Friday, April 28, 2006

Book Review: A Practical Guide to Enterprise Architecture

Authors: James McGovern, Scott W. Ambler, Michael E. Stevens, James Linn, Vikas Sharan, Elias K. Lo; forward by Oliver Sims

I say—all the time—that this blog is not written for the readers, it’s written for my own benefit. (I just like writing—if nobody reads it, it’s no skin off my back.) This post is further proof, since it’s a book review for a book that I’m sure none of my regular readers will ever want to read. (Although, if you do, let me know, and I’ll lend it to you.)

This book was recommended to me by a colleague, who is looking into these issues just as I am. He liked this book because of its practicality, and because it touched on so many areas of enterprise architecture. Unfortunately, it didn’t live up to my expectations. Now, as an author of a technical book myself—and, therefore, having undergone the technical editing process, which can be a nightmare—I want to try to be careful with this review; not just slam the book and try and make myself seem like I know more than these people, but only give valid criticisms. In fact, I don’t know more than these people, because they’ve all been in the industry longer than I have. (Probably; not all of them listed their years of experience, in the About the Authors section.) But that’s how I try and do all of my reviews, so it shouldn’t really be anything new.

Before I get to the negatives, let’s start out with a positive. The first thing I read in this book—as I am wont to do—was the foreword. I’m reproducing most of it here, in a blatant disregard for copyright laws; although I was disappointed by the bulk of the book, this was at least a good place to start:

Once upon a time, a learned scientist, working in his laboratory, placed a beaker of liquid on a Bunsen burner. Picking up another beaker, he poured out its contents into the first. As the temperature of the resulting mixture rose, its color started to change, and it suddenly effervessed, giving off the most wondrous aroma.

“Eureka!” the scientist shouted and ran from the lab to carry the good news to his superiors.

“We must go into production at once!” said the CEO. “We can sell two billion gallons this year alone!”

So a construction team was commissioned to build a two-hundred-foot-high Bunsen burner and a two-hundred-and-twenty-foot-high platform on which to place a half-million-gallon beaker, together with a five-hundred-foot crane to lift a second beaker into the air so that it could be poured into the first to mix the ingredients.

Well, no, that would be beyond absurd. An experiment in a lab is quite different from full-scale production. It is curious, then, that enterprise systems are sometimes built using the same architecture as one would use for an experiment. That, too, is beyond absurd. Enterprise systems are different from “dining room LAN” systems, but the difference lies in the architecture, not design. Too often, however, architecture is confused with design. Architecture expresses the characteristics, structures, behavior, and relationships that are common across a family of things. Design expresses in detail how a specific member of a family will be built.

Architecture and design are always present. Much of the time, however, they are buried in the mind of the programmer. Now if all programmers were expert architect/designers, if all had long and fruitful experience with enterprise systems, if all enjoyed mind-meld with other programmers working on this and other related projects, and if no one after them ever had to maintain or build other enterprise systems, the invisibility of architecture and design would be irrelevant, and the world of IT would be quite different. But they aren’t, they haven’t, they don’t, and they do.

Thus both architecture and design must be overt and separate. Architecture is produced by knowledgeable professionals who communicate, inspire, and lead. Design alone is not enough. Design of an enterprise system must be appropriate to the extrafunctional requirements of such systems—scalability, integratability, flexibility, buildability, and so on—which are specified by architecture.

One important reason enterprise systems often fail is that architecture and design are conflated. Other human endeavors are just as complex as enterprise systems, and yet they don’t demonstrate anything close to the failure rate of large IT projects. Why is this? My answer is that the significant deficiencies within the IT industry currently occur in three major areas:

  • Architecture at the enterprise level (enterprise architecture)
  • Tools to support enterprise architecture
  • Organization to support enterprise architecture

….[Good material on these three points elided]….

Why This Book Is Important

Today, the encouraging coalescence of opinion among leaders in enterprise architecture is that many enterprise systems have the same architectural approach—although not all express it in this way. A similar convergence addresses the kinds of techniques, patterns, and designs that are independent of specific application domains and that enable effective production of responsive, scalable, flexible, and unifiable enterprise applications. This book is important because in many ways it epitomizes that convergence. It addresses the whole range of knowledge required for successful enterprise systems and pulls together many strands, from the essential data foundation (the part of a system that persists when the machine is turned off) through run-time software design, architectural separation of concerns, and scalability patterns, to the much-neglected area of user interface. Of equal importance, it addresses not only what should be built but also how, from tools and modeling, to agile development, and it includes the important question of human organization.

Moreover, what shines through the book is the sheer hardheaded practicality and competence of the authors—based on years of experience. This work contains much of the knowledge—or pointers to knowledge—that a budding enterprise architect needs, expressed in readable, relevant, and nondidactic presentation. It is also an ideal textbook—a foundation work—for a graduate course in enterprise architecture. In fact, I suspect it could well become an important part of the institutional knowledge about enterprise systems within our fascinating and vibrant industry.

When I read this, I was very encouraged. I may have been disappointed as the book went on, but at least it started good.

A good thing that this book had going for it was the table of contents. When I looked through all of the topics covered, I was looking forward to reading pretty much every chapter; there were some architectural areas that I don’t get involved in very often, and I was looking forward to getting some advice from people who know more about it than I do.

Overall, probably the thing I liked best about the book is the authors’ focus on “agile” techniques. In some ways, these agile techniques are improvements on existing techniques, and in other ways, they amount to throwing out existing ideas that don’t work, and replacing them with ideas that do. For example, instead of trying to produce copious documentation, that covers every aspect of the system, before you even begin—the current mind-set in much of the industry, which, in the worst case, leads to “analysis paralysis”, and in the best case is simply wasted time—agile techniques would say that you should only document what you need to document, and leave the rest undocumented.

I guess the first thing I could mention which wasn’t done well is the focus on the intended audience. They seemed to wander too much. As I mentioned, I worked on a technical book, called Beginning XML, originally published by Wrox Press (which has now been taken over by Wiley). By most accounts, the book did very well in its space (narrow as that space may be); my publisher recently told me that it is consistently the #1 or #2 best-selling XML book, according to the broadest sales data available. Is this because I and my fellow authors on the book are good writers? That might indeed have something to do with it, but I don’t think it’s the answer. I think a more important reason is that the publisher(s) pushed us to keep the audience in mind. When we were writing, we always tried to remember who we were writing for; that includes the structure of the book (what was included and what wasn’t), as well as the writing style. A Practical Guide to Enterprise Architecture didn’t seem to have that focus. It was unclear, at times, who the book was aimed at. At times, it seemed to be aimed at me (a budding architect), at other times at CIOs, and at other times I just wasn’t sure. I don’t know whether to blame the authors, for this, or the editors, since the editors on my book were very helpful in reminding me to stay on track.

Which brings me to my next point, for which I do not blame the authors at all: The book was not edited well. There were grammatical errors from time to time—the type of thing I can get away with on a blog, but on a book which has editors, should really get caught before publication. There was even an instance where they had something like “see Figure A for the before picture, and Figure B for the after picture”, but they were both the same picture. As a writer, working under a deadline, it’s easy to make these kinds of mistakes. The editors were clearly asleep at the switch.

The final thing I didn’t like about the book—or, at least, the final thing that I’ll mention—is that I’m suspicious of the authors’ reasons for writing this book. The more I got into it, the more it started to seem like it was more of an act of hubris, rather than a genuine belief that the book is needed in the marketplace. In other words, it felt like the authors are just proud of themselves, and wanted to write a book to prove how smart they are. They spent a lot of time writing about the fact that more experienced IT people will have more knowledge than others, which, as I’m sure we all know from experience—since this applies to pretty much any profession—is not always true. I’ve known a lot of senior architectural-type people who are really not earning their paycheques. When I get on a project with these people, they are usually not able to function properly without someone like me there to help them along.

I’ll end the review on a positive note, though, because there really were some good aspects to this book. I’ll quote another section I liked, from a chapter called Thought Leadership—a chapter which the authors just wrote because they felt like writing it, rather than because it was necessary to the book. This section was called The Savage Pursuit of Best Practices:

Many architects are pummelled by management (not leaders) with the idea that an organization should create initiatives that focus on the capture of best practices so others can benefit from them later. The mind-set that supports archiving these practices facilitates efficient problem solving, which leads over time to the way business should be conducted.

Of course, this goes against many agile approaches and is, in many ways, diametrically opposed to the agile manifesto of preferring interactions to comprehensive documentation. Solutions to business challenges are typically containerized by memorization of various “measures of goodness” (Booch) that also have embedded assumptions, nonpublic views of organizational strategy, and unwritten reward systems (e.g., what do I need to do to make my boss believe I am competent). The sad fact of many enterprises is that this mind-set breeds doing more of the same better, which only provides marginal returns that diminish over time.

For example, a frog is unable to detect gradual changes in temperature. A frog that is put into boiling water quickly has instincts that will tell it to jump out, but when it is put into room temperature water that is slowly brought to a boil (the vast majority of significant projects fall into this category), the frog will ultimately boil to death. The mantra of doing more of the same will result in locking in both desired and undesired behaviors that result in a death march. In other words, more of the same doesn’t help. The status quo mind-set must be abolished.

This mind-set is further compromised by the notion that knowledge can be stored by using information technology. We are aware that databases and groupware applications can store information that is structured and unstructured, but in the end that amounts simply to storing bits of data. Neither solution today can store the rich schemas that people possess for making sense of those bits. One fundamental truth exists that is often ignored: the simple fact that information is context-sensitive. The same data will elicit different responses from different people. When someone invents the technology that can scan a person’s mind and store it directly in a database, people will be able to experience the reality of another person. Since that isn’t possible, it is important to focus on interaction.

This does not mean that we are not for knowledge management or best practices. Rather, we think that they are useful tools for creating a consensus-driven view of the business problem. However, it must be acknowledged up front that this information is static, rational, and without context, but our business problems are anything but static, border on the line of insane, and definitely have context. These tools do not truly help with what is important, which is the ability to renew existing knowledge and assist in the creation of new knowledge.

The best practice that is never spoken about is the one that allows a culture to be unlearned. What is “best” today may be “garbage” tomorrow.

(I should mention, by the way, that just because I quoted two big sections from the book, it doesn’t mean these were the only good sections. They’re just the ones that I bothered to type out.)

I agree with whichever author wrote this section. In my profession, we get hounded all the time to record our best practices, and create “lessons learned” documents, and keep all of our documentation in repositories, but when push comes to shove, and someone needs information about a system, they don’t look in the repositories. They get on the phone, and call a person. (And if that person doesn’t work for the company anymore, then they’ll talk to someone the person worked with.) I do agree that capturing best practices is a good idea, and I have nothing against “knowledgebases” or repositories, but people—read: managers—need to understand what they’re good for, and what they’re not.

So, all in all, I was disappointed with the book. But I’ll probably end up reading it again, some day, or reading bits and pieces of it, when I want to work with a particular area of architecture that I don’t normally deal with. (Or I might re-read the section on Extreme Programming (XP), if I’m going to work on a project that will use it, for example.)

Roll up the Rim almost done

Well, the Roll up the Rim contest isn’t officially over yet, but it’s basically over. Most stores are out of the Roll up the Rim cups in the medium and large sizes, and many are even out of the extra large cups. (When they ran out of the medium cups, I briefly switched to getting large coffee, but I couldn’t bring myself to switch to extra large, when they ran out of large cups.)

So that means that my current tally for winning cups is probably my final tally, as well. But, just to be safe, I won’t bother posting the spreadsheet and graph until the contest is officially over. As it stands, I ended up with 23% of my cups being winners. (7 coffees and 4 doughnuts out of a total of 47 coffees.)

I found out, after it was too late, that apparently the odds for the bigger prizes (the TVs, cars, and probably the $1,000) are greater if you buy the larger sizes of coffee. So maybe next year I’ll switch to extra large coffee every day, in an attempt to get myself a new TV. On the other hand, I just can’t drink that much coffee, so probably not.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

What a crappy week

You know what I’d like to do? Go home, change out of my work clothes, lie down on the couch under a comfortable blanket—my parents got us a really nice one for Christmas—and watch mindless TV. Maybe James Bond movies; I’ve been in a James Bond kind of mood, since I got the Bond soundtracks CD.

In other words, what I’d like to do is just give up. Quit my job, and just live off of my wife’s salary for a while. Then, when I get too bored for that, I could write. And, if things really went well, maybe even sell some of my writing, and get money for it.

Adding to my problem is that half of the blogs I read on a regular basis are written by people who are much younger than me, and are just getting ready to finish their year at college/university, and start their summer break. So they’ll be kicking back in a couple of weeks, watching TV—and probably thinking that they’ve “earned” the break—whereas I’ll still be dealing with the same crap I’m dealing with today.

“Life! Don’t talk to me about life.”—Marvin

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Camera Phones

I glanced behind me just now, and noticed that the sun is setting, and it’s a really cool colour.

Unfortunately, this is not the type of thing that a camera phone can’t pick up very well. Take a look:

Not very good, eh? You can click that image for a bigger version, but it's no better. I don’t know if a proper camera would have done a better job, through my office window, but I knew the camera phone wouldn’t work.

And that’s the problem with camera phones, I’m finding. It’s great to have this thing with me all the time, ready to go, but in many situations—if not most—when I do want to take a picture, it turns out that a camera phone just won’t do a good enough job.

For a while, when Blogger first introduced the feature allowing photos to be uploaded, I was carrying my digital camera around with me everywhere, just in case something worthy of a picture happened. When I got a phone with a camera it was exciting, because it’s a lot handier to just use the phone than pull out the camera, take it out of the case, etc. etc. And I always have the phone with me, whereas I only had the camera if I had my bag handy.

But any time I use it, I end up with a picture that’s not worthy of posting to the blog anyway. Like, just the other day, I was out on the street, and I happened to run into Lucy Liu. What are the odds, right? And she was all asking me for my digits, and I was like, sorry Lucy, I’m married. She was disappointed, of course, but she still agreed to let me take my picture with her. But I used the crappy camera phone, so when I hooked it up to the computer, to take a look, all I saw was a bunch of blurriness.

And that happens all the time. (Not running into Lucy Liu; I mean I get into situations all the time where a camera would be handy, but a camera phone just won’t cut it.) One of the problems, of course, is that the lens for the camera is on the back of the phone, where my fingers are when I’m using it. So of course it gets smudged. But the other problem is that it’s just a crappy camera. The highest resolution I can get is 640x480, and if I want to use the digital zoom, I have to use a smaller resolution.

Then again, I also have unrealistic expectations, sometimes. A couple of weeks ago Andrea and I went out for a drive, late at night, and we went downtown, via the Gardener. Going into downtown Toronto, at night, via the Gardener, is my favourite view of the city, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere. (The picture here is not from that angle. I just did a quick search on Google for pictures of Toronto at night.) Since Andrea was driving, I thought I’d try and snap some pictures on my camera phone. The good news is that it doesn’t have a flash, so I didn’t have to worry about the glare from the flash reflecting off the windshield. But the bad news is that I was trying to take a picture of the city lights, at night, from inside a car! No camera is going to do that well. So of course I got a dozen pictures that are just black, and a couple of unrecognizable blobs of light in them. I even tried turning the brightness feature on the camera all the way up, with no effect. (Except that the next time I tried to use it, all I got was white, and had to turn it back down to take normal pictures.)

In my defense, it’s not like I was expecting this to work. But it was also extremely overly-optimistic to try in the first place.


There was a post on Raymi’s blog the other day, where she put up one of the scathing comments that someone had submitted. But then the comments for that blog entry turned into a huge discussion about the fact that the comments on Raymi’s site are “moderated”. That means that Raymi has to approve any comment, before it shows up on the blog for the public to see.

The reason it became such a discussion is that people don’t like that moderation thing. They want to be able to post what they want, when they want, without being censored, blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda, pseudo free-speech gobbledygook this, and “I should be able to say whatever I want” that. All of the usual garbage that people with too much time on their hands say, when they feel that their rights are being trampled upon. (Where “rights” are defined as “whatever I want to do”.)

The funniest part about the discussion is that Raymi never doesn’t post a comment; she put that feature up because of something to do with her mom—who reads her blog—but she approves all comments, positive or negative, that people post. (Well, maybe not her mom’s; I didn’t really catch that part.) It may not show up instantly, since Raymi probably doesn’t sit by the computer 24/7 waiting to approve comments, but it will go up.

But it also raised the usual questions (in my head, anyway) about who’s blog is it? Raymi’s, or the people who read it? And, as usual, my opinion is that it’s Raymi’s, no question. Px (Raymi’s partner) raised the excellent point that it’s a blog, not a democracy; isn’t a “forum”, or a “discussion board”; it’s a personal expression of Raymi. If she doesn’t want to allow comments—and she does turn them off, sometimes, something that I’m often tempted to do, as well—then deal with it. If you don’t want to read it, feel free to leave.

I don’t know why it bugs me so much, but people often feel that they have “rights” that they don’t really have. “I should have the right to do whatever I want!” No you shouldn’t, moron, and the fact that you feel that way is, in my mind, one of the reasons that you shouldn’t be able to do whatever you want. You’re obviously a selfish prick, and need to be controlled. Maybe even with medications. Or one of those electric shock collars.

Does this post seem cynical? Oh well. I’ve gone to all the trouble of typing it; it would be a shame not to post it now…


A lot’s been happening the last couple of days, but it’s all related to Andrea, so I won’t write about it.

Except that my car broke down. Well, even that is somewhat related to Andrea—not her fault, mind you, it just inconvenienced her more than it did me. So I won’t write much about it, except to say that it broke down. In fact, I have now said it twice. So if you didn’t catch it the first time, you should have caught it the second.

Work is crazy busy these days. But not as busy as some. I missed the entire day, waiting for my car to come back from the dealer, and between 10:30AM–5:00PM, I had 45 work-related emails arrive in my Inbox. Which isn’t actually that bad, if I compare it to one of my colleagues; the other day we went out to lunch, and when we came back, he’d had 65 or so emails arrive, just in that one hour.

You may have noticed that I finally saw V for Vendetta, and posted a review about it. What I neglected to mention was that the review was originally about twice as long, and then my HTML editor crashed, and I lost the whole thing. So it magically became more concise, when I retyped it. Maybe I should magically lose all of my blog postings, when they’re just about done, and have to retype them; then I wouldn’t be so verbose all the time. On the other hand, who gives a crap about the people who read this thing? Not me! Heh.

I was about to post something about something I read on Raymi’s blog the other day, but then it got too long, so I’m creating a post for it all on its own. There’s a good chance that, if you’re reading this, you’ve already read it, because it will be further up the page.

O for Oh brother, he's talking about that movie again!

I finally saw V for Vendetta on Saturday. We had some spare time, and I was thrilled to see that it was still playing in the theatre, so I whined and begged Andrea until she relented.

There are no spoilers in this post. For once.

And, now that I’ve seen it, I can see why there are such mixed reviews about this movie. I have mixed feelings about it myself. (Of course, if I had a dollar for every time I posted a review on this blog and said that I had “mixed feelings” about the thing I was reviewing, I’d be a rich man, and would be able to afford to blog full time.) Some thoughts:
  • As hoped—and expected—Natalie Portman did a great job. She’s a really good actress, and she didn’t disappoint.
  • On the other hand, her character in the movie, Evey, was superfluous. In fact, Evey actually took away from the plot; the point about V’s character is that he is not really supposed to be human, per se. He’s more the “embodiment of an idea” than he is a man. And yet they then introduce Evey as a love interest for him?!? Andrea and I were hoping for more from her character, and were disappointed that we didn’t get it.
  • I liked the way they showed England as a totalitarian state. I mean, it’s nothing new if you’ve read Orwell’s 1984—or countless other books on the subject—but they contextualized it by taking what’s currently happening in the States, and showing what might happen if they just keep down that path.
  • There are lots of scenes of men speaking in dry, measured, British tones. It’s very soothing, and if you’re tired when you see the movie, it might put you to sleep.
  • They’ve gone the direction of so many other movies lately, and made the violence cartoonish. When someone gets stabbed in this movie, he doesn’t just bleed; that would be too boring. Instead, the wound explodes, with blood and gore shooting across the room.
So, all in all, with the mixed feelings, I came away liking the movie, and Andrea came away disappointed.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The Wedding

Here is what happened with the wedding on Saturday. None of it is important, interesting, or in any way relevant to your life. You’ve been warned.

All times given are approximate. You’ve been warned—please don’t leave comments after, saying “but serna, how could this happen at this time, if that happened at that time? It doesn’t add up!” I don’t care. I didn’t keep a log of my journey at the time, so if I get the times wrong, too bad.


Andrea and I have a friend who’s an artist. We decided to buy some art from him, and give that to the couple getting married for a wedding present. We thought that would be more fun than just getting them something from their registry. At the last minute, we decided to get the artist to frame it, too. He makes the frames himself, and they’re really nice. I like them, anyway.

So he said he could get it framed for us by Saturday. It would be driven to us Saturday morning by his partner—another friend of ours—in time for us to get to the wedding Saturday afternoon.

Saturday Morning

I live in Toronto. The wedding was in Windsor, at 4:00. This is about a 4 hour drive, give or take, depending on traffic and other conditions. (Luckily, it was just Andrea and I. We had originally planned to drive with some other people, but they backed out, so we didn’t have to plan around their schedules.) So I decided that it would be best to leave our place by 11:30 or so; that would give us our 4 hours, but also give us a bit of time to spare.

Unfortunately, I planned this, but I didn’t tell anyone my plan. Specifically, I did not tell Andrea that this was my plan. So she assumed that we’d be leaving around noon. So our friend, who is dropping off the painting, is planning to get to our place for noon.

Whoops. Nobody’s fault but mine. It means that we have exactly 4 hours to get to the wedding, and hopefully not run into any problems.


Right about 12:00, I suddenly realize something: Even if our friend shows up, painting in hand, on the dot at noon, we haven’t wrapped it. There’s a good chance that she’ll be late—that’s the nature of the universe, nobody’s ever on time for anything—and even when she does arrive, we’ll have to spend even more time wrapping the thing.

I mention this to Andrea, and she tells me that she’s going to wrap the painting in the car. This is good news, in terms of time, because it means that we’ll waste less, but it’s bad news in terms of chauffeuring, because I’d been hoping Andrea would do most of the driving on the way there, allowing me to read. Instead, I’ll be driving, and she’ll be in the back seat wrapping. (I realize that it shouldn’t take 4 hours to wrap a painting, even a large one, so I thought maybe she’d get to drive later on. We’d have to stop anyway, for Tim Horton’s, so we could switch then.)

Around 12:10

I nip around the corner to Tim Horton’s to pick up an iced cappuccino for myself—since iced cap is my drink of choice, for long car rides—because I figure that I’m just waiting around anyway, so I might as well spend the time usefully, while we wait for our friend.

Unfortunately, she still hasn’t arrived when I get back (only about 10 minutes), but she gets there shortly after. They have thoughtfully bubble wrapped it, too, so it’s ready for the journey. We’re ready to go!

Around 12:30

We leave. I put in my GNFNR “best of” CD, crank it, and enjoy the music, regardless of the fact that my one true love is not enjoying the music nearly as much as I am. (It’s easy to tell that she’s not enjoying it, because she’s making good use of her rapier wit.)

Around 1:00

Andrea hops into the back seat, and wraps the painting. She does a stellar job—but we’ll get to that at the appropriate time.


I drive. We listen to GNFNR. Andrea critiques GNFNR.

I tell Andrea that we’re making very good time, and that we’ve pretty much made up any lost time from leaving late. I’m happy about this.


We get to the rest station just East of London, where there is a Tim Horton’s and a Wendy’s. We stop for food (and to replenish my iced cap supply). It takes longer than I hope, and we don’t leave until 2:20.


I tell Andrea that we’re still doing okay; as long as we can coast along behind someone who’s driving very fast, we should make up for the lost 20 minutes.

But, because of this, I continue to drive. No reading for me.


We coast along behind a couple of people who are going nice and fast, so we make good time (and I don’t have to worry too much about getting a ticket).


I start to worry. We’re not as close to Windsor as I’d been hoping we would be.

But we’re still behind someone who’s going very fast.


Still not there. I know that all weddings start late, but I tell Andrea that unless this one is very late—like a half hour or so—we’re not even going to be close to making it. We’ll probably miss the ceremony altogether.


We get to the place. It’s called Willistead Manor. I’ve never heard anyone speak the name of this place to me, but I assume that there is some kind of a rule that you have to say it with a posh pseudo-British accent. And, since I’ve made that assumption, that’s how I always pronounce it.

Luckily, we see that there are still people wandering into the building. So the wedding is indeed starting more than a half hour late, and we were actually able to make it.

We decide to put the painting into the trunk, and come back and get it when we’re ready for it. It’s at this point that I realize that Andrea has only put wrapping paper on the front of the painting—the back is still uncovered. (Well, the bubble wrap is still there.) We have a nice laugh, as we put it in the trunk. Why waste the paper?


We wait for the wedding to start.


The wedding starts.

The bride, who is Andrea’s friend, is from China, meaning that English is not her first language. So during the ceremony, it gets to the part where the bride is supposed to repeat after the preacher/clergyman/justice of the peace/whatever, and it goes something like this (keeping in mind that the bride’s name isn’t actually “Susan”, but I’m calling her that for the sake of anonymity):

Guy: I Susan
Susan: I Susan
Guy: Take this man
Susan: Take this man
Guy: In sickness and in health
Susan: In sickness and in health
Guy: For as long as we both shall live
Guy: For as long as we both shall live
Guy: For as long as we both shall live
Susan (obviously very embarrassed, by this point, but still not getting what she’s supposed to say): …

I don’t remember the exact wording—they didn’t use the standard wedding ceremony, so the words were a bit different than I’m used to—but there was something about the phrasing of the “rest of our lives” part that she couldn’t understand. It was humourous for us in the audience, though, because it sounded like she was saying “well, I’ll marry him, but not for the rest of our lives!

I feel sorry for her, but amused at the same time. Not in a mean-spirited way, but just because it’s funny in the context. Obviously lots of other people are amused, too, because they keep mentioning it to her later on, at the reception.

At any rate, the ceremony is really short, which I’m happy about. I don’t enjoy weddings that much, so I figure the shorter the better.


The reception/dinner is in the same building, luckily, so we don’t have to go anywhere. Unfortunately, it doesn’t start until 6:30. So we have to spend the next 45 minutes or so having awkward conversation with our tablemates. “Oh no”, I think to myself; “I’m not good at small talk.”

My heart sinks even lower when we find out who our tablemates are. They’re all older than us—meaning we might not have much in common—and one woman is an American, and the first thing she wants to talk about is politics. Crap. How am I going to have an enjoyable dinner, when I have to start out by either:
  • Telling this woman that her president is a monster
  • Not telling this woman that her president is a monster, and then spending the rest of the meal feeling dirty, for not speaking my mind
But we get lucky: She’s just as much of a Bush hater as we are! And the rest of the people at the table are pretty liberal in their views on politics as well—they’re just as worried as we are about Harper becoming PM, about what will happen to health care in Canada, now that it’s getting privatized piece by piece, etc.—so the conversation isn’t as bad as it could have been.

In fact, the American woman is really fun to talk to. I’m not surprised at all to find out that she’s in sales.


Supper is really good. That’s not surprising—I haven’t been to many weddings, but the ones I have been to have all had great food—but it is something to be happy about.

Unfortunately, because we have another 4 hour drive ahead of us, we need to leave at 8:00, which means that we end up taking off right after dessert. It feels like eating and running, but the bride knew we had to make the long drive back, so she completely understands. (She also tells us that they’ll be making speeches later, which we’ll miss—thankfully—but that they’ll be especially thanking people who had to drive a long way. She wants us to know that they’ll be thanking us, since we won’t be there to hear it.)


We leave some time around 8:00. Andrea drives for the first hour or so, until her eyes start to get tired, and then I drive the rest of the way. While she’s driving, I get to try out a new mini book reading light I’d bought especially for situations like this, but it turns out to be crappier than I’d been hoping.

We somehow manage to make the drive back in less time than the drive there, even though I wasn’t going as fast (probably around 120km/h the whole way, while I was doing 140–150 on the way there). It must be because we didn’t make any stops.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Book Reviews: The Time Machine Did It and Double Wonderful

So, as mentioned, I read the two books by John Swartzwelder that are currently available. (I got an email from Amazon a few days ago, letting me know that a third book—How I Conquered Your Planet—will be available soon. It might even be available now.)

Both books are great, but The Time Machine Did It was definitely funnier than Double Wonderful. Normally I would post a plot summary, or something about the book, but in this case, it’s the writing that makes it funny. The plot is almost incidental to Swartzwelder’s sense of humour; you don’t read the book to see what will happen next, so much as to see what Swartzwelder will say next.

If you enjoy the Simpsons, or just have a sense of humour, I highly recommend The Time Machine Did It, and just normally recommend Double Wonderful. I don’t know why TTMDI is so much funnier; something was just lacking in the writing for DW. (There was also some questionable humour about “Indians”, in Double Wonderful, that put me off a bit.)

You should also be warned that the books are pretty short. I don’t want you to feel ripped off, if you order the books and then realize how thin they are (with such a large font).

As I haven’t read How I Conquered Your Planet yet, I of course don’t have an opinion. But it’s apparently based on the same character from The Time Machine Did It, so it should be pretty good. I imagine I’ll pick it up, the next time I’m buying from Amazon, or if I ever see it in a store.

Flavour Shots for Iced Cap

Back in November, I wrote about the fact that Tim’s had introduced flavour shots, which could be added to coffee. Unfortunately, when I tried the Butter Caramel flavour, I didn’t like it.

They’ve now introduced a butter toffee iced cappuccino, which is basically a normal iced cappuccino with a flavour shot in it. However, this one I actually like.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

400th post to the blog

This is my 400th post to this blog. It’s… well, frankly, it’s even less exciting than the 300th post.

Maybe when I get to the 500th post I’ll have something more spectacular to say. Which, judging by my pace, should be some time soon.

My friends know me so well

-----Original Message-----
From: Jer
Sent: Friday, April 14, 2006 7:02 PM
To: sernaferna

I forgot to tell you that it's okay to post our conversation on the phone the other night on your blog. I didn't want you to worry about not being able to.


Wednesday night, and no time to write

As you may have noticed, if you’ve been coming here regularly, I haven’t been writing anything. I’ve been busy. Too bad for me, too bad for you. If you’re really disappointed, feel free to write to my boss, and complain about how busy I’ve been.

I have a couple of things to write about, too. For once.

For instance, I read both of the books by John Swartzwelder, and I want to review them. (If you can’t wait that long, they were both good, but one was better.)

I also went to the wedding on Saturday, that I had mentioned in some previous post that I’m too lazy to go and look for right now to include a link to it, and wanted to talk about that. Nothing important, but since when does a blog entry have to be important? Or insightful? Or educational? Or entertaining?

Unfortunately, work probably isn’t going to let up any time soon, and the Jehovah Shalom concert is also coming up soon, so I’ll be busy at work, and busy at night, too. So I may not get to write much for the foreseeable future.

By the time I do, I might not even remember what happened on Saturday, to write about it. Because, like I said, nothing important happened; it’s hard to remember a bunch of small, insignificant details. Much easier to remember large, significant ones.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Speaking of taking chances on buying CDs, I almost bought a CD by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs last night, even though I don’t know anything about their music.

I was in HMV, buying the Bond CD, and it was part of a special deal; I could get three CDs for $30, or I could buy the CD by itself for $25. Not a hard decision; I spent the next little while looking through the store for two more CDs—that had the green “3/$30” sticker on them, of course. I found a “best of” Johnny Cash CD, but then I got stuck. I couldn’t find another CD that was part of the “three for thirty” deal. And then, when I was getting desperate, I saw a CD by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs that had the green sticker on it.

Now, I don’t know anything about the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I don’t even know one of their songs; if they’re getting played on the radio, and I’ve heard them, I didn’t know it. (I don’t always pay attention to the artists or names of songs, when I’m listening to the radio.) However, I have heard a lot of buzz about them, probably mostly from blogs I’ve been reading, and I was very tempted to take a chance on it, and give it a shot.

In the end, though, I did a bit more searching, and found a best of GNFNR CD that I bought instead.

This is apparently my week for “best of” CDs.

Bond. James Bond.

So further to a previous post, I went out and got a better CD of James Bond music. (I hope that link works for everyone; I don’t like the complicated way Amazon builds their links.) It’s actually an updated version of the CD that James recommended—there are three extra songs on the end.

So, now that I’ve got this CD, I’ve realized what a waste of money the other one was. I have the original artists performing the original Bond songs—all of which are better than the remakes, as I mentioned—and I have three versions of the Bond theme: the original 1962 version, an updated version by Moby from Tomorrow Never Dies, and a version from the trailer for Goldeneye. The updated versions are great—what I had been hoping the previous CD would be like. Updated, modernized, but still retaining the feel of the old version.

Lesson learned: Actually, none. I’m sure I’ll still take chances, from time to time, with my music purchases. It often pays off.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Communication is the key

person: What times are you available today?

serna: Any time after 4:00; I’m booked the rest of the afternoon.

serna leaves his desk, and his email

person (in email to various people): Is everyone available for a meeting at 2:00?

other people: Yep. Yep. Yep.

person: Excellent, 2:00 it is!

serna comes back to his desk, and checks his email

serna (to himself): Oh brother.

CD Review: Shaken and Stirred

Because I’m such a fan of James Bond movies, I bought a compilation CD of remakes of James Bond theme songs, called Shaken and Stirred. It’s the type of thing that people who consider themselves “hard core” James Bond fans would probably hate, because they’d consider it sacrilege, but I was looking forward to it.

Unfortunately, it’s really bad. It’s a CD of remakes, and every single song on the album is worse than the original. Not just the arrangements, but even the singers; when Shirley Bassey or Louis Armstrong was the original singer, how can anyone else compare?

Easily the worst song on the album is the James Bond Theme itself. I don’t know how they got away with trying to call this song a remake, because it’s nothing like the original. It doesn’t have the same—or even a similar—tune, it doesn’t have the same feel, it doesn’t have the same anything. It’s just a song, that happens to sample a couple of pieces of the original theme, in a couple of places. And even the samples aren’t prominent, so that’s not enough to make it a remake either.

So, now that I’ve been so disappointed by this album, I guess I’m going to go out and look for a compilation album of the original Bond theme songs. Some of them are really good, and this crappy album just whet my appetite.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Book(s) Review: The Dark Tower Series

Spoiler alert: don’t read this post if you plan to read the Dark Tower series, as there are some spoilers in here. Unfortunately, some of my critiques (good and bad) hinged on certain plot elements. If you do want to read the series, and don’t want it spoiled, I’ll sum up the post thusly: I like the series, and recommend it, as long as you can get past the first book, which, personally, I think is not written as well as King usually writes.

As most of you know, I’m a big Stephen King fan. I’ve been following a series of books that he’s been writing since 1982, called The Dark Tower. The books in the series are:

  • The Gunslinger (1982)
  • The Drawing of the Three (1987)
  • The Waste Lands (1991)
  • Wizard and Glass (1997)
  • Wolves of the Calla (2003)
  • Song of Susannah (2004)
  • The Dark Tower (2004)
I finally finished reading the last book this week, and thus the series. And I have mixed feelings. My feelings are mostly positive; I think it’s a good series, and I’m glad I read it, and I’ll probably go back and re-read it, in the future. But I am a bit conflicted about it.

First of all, I feel relief that it’s finally over. I’ve been reading these books since I was a teenager. As you might have noticed by the dates, there were big gaps in between some of these books, when the series lay dormant. King—in interviews, or forwards to his other books—mentioned the series all the time, and mentioned that he was a bit overwhelmed by it all, and wondered if he’d ever get to finish it. I’m glad he did, and that I was able to read it.

Second of all, as an amateur critic, I’d also have to say that the writing in the first book wasn’t as good as other Stephen King books. I don’t think King had found his voice as a writer, yet, when he wrote that. But by the time he got into the second book, it was a much more enjoyable read. Although that’s only one book out of seven, it’s still important, if people are considering reading the series, because that’s where they’ll start. Some people might never get past the first book, if they don’t like the writing. (I was actually surprised, a few years ago, when I went back to re-read it, because of the writing; I don’t remember noticing it being any different than other King books the first time I read it. I guess I was less opinionated back then.)

My final conflicted thought is that I’m not really sure if I enjoyed the last book. It seemed like King was in such a hurry to wrap it up that he just didn’t take his time with it. Killing off—or otherwise getting rid of—characters left right and centre; introducing others, who obviously had a single purpose in the book, and therefore seemed a bit two-dimensional; making huge deals out of certain plot points with foreshadowing, which turned out to be less important than the reader was led to believe. It felt like he was in such a rush to tie up his loose ends that he didn’t know what to do with the book.

I was also disappointed with the way he ended the character of Walter. I was really interested when I first found out that Walter was also Flagg, from The Stand. It became obvious, as the series wore on, that King was integrating all of his books into this one series, but I was especially enthralled with Walter being Flagg. But then King just seemed to discard him, and the “super villain” just turned out to be some dude who happened to be bad. Not even too smart, at that, since he’d got arrogant in his old age. Suddenly the character who had seemed so important became nothing.

I also know that a lot of fans were very confused by the way that King wove himself into the story—deus ex machina indeed! King was actually in the story, as Stephen King, the one who was writing the story. I reserved judgement, because I could see ways that this would be a great plot line. But, like some of the other aspects of the final book, it just didn’t seem to pan out. I don’t think it was a bad idea—in fact I think it was a great idea, the way he was implementing it—I just wish he had carried it a bit farther.

And finally, we get to the ending. We finally get to the Dark Tower. Roland has been preparing his entire life to get to the Dark Tower; all seven books have been leading up to this moment. What will he find there? What is the Dark Tower, really? What has Roland’s quest been leading up to? A moment that has been 22 years in the making has finally arrived. Before actually giving us that moment, King took a moment to give his readers a chance to put the book down, and not bother reading the end. He mentioned that the story is about the journey, not the ending. I completely agreed with him. The problem is that, after 22 years of waiting for this moment, there was no way King could write an ending that would satisfy everyone—or even most people. He fully realized that, and I wonder if it might have been one of the reasons the series took so long to complete (and felt so rushed for the final book). That being said, I liked the ending. I liked the way he handled Roland’s arrival at the Dark Tower, and thus ended the series. I’m sure a lot of fans disagree, and others probably have mixed feelings, which I can understand. But I can’t see any other way King could have ended the series, frankly.

Because of my mixed feelings, this might feel like a negative review, but really, I thought this was a great series, and I recommend it, for people who like this type of thing. “This type of thing” being epic quests to save the universe, and “knights in shining armour” (because that is, basically, what Roland the gunslinger was, even if he did have guns instead of swords).

Monday, April 10, 2006


I had shawarma for lunch today. I was very much looking forward to it, because I haven’t had it in a long time, and I love the stuff. So when the guys I normally have lunch with told me that there is a place not too far away, I jumped at the chance.

Unfortunately, it was awful. So I guess I’m not going back there again. Which is too bad, because if it was any good, I would have gone on a regular basis.

If you’re not familiar with shawarma, click one of the links in this post. Or, better yet, go and try it yourself. Don’t worry about how it looks—or how it’s prepared, if the discussions in the articles don’t make it sound appetizing—just go, and see for yourself. Or, even better still, if you live in or near Mississauga, go to the corner of Dundas and Hurontario, and look for Montfort’s. Go in and order the Montfort Chicken. (Make sure you get both the garlic sauce and the hot sauce, for the full experience.)

What to say, what to say?

My blog has lain dormant for almost a week now, because I was too busy last week to post to it. If I have any faithful readers, it must be a bit jarring; I suddenly went from posting multiple entries in a day to a huge dry spell, with no warning.

Oh well.

A friend of mine managed to… ahem… “acquire” a copy of Office 2003, and I offered to send him a copy of the half-completed first draft of my Word book. Which was probably a dumb idea, because I haven’t even looked at it in months, and I don’t know what kind of shape it’s in. (I have a feeling it’s in rough shape; just taking a quick glance through it, before I sent it, I saw a whole lot of editorial comments for myself; “to do items”, if you will.) But I did it anyway, because I have no problem looking foolish—which is how I will undoubtedly look when he reads it, and sees what rough shape it’s in.

I’m going to a wedding next weekend, in Windsor, for someone I don’t know. Windsor is a four hour drive, from Toronto—depending on how fast you drive, of course, but I’m getting older and don’t drive 140 on the highways anymore—which means I’ll be spending eight hours in the car on Saturday. And then getting up in time for church on Sunday. Good thing it’s a long weekend; maybe I can sleep all day Friday, in preparation.

Oh, and also, we’ll be driving with another couple—who I also don’t know—which means that I’ll be spending that eight hours making awkward conversation. And being very nervous, because I don’t like having strangers in the car when I’m driving; I worry the whole time that they’re going to be internally critiquing me. Or externally screaming for their lives. Plus, I’m probably going to have to let Andrea pick the music for the whole trip, so that she can be responsible for that side of the entertainment, not me.

If I’m really lucky, maybe I can get Andrea to drive at least part of the way, and get some reading done. Or some writing, if I bring my laptop. Or some sleeping.

I haven’t had Tim’s coffee in a few days; I’m currently running at a 26% winning rate (out of 42 coffees that I’ve bought this year, while the contest has been running). And they’ve started to run out of roll up the rim cups in medium size, which means I’m either going to have to start drinking large, or give up on winning that plasma TV (that I have no room for anyway) or BBQ (that I have no room for anyway) or $1,000 (there’s always room for $1,000!).

I’ve been having an on-and-off discussion with Andrea as to how I should really be counting my winnings; since everything that’s mine is hers, and everything that’s hers is mine, then technically, I should also be counting her cups, and her winnings, in my little spreadsheet. (Which would be a good idea, since I think she’s been doing even better than me, percentage-wise.) However, it’s too late for that now, so I’m only including mine. However, I would like to point out that she’s right, and the winnings I’m tabulating are just as much her winnings as they are mine.

And that’s it. If I get bored this afternoon, maybe I’ll have time to clutter up the internet with more random ramblings. Otherwise, this post will have to tide you over until I post again.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Simpsons Movie

They’ve finally committed to a date for the Simpsons movie: July 27, 2007. There is a trailer for it, that you can watch here. Apparently it has already started showing in some theatres.

They’ve been talking about it for so long that a lot of people were thinking that it would never happen—or that it was a hoax.

serna Health Update

It’s been a while since I posted a serna Health Update, but I figure now’s as good a time as any.

And I’ll tell you why: I can’t see, right now. My eyes are so blurry that I can’t even read what I’ve typed in here. I hope it makes sense, because if it’s gibberish, nobody will have any empathy for me.

One blog gone, a dozen to go

I mentioned in a previous post that I went blog-crazy a while ago, and read a bunch of blogs, some of which I bookmarked in my favourites.

I have now removed one of them from my favourites, and won’t bother going back. Which is unfortunate, because it was one of the blogs where the person actually puts up entries throughout the day. That’s very handy when I have some time to kill in the afternoon, and want to waste some of it reading a blog. (When I’m really bored, I end up going to each blog in my favourites in turn: nope, nothing new here; nope, nothing new here; nope, nothing new here…)

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Stupidity of serna

sernaferna says:
Oh Frigging Heck.

sernaferna says:
lol I finally made sure to get permission, and I accidentally closed the window, so I can't remember all of the emoticons from the conversation....

sernaferna says:
*sound of Hunter slapping his own forehead*

James Mack says:
did you want me to send it to you?

sernaferna says:
If you have a screenshot, that would be lovely. lol

I'm sure i'll remember some, and forget others...

This was followed by various attempts for James to send a copy of the conversation to serna. Which eventually succeeded, to serna’s great joy.

Photos and Cheese

James Mack says:
to walmart online's photo service

sernaferna says:
It's good?

James Mack says:
I sent off my "order" at 10:23 last night, go an email at 4:55AM (not that I was awake) and a phone call at 9:27AM (not that I was home) telling me they were ready

sernaferna says:
Not bad.

sernaferna says:
How about the quality? If you picked them up already, did they come out good?

James Mack says:
I have not picked them up

James Mack says:
busy with that whole "need a job thing"

sernaferna says:

James Mack says:
I'm... trying to get a job?

sernaferna says:
Sorry, I forget that we don't see each other in person anymore.

"Details" was something my boss at my old job used to say all the time. So if I'd say "we can't write the program that way, because it will kill millions of people" he'd say "Details".

sernaferna says:
facetiously, of course.

sernaferna says:
But I've gotten into the habit of saying that all the time.

sernaferna says:
"I'm looking for a job."

"Details" translation: forget about THAT insignificant fact, I want to know about the WalMart pictures.

sernaferna says:
Too much explanation for something so simple?


James Mack says:
I'll say yes

James Mack says:
altho to me, "details" brings about either a ST:TNG bit or a Drew & Mike bit, and I didn't think you knew either of them, so i wasn't sure which way to go

sernaferna says:
hehe I used to watch ST:TNG (when it was on the air - by the time it went to syndication, I'd bored of it); I don't think I was in Blenheim too long, when Drew & Mike were popular.

sernaferna says:
Or maybe they still are...

James Mack says:
not to me, and thats all that matters

James Mack says:
jumped the shark

sernaferna says:
I'm not familiar with the phrase "jump the shark" either.

James Mack says:
jump the shark
a term to describe a moment when somethin that was once great has reached a point where it will now decline in quality and popularity.

Origin of this phrase comes from a Happy Days episode where the Fonz jumped a shark on waterskis. Thus was labeled the lowest point of the show.

sernaferna says:
Wait, I *did* know that!

I'd come across the term before; you've reminded me now. I forget in what context, but I suppose it's not important.

sernaferna says:
I sometimes wish I had a better memory...

sernaferna says:
(By "sometimes" I mean "any time I remember to". )

James Mack says:
"who moved my cheese" is the one I'm still having trouble with

sernaferna says:

sernaferna says:
Or maybe this will be more helpful:

James Mack says:
I don't have time to read, just give me the jist of it

sernaferna says:
Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life (ISBN 0399144463), published in 1998, is a motivational book by Spencer Johnson that parabolically describes change, in one's work and life, and four typical reactions to said change with two mice, two "little people", and their hunts for cheese. A New York Times business bestseller since release,

sernaferna says:
Who Moved My Cheese? has remained on the list for almost five years and has spent over two hundred weeks on Publishers Weekly's hardcover nonfiction list[1].

sernaferna says:

sernaferna says:
Under Criticism:

sernaferna says:
The book has been criticized for focusing on only chasing cheese.

James Mack says:
"parabolically"??? Im pretty sure that's not the word they want

James Mack says:
unless parabolas and parables have something to do with each other

sernaferna says:
That word is a link, in the article, which links to this:

James Mack says:
apparently they DO have something to do with each other... I'll be

James Mack says:
pardon me while I go chrome my dome and baby my face

sernaferna says:
No problem.

Do you mind if I put this conversation on my blog?

Final Spam Tally for March

Further to my previous post, I did manage to record how many spam emails I got each day in March. And, of course, I did it in a spreadsheet—because if there’s one thing that will draw comments to my blog, it’s a spreadsheet!

It wasn’t as even as I’d been anticipating—I’d been thinking it would basically be a straight line, with some spikes here or there—which was most of the reason I did this in the first place; I was wondering how accurate my perception was on how many I was getting each day.

If I ever do this again, I’ll have a couple of lines, to capture spam to my main account (this one) as well as spam I get to my Hotmail account. I get a lot less spam on Hotmail, maybe 5 or 10 in a day, but it would be interesting to see if they both spike in the same places, or if they’re completely unrelated. However, I’m not going to do this for June. Maybe for May, or some other month.