Thursday, July 31, 2008

And that's not all

3:00 - I let Crash out in the backyard.

3:10 - I let Crash back inside and leave with the lunatic puppy to pick up the kids.

3:15 - I manage to get the puppy out from under my car and pull out of the driveway.

4:05 - Child Two tells me she needs to be back at camp at 6:30 for a play peformance. Child Three and I have T-ball practice at that time.

4:30 - We get home. Crash, not to be outdone by any mere puppy, has let both barrels go in the upstairs hall.

5:00 - I arrange lifts for Child Two. I have to drop her off at 5:30.

5:10 - Time to go again.

Living in a urinal

Once upon a time, I offered to take care of a miniature poodle puppy for three weeks. That puppy is upon us. Here's my day so far. It's typical, at least for the house. Not so much for me, because Elvi's out of town.

7:30 - Wake up and ask Child Two to take the puppy out of her crate (she sleeps in it) and take her outside so she can pee and poop.

7:30-8:00 - Make the kids' breakfasts and lunches.

8:00 - Clean up fresh puppy feces from my office because the puppy prefers it as a toilet to the great outside.

8:30 - Take the two kids to their day camps. (Child One is at sleep-away camp.) Leash the puppy in our living room. She still eats things she shouldn't, so we keep her restrained when no one's home. Also, it lets Crash escape her attention, and may just prevent him from tearing her throat out. The puppy is the only thing on the planet he's growled at more than once.

9:15 - Get back home and take the leash off the puppy.

10:30 - Take a shower while the puppy barks and whines outside my shower stall. She has a problem when there are no humans in sight.

11:15 - Take the puppy out to see if she will pee or poop. She does not. Leash the puppy in the living room and head out to a meeting that seems to have drummed up some business.

12:30 - Return home. Note that the puppy has peed all over the living room.

12:31 - Somehow restrain self from mopping up the pee with a recently throttled puppy.

12:35 - While cleaning up pee, discover that the puppy has pooped in the living room, too.

12:36 - Wonder if I have rage issues. The puppy senses that perhaps I do and runs away to hide.

12:50 - Finish cleaning the puppy bathroom living room.

12:51 - Using a second, non-peed-upon leash, take the puppy outside. All she does is lie down in the grass.

1:00 - Start a load of laundry that includes the peed-upon leash.

Five minutes after I post this - Back to some research, which demands I become intimately familiar with two American cities I've never visited. That's not entirely true - I spent a few hours in the airport of one of them.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

In which your author makes a difference

I received this e-mail yesterday from one of the graduate students I taught this summer:

Just wanted to let you know that I started an internship at (a classical-music magazine) last week, and they hit the roof when I told them that I knew Quark. They were really impressed to have a writer who also knew layout, and I've since become one of the main guys at the magazine. I want to say thanks for the painful, yet very useful Quark lesson, and sorry for busting your balls over making us learn it.

Before this last term, I strongly considered tossing desktop publishing and QuarkXpress from my syllabus in favour of some basic HTML/CSS or maybe more emphasis on number-crunching, spreadsheets, and databases. I'm glad it worked out for at least one student.

Bonus fantasy-baseball morass:

My hitting has yet to return from the All-Star break and I'm treading water in fourth place after losing my leads in the RBI and batting average categories. I won't drop any further, but it's starting to look like third place will be the best I can do.

.278 batting average (2nd)
171 HR (3rd)
658 RBI (3rd)
97 SB (4th)
4.01 ERA (3rd)
1.27 WHIP (2nd)
44 wins (10th)
21 saves (8th)

Friday, July 25, 2008

How is righting formed?

While I plow through my collection of end-of-term assignments to grade, the New York Times came out with a related article.

One of the assignments the 519 students get is to conduct an e-mail interview and write up an article based on the result.

Virginia Heffernan last weekend had a column in the New York Times on how to quote text you find online, primarily in message boards rather than e-mail, but the concepts carry over. The first example Heffernan uses is:

pornography if for the ruling classes and their violent vulgar all consuming appetites. Or their slaves.

As a writer or editor, do you correct issues of punctuation and capitalization? What about grammar? What do you do with a piece of text that's irreplaceably salient yet so riddled with mistakes that it makes the author seem like an idiot? If you do correct it, do you lose the flavour?

Daniel Okrent, the first public editor for The Times, who is now at work on a book about the history of Prohibition, e-mailed me further thoughts: “The minute you start trying to replicate someone’s accent or diction, you run the risk of appearing to be patronizing or worse. When the Mississippi State football coach said something like, ‘There ain’t but one color that matters here,’ the paper was wrong to recast it as ‘There is only one color....’ - he didn’t say that.”

The article leaves us with no answers, and I don't think there can be a single definite solution. But it is a point to ponder.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Short term pain for long term pain

My recent round of job interviews has landed me nothing. This sucks. I haven't made a whole lot in freelance income this year. And the Journalism Department took away two of my classes to give them to an incoming full-time professor who specializes in new media.

On top of that, the private school that Children Two and Three attend decided to drastically cut the financial aid we receive. With Elvi still in school, I don't see how we can possibly afford to send them there. (Fortunately, Child One's school remains generous.) Our credit is maxed out, and that already includes a second mortgage.

I've been able to shelve some dreams, like ever buying a new car, or a new computer, or a $50 shirt. But this hurts.

It hurts more because after 15 years as a writer, I have no marketable skills other than writing and researching. If no one is going to hire me to do that, I have no prospects. I can't even work in MacDonald's until I get my French up to speed.

At least I no longer have to worry about choosing a fridge. I think we'd save $100-$200 in electricity each year, but it doesn't make sense to spend $700 or so right now to do that.

Hell, I can't even afford a therapist to bitch to, so you'll have to do.

Bonus Web site:

My dad found a domain that you might think belonged to me :

A little research reveals that it belongs to a Web designer in Florida. The page loads very slowly, maybe because of the Java slide show. You might want to look elsewhere for your Web design needs.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Crash info

I took Crash to a dog run this afternoon. He walked around a bit then went to hide under a picnic table.

While we were there, a couple showed up with two Samoyeds of their own. One was a huge male and the other was about Crash's size, probably female. The man looked at Crash, asked who he belonged to, then came over to chat once I owned up. He asked me where we got him.

I told him we got Crash from the SPCA after he'd been found without tags wandering around Vaudreuil. The man told me he's familiar with Samoyeds and local breeders. He said Crash has features that tend to show up in Samoyeds bred in the US. Vaudreuil, just across the water from Montreal's western tip, is still pretty darned far from the American border so it's unlikely Crash walked that far. The man thought an American owner must have lost Crash during a trip in this region. It's possible.

The rest of last few days has been spent collecting and grading assignments from the summer class I finished teaching on Thursday and shopping for refrigerators.

Retailers sure don't make it easy to comparison shop. Each has its own model number and the fridge market in general hasn't really broken online the way shopping for cars or smaller appliances has. My head hurts, and I have a blister on one toe.

Bonus Irrational League update:

Frank's in first. Ugh. But I'm tied in second. I have good prospects of taking sole possession of second place, and I once had good prospects for taking first, until Frank convinced an owner who shall remain nameless to trade him Adam Dunn for Brian Fuentes. I'm still steamed about that - not so much about the trade, but about Frank's refusal to admit he ripped the other guy off.

There are games in progress, so I won't post stats now. Maybe tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

As Canadian as possible

There's a self-deprecating aphorism that Canadians hang onto: As American as apple pie and as Canadian as possible under the circumstances. (We can thank Heather Scott for it.)

One of the fine divisions between American and Canadian culture is the approach to government. Canadians trust government, Americans, by definition in the founding documents and in modern culture, are suspicious of it. Canadians love our universal health care. We don't mind the reasonable restrictions on free speech that many Americans consider abominable. We're willing to live safer lives within the embrace of our doting government.

At least, it was that way until 2001.

I don't want to rehash issues that thousands have analyzed before. I don't want to wade into the mire of debate concerning liberty and privacy versus security. We know it exists, and we have our opinions, and none of those matter for the point of this post.

For as long as I can remember, Canadians could cross the border into the US with a photo ID such as a driver's licence, but that changed this decade and then we needed passports. The requirement for cross-border travel has grown to include NEXUS cards, awarded after a comprehensive security investigation, and the two countries have agreed to expand the document requirement to include - wait for it - driver's licences.

Ah, but these aren't the same old lower-case driver's licences. These are capitalized Enhanced Driver Licences, EDLs. EDLs will serve as proof of citizenship and identity, and the American Department of Homeland Security mandates that each card contain a RFID chip that broadcasts its information up to 10 metres away.

British Columbia is the only province to issue EDLs so far, some 500 as part of a pilot project. Monday's Gazette contained a report on it.

There's a problem with the Gazette article, however. It buries the lead. The first seven paragraphs focus on the issue of card design. B.C.'s cards contain a maple leaf to indicate Canadian identity - but will Quebec's? Oh, dear. I must stop biting my fingernails over that one.

No, keep reading to find the lead in paragraph #14:

"The Americans are demanding a vicinity chip," [said David Loukidelis, B.C.'s information and privacy commissioner]. But the B.C. pilot project has developed a "low-tech fix" in the form of a plastic sleeve that prevents authorities, or identity thieves, from reading the card.

Wow. Loukidelis has no issue with the cards containing encoded information, but he prefers a more secure swipe-card system. To harvest information from your RFID chip, all a person need do is bring a receiver within spitting distance. The receiver could be in a backpack and your card in your wallet, but the information stored in your RFID would be shared. One hopes that ID cards with RFIDs would contain only encrypted data, but nobody has yet invented unbreakable encryption. To take that information from a swipe card, authorities or identity thieves would have to physically swipe the card.

So Loukidelis has gotten B.C.'s EDL project to develop a sleeve that will block a card's RFID transmissions. Sure, such sleeves exist and no one is stopping any EDL holder from buying one. But this is a government that looks like it will actively provide a measure of privacy for its citizens, ironically pushed to do so by the one country that boasts freedom and liberty as its hallmarks. Thank you, nanny state. That's the story.

Only in Canada, eh?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Nature makes the call

I had two things to do today: a barbecue lunch at a friend's place and a pick-up game of softball among a group of NDG T-ball and baseball parents.

The two events overlapped, but the bruising rain made the decision for me. At least at the barbecue, I could stay inside. I'd probably have been the only person standing in the rain at the field if I'd gone to softball, but for a while I was also the only guest at the lunch party. In fact, when I showed up I became uncertain I had arrived on the right day.

But I did, and my gracious, impeccably planning hosts had some non-barbecue good eats on offer. few of the invited guests showed up, leaving more of that delicious feast, especially the coconut curry shrimp, for me.

Elvi and Children One and Three are now home, and two of them have ordered me to regrow my goatee. That answers that. I took home some of the excess food from lunch for them.

Bonus observation:

The more I watched "Corner Gas", the more I love it. My DVR has for a while been recording all the episodes that appear in syndication on WGN. These episodes are cut somewhat from the original broadcast, but it doesn't seem to hamper my appreciation. I especially enjoy when the show breaks the fourth wall. I imagine the writers sitting around, making fun of something they just thought up - and then they put they're own observations into the characters' mouths.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


If you don't like spoilers, don't read this.

Much of the criticism of "Hancock" faults the movie for its binary nature. The first half of it is the redemption of the superhero, which is fairly standard action-hero fare, lifted by decent performances. That story ends halfway in. I can picture the screenwriter reaching page 45 and thinking "Now what?"

That's an exaggeration, of course - but the movie really does feel like two chapters. The second half slows down as Hancock learns his origins.

I didn't mind that structure, but a more skilled take on the story would have found ways to interweave the two story lines. What bothered me more was the handwaving that went on in the last 20 minutes or so. Hancock and the wife - you know what? Forget it. Power flows from one angel to the other, they die and then don't die. It's a mess of little logic.

It's a bad movie.

But the premises are there. the angels are attracted to each other and always seem to come together. Yet they always need to be apart to survive. But why was this time different?

And they're not attracted to each other. It's the husband that makes the connection. They've been in the same city for a while.

And once the wife reveals her supernatural self to her husband, she can fly her family to Australia in her arms. If she wants to really get away - which she's done in the past.


Still, I liked watching it.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

I fought the law

I sent my pictures and it felt so great
Thought my cause was just
Even though I slept through my court date
I fought the law and the law lost
I fought the law and the law lost

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Clean break

For only the second time in the last 15 years, I'm clean shaven, at least between earlobes and lips. I shaved once before about eight years ago, give or take. Why did I do it? Beats me. I experiment when I'm alone.

Yes, I'm alone. Every living thing that weighs more than 30 pounds is wheeling his or her way to PEI for a week plus. It's a family vacation, minus the most important part of the family, who has to stay in town to teach. Yeah, I'm broken up over the fact that I won't be able to spend one eighth of my life in a minivan over the next eight days.

So I console myself with trips to Wal-Mart, where I bought cream, one pair of socks, a shower mirror that will probably lose its anti-fog coating in the next 20 minutes, Coke Zero, and a pair of shoes. I didn't go with the intention of buying shoes, but I saw them on display and thought they looked cool. I wandered around for half an hour wondering if I should really buy them. I ran into a kid I coach in T-ball and his mom, and they liked the shoes so I bought them. I'm so impulsive.

Friday night, Elvi and I spent a night out with Tania (a friend from Rice) and her husband while Child 1 babysat their kids in their hotel. We had a good time, a nice combination of reminiscing, parent chat, and whatever else. I lost track after the second Coco Beach (something with Blue Curacao and Bacardi Coco).

After shopping, I was all set for another rousing not at home alone (technically, with a guinea pig, a rabbit, four chinchillas, and assorted party-crashing vermin) when Tania called and invited me out again. It's like the entire universe conspired to present me with the opportunity to buy shoes and wear them out - with new socks, no less. So I did. We hung out in the hotel bar and - maybe it was the mojito - we talked for another three hours. And Tania thinks I'm social and outgoing. Maybe I used to be.... She liked the shoes and said my clean-shavedness made me look more conservative but had no more comment because I was clean shaven back when she knew me in university. She's also pushing me to grow my hair long, like it was back then, too. Ironically, her hair is now long - in school, she kept it nearly buzz-cut short.

I've written before about my introduction to Rice at the hands of a student who'd later appear in Playboy. There were two Rice students in that issue - the other was Tania's roommate.

Bonus question for the Singularity:

Does anyone know how to create a mail filter in Gmail that would automatically route some message to the inbox? Gmail classifies all the comment notifications for this blog as spam. I can "star" the messages and assign them labels, but all that gets me is starred, labelled messages in my spam folder. there seems to be no way to get Gmail to put it in the inbox, although I can get Gmail to archive it.

Any ideas?

Friday, July 04, 2008

Happy Birthday, America!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Headline of the week

French man with two asses surprises Swedish officials
“We couldn’t just send him back to Denmark. It’s actually a little shameful, there’s nothing human behind this. That’s just the way it is when everything hinges on a bunch of paper,” said a harbour worker who wished to remain anonymous.