ideas, until he actually released the details of the plan (before there was even talk of a premature election). I thought the carbon tax was going to directly affect consumers. A tax at the pump or something. But instead, he wants to go after corporations just like the other two. With a different type of tax structure, of course, but the target of the tax is the same. Corporations, not people [1]. The majority of the population (I think) wants something to be done about carbon emmissions, but not many are willing to do much themselves, even if all they do is agree to suck it up and pay an extra percentage point or two at the pumps. I guess I'm just too cynical, but I wanted to see people put there money where their mouth is. (Elizabeth May has a plan too, I'm sure. I'll pay attention to it some time after her party elects an MP.)

The other major issue (aside from that too-often repeated theme of leadership. It's important, for sure, but for the love of Pete, would you tell us where you'd like to lead us before the election is almost over? [2]) was the economy, about which I have a feeble grasp when it comes to solutions, lack thereof, and their necessity altogether. Dion apparently also has a feeble grasp, since his plan seems to be to ask experts to come up with a plan. Let us know who these experts are, and we shall elect them instead, Mr. Dion. Perhaps someone with a graduate degree in economics, like, oh, say, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Speaking of Mr. Harper, though, as with the rest his platform, he has a plan, or so he claims, though I don't know what it is. Layton, if his television commercials are to be believed, cared. How nice.

At the end of it all, I don't know who to vote for. I may have to exercise my democratic right not to vote. I don't like not voting. But I don't want to vote for the least of three evils, and I'm not big on protest voting. Perhaps there is no sense to it, but I'd like to have some sort of none-of-the-above type option (spoiling the ballot is more fun, mind you).

Democracy I like. I like driving too. But I don't usually get into the car if I have nowhere to go, and politics isn't something you joyride.

I hope I can watch the little coloured bars on the internet.

[1] For many years, I had believed that the GST was a brand new tax. In part it was. Though I learned earlier this year that it replaced a previously hidden manufacturing sales tax. We were all paying it before the GST, we just didn't know about it. After the GST we did. Dion's Carbon tax would be another hidden tax. You can talk amongst yourselves about the economic advantages or distadvantages of hidden taxes.

[2] ...says the guy who didn't say much about the election until the campaign was almost over. I had thought about some potential posts, but never got around to writing them.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Much has been said about Stephen Harper's strategy of "staying the course" with respect to the Canadian economy. The obvious response is "The economy is doing terribly, and you're going to do nothing?"

One newspaper columnist, Randall Denley of the Ottawa Citizen, made the following comparison. "If our economy were a boat drifting toward Niagara Falls, Dion would form a committee to consult about the wisdom of getting out the oars, Layton would blame the oil companies, May would praise the falls’ green power and Harper would pretend the sound of the roaring water was nothing to worry about."

I would like to offer you an alternative aquatic analogy. Back home, we have the Hamilton Harbour (or Burlington Bay). Due to the geography of the bay and years of industrial irresponsibility on the part of Stelco, and probably other steel mills in the city, there is a mass of waste sitting at the bottom of the bay. One of my undergraduate profs was involved with the over all improvement of the area around the bay, including what to do with this industrial waste. They explored a number of options, and even attempted a few. In the end they concluded that the best thing to do was to just leave it be [1]. It doesn't fix the problem, of course, but it also doesn't make a bad situation worse.

So the economy is either a mass of toxic sludge on the bottom of a bay, or it's a boat floating down a river toward a waterfall. At most one of these analogies fits. I am not an economist, I am not well informed on the conditions that led to the current crisis in the United States, and I have not been examining local and provincial issues for the Citizen for 16 years, first as city editor, and for the last 11 years as city columnist. So I don't know which analogy is appropriate, if any. At least now, though, you have a choice.

[1] It was at least 4 years ago that I last heard him speak on this subject. I don't know what the state of the sludge is currently.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Your Credit Isn't Good Enough 4 Us

For some odd reason, CIBC lowered the limit on my credit card by 4 dollars. This would be quite the reduction in credit if may previous limit was, say, 8 dollars. But it wasn't. It was significantly higher. High enough that the 4 dollar reduction is negligible. So, except for the fact that my credit limit no longer ends in a zero, I don't care. But still, why.

Perhaps spent too much time tweaking credit limits by nonmultiples of 10, by both AIG and Lehman Brothers, thus causing their downfalls.

Friday, August 29, 2008

An Upside to Everything

From May 1 until today, I've been working half-time at Queen's University and half-time at the Royal Military College. Today marks the last day of my employment at Queen's. This fall, or rather next Tuesday (which still seems a season away), I will be full-time at RMC. My duties at RMC are changing from strictly research to research and teaching, and this addition requires a new application process. While I was filling the first forms, the department head said to me, "You're not an employee until you've filled out your bodyweight in forms." That was a couple months ago. He appears to be right. There have been three occasions since then, including today, where I've had to fill out even more forms (and one more before then if you count the electronic submission of my CV and other documents). The process involved traipsing around to at least 5 different locations on the RMC campus, and in some cases more than once. I'm still not done. When I was waiting at security the second time (after seeing the secretary of the math department for the second time), I thought about the stereotypical government [1] inefficiency which was being confirmed before my very eyes, and about the ways in which the process could be made at least marginally more efficient [2].

Moments ago, I turned on my browser, and, courtesy of the Quote of the Day Google Gadget, I read the following quote from Harry Truman

"Whenever you have an efficient government you have a dictatorship."
So I guess I should be grateful.

[1] RMC is part of the Department of National Defence, which in turn is, of course, part of the government. It seems to be tied more closely with the federal government than Queen's is to the provincial government.

[2] To be fair to RMC, they've improved things somewhat since I worked there a couple years ago. That time, there were 6 locations that I had to go to instead of 5, and they're closer together now than they were before. Baby steps.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thursday, July 24, 2008

There's a facebook group website for that

In case you've ever had a hard time remembering the name of a band that never actually existed, Rocklopedia Fakebandica is exactly what you need.

As an added bonus, I checked, and, despite what the 10 or more facebook groups entitled "There's a facebook group for that" [1] would have you believe, there isn't actually a facebook group for that. And before you suggest it, I'm not going to be the one to create it. The privilege is all yours. Have at it! (how did I manage to make the side-note longer than the note?)

[1] Or some crude variant thereof.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Caveat Emptor

Today I went to the store to buy a pen. A black pen. You see, I'm filling out some forms which ask me to please use a black pen. I suspect a blue one is fine, but I hate filling out forms [1], and buying a new black pen now is preferable being told later that I have to fill out the forms again that time being sure to use a black pen that I must buy, even if this latter possibility is remote. It's possible that I have a black pen somewhere, but looking for it is only slightly less unpleasant than looking for information on the minute details of my life [2] that the forms require.

While I was there, I saw the pencil that I bought a few months ago. Not specifically the one that I bought, since that one was in my desk, but the same make and model. I haven't used it in a while. It's a mechanical pencil and the lead ran out a while ago. When I went to replace it, I noticed that the lead size is 0.3mm. What a strange beast. Most mechanical pencils use 0.5mm leads. Bic's disposable ones use 0.7, and I've seen a few more non-disposables that use that size in the last couple years.

I had never seen a 0.3mm. I suppose I should have looked a little more carefully when I bought it, instead of being taken in by the colour of the pencil [2]. Though one doesn't tend to go out of their way to make sure that a thing doesn't have an attribute they would never expect the thing to have. In any case, I decided that I would pick up some 0.3mm leads while I was there. Except there weren't any. There was a sign up saying that 0.3mm leads were $2.25 per package, compared with $1.25 per package for 0.5,0.7, and 0.9 (all of which they did have, in differing quantities). I also took a look to remind myself how much I had paid for the pencil. The price was also about twice as much as that of the other mechanical pencils.

I'm not sure what use anyone would have for such a pencil. The lead kept breaking on me while I was writing. I thought the pencil was broken, as was the case with an older pencil when the lead broke more often than I thought it should. One would need a gentle hand in order for this not to happen, but even with 0.5 lead, I would often get complaints from people who had to read my work that my writing was too light. If I wrote any lighter with a 0.3mm, you'd barely be able to see what I wrote.

So, next time you buy a mechanical pencil, be sure to check the lead size. Otherwise you may end buying a pencil which costs more to buy leads that the store might not even sell, costs more to use, if you can even find the replacement parts, and must be used in such a way that you may as well not be using it at all. All in all, it's a rather expensive way to communicate poorly. You can mumble for free to achieve the same end.

You've been warned.

[1] Is it just me or is there always some entry in the form that you're just not sure how to fill out? Sometimes there are two entries which seem to be asking for the same thing. Or one entry where there are two rather different things that you could fill in. In the case of one of the forms that I'm filling out now, there is a box within a box. The larger box is for my Full given name, but there is no explanation for the smaller box. There are instructions to underline or circle the name used, so maybe that's what this smaller box is for. But then why ask me to underline or circle if I'm supposed to put the name used inside the box? Topologically, a box and a circle are homeomorphic, but I imagine that even most topologists would probably care to maintain the distinction on a form that they have to fill out. And underlining or circling is certainly different from putting in a box. Even for a topologist. I hate filling out forms.

[2] Tip: If you ever plan on working for the Department of National Defence, be sure not to move to many times in the five year period before you plan to work for them. Record all address and contact info if you do.

[3] Red.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

For a variety of open wounds?

I just got back from a short trip to A&P. The A&P in downtown Kingston. I was buying some cheese. Mozzarella. When I looked up from the cheese display, I saw a number of crystalline formations in jars and small plastic containers. They were salt. Many varieties of salt. Sea salt to be precise. In big lumps. A salt grinder will probably be needed for most applications. I'm both fascinated and annoyed. Fascinated because I wonder about the different flavours that the salt could have (and wonder if they actually are all that different from each other). I'm similarly fascinated by anything that comes many varieties, such as tea, but perhaps excluding breakfast cereals. I'm annoyed because, while they have ten different types of sea salt, they only have one brand of peanut butter, besides store brand. It's not brand that I prefer. They have Kraft. I like Skippy. It used to be the one with the peanut on top. Now it's not. I still like it better, though [1].

I left the store and started walking home when I spotted a car that looked just like mine. A second's reflection revealed that it was mine. I'm glad to have noticed this, since I don't think this particular A&P takes kindly to people who leave their cars there [2]. There isn't much of a time savings to driving there, if any, so normally I walk. Tonight (or rather yesterday night, as it has taken me so long to write this post that it is now very early this morning), however I was driving an injured friend around, and stopped at A&P on my way home. Familiarity being a natural habitat of contempt, however, the memory that I had driven there had almost been replaced by routine. Thankfully I parked my car where I would see it. I'm not always so lucky.

[1] One time I bought a jar of Kraft, because it came in a big jar. A bigger jar than the biggest jar of Skippy. When I got home, I looked at the jar and realized that in my excitement to enjoy the benefits of cost of scale, I neglected to look even remotely carefully at the label. I still have it. It's yours free if you want it.

[2] It's probably the largest free parking lot in the downtown area. But it's only free to its customers. They've usually got a security guard on patrol to make sure that the people who use it also enter the store.

Permanent Gas Tax Vacation

Were it not for a certain friend, I'm not sure this blog would still be funct. While I do get feedback from various people here and there, she is the only one who actively encourages me to write. A few nights ago, I had some spare time that I should have been spending washing dishes, but didn't want to. I thought about writing something to this blog, but nothing came to mind. I mentioned this to my friend, who suggested I write on the gas tax holiday. I had seen this phrase bandied about on the internet, but I didn't know what it was despite a small effort to figure out what was meant. She filled me in. The idea is that taxes on gas would be lowered during the summer months when demand for gasoline is at its peak. I assume the purpose of lowering taxes would be to make summer vacations more affordable, because you can only enjoy vacation if you've driven your car really far away from home (just ask the people who come to your hometown for holidays). But having learned about this policy only at the moment at which it was suggested I blog about it, I didn't think I'd have anything more to offer than what had already been written by those who were following it more closely, so I asked her what she wanted me to write. She suggested I write a Canadian perspective on the issue. I still didn't think that I had much to offer, other than the fact that I am a Canadian offering my perspective. Here is what I concluded: it doesn't seem like a good idea. I can't say precisely why. Or even approximately. Of course, everyone likes to pay less for anything, and lowering taxes is one way to acheive that, though I'm not sure that it effective it would be in the long run. Our Prime Minister doesn't think it would be (and that, my friends, is what makes it a Canadian perspective. The Canadian government told us so). It just doesn't strike me as good policy. My opinion on the matter seems to agree with that of actual economists (I guess that includes the Prime Minister, since he has a master's degree in economics), so I'll leave it up to them to justify my mine.

Besides, if you actually convert gallons to litres, and American currency to Canadian currency (or vice versa), and then dig deeper [1] to see why the prices are so different, you would see that the greatest source of the discrepancy is the amount of taxes that Canadians pay on gasoline. So compared to Canada, every day is a gas tax holiday in the US.

Meanwhile, as American presidential candidates discuss lowering gas taxes, one provincial government and at least one Canadian prime-ministerial hopeful is proposing just the opposite. Starting July 1, British Columbians will be paying 2.4 cents extra per litre on a myriad of fossil fuels, which will gradually increase to 7.2 cents in 2012. Stephane Dion says he's going to propose the same type of policy federally. Dion says a lot of things though. The gas tax is supposed to be revenue neutral in both jurisdictions, so that as taxes on gas are increasing, income taxes will decrease and, on average, the governments collect the same amount of taxes per person, but with a heavier burden being paid by heavier carbon consumers. While the Liberals of BC and of Canada want to tax consumers directly, the federal New Democrat and Conservative Parties are proposing to tax corporations instead. It doesn't surprise me to hear this from the NDP. They (or perhaps it's their supporters) have hardly been shy about their anti-corporate sentiment in the past. I'm not sure why the Conservative Party would go this route, though. I guess they can't copy their competitors, even though a revenue neutral gas tax seems more consistent with their rhetoric of free-market solutions to carbon emissions. Not only that, but it would be inconsistent with their 2% lowering of the GST (why reduce one kind of sales [2] tax only to hit us with another?).

Presumably, paying more tax on gas would lead consumers to use less of it. Or want to. We really don't like to pay taxes, and despite the convenience offered to us by automobiles and home heating and cooling, we don't like paying for gas. Paying taxes on gas just multiplies the unpleasantness. The desire to pay less for gasoline would then lead to a demand for products that use less gas, which would ultimately lead to the evil corporations producing such products. At least that's how I understand it. Of course, it is possible that taxing corporations would have the same net effect, except that it's easier for corporations to get around such measures (a little tidbit I picked up from an econ grad student earlier today). There are probably many factors at play here, and I can think of a few other things that might be relevant, but I'm an armchair economist at best [3] so I'll keep my analysis short. There may be some resulting unintended consequence to higher taxes on fossil fuel in exchange for lower income taxes, but based on the expert opinions I've heard over the last few years on taxation in general, the Liberal policy makes more sense [4].

Perhaps I'm just being selfish, however. I own a car, but I don't drive it much, and now that I'm not a student anymore, I'm no longer protected by the government from paying income tax. Under Dion's plan, I could stand to gain.

[1] These days, a breakdown of the price per litre is given on the receipt or displayed on the gas pump at many gas stations, so you don't need to dig that deep.

[2] Technically speaking either the GST or the gas tax, or both, might not be sales taxes, but rather a value added tax and a Pigovian tax respectively. Taxes are complicated.

[3] Really. I'm sitting in an armchair as I write this.

[4] First I endorse an NDP MP's plan to abolish the penny. Now I endorse a Liberal tax policy. Have I changed my political persuasions? Doubtful that it's me who has changed.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Beer Notes

A while ago, I was at the Kingston Brewing Company with a few friends. It's actually a restaurant, and, as the name of the place suggests, they themselves brew most of the beer they sell. So it's actually a brewpub, and since it's the only brewpub in town, it's The Brewpub. Normally I opt for one of their regular self-brewed offerings. If I'm there long enough to order a second pint or pitcher, I might try one of the "brewer's whims". They aren't as whimsical as the label might suggest, since most of them seem to be seasonal offerings, connected with some local event, like Queen's Homecoming, Kingston Blues Fest, First Capital Day, or Winter. Whimsical or not, though, they're usually tasty. Not everything they sell is their own. You can get Guinness, and a number of lesser-made brews, mostly from Ontario and Quebec breweries that haven't yet been bought by Molsons or Labatts. If I'm in the mood for variety, but none of their whims are sufficiently appealing (or sufficiently existing), I might go for one of these non-brewpub brews. This was the case the last time I was there. One of the beers that they had was a Coffee Porter from Toronto's Mill Street Brewery. The owner (or co-owner) of the Neustadt Springs Brewery had suggested this one to me a couple years ago when they were still selling their beer on site. So I was curious and I finally had an opportunity to try it without making too much of a financial commitment. I was also cautious. While I enjoy both beer and coffee, I wasn't sure that I would enjoy both together. So I only ordered a half pint. I'm not enough of a beer connoisseur to know when a beer is malty, hoppy, or has overtones of anything, so I don't have anything to offer in that regard. All I can say is that I should have asked, "Does it come in quarter pints?" After my first mouthful, I wondered whether I was going to be able to finish the remaining 221.8ml.

A couple years ago, Creemore Springs, one of Ontario's bigger micro-breweries was bought out by Molson. I thought to myself, and probably said to a few people, that I should drink as much of their flagship lager as possible before Molson ruins it. It was a cynical comment, and perhaps premature. When the takeover took place, customers were assured that Creemore Springs would still operate independently, and so there did remain some hope, albeit guarded, that the quality of the beer wouldn't change. A few weeks ago, I had some again, probably the first time since last August. Now it may be all in my mind, but this time it tasted like I was right to drink as much as I could immediately after the buyout. There may be other factors at play. Perhaps they were at the tail end of a keg, so I wasn't drinking their product in its best form. Maybe the onion rings I was eating just before changed the way that beer tasted. It's still not bad, mind you. It just seems that it's not quite as good as it used to be.

This past Tuesday, I went out to the Iron Duke, a new bar in an old location, with a friend for drinks. He was pretty excited for something he called Beau's organic. (Searching for "Beau's organic" on google, however, won't get you very far. The actual name of the beer is Beau's Lug-Tread.) He arrived before I did and had already ordered the beer by the time I got there. The beers that I like tend to be hard to see through. When the pint was poured, I saw that this one wasn't, so I was sceptical that I would like it. I was pleasantly surprised, however, by how good it tasted (again, I lack the expertise to accurately describe what made it taste so good to me). I was also surprised by the spelling of the name, and the size of the bottle that it came in. Only having heard the name, I thought it would be spelt Bows, or perhaps Bose. And the container? It's a behemoth 3.78 L [1] brown bottle with a $4.00 deposit, certainly a sight to behold. Though, at least at this pub, it was not a bottle to be held and taken home. My friend offered the waiter the $4.00 deposit to keep the jug, and then $10. The bribe was not enough, and he went home jugless. You can get it at the liquor store (Though possibly not at the beer store. Ontario liquor laws, you are awesome!), but only in 1.89 L [2] bottles. Questions of spelling and containment aside, though, I would recommend trying this before it gets bought by Molson.

The Iron Duke also deep fries a mean sweet potato fry. Normally I don't like sweet potato fries, but I couldn't stop eating these.

[1] Or 1 American gallon. Canada's conversion to metric has gone swimmingly, don't you think?

[2] Or 0.5 American gallon. Or 2 pints. Once again. Way to go metric conversion.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Penny Problems

Last weekend, I went home. While there, my sister told me that, unlike me, she likes the penny. I didn't think to ask her why. While this disappoints me, it does provide me with a solution to two problems. First, I know what to get her for her birthday. Second, I know what to do with all of my pennies.

Since my most recent post on the matter, I've read a few more things here and there about the potential discontinuation of the penny. I don't feel like looking them up, so there will be many links. There may be no facts as well. In any case, here we go. CTV did one of their online polls, and there was a majority in favour getting rid of it. Some bank type group thinks we should have gotten rid of it long time ago. They suggest we get consider ditching the nickel too (though, according to them, that would mean ditching the quarter and adding a 20 cent coin (a quinter?)). Colby Cosh seems to advocate getting doing away with it, but thinks the reverse of the coin is a fine piece of art (though not botanically correct). I visited Pat Martin's website just now to see what progress the legislation has made. Here's the latest on the topic. It says nothing about the progress, and little about the details.

It's seems pretty clear that, based on the information available, the penny is not all that useful. There are only a couple of reasons for keeping, aside from tradition, which shouldn't have much currency when making decisions about something whose only purpose is to serve as a tangible symbol for how much money you have. Firstly, I agree with Cosh that it would be a shame to throw the artwork out with the coin. Not only that, but the penny does do the most to add some colour to a pile of change. The yellowish colour of loonie and the centre of the toonie just doesn't cut through the silvery colour of the more common coins like the copper of the penny. Now it's unlikely that we'll do away with the nickel just yet, even though that is advocated by the banky types. But let's face it. The beaver's not all it's cracked up to be. Supposedly the beaver is a national symbol in Canada because of it's industriousness, or some such thing. I think if you dig deeper, you'll find that's a crock (it might be the case the the beaver is particularly industrious, but the reason it became a national symbol is not quite so noble if Will Ferguson can be trusted). In truth it's just a rather large smelly buck toothed rodent with only one marketable skill. The beaver's right behind the pig in the make-up line, and ugly or not, at least we can eat the pig. When's the last time you needed a dam built at the level of sophistication that a beaver can provide? Never. That's when. So I propose that we stop embarrassing ourselves by lionizing the glorified rat, ditch the penny, make the nickel out of copper, and replace the beaver with the maple leaf that currently adorns the penny. Problem solved.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Farewell and Good Riddance

In what seems to be turning into something of a hobby, I moved again about a week ago today [1]. An essential part of this hobby is that I underestimate both the time and number of boxes it will take to pack. (It would be quite brilliant, really, if I did this on purpose, since what happens is that the helpers end up doing most of the heavy lifting while I scurry around frantically trying to cram as much random stuff into a shortage of boxes. I'm not so cunning, however.) One of my friends who helped me move had borrowed a pick-up truck from a relative which was returned before I was completely packed. This didn't matter much since I couldn't move the last three boxes worth of stuff without the last three boxes to put the stuff in. Not only that, but I didn't have time to clean up the place either.

So I planned on going back the next day. I managed to injure my foot the next morning on something that was hard, sharp, and not properly unpacked [2]. It wasn't a life threatening injury, but it was severe enough that I thought it in my best interests to head down to the emergency room. (The last time I went to the emergency room was when I was 8. I fell down a waterfall and needed stitches on my knee.) Plus it was on my toe. Which is on my foot. Feet are gross, in my opinion, no matter how much you clean them, and experts agree that gross is a leading cause of infection. For all the waiting, the only thing the doctor told me that I might not have done otherwise was change my socks twice a day instead of the usual once.

It was quite the chore getting home that night, and, needless to say, I wasn't about to go to my old place and finish up packing and cleaning. It took five before I was feeling pain free enough to do the work, and so I spent this past Sunday afternoon completing my move.

For the most part, I was eager to move out of the place. That's not to say it was horrible. The landlord was really nice, and responded very quickly to any problems I brought to him, which is definitely a plus. The place was renovated during the summer before I moved in, so the apartment was in better condition than lots of other student housing (I know I'm not a student anymore, but some habits are hard to break), and the appliances were new, including (free) washer and dryer. It's really not a bad place, and I would recommend it to a friend with little hesitation. There were disadvantages, though, and for me, they were starting to outweigh the benefits. Among the worst things was that the neighbourhood lived up to its reputation. The main East-West street in downtown Kingston is Princess St. I lived north of it. Most students understand this part of Kingston to be rather sketchy, and with some exceptions, it's a place you avoid if you can. This wasn't my first time living in the dreaded territory, but this year seemed to be particularly bad. One morning not long after I had moved there, I walked past my car to see that most of the contents of my glove compartment had been emptied onto the seat. I didn't remember doing that myself, but I wasn't certain that I hadn't until I saw that the ashtray had also been taken out and left on the floor. Someone had entered my car while I was sleeping. A week or so later, the same thing happened. I don't think whoever it was made off with anything other than spare change. They even looked in the trunk where there was some stereo equipment that they could have stolen very easily if they wanted to, but didn't, so they probably didn't want anything more than spare change [3]. Within a week of moving out, I was awoken at about 2:00 in the morning to the sound of a door shutting and footsteps walking past my window (it was a basement apartment). Being in bed, I wasn't quite ready enough to run out and shout obscenities at the perpetrator, so I convinced myself that the noises I heard were that of one of my neighbours, and that I had nothing to worry about. The next morning, however, I checked my car, and sure enough, the ashtray was lying on the floor again. I can't find my cell phone charger, so they probably stole that too. Jokes on them, though, since it's broken. Some might say that it's my fault this happened so many times, since each time it happened, it was because I left my door unlocked. Though I'm pretty sure that leaving your door unlocked doesn't count as an invitation to hop on in and take spare change.

I thought that I had seen the last of that when I moved out. On the Sunday that I returned, the crime spree continued. This time, though, the criminals were bolder, committing their crime in broad daylight. After I had packed everything up and finished cleaning, I went out to move my car into the driveway. As I approached the car, I noticed that the stylized H that adorns the hood of most Hondas was no longer adorning the hood on mine. I had to pause for a moment to consider whether it had really gone missing while I was cleaning, or whether it had actually been gone for a long time and my mind was playing tricks on me. I wasn't sure. Later on, though, I went grocery shopping. When I came back to my car after buying groceries, the outline of the H was glaring at me, as if I was noticing it for the first time again. If the missing H seemed that out of place the second time I saw it that afternoon, then I'm pretty sure I would have noticed its absence if it had gone missing any sooner. In particular, I probably would have noticed it when I walked toward my car not long after arriving early that afternoon. It hadn't been a week since I was left that place, and already I'm glad to be gone.

I'm planning on buying a new car this weekend. Desired features include power door locks and hood ornaments that are not easy to remove. If you know of any, let me know.

[1] Which explains in part why it's been more than a fortnight since you've heard from me.

[2] I was hoping that I'd be able to blame my friends for leaving that hard metal thing where they did, but unfortunately, I was the one who put it there after they all left, so the only one I can blame is myself.

[3] Whoever it was wasn't very thorough. I never did bother to replenish my supply of spare change, but there is still enough for a coffee in one of the little compartments in the dash.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Microsoft Successful

Microsoft Windows is the operating system that everyone loves to hate. I recently bought a new computer. Before I bought it, I had to decide whether to stick with the old and familiar, or to go with something new. There are two common alternatives to Windows. One is to buy a Mac. The other is to install Linux. In the process of researching my decision, and in the aftermath of the purchase, I was exposed to the attitudes of Mac users, and having freed up my old computer for experimentation, I decided to try to see how for I could get with Linux.

The predominating attitude of Mac users suggests that I'm not nearly condescending enough to own one [1]. Meanwhile, my attempt with Linux was one of many in my personal history with computers, and like every attempt in the past, I quickly realized that I need to have an advanced to degree in computer science with about a week of nothing to do but tweaking my system before I can read my email, and another week before I can send.

In the end, I realized that my only option was go back to the old and familiar. My experiences since then have inspired me not only to accept Windows, but to defend it against the other commonly available options. In the first of what may or may not be a series of posts on this theme, I would like to declare that, on at least one of their design goals, Microsoft has been incredibly successful.

[1] This is not to say that all Mac owners are condescending. Two out of three of the friends I have who bought Mac computers are quite the opposite, whatever that is. But that third friend just ruins it for the first two. Mac users who have inherited their computers from their supervisors are excluded from this statistic.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

I don't think it's your AQ that's F

From the FAQs at the NeoCitran website:

"Q: I’m going to be drinking alcohol. Is it OK to take NeoCitran?

A: If you consume 3 or more alcoholic drinks every day, ask your doctor whether you should take the NeoCitran products that contain acetaminophen or other pain relievers/ fever reducers. Acetaminophen may cause liver damage."

Now I suppose that NeoCitran is only responsible for responding to any concerns that users might have in relation to their product, but I up until I read the FAQ, I would have thought that any phrase that starts with "If you consume 3 or more alcoholic drinks every day" should probably end with something like "you might want to take a good hard look at your lifestyle" or "your friends and family might be trying to stage an intervention." Acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Oh yes. I'm sure it's acetaminophen that's the culprit when the person who consumes 3 drinks every day and then takes one of NeoCitran's acetaminophen containing products gets liver damage.

NeoCitran's motto is "Good to be Back." Back off the the wagon, it seems.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Out for the Penny, Out by Pounds [Updated]

Further to this post, NDP MP Pat Martin has finally introduced his private member's bill on the elimination of the Canadian 1 cent coin. The man himself appears not to have caught wind of his introduction of the bill in parliament. As of the writing of this post, there is not a mention of it on his website.

Despite my best efforts to spend my pennies, the number in my possession still seems to be increasing. At the very least, they're not decreasing nearly as fast as I would like them to. So get on it folks. Call your local MP and urge them to vote with Mr. Martin, before I can no longer manage my accumulating pounds of pennies.

[Update:03/04/08 11:24am] According to his website, Pat Martin has learned of the bill he has introduced. Good for Pat. Also, the poll of the day at CTV.ca (look at the right, near the top, just below the banner) is on whether or not the penny should be scrapped. As of 11:26, 56% say yes. The rest say no.


hat tip David Koyzis

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Going Green

Hey Everyone.

I hope you all had lots of fun last night, celebrating the day that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland or something like that. I'm not exactly sure how that goes. One thing I do know for sure is that he celebrated by putting up tacky green plastic banners with shamrocks on em, wearing green felt hats, confusing himself for a Scot, colouring his beer an unholy green colour, and then drinking said beer until he was drunk off his face even though he didn't really drink much any other time of year. I would be very disappointed to find out that you did anything stupid and broke with any of those traditions.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Fraud for thought

Suppose you were the type to steal a credit card. Or perhaps you just found one somewhere, and, finders keepers being the hard and fast rule that it is, you decide to thieve someone's identity and go on a shopping spree, hoping that whoever lost their card hasn't yet noticed or couldn't be bothered to call it in. What would you buy? I've never seriously considered using someone else's credit card illegally, so I admit, shamefully, to a great deal of ignorance on the ins and outs of the behaviour of identity thieves. I hear warnings about credit card fraud often enough that I've imagined myself committing it at least once and wondered what I'd need to do to get away with it and how long I could. I've never really thought about what I'd buy, though. A stereo system? An iPod? A computer? Expensive clothes (perhaps I'd by these first, so I look the part when I go out to buy other expensive things)? Tap dance lessons? Groceries?

Yes, I said groceries. I'm really not sure what I would buy, but I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be groceries. I'd be surprised if somebody else would risk prosecution for groceries, unless perhaps they had just bought a fridge with the stolen card and thought it would be fitting to buy food to put in it. A fridge probably wouldn't be the first thing on my list of illegal credit card purchases either. Unless it was a rocket fridge, but that's a completely different story.

I've been asked to consider, directly or indirectly, the moral aspects of parents stealing food to feed their starving children, but never was it mentioned in these scenarios that the particular crime of necessity they were committing was credit card fraud. A grocery store just doesn't strike me as the typical place to abuse someone else's credit card. Nevertheless, I almost always get asked for some other piece of ID besides my credit card when I'm at Loblaws. The signature on the back of has been worn down and smudged to the point of illegibility, and they can't compare that signature to the one I scribble on the credit card slip, so they need another piece to compare to. When I'm pulling out my credit card to pay, it's now almost automatic for me to pull out my licence. (One time, anticipating the question, I offered my licence before being asked, which seemed to offend the cashier. Now I just wait until I'm asked.) This past week when I was grocery shopping, I said something about this to the cashier. She told me that they're required to do it. No surprises there, since I can't see why a cashier would make the customer do something they weren't required to do.

If possible, I make payments for all of my expenses with my credit card, but I rarely get asked for that second piece of ID anywhere else. Occasionally, the person taking my payment will turn the card over and pretend to compare the signatures, paying nothing but flip service to the policy. Rarely, however, do I get asked for ID at the sight of my smudged signature. So I am puzzled as to why Loblaws of all places would be the one that would be so diligent about it.

All this time, I thought people who committed credit card fraud were greedy and lazy, or perhaps, if I'm feeling generous, just a bit too impatient in satisfying their desires. But if Loblaws' diligence is any indicator, I guess they're just hungry.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

And there was much rejoicing

When I took my undergraduate math courses, almost everything was done on the blackboard. When I took my graduate math courses, almost everything was done on the blackboard. Almost every seminar presentation I've seen has been done on the blackboard.

Sometimes overheads were used in my lectures, but their purpose was used to illustrate the main subject matter, and not to present it. There was one exception to this in a second year calculus course. It was a one term course created by merging two other one term courses, so there was a lot of material to be covered. Even then, it wasn't until the end of the course that the professor made use of overheads to present the main subject matter. In that case, though, we were being taught something that was a straightforward generalization of a concept that we had learned in first year, so even though it was impossible follow the details of the argument, it was possible to understand, if not to predict, the overall structure of the argument.

At some point in my undergrad, professors started wheeling laptops with projectors into classrooms, and by the time I was done, most of the larger classrooms had been equipped with their own permanent projectors. There were a number of courses that I took in my first year or second year whose classroom technology consisted entirely of pen, paper, and the human voice. In my third year, a number of my first or second year friends were taking many of these same courses. Every lecture was now accompanied by a set of downloadable PowerPoint slides summarizing the main topics of the day's lecture. These were not math courses, however. The portable projectors did make an appearance every once in a while, but just like for overheads, they were only used to illustrate the concept of the day, and thus were only used for a small portion of the small number of classes they appeared in.

I was sceptical that the PowerPoint slides were of any significant value in any class. I was even more sceptical that they would ever be worth using at all in math class. I never experienced it personally, and being finally finished with school, I likely never will. I have, however, been to a fair number of math seminar talks that used PowerPoint (or some variant thereof). Not many of them have used the technology effectively. After one seminar talk at RMC, one of their math profs was talking about pressure they were getting to use slides in their lectures. Everyone who said anything thought it was a bad idea. I agreed. In fact, most mathers that I talk to feel more or less the same way.

I taught one course in the Winter term of 2007. There were a few instances where I could've used the projector to demonstrate how to use computer software to solve certain problems, but never once did I feel that using slides instead of the blackboard would've been preferable.

This past fall, I started teaching another course. The only thing I inherited from the previous instructor was the topic schedule for the year, which I've tried to stick to as closely as possible. At first, I was using the blackboard exclusively. But according to schedule, before the end of the first chapter, I was already at least a week behind. I knew that the professor who designed the course did all of his lectures using an overhead projector. I don't know exactly how he did this. I assume he had some overheads with stuff already printed on them, and then wrote more on them in class. I didn't consider this an option for me, since my handwriting isn't that great to begin with (occasionally, though, it has garnered compliments, which mystifies me). It would be worse with my arm positioned awkwardly over the projector, while simultaneously trying to maintain visibility to the students. Not only that, but my fine motor skills seem to disappear when faced~ with the not-so-relaxing task of speaking in front 100 or so people.

On the first day of class, I made an attempt to use presentation slides to cover some administrative details of the class, such as office hours, tutorials, test and assignment dates, etc. It didn't work. My computer didn't appear to recognize the projector. So later in the term, when it was becoming clear that using using blackboard was taking too long, I decided put some of the material on overheads, which were nothing but printed out slides. Using overheads made some things worse, and other things better. I still relied heavily on the blackboard, which meant a lot of running back and forth between the overhead projector and the blackboard (the front of the classroom is 6 blackboards wide). There was also no way to adjust the lights (that I could figure out) so that both the blackboard and the screen were clearly visible to the students. On the other hand, since I intended to post my overheads to the course website, they didn't need to write as much down and could focus on what I was saying rather than just trying to write it down. Not only that, but having most computations completed on the overheads meant that I wasn't going to make copy errors. Aside from one student's request to post the completed overheads on the course website before I finish making them, I didn't get any feedback from my students. So perhaps I hadn't made things better, but at least I hadn't made things appreciably worse.

Near the end of the term, the instructor for the class that took place right before mine in the same classroom showed me how to get my laptop to work with the projector. It turns out I had taken a more complicated route than I needed to (which is necessary if I want to use a tv as the display) I decided to make use of my newfound abilities and delivered the last two lectures of the term with slides.

When the winter term started, I tried using the blackboard, but by the third week (Jan 21), I got to a point where I needed to project something onto a screen by some means. I decided I would use slides, and not wanting to deal with the hassles of transitioning between blackboard and projector, I decided to carry out the whole lecture that way. From my perspective, things seemed to go more smoothly. From the students, I heard one positive comment and one negative comment which included another request that I post the completed slides before I've completed them.

One of the most obvious mistakes in using slides is that the presenter tends to plough through the material too quickly. I'm reluctant to say that math is hard to understand (though I'm sure many in my audience don't share that reluctance). But it's certainly hard to understand a slide containing math in the brief amount of time that a careless presenter leaves the slide up. Writing on the blackboard, on the other hand, forces the presenter to pace himself. Leaving the slides up longer would mean talking longer than I need to, or else standing there silently (and feeling awkward) trying to guess the point at which a sufficient number of students have comprehended what I'm going on about.

To guard against the tendency go too fast, I tried to structure the slides, as much as it was possible, to resemble how I would write the same material on the blackboard. For example, if there was a calculation with many steps, each step would get its own line, and the lines would be displayed one at a time (with spoken explanations of how I got from one line to the next, as each line was being displayed). There were times, however, where I was forced to split something up into two slides when it would have been better if all it could have been put on one. This, I think, gets at to one of the other primary disadvantages of using them in math. In almost all classrooms there are at least two blackboards (or whiteboards in some newer classrooms). One could see how the material on the blackboard I'm writing on would relate to blackboard I've just written on. Being able to display only one screen at a time is analogous to having only one blackboard to write on. Since they would be able to download the slides later, though, they could go back and see for themselves how the different slides relate to each other (whether or not they would is an entirely different story). I weighed these and other factors, and decided to stick with slides.

I continued to deliver my lectures using slides for about a month, until I got to a point where I couldn't come up with a sensible way to make slides for a certain topic. I decided, at least for the time being, that I would go back to the blackboard. When the day came (Feb. 27) to present that material, there were still some slides that I didn't get through in the last class, so obviously I presented those first. When I finished with the slides I announced that I would be going back to the blackboard. At this point there was much rejoicing. Well, it wasn't quite rejoicing. It was more like a handful some scattered murmurs, though with a definite tone of approval. This is a math class, though. Aside from cancelling a class altogether, how much rejoicing do you expect?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Security by Ubiquity?

This past November, a couple of old roommates dropped by for a weekend. While they were here, we took a walk around campus, for old time's sake, I guess. One roommate commented on how much things had changed since he was here. For one thing, there was much less blasting going on when he was still here. I bought my first laptop then, about 5 years ago. Hardly anyone had laptops at the time. Queen's ITS was still pushing desktops at the time, though if I recall correctly, they had more laptop offerings that year than desktop, unlike the previous year. Now, my friend observed, almost everyone has a laptop. Back then, nobody would think of leaving their laptop anywhere unattended without locking it. Today, I was walking through Mac-Corry [1], where I saw a laptop, attended by no one, locked to nothing, with only the coat of the owner draped over the seat to accompany it. I guess if everyone has one, there isn't much of a market for a stolen one. As for me, unless I can find a door to lock it behind, my laptop still will not be more than a few feet away from me. But then, I've always been old-fashioned.

[1] One of the main places to buy and eat food on campus, for those of you who don't go to Queen's.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Delicious Irony

Last night I went to a Chinese New Year celebration put on by the Queen's Asian Cooking Club. There were many tasty dishes. One in particular was a dish whose main ingredients were tofu and beef. I think most people I know see tofu as an alternative to meat, especially for vegetarians. Beef on the other hand seems to be the poster child for turning people into vegetarians. It was rather surprising to see them on the same plate. Even more surprising is the fact that, according to one Chinese person at my table, the dish is common in China.

When I went up for seconds, there was a lot more of the tofu-beef dish left than most of the other dishes. I wonder if the the vegetarians were turned off by the beef, while the meat eaters were turned off by the tofu. Perhaps it was just coincidence. Either way, more for me!

Friday, February 01, 2008


For years, one of the standard references in graph theory was "Graph Theory with Applications" by J.A. Bondy and U.S.R Murty, first published in 1976. More recently other texts have played that role. On November 30, 2007 a follow up to this book, entitled simply "Graph Theory", was published. When I told my supervisor, he was astounded. Apparently word isn't out yet. So I'm letting you know. My supervisor went to the bookstore this morning to get himself a copy, and they had already exhausted their supply [1], so it seems to be a hot item. Hurry on down to your local campus bookstore and get one for yourself before it sells out.

So far, I haven't been able to find any reviews of this long awaited book. If you see one, let me know.

[1] Their supply consisted of one copy.

Thursday, January 31, 2008


"I still haven't gone cow tipping. I'm not sure it's even possible, but I'd like to try."

Good luck with that.

When you've tipped your cow, perhaps you'd like to go snipe hunting.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Comma toast

I went out for brunch this past Sunday and ordered a typical breakfast, with eggs, toast, hash browns, and an assortment of pork products.

When the plate arrived, I could see everything but the bacon. Clearly it wasn't underneath the eggs. I checked underneath my toast. It seemed an odd place to hide bacon, but where else could it be? No luck, though. I pushed around my hash browns with my fork to see if perhaps there were bits of bacon amongst the finely chopped vegetables that the hash browns had been cooked with. Still no trace of the missing bacon. Did the menu not say that bacon was included? I was about to ask the waiter about the location of my bacon. I thought about it a little more, and realized what had happened. The menu read
"Bacon, sausage or ham, toast, ..."
which, due to the absence of a comma after "sausage", I had taken to mean that the breakfast included bacon and sausage or ham and toast.... Grammatically speaking, there's nothing wrong with the sentence. It's just ambiguous, and I chose the interpretation that suited me best, reinforced by the fact that there was a comparable menu item that did in fact come with two meats. When given the choice between the three options, I would almost always choose bacon. But satisfied with the illusion that I would be getting bacon, I chose sausage as the second meat, which, the illusion having been nothing but that, turned out to be my only meat.

I guess the comma is insufficiently powerful to fight against such crimes of ambiguity. Perhaps some sort of super-comma is needed. If only one existed.


Second Lament for the Semi-Colon

I would've had some bacon
If they'd used a semi-colon
But instead they used a comma
Which caused a bit of trauma.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

dude, it's been over a _month_!

I haven't written to the blog for a while.

If you're a regular visitor to the blog, I don't even need to tell you that.

If you're a regular visitor to the blog, I'm grateful that you are such despite my not writing.

While I do not feel I owe my readers an explanation for not writing, I'm going to give you one anyway.

When I started actually writing to this blog, it was because I had a fair bit of free time on my hands. I had been given a few compliments on my writing before then, and at least one person suggested that I do some writing outside that which I absolutely must do for school and whatnot. I thought a blog might be a good way to use up that free time, and to put to good use those apparent writing skills.

When I think about it, the free time hasn't been that much since December 2006. Up to and including then, I think I was able to get at least one post a week, if not more, for most weeks. After that, I wasn't so regular. In January, I started teaching at RMC, along with trying to find time to work on my thesis and doing other academic activities, not to mention trying to maintain some semblance of a social life (It's no wonder mathematicians have a reputation for a lack of social skills. The opportunities are rare to develop them. Even maintaining them at their current levels can be a challenge). From the end of the winter term in April pretty much until the end of August, almost all of my efforts were spent on finishing my thesis. The recent fall term was much like the winter term of last year, except that now the time that would have been spent on the thesis is being spent on research.

All this time spent on teaching or research means that my brain doesn't have a whole lot of idle time to think of things to write about. It also means that I spend a lot of time at the keyboard, since my lectures are usually type-written, and I like to type up my research as soon as possible after I have a new idea or get a new result. So at the end of the day, I usually don't feel like thinking about something to write on, and even when I do, I don't have much drive to type it up. Whatever "recreational" typing I do is better spent on things like email or IM, and I haven't even spent as much time on those lately as in the past.

These are the big distractions from blogging. There are other things that get in the way too, though. For example, holidays would be a nice time to catch up, but at those times, I usually return home, where there is no internet. Blogging is pretty low on my list of priorities too. At the moment, I can't think of anything that I'd pass up so that I can blog. Even as a procrastination tool, it's pretty low on the list.

I have started a number of posts, but wasn't able to finish them in the same night that I started them. They got saved as drafts, and I haven't got back to them to finish them. Some of them will likely get deleted, since they were relevant only at the time that they were written. Who knows what will happen to the rest? There are some new recipes that I tried out over the past year that I've intended to post about, I can't remember what most of them are.

I was going to write something about how it feels to be graduated from my PhD. I don't really have much to say about this, though. I probably don't feel any different from how you would after you did one thing for five years in a row and then switched to something else. Well, at the end of it, I got to wear some funky red robes and walk around in front of a whole bunch of people who I mostly don't know, which is something nobody else does after switching occupations. But other than that, I feel mostly the same as I did before. Being an instructor for a class makes me feel somewhat different, though I think this has more to do with the role itself than the hoops I had to jump through to be considered qualified to do fulfil that role [1]. As an instructor, I feel like I have to be a model citizen who pays his bills on time and stuff like that, and that I shouldn't be doing things like drinking beer with my neighbours at 2:00 in the morning the night before I give a lecture [2]. As a person with a PhD, however, I mostly just feel like a person who spent far too much time in school avoiding real life.

There were a few other posts on a random assortment of topics. Perhaps I'll get to these. Perhaps not. I've got a few other things on my mind that might be considered blog worthy. No guarantees whether I'll get to those or not, though. Time will tell.

Anyway. Thanks for dropping by.

[1] Why having a PhD qualifies us to teach in a university, I'm not sure. The primary objective of a PhD is to train researchers. There is no required component devoted to teaching (which is no different from bachelor's degrees or master's degrees, unless those degrees happen to be in education). In math at least, much of our time in the PhD program is spent in solitude, talking little with anyone. Yes, we know the material that we teach quite well. But that doesn't mean that we're qualified to tell other people about it effectively. In fact, as I've learned from various talks given by myself and others, knowing the material well can often make teaching it to others worse.

[2] If any of my students happen to be reading this, that particular scenario only happened once, and is not the reason why my lectures usually leave something to be desired. In fact, while I know it wasn't perfect, I feel like the lecture I gave after that night was better than average.