Billing System Confusion

From “Jim O’Halloran’s Weblog”: :

bq. In March, 1999, a man living in Kandos (near Mudgee in NSW) received a bill for his as yet unused gas line stating that he owed $0.00. He ignored it and threw it away. In April he received another bill and threw that one away too.

The story has a happy ending, which surprised me until I realised that it occured in Australia. I wonder if the outcome would have been as positive if the situation had occured in the United States or Canada?

posted at 11:36 am on Friday, March 28, 2003 in Odd | Comments (1)
  1. Mariann says:

    That’s hilarious.

Changes at BAKKA

After 22 years, John Rose has sold BAKKA Books, the local Toronto Science Fiction and Fantasy bookshop, to Ben Freiman. John writes:

bq. I had a lot of fun in the years I owned the store, but I’ve been behind the counter a long time, and it’s really time for a change. I owned BAKKA for more than twenty-two years. I sold a lot of great books in those years and met a lot of great people, authors, publishers and customers alike. I began to look for someone who could take over the store, to bring a fresh energy, a new attitude and a renewed interest, to keep it going. Ben’s offer came along in the fall and I decided to accept it.

In what _might_ be a timeworn cliche, the name has changed to “Bakka-Phoenix Books”.

Changes are happening already; the store has been re-arranged a bit, and is getting a new paint job. Ominously, while BAKKA has been an Apple-based store for the 17 years I’ve been a customer, there’s a new Wintel box sitting on the counter next to the old cash register &ltgrin&gt.

On a more serious note Chris, Michelle, and Tara will continue at the store, and will probably be even more active in running the place than they were before. That continuity will be very important, and I’m glad to see it.

There’s more! John resisted the Internet for a long time, and with good reason (IMO); running an online catalog and ordering system is a full-time job, and puts one in closer competition with the behemoths and Future Fantasy in Palo Alto made a name for themselves with one of the first online SF&F catalogs, yet they still went under (Granted, they had a crappy physical location). Anyway, the new store will have “a website”: There’s nothing there yet, but I’m told of plans for both “coming soon” and “wishlist” sections, which will make me very happy…

All in all, it sounds like a good thing. I knew John was getting tired, and I’m happy that he found a positive way to move on. I’ve been a loyal customer of the store for 17 years, and so I wish Ben and the staff the best of luck with the new store, and hope it continues to be around for a long time!

posted at 9:43 am on Wednesday, March 26, 2003 in Books, Miscellaneous | Comments Off on Changes at BAKKA

mini vacation

Last week we drove up to Ottawa, to celebrate Christmas with my family there. Christmas? In March? well, for a lot of different reasons we had decided to stay in Toronto over Christmas this year, instead of our usual, hectic, visit everyone whirlwind tour. Then in January my mum got sick, and this is the first chance we’ve had to visit since then.

We left Wednesday. The drive up was pleasant; good weather and less traffic than we’re used to. We stopped at Ponderosa in Belleville, and I had my first steak since I started Weight Watchers. I’d forgotten how _good_ they tasted! The kids slept most of the rest of the way to Ottawa, a pleasant surprise!

Because of Mum’s illness, we couldn’t stay at her house, so we we found a local hotel that has two-room suites, each with a kitchenette. A little grocery shopping and we were set for meals for the week. With my sister’s tenant discount for living in a building run by the same property managers, the week wasn’t that expensive.

The kids were climbing the walls (literally) on Thursday, so we needed to find a place for them to run off some of that energy before seeing granny for dinner. A quick trip to the yellow pages yielded a possibility, so we drove over (nothing is far away in Ottawa). It turned out to be _huge_; the climber was about 30′ tall, and big enough for the adults. I spent a couple of hours chasing the kids around the thing! There was a large game of “monster” going, with several parents chasing many children, by the time we had to leave for dinner.

On Saturday night my sister took the kids to Disney on Ice and a sleepover; we had an entire night to ourselves! We saw Chicago, which we loved… Saturday was Christmas (where the kids made out like bandits :-). Sunday we drove back to Toronto in our best time ever; 5:15 from downtown Ottawa to home, including a stop for lunch at Wendy’s in Perth. The weather was excellent for driving, and the kids played nicely with each other (and with us) the whole trip home.

It was good to see my sister again, although as usual we didn’t get much time together. Mum is looking better than I expected. All in all, a very good trip!

posted at 10:02 pm on Monday, March 24, 2003 in Personal | Comments Off on mini vacation

One Year

Well, it’s been a year since I started this thing. My intention was to play with technology, and I’ve certainly succeeded in that! As with many things, this toy has taken on a life of its own; it’s kinda fun writing about the things I find interesting (even if nobody else is reading them :-). In the process I’ve met some new, interesting people, an unexpected bonus…

I started with Movable Type, but the “technology” list has expanded quite a bit:

* “Apache”: (1 and 2)
* “IPv6”:
* “mod_ssl”: and certificate based access controls
* “Python”:
* “PHP”:
* “XHTML, CSS, and friends”:
* “MySQL”:
* “mod_gzip”:
* “Wiki”:

The server was upgraded by an order of magnitude (something I never blogged about, apparently), thanks to “Greg Wilson”: and so I’ve been playing with other related software:

* “tomcat”: for the students
* “mailman”: to make it easier for my users to run their own mailing lists
* “postfix”: originally because it plays well with Mailman, additionally for its anti-spam features
* “squirrel mail”: webmail for me and my users
* “courier imapd”: because it uses maildir, which makes squirrel much faster

This is fun. I think I’ll keep it going for another year…

posted at 1:40 pm on Thursday, March 20, 2003 in Personal | Comments (1)
  1. yawn
    Bored now….

Big Fat Pipes Don’t Make Money

Articles by “Brad Choate”:, “Tim Bray”:, and “Doc Searls and David Weinberger”: talk about wanting a big, fat bit-pipe with no additional services.

I agree with the sentiment; I want to be able to buy a cheap, reasonable bandwidth, always-on, completely unfiltered and unlimited connection to the Internet. Sadly, I also believe that’s a pipe dream (pun intended).

Simply put, there’s no profit in bit-pipes. No sensible business person starts a new project knowing that they’re going to be competing on price from day one. It’s hard to make money supplying pipes, whether they’re carrying electricity, natural gas, water, or bits; the people making money are the ones selling the content of those pipes (electricity, natural gas, or bits :-). So anyone with an Internet project these days wants to be in the content-for-sale business, not the business of delivering that content.

In the pipe market, one of two things usually happens. The first is a regulated monopoly; this is typical of electricity, natural gas, cable TV, and other commodities where physical constraints mean that a shared infrastructure makes sense. The second is fierce competition; in this case, basic service gets sold at a net _loss_, and the providers are forced to balance the books by trying to sell low-cost, add-on services with a larger profit margin. That certainly explains the current cell-phone marketplace, and describes current broadband internet providers perfectly.

The easiest way to sell “add-on” services is to introduce artificial restrictions, such as time-of-day blackouts, or bandwidth restrictions, or monthly usage caps. Then a provider can sell the same service _without_ one or more restrictions at an artificially higher price. Cable and DSL providers here in Toronto are already offering three tiers of service; -Lite (usually bandwidth restricted to 128Kbps in both directions), -Normal (typical high-speed with uplink caps, monthly caps, and the “no servers” AUP, and -SOHO or -Business, which typically give static IP addresses, allow servers, and have slightly higher bandwidth limits. (I’m not talking about true Business DSL here, that’s still a separate beast, and often provided by a different division of the corporation). -Lite is artificially restricted and priced to compete with telephone Internet providers, and -Normal is artificially restricted purely to justify a higher-cost service tier.

To make things worse, the tragedy of the commons applies. To make any communications service cost effective, resources have to be shared, and as soon as that happens, somone shows up to abuse the shared resource at the expense of everyone else. There’s always some guy who downloads every new game demo, or runs a music sharing service or a warez site; and that guy is congesting the network that I want to use for e-mail and web-browsing. So even if we could get rid of financially motivated artificial barriers, we’d end up with an under-provisioned network that wouldn’t function well.

I think there’s a market for fast, always on connections, but I think we’re going to have to accept the artificial restrictions put in by providers in order to differentiate themselves. Uplink bandwidth restrictions, or monthly bandwidth caps, or restricted access to HTTP or SMTP will continue to be unavoidable, in my opinion…

posted at 1:55 pm on Tuesday, March 18, 2003 in Random Thoughts | Comments Off on Big Fat Pipes Don’t Make Money

Good Weather and Maple Syrup

Wow, what a weekend. It was +8°C on Saturday, and almost +12°C on Sunday, with lots of sunshine. Everything has finally started melting with the heat, so on Saturday I removed the 3″ layer of ice from the sidewalk, and broke up a bunch of other snowbanks and ice jams. Our driveway is now completely clear (instead of having just enough space cleared for the cars). The ice dam on the north roof has mostly melted away, a good thing since it looked heavy enough to tear the eavestrough off the side of the house.

I went for a nice drive on Saturday to move to its final location; it was so warm in the car I had to take my coat off and open the window a bit, which of course reminded me that the driver’s side window mechanism is broken (it lost a battle with ice a couple of months ago). It sure cooled off fast once the sun went down…

Sunday was our planned expedition to the “Bruce’s Mill Sugarbush Maple Syrup Festival”: with several families from the kids’ school. The kids mostly ran around and played in the snow, and rode the horse-drawn wagons, and generally ignored the details of maple syrup production, but that’s ok; they’ve all got cabin fever after this long cold winter. It was wonderful to be _out_ without losing the feeling in one’s fingers!

Of course, I ate too many pancakes…

posted at 1:41 pm on Monday, March 17, 2003 in Personal | Comments Off on Good Weather and Maple Syrup

Spell Checkers don’t?

Beware the spellchecker! From NewScan Daily for 17 March 2003:

bq. A study at the University of Pittsburgh reveals that the ubiquitous spellchecker software may be doing as much harm as good, when it comes to writing. In the study, 33 undergraduate students were asked to proofread a one-page business letter — half of them using Microsoft Word, with its spell- and grammar-checking features and the other half using only their brains. Without the software, students with higher SAT verbal scores made, on average, five errors, compared with 12.3 errors made by students with lower scores. However, using the software, the two groups made about the same number of errors — 16 vs. 17. Dennis Galletta, a professor of information systems at the Katz Business School, says people have come to rely on spellchecking software too completely. “It’s not a software problem, it’s a behavior problem.” (AP 14 Mar 2003)

posted at 1:28 pm on Monday, March 17, 2003 in Odd | Comments Off on Spell Checkers don’t?

English sans French

What would English be like without French?
This Christian Science Monitor article explores the possibilities:

The Franco-American dispute falling out over the best approach way to disarming Iraq take away Iraq’s weapons has resulted in perhaps the highest level of anti-French feeling in the United States Lands since 1763.

Worth it for the humour value, at least…

posted at 11:15 am on Monday, March 17, 2003 in Current Events | Comments Off on English sans French

Slow response for the next week

“”: is also “”:, hosting a couple of “UofT”: “Computer Science”: “project courses”: The students are in the final crunch of developing a servlet-based application.

The students have set things up so that they are sandboxed from each other (a good idea). Unfortuantely, this means that tomcat is loading separate copies of all of the support classes, one for each student.

The net result is that tomcat wants twice as much memory as is available on the box, causing aggressive paging activity. Expect both the webserver and e-mail to be a little slow for the next couple of weeks, until they’re done…

posted at 4:19 pm on Thursday, March 13, 2003 in Site News | Comments Off on Slow response for the next week

The Vocabulary Test

I got 155 on the Peter Schmies’s Word Classification Test, much better than I expected. Apparently all of that Latin in grade school paid off…

posted at 2:31 pm on Wednesday, March 12, 2003 in Links | Comments Off on The Vocabulary Test

The Tyranny of Email

Critical Section – The Tyranny of Email

bq. Email is one of the greatest things the computer revolution has done for personal productivity. Used improperly, it can also hurt your productivity. This article discusses ways to use email effectively. Then it goes beyond that and talks about how to be productive, period.

posted at 3:28 pm on Tuesday, March 11, 2003 in Programming | Comments Off on The Tyranny of Email

Freedom Fries? Oh please…

This is getting _completely_ rididculous. In a Yahoo! News story, we read:

bq. House cafeterias will be serving fries with a side order of patriotism Tuesday with a decision by GOP lawmakers to replace the “French” cuisine with “freedom fries.”

bq. The House action follows moves by several restaurants around the country to remove “French” fries from their menus to protest French opposition to U.S. military action in Iraq.

Don’t they have more important things to do? This is kindergarten diplomacy, fer crissakes!!

They’re called “french” fries because the process of cutting things into long skinny strips like that is called “frenching”. It’s apparently called that because the English couldn’t handle the word “julienne”…

posted at 2:16 pm on Tuesday, March 11, 2003 in Current Events | Comments Off on Freedom Fries? Oh please…

get_weather_ca update

Another get_weather_ca update for misterhouse. Environment Canada reformatted their text-only web page again:

* they changed a bunch of ULs to DLs.
* They re-ordered the sections on the page (messing up the forecast finder).
* they added spaces _before_ all of the colons.

I also added a “[Read,Show] weather forecast” to my code/ code, and fixed a minor bug in the dewpoint calculator. Of course, that code only gets triggered when something is broken these days, because EC now publishes the dew point as part of the data.

The patch is against 2.78; I haven’t upgraded to 2.79 yet. (It figures that as soon as 2.79 was released, my code would be obsoleted again :-)

You can download:

* “patch against misterhouse 2.78”:
* “weather_ca.tar.gz”:
* “”:

posted at 10:01 am on Monday, March 10, 2003 in Programming | Comments Off on get_weather_ca update

How to recognize Bad Science

Robert L. Park has written The Seven Warning Signs of Bogus Science:

bq. I began this list of warning signs to help federal judges detect scientific nonsense. But as I finished the list, I realized that in our increasingly technological society, spotting voodoo science is a skill that every citizen should develop.

The list:

# The discoverer pitches the claim directly to the media.
# The discoverer says that a powerful establishment is trying to suppress his or her work.
# The scientific effect involved is always at the very limit of detection.
# Evidence for a discovery is anecdotal.
# The discoverer says a belief is credible because it has endured for centuries.
# The discoverer has worked in isolation.
# The discoverer must propose new laws of nature to explain an observation.

posted at 1:38 pm on Friday, March 07, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments (1)
  1. Reid Ellis says:

    Let’s apply this to Galileo:

    (1) Not sure about this.. was there a media back then?
    (2) the Church was definitely suppressing things.
    (3) Gotta have the latest and greatest telescope, eh?
    (4) He said it was true, so it must be so!
    (5) Those ancient Greeks were onto something after all.
    (6) None of those Church-fearing people will help!
    (7) It’s the Earth that moves around the sun. No, really!!

    Okay, pretty lame, but still, we shouldn’t over-generalize if it can be avoided.

Weight goal in sight?

My doctor has informed me that I can stop losing weight right now, and he certainly doesn’t want to see me below 170 lbs. His hand-waving metric is waist size; anything less than 36″ is fine by him, and I’ve dropped from having my belly hang over a 38″ pant to fitting comfortably inside a 33″. Actually, looked at that way, 35 lbs is even more impressive to me!

Sadly, my blood pressure is still slightly high; I’m not one of those lucky people for whom weightloss alone does the trick. Formal exercise come the springtime.

Anyway, I’ve got two weeks left on the current @work series, so I’ll finish that, which should take me down to 179, and then go onto maintenance. I figure trying to stay between 175 and 180 gives me a nice comfort zone… We’ll see how well that actually works :-)

posted at 4:34 pm on Tuesday, March 04, 2003 in Personal | Comments (2)
  1. James says:

    Congratulations, applause, etc.!

  2. Debbie says:

    Congratulations on reaching your weight goal!


Trying to lose weight improves survivability

According to a new study trying to lose weight is better than not trying, even if you don’t succeed.

bq. In a study of more than 6,000 obese and overweight people 35 and older who were followed for up to nine years, the death rate was 24% lower in people who lost weight intentionally than in people who did not try to shed pounds and whose weight stayed steady. But the death rate was 31% higher in people who lost weight unintentionally, the researchers report in the March 4th issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

bq. For people who were trying to trim down, those who actually lost weight had the lowest death rate. In a somewhat surprising finding, however, even people who were trying to lose weight but did not succeed had a lower death rate.

When I first saw this on Chuq’s blog, I was particularly fascinated by the _”death rate was 31% higher in people who lost weight unintentionally”_ part. Apparently one focus of this new study was to try to filter out unintentional weight loss:

bq. “There is a widespread assumption that weight loss is good,” Dr. Edward W. Gregg told Reuters Health in an interview. Weight loss is proven to have beneficial effects on several risk factors for disease, including high blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar, explained Gregg, who is at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.

bq. But the evidence linking weight loss to these improvements comes from relatively short-term studies, Gregg said. There is not really any very convincing evidence that losing weight decreases the risk of dying, according to Gregg.

bq. In fact, the CDC researcher pointed out that a large number of studies have suggested that people who lose weight may actually be at greater risk of premature death.

bq. The problem with most of these studies, Gregg said, is that they did not separate intentional weight loss from weight loss that occurred because of disease.

I guess this is more evidence to support the “every little bit helps” theory of health management. We already know that going from “couch potato” to “exercise 30 minutes per day” has the largest health benefit; now we have a similar result on the weightloss side. Of course, this doesn’t mean we should get complacent!

posted at 10:15 am on Tuesday, March 04, 2003 in Personal | Comments (1)
  1. anand says:

    Very interesting statistics you have up there.

    Must link to this page to provide more information for visitors to my site.

Good Quote

bq. Politics is show business for ugly people.

Liberal MP Carolyn Parrish, while “giving her side of the story”: on Open Mike with Mike Bullard on Monday night.

posted at 12:31 am on Tuesday, March 04, 2003 in Current Events | Comments Off on Good Quote

Ice. Cold.

It was -25°C this morning here in Toronto (it normally drops to -8°C at this time of year). We had a cold snap pass through yesterday; the temperature dropped from 1°C to -16°C in five hours Sunday afternoon.

I walked out my front door this morning to find a river running down my driveway (and mostly freezing before it got to the end of the driveway). Eeek! I opened the garage to find a jet of water coming straight out of the wall; the cold water pipe had come off. I suspect that it came off when I turned the dryer on this morning; the dryer vent runs through the same hole into the garage as the water pipe.

It amazes me how much water can come out of a 1/4″ copper pipe. It’s a good thing we were late this morning, and so saw the problem before we left the house. The water would have fairly quickly frozen over all of the holes it was using to exit the garage, and then would have probably started pouring back into the house…

On the other hand, it was really cool seeing the water freeze so quickly on the driveway. I walked through the puddle a couple of times while getting the car ready and cleaning up the mess, and when I walked onto the dry (cold) pavement, my boots would freeze to the ground; it was like walking on a giant sheet of flypaper.

The life of a home owner is never boring :-)

posted at 10:01 am on Monday, March 03, 2003 in Personal | Comments Off on Ice. Cold.