Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Working from home—Movie Day!

One of the advantages of working from home is that I can pop on a movie, and watch/listen while I work. Which is a good thing, because there were a few movies on the PVR.

One of the disadvantages is that, since I was home on my own, I only watched movies that I knew Andrea wouldn’t want to see. And, since Andrea has better taste in movies than I do, it means that I just watched crappy movies. Good thing I was only half paying attention, or I would have been annoyed with myself for wasting so much of my own time.

So here’s what I “watched”:

  • Elektra: I don’t have anything to say about this one. It was so bad I didn’t pay attention at all. No surprises there, right? It didn’t exactly get rave reviews. I turned this one off before it was finished—even though I wasn’t even properly watching it, I still couldn’t leave it on.
  • Transporter 2: Also a bad movie, but at least I was able to leave it on for the duration. (I think I’ve said this before, but I don’t mind “mindless” movies. As long as they’re somewhat entertaining. Elektra didn’t quite make the cut.) Unfortunately, I can’t say much about this one, because I didn’t pay enough attention. It has two good looking female characters, who had no part in the movie. Well, their part was that they were good looking, I guess. One of them was always shooting people, wearing nothing but a bra and panties. I guess because the director wanted to go for realism—every assassin I’ve ever met has been a good looking woman, wearing her bra and panties while she killed people.
  • Beverly Hills Cop: An oldie, but a g— um… I don’t know. This movie is definitely dated, but it still has a certain charm. It was made in 1984, and if you ever forget that, all you have to do is listen to the soundtrack. I’ll have Axel F running through my head for days.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


So, to add to the other fun I’m already having today

I couldn’t decide what to have for lunch today, since I’m not hungry at all. But there was a Mr. Sub right beside the bank machine I was using, so I figured I’d get a Seafood & Crab sub. I’ve had them before, and they’re pretty good. (Not as good as the Seafood & Crab subs at Subway used to be, but Subway discontinued that sub, so it’s no longer an issue.)

So I asked for it, and the woman behind the counter got a scoop of the seafood & crab mix, and put it on the bread. It was such a little amount of food that it wasn’t even enough to cover the bread. In the past, when I’ve got that sub from them, it’s been a half inch thick; I don’t usually even get any toppings with it, except salt and pepper, and it’s enough food. But in this case, I would have simply been eating bread, with a bit of cheese and seafood flavouring.

So I told them no thanks, and walked out. And, since I am still not feeling very hungry, I’m back to the drawing board, trying to decide what to have for lunch, if anything.

The funniest thing to me is that if you go to their web site—which I’m not linking to, because I’m petty that way—the Seafood & Crab sub is listed as one of their Premium Subs!

P.S. Every single time I typed “Seafood & Crab” for this post, my fingers accidentally typed “Seafood & Crap”. I had to go back manually and correct it all. I guess I just find “crap” more natural to type than “crab”. I don’t think it was a Freudian slip, but it may be hasty to make too many assumptions, at this juncture.

Oh Blogger. You disappoint me so!

Blogger was down again today, for a while. At times my blog was probably available, although I wasn’t able to post to it, and you probably weren’t able to submit comments. Maybe at other times it wasn’t available at all, for all I know. (I keep saying “probably” and “maybe” because I was trying to get some work done, too; I wasn’t able to just keep hitting the site, and seeing if it was up yet.)

And, as is so often the case, the time that Blogger was down was the time when I actually had things to post! I wanted to respond to James’ comment, plus I had two other posts I wanted to put up. On top of that, I had an idea for updating the template, slightly.

So I did what I always do, when Blogger is down: I wrote what I wanted to write, and saved it on my desktop, until they could come back up. You may notice that the timestamp for this post is within minutes of a couple other ones.


Click here for an animation (Flash) with Noam Chomsky and The Dandy Warhols, by Michael Menion.

I found this from

serna MAD! Grr!

I was so angry when I wrote this that my hands were shaking. Unfortunately, here are some things I can not do:

  • Tell you why I was angry—it’s work related
  • Properly take out my anger on the person who caused it—client/consultant relationship
  • Swear and scream and cuss about it—hardly befitting the blog of a guy who calls himself a Christian
  • Stop thinking about it—it’ll take a while for that to happen.
Ah, life. You take the good with the bad.

Anyway, by the time you read this, I’ll probably be over it. In fact, Blogger was having technical difficulties again today—as is so often the case—so even by the time I posted it I was calmed down a fair bit. Althought not completely.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Interesting Link

I wish I could have come up with a better title for this post, but I’m not really sure what to say.

Check out this link—you’ll need sound. Some of you may already have seen it; I got the link from Raymi’s blog, so I don’t know if it’s been going around forever, or just went up today. (I’m not exactly in touch with internet goings on…)

Movie Review: Good Night, And Good Luck

Good Night, and Good Luck is about the broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow, and his exposure of the excesses of Joseph McCarthy, and his fight against Communism. (The movie gets its name from the tagline Murrow used to close every show.)

If you’re not familiar with Senator McCarthy—or have heard the name but don’t know what it’s all about—here’s a very brief synopsis: McCarthy was an ardent anti-Communist. He was convinced that Communism was running rampant in America, and, specifically, that Communists had infiltrated all levels of the American government. McCarthy believed that America was becoming weak, and he believed that it was because the Communists were bringing America down from within. Here is an excerpt from an article in The Nation, in which Jonathan Schell gives some background:

Perhaps a clue can be found in the famous speech that Senator Joseph McCarthy gave in Wheeling, West Virginia, in February 1950. This was the occasion on which he announced his specious list of Communists in the State Department, launching what soon was called McCarthyism. He also shared some thoughts on America’s place in the world. The allied victory in World War II had occurred only five years before. No nation approached the United States in wealth, power or global influence. Yet McCarthy’s words were a dirge for lost American greatness. He said, “At war’s end we were physically the strongest nation on earth and, at least potentially, the most powerful intellectually and morally. Ours could have been the honor of being a beacon in the desert of destruction, a shining living proof that civilization was not yet ready to destroy itself. Unfortunately, we have failed miserably and tragically to arise to the opportunity.” On the contrary, McCarthy strikingly added, “we find ourselves in a position of impotency.”

By what actions had the United States thrown away greatness? McCarthy blamed not mighty forces without but traitors within, to whom he assigned an almost magical power to sap the strength of the country. America’s putative decline occurred “not because our only powerful potential enemy has sent men to invade our shores, but rather because of the traitorous actions of those who have been treated so well by this nation.” And, he raved on in a later speech, “we believe that men high in this Government are concerting to deliver us to disaster. This must be the product of a great conspiracy, a conspiracy on a scale so immense as to dwarf any previous such venture in the history of man. A conspiracy of infamy so black that, when it is finally exposed, its principals shall be forever deserving of the maledictions of all honest men.”

(The article isn’t about McCarthy or McCarthyism, but I thought this passage was relevant.)

McCarthy’s solution to the problem was to hold government hearings on “un-American activities”, in which he “exposed” people he thought were Communists. In addition to rooting out Communism in government, McCarthy also “exposed” many in Hollywood and the entertainment industry as Communists. Unfortunately, McCarthy often accused people of Communism with little or no evidence, and when people were exposed, it stuck. Many people had reputations and careers ruined, because of McCarthy’s baseless accusations. (There is a very poignant example of this type of baseless accusation in the film.)

Because of his ardent, and excessive, personal quest to expose communism and communists in the United States in the 50s, the very name “McCarthy” has become synonymous with modern-day witch hunts, so I suppose Clooney thought it was appropriate to reexamine this time in America’s history, now that so many are bringing the search for terrorists to McCarthy-ist levels.

I say “Clooney thought it was appropriate”, because, in addition to starring in the movie (although not in the main role), Clooney also directed, and, I think, was one of the main drivers behind the movie. And, in my opinion, he did a fine job. The movie is filmed in black and white, and it was done that way for a reason: There is no actor, in the movie, playing McCarthy. Any time McCarthy appears, it is only in footage of the real McCarthy, from the original hearings. (As well as the actual footage from Murrow’s show, when McCarthy came on to defend himself against Murrow’s accusations.)

In addition to the practical reasons, however, shooting the film in black and white gave it a real beauty. Cinematically, the movie is excellent. Whoever did the camera work did an excellent job.

I did have a couple of problems with the movie, but they were minor. There were a couple of aspects of the story that felt a bit unresolved; if I were to guess, I would say that the movie had to be edited down, for time, and the resolution of those plot points ended up on the cutting room floor. Unfortunately, the net result is that those parts of the plot don’t end up adding anything to the movie, and simply form a distraction from the main story.

Good Night, And Good Luck is a great movie, and I recommend it. I don’t think it did well at the box office, unfortunately, but it did get great reviews. (I’m not overly familiar with the Rotten Tomatoes site, but if I’m reading it correctly, the movie got good reviews both from critics and from Users.)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Attic

I had been planning to run some network cables from my bedroom—where the only upstairs cable outlet is—to my office. The plan was to keep the cable modem in the bedroom, since it has to be, but to put the network router in the office, and reduce some of the clutter in the bedroom. (Not to mention all of the blinking green LEDs, that brighten up the room when we’re trying to sleep!)

Unfortunately, I took a look into the attic, and I saw this:

Now, I was expecting there to be some insulation. But I wasn’t expecting a 1- or 2-foot-deep sea of it, as far as the eye can see! I can’t even tell if there are places to walk; I tried digging around in the stuff in a few places, to see if there was a sturdy place to put my feet, but couldn’t find anyplace.

So my plans for attic wiring are temporarily on hold, until I can educate myself on the best way to proceed.

Friday, August 25, 2006

No Silver Bullet

Warning: Heavy geek content. If you’re not a developer, you probably won’t find this too interesting.

A friend of mine sent me some articles on Knowledge Management, including an article called No Silver Bullet: Essence and Accidents of Software Engineering, by Frederick P. Brooks, Jr., an article that argues that “there will be no more technologies or practices that will serve as ‘silver bullets’ and create a 10-fold improvement in programmer productivity over 10 years” (to quote the Wikipedia article, which can be found here).

In the article, Mr. Brooks breaks software complexity into two categories: accidental complexity, and essential complexity. Accidental complexity is unrelated to the problem the programmer is trying to solve; this complexity comes from the realities of dealing with a computer; things like “bits” and “bytes” and “registers”. Essential complexity, on the other hand, is the complexity that comes with trying to solve real-world problems. The article makes the case that better tools—good Interactive Development Environments (IDEs), faster workstations with more memory, good tool libraries, etc.—have solved the problems involved in accidental complexity, whereas tools cannot solve essential complexity. Furthermore, although better tools will make incremental jumps in productivity, in relation to the accidental complexities being further reduced, there will be no more order of magnitude jumps in productivity.

In other words, the article did a good job of articulating some things that all programmers instinctively know: you can improve and improve and improve the tools that are available to developers, but the truth is, the real complexity in software is something that tools can’t solve. The real complexity comes from the business requirements that the software is trying to implement—which are always a moving target—and from the nature of requirements gathering, which is an imperfect science, no matter how good we try to get at it.

The author argues that moving from assembly programming to higher-level programming languages was an improvement that was an order of magnitude:

High-level languages. Surely the most powerful stroke for software productivity, reliability, and simplicity has been the progressive use of high-level languages for programming. Most observers credit that development with at least a factor of five in productivity, and with concomitant gains in reliability, simplicity, and comprehensibility.

What does a high-level language accomplish? It frees a program from much of its accidental complexity. An abstract program consists of conceptual constructs: operations, data types, sequences, and communication. The concrete machine program is concerned with bits, registers, conditions, branches, channels, disks, and such. To the extent that the high-level language embodies the constructs one wants in the abstract program and avoids all lower ones, it eliminates a whole level of complexity that was never inherent in the program at all.

However, he continues:

The most a high-level language can do is to furnish all the constructs that the programmer imagines in the abstract program. To be sure, the level of our thinking about data structures, data types, and operations is steadily rising, but at an ever decreasing rate. And language development approaches closer and closer to the sophistication of users.

Moreover, at some point the elaboration of a high-level language creates a tool-mastery burden that increases, not reduces, the intellectual task of the user who rarely uses the esoteric constructs.

There were times, as I was reading the article, when I was shaking my head, and not agreeing with Mr. Brooks. However, these were all areas in which he predicted the way software development would evolve, and things didn’t turn out quite that way. (For example, he discounted the benefit of improving the memory and processing power available on developers’ workstations; he argued that the machines were already so fast that it was getting to the point where the human was never waiting for the machine, and the power was not being utilized. But it turns out that the incredible leaps in processing power and memory that are now available have made possible great advances in IDEs—such as auto-completion—which require the tool to keep a lot of data in memory, to be immediately available to the developer.) But considering that the article was written in 1986, it’s not surprising at all that certain assumptions about how software development would evolve turned out to be incorrect, so any time he wasn’t quite right, there was no way to fault him for it. And, frankly, anything that I did disagree with was trivial; his main points are completely valid. (Using the memory example, even things like auto-complete are still just incremental gains in reducing accidental complexity. And there are those who would even argue that it’s harmful; I love that article, even if I don’t completely agree with all of it.)

To be clear, as tools evolve, they are making developers more productive, and Mr. Brooks doesn’t claim that they aren’t. (And he’s not against tools, nor the productivity that they add!) His argument is in scale, not absolutes; the tools will make people more productive, but the leaps in productivity will be incremental, not 5-fold leaps, like the introduction of higher-level languages, from assembly. And there is no denying that the tools are getting better and better; to see how much time you can save with an IDE like WebLogic Workshop or Eclipse, for J2EE development, you’d be a fool not to use these types of tools. (Mr. Brooks also touches on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the article, and I would argue that the tools are getting better at becoming expert systems. If the developer wants to perform a common task, the IDE can probably generate a good portion of the code, and do it using best practices to boot.) But, again, these improvements are all to reduce accidental complexity, while the developers—and business analysts and systems analysts and project managers—are still left to figure out the essential complexity, of solving the business problem at hand.

In fact, I would argue that, since the tools have done such a good job reducing or eliminating accidental complexity, that developers have gotten more productive, and business users/clients/customers have gotten used to software being delivered faster and more reliably—and have therefore started to demand ever increasingly complex software!

I’ll end with another good quote from the article:

Conformity. Software people are not alone in facing complexity. Physics deals with terribly complex objects even at the “fundamental” particle level. The physicist labors on, however, in a firm faith that there are unifying principles to be found, whether in quarks or in unifiedfield theories. Einstein argued that there must be simplified explanations of nature, because God is not capricious or arbitrary.

No such faith comforts the software engineer. Much of the complexity that he must master is arbitrary complexity, forced without rhyme or reason by the many human institutions and systems to which his interfaces must conform. These differ from interface to interface, and from time to time, not because of necessity but only because they were designed by different people, rather than by God.

The lesson to take from this article is nothing new; it just re-emphasizes the fact that software development is complex, and developers and designers need to be aware of that. Having a good design—and archiecture—before you begin coding is essential, as is understanding the business requirements before you start designing. Building software iteratively will always win over the “waterfall” approach, because the needs of the users are constantly evolving, and constantly being clarified.


Does anyone still watch MAD TV? No? It was funny years and years ago when it first started, and then got boring, so now you don’t bother to watch it anymore? Yeah, that’s what I thought. I’m glad we’re on the same page.

Anyway, I was looking around on YouTube for a clip from a MAD TV sketch, that I could put here. It was this male/female duet, who sang a song called You Are the Light of My Life. I don’t remember it exactly, but the words went something like this:

You are the light of my life
You are the light of my life
You are the light of my life
You are the light of my life

key change

You are the light of my life
You are the light of my life
You are the light of my life
You are the light of my life

key change

You are the life of my light
You are the light of my light
You are the life of my life

etc. etc.

I found it extremely funny—as did Andrea, who has also seen it—and every once in a while one or the other of us will start mockingly singing it, and we’ll both have a lot of fun, and a good time will be had by all. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it. I found some other clips, featuring the same duet—including a really bad quality one—but not the original one.

Oh well. At least I’ve done my duty, and posted something to my blog today. It might not have been what I had planned to post, but something is better than nothing, right?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

His tummy gurgles, as he lovingly crafts his Blogger post

I mean stomach! Guts! Crap factory!

For various reasons that I can’t go into, I really feel like blogging right now. Unfortunately, as is often the case, I have nothing to say. No pictures of Post-It®-covered desks, or interesting factual tidbits from my life. No book reviews or movie reviews. Especially no movie reviews, because I haven’t seen a movie in a while. (We have The Constant Gardener ready to go in our PVR, but haven’t had time to watch it yet. Not to mention two or three movies I recorded that I know Andrea won’t want to watch, like Beverly Hills Cop, and Transporter 2.)

I came across a bunch of interesting web sites today, most of which I can’t post here. (They’re not dirty or anything, just not appropriate for this blog.) I can post this one, though, which has a bunch of videos answering Stephen Colbert’s Green Screen Challenge.

If I may indulge in some self congratulation, I must say that I prefer my blog layout to many other peoples’. Not all other blogs, by any means; there are a lot of very creative people out there, who have done a fantastic job laying out their blogs. But there are also a lot of other people out there who have put together really badly designed blogs, and I think they outnumber the people who did a good job. (Not including, of course, the people who simply took default templates from Blogger or LiveJournal or whatever blogging site they use. Of course, even some of the standard templates are pretty ugly.)

I find my layout (and fonts) easier to read than a lot of the other ones out there. It’s not, I know, very artistic. Just very functional—which was what I was going for when I put it together. Many of my readers may find it boring, which I can’t blame them for. But it does put the focus on the words, rather than the background image, and million links to other blogs, and fancy flashing banner graphic, and myriad other things that other bloggers put on their blogs. When you come here, you don’t have to search around to figure out what you’re supposed to read; I think it’s pretty self-evident. (It also loads faster than a lot of blogs out there, since it’s mostly text.)

For lunch today, I had probably the unhealthiest collection of food I’ve consumed in a long time. I hope we have something decent for supper tonight, or my body is going to hate me more than it already does. On the plus side, though, I haven’t done too badly with my morning exercise. I haven’t been out every morning—and I took the week off when I was on vacation—but for the most part, I’m doing okay.

The drawback, however, is that I’m going out early enough that I’m noticing that the sun is just starting to come up—whereas a couple of weeks ago, at the same time, it would have been up already. Similarly, I went out at 8:30PM this week, and it was already starting to get dark, whereas it would have been nice and bright at that time, a couple of weeks ago. All this adds up to one thing: The days are getting shorter, which means the warmer weather is getting ready to depart. Which makes me sad.

Soon we’ll have to start dressing warmer. The warmer months are almost gone, and not once have I sat out on my front porch, with a beer, reading a book and enjoying the weather. Okay, to be fair, that’s not something I’d be likely to do anyway. Probably a bad example. But in any event, I don’t feel that I’ve enjoyed the warmer months as much as I could have. But I guess my mourning is premature; August isn’t even done yet, so I still have some time to enjoy the fleeting warmth Toronto has to offer.

But soon Construction Season will be over, and Winter will be upon us again. Warm months, do not go gentle into that good night! Rage, rage against the dying of the… um… warmth.

Oh, and one last thing: I used the phrase “of course” four times in this blog entry. And I call myself a writer! I need to enlarge my vocabulary.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

serna’s nerdiness

Have I mentioned that I’m a nerd? Why yes I have. Here’s more proof:

I find myself, on a regular basis, turning my screensaver off or on. For example, if I am on a conference call, I’ll turn it off, because I may very well be sitting in front of the computer for more than 5 minutes without doing anything, but I don’t want the screensaver to come on while I’m there. And then, when I get off the call, I promptly turn it back on again.

Or sometimes, when I’m stepping away from the computer just for a minute, I might throw in the Marquee screensaver, with a message that says “Be right back!”

I got this idea from a previous job, when I was working at a help desk where we were always repairing computers. Sometimes one of us would use the Marquee screensaver with a message saying something along the lines of “This computer is downloading software; please don’t touch”. It was a handy way to make sure none of us messed up work the others were doing.

But changing the screensaver is a bit cumbersome. You have to open up the Display Settings—which doesn’t usually come up immediately—go to the Screen Saver tab, and make your selections, and then choose OK—which also doesn’t usually happen immediately.

So what does that have to do with nerdiness? The answer is this: I’ve created VBScript batch files, that can programatically make all of the changes to my screensaver settings at the click of a button. (One to turn off the screensaver, and another to turn it on, set it to time out after 5 minutes, and be password-protected.) So if I’m doing something at my desk, but not necessarily with the computer itself, boom, click the button to disable the screensaver, and work away. When I’m stepping away, bam, click the button to turn it back on, and the computer will be screen-saved.

I’ve discovered one problem, though: If you want to change the timeout value—how long Windows will wait before turning on the screensaver—you can’t do it programmatically. Well, you can, but the changes don’t take effect until you reboot, which defeats the purpose. (If you change that setting using the Display Settings dialog, it takes effect immediately, of course.) The only reason that’s a problem is that I like to set the timeout for my Marquee screensaver to 1 minute, and my regular screensaver to 5.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006


I was walking through the office the other day, and I noticed the following:

In case the picture isn’t clear enough, those are Post-It® Notes. I have multiple theories as to what might be happening here:

  1. The person in question is über-organized, to the point of anal retentiveness.
  2. The person in question is completely lacking in organization, and resorting to Post-It® Notes out of desperation
  3. It might have nothing to do with organization; maybe the person is just feeling creative.
  4. The person hates trees, and is trying to destroy the planet as fast as possible. Or the person is committing suicide by really, really, really slow means, by destroying the Earth.
  5. Someone played a prank on the person in question, and just didn’t go far enough.
Incidentally, if you have $20 to throw away, you can buy Post-It® Digital Notes from 3M. If you use Post-Its® a lot, you might find you waste less paper that way. (Note: I haven’t tried the software, so if it’s crap, don’t come crying to me. I won’t care. They have a 30-day trial version; download that, before you shell out the big bucks for the real one. Come on, people, use your heads! Do I have to think of everything for you?)

Monday, August 21, 2006

Blog Readership

While I was at the party on Saturday night, someone mentioned to me that she reads my blog sometimes. Now, for most bloggers, I’m sure this would be a bit of a boost to the ol’ ego.

But for me, it just makes me more self-conscious. If I let myself think about it, when I’m writing, I’m sitting here thinking “I wonder what Person X will think, when they read this? Will Person Y think I’m an idiot? (Or… think I’m a bigger idiot than they already thought I was?)”

It makes me glad I never put a hit-counter on the site! What if I really have a huge readership, and don’t even know it? What if there are thousands of people coming here every single day, reading what I have to say? Or millions?

Well, if that’s the case, here are the consequences I can think of:

  • Because of my political views, people reading my blog will get fed up with the world situation, and President George W. Bush will be impeached, and tried for his war crimes. (Also, Rumsfeld—and anyone else who was involved—will be tried for the same crimes Saddam is currently being tried for, since Saddam did everything he did with explicit American aid and approval.)
  • Also because of my political views, the Conservatives will lose the next Canadian election. We’ll end up with an NDP majority, and a Green minority. Or vice versa; we’ll see what I end up writing before the next election. (Not that I wrote too much before the last one.)
  • Because of my eloquent movie reviews, book reviews, and whatever-else reviews, the entertainment industry will dramatically change, and stop producing crap. Only good movies will get made, because people will stop going to see the bad ones, and only good books will get published, because people will stop buying the bad ones. (I say “published”, not “written”, because I know that there is no force on Earth that can stop bad writers from writing bad writing. From a couple of places I can’t cite, I know that a lot of really bad writing comes across the desks of agents and publishers and other places. My blog is [potentially] powerful, but no blog is that powerful.) There would probably also be a slew of movies made with the title Coffee and Aspirin. (Do you like it when I make obscure references to my own blog? No? Oh.)
  • Based on the awe-inspiring pictures I’ve been taking, there will be a sudden influx of tourism to Penetanguishene, Arnprior, and Ottawa. Oh, and also Licks will get a lot more business.
  • Everyone will read the Bible. One chapter every weekday. (Or… as often as I update that site, anyway.)

I’m back!

So I’m finally back from vacation. Finally? It doesn’t seem like I was gone for a week. I definitely did not come in to work this morning raring to go. Maybe I should get my writing career off the ground, so I can sleep in every morning and only work when I feel like it.

Since I didn’t write about any of this while I was gone, here are some of the things we did while I was on holidays. I’m sure there was more to write about than this, but this is all I could think of on a Monday morning.

Andy Warhol Exhibit

On Saturday (the 12th, not the 19th) we went to the Andy Warhol exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Very interesting.

And it inspired me with an idea of how I can use our new camcorder. Of course, it’s really just a blatant ripoff of something Andy already did. (Well, with a bit of a twist.) But still, at least there’s something. After I film it, I’ll have to think of other ideas, but one thing at a time.

Also, while we were at the AGO, we saw a painting by Joanne Tod, called Research & Development, which I loved. This might not do it justice, but I’ll try anyway:


On Sunday the 13th, we had a special guest at church. I won’t tell you who he was, but I will tell you that he got a warm reception. Of course, that’s because people thought he was someone else.

Also, as a side note, since I’m already writing about church: I was leading the service that morning, which means I was singing, instead of playing the guitar. One of the songs we were singing included the word “Amen”—a not uncommon occurrence—and I noticed, in practice, that some people were pronouncing it “ay-men”, and others were pronouncing it “ah-men”. So I asked if we should all sing it one way. “Of course!” everyone replied. “We’ll sing it ‘ay-men’. Why would anyone sing ‘ah-men’? I wouldn’t even be able to remember to sing it ‘ah-men’ if we decided that, I would just sing ‘ay-men’…” etc. etc. So of course, when we sang the song in the service, everyone sang it “ah-men”, except for myself and [I think] Kaitlyn. (And I mean everyone. Kaitlyn and I must have looked fairly foolish singing “ay-men”, while the rest of the church sang it “ah-men”.)

Was this important to mention in the blog? Heck no. Just thought I’d put it in anyway.


Per my earlier post, we drove up to Penetanguishene on Tuesday. Actually, it wasn’t our plan to drive to Penetanguishene. We just decided to head North on the 400, and see where the day took us. Somewhere around Barrie we started looking at the tourist signs along the highway, until we saw one that interested us: Discovery Harbour. So off we went, to Discovery Harbour.

All in all, we spent more time in the car than we did at Discovery Harbour.


Jeremy came to visit on Wednesday. (Hi Jer!) We went to Licks, which was throughly enjoyed by most. (There are people who were there with us that day who don’t enjoy Licks that much, because it’s too much food.)


We re-caulked our bathtub. (I say “we”, but really Andrea did most of the work. I helped a bit removing the old caulk, but she did everything else.)


As mentioned elsewhere, we went to Ottawa for a couple of days, to visit my sister. It was a good trip, preceded and followed by long drives. (Long drives during which Andrea was subjected to my taste in music, since I brought more CDs than she did.)

While we were there, we also stopped in at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, which was interesting. We didn’t have much time to stay, since we had to make the long drive back to Toronto in time for a party (which I’ll be discussing shortly), but it was still a good visit.


We went to a party Saturday night. Unfortunately, it was one of those parties that doesn’t really get started until after 10:00, and of course Andrea and I always have to leave around then, because we have church on Sunday mornings. But I still had a good time. I got to see some colleagues from the company I used to work at, which was nice.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Friday: Ottawa

Edited post

On Friday, my sister brought us into Ottawa, and we did some sight-seeing, and took some pictures. But I don’t feel like wasting the bandwidth to upload them here; go to my photos site, and click the link for Ottawa to see them.

Thursday–Saturday: Arnprior

Because we were on vacation this week, we decided to drive up and visit my sister, who lives in Ottawa. Actually, she lives in Arnprior, which we nicknamed “Armpit”. (I say “we”, but I was far more amused by it than Andrea was.) Arnprior is about 40 minutes outside of Ottawa.

We took these pictures of one of the rivers running through Arnprior. We had gone out for a walk Thursday evening, and all we had with me was my camera phone, which is why the quality of the pictures went down again.

Our plan was to go back later, and take pictures with the real camera, but we never got around to it.

Also, on our way to Ottawa, we saw this on the back of a truck:

Once again, I found this far more amusing than Andrea did.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Book Review: The Truth (With Jokes)

by Al Franken

In my Recommended Reading post, I’ve included Al Franken’s book Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Since I liked it enough to include in my Recommended Reading list, I obviously thought it was good, so I was looking forward to reading The Truth (With Jokes). So when we were in the mall recently, and I saw it on sale for $5, I scooped it up.

Unfortunately, The Truth isn’t as good as Lies was. Go figure, eh? The book lacked the humour and biting wit of Lies. And I think the problem is this: When Al goes after the right wingers, it’s easy to point out their lies for the farce that they are. But when he tries to articulate his own politics, the humour just isn’t there. Of course, the net result is that he ends up going back to pointing out the lies of the right wingers some more.

So what are Al’s politics? Well, he calls himself a “liberal”, but he’s not. He’s a Democrat. I know, I know; most of my readers are probably rolling their eyes at me right now. “Oh ha ha, serna, very funny. The Democrats are too wishy-washy, so you accuse them of not being liberal.” But I’m not being over the top. In poll after poll, survey after survey, on issues the Americans care about, the Democrats are just as conservative as the Republicans. But for Al, it’s an “us vs. them” mindset; Republicans are out to destroy America, and the Democrats are out to save it. When the Democrats don’t behave in this way, in Al’s mind, one of two things is happening:

  1. It’s an anomaly. Normally the Democrats try to do the right thing, but sometimes people make mistakes.
  2. The Republicans are preventing them from carrying out their plans. The Democrats want to do the right thing, but the Republicans won’t let them.
Take healthcare as an example. Al will talk about healthcare, since the majority of Americans want government provided (or at least subsidized) healthcare, and he’s right in saying that “liberals” want healthcare too. But to claim that Democrats want public healthcare, well, that’s just not true. (They’re getting bribed by the same drug companies and health insurance companies that the Republicans are.)

There was another aspect of the book that I disagreed with, but I don’t think it’s partisanship that’s getting in Al’s way. (It’s probably “Americanism”; Al, like most Americans, considers himself a patriot, and it’s always abhorrent to a patriot to consider the idea that their leaders are committing war crimes—even if the patriots really loathe their leaders, like Al loathes Bush.) Al goes to great lengths in his book to demonstrate the the Republican leadership really messed up the whole Iraq situation. They ignored the advice of their experts, and the situation got much worse than it should have. Those knuckleheads! If only they’d listened, they could have been out of Iraq by now!

But I disagree with Al. I think that everything went according to plan. Yes, if they’d listened to their experts, they would have anticipated the looting; they would have anticipated the chaos after the fighting was over. They could have been out by now, and Iraq could have been running itself. But here’s the thing: They don’t want to be out. As long as Iraq is a mess, as long as the country is in a shambles, and the government is incapable of running itself, America will be there. And that’s where America wants to be: In Iraq. Could they have had the infrastructure back up and running, almost immediately? Yes, I’m fairly sure they could have. Why didn’t they? Because as soon as Iraq is independent again, as soon as they’re a real country, with their own leadership, they’ll start making their own decisions. And when that happens, suddenly America might not have as much control over the oil flowing out of Iraq as they’d prefer.

So yes, I believe that things in Iraq have gone pretty much as the Bush Administration planned. They’re in Iraq, and they’re in it for the long haul. (They’ve been claiming all along that they were only going to be there for as long as it took for the Iraqis to get back on their own feet—but meanwhile they’ve been building “super bases” for their troops, which are definitely not intended to be temporary. No, America wants to be in Iraq as long as Iraq is pumping out oil. And when it’s not, then they’ll claim that Iraq is ready to be on its own, and they’ll leave. Even though I’m guessing that the country will be in the same state it’s in now.)

So over all, do I recommend this book? No, not really. It’s not terrible, but Al’s an unapologetic Democrat, and that taints the whole book. Sometimes I find myself nodding along with him, but much of the time I find myself rolling my eyes, because he seems to feel that life in America would be so much better if the Democrats could just get back in power again. (Tell the people in Kosovo that Clinton was a great president, and see what kind of a reaction you’ll get.)

Instead, if you haven’t already, I’d recommend that you just forget about this one, and read Lies, and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. Al’s politics shine through in that one, too, from time to time, but the main thrust of the book all liberals can agree on: we may not agree on whether Democrats are liberals or not, but we definitely agree that the Republicans are an evil scourge.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Tuesday: Penetanguishene

These were from the real camera, so they came out much better than the last ones.

Did I mention I was on vacation? No? Well… I am.

Monday, August 14, 2006


These are from the phone camera, so they didn’t come out very well. Oh well.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


I just ate the worst burger I’ve ever had in my life. The building where I’m working is having a BBQ for all of the employees, so I went down and grabbed a burger, and it was nasty.

So now I’m in the mood for a good burger. (Actually, I’m not; this bad one turned me off burgers for a day or two. But I wanted to segue into this:) And if you really want a good burger, you can’t beat Licks. Great burgers and great ice cream; what could be better?

I’ve been in the mood for a Back Homeburger off and on for months. But Andrea doesn’t like Licks—she says it’s too much food—so I don’t get to go that often.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Wow. Now that's strange…

I was doing a search on Google today, for “sernaferna”. (Don’t act like you don’t do it, you know you Google your own name, from time to time!)

You’ll notice, if you click that search link above, that I searched for the term “sernaferna” on pages that don’t contain “XML”. Typically, any search results that include “sernaferna” will turn up a million XML-related pages, because every Tom, Dick, and Harry on the web who wants to throw together an XML tutorial uses examples out of my book, Beginning XML, which uses for its Namespace-related examples. And I find it flattering that so many people are sharing my wisdom with others. (insert raucous laughter here.)

Anyway, on my journey of narcissistic pleasure, I came across a page on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), which contains “Miscellaneous links for John Swartzwelder”, and one of the links was to my site!

I’m not 100% sure how links get added to IMDB. It looks like registered users can log in, and add them; for all I know, one of you might have done it. In any event, it’s kind of neat that anyone looking up Swartzwelder on IMDB might find a link to my site.


Remember when I said that I was going to start getting some exercise? Back in January? Remember that? Oh, those were pleasant, care-free days. Back when I thought I would actually get myself back in shape.

And then, remember the time when I realized that I probably wouldn’t be doing my exercise on the weekends? Good times, good times.

Oh yeah, and what about the time when for the rest of the year I never mentioned exercise or jogging again, because I just completely stopped doing it, just like 98% of the rest of the out-of-shape, almost-but-not-quite middle-aged guys, who vow to themselves that they’re going to get back in shape? That was great.

Well, I may or may not start it up again. I went out jogging this morning, before I took my morning shower, and may or may not keep doing so. Place your bets. Of course, if I do start jogging in the mornings, I’ll have to alter my finely-honed morning routine. As it is, I came to work today without shaving, because the jogging interfered with my precision schedule.

Hello Kelly

Kelly, I’m fairly sure you don’t read my blog in the first place, but on the off chance that you do:

I hope you enjoy your visit to Chatham!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Random thoughts—in blog form!

I decided not to bother with a “how I spent my weekend” post. Not much exciting happened, I just had a restful few days off. (Monday was a holiday in Canada, for any American readers I might have.) I guess most other people had a boring weekend, too, because when I made the rounds this morning of blogs I read regularly, few of them really had much to say.

I had been hoping against hope that I wouldn’t have to buy a bunch of accessories, to go with my “free” camcorder. However, the one thing I really needed was a FireWire card for my computer, because USB—even USB 2.0—really isn’t good enough for transferring video from a camcorder to the computer. However, I was lucky, in the sense that my computer doesn’t have a USB 2.0 bus; it only had USB 1.1. So I was able to get a combo card, that has FireWire and USB 2.0, and I was able to fool myself that I wasn’t just getting the card for my camcorder; I was also getting it for my USB devices. (USB drives, in particular, because every time I stick a USB drive in my computer, it always tells me that it could perform faster. Andrea also has an iPod, which performs better with USB 2.0.)

I finally saw The Corporation yesterday. A great documentary! I’m thinking about getting it on DVD. When I went to the website, they said that there are over 8 hours of extras included. That’s a lot of extras. I’m not sure if that encourages me to get it, or discourages me… Anyway, I highly recommend the film to anyone who gets a chance to see it. I know a lot of people shy away from documentaries, because they’d rather be entertained, but a good documentary—like this one—is entertaining as well as enlightening, so I’m sure you’ll enjoy the movie. (You may, however come away from it angry.)

While I was following links in Wikipedia, I came across the following, which I thought was humourous:

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.
You might not find it quite so funny, which is understandable. I don’t know why it tickled my fancy. It just did.

Incidentally, speaking of Wikipedia, Stephen Colbert fans might be amused to note that Wikipedia locked down all elephant-related articles, after he suggested that his viewers go there and update the articles to mention that the number of elephants has tripled in the last decade. (Or whatever it was that he said; I don’t really remember.) I read some of the comments on Wikipedia, and was amused at some of the discussions that took place. Most of the talk was about whether they should have used “full protection”, or whether “semi-protection” might have been enough. (I don’t know what those terms mean, but I’m assuming they’re self-explanatory.) The exchange which amused me most was this one:
I must state for the record that even though I am a well-established Wikipedian who is completely against vandalism of any sort, I would have made an exception in this case and vandalized. So it was probably a good idea to go for the full-protection. I must do what Colbert tells me. (Sorry) K-UNIT 05:01, 3 August 2006 (UTC)
It is unacceptable that a user with something like (it appears) 700 edits would do such a thing. Especially a user that considers themselves to be part of the "Counter Vandalism Unit." It looks bad for the public and it is a disgrace for dedicated contributors like myself. If you wanted to do it, fine, we reverted it, but saying you did such on this talk page angers me. Admins, consider blocking the editing capacity of User:Tkevin1 for the time being. Thank you. --Nick Catalano 10:01, 3 August 2006 (UTC)
Heh. Wikipedia nerds.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Coffee and Aspirin

Is that the name of a movie? Or a book? Or something? In any event, if it is, it’s probably pretty pretentious, meaning that I wouldn’t want to read it.

Anyway, I just popped an aspirin, and washed it down with coffee. It makes me feel like I’m a developer again; soon I’m going to be drinking Jolt Cola and making Monty Python jokes and wearing t-shirts with The Simpsons on them. Wait, I already wear t-shirts with The Simpsons on them. I’ll wear t-shirts with the Linux penguin, I guess.

By the way, if you click the Jolt Cola link I’m using, it’s to the Wikipedia article, rather than Jolt’s website, because Jolt’s website is crap. And I can say that because I’m getting back in touch with my inner developer, and we’re an opinionated, obnoxious bunch, when we’re at our worst.

War Crimes and Lebanon

A letter to the editor of The Guardian.

Tariq Ali, Noam Chomsky, Eduardo Galeano, Howard Zinn, Ken Loach, John Berger & Arundhati Roy

The Guardian, August 3, 2006

The US-backed Israeli assault on Lebanon has left the country numb, smouldering and angry. The massacre in Qana and the loss of life is not simply “disproportionate”. It is, according to existing international laws, a war crime.

The deliberate and systematic destruction of Lebanon’s social infrastructure by the Israeli air force was also a war crime, designed to reduce that country to the status of an Israeli-US protectorate. The attempt has backfired. In Lebanon itself, 87% of the population now support Hizbullah’s resistance, including 80% of Christian and Druze and 89% of Sunni Muslims, while 8% believe the US supports Lebanon. But these actions will not be tried by any court set up by the “international community” since the US and its allies that commit or are complicit in these appalling crimes will not permit it.

It has now become clear that the assault on Lebanon to wipe out Hizbullah had been prepared long before. Israel’s crimes had been given a green light by the US and its loyal British ally, despite the opposition to Blair in his own country.

In short, the peace that Lebanon enjoyed has come to an end, and a paralysed country is forced to remember a past it had hoped to forget. The state terror inflicted on Lebanon is being repeated in the Gaza ghetto, while the “international community” stands by and watches in silence. Meanwhile, the rest of Palestine is annexed and dismantled with the direct participation of the US and the tacit approval of its allies.

We offer our solidarity and support to the victims of this brutality and to those who mount a resistance against it. For our part, we will use all the means at our disposal to expose the complicity of our governments in these crimes. There will be no peace in the Middle East while the occupations of Palestine and Iraq and the temporarily “paused” bombings of Lebanon continue.

t-minus 6 hours to long weekend and counting

For various reasons that I cannot and will not go into, I don’t have much to do at work today. Well, until 1:00, and then I have a meeting. But until then, I’m pretty activity-free. This is the perfect time to write an insightful blog entry on the nature of… um… a witty blog entry on the status of… hmm…

Well, as usual, I’ve got nothing.

Our camcorder came yesterday. I was surprised; they said three weeks, and although I was expecting it to be less, I wasn’t expecting it to be that much less. Anyway, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a video camera that I got for free: it’s a cheap piece of cr— er, it’s manufactured out of feces. We took some sample videos last night, and the video was too dark to be useable. (Luckily, Windows Movie Maker can brighten it up a bit, but it doesn’t give you a whole lot of control over it, so if you try and brighten it too much, you’ll just end up washing it out. Maybe the video editing software that came with Nero will be better.) And of course, the sound isn’t great either, but that’s true for most camcorders. We’d already been thinking that we’d need to get a microphone for it.

All that being said, though, it didn’t come with a MiniDV tape for us to use, so I was just recording onto an SD card, and the camera has a bunch of features that are disabled when you’re recording to memory, including features like steadying the shot so it doesn’t look all shaky, and improving the lighting. So we’re going to pick up some MiniDV tapes today, and try again, and maybe it’ll be better than I’m thinking.

I still don’t have any ideas for any movies/videos/whatever that I want to create. Except for the driving thing; which I could probably not do anyway, because I think I’d need Andrea’s help to film it—she’d either have to drive or film, because I wouldn’t be able to do both—and she’d probably think it was a dumb idea.

Anyway, if and when I do create something, I’m sure I’ll put it in YouTube and post it here almost immediately, because I’ll be inordinately proud of myself.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Stephen Colbert vs. Helen Thomas

I loved this, when I saw it on The Colbert Report. It’s a clip where Stephen imagines what it would be like if he were the president’s Press Secretary.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the clip from his actual show; this is from the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, where it was re-played. But, while I’m on the subject, I found a good article on Wikipedia about the dinner.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


We bought a camcorder the other day. Well, when I say “bought”, I mean we cashed in the points I’d accumulated on my Visa to get a camcorder. I don’t really know if we’ll put it to good use, but we’d both been thinking about getting one for a while, so there is a chance that we might actually use it, from time to time. (It’s supposed to take three weeks to get delivered, so I guess we have some time to think about how we want to use it.)

I’m not really sure what Andrea wants to use it for. There is some work-related stuff that she’s already thinking about, but I think she might have some other ideas brewing, as well.

And as for me… well, anyone who would spend a couple of days creating a stupid cartoon could probably find some meaningless films to make with a video camera. (By the way, I don’t like explaining my humour to people—if I have to explain it, it probably just means that it wasn’t funny—but if you’re not “getting” the cartoon, here’s a hint: it’s all about the timing, for me.)

For example: I live in Toronto, but my parents live in Blenheim, which is about three hours away. So I occasionally make the drive home to visit them, and see some of my friends who also live in the area. And very often, on the drive home, I secretly wish to myself that I had a video camera with me. (This is the same drive home that prompted this post. Since I didn’t have a camera, I simply narrated the drive to myself instead.) What I’m thinking is that I would simply point the camera out the front windshield, and let it capture the traffic. I wouldn’t make a three hour video, of course; I would edit it down, to just the interesting parts, maybe put some dance music behind it and have a sped up video of me weaving in and out of other cars’ tail lights, or whatever. The last time I went home, I really would have liked to have had a camera with me; when Andrea and James and I were on our way back to Toronto, we saw the following:

  • Really spooky fog. There was no fog on the road, where we were driving, but the conditions were just right that as we were passing by some fields, they had low-lying fog. If I’d had my digital camera with me, I would have pulled over and got some pictures. (My camera phone wouldn’t have cut it, of course.)
  • Some kind of weird lightning. For part of the drive home, we could see the clouds ahead of us being lit up by lightning, but there were no storms.
  • Rain. At one point, we were driving along and everything was dry, and then suddenly it was pouring down. A few minutes later, it had stopped again.
  • Idiot drivers. We’ve all seen this, and it happens every time I drive home from Blenheim: I get behind someone who’s doing 110km/h, so I pass him, because I’m doing 120. As soon as I pass him, he suddenly speeds up, passes me, gets back in front of me… and then slows down to 110 again.
I don’t remember if there was anything else interesting on that drive home.

Of course, even if I do start bringing the camcorder with me for the drives home, I know what will happen: Every time I have it with me, absolutely nothing interesting will happen. I’ll just get three hours of tail lights. And one day I’ll forget to bring it with me, and on the way home I’ll pass by a mobile orphanage, which is on fire, and I’ll have to pull over and rescue the orphans. And the person running the mobile orphanage will be Lucy Liu, and she’ll be so overcome with gratitude that she’ll ask me to marry her, but of course I’ll have to gently turn her down, because I’m already very happily married; she’ll shed a tear or two, but she’ll understand. And then just as I’m about to get back in my car, Air Force 1 will crash next to the highway, close to the mobile orphanage—but not close enough to make the fire any worse, luckily—and the only survivor will be George W. Bush, and as he’s crawling out of the wreckage, I’ll walk over to him and punch him in the face.

And because I will have forgotten the camcorder, I won’t be able to get any of it recorded for posterity. Hopefully Andrea will be with me, so that she can at least vouch for me. Maybe she could use my camera phone, and at least get a still picture of Bush lying on the ground, holding his nose. (Also, Lucy will probably take the rejection better if she actually sees my wife with me; she’ll know that I’m not just making it up, to let her down easy.)

And I’m sure I’d have other uses for a video camera, too. Probably involving juvenile movie parodies, and that type of thing. Hopefully not involving me re-creating music videos, like so many other losers on the internet are doing!

P.S. I should probably mention that just because she was in charge, doesn’t mean the mobile orphanage fire was Ms. Liu’s fault. Sometimes mobile orphanages just catch on fire; there’s nobody to blame for it, it’s just one of those things.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006


This post might be a bit gross. Feel free to skip it, if you wish.

The building where I work isn’t a high-rise or anything, but it has a few floors. Just before a conference call, I had to use the facilities, but the washroom was “out of order”. So I went downstairs.

When I got to the washroom downstairs, I was disgusted to find that not one, but all of the toilets were… ahem… shall we say, overflowing? It was nauseating.

So I went down another floor, to the next washroom, only to discover that all of the toilets there were overflowing as well!

By this time, I needed to get back up to my desk, and take my conference call, so I wasn’t able to go. Not that it was too much of a loss, though; at this point, the thought of sitting down on a toilet was not appealing to me.

Do you feel glad you read this? If so, all I can say is: You’re welcome.