When popularity is a bad thing

I’m doing some preliminary planning for next semester, and I checked registration for my courses. JOUR 428/528 Online Publication already has 14 undergrads and six graduate students registered.

Go away! Don’t you fools realize that I get paid the same whether there are nine of you or 25?

Another student is working on a video piece on bloggery and wants to interview me on Saturday. I’ll try to be coherent. Maybe it’s time to do that last Percocet.

I kid! I kid! I can’t do the Percocet – Elvi and I are going out Saturday night and I plan to drink alcoholic beverages.

House tangents

My favourite drama is “House”, as faithful readers will remember. Last night’s episode roller-coastered in quality for me, and gives me some nice opportunities to segue (if you don’t know how to pronounce that, please leave and come back when you do).

If you watched, you probably noticed the homage to Sherlock Holmes (if you didn’t, please leave and come back when you have). If the 221B address plate on House’s home were any brighter, it would have blinded drivers and pedestrians on what can only be Baker Street. The address is a blatant admission of the concept that Gregory House and James Wilson are modern interpretations of Holmes and Watson. I just wish that it had been toned down, literally. The sign shone like a spotlight.

The Television Without Pity community of “House” fans – of which I’m not a member – makes a big to-do over the ball on House’s desk. It’s a fuzzy pink and purple tennis-ball-like object, only it’s about six inches in diameter. Nobody seems to be able to figure out where it comes from. They call it “the ball”, and wonder about its origin. Foreman tossed the ball around in one scene in what I hope was meant to tease them.

Parts of the episode bothered me. Why did the doctors not wear masks when treating the AIDS patient? Do doctors not bother with that? Was it a concession to TV? And while having Chase have Cameron do the nasty was a great idea, would Chase really foolishly kiss Cameron? Sex – yeah, condoms will block transmission. But an open-mouth kiss?

What struck me most about that scene, by the way, was the music. Cameron was playing Goldfrapp, an obscure British couple who make haunting electronic alternative – and it’s something I just happen to listen to in regular rotation. Click that link – it takes you to an online list of the music I play in my iTunes. Can you tell I DJed in the ’80s?

Back to TV…. While watching last night, I disliked the scenes with House and Stacy. He loses his gruffness while with her, and the show drops in entertainment level. People do change according to the people they are with at the moment – ask Elvi how she thinks my brothers and I change when we get together – and on an intellectual level I can appreciate that, but I’d rather watch Hugh Laurie play either spiteful or comedic. The world doesn’t need a less pretty Hugh Grant.

That’s why the end of the show was so satisfying to me. It’s not that the stakes have been raised by Stacy’s guess – as trite as that was – that House looked in her file that satisfied me, but the knowledge that the soft and cuddly House has been put back into the closet for a while.

Bonus ammunition for opponents of socialized medicine:

I’ve lived in Quebec and the US, and what with my headaches and my kids, I’m familiar with both systems. (“Canadian medicine” is not an accurate description – provinces run their health plans independently.) I’m a bigger fan of the Quebec system, but it’s not perfect. I have an ophthalmology consultation for my son, and the first available appointment is March 1, 2006. If it were an emergency, he’d be seen right away, but three months plus?

Wrestling with computers

Days like this drive me crazy.

I spent the morning sulking because I gave Alex a synopsis rather than a story. I should be able to do better than that. He is driving me there, but I need to avoid frustration with myself. I do value most of the work he gives me.

I spent the morning finding new databases for JOUR 319’s data-mining assignment. You’d be surprised how much work it is to find files to teach with. I’ve been using cutomized files from the FEC of political contributions and PACs the past four years, but these files come from the 1996 election year. It’s time to update, to Canadian databases if possible.

The Canadian government is just too welcoming, however. Elections Canada maintains similar databases but lets you search them online. It pre-matches political donations and contributions so there’s no work for the analyst – i.e. my students. And there are few other free databases available publicly to relate and analyze.

So I return to the FEC. The problem is that its database of contributions is 300-MB large. Even worse, the FEC only hands out the database as length-delimited files, meant for use in the crappiest database manager known to Earthlings, Microsoft Access. What I have to is first convert the FEC files to MS Access on the WIndows XP machine, export them as tab-delimited files, upload them to a FTP server, walk across the room, download them to my Mac, and open them in Filemaker Pro.

My wee Mac is only a 533 MHz G4, and takes 90 minutes to load the 300 MB database. Right now, it’s sorting th erecords by state. In order to make these files a reasonable size for my students, I limit the data to New England states.

OK, so that’s that, and it’s a stressful, large chunk of day. On top of that, Alex asked me to solve a CSS problem for him. I did it – well, Elvi did it, mostly – and it took two hours, despite my l33t Web skillz and a copy of “Cascading Style Sheets: Designing for the Web“.

The page had a number of defined styles, which finished up with:

.tag {
font-size: 9px;

The Technorati tag in the text was as follows:


But the link inherited the style from other styles and would not appear white. I solved this with brute force:


Elvi had a more elegant solution:

#tag {
font-size: 9px;
#tag a {

and this in the body:


That worked for me on Safari (OS X) and worked for Elvi in Firefox (Win XP), but Alex couldn’t get it to work. He’s using my brute force method instead.

We know the problem has something to do with inheritance, but none of us know why the div class attribute won’t penetrate the link in the first case? Anyone?