Hackers broke into an electronic sign near Austin, TX to warn travellers about the zombie apocalypse! woo hoo!


posted at 8:32 pm on Wednesday, January 28, 2009 in Humour, Links | Comments Off on zombies?

nut allergy hysteria

Who would have thought that a threat to children would be exaggerated by parents, teachers, and the media? “Not I,” he said sarcastically…

“BBC News – Warning of nut allergy ‘hysteria'”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7773210.stm

bq. Measures to protect children with nut allergies are becoming increasingly absurd and hysterical, say experts.

bq. A peanut on the floor of a US school bus recently led to evacuation and decontamination for fear it might have affected the 10-year-old passengers.

bq. Professor Nicolas Christakis, a professor of medical sociology at Harvard Medical School, told the BMJ there was “a gross over-reaction to the magnitude of the threat” posed by food allergies, and particularly nut allergies.

bq. In the US, serious allergic reactions to foods cause just 2,000 of more than 30 million hospitalisations a year and comparatively few deaths – 150 a year from all food allergies combined.

bq. Professor Christakis said the issue was not whether nut allergies existed or whether they could occasionally be serious. Nor was the issue whether reasonable preventative steps should be made for the few children who had documented serious allergies, he argued.

bq. “The issue is what accounts for the extreme responses to nut allergies.”

bq. He said these responses were extreme and had many of the hallmarks of mass psychogenic illness (MPI), previously known as epidemic hysteria.

bq. Often seen occurring in small towns, schools and other institutions, outbreaks of MPI involve healthy people in a flow of anxiety, most often triggered by a fear of contamination.

bq. Being around individuals who are anxious heightens others’ anxiety, leading to a self-perpetuating cycle which can spiral out of control.

(via “Bruce Scheier”:http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2008/12/nut_allergy_fea.html), who links to “Virginia Tech”:http://www.schneier.com/essay-171.html and “Thai Chili Sauce”:http://www.schneier.com/essay-195.html as other examples of MPI).

posted at 11:00 am on Tuesday, January 20, 2009 in Current Events, Links | Comments (2)
  1. Jeff K says:

    Not to slight the BBC, but there are a raft of things going on in British newspapers right now that seem very harmful and alarmist, mostly dealing with financial matters. Look around for “Britain bankruptcy”, “punish shareholders”, “end immigration”, “end public health-care”, “Nationalise all banks” (that 2nd last one is out of context, please be sure to read the source, er, “material”).

  2. chk says:

    British newspapers are more alarmist than most, ’tis true. But I’ve been seeing this level of irrational fear of nuts (and other things) around me and my kids for years, so I’ve started adding it to my blog. :)

internet threat overblown

Who would have thought that a threat to children would be exaggerated by parents, teachers, and the media? “Not I,” he said sarcastically…

I’m not sure how long this link will last, so check it out:

“Internet threat to minors overblown: study”:http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20090114.wgtminors0114/BNStory/Technology/?page=rss&id=RTGAM.20090114.wgtminors0114

bq. The report, released on Wednesday, suggests that the biggest threats to children’s safety online may come from other children, and that their own behaviour could contribute to the trouble they encounter.

bq. “The risks minors face online are complex and multifaceted and are in most cases not significantly different than those they face offline,

bq. They said bullying and harassment, especially by peers, are the most frequent problem minors face both online and elsewhere.

As an aside, I’m particularly amused by the “fairness in reporting” content later in the article. The CEO of a company that _sells software_ to protect minors says that “more needs to be done”. I’m sure everyone agrees that he’s hopelessly biased, but modern journalistic standards require that both sides of a dispute be covered equally, regardless of the distribution of supporters to nay-sayers or the inherent bias of either parties.

Granted, my excerpts are probably biased too, so go read the article yourself. :)

posted at 11:00 am on Friday, January 16, 2009 in Current Events, Links, Security | Comments Off on internet threat overblown

payroll websites

My employer uses payroll company A. My wife’s uses payroll company B.

Payroll company A sends me my pay stubs via epost.ca, Canada’s electronic bill presentation system. This is the same system that I use for all of my electronic billing, and the one that is linked to my online banking. In short, my pay stubs are in my normal document processing flow, just like they used to be in the paper mail world.

Payroll company B has their own separate website where I can view and download pay stubs. While the website generates PDFs, they look nothing like the paper versions (a strange choice, since now they have _two_ output formats to maintain). The website has all the usual usability issues, that I won’t go into here.

Guess which company I’d prefer to do business with? :-)

posted at 10:11 am on Thursday, January 15, 2009 in Personal | Comments Off on payroll websites

Denis McGrath – Skins

“Denis McGrath”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denis_McGrath is a Canadian television writer and producer. A couple of years back my friend Debbie “interviewed him”:http://www.blogto.com/books_lit/2007/06/dead_things_on_sticks_denis_mcgrath/ about his career and about “Blood Ties”:http://www.bloodtiestv.com/, the television version of “Tanya Huff”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanya_Huff’s Blood books. I recently rediscovered him while catching up on Season 2 of “The Border”:http://www.cbc.ca/theborder/, and subscribed to his weblog (“Dead Things ON Sticks”:http://heywriterboy.blogspot.com/) after finding info about the show there.

Anyway, long story short, Denis “recommended”:http://heywriterboy.blogspot.com/2008/08/skins.html a British show called “Skins”:http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0840196/, which he described as

bq. the teen show that nobody in North America would have the guts to do. It makes Degrassi or 90210 look like Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.

It’s definitely not for everyone; it has the North American demons of nudity/sex, drugs, foul language, all involving (gasp!) teenagers. But it also has the magic trio of good writing, acting, and characters; I’ve found it quite compelling. I worked my way through the nine episode series 1 over the Christmas break, and I’m just starting series 2. You can find Skins in Canada on The SuperChannel (and yes, I hear you all saying “wow, it still exists?” :-).

Oh, and “Denis’ blog”:http://heywriterboy.blogspot.com/ is an excellent read if you’re at all interested in television in general, and Canadian television in particular.

posted at 1:33 pm on Wednesday, January 14, 2009 in Links, TV | Comments Off on Denis McGrath – Skins

timing is everything

Take a new computer and install Windows XP. Connect it to the Internet to download service packs and other patches. Before you have finished downloading and installing, your computer will have been hacked. There are so many automated probes running that you’re almost 100% sure to be infected by one of them. Researchers do this all the time with honeypots, to find out what payloads are currently in the wild.

I had installed a new Windows 2003 Server, had finished downloading and installing SP2, and was in the middle of downloading and installing the 51 patches released since, when IT Security hacked into the server and shut it down (disabling TCP/IP and the boot, of course)…


posted at 9:37 pm on Wednesday, January 07, 2009 in Personal, Security | Comments (1)
  1. Ron says:

    One of my reasons I refuse to use Windows in “real life” ;-)

back to work

And what a way to come back to work it was!

Over the holidays, IT security used the Windows RPC flaw to “break in” to all of my Windows servers. The payload disabled TCP/IP in the registry, and modified the boot.ini to disable system startup. I spent today manually booting servers one by one and re-enabling TCP/IP, so that I could download and install the required patches. I am extremely glad that I have remote consoles on all of my servers, or I would have had to make the long trek out to Mississauga to fix everything!

The important servers are back up, but I probably have another day of this before everything’s back to normal. Ugh…

posted at 6:33 pm on Monday, January 05, 2009 in Personal, Security | Comments (1)
  1. David Brake says:

    So you and your own IT security bods are in some kind of ongoing war?


Christmas dinner was another success; Micki out-cooked herself once again!

Charlotte has recently become addicted to Food TV, and she and I have been watching Chef at Home. We decided to make a smoked salmon appetizer and a triple-chocolate dessert, along with our usual dinner rolls. It was a lot of work (especially the milk chocolate bowls!), and Charlotte carried the lion’s share, especially after I injured my hand. We pulled it off; granny was heard this morning proudly telling a friend about Charlotte’s dinner rolls and dark chocolate mousse dessert!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

posted at 1:53 pm on Friday, December 26, 2008 in Personal | Comments Off on christmas

choose your own video adventure

From “Chad, Matt, and Rob”:http://www.youtube.com/user/chadmattandrob comes a YouTube video version of Choose your own Adventure:

posted at 11:55 am on Wednesday, December 17, 2008 in Links | Comments Off on choose your own video adventure


Some days I’m embarrassed to be a software developer.

My employer just switched brokerage firms, so I have to go to the new firm’s website to register my account. So far:

– The registration page doesn’t allow punctuation in my userID, so I can’t use my e-mail address. I have to choose yet another impossible-to-remember, minimum 8-character userID. At least they have a “remember my userid” checkbox on the login page.
– There is a “Password Hint” feature for lost passwords. There are only four questions. The answer cannot contain spaces (making “who is your favorite teacher” hard to answer). The hint response is not displayed, so you can’t see what you’ve typed, but you only enter it once, so you can’t be sure it is correct.
– I entered my phone number in +1.416.555.1212 format (the ITU/ISO international standard for such things). It was re-written as 14165551212; I wonder what their employees will do with that if they ever try to call me? I’m actually kind of surprised it accepted an 11-digit number at all, come to think of it!

They have a “contact us” form:

– The form requires a company name. Without punctuation. My employer’s name is “Hewlett-Packard”. See the problem? :-)
– The form requires a phone number, but this time it must be ###-###-####. No exceptions. What if I have a problem when I’m on a business trip to Ireland?
– The message body cannot contain newline characters, making it hard to write intelligent messages to customer service…

I’m terrified to find out what’s going to happen once I try to trade my shares.

All of these issues are standard, common website usability issues, the ones that we all end up dealing with every day. UI experts have been ranting about stuff like this for at least a decade, but as far as I can tell, nobody is listening. It’s very depressing…

posted at 12:17 pm on Monday, December 15, 2008 in Programming, Rants | Comments Off on embarrassment

closed door

We closed the door in the office this morning for a party, to keep the kids out:


(The line at the bottom is the drive in the PVR, which is in the family room :-).

posted at 8:22 pm on Sunday, December 14, 2008 in Personal | Comments Off on closed door


One of my computers managed to get itself infected with that evil Trojan that keeps popping up the “Warning! Your Computer May Be Infected!” window, to convince you to download and install more nefariously evil software.

I’ve spent the last hour cleaning it with various utilities; they’re starting to report “0 infections” now.


posted at 10:25 pm on Tuesday, December 09, 2008 in Personal, Security | Comments Off on trojans


The girl speaks from the back seat:

bq. Is that one of those geek songs? Rock the Taskbar?

posted at 10:23 pm on Tuesday, December 09, 2008 in Humour, Personal | Comments Off on disclexia

sleep is good

“We’ll Fill This Space, but First a Nap”:http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/28/technology/28proto.htm?_r=1&oref=slogin

posted at 9:40 am on Wednesday, December 03, 2008 in Links, Science and Technology | Comments Off on sleep is good


I’ve been thinking of a netbook for the family room and/or for carrying around (especially on vacations), but I’ve been nervous about a few things, in particular the small screen and small keyboard.

Now I trip over an article on TechCrunch: “Three Reasons Why Netbooks Just Aren’t Good Enough”:http://www.techcrunch.com/2008/11/29/three-reasons-why-netbooks-just-arent-good-enough/ and two of the three reasons are the screen size and the keyboard! (The third is that they’re underpowered, especially if you’re stuck with one of the Vista-based ones).

I haven’t actually had a chance to put my fingers on one yet, either. I think I’ll wait a while longer…

posted at 8:56 pm on Saturday, November 29, 2008 in Personal | Comments (2)
  1. David Brake says:

    Arrington is such a whiner. The things he complains about are kinda obvious aren’t they? And some seem to be just his problem – eg not being able to scroll down without looking down at the kbd/mousepad. And I can’t believe 80% of a regular-sized keyboard isn’t easier to use than a blackberry-sized one for reasonable values of finger-size. As for speed you’re clever enough to install and use a version of Linux that would be sufficiently stripped down to be useable, no? Then again I seem to remember you’re not a big desktop linux fan…

  2. chk says:

    I’m a fairly heavy desktop user, and so my dislike of desktop Linux reflects that. Audio doesn’t work properly, the UI is inconsistent (at best, and unusable at worst :), and so on as reflected in many rants on the ‘net. It’s been getting better and better, but usability has always been open-source’s Achilles Heel.

    A netbook is a different beast, though; for me, it’s really a portable browser, with some local storage for simple documents and things like photo backup. And a Linux-based OS (especially something like Splashtop) is perfect for this environment, where Windows would be over-kill (and too bloated to run on a small device).

    I was already aware of the limitations of the screen and keyboard; I’m just not yet convinced that I would be able to put up with them. And for casual use, I don’t really want to spend $400CDN :)

internet takes over real world

The cartoon network managed to “rick-roll the Macy’s parade”:http://wilwheaton.typepad.com/wwdnbackup/2008/11/just-in-case-yo.html

(via Wil Wheaton).

posted at 9:13 am on Friday, November 28, 2008 in Humour, Links | Comments (1)
  1. Nita says:

    Yah – I saw this in a few places yesterday. Utterly brilliant for me, though I suspect confused the hell out of a lot of the non-internet savvy people…

rogers update

I appear to be back online.

* A technician came by my house on Thursday, spent less than 30 seconds “testing” my line, and then left without telling me anything about the neighbourhood-wide problem.
* A call center tech was able to tell me on Friday that they had isolated a “noise problem” in the area.
* A technician visiting the a neighbour was able to tell me that there was a signal problem in our six-house area, but he also didn’t know anything about the week-long, ongoing neighbourhood-wide problem.
* We had two analog cable outages on Friday, (recorded by my PVR, of course :) Since then my Internet connection has been rock-solid (other than my router locking up on Saturday night :).

I’d like to believe that it is unusual to have so many people working on the same problem and yet not talking to each other, but as I work for a large software company, I’m aware that this is the norm for most large organizations… *sigh.

posted at 11:05 am on Monday, November 24, 2008 in Personal, Rants | Comments Off on rogers update

overused cliches

* “Oxford compiles list of top ten irritating phrases”:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/debates/3394545/Oxford-compiles-list-of-top-ten-irritating-phrases.html
* “20 of your most hated cliches”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7733264.stm

I am dismayed by the number of these phrases I use…

posted at 10:59 am on Monday, November 24, 2008 in Personal | Comments Off on overused cliches

firefox 3 back button

The UI controls for Forward/Back in the new Firefox are strange. For a long time I believed that you couldn’t skip back multiple pages, something that I found extremely annoying! This finally bothered me enough that I performed a Google search, and found “Firefox 3 – Back Button UI Annoyance”:http://www.andersramsay.com/2008/06/11/firefox-3-back-button-ui-annoyance/ which explains that that little arrow next to the _Forward_ button is actually a history menu for _both_ Forward and Back!

counter-intuitive, indeed…

posted at 5:58 pm on Saturday, November 22, 2008 in Rants | Comments Off on firefox 3 back button

hospital visit

My son was knocked off his chair by a friend at school today. He ended up rolling under a table; when he tried to stand up, he bounced the back of his head off the underside of the table.

He was still feeling nauseated and dizzy an hour or so later, and had added shaky vision, so we trundled him off to the hospital. The wait was surprisingly short given the snow on the roads today, but still, by the time we saw the doctor he was feeling fine. The doctor ran him through a whole battery of basic neurological tests, and he passed (that’s my boy! :). They let us go with -a warning- instructions for head injuries.

He’s supposed to take it easy tomorrow, then try relatively mild exercise on Friday; if he can tolerate that without problems, then he’s allowed to play hockey on Saturday.

By the time we arrived at school to collect his sister, everyone was talking about how my son’s friend had “knocked him out” in class this morning! I love how rumors travel through a population like a school or an office… :-)

posted at 6:32 pm on Wednesday, November 19, 2008 in Personal | Comments Off on hospital visit
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