Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Jans New Venture

My lovely bride Jan has decided to become an entrepreneur!

I'll just bet you are thinking that because she is married to me it must be some 'off the wall' high technology venture involving the wanton destruction of perfectly good computers to reassemble into beer and pizza boxes!

Well you are wrong. Jans hobby is making stuff out of plastic canvas.

If you have time visit her web site.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

AWEB#3 Dortmund Thier Beer

Or to call it by its correct name "Dortmunder Thier Bier".

I mentioned earlier that I grew up in a pub. As a kid growing up in the English school system of the 1960s I had to take the dreaded 11+ exam. This test was designed to 'skim the cream from the milk' and put them through the 'grammar School' system. I think it was something like the top 7 or 8% that passed.

I was unlucky enough to be included in this group! So I had to put up with 7 delightful years of learning stuff like Latin, Physics, math that only NASA uses, and, German.

The German teacher was an interesting character, and definitely not your usual stuffy grammar School master wearing profs robes. He decided that to get all us German learners into the swing of 'Sprechen Deutsche' he would find a comparable school in Germany and begin a Pen Pal thing. The English kids writing in German and the German kids writing back in English.

Based on some illogic that only he could come up with, he paired us up with pen pals. My parents owned a pub, so my pen friend was a boy who's father worked in a brewery (makes sense eh?).

The following year the experiment was expanded, we would do an exchange thing, 3 weeks in the others country. Us brits would go over the Easter vacation, and the Germans would visit in the summer.

What has all this to do with 'Around the World in Eighty Beers'? I hear you ask. Well, lots, it turned out that my pen friends father worked for the Dortmunder Their Braueri. And the Germans as a whole seemed to exercise a good deal of flexibility in their minimum age requirements for the enjoyment of cold beverages.

I liked Thier beer. Thier by the way is German for deer, hence the deer on the logo.

Dortmund actually had a number of different brewers in the 60s and 70s, but it seems like that number has dwindled of late.

As I recall we did the annual exchange thing for 4 years in a row. The absolute best part of the whole relationship was Christmas time.

Herr Zeller, my pen friends father would ship a 24 pack of Thier to us as a Christmas present. I'll bet we were the only pub in England that had had some!

It absolutely was NOT for sale, but if you knew me well, you might be able to pry one from my hand!

If you ever get the chance to try Thier, go for it, it has a light flavor and a kick like a mule!

Monday, June 26, 2006

AWEB#2 Morrells of Oxford

One of the sad things about the "Around The World in Eighty Beers" project is that a turns out a lot of the beers (both good and bad) have disappeared over the years. A good example is Morrells brewery in Oxford.

In the mid 1970's about once every couple of weeks I'd head off to the 'bright lights' of Oxford for some serious 'Pub crawling'. One of the beers that was common in Oxford was Morrells. I believe that they had had a brewery in Oxford for something like 200 years.

You would think that with that kind of practice they would be able to brew a decent pint. Alas that was not the case, Morrels was definitely not on my top ten list of cold beverages. It always tasted like the brew master had washed his socks in the barrel.

My friends and I had a standing joke that Morrells was a lot like fine French wine, and elderly mothers, none of them traveled well, and the 5 mile trip from brewery to pub must have upset the delicate balance of the beer.
Morrells ceased beer production in 1998, tho my research online seems to indicate that they are now part of the 'Greene King' empire, and the beer in name at least can still be found. Hell maybe the new brewers are better than the old brewers and are producing a product that travels better.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

AWEB#1 Morlands from Abingdon, England

Seeing as how I grew up in a pub I think it is only fitting that my first beer should be dedicated to the brand that my father sold. Morlands was a small regional brewery based in the town of Abingdon. The brand still exists, but the actual brewery closed in 2000 and was turned into appartments. I am sure if I devil around on google enough I can find some pictures.

In the late 60's my family was 'big into' Morlands, my father had 'The Hare'.

My Uncle Eric, a fine rogue from way back had the "Horse and Harrow" in West Hagbourne.

And my cousin Brian ran "The Fox" in a small village called Denchworth.

Yup, we were a Morland family!

Of all the products out of the Morland brewery my favorite is (tho its been a while since i had it) their regular Bitter. It has a light nutty flavour, it is the ideal summer beverage. Alas I could not find a picture of a glass of Morlands, so you will have to put up with their beer coasters instead.

Around The World In 80 Beers

Its Sunday morning here in lovely Calgary, the sun is shining, and life is good. I was sitting outside seeking inspiration for something to post about. I have no end of pointless subjects that I could choose from. I have 50 years of world experience, so I have seen lots of really good stuff!

When you combine Jans experience we top the 100 year mark! Hell, a lot of stuff happens in a hundred years.

Normally I like to post about things that have some roots in the technology world, although my definition of high tech probably differs from most peoples. Anyway, I have decided to go "off topic" and start a brand new project.

I have been a beer drinker since I was knee high to a grasshopper, so I am going to write about my favorite 80 beers. I have a feeling that this project could take a while.

I feel eminently qualified for this project as I actually grew up in a pub, my parents owned 'The Hare' in a small Oxfordshire village called West Hendred.

What a way to grow up! Although I have not even been on the same continent as "The Hare" in over a decade, and not lived there in three decades, these pictures are brand new. Through some Internet perseverance I managed to get hold of someone that still lives in the village, and they kindly took the photos for me.

So, hang on to your beer glasses, we are going to circle the globe in 80 beers!


Saturday, June 24, 2006

Blogs - Some Assembly Required!

On Christmas Day I dreaded those words.... 'some assembly required', almost as bad was 'batteries not included'. For years my Christmas morning was spent building Space Stations, Castles, and 'Places that Barbie and Ken wanted to vacation in'.

I have discovered that playing in the world of blogs also has that 'some assembly required' problem.

I like Blogger, its nice and easy. You can write whatever you want, click on the Publish button and you are done! Your whine about the government, the cost of gas, Namibia's fine maternity facilities, they are right there!

Alas it is somewhat more involved if you want to change the way your 'blog' looks. If you have a PHD in astrophysics you can 'edit the template'. I have edited mine a few times, and every time I would have taken a root canal instead.

Today I just wanted to make a minor change, I wanted to put my picture on it. Sounds simple doesn't it? Well it is not. You have to leap through hoops to do it.

Actually the picture problem was relativly easy, you just had to insert some funky stuff called tags.

Too funny, hahahaha, I can't show you the exact HTML, cos Blogger wants to use it.

The bigger problem was the silly clock I decided to incorporate. It's harmless, it just sits over on the right side of the screen and tells you the time in Calgary. In 'Blogger' land it is in the 'side bar'. I have tried 8 ways to sunday to center it in the sidebar. I swear it cannot be done!

I have never claimed to be an HTML expert, hell I ain't even a HTML apprentice, all I want is for it to work!

Have a great weekend! I know I will.

Friday, June 23, 2006

DIY Projects #1 - The Tablet PC

The hot new item for the gad-about business executive is toting around is a Tablet PC. This is basically a notebook computer with the screen on the outside that you can use a special pen (stylus) to makes notes, click on things etc.

All of the big boys, Dell, Gateway, etc are making this grossly overpriced devices. Microsoft even has a special version of Windows XP specifically for the Tablet PC.

One recent Sunday morning I was thinking about how I could produce a Tablet PC at a price that the average person could afford. The first hurdle was to find a suitable case to use.

Some rumaging in the kitchen garbage bin solved the problem. The night before we had had pizza.

The Pizza Hut box seemed the ideal size. Upon closer expection i noticed that there were a few grease stains, but I did not think that they would significantly affect the end result.

Having selected the case for my Tablet PC the next problem was where to source the internal components from. Seeing as this was very much a 'proof of concept' project the idea of spending countless hours haggling with vendors was out of the question. Some rumaging in my ever growing computer junk pile revealed a laptop that my wife sometimes uses.

Yes, this fine IBM Thinkpad would provide the perfect raw material for the Tablet PC.

Of course there was going to be the need for a little bit of reverse engineering. Armed with my trusty toolkit (Dollar store screwdriver) I went to work. I needed to get inside the case to get at all the 'good stuff'. I found some screws on the underside and made short work of them.

Likewise there were some on the back, again I removed them. Before getting into the serious demolition I decided that now would be a good time to remove all the bits that came off easily.

The Hard drive came out without a wimper.

As did the CD and the Battery

Then things started to get a little more difficult. The innards were akin to one of those chinese puzles! There was one particular metal cover that was an absolute bear to get off, I had to resort to some serious persuassion.

During this phase of te reverse engineering several parts fell off that I was unable to identify, bust suspect that it was something to do with the IR (Infra Red) sensor, and there was a small amount of collateral damage to the plastic case.

Pretty much the reverse engineering phase of the project was complete.

It was time to mount the Hardware in the new case. Unfortunatly the first boot-up on the Tablet PC was a little disapointing.

As you can see the display was way dark. A little bit of fiddling around rectified this.

And there it was, my own Tablet PC. Why would anyone spend over $1000 to purchase a Dell or Gateway Tablet PC when you can make your own at home. I calculate the entire cost of this project to be around $20 (cost of the pizza), everything else should be freely available from your own personal computer junk pile!

The only downside to this project was that my wife Jan was a little annoyed at the wanton destruction of her IBM Thinkpad!

Happy building folks! Have fun and enjoy!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

How I beat to a story!

I am a big fan of Wired magazine, and everyday I check out their Web site. For those of you that do not know Wired, its one of those high class, techy type rags. Full of articles about stuff that us poor mortals are unlikely to ever have enough money to buy.

When I am not fooling around writing blogs, and doing generally bad things to aging computers, typewriters etc. I do have a real job. I know this will come as a shock to many of you, but yes, Simon does actually work for a living.

I teach computer skills to the homeless and low income folks in Calgary, Alberta. I have been doing this for over 4 years. I know what the homeless do, and I know what the do not do.

The Wired story involved the homeless using laptops and Wi-Fi connections, yes they do this. (Oh by the way I should link to their article so that you can read about it for yourself.)

This is a story that I wrote about 6 months ago! Of course I do not write for Wired, I just write for me, but it was nice to see that at least some of my theories are shared by others.

A quick easy read is my comment on the digital divide.

A more detailed account of what I see happening is here (you MUST use Internet Explorer for this file, it is in a format that only IE understands)

If you are still not bored you can read the whole web page. It's only in the beginning stage of development and Lord only knows when it will be finished.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Too Much Time On Their Hands

I am a big fan of all things to do with computers, I love the innovation that has driven this industry forward at the speed of light, I also love those people that create things, just because they can. It is very much like the quote from the mountain climber when asked why he had climbed Everest, his reply was a simply "because it was there".

The computer industry has always been teeming with people that have that 'because it is there' attitude. I suppose that in some ways I have empathy with these pioneers, because I also suffer from the same problem. I spent almost a whole year persuading a perfectly good Apple G3 that what it really wanted to do was run Linux. You can read the sordid tale here.

Plus the various web sites that I create for no good reason, or even this blog, that eats up hours of otherwise perfectly good beer drinking time.

My humble efforts pale into insignificance when you see the efforts of others. There are many of them, unsung hero's of the truly pointless projects, I want to single just a few, that I feel should be immediatly inducted into the "Pointless Computer Projects Hall of Fame".

My top five is (It's my blog so I choose):

Coming in at number 5 is myself. I spent a year making one of my Apples run Linux, when I eventually got it running, I had nothing for it to do. My wife and I both chat on the IRC (Internet Relay Chat), in an attempt to 'learn more' about the IRC I set up my own IRC server on the BeerBox (another pointless project), the IRC tho does not consist of one server, but many. The Apple G3 became my second IRC server, so I have my own IRC network! Jan logs onto the BeerBox from her Windows XP box, and I log on to the Apple from my Windows XP box, and we chat online. That's fine exact we actually sit 3 feet from each other! Oh and there is no other traffic on this IRC network, so we tie up 4 computers to talk online.

My number 4 pick would have to be the creator of , now this is a guy with problems. The website consists of a Flash animation of badgers, snakes and the occasional mushroom, accompanied by a really catchy soundtrack. Five minutes of being badgered and you will be running for the padded room.

Coming in at number 3 has to be Google. Google is one of my favorite companies, they come out with the best free software, but occasionally you have to wonder what the hell was going through their minds! In order to make Google more international the front page offers a link to 'language preferences', from here you can select the language that you want to use, including Elmer Fud and Klingon. Give it a try!

Number 2 is actually something that several folks worked on. If you were involved in computers in the 1960's and 1970's you likely worked on an IBM mainframe, either a member of the 360 or 370 series of computers. These beasts needed a room the size of an aircraft hanger, special airconditioning, a false floor, good supply of water for the cooling system, fat check book to pay the electricity, and a swarm of really smart young and women to run it. Sometime in the early 1990's IBM released the various products into the public domain (MVT, MVS, JES2, TSO, VTAM, etc). Well an enterprising group of souls, with way to much time on their hands wrote some software so that you too can relive the halcyon days of MVS from the comfort of your PC. It is called Hercules, and if you are old (like I am) it is a blast from the past.

The king of pointless computer projects, the one that takes the cake, is the Japanese gentleman that created an Excel spreadsheet that plays Pacman. If you don't believe me, take a look.

I use this spreadsheet in one of my Excel classes as an example of just how big a spreadsheet can be. As I recall it is 256 columns x 6000 rows! To see the game board you have to zoom out to 10%.

Yup, this has to be the winner!

Monday, June 19, 2006


You should check this out, it is a Google Maps Mashup that shows where the web site visitors are from. If you look in my Links list on the right of the page you will see a MapStat button, click on it and see.

I love free stuff, and this is a neat little function.

Online Chat, Is It A Good Thing?

Online chat is one of those area's of the internet that generates huge amount of comment in the national press. Mostly of a negative nature. Pedofiles apparently troll the internet looking for young girls, and in some cases young boys. If you read the press, online chat is something created by Satan himself.

I have been an online chatter for many years. In fact it was through online chat that I met my wife. It was through online chat that I have met many really fine people, and have formed friendships that will last for many years.

Yes there are some less than desirable individuals that I have met over the years, but hell I can meet people just like them by going to my local bar!

In 1997 I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks driving from San Diego to Detroit, it took two weeks because I stopped and visited with some of the people that I had met online. It was a blast!

Of course not all chat is born equal. There is a distinct snobbery involved. Real chatters (those that have a few years under their belt) like to use the 'real' internet chat system Internet Relay Chat (IRC). To this using Windows, you will need a chat client, by far the best is Mirc. The big advantage with IRC is the number of networks and their diversity. You name the subject, there is a channel for you.

My wife runs an Undernet channel #Cajun_delight. It is supposed to be about all things Cajun, but it is actually your basic BullSh!t channel. A great place to while away a couple of hours.

I run a channel #Attic, that's only claim to fame is that the Bartender (Bot) will play UNO with you.

Our friends run a channel #hunting, yes a couple of the folks hunt, but mostly its another BullSh!t session.

definitely the IRC is a great place to visit. Google up Mirc, and get started!

Online chat is big business and that is why all the big players want a piece of this action, Yahoo, AOL, MSN, and Google all have products. To us chat 'professionals' and my wife is the 'chat queen' these are ok products but they are just not quite as much fun as IRC.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

MTBF (Mean Time Between Failure)

MTBF is one of those great computer acronyms. The theory behind it is that companies that manufacture computer parts give an estimate on how long they think those parts will work.

MTBF has been around a long time. Even the earliest computers, like the ENIAC had a MTBF. In the case of the ENIAC it was a fairly small amount of time, 8 hours to be exact. Every 8 hours you could expect the beast to crash, worse than that, the poor repair men had to replace about 50 vacuum tubes.

The modern computer has come a long way from the 1940's ENIAC, the MTBF is no longer measured in hours or days, not even months! The MTBF for a modern hard drive is in the 50 to 75 year range.

That was not a typo, the manufacturers are claiming that if you apply power to the unit, you can reasonably expect it to still be spinning in 50 years time. Pretty wild claim I say. For one thing, none of the modern technology has been in existence for more than a few years.

It is a bit like saying that Ford engines will run for 3 million miles. To produce the statistics in a timely fashion you could not possibly run a single engine for 3 million miles. Traveling at a constant 55 mph it would take somewhere in the region of 6 years to complete this test. Instead they run many engines for a short period of time, and using the wonderful world of statistics (that never lie) tell us that statistically speaking, the truck engine should do 3 million miles.

So, back to the MTBF of hard drives. I probably have more computers than the average person. Its my hobby, and also my way of making a living. In the past 2 days I have had 2 hard drives go 'south' on me. Neither drive was more than 4 years old.

At work I run a computer lab with 16 computers. In the past year I have had at least 6 hard drive failures.

So, the question is.... Does MTBF mean anything? Maybe I am just unlucky, and someone will have a hard drive that will run for 400 years! Oh I love statistics!

My advice is, always make sure that you have a backup of your data.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Free Stuff

Everyone likes free stuff. Well this story actually happened several months ago, and I know that blogs are suposed to be 'now and happening', but I will tell you about it anyway!

Jan and I were bored one Sunday morning. We started wondering if there were any really good 'free' things to be had on the internet. A little bit of Googling revealed a whole world of free stuff online.

Our first stop was Charmin toilet tissue, it turned out that they had just started to sell extra large rolls of toilet paper, these rolls are too big to fit in the regular toilet paper holder. Charmin were offering a 'Toilet paper holder' extender for free, with free shipping and handling! Well who good resist an offer like that, we signed right up for this great offer.

Jan focused on useful stuff like shampoos and asprins, while I took the high road, and looked for the more esoteric products.

In total we put about 4 hours work into the 'free stuff' project, and then we waited. A couple of weeks passed with no neat stuff arriving in our mailbox, we were not surprised as most of the offers said that it could take 2 to 8 weeks to ship.

Then the onslaught happened. Free stuff in the mail! The charmin toilet paper extender was one of the first to arrive. We were so excited, we tore into the package. Our first truly free thing from the net! And there it was, a small piece of plastic tubing worth about 2 cents!

Over the next few weeks we had a pretty constant supply of free things. Just a few of the things received included:

  • Tylenol and Motrim
  • Some feminine hygiene products (aka Tampax)
  • Refrigerator magnets
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Hand and body lotion
  • Rosaries (we could have got a boat load of bibles, but we thought that people would start calling us!)
As I mentioned earlier I took the high road in my search. My treasures include:

  • A cooking magazine from Kraft that arrives every couple of months, and it is quite good.
  • Railway Age , a monthly magazine for people working in the railway industry, it makes for great bathroom reading, much better than Readers Digest.
  • The Canada Post stamp collectors magazine, this is a quarterly rag about Canadian stamps (again good for the bathroom)
  • A really nice visitors guide to Newfoundland, very glossy, lots of pictures.
  • A lifetime supply of pamphlets about how to cook beans courtesy of the Ontario Bean Producers Organization!
  • A Moosehead Beer lapel pin

If you find yourself at a loose end one weekend, you should give 'free stuff' a try!

Dogged by the Neighbours!

Unfortunatly we have new neighbours upstairs. A young couple with a damn dog. I am very much an animal lover, but this one is headed for the BBQ!

It is becoming such a damn pest, and such a sore point in the family that I decided to create a web page.

Alas my landlord is on vacation for the summer, but I am sure he is gonna be pissed when he gets back!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Googles Contextual Adverts

The concept is great. Google places ad's on web sites depending on the subject of the web page. For example if the subject of the web page is Dogs, the google ad's will be about Dogs, and dog products, food, training etc.

You don't need a PHD in astrophysics to see that this makes good sense. If people are going to look at adverts the best adverts to put on the page are ones that are linked in some fashion to the actual content.

Alas, it does not always give you the results you expect. I was checking my Gmail account today, and decided to see what was in my junk folder...........

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Digital Cameras (from HP Photosmart to Hasselblad)

Several years ago I had the opportunity to play with a couple of Digital Cameras, to say that I was unimpressed is an understatement. I could not for the life of me believe that anyone would fork over huge amounts of money for something that at best was not quite as good as a $5 disposable Kodak 110. I must admit that I maintained that stance until fairly recently.

The industry has marched forth despite my early comments. Right now there are some excellent cameras on the market. At the low end of the price range is the HP Photosmart series.
The most basic HP Photosmart retails for about $140, while most of the Photosmart series is in the $300-$500 range. Not only do they take great photos, they also come with the ability to plug directly into HP Photosmart printers. You do not even need a computer!

One of my friends has a Photosmart R817 and he let me take it for a whirl. This is one of those cameras that you just cannot fail with. The quality of the results is outstanding.

BUT..... If you want something that is truly amazing, something that will just blow your digital socks off, then you need to check out what Hasselblad is up to. The Hasselblad H2D is their incredibly high end Digital Camera. This monster is a 39 megapixel camera. I hear you ask "so how much is one of these critters?". Well prices vary, but after tax you can reasonably expect to pay about $1000 per megapixel.

Yes you read that right, to be the proud owner of a Hasselblad H2D your credit card is going to be about $37,000 lighter. I could not even imagine what the monthly payments would look like!

Oh and of course you probably will need a couple of spare digital backs, a couple of lenses, and a nice swanky bag to put your new toy in. I would say that $60,000 is probably a good round figure for the entire kit!

My budget alas did not quite go that far, so I did the next best thing. I went to Wal Mart and bought a Concord 1500 digital camera, this is a pretty basic unit that you point and shoot. The good news was that my total investment was $60, making it approximately 1/1000 of the cost of the Hasselblad H2D.

Now all I have to do is figure out what I am going to spend the other $59,940 on!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Still harping on about Net neutrality

Once again the politicians have turned a very simple concept into one so complex and mangled it is hard to figure out what the hell anyone is voting for or against.

It is clear tho that whatever side AT&T, Verison, etc is backing, is bad news for everyone except AT&T, Verison etc.

The two sides have created their own spins on the basic definition of 'Net neutrality', neutrality to AT&T means that the government keeps their fingers out of the pie and lets AT&T charge whatever they like for whatever service they wish to provide. This effectively produces a tiered internet. They can opt to prioritize traffic. If Google opts to pay a premium to AT&T, At&T will prioritize Google traffic over lets say Yahoo traffic. This is bad for the consumer, it goes against the grain of what the internet was designed for.

I read a delightful 'take' on this today. I would give credit, but alas I cannot remember the web site. Anyway, the story went like this......

You want a pizza, and you have the number of Joes' Pizza, its a small family operated business based in your local strip mall. You call the number... Ring Ring..... Then hear a recording, "Your call to Joes Pizza will take approximately 5 mins to complete, if you press 1 we can connect you to Boston Pizza right away".

Now none of us would like it if the phone company did that! If we want Joes pizza, we expect the phone company to give us the same priority as they would give us if we were calling Boston Pizza, or anyone else.

In the communications industry this is known as being a "Common Carrier", you merely carry the traffic, you do not make any attempt to prioritize it. Fred call to his girlfriend is just as important as Joes call to his bank, or cindy's call to Wal Mart. No one gets more priority than anyone else.

I think it is vital that the internet backbone remain in 'common carrier' mode.

On the rare occasions that one of the AT&T people speak using English their argument is usually about how the rapid growth of the internet is putting strain on the backbone infrastructure, and there is a need to fund enhancement of the big pipes that carry this traffic.

This is a load of phoey! If you go playing in the world of Telcom you will discover that in the late 80's and early 90's the telcoms laid a whole lot of fiber optic cable. Most of which has never been used. Try a google search on "dark fiber". It is everywhere! The infrastructure exists, they just have to start using it!

On a lighter note, maybe if AT&T were not so busy building funky little rooms in their facilities and splitting the fiber so that copies of all internet backbone traffic went into these funky little rooms maybe they could spare some manpower to turn on the 'dark fiber'. If you have been living in Outer Mongolia and do not understand that last comment chack out , and read EFF v AT&T.

Ok, nuf of ranting for today.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Flat Surfaces, the good, the bad, and the ugly!

I have always been a fan of flat surfaces. They are in my humble opinion a 'must have'. When my wife and I first moved into our current cave (appartment), we were sadly lacking in flat surfaces. I had a six foot folding table for the main computers, and that was it.

It was ok for a week or so, but gradually the nagging started, "we need a kitchen table".

The kitchen table was suplied by my neighbor Bud, Bud is a collector of 'stuff'. It does not matter much what the 'stuff' is, he collects it.

I noticed that Bud had a green garden (plastic, and slightly used) table. Over a nice chat I asked him how much he wanted for it, "If you can carry it it is yours", he tells me. OK, so now we have a bright green plastic patio table in the kitchen. No problem! A white cloth and it looks like a regular table (just not quite as sturdy as a real one).

Over the next few months the collection of flat surfaces grew, one night while returning from a trip to the beer store I noticed that our local doctor had thrown out several rather nice flat surfaces. It took 4 trips with the Safeway shopping cart I borrowed to get them home.

"What is the point of this post?", I hear you ask. Well I think my love of flat surfaces is rubbing off on my wife. I was out in the backyard yesterday when she got back from a trip to Wal Mart, she had decided to walk down the back alley and when she saw me she shouted "Oh honey, oh honey, come look what I found". So off I went, she led me about 10 feet down the alley, and pointed. "Look honey a flat surface". There was a coffee table in the bushes!

It must be catching, even Jan is now refering to them as flat surfaces.

Unfortunatly the surfaces do not remain flat for long in out household. Most are covered in computers or typewriters.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Google Trends and Nipples

If you read my previous post you will have seen Google trends. I really like it, I think it is a hoot to play with. Maybe there are even sensible things that you can do with it. But, for me the using it for inane purposes is my favorite.

I did an analysis of the search term 'Nipple', I was quite surprised by the result. The country with the most searches for 'Nipple' was India. As far as the US was concerned it was in a solid second place, tho there was a huge spike in 'Nipple' searches right after the Janet Jackson Super Bowl fiasco.

One of the other interesting facts that Google Trends revealed was the Germans do not seem to be interested in nipples as much as people from the Neatherlands and Belgium. I think this is bizzare, I had always pegged the germans as Nipple people! hahahahaha

Monday, June 05, 2006

Which is better? Calgary or Edmonton

Living in Alberta one of the subjects that often comes up is which city is better, Calgary or Edmonton. There is a good deal of rivalry between the two cities, Edmonton is the capitol, but Calgary is the Oil and Gas centre.

To the best of my knowlege there has never been a scientific study of which is the best city. I decided to change that!

A statistical analysis of Google search data shows this!

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Net Neutrality and Skype

If you have had your head buried in the techy web sites of late you may have come across the latest "in" internet debate over network neutrality. Although in my opinion it would be better to refer to it as 'network preferancing'.

What is it? Well, everything that happens on the internet is sent in little packets of data. When you look at a web site the information is sent to your computer in a series of packets. In some ways you can think of the internet being like a huge train, each carriage having its own destination, and your computer being a branch line of the railway. When a carriage needs to go to your station (because it has your address on it) the points switch, and it is routed to you.

This is fine as long as there is room on the mail line for all of the carriages, the designers of the internet were aware that they had to come up with a scheme for scheduling traffic at peek times. Their solution was to penalize unimportant carriages thereby making room on the track for more important information.

This can get very technical, but at its most simplistic, an important carriage is one that a human is actively waiting for, an example would be a piece of webpage. An unimportant carriage would be one containing a piece of email. It does not matter if the email gets held up for a little while, the recipient is not (well not generally) sat in front of their computer waiting for the email.

I do not think that anyone would have any problems with this scheduling system. Indeed this is the system that has been in use for more than 20 years.

Let us add another complexity to our railway, let us say that the railway is not owned by one single company, but is broken up into many companies each owning a geographic area, California, Texas, Alberta, etc. Because of some government regulations each railway company must accept the rail cars coming from other areas, even if all they are doing is passing though on route to another area. In the telecommunications world this is known as being a 'Common Carrier'.

Well for the common good all of the railway companies they have an agreement to honor all carriages regardless of where the carriages come from or go to. And that is to their mutual benefit.

unfortunately the railway companies seem to be wanting to change the way they work. The really misnamed "network neutrality" is all about making the internet into a tiered system, and your data travels, first , bushiness or economy class depending on who you are and what you pay.

This goes against the very grain of what the Internet is. Basically the railway companies want to pick and choose what carriages they will carry and at what speed.

OK, lets convert all of this into the real world. The railway companies are really the Telco's, the baby bells, that we all know and love. They were the only people that had the infrastructure to carry internet data, and so are the de facto owners of the internet. Their mission in life is to maximize their profits, or as I like to say 'wring that last dollar out of that 20 year old copper wire coming into your house'.

The telco's are grumpy because they can see their profit base being eroded by the internet.

A good example is Skype, which thankfully is now part of the 800lb gorilla E-Bay. Skype is a technology that allows you to make phone calls over the internet. Better still it allows for free long distance anywhere in Canada and the US. From a consumers point of view, why would I want to pay Telus (my telco) 10 cents a minute when I can get it for free?

Telus obviously has a bit of an axe to grind with Skype, if everyone used Skype then Telus would lose all of long distance revenue, even worse, it is losing revenue and carrying the traffic on its internet infrastructure, a double whammy.

This is where 'Network neutrality' comes into play. I am not saying that Telus is doing this, but it would not take a great leap of faith to imaging the Telus railway from wanting to penalize any carriages that have the Skype name associated with them.

As a matter of fact I have noticed an increase in dropped calls on Skype, so my money is on the fact that they are already doing this.

My vote is, we keep the net nuetral!

Further reading:

This LA Free press article mentions both Telus and Shaw Cable
This web page goes into a lot of detail

Friday, June 02, 2006

John LeCarre, Absolute Friends

I have been a John LeCarre fan for more years than I care to remember. He is one of the great writers of our time. With one exception I have read all of his books many times. That book, took me 10 years to read, I'd pick it up, get 50 pages in, and return it to the bookshelf for another year!

I guess if I was asked to describe his style, it would be James Bond without the Armani Suits, the martinis, the women, the fast cars, and the gadgets. LeCarre's heroes, are always anti heroes, they are down trodden, the 'working class' of the spy industry.

When the Berlin Wall came down, and the USSR collapsed into a gazzilion countries that all seemed to end in ...stan, Khazakstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, etc. I was worried, no 'Cold War' would put John LeCarre on the shelf. Not so, He continued to produce some fine books, maybe not quite as good as the ones with George Smiley, Karla, Peter Guillam, and the always engaging Connie Sachs, but they were fun romps into the 'New World Order'.

I recently managed to get hold of a copy of his latest book, "Absolute Friends", anyone that is a LeCarre fan will fall in love with this book. It is classic LeCarre. Although the time is present, most of the action is 'Cold War'.

A couple of years ago LeCarre made a minor stir with an article that he wrote regarding America's penchant of anointing themselves the saviors of the universe. This generally being achieved by using lots of big bombs, and fine technology.

Absolute Friends is in many ways the novel based on the essay. It is so well crafted that it is not till you get to the last page that you realize you have been conned!

I like the book so much, that as soon as I read the last page, I started again on page one.

A leCarre book always needs a couple of reads till you get the whole plot.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Dan Brown, Heretic or Hero?

Unless you have being living under a rock for the past few years you have heard about Dan Browns book 'The Da Vinci Code'. It is certainly a work that people have strong thoughts about. There are no shades of grey, you either love it, or you hate it.

The Catholic church has certainly come out on the 'hating it' side. That's a shame really, because it is just a work of fiction that interjects certain bits of historical fact. That in my opinion is not grounds for excommunication! Although I do seem to recall that the Catholic church did such a thing to ...... For his outrageous idea that the world was a sphere. It was not till 197? That they actually admitted their mistake in this.

Dan Brown, is not the first author to tread the somewhat slippery path, but he certainly is the most famous. Two other books spring to mind.

Irving Wallace wrote a book titled "The Word", the concept behind this novel was the discovery of a new gospel, the contents of which were at odds with the accepted bible. It was a great book, I can recommend it.

Steve Templeton also played with the traditional rules in his book "Act of God", in this story Jesus's bones are found, this makes the whole Gethsemene story incorrect!

Neither Wallace, nor Templeton faced the wrath of the church like Dan Brown has. There is a quote from Shakespeare that springs to mind "She doth protest too much". It is ok to not like things, there are many things I do not like. My approach to bad things, is to avoid it.

The church on the other hand has made a huge deal out of an accepted work of fiction. All they have really done is increase the sales of the book.

Both Wallace and Templeton wove their novel around historical facts, and yet they escaped unscathed. Why should the church unleash their wrath on Dan Brown?

Well the simple answer would be the conspiracy theory, Dan has it right! I must admit that even I (a devout fence sitter) find that unlikely.

I suspect that the real reason is somewhat deeper. Dan Brown is a very good writer, his tale is well crafted, his use of existing props makes it so much more irresistible. His choice of enemy in Opus Dei is priceless. This little known organization, while not secret, certainly prefers a low profile.

The use of Da Vinci's paintings is beyond creativity. I will be the first to agree that in "The Last Supper" the person on Jesus's right hand looks female. This is a subject that has been argued over for many decades, is it Mary Magdalene, or is it John?

In fact all of the subjects talked about in the book are old and well known. Maybe it is just that he has brought them all together that has the churches knickers in a knot?

Anyway, my take is, it's a good read, it's a fun book, go for it! (and piss your local religious leader off by asking about Da Vinci's last supper, and why the Gnostic gospels are not part of the bible).