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December 24, 2004

Oops I Did It Again

December 15 was One Big Rant's anniversary, marking three years of self-important blathering being broadcast to the far reaches of the Earth. In keeping with tradition, I have once again forgotten all about it.

12:20 | Blog

Chris Lyon: Sanitation Engineer

I got an interesting email to my work account on Tuesday. It had come through the feedback form on my MSDN Blog, which is all about .NET and the technologies I work with, in particular a technology called Automatic Memory Management, or Garbage Collection for short.

In a nutshell, Garbage Collection relieves the programmer from the responsibility of allocating and cleaning up precious memory, which can be error-prone.

So back to the email. It was from a producer on CBC Radio One inquiring about interviewing me. Wow, I thought. What do Toronto morning radio listeners want to know about the exciting world of garbage collection, mark-and-sweep algorithms, and compacting heaps? The answer, as I suspected, is "nothing".

Here is the email I was sent:

do you want to do an interview with CBC radio - about sorting garbage & what goes where? it would be for Wednesday or Thursday's show - metro morning, with andy barrie. Please get back to me as soon as you can,
name withheld
Producer, Metro Morning
CBC Radio One 99.1

So she wanted to interview me about municipal trash pick-up? I called her back, only to get her answering machine. I never heard from her again, so I guess she clued in that I wasn't what she had hoped. I wish she had called back though. That would have been one fun interview.

08:25 | Stuff | Comments (1)

December 23, 2004

Voting Is Hard

The 2000 federal election in Florida, (among other things, eligible voters being turned away because they were erroneously labeled as felons, who cannot vote), the 2004 federal election in Ohio, (where black voters were allegedly denied the vote) and now, the gubernatorial election in Washington state, where, after two recounts, the tally is still being disputed.

For a nation that is supposed to be leading the free world and bringing democracy to overthrown dictatorships, the US sure has trouble counting their own votes.

20:27 | America , Politics | Comments (1)

The Weather Outside Is Frightful...

What a lovely winter's day here in Southern Ontario. It snowed a good 10 cm overnight, and topped it off with freezing rain this morning, giving everything a translucent crunchy quality. I say today was lovely, only compared to the bitter -37°C (with the windchill) we experienced earlier this week, a 60-year low for December.

ASIDE: windchill is one of those words I haven't had to use since moving to Seattle. Remind me of this the next time I complain about missing Canadian winters.

The bright side to all this cold and snow, of course, is that I was justified in taking up precious luggage space with my hiking boots.

14:04 | Canada

December 21, 2004

An Unprecedented Orgy

On the bottom floor of my parents' condo is a library of donated books. Among the large number of Harlequin romances, Reader's Digest condensed novels and John Grisham books are a surprising number of books on Canadian history. Besides books on the war of 1812 and Trudeau biographies, I found a book called On The Take: Crime, Corruption and Greed in the Mulroney Years by Stevie Cameron. Having always wondered why Canadians revile Mulroney so, I took a peek at the book's description on the inside of the dust cover:

When Brian Mulroney's Tories left office in 1993, Canadians breathed a collective sigh of relief. There had been boondoggles, cover-ups, and scandals aplenty - and the strong suspicion that among those in power many had looked after themselves and their cronies at the expense of the citizens who had elected them.

The dust cover also describes Cameron's account of "flagrant kick-back schemes... misappropriation of parliamentary budgets, favours to corporate supporters of the party, and an unprecedented orgy of patronage appointments..."

The funny thing is, you can replace the words Tories with Liberals, Mulroney with Chrétien, and 1993 with 2003 and the text still holds true.

So why are the PCs considered worse than Hitler, while the Liberals were re-elected three times? Maybe because Canadians have gotten so used to hearing the word boondoggle in the news so often, they are no longer fazed. Or maybe it's because the economy is going so well. Or maybe it's because despite numerous scandals and misappropriation of public funds, the competition makes Canadians think "Well, maybe the Liberals aren't so bad..."

21:12 | Canada , Politics

December 20, 2004

Gift Wrapped

It seems that the women in my family have a skill that we men lack: the ability to wrap gifts. All it takes is a quick glance under our Christmas tree to determine which gifts were wrapped by which gender. Gifts from my mom and sister are perfect cubes and rectangular prisms, tightly wrapped in coloured paper, sometimes adorned with ribbons or hand-tied bows. Gifts from my brother, dad and myself, however, are much less… geometrical.

I’ve always had trouble getting the corners wrapped in perfect right angles, so all my gifts look like overstuffed pillows, with pointy, empty corners. I try to do a good job, but by the third present, I’ve lost patience and am satisfied that the box’s label is at least covered. I have to make a better effort to wrap my mom’s gifts first, to spare her the shame of her son’s poor wrapping. If my wrapping job is particularly disappointing, I usually adorn the gift with stick-on bows, or extra-large Love Chris labels, to try to detract from the half-roll of tape used to hold the thing together.

As bad as my wrapping abilities are, I’m a pro compared to my brother. He has an environmentally-conscious habit of using up all the useless scraps of wrapping paper. As commendable as that sounds, taping them directly to the gifts themselves doesn’t usually make for pretty presents. I remember one year he must have lost patience and used an entire roll of paper on one gift, twisting the ends so it looked like a giant hard candy, the kind you get at restaurants with your bill. By the time the two of us are done, there is no Scotch tape left in the house.

I don’t ever remember seeing any gifts wrapped by my father. He’s a fan of surprising us with unwrapped gifts that materialize Christmas morning at the foot of the tree, in front of the wrapped gifts. I think he likes seeing our immediate reactions. One year he tried to be a little different, and we woke up to three large boxes in black garbage bags, neatly tied at the top, which each of our names on them. I thought Santa had made a terrible mistake and that our gifts were actually out on the curb.

I think the greatest Christmas development in our household was the rise in popularity of gift bags. Requiring only that one places the gift inside the bag, then cover the top of the gift with tissue paper, this has become my favourite way to present gifts. Gifts from me are now almost exclusively given in bags. With exerting a mere fraction of the effort (and frustration) I put into wrapping presents, I can place my gift bags under the tree with pride next to my sister’s perfect cubes and my mother’s tetrahedrons.

14:47 | Stuff

December 19, 2004

First Weekend Back

Spent the weekend in fabulous Niagara Falls, Ontario with my family, and family friends. We stayed at the Embassy Suites, and got a fabulous view of the falls. We even stopped at the casino, where my brother won $150, and I stopped after losing $10. Walking passed the wax museums and Serial Killer tours on Clifton Hill, the city struck me like Las Vegas, only without the class.

I had a great time and am now back at my parents' place. I spent a few hours cleaning the last of the spyware and viruses off their computer, and am waiting until a technician comes tomorrow to look at the DSL connection. Until then, I'm on dial-up (the horror!), so blogging will relegated to the wee hours of the night, lest I tie up the phone lines and my parents miss important calls.

I'll probably be downtown visiting my brother tomorrow, and getting reacquainted with Toronto. Hopefully it will be a little warmer than the -20°C it was today.

20:46 | Stuff

December 16, 2004

Best Laid Plans

And we thought we were so clever. Last night I packed up for my holiday trip home, knowing that I wouldn't have time to go home from work. The plan was to pack, load up T's car, then have her pick me up from work, grab a bite on the way to the airport then catch my flight. Sounds like a good plan, eh?

I woke up this morning (after one more snooze than usual), and groggily made myself some coffee. It was only after I the caffeine had made its way into my brain did I realize my luggage was still sitting in the bedroom. We had taken all this care to pack up the night before, but didn't put the luggage in the car.

New plan: I stay home and catch a shuttle to the airport. T could pick up food on the way to the airport, we would eat, then I would catch my flight. After a quick call to T and the office, I arranged to work from home (ah, the wonders of the Internet age), and we're set for our romantic good bye meal under the flight departures monitors.

I'll try to keep updating over the next two weeks. Happy holidays!

15:31 | Stuff

Ontario To Go Smokeless

Just in time for me to go home to Ontario, the current provincial government is proposing a complete ban on indoor smoking. I for one, think this is a good thing, not just because I'm not a smoker.

In a country with socialized health care, everybody foots the bill for smokers' health problems. In such a position, I feel it's the government's duty to keep us healthy. I see a much weaker argument in the US, where individuals' health insurance pays. If you smoke, your premiums go up, which is not the case in Canada.

I also think it's unfair to subject workers (bartenders, servers, etc) to second-hand smoke to make a living. If they are putting themselves in a scientifically-recognized dangerous position, give them hazard pay, not unlike construction workers.

Remember, there's no clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteeing so-called Smokers' Rights.

07:44 | Canada

December 14, 2004

No More Blockbuster Late Fees

Starting January 1, 2005, Blockbuster Canada will no longer charge late fees for overdue movies and games. Instead, after a week-long grace period, the tardy customer's account will be charged the price of the movie (minus the rental fee, plus a restocking fee) and get to keep it.

This sounds kinda cool to me. It's like a try-before-you-buy store. This should be welcome news to Teresa, since every time she returns a movie to our local video store, they're always slapping on a late fee, regardless of whether she returned the movie on time or not.

22:11 | Canada

December 13, 2004

Good Booze, Bad Food

On Saturday, T and I hosted a small BYOB party/potluck. The booze had to be a higher-end liquor (sorry, no 40 oz Schlitz), and the food had the be some 1950s-era abomination (not unlike those featured in the Gallery of Regrettable Food).

T and I provided Mercury Gin, and no less than three dishes: Swedish meatballs & cocktail wienies, chicken/tuna Jell-o mousse and butterscotch chow mein noodles (the latter being better than it sounds). We had some good contributions, including Spam-Velveeta canapés and chocolate marshmallow cake.

Surprisingly, no one was sick from overdrinking nor from eating the mousse.

07:26 | Stuff | Comments (1)

December 9, 2004

Love And Marriage in Canada

Today I am very proud to be a Canadian. The Supreme Court ruled that the federal government can change the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex marriages. According to Prime Minister Martin, the Liberal government will introduce a bill to do this as soon as January.

I wonder sometimes if Canadians' support for gay marriage is merely support for Canada exercising its sovereignty, despite (or perhaps in spite of?) the recent American anti-gay sentiment (like an election "decided" by so-called Moral Values). I wonder how many Canadians are somewhat indifferent to gay marriage, but just want to stick it to Bush.

Meanwhile, groups opposed to gay marriage are asking for a referendum on the issue. I'm kind of split on this. On the one hand, in a democracy the majority rule, and should the majority be against gay marriage, then maybe it shouldn't be allowed (although my opinion is that a nation-wide referendum would be for gay marriage). On the other hand, there needs to be a careful balance between the desires of the majority, and the needs of the minority. Sometimes laws need to be made to protect minority rights, however unpopular (take anti-Japanese internment after World War II as an example of the need for such laws).

Today I'm proud because as a nation, we are moving forward and eliminating discrimination. Ok, and maybe a little bit because we're sticking it to Bush too.

22:04 | Canada , Politics | Comments (4)

December 6, 2004

A Holiday Treat

It's that time of year again: Christmas music percolates through department stores loudspeakers, giant iridescent snowflakes adorn street lamps, Salvation Army Santas ring their bells at pedestrians feigning blindness to them, and local grocery stores replace low-fat soy products in their dairy coolers with Egg Nog. This being Seattle, local chain coffee shops have combined my two favourite drinks into the wholly unappealing-sounding Egg Nog Latte.

It's a rich, bitter drink that both lulls you to sleep with its warm creaminess, and jolts you awake with its Arabica perk. Although I felt a little sick after only 8 of the 16 creamy oz, I was happy with my purchase. I highly recommend it as a drink to fill your gut with warm eggy caffeine and Christmas spirit.

20:18 | Seattle | Comments (2)

December 3, 2004

Abstinence Makes The Heart Grow Fungus

A study ordered by California Congressman Waxman found that some US federally-funded abstinence sex education programs lie to students. Some of the lies include:

And my personal favourite:

Keep in mind that the Bush Administration's grand plan to help stop the spread of AIDS and HIV in Africa involves pumping over $1B into, you guessed it, abstinence programs!

07:06 | America , Politics

December 2, 2004

Home Again, Home Again

I will be in Southern Ontario visiting my family from December 17 until December 30. Send me an email if you want to get together/party/shower me with gifts.

08:10 | Stuff

December 1, 2004

Customer Service

Due to my aversion to mall shopping and dealing with people in general, I decided to start my Christmas shopping online. I found a gift on Amazon.com, and noticed that I could save over $10 if I chose the "pick up in store" option. Instead of shipping the item to me, I could walk downtown and pick it up at my local Borders book/music store. And here is where the system broke down.

When I got the store, they had my order (already paid for through the website) ready for me behind the counter. When they gave it to me, there was a big markdown sticker on it, for less than I paid through the website. I asked if I was charged the markdown, and was told no. So I asked if I could. The clerk got her manager who went on a diatribe about how Borders.com and Borders are two different organizations, and she couldn't refund me the difference, and she needs to make money too and blah blah blah.

Eventually I decided the return the online purchase, then buy the item at the discount price, despite the manager's bitchiness. The manager knew that the item would be sold before Christmas, so didn't feel the need to accommodate me. I guess during the holiday season, customer service takes a backseat to just getting more customers through the door. Needless to say, I'm in no hurry to shop at Borders any time soon.

07:48 | Rant | Comments (1)