Well-Designed Weblogs

So I see an article like “Well-Designed Weblogs”:http://larsholst.info/blog/index.php?p=40 and I think “wow, I wish I could design web pages that look that good!”

And then I think I _could_, if I invested the time required to learn how. But I’m too busy being good at a bunch of other interesting things :-)

posted at 10:24 pm on Sunday, November 30, 2003 in Links | Comments Off on Well-Designed Weblogs

Silence is …

Oops; I’ve been a little busy.

I received my new laptop on Monday and I’ve been busy with setup and copying files and settings from the old desktop. We have a code freeze today, which isn’t helping (trying to develop code _and_ rebuild your environment at the same time is … interesting). On the other hand, I was able to be extremely productive from home on Thursday with the new machine, so it has been worth the effort.

It’s been a hectic week personally. G. had a hockey practice on Monday night, after which we went out for dinner for my birthday. I had a curling game Tuesday; Michaéla had a board meeting on Wednesday (and I was coding in front of the TV, playing with the new VPN); and Thursday night cards was much busier than normal because people came over for Andrew and Michelle’s birthdays.

Tonight I’m going to collapse in front of the TV; I might get some blogging done. Saturday is hockey, hockey, rolemaster. I’ve (finally) received the new VPN hardware that I’m supposed to test, so I’m probably going to play with that on Sunday, along with the usual laundry and cleaning (and Michaéla et al have a 3:15 curling game that day).

Next week we leap into the pre-Christmas rush…

posted at 11:53 am on Friday, November 28, 2003 in Personal | Comments Off on Silence is …

Debugging the VPN

So the first time I fired up the VPN client, the rules on the firewall allowed the ISAKMP negotiation, but not the ESP data. I fixed that and tried again. This time, the firewall no longer rejects packets, but doesn’t pass them through, either. Debugging ensues. Debugging is made extra challenging by the fact that the VPN client disallows split tunnelling, thus killing the SSH session to the firewall each time it is started. Lots of running tcpdump in the background is required.

Eventually I gave up and ate supper.

I tried again after supper. The VPN comes up perfectly; the spiffy intranet portal appears. Apparently something previously cached has been un-cached. However, the connection only lasts about 5 minutes, then dies. Debugging does not follow; it’s time to play Euchre.

The next evening arrives. I fire up tcpdumps and a script to monitor /proc/net/ip_conntrack, under the assumption that connection tracking isn’t working properly (leading to the 5 minute timeout). I start the VPN client. Everything works; no session timeouts, no firewall issues. Hours of rapturous intranet browsing follows. I also play with using SSH through the VPN, out the corporate firewall, and back to the home firewall :-).

While I’m happy that everything’s working, I could live without the whole “attempt to debug problems that later mysteriously vanish” thing…

posted at 3:06 pm on Saturday, November 22, 2003 in Security | Comments Off on Debugging the VPN

To Do This Weekend

While taking a break during the execution of this program, I decided (on a whim) to write it down.


* 8AM hockey with C.
* 10AM hockey with G.
* kids laundry
* _adult_ laundry
* find the floors in the house
* _clean_ the floors in the house
* ditto for the bathrooms
* add 30Gb drive to yvonne, copy data, remove 15Gb drive
* organize photos and MP3s that are currently spread across three computers
* nap
* 4:30PM: watch old-timers hockey game
* blog


* brunch with dad & lil sis
* Lion King matinée
* dinner at Black Forest Room

So far I’ve done the hockey, I’m halfway through laundry and finding floors, and there’s about 90 minutes left until the hockey game :-)

posted at 2:52 pm on Saturday, November 22, 2003 in Personal | Comments Off on To Do This Weekend

Minor redesign

A couple of recent weblog entries finally inspired me to get a round tuit and make the text on my site resizable. I’m also playing with CSS image replacement techniques to bring you the sunrise (set?) banner. The old pretty borders with offset text boxes were fun to lay out, but I’m bored with them now so I’ve removed most of the borders in this revision. Finally, I was tired of having separate “layout” and “colour with layout” stylesheets, so I’ve collapsed them back into one file.

* “Full Page Zoom”:http://simon.incutio.com/archive/2003/11/09/fullPageZoom gave me the idea to use box sizes and margins in ems instead of pixels. The min-width: attribute on the sidebar works in Mozilla (to truncate the little graph) but fails miserably in IE 6, so don’t make your fonts too small.

* “font size rounding”:http://www.nedbatchelder.com/blog/20031118T075030.html gave me the trick I needed to make the font sizing the same in IE and Firebird.

posted at 1:11 pm on Saturday, November 22, 2003 in Site News | Comments (1)
  1. joy says:

    ooh ooh I like the new title image. It rocks! (Canadian of course ;-P )

Sick Kid Benefits

Seen on “Halley’s Comment”:http://halleyscomment.blogspot.com/archives/2003_11_16_halleyscomment_archive.html#106933175797022052

bq. I remember reading a company brochure about sick kid benefits early on when my son was little and I was still doing a classic corporate grind job. They had an employee benefit that was like renting a loaner car when your car was in the shop, but this was a loaner mom if your kid was sick and you had to be at work. All sounded so modern and reasonable. If my kid had a 104 fever all I had to do was drop him off at this hospital day care facility conveniently located 45 minutes from my house in the opposite direction of work, then they would care for him and I could work all day and pick him up at the end of the day.

My goodness; would people actually do this? Would an employer _expect_ it of their employee?

Actually, I do know people for whom “my kid is sick” is not an excuse to stay away from work. But those employers typically offer no benefits and small paycheques, so that doesn’t apply here. People in those situations have a network of neighbours, friends, relatives to rely on; they cannot survive otherwise.

Is there a trust issue here? Have we (employees of companies that _do_ offer benefits) become a group of people that trusts an institution more than we trust our friends, relatives, neighbours? Or is this a corporation trying to optimise their “human resources” to extremes?

The mind boggles. I’m with Halley on this one:

bq. The brochure was so glossy and pretty. I kept turning it’s many panels over trying to find the page that acknowledged NO KID WANTS TO SPEND THE DAY WITH A STRANGER IN A HOSPITAL WHEN THEY’RE SICK WITH AN EARACHE AND A 104 FEVER AND NO MOM WANTS TO LEAVE THEIR KID WITH ANYONE ELSE WHEN THEIR KID IS THAT SICK.

posted at 12:06 pm on Thursday, November 20, 2003 in Rants | Comments Off on Sick Kid Benefits

Internet Down? Then you can’t read this

Do you know “what to do if the Internet goes down?”:http://www.thetoque.net/031118/internetdown.htm

posted at 11:29 am on Thursday, November 20, 2003 in Humour | Comments Off on Internet Down? Then you can’t read this

Trust the Computer?

Yet again, an example of a common phenomenon: if it came from the computer, it must be right.

An interim report on the August 14th, 2003 power outage has been published, and SecurityFocus picked up the story here: “Computer trouble had wide impact in Aug. 14 blackout”:http://www.securityfocus.com/news/7490

My eyes gravitated to this quote from the report:

bq. “Unknowingly,” the report continued, “they used the outdated system condition information they did have to discount information from others about growing system problems.”

This not to pick on First Energy; the problem could have (and has) happened to anyone. If someone is calling you and telling you there’s a problem, you should at least investigate, instead of blindly trusting the computer.

As Horatio Cain said on CSI:Miami last night: “Trust, but verify”.

posted at 11:11 pm on Wednesday, November 19, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments (2)
  1. a says:

    “Trust, but verify” is a popular quote, usually attributed to Reagan I believe.

  2. Jeff K says:

    I rather like the National Post’s lead-in yesterday “Homer Simpson style chain of errors leads to …”

Step 3: Profit!

It has been 5 years, but I’m once again working for “a profitable company”:http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/investor/financials/quarters/2003/q4.html.

It is a pleasant change :-)

posted at 10:20 pm on Wednesday, November 19, 2003 in Personal | Comments (3)
  1. Reid says:

    What is the origin of “Step 3. …PROFIT!” anyway? David Barker claims it’s from South Park, but I don’t believe him.

  2. Reid says:

    Hey! I just realized … does that mean you will be able to get an employee discount on the HP iPods?? Woooo!! :-D

  3. Harald says:

    Yup, it’s from South Park; the underwear gnomes in episode 217, according to the Motley Fool: http://www.fool.com/news/foth/2001/foth011108.htm

Comments RSS feed

I’ve implemented a comments RSS feed, should anyone want to see reader comments to my weblog…


Enjoy :-)

posted at 3:46 pm on Wednesday, November 19, 2003 in Site News | Comments Off on Comments RSS feed


Well, we broke last year’s record of $400. Our family just spend $600 at the annual school fundraiser at Chapters. Of course, $200 (before discounts) of it was the new Far Side collection :-)

I would have spent more, but they didn’t have some of the books on my “wish list”:http://blog.cfrq.net/chk/static/wishlist-books.html in stock, the bums…

posted at 10:49 pm on Tuesday, November 18, 2003 in Books | Comments (2)
  1. Jeff K says:

    Hm, Amazon.com has it for ~ $110 CDN
    (ISBN: 0740721135)

  2. Harald says:

    Apparently there’s a $25 (list) premium for buying in Canada, probably because the exchange rate has dropped so much recently. Anyway, I still got it for 40% off, I didn’t have to pay shipping, and it _was_ for a fundraiser…

Wal-mart in the news

Fast Company | The Wal-Mart You Don’t Know

An interesting (if long) article describing the effects, good and bad, that Walmart is having on the US (and probably Canadian) markets.

Wal-mart is an 800 lb gorilla, and can force its suppliers to do pretty much anything. Wal-mart is using that clout to relentlessly lower prices. There’s nothing wrong with that; Wal-mart is a business, and has a mandate from shareholders. Shoppers like lower prices, and so Wal-mart is doing brisk business. (Remember, Wal-mart is really in the business of selling shelf-space, the same way that TV and magazines really sell eyeballs to advertisers).

As always, there’s a downside. The push for lower-prices is accelerating the movement of manufacturing overseas, closing down American businesses and putting people out of work. Well, except for the management shell; see an earlier “How to Save the World entry”:http://blogs.salon.com/0002007/2003/11/04.html#a504). This also leads to the destruction of most small retail businesses in any area with a Wal-mart. Small businesses cannot compete on price, because Wal-mart gets such huge concessions from suppliers, and/or gobbles up all available supply. For many retail businesses, there are no other effective differentiators; too few people are willing to pay for quality or service these days. This is not because they don’t want quality or service; it’s because they don’t have the cash.

Ironically, the very same people who shop at Wal-mart for its lower prices are the ones losing jobs (or businesses) as a result of the cycle. It becomes a vicious cycle. Which brings us to “Dave Pollard’s comments”:http://blogs.salon.com/0002007/2003/11/18.html#a520 on the same article. He explains it better than I, so go read his entry :-)

posted at 5:21 pm on Tuesday, November 18, 2003 in Links | Comments (1)
  1. Jeff K says:

    I had prepared a long response to this, but Pollard’s comments are so obviously flawed, there is little chance of his “economics” ever being implemented, and besides, Wal-Mart is a fait-accomplis so any arguments about a “cycle” are also flawed. Heck, even my 7 year old knows that. I ask her, “Where is your toy made” and she responds correctly every time. (China).

English Vocabulary

A humourous rant about english vocabulary and the use thereof:

McSweeney’s Internet Tendency: Words and Expressions Commonly Misused by Insipid Brothers-in-law

It doesn’t cover BRING and TAKE; I’ll have to get “Michaéla”:http://blog.cfrq.net/mnrk/ to write that one.

posted at 7:54 pm on Monday, November 17, 2003 in Links | Comments Off on English Vocabulary

Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex

I’m on my third copy of _All the Myriad Ways_, because I lent the first two to people who didn’t give them back. It’s one of my favourites, in part because of “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex”:http://www.rawbw.com/~svw/superman.html. The story is now available online legally; go check it out.

posted at 7:10 pm on Monday, November 17, 2003 in Books | Comments Off on Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex


H: gas is 66.5 cents a litre?

M: That’s almost beastly!

posted at 9:28 pm on Saturday, November 15, 2003 in Humour | Comments (1)
  1. Jeff K says:

    Speaking of numerology, did you know they crushed B-52 #56-666 but left #56-665 for display in the Wright-Patterson Airforce Base museum?

    Think of all the jet fuel wasted on 24 hour alerts through the 50’s and 60’s. The B-52 was quite the beast.

Two new weight loss studies

The first, “Atkins-like Diet Shows Promise for Heavy Heart Patients”:http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story2&u=/hsn/20031112/hl_hsn/atkinslikedietshowspromiseforheavyheartpatients

bq. Recent studies show the Atkins approach is effective for short-term weight loss. A key question is whether the diet will achieve results over a longer period of time while avoiding a harmful buildup of artery-clogging fat that could boost patients’ risk for cardiovascular disease.

The second I actually heard first on the radio: “Diets work, *if* you follow them”:http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story2&u=/nm/20031109/sc_nm/health_heart_diet_dc

bq. After two months 22 percent of the dieters had given up. After a year, 35 percent dropped out of Weight Watchers and the Zone diets and 50 percent had quit the Atkins and Ornish plans.

This suggests that the anecdotal evidence is true; Atkins works, but it’s harder to stay on a highly restrictive diet (Atkins == low-carb, Ornish == low-fat) than it is to eat a low-_calorie_ balanced diet. My personal experience matches; I know people who have “failed” at both Weight Watchers and Atkins, but I know more people successful on WW than on the others (and not because I’m a member; I’m not counting the people I know only through WW).

Weight Watchers works for me; I was able to follow their “eat fewer calories” system fairly easily (all I needed was a system to follow), I’m still keeping it off after six months; I have good weeks and bad weeks, but they average out. I don’t think I could manage an Atkins diet; I like bread and honey too much :-)

I think that using Atkins for controlled weight-loss, and then switching to something else, might work for some people, but for others it would be too many different eating rules in a short period of time. People already tend to “bounce” at the end of a weight-loss program, as they go back to their old eating habits.

Actually, that might be an interesting experiment. Does changing the rules at the end of a weight-loss regimen increase the success rate (because it’s easier to follow a new program than to stick with an existing one), or does it reduce the success rate (because introducing another new set of rules is too confusing)?

Anyway, “Chuq’s commentary”:http://www.plaidworks.com/chuqui/blog/000989.html for the second link was bang on, and worth repeating:

* All diets effectively work by dropping your calories below your usage rate. You can play with biophysical issues all you want, but the bottom line is more calories than you use, you gain weight, fewer, you lose weight.
* Any well-designed diet will help you lose weight if you use it.
* No diet will help you lose weight if you don’t.
* Choosing a diet that you can keep to is more important than choosing a diet for any other reason. Atkins might sound good, and might work for your friends, but if you can’t live without carbs, you’ll fail. Ditto in the other direciton with the Ornish diet.
* basically, diets don’t work because people can’t stay on them.

[ both links via “Teal Sunglasses”:http://www.plaidworks.com/chuqui/blog/ ]

posted at 2:05 pm on Saturday, November 15, 2003 in Links | Comments (3)
  1. valencia simpson says:

    i would like to participate in a weight loss study.

  2. Jim says:

    There have been a number of studies that have shown that Atkins definitely causes weight loss – in the short term. But as you’ve said – it is a very difficult diet to sustain. Could you imagine being low/no carb your whole life??

    The other thing is that weight loss doesnt necessarily mean fat loss. A number of Atkins dieters showed drop in lean muscle mass as well as fat loss.

  3. Harald says:

    It’s difficult to lose weight without dropping _some_ muscle mass; that’s just the way it ends up working. Weight Watchers members lose lean muscle mass too.

    On the other hand, regular (non-strenuous, non-body-building) exercise only _adds_ a few pounds of muscle mass, according to the writings I’ve seen, so I can’t see the loss side being significant either.

The Physics Diet

bq. Most dieters are so concerned about second-order effects, such as daily fluctuations in weight and changes in metabolism, that they lose track of the first law of thermodynamics: conservation of energy.

bq. Want to lose a pound of fat? You can work it off by hiking to the top of a 2,500-story building. Or by running 60 miles. Or by spending 7 hours cleaning animal stalls. […]

bq. Exercise is a very difficult way to lose weight. Here’s a rule of thumb: exercise very hard for one hour (swimming, running, or racquetball)– and you’ll lose about one ounce of fat […]

bq. If you run for an hour, you’ll lose that ounce of fat and also a pound or two of water. By the next day, when you’ve replenished the water, you might think, “the weight came right back!” But you’d be wrong—you really did lose an ounce. It is hard to notice, unless you keep running every day for a month or more, and don’t reward yourself after each run with a cookie.

bq. There is a much easier way to lose weight, as we can learn from the first law of thermodynamics. Eat less.

The rest can be found at “The MIT Technology Review : The Physics Diet”:http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/wo_muller111403.asp?p=1

posted at 1:36 pm on Saturday, November 15, 2003 in Links | Comments (2)
  1. Jeff K says:

    The conservation of energy? I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous. Chemical energy is stored in chemical bonds, which are goverened by E=mc^2, or more precisely, the conservation of mass-energy. ..and anyway even that is irrelevent. That’s BAAAAD science. You want to know what the body does with the results of combustion of x calories in an ounce of fat (mass is conserved (- the E=mc^2 part, which can be ignored on the bathroom scale))

    I propose a new title for your diet science: The conservation of crap. If crap is conserved, one is full of sh.. er, I digress.

    Some people believe and hope that fat is converted to muscle. I can only go by my own experience, which is that
    1. Excerise produces more muscle and less fat and a 20 minute regime each day can change the body drammatically in 6 weeks.
    2. I eat the same as thinner people.

    Anyway, I invoke Newton’s first law of motion, according to my calculations, a body in motion stays in motion, so running 60 miles should consume 0 calories.

    Isn’t science great?

  2. Harald says:

    The “physics” side of the article is over-simplification, perhaps; it was intended as humour. But the point of the quoted section is simple: exercise alone isn’t going to lead to weight loss, especially if you’re treating yourself after workouts.

    The vast majority of the food calories you consume get used merely keeping you alive (the so-called basal metabolic rate). The more you weigh, the more energy you need (and yes, fat cells need energy too). This is why many people on weight loss programs “plateau”; they have to reduce the amount they consume as their weight drops. Also, overweight sedentary people can eat as much as skinny active people; the excess body mass consumes more energy than the exercise.

    Ignore all the fancy diets; the weight-loss equation is simple. Consume fewer calories than you expend, and you’ll lose weight. Consume more, you’ll gain weight. Everything else is management.

weblog advantages

One advantage to administering your own weblog: when you make a typo in a comment, you can correct it :-)

posted at 10:51 pm on Friday, November 14, 2003 in Humour | Comments Off on weblog advantages

Private Schools

“David Brake” mentions an “Interesting row underway about the ethics of private schools”:http://blog.org/archives/cat_current_affairs_uk.html#000935 in the UK. I was going to add a short comment, but as it got longer and longer I decided it would work better as a blog entry of my own :-)

David and I met at private school (St. George’s College in Toronto), so maybe we’re biased. He ends with:

bq. I and my wife have no children but if we did and could afford it we would probably send our kids to a private school if the local public school was not good. I know she would insist on it and precisely because private schooling has not been banned I would have a hard time penalising my own child in order to benefit his or her classmates at a failing public school.

That’s pretty much where I sit. I support the public school system in principle, and yet my children attend private school. In fact, we chose the school _first_, and then found a house reasonably close by…

Unfortunately, 30 years of political agendas have systematically gutted the Ontario public school system, and even if the majority of motivated parents were involved, it would take at least a decade (if not two) to fix it. Now it can be argued that private schools don’t do any better than public schools at teaching the basics (the “three-Rs” of education). There are certainly still pockets in Toronto where the schools are extremely good.

The important differences for me (and our school) is in other areas:

* “soft” subjects like music and languages, and critical thinking skills
* smaller class sizes (compared to Toronto)
* more adult supervision and encouragement
* a good physical education program (including skating in kindergarten and skiing for grade 1 and up!)
* many extra-cirricular and after-school activities
* a high level of community involvement.
* compacting (something I’ll blog about later, probably)

These are all things that for various reasons have diminished or disappeared in our public schools. We decided that since we had the resources to do otherwise, we were not going to make our children “test subjects” in the current political scrap over public education. And so our children attend private school.

posted at 10:50 pm on Friday, November 14, 2003 in Random Thoughts | Comments (1)
  1. Jeff K says:

    I feel like there’s a debate here, and I don’t have my own blog, so I’ll have to comment here.

    My public school education was quite mediocre, bordering on irrelevant. I’m just glad it was poor enough that I had time to pursue my own interests and reading.

    Um, what was I debating, again?


It was very windy Wednesday night and all day Thursday; it sounded like the “new roof” was going to lift off and disappear!

I didn’t put my garbage out on Thursday morning, because I knew I’d probably find my garbage can about a mile away. I came home last night to find two recycling boxes on my front lawn! I’ll leave ’em there for a couple of days, and see if anyone claims them…

posted at 10:48 pm on Friday, November 14, 2003 in Miscellaneous | Comments Off on Windy
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