Friday, December 18, 2009

Backing Up Your Data

There seems to have been a bit of a meme going around lately about backing up your data.

The first post I read was from Joel Spolsky, advising that talking about backups isn’t good enough, we should be talking about restores.

I then read a post by Jeff Atwood about his recent horror story in losing a ton of data from his blog, because of a lack of backup strategies, and then another post by someone else (whom I can’t currently remember) which was similar to Atwood’s, in that they lost a bunch of data from their blog because they hadn’t backed up. (And reading between the lines, I think Atwood felt even more stupid, because of a previous post of his, in which he outlined an extremely simple, yet effective, backup strategy.)

All of these posts seem to be telling me something, and telling me loud and clear. And yet I’m still not backup up my data.

Oh, that reminds me. My pastor sent an email yesterday, asking how to do something on the church web site, and I sent him some instructions, which may or may not have been clear; maybe I should back that up, right now before even clicking Submit on this blog post, just in case things go badly…

There. That only took a second. I should do that more often.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Software serna Loves: MSN Messenger and Google Talk (and Pidgin/

You might be surprised to see Microsoft software on my list; I’m a bit surprised too. But I have to admit: I really like MSN Messenger. I’ve also been using Google Talk, a bit, and like it too. (Except that they still have a bizarre problem where you can’t use it without using a Gmail account.)

Part of this isn’t anything specific to MSN Messenger or Google Talk, though; part of this is just a fascination with chat software in general. They don’t call it “instant messaging” for nothing—there is a part of me that still gets a sense of childlike wonder that I can type something into my chat client, hit Enter, and have those words show up instantly in someone else’s chat client. In fact, I remember when I first started using MSN Messenger, and all of the people around me at work always had their sound on, so when I’d log in first thing in the morning I could hear all of their chat clients pinging to indicate that I’d just come online, again, virtually instantly. I work with people in various offices here in Toronto, people in Montreal, people in Québec City, and people in India; if we didn’t have chat software—primarily MSN Messenger—I can’t imagine being as productive as I am.

Now, this is normally where I’d start talking about the features I like about a particular piece of software, but honestly, when it comes to instant messaging, I don’t need or want a lot of features. Really, there are just two things I care about: it should be easy to chat, and it should be easy to send/receive files. (And even sending/receiving files is more of a convenience than anything; if I have to, I can send an IM to tell the person to check their email.)

It’s nice to be able to create a display picture, but not essential. It’s nice to be able to set a status message, but not essential. (Although we sometimes use the status messages in MSN for work; if I scan down my contact list, I’ll usually see a number of people with statuses that say things like “working from home this morning” or that type of thing.) It’s fun to be able to use emoticons—and even custom emoticons—but again, not essential. MSN Messenger has emoticons and custom emoticons, and when I use that I use a lot of emoticons in my chatting, but Google Talk doesn’t have emoticons, and I don’t miss it at all. (Maybe that’s because I’m an old-school chatter; it took years for my MSN Messenger buddies to get me to even turn on my emoticons, let alone start using them heavily.)

One feature I’m surprised I don’t use is the ability to do video chatting. This is a great feature, in theory, but I’ve never actually used it. Both MSN and Google can now do video chat—even the web-based version of Google chatting can do video conferencing (I’m not sure about the web-based versio of MSN). Maybe if I ever get a laptop for work that has a webcam built in I’ll start using it, but something tells me that even then, I probably won’t.

In terms of interface, I think I like Google Talk better than MSN Messenger because it’s cleaner and simpler (and doesn’t have advertising!), but both get the job done in much the same way:

  • If you want to chat with someone, simply double-click their name in your contact list, and up pops a chat window.
  • Chatting is simply a matter of typing your message, and hitting Enter to send the message to the other person or people. This bears mentioning because one of the first chat clients I ever used was called ICQ, and you used Ctrl+Enter instead of Enter, which wasn’t quite as satisfying. Based on my previous post on IrfanView, it’s no surprise that I like the simplicity of just hitting Enter to send the message. (Ctrl+Enter makes it seem more like an email than an IM message. You shouldn’t have to put that much thought into an IM message; just type as fast as you can—without worrying about spelling—hit Enter, and be done with it.)
  • Along the same lines, when you’re done with a chat, simply hit Esc to dismiss the chat window, and it will disappear.
  • If you want to send a file to someone, simply drag it to the chat window. If someone sends you a file, it will show up as a link that you can click to either accept or ignore, and when you accept the file will begin downloading to your computer.
  • Although they have different ways of doing it, both MSN Messenger and Google Talk will notify you when you get a new email to your Hotmail or Gmail account (respectively). That being said, MSN Messenger seems to integrate much better with Internet Explorer than any other browser (surprise surprise), while Google Talk doesn’t care what your default browser is.
In terms of differences between the two:
  • In MSN Messenger, you can add multiple people to your chat conversation; I don’t think you can currently do that in Google Talk.
  • Google Talk has a nice “windowshade” feature, where you can click the titlebar of your chat window, and the window will “roll up” into the titlebar so that that’s all that’s showing. (Clicking it again will “unroll” the window so you can see it again. When you have the chat window rolled up like that, you can still see the last message the other person has sent to you, so you can do this to free up some real estate on your screen, but still easily continue the conversation when necessary.
So similar to my post on IrfanView, what I really like about my chat clients is that they don’t get in my way, and they just let me get on with my chatting. This is especially important at work, where the whole point is that you want to get a quick answer to a quick question, and then move on. Something like this:

sernaferna says:
How big do the log files get before rolling over?

someone else says:

sernaferna says:

someone else says:

Then you’re done; hit Esc, the chat window goes away, and you go on about your day. Not only is your answer immediate (unlike email, where you may have to wait a while for the person to respond), but you also don’t have any extraneous emails sitting in your Inbox or your Sent Items. I don’t know about you, but if I were to have this conversation over email, I may or may not delete the emails I got from the other person, but I’m sure I wouldn’t go back and delete the ones I’d sent from my Sent Items—but those are emails that I would never, ever need to go back and find. (And since most people compose their emails in HTML these days—plus have signatures automatically appended to their emails—the size of those emails can get crazy; looking through my Sent Items, I didn’t see a single email that was less than 3KB, whereas the entire fictional conversation above would have been about 65 bytes going across the wire.) Better still, your chat client can tell you if the person is currently online, and if they’re not, you can look for someone else who is, and get your answer from them.

Now, I’ve talked about MSN Messenger and Google Talk, but there’s a special mention I’d like to give, to Pidgin (and, by extension, I won’t go into too much detail on Pidgin, because I’ve already mentioned it on this blog, but it really is nice to be able to combine multiple chat accounts together in one interface, even if that interface is a bit more clunky than either MSN Messenger or Google Talk. And the aforementioned usability is all there for Pidgin, too: double-click a person’s name to chat; Enter to send message; Esc to dismiss the chat window; etc. Pidgin also has a spell check feature, which I always thought I would like in a chat client—I’m fairly anal retentive about my spelling, even in chat—but now that I have it, it turns out I don’t care that much. And although I personally haven’t used, I have a colleague who uses it all the time, and says its great.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I’ve suddenly started getting a lot of spam comments in my various blogs, so I’ve taken the step of turning on the “word verification” feature for commenting. In the past I didn’t bother; whenever I got a spam comment I simply deleted it, and that was that. But lately I’m getting enough of them that it’s gotten annoying, so I’ve done this.

For the very, very few people who comment on my blogs, I apologize for the inconvenience.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Software serna Loves: IrfanView

IrfanView is a free image viewing application. It can also be used to edit images—and in fact has some pretty great editing features—but it’s primary purpose is for viewing. It’s named after its creator, Irfan Skiljan.

What makes IrfanView great?

First of all it’s fast. For all of the image types I’ve tried it on (JPG, GIF, bitmap, PNG, etc.), when you open an image in IrfanView, it opens instantly. There’s no millisecond or multi-second delay, as you wait for the program to initialize itself, or load libraries—just double-click the image, and IrfanView is there, showing it. Even for a very large image, which IrfanView might have to resize for you, it’s still much faster than any other image viewing application I’ve used. If all you want to do is look at an image—and that is probably what you’re doing, much more often than editing—having it load up quickly is a big benefit. In fact, even the “filmstrip” view, built right into Windows Explorer—which caches all of the images ahead of time—is only marginally faster for really big images, even with its cache, and is actually slower for medium or small images.

This makes IrfanView feel “lightweight.” I don’t have to hesitate before opening an image file, even a really big one, because there is no penalty for doing so; I won’t lose a ton of memory, my CPU won’t go crazy, and I won’t have to waste time waiting for the image to appear. If I want to open a Word document, or a Visio drawing, I might have second thoughts, and only open it if I have to, but I don’t have to give such considerations to opening an image.

Earlier, I mentioned resizing, and this is another handy feature built into IrfanView. You can tell IrfanView how you want to view the images that you’re opening, meaning:

  • Fit window to image (also called 1:1 ratio). The image will be shown at its normal size, with no scaling applied; if the image is small the IrfanView window will shrink down to the image’s size, and if it’s very big IrfanView will grow to the size of your screen, and give you scrollbars to see whatever doesn’t fit on the screen.
  • Fit images to desktop. IrfanView will size itself as big as your desktop, and if the image is very small it will be resized bigger to fill the screen, or if it’s very big it will be shrunk to fit on the screen. (Because of the nature of this type of activity, obviously small images can get very distorted when they’re expanded this way; medium-sized pictures—especially photographs—sometimes don’t look too bad. Sizing larger images to be smaller, however, gives very good results.)
  • Fit images to window. Similar in concept to fitting the image to the desktop, but fitting the image to whatever size your IrfanView window is. This is the only option in which IrfanView will not resize its window to the size of your image or your desktop.
  • Fit only big images to desktop, or Fit only big images to window. Similar to the above, in which very big images will be resized to fit the screen (or the window), but small images are left as they are.
There are some other options too, but these are the main ones. Personally, I usually have IrfanView set to “Fit only big images to desktop”; usually, if I’m looking at an image, I’d prefer to see the whole thing at once, but that doesn’t mean that I need smaller images expanded. And, as mentioned, you get very good results when you shrink an image to fit the desktop, it doesn’t become distorted or anything. If I ever change my mind—for example, if I want to see all of the details for a large image, and want to use the 1:1 ratio—it’s a simple menu to change the way I’m viewing the image, and IrfanView will remember the setting the next time I open it. I don’t have to open a Preferences dialog, and make the selection there, and click OK to save my settings; just change the view, and it’s done. Also, because of the speed of the application, there’s not a noticeable performance impact to having IrfanView resize the image.

If I ever want to zoom in or out of a an image, without changing IrfanView’s overall setting for viewing images, I can use the + key to zoom in or the - key to zoom out. (Or, if I want to look at a specific portion of an image, I can select it with the mouse, and then click the selected portion. IrfanView will crop the image to show just that section. It’s not a “permanent” crop—it doesn’t actually edit the image itself—it’s just for your viewing pleasure. You can “reload” the image to see the full thing again.)

This next feature might not seem like such a big deal, but it’s part of the overall lightweight feel IrfanView has: Pressing the Esc key closes the application. To me, there is just something so simple and elegant to pressing the Esc key, and having the application go away. It goes along with what I was discussing earlier, that you don’t have to think before viewing an image in IrfanView. Double-click it, look at it, and hit Esc. In your mind, all you’re doing is “looking at an image”; you’re not “opening a program”, and “selecting a file”, and “closing the program”. If you’re having large images scaled down to fit your desktop, you’re not even “using the scrollbars”. You’re just looking at an image, and IrfanView is not making itself known in the process. You can close any program using the keyboard—Alt+F4 will close any program in Windows—but there’s something holistic about a lightweight image viewing program that lets you simply hit Esc to dismiss it. In fact, maybe “dismiss” is the operative word here—you’re not “closing a program” you’re “dismissing” the image you were looking at.

A similar feature is the ability to do an impromptu slideshow, using the left and right arrow keys on the keyboard. If you have multiple images in a particular folder on your computer, and open one of them in IrfanView, you can use the left and right mouse keys to view the next and previous one. (In other words, double-click the first image and it will appear in IrfanView; press the right arrow key, and IrfanView will show the next image; hit the left arrow key, and the first image will be shown again.) Most image viewing applications have a slideshow feature—and IrfanView does as well— but there’s something so intuitive about the ability to simply view the next image by hitting the arrow key. Personally, I never use the slideshow feature in any image viewing program, even IrfanView, because I find it so much easier to simply scroll through the images myself, at my own pace, instead of after a predetermined number of seconds. (Inevitably, when using that type of slideshow, I find myself having to manually go back and look at an image, because the slideshow moved on before I was done looking, or find myself impatiently waiting for the next image to appear when I don’t care much about the current one.) I suppose if I were doing a tradeshow it might be nice to have images automatically scrolling past the screen as eye candy, or maybe it would be nice to have something like that playing at a party (maybe with pictures from a recent trip), but for my own use, I simply use the left and right keys.

Along the same lines, you can view an image in “full screen” mode—meaning that only the image will be shown, not the rest of your applications and your Windows taskbar and your desktop—by simply hitting Enter. Again, so elegant! When you’re done with full screen mode, hitting Esc again will bring it back to normal. (As with using the regular window, you have options as to how you want the pictures to be scaled (or not scaled) in full-screen mode, but in this case there is no menu, so you really do have to use the Preferences dialog to set this.)

Now, although IrfanView is primarily built for viewing pictures, it has some editing features that I’ll just briefly mention:
  • Of course it can easily crop images, but so can any image manipulation program out there, and most image viewers. (I mentioned the ability to “temporarily crop” an image for viewing, but you can do a “real” crop as well, and save your changes.)
  • It has the ability to do a batch rename of a bunch of pictures. For example, suppose you go on a trip to Florida, you get all the pictures off your camera, and have them in a directory, but they’re all named something like IMG00079.jpg, IMG00080.jpg, IMG00081.jpg, etc. You can use IrfanView’s batch rename function to give them all more meaningful names; maybe Florida_01.jpg, Florida_02.jpg, Florida_03.jpg, etc.
    • For a simple rename of one particular file, another handy keyboard shortcut: simply hit the S key, and IrfanView will bring up the “Save As” window, so you can give the image a new name (or save it in a different format; e.g. you could use this to convert a JPG to a GIF.)
  • You can very easily rotate an image, using the R and L keys (to rotate right and left, respectively), for those cases where you tilted your camera to the side, so your pictures are sideways.
  • There are many settings for adjusting the brightness or contrast of the picture, editing the colour scheme, applying effects like blur, etc.
  • Similar to the batch rename feature, I can also generate a set of “thumbnails.” If I have a number of images in a directory, I can have IrfanView go through that directory, and for each image, it will create a “thumbnail” image—a smaller version of the image. This might be useful if you were creating a website, and you wanted to have small previews of the pictures, and when someone clicks the preview you show them the real, full-sized image.
  • Finally—and I never discovered this feature until I was writing this post!—IrfanView can do screenshots which include the mouse. It’s very easy in Windows to do a screenshot—use the PrtScn key to get the whole desktop, or Alt+PrtScn to get just the active window—but you can’t get the mouse that way. If you want to get a screenshot which shows the user using a particular menu, for example, you can’t do it. So until now, I’ve been using other programs like Snagit for that type of work, but they cost money. I’ve now realized that IrfanView can do it too, and it’s free.

I’ve mentioned the simplicity of the keyboard shortcuts a couple of times; maybe you’re wondering why I think it’s such a big deal that you can rotate an image right in IrfanView by hitting the R key, instead of Ctrl+R or Alt+R. Why I’m so thrilled to be able to close the application using the Esc key, instead of Alt+F4. (Of course, you can still use Alt+F4 if you want to.) The thing is, it really is useful to have the keyboard shortcuts in IrfanView so simple, and every application would—the only reason most applications don’t do this is because they can’t. Almost all applications require a combination of the Alt key or the Ctrl key and some other key for their keyboard shortcuts because the keyboard is usually being used for other things, so you have to differentiate the user typing from the user entering a command. But for an image viewing program, you’re not using the keyboard for anything; any time you hit any key, it’s a command. The thing is, developers are so used to using Alt and Ctrl for keyboard shortcuts that even for other image viewing programs, they do the same thing—Irfan had to think outside the box not to use Alt and Ctrl (in most cases), and I’m glad he did. The only time he resorted to using Ctrl or Alt or Shift is when a shortcut key was already taken, and he had to differentiate. “I’d like to use R to ‘reload’ an image, but I already used R for ‘rotate right’ so I’ll use Shift+R to ‘reload’ instead.”

In summary: IrfanView is a lightweight image viewing program which doesn’t get in the way, and does everything possible to make it easy to view images. And yet, even with its simplicity, it also provides some powerful features for day-to-day image editing. It’ll never be Photoshop, but of course it doesn’t try to be.

It took me a while, on Ubuntu, to find a comparable image viewing application. I didn’t even care about editing—I’d use GIMP if I had to edit anything—I just wanted a lightweight image viewer, that I could dismiss with the Esc key and navigate back and forth with the left and right arrow keys and go to fullscreen mode with the Enter key. (In other words, I wanted IrfanView for Linux.) I finally did find such a program, and it’s GPicView. It’s even more lightweight than IrfanView, in the sense that there are no editing capabilities, although it doesn’t make it any quicker to load than IrfanView. (You use F11 to go full-screen, instead of Enter, but that doesn’t matter—it’s still just one key, rather than a multiple-key combination. It even lets you rotate left and right using the L and R keys, just like IrfanView!)

I highly recommend IrfanView for day-to-day viewing of images. Any time a program can get out of the user’s way, and simply get its job done, it’s well worth the download. The fact that it’s free, lightweight, a small download, and has never caused me any issues after years of use are all additional points in its favour.

Software serna Loves

sernaferna PermaPost

I’ve been thinking about this for a while: I’m going to do a series of posts on software that I enjoy using. There’s a lot of software that I use every single day because I have to, and some is good and some isn’t. For example, I have Microsoft Outlook running at all times; as soon as I boot up my laptop in the morning I open it, and it’s the last thing I close when shutting down. Outlook is a great PIM application, which I use both at home and at work, and I’ll probably continue to stick with it (when I’m on Windows)—but it won’t make this list. This list is for software that goes above and beyond.

There are some programs that are just so well designed, so well done, that I really enjoy using them. These are the programs that I immediately install whenever I get a new computer, because I don’t want to live without them. Maybe they make my life simpler, or maybe they’re just easier to use—or more enjoyable to use—than their counterparts.

In other words, this will be a series of posts in which I unabashedly gush about certain programs.

Here’s the list (which will grow, as I add posts):

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

On Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the fact that Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s the rare sort of issue that unites both liberals and conservatives: “Barack won the Nobel Peace Prize?!? He hasn’t done anything!” And I don’t have much to add to that. But I will quote a post on The Nation’s blog, from Katrina Vanden Heuvel:

I think those who argue that the Prize is cheapened are just plain silly. The Prize doesn’t go to only those who have succeeded in their efforts, nor is it a lifetime achievement award. Instead, it is often and wisely given to endorse and encourage those who are working to bring about a better and more peaceful world. As Thorbjorn Jagland, the Committee’s new Chair, said: “It’s important for the committee to recognize people who are struggling and idealistic, but we cannot do that every year. We must from time go into the real of realpolitik. It is always a mix of idealism and realpolitik that can change the world.”
It’s not a prize they give to people who have done something for peace—at least not always—but a prize that is sometimes given to someone who has promise of doing something for peace, which is what they’ve done in this case.

And, to put things in perspective, another quote from that same article:
Finally, for those who are really worried about the devaluing of the Peace Price (and this crowd includes people who’ve been bashing peace for decades), remember that Henry Kissinger is a previous winner. (Or, as Maureen Dowd put it, “Any peace prize that goes to Henry Kissinger but not Gandhi ain’t worth a can of Alpo.”)
Not that I’m arguing that they were right to award the prize to him. I’m reserving judgement on that. I just wanted to reemphasize an alternate point of view. And frankly, Maureen Dowd is right: They never gave the award to Gandhi, and they gave it to frigging Henry Kissinger. Kissinger! Frankly, if they felt that Henry Kissinger deserved a Nobel Peace Prize, then I don’t really have a lot of faith in their judgement.

My point? I have none.

No, wait! My point is this: Take the award away from Obama, and give it posthumously to Gandhi. And take Kissinger’s award, put it in a lead box, coat it in cement, throw it in the ocean, and pretend that it never happened.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Blog Comments

I read a couple of blog posts today discussing the topic of comments on blogs. Two sides of a debate, if you will (except I don’t know if anyone’s actually debating the issue).

First there was a post by Jeff Atwood over at Coding Horror, called Finally, a Definition of Programming I Can Actually Understand, in which he’s very much in favour of comments. A representative quote:

As I said in How To Advertise on Your Blog Without (Completely) Selling Out:

It’s an open secret amongst bloggers that the blog comments are often better than the original blog post, and it’s because the community collectively knows far more than you or I will ever know.

Indeed, the best part of a blog post often begins where the blog post ends. If you are offended by that, I humbly submit you don’t understand why blogs work.

A blog without comments is like Amazon without user reviews. Is it really even worth using at that point? The products themselves are commodities; I could buy them anywhere. Having dozens of highly relevant, informed user reviews means I’ll almost always buy stuff from Amazon given the chance. It’s a huge competitive advantage.

Jeff’s making a pretty good case that comments are an integral part of the medium of blogging; that blogs aren’t essays, per se, they’re forms of communication, and if the communication is one-sided, then it’s broken.

On the other side of the coin, we’ve got Joel Spolsky from Joel on Software fame, in an article called Learning from Dave Winer in which he argues that comments are basically just noise. I’ll post another representative quote (which actually starts with its own quote, from Dave Winer):
“…to the extent that comments interfere with the natural expression of the unedited voice of an individual, comments may act to make something not a blog…. The cool thing about blogs is that while they may be quiet, and it may be hard to find what you’re looking for, at least you can say what you think without being shouted down. This makes it possible for unpopular ideas to be expressed. And if you know history, the most important ideas often are the unpopular ones…. That’s what’s important about blogs, not that people can comment on your ideas. As long as they can start their own blog, there will be no shortage of places to comment.”

The important thing to notice here is that Dave does not see blog comments as productive to the free exchange of ideas. They are a part of the problem, not the solution. You don’t have a right to post your thoughts at the bottom of someone else’s thoughts. That’s not freedom of expression, that’s an infringement on their freedom of expression. Get your own space, write compelling things, and if your ideas are smart, they’ll be linked to, and Google will notice, and you’ll move up in PageRank, and you’ll have influence and your ideas will have power.

So on the one hand we have Jeff Atwood with his assertion that comments are an integral part of the medium, and you’ve got Joel Spolsky with his assertion that comments are mostly noise, and don’t add anything to the discussion—that if you really had something to say, you’d get your own blog and say it there. And that the magic of PageRank would take care of adding structure to the conversation.

Long time readers (if any) will probably not be surprised to hear that I’m mostly with Joel on this one. But the conversation got me thinking. In fact, it was Atwood’s post that I read first, and only got to Spolsky’s post because Jeff linked to it. (In fact, my wife’s organization has started a blog, and I was planning to send her the link to Atwood’s post, along with a link to The Corporate Weblog Manifesto. I probably won’t bother anymore; I’ll just send her a link to this post, and say “read the posts that I linked to”.)

So I did some more thinking on the subject. I think it comes down to what kind of a blog you’re trying to create; if you’re trying to build a community, then of course Atwood’s right: comments are an integral part of that, and Atwood makes a good case that spending some time with them is an important way to build that community. Others will have their own blogs, and will also contribute to the discussion that way, but comments allow for a much more immediate way to do that. On the other hand, if your blog is more of a personal thing, and a way to get your own opinions voiced, then Spolsky is right, comments will generate more noise than usefulness.

Which also explains why I am more closely aligned with Spolsky when it comes to my blog. This blog is not intended to be a community; it’s intended for me to spout my own personal opinions, for my own personal use. In fact, all of my blogs are really more for my own benefit than anyone else’s; if nobody ever reads the serna Bible Blog it’s cool with me, because I’ll still be getting my own use out of it. Same with the serna Book Blog. I write all of my blogs as if there are readers, but I don’t really care if there really are. (That’s right: still no stat counter on this or any other of my blogs.) That’s not to say that I discourage comments, but I must say that any time I do get notified of a comment—on any of my blogs—I immediately get a bad feeling in my gut, and only after I’ve read the comment and found it to be positive (and/or helpful) does the feeling go away. When I get an email from Blogger saying “so and so has left a new comment on your post such and such”, my initial reaction is always “oh no, what now…” And that’s despite the fact that most of the comments I get these days are helpful and/or positive.

It extends even to blogs that I read; I rarely read the comments on any blog. I’ll look on Google for other bloggers who are posting about the same topic, but I don’t look down to see what the commenters are saying. Some blogs are better than others, of course. Some have active communities, where the comments will provide useful discussion and a frank exchange of ideas. (Ironically, the majority of comments I get on this blog are in that category—or, at the very least, friendly.) Other blogs will have a maelstrom of noise so powerful that after reading them it’s hard to have intelligent conversation to anyone about anything for thirty minutes after; you find yourself afraid to compliment a fellow employee’s shirt for fear of having someone jump out beside you and tell you you’re a fool and don’t know what you’re talking about and Microsoft sucks.

Perhaps it’s a nature vs. nurture discussion; maybe Jeff Atwood simply “grew up” with friendly blogs that had intelligent conversations happening in the comments, while Joel Spolsky and I “grew up” with blogs frequented by trolls with nothing better to do with their time than telling us that we’re fools.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The search feature on this blog

Every time I create a blog—and how sad is it that I can even use that phrase; most people only ever have one blog—I do my best to keep Blogger’s little “navbar” at the top, so that you can use the search feature. (The one exception is the serna Book Blog, where I just couldn’t make it fit.) Really, it’s not even for your use, it’s for mine; if I want to refer to a previous post I’ve written, I want to be able search for it, and find it quickly.

But there’s one problem with the feature: it doesn’t work. You’d think that implementing a search feature for a blog should be easy; I’m not even looking for PageRank or anything, just a simple text search, but it just plain doesn’t work. Since I started this blog, there have been isolated incidents when it did work, but lately it hasn’t worked at all.

And when I say “it doesn’t work” I mean it doesn’t return any results. I can go to that little search box and type in a word, and Blogger will tell me I got no results; I can do the same search on Google, and tell Google to only look at results from this blog, and Google will find the results. How can an external search engine find results when Blogger’s own search can’t?!? (To do this in Google, use the site keyword; e.g. to search this blog for the word “multitask” you’d search for this:

Now, this blog has been March of 2005, but I won’t go back that far. Let’s just assume that the feature has only been broken since I updated to the “new” Blogger, in January of 2007. (I love the irony of linking to a post that I’d meant to delete, and never did.) Even if the feature has only been broken since then, that’s still two and a half years that the search feature hasn’t worked. And, as I say, I always ensure when making updates to the blogs’ templates to keep that “navbar” handy for my readers, because I’m always assuming that some day Blogger will fix it. It only occurred to me today that two and a half years is plenty of time to fix something as simple as a text search, so if they haven’t done it by now, they probably never will.

If I ever get a couple of hours of spare time, I guess I should remove all of the navbars, and implement search boxes on all of my blogs, that use Google instead of Blogger’s search.


I love coincidences. Here’s another example.

I was talking with some folks on Friday about multitasking, and about the fact that the human brain just isn’t capable of it. They’ve done study after study, and it turns out that doing multiple things at once is much less inefficient than doing each thing, finishing it, and then starting the next thing. Your brain can’t do two things at once, so it has to keep switching back and forth between activities. And if you’re reading that and thinking that you’re the exception to the rule—“but serna, I can multitask just fine!”—you should also know that those studies also show another interesting factor: The people being studied always think that they’re being more efficient, when they’re multitasking, even though they’re not.

So after having this conversation on Friday, today I read a post on Coding Horror about The Multi-Tasking Myth. He even had a quote from Joel Spolsky on the subject:

The trick here is that when you manage programmers, specifically, task switches take a really, really, really long time. That’s because programming is the kind of task where you have to keep a lot of things in your head at once. The more things you remember at once, the more productive you are at programming. A programmer coding at full throttle is keeping zillions of things in their head at once: everything from names of variables, data structures, important APIs, the names of utility functions that they wrote and call a lot, even the name of the subdirectory where they store their source code. If you send that programmer to Crete for a three week vacation, they will forget it all. The human brain seems to move it out of short-term RAM and swaps it out onto a backup tape where it takes forever to retrieve.
And I can really relate to that quote, because I’ve been doing some programming lately. We want to do something fairly complex at work, and I wanted to build a reference implementation, that the developers could work from. If they got stuck on any particular piece, they could look back at my implementation, and find out how I’d overcome that issue. But I was very inefficient; it took me days to do something that should have been doable in a day, because I’m constantly being interrupted for this or that meeting, or an urgent question. And as a result of that (along with the fact that programming is not a normal part of my job anymore, and I’m out of practice), I wasn’t able to maintain any of those “zillions of things” in my head. (The Jargon File calls this “juggling eggs”.) I’d create a member variable I wanted to use somewhere, and find myself constantly scrolling back and forth, saying, “what did I call that variable?” and then, a few minutes later, “wait, what did I call that variable again?”

I very much want to turn this into a diatribe against BlackBerries, but I won’t. But I want to. So I’d better stop typing now.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Revisiting My Revisitation of Capitalism

My last post had a link to an article in The Nation. Well… here’s another one. The Nation reviewed Capitalism.

The most interesting part of the article wasn’t actually part of the article itself, it was a footnote:

Editor’s Note: Stay tuned this week for a Q&A between author Naomi Klein and Michael Moore, appearing exclusively on

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Michael Moore’s Capitalism Movie Revisited

Based on a comment on a previous post, I thought I’d mention that Michael Moore was on Leno the other day. You can read an article about it here, which also includes a link to a video of the interview itself. (I was at work when I posted this, so I didn’t get a chance to see the video.)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Palm Pre: serna’s Tale of Woe

Okay, I admit it; this is a pretty lame form of “woe”.

It started in January. I saw the phone of my dreams, and wanted it badly. I mean, go back to that link to my previous post, and watch the YouTube video—isn’t that a beautiful device? It was the first phone I saw that convinced me that having the phone tightly integrated to the web was a good idea, even though Canadian cell phone carriers are thieves when it comes to how much they charge for data.

But then in February my phone died, and I had to get a replacement, so I bought the iPhone. Which is also a beautiful device. (The Pre is beautiful in a certain way, the iPhone is just plain beautiful.) But when I bought the iPhone, it had not yet been announced if or how the Pre would be launched in Canada; I still assumed that Rogers would get the Pre, because, let’s face it, Bell Mobility hasn’t had a lot of cool devices over the last number of years. So when I bought the iPhone, I made a critical mistake: Assuming that Rogers was going to get the Pre—and that I could switch to the Pre when it came out, and let Andrea take my iPhone—I agreed to sign up for a three year contract with Rogers, so that I could get the iPhone cheaper.

So when Bell announced that they were getting the Pre, and when I found out that Rogers wasn’t, I was disappointed; I didn’t want to have to switch my service to Bell. But the real pain came the week that Bell was launching the Pre. I was getting all excited; I went to Best Buy, because they had those little plastic display models of the Pre, so that I could touch it. I read up some more literature and watched more videos of the Pre in action.

And then I called Rogers, to deal with that pesky three year contract issue.

“How much would it cost me to break my contract, if I left now?”

“Well, let’s see. It would cost you $400 to break your voice plan—$20 per month, to a maximum of $400—and an additional $100 to break your data plan—$X per month to a maximum of $100. So it would be $500.”

“Oh. Well… thanks for your time.”

So no Pre for serna. I’m not paying $500 to break my contract. (I would have been willing to pay something—I’m not sure how high my limit would have been, but something—but $500 is too much.)

Palm will be launching a GSM version of the Pre in Europe later this year; some are mentioning the possibility that Rogers might also launch a GSM version around the same time. That would be nice. But in the meantime, I’ve got the iPhone.

Which raises the question of what Andrea is going to do; she wanted the iPhone, when I was done with it. Her phone is lousy, and doesn’t always work. What do we do about her? Do we wait until Rogers [hopefully] launches the Pre, and then do what we’d originally planned to do? Or does she give up her phone altogether, and go to Bell, and get the Pre herself?

Who knows. When my heartache wears off, we’ll think about it some more.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Capitalism: A Love Story

A new film from Michael Moore.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

CT Scan

I’ve already written about my cystoscopy, last year. They never found anything, but my urologist is still on a witch hunt through my insides, trying to find something wrong with me. He sends me for an ultrasound every six months, but he’s not getting enough information, so he decided last week to send me for a CT scan. (This is the one where you lie on a table, and they pass you through a big donut-looking thing. If you click the previous link to the Wikipedia article, you’ll see a picture.)

There was surprisingly little preparation I had to do, before the CT scan. I wasn’t supposed to eat for about six hours ahead of time, but I was allowed to drink “clear liquids”—which, interestingly enough, included coffee, as long as I drank it black. (If I were to put cream or milk in it, that wouldn’t be allowed.)

I showed up at the hospital, filled out the form, and signed a form that indicated I agreed to the risk that was incurred by injecting radioactive dye into my system. I then had a short wait in the waiting room, before they brought me to the change room. I changed into the hospital gown—I’ll refrain from making the usual comments about hospital gowns, but in this case I was allowed to keep on most of my clothes under the robe; I just had to remove my pants. Another short wait—I’d brought a book, but I didn’t know what was ahead of me, so I might not have been paying that much attention—and then they brought me to the room.

She had me lay down on the table, on my back, and explained to me what was going to happen, while she put the needle in my arm that would be used for injecting the dye. (I was looking away when she was putting the needle in, because I always do, but I distinctly heard her say the word “whoops” while she was doing it. Later on, when I looked at my arm, I saw two distinct needle marks, so she obviously missed the first time.)

But she seemed to be repeating herself, because she mentioned some things that were going to happen a couple of times. And she told me that when they injected the dye, I was going to feel warm all over—especially my arm, where the needle was located—I was going to get a weird taste in my mouth, and it was going to feel like I was peeing. Which is fine, that all makes sens— wait a second! Did she say that it would feel like I was peeing?!? It suddenly occurred to me; the whole reason I’m here in the first place is that I have bladder problems—what if I did pee? But she laughed and assured me, “Nobody ever has!”

She had me put my arms above my head, and then she ran the bed through the donut. When I had passed through the other side, she hooked up the drip with the dye to the thing she’d put into my arm. (When you read that, are you shuddering as hard as I was when I wrote it? Anyway…) She went into the other room, and they did a pass without any dye in my system. There was a pre-recorded voice that came from the machine, “take a deep breath and hold it,” and then, “breathe normally.” It sounded very natural, for some reason, not pre-recorded, except that the second message, to breathe normally, was a bit cut off.

I have no idea why I included that little detail. It’s not important.

After the first pass, they told me they were going to inject the dye, and I felt it entering my system. I felt myself warming up all over, and a bit of the taste in my mouth, but it really wasn’t bad at all. Another pass through the donut, and then they disconnected the dye drip from the needle in my arm, and had me lie still for six minutes.

Then came the strangest part of the whole experience: After I’d lain there for six minutes, she came back in, and had me roll over. But she had me completely roll over; not roll over onto my stomach, but roll over onto my stomach and then keep rolling over, until I was back where I started. It’s like they were afraid that the dye might have settled at the bottom of my body, and wanted to mix it up again—which is, I must say, a fairly disturbing thought.

She had me put my arms above my head again, and rolled my bed through the donut, where she re-attached me to the dye drip. So it turns out that she hadn’t been repeating herself, earlier; they were doing some things multiple times. Another pass through the donut, and then they inserted more dye.

This time it was different, though. The first time they’d injected dye, it had been a mild warmth; this time, I felt my body getting hot. I really got the taste in my mouth, and I saw what she’d meant about feeling like I was peeing. (It didn’t feel exactly like that, but it was a feeling that was reminiscent.) Not only was it stronger this time, but they just kept shoving it in. Long after I’d thought it would stop, I could still feel it pumping into my system.

Finally, I went through one more pass of the donut. At that point, it was over. She pulled the needle out of my arm, and explained that there wasn’t really anything I had to do; just drink lots of liquids, to help clear the dye out of my system as quickly as possible.

In retrospect, I hope that I did drink a lot of liquids; I don’t like the idea of having radioactive dye sloshing through my system any longer than it has to be.

Tim Horton’s

I’ve changed locations at work recently. Luckily, the new office still has a Tim Horton’s in the lobby. (Actually, it has two—it’s not so much an “office” as it is a “campus”.)

Unfortunately, the people working at the new Tim’s are… somewhat forgetful. For example, following is a typical conversation:

  • Tim’s Lady
  • Can I help you please?
  • serna
  • Can I get a medium double-double?
  • Tim’s Lady moves to the cream and sugar station
  • Tim’s Lady
  • Was that one cream and one sugar?
  • serna
  • No, double-double.
Wow. In the space of 10 seconds—if that—she can forget the order. If I want something else—maybe a double-double and a frosted cinnamon roll—then forget it. I need to order one thing at a time.

This on its own wouldn’t be worth posting about. But there’s a twist.

I often get my lunch from this Tim’s, since I don’t have time to go out for a real lunch. I never get my bread toasted—but once, they messed up the order, and toasted the bread anyway. Okay, no big deal; I’m not fussy. But now, the one thing that they remember about me at this Tim’s is that I like my bread toasted when I get my lunch there. Every time I order a sandwich there, the woman making it is surprised that I’m not getting the bread toasted.

You know what? On second thought, even with this twist, it probably wasn’t worth posting.

Thursday, August 06, 2009


A trailer for the documentary Tapped. I hope it gets a lot of mainstream play.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


I should have posted these a while ago. Andrea and I and a bunch of her cousins went to Niagara-on-the-Lake (NotL) a couple of weeks ago, for a winery tour/tasting, which was great.

While we were there, we went to the lakeshore, and noticed that from NotL you can actually see the Toronto skyline. I immediately pulled out my iPhone to snap a couple of pictures, only to find that the resolution on my phone isn’t nearly good enough to capture it.

Pictures with a different border have extra “notes” associated with them, on Flickr.

Niagara on the Lake

Niagara on the Lake

If I look really carefully at that first picture, I can see a pixel or two that might be the Toronto skyline. It was very apparent in person, but the iPhone camera just wasn’t powerful enough to capture it.

I did get some better pictures, though. We stepped back into the trees, and I managed to get a couple of nice pictures of the sun streaming down through the leaves.
Niagara on the Lake

Niagara on the Lake

Monday, July 20, 2009


Andrea has introduced me to a number of artists before they ever became popular; M.I.A. for example, and Lady Sovereign. The latest artist she’s introduced me to is K’NAAN.

An excellent example video is the one for Dreamer:

Two more examples, that I won’t bother to put here, I’ll just link to:
  • TIA—another example of a video that just perfectly fits the music.
  • ABC’s—not the cleverest video, but a great song, and it showcases his skills on the mic.

Monday, June 29, 2009

iPhone Revisited

I just realized that I posted a “first thoughts” post on the iPhone post, but then I never posted about it again. What about my second thoughts?

First, and probably most importantly, it’s a lot more stable than my old phone was. That’s not saying much—the old one was terrible—but still; it’s nice to have a phone that works, and just keeps on working. Every once in a while, I do have to turn it off and on again, but it’s rare. (I think I’ve only turned it off maybe three or four times since I had it. That’s including the first time or two that I did it just for fun, when I first got it.)

One thing that annoys me more and more as time goes on, though, is the “auto-complete” feature they have when you’re typing. It’s just a bit too aggressive in when it decides to “auto-complete” what it thinks you’re trying to type. It works like this:

You start typing, with the virtual keyboard, and as you go, it tries to figure out if you really meant to type what you typed, or if you typed it by accident. For example, if you start typing “thr” it assumes that you probably meant to type “the” since the “r” is right next to the “e” (and “the” is a word whereas “thr” isn’t). This is all well and good, and most mobile devices have functionality somewhat like this. The difference, though—and it seems like such a small difference, but it turns out that it really is a big deal—is this: How do you tell the iPhone that you want to take its suggestion, instead of what you typed? On most devices, you’d probably hit Enter or specifically choose the word they’re suggesting, but on the iPhone, you hit the Space bar. So if you type “thr” and then hit Space, a funky little animation will pull out the “thr” and drop in a “the” and everyone’s happy. Except… what if you did mean to type “thr”? What if you’re working on a project called the Thermite Holding Reactor, and you keep using the acronym THR? Well, then what you have to do—every time you want to type that acronym—is type in THR, remember not to hit the Space, click a tiny little X to cancel the suggestion (see the screenshot below), and then hit Space to continue on. My problem is that I am a pretty fast typer, and it’s very hard to stop myself from hitting Space when I need to, so I’m constantly having to back up and re-type what I wanted to type.

There is one nice thing, though: if you type “thr” and hit Space, which replaces “thr” with “the”, and then backspace and type “thr” again, the next time you hit Space the iPhone won’t auto-correct that word again. It’s smart enough to realize that you just un-did what it had done, so it doesn’t do it again. Of course, the next time you want to use the “thr” acronym somewhere else, it will. There are some specific examples that have been bugging me:

  • I have been working on a project called BARRT, and every time I type BARRT—for example, if there’s a BARRT-related meeting that I want to put into my calendar—my iPhone keeps correcting it to “BARRY”.
  • Every time I try and use the word “wont”—which I am wont to do, from time to time—it changes it to “won’t”
  • Any time I type “txt” (yes, I’ve started to use some of these short forms when text messaging), it changes it to the all uppercase “TXT”
So the reason I started to type this post in the first place is that they’ve released updated software for the phone’s operating system, and it has some great new features. Well… when I say “great,” some of these features should have been there in the first place. I haven’t installed the update yet, but I’m looking forward to the following, at the very least:
  • You can now copy and paste. This should probably have been there in the first place, although I’m amazed how well I’ve been able to get on without it.
  • Notes can now sync with Outlook. I was surprised this wasn’t there for the first release, either.
  • You can now do voice memos. Before the iPhone, I’d never had a PDA that couldn’t do this—although, to be fair, the iPhone never marketed itself as a PDA, so I guess you can’t fault them for not having some PDA features. (I guess that would apply to syncing the notes, too.)
  • You can now send pictures over SMS. (It’s actually called MMS, when it contains more than just text.) I was shocked when the iPhone couldn’t do that; every camera phone does that these days. Not that I have much use for it, but still… how could they not include that feature? Anyway, I already ranted about this in my “first thoughts” post; the point is, with the upgraded operating system, you can.
  • Calendar can now connect to web-based CalDAV calendars, like Google Calendar and Yahoo! Calendar.
That last one is the one I plan to play with the most. I find that it’s a bit of a hassle to keep syncing my iPhone to Outlook every night, so I simply don’t—which means that I have to enter all of my appointments by hand, usually twice (once in Outlook and once on the phone), so I sometimes get lazy and miss typing some into the phone. Maybe I’ll find it easier to update a web-based calendar like Yahoo! or Google, which I can do throughout the day, and then sync to that? (Especially if I can get Outlook automatically syncing to one of those services.) I plan on spending some time trying to figure out the best way to keep both instances of Outlook (work and home), my iPhone, and my calendar(s) all in sync. (I’ll probably also start using both Google Calendar and Yahoo! calendar—I don’t currently use either—and see which one works better.)

Which will be great practice for the Pre, which I’m still looking forward to.

Wow, this was a long post, wasn’t it? It must have been all pent-up inside me, since I so rarely post these days…

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

1,000 Posts Coming Up

As I posted my last post, I just noticed: I’ve posted 926 times to this blog. (This post is 927.) So pretty soon, I’ll be writing a summary of my first 1,000 posts to the blog.

Time flies.


I haven’t written here in a long time. Whoops. Some things have been happening, I just haven’t found time to come here and write them down. (Nothing really exciting, but still, things.)

I’ve changed offices, at work. I used to work in North York, and I’m not working in Mississauga. (Same company, just a different client and a different office.) I’m hoping this is a temporary move—I miss the people I used to work with—but we’ll see. On the plus side, though, the drive is much shorter. Especially on days when I don’t carpool with Andrea, I can make it to the office in fifteen minutes in the morning, and make it home in twenty to thirty minutes in the afternoon. (As opposed to forty-five minutes to the North York location—or maybe thirty on the way home, if I took the 407 toll road on the way home.)

We had our choir concert, a couple of weeks ago. I did a terrible job, this year, of advertising it to my friends. I did send some emails out to my coworkers, but I didn’t email most of my friends. But it went very well; we did an actual musical this year, and I think the folks in the choir did a really good job. Usually, for our concerts, we have a series of skits/scenes, interspersed with songs in between, but this year we did an actual musical. (Which was mostly like a normal concert—scenes interspersed with songs performed by the whole choir—except that some of the scenes had singing in them as well.)

Shortly after the concert, though, Andrea and I got a bit rundown. And then we heard that Andrea’s sister had been “exposed” to swine flu, and I started to get paranoid. To make matters worse, Andrea got a strange pain in her left arm, and suddenly I also had a strange pain in my left arm! swine flu! Isn’t one of the symptoms of swine flu muscle pain?!? Except that Andrea’s sister—the one who has supposedly been “exposed” to swine flu—never got sick. And neither did Andrea; she was rundown for a bit, and then she was fine, even though my sore throat continued. And her pain went away, even though my arm was killing me. And then we remembered: I’d recently started doing handstand pushups; it’s pretty easy to pull a muscle doing those types of pushups. I probably just pulled a muscle.

So I didn’t have swine flu. (Not that I was worried about it in the first place. Even if I’d had it, I wasn’t worried; it’s just the flu.) However, my cold did cause me to miss a bunch of stuff:

  • I missed a church business meeting on Friday evening, even though I was up for re-election as Deacon. (I was voted in anyway.)
  • I missed a family reunion on Saturday afternoon, that I had been greatly looking forward to.
  • I missed a reading by Andrea on Saturday evening.
  • I missed my god-daughter’s birthday party on Sunday afternoon.
I can’t think of anything else right now, but I’m sure other things happened recently, too.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Okay, look, I know. Rainbows are about as cheezy a topic as you can get, when it comes to photography. But I’m posting these anyway, because this was a great one. I couldn’t get a good photo that showed the whole thing—lousy camera phone—but I could see the whole thing, end to end.

rainbow 1

rainbow 2

rainbow 3

rainbow 4

rainbow 5

rainbow 6

rainbow 7

Someone definitely enjoyed their parking spot

Is it a bad sign when you move to a new office, and find an empty Smirnoff bottle in the parking lot?

smirnoff 2

smirnoff 1


Is it true that they advertise differently to women than they do to men? I guess it is, based on this ad for an LG phone—one that was in the men’s room of a bar.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Roll Up the Rim, 2009

I just realized that I never put up a summary of my RUTR winnings. For those of you who care about such things, enjoy.

Monday, May 11, 2009


My step-father Jim passed away on April 30th. He had been sick for a long time—I think I’ve mentioned it here before—so this wasn’t unexpected. My mom has now dealt with the death of two husbands; my father, who died suddenly of a heart attack when I was young, and now my step-father, who finally succumbed to a long illness.

I’m not really sure what I want to write about it, so I’ll just put down some random thoughts.

I went back to Chatham on April 26th. We knew it was the end, by that point; he wasn’t really conscious, because they were keeping him comfortable by giving him lots of morphine. So there wasn’t much I could do for him, but I could provide some relief to my mom. She was in the hospital 24/7, but with me there, she could leave for a couple of hours to go home and get a shower, and maybe run some errands.

I probably spent more time with him in that last week than I did for the last few years of his life. Mostly I just sat by his bed, reading a novel—The World According to Garp, if it matters—and helping out when I could. Occasionally he would wake up and ask for some water, or some ginger ale. Or ask me to turn the fan on. Or he’d take his oxygen mask off—he hated wearing it, although he did better with it than many other people do—and I’d ask him to put it back on, or help him put it back on.

And occasionally he would stop breathing. Those were the tense moments for me. I’d be sitting beside the bed, hearing his laboured breath, and suddenly it would stop. I’d look over, wondering if it was the last moment, and then he’d start back up again. And then I’d breathe my own sigh of relief, and go back to my book.
Speaking of which, as mentioned, Jim was very good at keeping his oxygen mask on. He had to wear it all the time, and it became very uncomfortable, but he mostly kept it on. Once in a while, though, just for a break, he’d take it off. He may not even have been conscious of doing it; it was just a reflex, and he wasn’t that lucid to begin with.

But any time he’d do it, I’d give him some time, and then say, “Jim, you have to put your mask back on.” And he’d normally just put it back on. Once in a while, he’d be unable to do it, for whatever reason; the tubes would get tangled up, or he just wouldn’t have the strength. When that happened, I’d help him put it back on.

And I learned how useless I am, when it comes to caregiving. A simple thing like helping someone put their oxygen mask on was difficult for me. Because he had the mask on all the time, he had started to develop sores above his ears, where the elastic went across, so the nurses had put some kind of salve on them, and some gauze under the elastics. It took me a few tries to try and get the gauze right. All you had to do was put the gauze under the elastic, what could be easier, and yet I didn’t find it intuitive.

Once, when trying to get the mask back on, it was giving me some trouble, and I apologized. “Sorry,” I said to him, “I haven’t quite got the hang of this yet.”

“Me either,” he replied.

Another time, when putting the mask back on, I accidentally let go of the elastic, and it slapped into him, right on the sore spot above his ear. That was possibly the worst part of the week, for me; inflicting more pain on him was the last thing I wanted to do!
I got home from the hospital, the first night I was in town, wondering what I would be able to have for supper. It was 9:00, and nothing is open at 9:00; so I decided to stop by Sobey’s and pick up a steak, which I would BBQ for myself. My parents keep the BBQ in the garage—so that Jim could BBQ even when it’s raining, or in the winter—so I went out there to fire it up, and start cooking. And that’s when I realized: All of Jim’s oxygen tanks were in the garage. I was sure that it wouldn’t cause any kind of… you know… explosion, if I lit the BBQ. And yet… not so sure that I could bring myself to do it. So I brought it out into the driveway, instead, and did my steak there.

Later on in the week, after Jim passed away, we were all at home and Mom decided that she wanted steak again. Susan’s boyfriend Craig was there, and I mentioned to him my hesitation to start the BBQ around the oxygen tanks, and he told me not to worry about it; he and Susan had been smoking in there, and there hadn’t been an explosion, so we’d probably be fine. (He works in HVAC, so I figured he probably knew what he was talking about. And I was happy to keep the BBQ in the garage, since it was raining out.)
Eventually the end came, and it was how I had always sort of assumed it would happen: He passed away quietly, in the night. Mom was sleeping beside him, on her usual cot. The nurses woke her, to tell her that he was gone, and in her groggy state, she didn’t believe them at first.

I’m not sure, but I think this was the best way for him to go. Mom was there, with him, but she was asleep, so she didn’t have to witness his final moments.
Although Jim was my step-father, he wasn’t… how do I put this… he wasn’t the “fatherly type.” He wasn’t the type to teach me things, or do fatherly things like that. He did, however, teach me one thing. Sort of. I learned how to tie a tie from him.

I never knew how to tie one, so when I moved out and came to Toronto, he pre-tied one for me, and loosened it, and I brought it with me. Whenever I needed a tie I would slip it over my head and tighten it up. Eventually, though, I wanted to learn how to do it myself, so I “reverse engineered” it; I slowly untied it, in such a way that I figured out how he’d done it. And that’s how I learned to tie a tie.

However, it wasn’t the “proper” way to tie a tie. Either he did it in a more simplistic way, or I just didn’t get it right, but any time I tied a tie, it always came out slightly wrong, because of the way that I tied it.

Before Jim’s funeral, my uncle saw the way I’d tied my tie, and showed me the right way to do it. I saw this as highly ironic; one of the only things I ever learned from Jim was how to tie a tie, and when I went to his funeral, I showed up with my tie tied in a different way than what I had learned from him.
Jim had some tattoos on his arm, and on the knuckles of one of his hands. He’d always had them, as long as I’d known him; he must have done it very young. In fact, it seems to be a family tradition, because most or all of the men from his side of the family seem to have done it.

What I didn’t realize, however, is that he was embarrassed about them. I found out when we were making funeral arrangements, because he had requested that my mom have them fold his hands over each other, to cover up the tats.
That’s all I can think of to say on the subject. But I was also tasked with giving the eulogy at his funeral, so I’ll round out the post by including it here.

On behalf of the family, I’d like to thank you for your love and support at this time. We’re here to remember the life of a man whom I recently described as the strongest, most stubborn man I ever met, Jim Titus.

In theory, this should probably be the easiest eulogy to give. I know that Jim wouldn’t want me up here for too long, and that he wouldn’t want us to dwell on him, so I should be able to get out of here pretty quickly. In practice, though, I have the task of summing up the life of a very complicated man, and I don’t know if I could do that even if I had an hour. (I promise, I won’t be an hour.)

Actually, if any of the men in the room ever had their hair cut at Gord’s barber shop, they may know Jim better than I did. He didn’t have a whole lot of hair to cut, but what he did have, he liked to have it cut at Gord’s, because he loved shooting the breeze with the other men there. Which always shocks me, when I think of it, because Jim was a man of few words. The idea that he’d spend an afternoon shooting the breeze is surprising to me. To give you an idea, let me recreate a conversation I had with him every year, on the phone, on his birthday:


“Hi Jim, it’s David. I just wanted to call and wish you a happy birthday.”

“Thanks. … Do you want to talk to your mother?”

Part of the reason that he didn’t like to talk might have been that he was going deaf. Well… selectively going deaf. It was hard to have a conversation with Jim, if you were in the same room with him, but if you were talking about him, when he was in the kitchen, he could apparently hear you perfectly. Mom had mentioned times when Jim was in the hospital, and she’d be out in the hall talking to the nurses about his medication, and he’d shout from the bed to correct them on what medications he was on.

Jim was a maintenance millwright at Eaton Yale for over 35 years. He also became the Union Steward, while he was there, and I know that this gave him a lot of pleasure. I only got to hear about issues from his side, of course, but I got the impression that Jim was very interested in fighting for what was right. He would fight for his people, and whenever he won a battle on someone’s behalf, he would come home very happy. He would get annoyed with people who wanted to fight for silly things, and I think the main reason is that these little battles would get in the way of his fighting for important things. There are a number of people in this room who I never met until this weekend, but I heard Jim mentioning your names at the dinner table, as he thrilled about the victories he won for you.

While he was at Eaton work took up much of his time, but the rest was devoted to family. Anyone who knew him knew that his family was very important to him. Jim had two sons—Eric and Danny—and two step-children, myself and my sister Susan. He also had a granddaughter, Kate-Lin. I know that Jim was very proud of all of us, and especially proud of his granddaughter. And when the family expanded—when Eric added his wife Marla, and I added my wife Andrea, and Susan added her husband Craig—Jim was more than happy to include them as part of his family. Jim also loved the pets in the family, especially his dog Charlie, whom you’ll notice in many of the pictures around the room; when Jim did relent, and allow his photo to be taken, he usually wanted Charlie—or his new puppies, Sam and Seth—in the picture with him.

Speaking of pictures, it was difficult to find pictures of Jim to put up for you, because, even though we have thousands of pictures back at the house, most of them were taken by Jim himself, so there aren’t many that include him. He had an amazing ability to capture great pictures, and although he went through a few cameras, and did trade up from time to time, he didn’t spend a lot of money on camera equipment. He just had a good eye, and skill with whatever camera he was using. Eric and his wife Marla were commenting just the other day that Jim’s pictures of their wedding were just as good as the photographer’s.

But I haven’t yet mentioned the most important person in Jim’s life, my mother and his wife, Carmen. (Jim’s nickname for her was “Charmin’.”) There were times when Jim might have been called crotchety. There are times when he might have been called grumpy. But there was never a time that I ever doubted his love for my mother. Jim was incredibly supportive of Mom: when she went back to school at the age of 37, when she opened her own law practice, when she joined the Rotary; in anything she did, he was always supportive.

As you all know, Jim had some health problems, which eventually caused him to leave his job. However, this did not stop him from living his life. Quite the contrary; whereas many people would have decided to take it easy, and catch up on their TV, with whatever strength he had, Jim used his free time to the best of his ability. (That’s not to say he didn’t enjoy his TV. I’m still ashamed to admit that at one time he used to not only watch, but tape, the Jerry Springer show.) But Jim began taking trips with Mom; he joined the Masons and the Shriners; he helped Mom out with Rotary. I’m sure many of the people in this room never even met Jim until after he’d retired, because you met him through some of these activities. The idea of stopping to rest just honestly never occurred to the man. He also took up coin collecting with a passion—which was a huge blessing for the rest of us, because it finally became easier to buy presents for him, at Christmas. Probably the strongest memory I’ll have of Jim is him on Christmas morning, Charlie on his lap, using a magnifying glass to look at his new coins. Other presents, which he was supposed to be opening, would gather at his feet, as he’d examine his new find.

All of his energy worked out to my benefit, because one of the areas in which he directed his energy was cooking. Jim was always a great cook, and my side of the family will probably miss him most when Easter and Thanksgiving come around, because he could cook a turkey like nobody’s business, and he made amazing stuffing. I’m hoping he passed on some of his recipes and expertise, but even if he did, none of us will have the natural skills in the kitchen that he did. It was just one of his gifts.

As mentioned at the beginning, this was a poor summary of Jim’s 61 years with us; it’s very slanted toward my own memories of Jim, and doesn’t even begin to touch on his life before entering my family. Everyone in this room could probably come up here and share a story or anecdote about how he touched our lives.

However, whatever your individual memories of Jim, it’s safe to say that we’re all remembering the same man. There wasn’t a “public Jim” and a “private Jim,” Jim was the same man for everyone who met him. A man so full of life that even now, seeing him in this room, it’s hard to believe that he’s not going to get up, tell a joke, and go back to the kitchen to make coffee for us.

I think the biggest testimony to his life, however, is that I’m up here talking about the many things he did, and not his illness, or his time in the hospital. He spent much of the last couple of years in and out of hospitals, and I’m very happy to note that that’s not how I was remembering him, as I wrote this. Jim accomplished a lot; he touched a lot of people’s lives, and he helped to shape ours, and I’m grateful to say that that’s what I’ll remember about him.

I might have cried, as I wrote this, but I spent more time smiling than crying. And he would have wanted that, too.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Omelet (Pt. II)

Wikked Lil' Grrrl says:
My sympathies on your omelet. My friend Jessica also commiserates.

sernaferna says:

sernaferna says:
Tahnk you.

sernaferna says:
And thank Jessica for me, too.

Wikked Lil' Grrrl says:
Done and done.

sernaferna says:
It ended up being not too bad, for taste - a little burnt on the bottom, but that was it.

sernaferna says:
I'm sure Jessica will be relieved to hear that. hehe

Wikked Lil' Grrrl says:
I'll make sure to let her know

makes me want eggs, though.