Wind Power and Birds – Bird deaths causing concern about true value of wind farm

The wind turbine farm in Altamont Pass, CA has killed approximately 22,000 birds over its 20 year lifetime, so two environmental groups want the operator permits for the farm revoked.

Let’s look at these numbers, shall we? 22,000 birds over 7000 turbines is just over 3 birds / turbine, and 0.157… birds/turbine/year. Wow, are those things safe!

The article quotes someone saying that this is “a terrestrial Exxon Valdez every year”. The Exxon Valdez disaster killed an estimated 250,000 birds, including 250 bald eagles. If you _only_ count the bald eagles, I suppose you can force the statistic…

On the other hand:

bq. many more birds are killed annually in collisions with vehicles (60 million), window panes (98 million) and communication towers (4 million) than die nationwide in wind turbines (10,000 to 40,000).

bq. Even the common household cat […] is responsible for more bird deaths than turbines.

None of this takes into account the birds that would have been killed by the pollution generated by a non-wind powerplant producing the same power.

In conclusion: what are these people smoking?

posted at 10:12 pm on Tuesday, December 30, 2003 in Science and Technology | Comments Off on Wind Power and Birds

Almanacs are subversive

Oh brother. (Or is that Big Brother?) The FBI has “issued an alert against almanac carriers”:

bq. The FBI said information typically found in almanacs that could be useful for terrorists includes profiles of cities and states and information about waterways, bridges, dams, reservoirs, tunnels, buildings and landmarks. It said this information is often accompanied by photographs and maps.

I guess that means tourists with Rand-McNally road atlases and cameras should be pulled over too.

The nicest thing that can be said about this directive is that it is pointless; the net is too wide. There are nastier things I could say…

(via “Perverse Access Memory”:

posted at 10:13 am on Tuesday, December 30, 2003 in Current Events | Comments Off on Almanacs are subversive

Our Precious Bodily Fluids

“They’re poisoning our precious bodily fluids”:

bq. In March, California researchers reported that San Francisco-area women have three to 10 times as much chemical flame retardant in their breast tissue as European or Japanese women.

bq. Indiana University researchers reported at the same time that levels in Indiana and California women and infants were 20 times higher than those in Sweden and Norway, which recently banned flame retardant.

bq. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news – web sites) earlier this year released data from 2,500 volunteers tested for 116 pollutants and found such chemicals as mercury, uranium and cotinine, a chemical broken down from nicotine.

Naturally the jury’s out on the effects of this crap in our bodies. I can’t see how _anyone_ could claim that this stuff isn’t bad for us, but they’re trying anyway…

bq. “Everyone’s exposed to substances and there’s no evidence that the low levels people are exposed to are harming anybody,” said Steven Milloy, author of “Junk Science Judo: Self Defense Against Health Scares and Scams.” “It’s a waste of time and money that only serves to scare people.”

bq. Milloy noted that despite all the chemicals, the overall U.S. population is living longer and healthier.

I’d like to see those statistics, since the obesity crowd is currently claiming the opposite!

posted at 10:53 am on Monday, December 29, 2003 in Health | Comments Off on Our Precious Bodily Fluids

Mad Cow in the news

In a move that is eerily familiar, it looks like the USDA is more interested in convincing people that US beef is safe than it is in actually making it safe, according to “United Press International: USDA refused to release mad cow records”:

And naturally, they’re still “blaming Canada”: .

Maybe it really is time to stop eating hamburger, or to be truly safe, all beef. That would suck, but then so would variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease…

posted at 1:51 pm on Sunday, December 28, 2003 in Current Events | Comments (2)
  1. Christopher Liebrecht says:

    Hey, I’m a beef producer in Quebec, and I’d like to say that it is not time to stop eating beef. There is very little chance of eating meat from an infected cow, especially if you avoid 99 cent/lb hamburger. No good feedlot beef is ever older than 2 yrs, so if you buy good cuts, no problem. If you want to eat old dairy cows, take your chances! My whole life is about producing good healthy food products (beef and organic maple syrup), so I have very little patience for city dwellers (no offence) who think they have any insight into the subject beyond “paper or plastic ?” We are doing a great job, don’t believe everything you hear in the news.

  2. Harald says:

    A couple of comments:

    – I think things are pretty good in Canada. We have some bad apples, but generally speaking most providers are honest, and the inspection system mostly works.

    – I think things are worse in the USA. The percentage of bad apples (those willing to compromise safety to make an extra buck) is still small, but higher; and the inspection system sucks; we could argue that the US government is deliberately looking the wrong way (the point of my posting).

    I’m not going to give up beef just yet, but I am going to be a bit more careful; reputable sources, etc. …

Is The Kyoto Protocol Melting?

There are some interesting tidbits in the comments on this plastic article: Plastic: Is The Kyoto Protocol Melting?

Probably worth wading through the chaff. At least the signal to noise ratio is better than on slashdot…

posted at 11:38 am on Sunday, December 28, 2003 in Links | Comments Off on Is The Kyoto Protocol Melting?

Global Dimming

Interesting. According to “an article in The Guardian”:,13026,1108853,00.html, the amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface has decreased by 10% over the last three decades.

bq. “Unlike many of the other symptoms of Global Warming, the evidence for Global Dimming is quite clear: there has been a marked and quantifiable decrease in solar radiation striking the earth every year since records have been kept, there have also been tests on the evaporation rate of water in metal pans and the Dutch (much of whose specialized farming is done in greenhouses) have noticed a definate decrease in their productivity.

The ties to global warming are interesting. The sun’s output has not dropped over those decades, so the missing radiation has to be going somewhere. “Recent NASA studies”: have shown that atmospheric soot is a major source of climate change and potentially related to global warming. If atmospheric soot is absorbing sunlight (and converting it to heat), that could tie Global Dimming and Global Warming to each other.

Oh, and incidentally, drive another nail into the Kyoto coffin, since Kyoto is focusing on CO2 emissions. Much as I hate to admit it, CO2’s connection to global warming is still relatively tenuous…

(via “Plastic: Goodbye, Sun”:;sid=03/12/21/07534647)

posted at 11:29 am on Sunday, December 28, 2003 in Links | Comments Off on Global Dimming

Paper Folding

“The Fact: It is impossible to fold any piece of paper no matter how big, small, thin or thick more than eight times.”:

Well, “Britney has proven them wrong”:” …

posted at 10:42 am on Saturday, December 27, 2003 in Links | Comments Off on Paper Folding

Christmas Ornaments

I never did get my christmas tree ornament reflection picture. Michaéla got some good ones, though; I may post a couple later.

In the meantime, here is a _really good_ “ornament reflection”: for you to enjoy…

posted at 1:41 am on Saturday, December 27, 2003 in General | Comments Off on Christmas Ornaments

Before and After

h3. Before


h3. After


posted at 1:22 am on Saturday, December 27, 2003 in Personal | Comments (1)
  1. Richard says:

    And now a before and after picture of the credit card :-)

Hey, “”: has added some cool new for-pay services since I last looked. Of particular interest to me, now that I’ve lost two of my three free server locations, is the Secondary DNS service. $14.95 per zone annual fee is pretty reasonable…

posted at 12:11 pm on Wednesday, December 24, 2003 in Links | Comments Off on

low carb paper?

Wow, these sound appealling… “Carb-counting bagels”: … not!

bq. if I were to eat my daily sandwich on a “carb-counting” bagel instead of a regular bagel, and otherwise did not change my daily food consumption in any way, after three months I would lose one pound and kill myself.

Besides, you have to love someone who quotes Sandra Boynton!

posted at 10:35 am on Wednesday, December 24, 2003 in Links | Comments Off on low carb paper?

High Tech Vacations

Seen on “Not What I Expected”:

bq. no, I really am on vacation

bq. And if you’re in high tech, that sometimes means that you’re working from 1600km down the road, rather than at work.

Well, about 20 km in my case. I got a phone call from the customer support manager on Monday morning, the first day of my vacation. Fortunately a relatively easy fix; most of the time was spent downloading source code over the VPN. I’m amused more than anything… :-)

posted at 9:57 am on Wednesday, December 24, 2003 in Personal | Comments Off on High Tech Vacations

Speaking of photogpraphy…

We put the christmas tree up today. I was trying to capture my reflection in one of the ornaments, but couldn’t get the right combination of my position, camera position, ornament position. And the kids were “helping”, and then the camera batteries died… &ltgrin>.

I’ll try again tomorrow…

posted at 10:51 pm on Sunday, December 21, 2003 in Personal | Comments Off on Speaking of photogpraphy…


I’ve picked up a few photoblogs that I read regularly, presumably because I find them interesting :-).

* “Sensitive Light”:
* “”:
* “extrospection”: – Anders Jacobsen
* “meccapixel”:
* “Satan’s Laundromat”:
* “shutterbug”:
* “[daily dose of imagery]”:

Then there are weblogs that regularly contain photos, like “blatherings”:, “ongoing”:, and Tonya’s excellent “notebook”: “Kasia”: doesn’t have a photoblog, but does have a “large collection”: of photographs…


posted at 10:45 pm on Sunday, December 21, 2003 in Links | Comments Off on Photoblogs

Anything That Can Go Wrong…

Will, especially when you combine “kites, kiteboards, and puddles”: …

posted at 10:33 pm on Sunday, December 21, 2003 in Links | Comments Off on Anything That Can Go Wrong…

Business Card Cubes

Inspired by “Ned Batchelder”:’s “How to make business card cubes”:, I present:


Update 2007-01-30: Ned Batchelder has created “a Tabblo showing the constructions steps”: ; check it out.

posted at 5:41 pm on Wednesday, December 17, 2003 in Links | Comments Off on Business Card Cubes

Geek Alert

I’m sitting in the food court of the Toronto Stock Exchange building, using a “BWireless”: 802.11b wireless Ethernet access point, checking my email and posting this entry. I even bought something online :-)

It’s performing quite well, once I moved out from under the overhang; apparently the AP is actually in their store (which is upstairs) so you get better signal in the open part of the food court.

That’s my geek moment for the day.

posted at 3:02 pm on Friday, December 12, 2003 in Personal | Comments (3)
  1. Ha!

    Good deal

  2. Catspaw says:

    I certainly hope that you chalked the access point. Poor Toronto has a serious lack of warchalkers. :(

  3. Harald says:

    Why would I? It’s a publically advertised commercial access point…

Big and Blue in the USA

I was directed to a “wonderful curmudgeonly rant”: in “The Orion”: It’s worth the time to read the whole thing.

bq. What we see all over our nation is a situational loneliness of the most extreme kind; and it is sometimes only recognizable in contrast to the ways that people behave in other countries. Any culture, after all, is an immersive environment, and I suspect that most Americans are unaware of how socially isolated they are among the strip malls and the gated apartment complexes. Or, to put it another way, of what an effort it takes to put themselves in the company of other people.

bq. This pervasive situational loneliness, of being stuck alone in your car, alone in your work cubicle, alone in your apartment, alone at the supermarket, alone at the video rental shop — because that’s how American daily life has come to be organized — is the injury to which the insult of living in degrading, ugly, frightening, and monotonous surroundings is added.

We chose our house specifically to be within walking/biking distance of our kids’ school, and we’re within walking distance of both the GO Train and the subway. So we’re not in complete suburban hell; we can get lots of places without our car. My “new commute”: is going to be ugly, though.

Our neighbourhood is relatively old (for Canada :-), but it suffers many of the problems of modern suburban life. There are few amenities within walking distance (and particularly, no pub :). There used to be a grocery store, but it closed; Dominion decided that small stores were not cost effective. It’s now a Shopper’s Drug Mart, which does carry emergency rations, but it’s not the same. There is a small bakery close by, and (ugh) a KFC. Fairview Mall is walkable, but it is its own kind of wasteland. We have lots of parks and ravines, but they seem to be the terrain of the dog walkers. On the plus side, NYGH and _three_ medical buildings are all in walking distance :-)

I’d love to be able to walk and bike more (other than as recreation), but it’s not terribly practical. I’d love to cut my (non-car) commute down below an hour each way, but again, not practical; even if we lived downtown, we’d then have to commute uptown to take our kids to school.

People joke about how we can walk to IKEA. Who would _want_ to walk to IKEA? I’d rather drive there, and walk to the grocery store.

(Can you tell I’m not looking forward to driving to work next year?)

(via “Philip Greenspun”:

posted at 10:51 pm on Wednesday, December 10, 2003 in Rants | Comments (1)
  1. Jeff K says:

    The curmudgeon’s stuff is total hogwash, top to bottom. Having things spread out increases efficiencies of scale. You even pointed it out. Walking to a grocery store when you own a car is, well, I’ll be charitable and call it dumb.

    In this day and age of varied interests, you can’t have a baseball diamond, pool, scrabble club, yacht club, ham radio club, chiropractic, Rosicrucian or Masonic temple and psychic reader on every street corner you know. [nor apparently a book store that stocks Goethe, Jung or Freud ANYWHERE in the city]

    ..and Psychoanalytical techniques and self-help clinics are too time-consuming to give people with troubles in there life anything other than Prozac or beer, and as near as I can tell the beer drinkers prefer beer to self-help and psychoanalysis anyway. I’ll assume Prozac has the same effect, I don’t know much about it.

    Continue to drive your car and let the government worry about installing nuke plants in the Alberta oil sands [to extract fuel]. Trust the Government!

    Oh, wait, the Don Valley is a hopelesss write-off of an unupdated highway.

    Do you meet many intellectuals at your local pub? Walking in the street? Perhaps it was the intellectuals on the subway who got paranoid about that one guy’s metal suitcase?

    So far the only conversation I’ve had on the subway or streets of Toronto in the last year was some schizophrenic who snapped his fingers in my face and babbled as well as someone who had never seen a palm top and someone who had never seen a 200mm zoom lens. In Ottawa, walking around, I was offered dibs on a shipment of alcohol and cigarettes. There were no other spontaneous conversations, well except for the drunk in Bayward market who was spouting profanties and 6-pack-logic to passers by who took a moment off to tell Jennifer that God loved her.

    The curmudgeon’s approach is completely vacant.

Current Product Engineering

From Teal Sunglasses: It pays to pay well.. As usual Chuq nails several interesting ideas. But I particularly liked this quote, only slightly out of context:

bq. ask anyone who works for any company that builds things and deals with finances about the joy of figuring out who is responsible for warranty costs. Is it ever the group responsible for building reliability into the product in the first place? Nope. Want reliable products? Take warranty repair costs out of your development budgets, not your support budgets. and watch your development managers have big, ugly, purple cows…

Ouch, says I, wearing my CPE hat! CPE -> Current Product Engineering; my team fixes software that has already been released to customers. Software is different than hardware; repairing or replacing hardware is more expensive than patching software. Anyway, the costs for my team _do_ come out of the development budget. We also have a separate customer support hierarchy, responsible for all of the day-to-day handholding that customers need. Theoretically problems don’t cross into my domain until they are confirmed defects (as opposed to “controlled flight into terrain”), but in practice we end up debugging the hard problems on both sides of that line.

Anyway, it’s certainly fun and challenging work…

posted at 10:43 pm on Wednesday, December 10, 2003 in Programming | Comments Off on Current Product Engineering

Keyboard layout frustration

Once upon a time, on Suns (and X-terminals) in a land far, far away, the “Control” key was underneath the Tab key, above the Shift key. Then along came the PC keyboard, which swapped the two. For a while I used to remap my keyboard to put the keys back in the right places, but eventually I had to use too many native Windows machines, so I taught my hands the new Ctrl key location.

Apparently the people that designed Compaq notebook keyboards did so inside of a locked box. Every other laptop I’ve used (Dell, Toshiba, Acer, Sony) has had the usual three or four keys in the bottom left corner of the keyboard: Ctrl, Fn, Alt or Ctrl, Fn, Windows, Alt. Not my Compaq; it has Fn, Ctrl, Windows, Alt!

Who in their right mind does that? They committed two egregious sins: _changing_ a “standard” keyboard layout, and putting a seldom used key (Fn) in the bottom left in place of a commonly used key (Ctrl). I don’t expect most people to know all the emacs Ctrl sequences, but the Ctrl key is used in all sorts of Windows keyboard shortcuts (especially select all, cut, copy, and paste)!!

Even worse, the Fn key cannot be remapped; it is intercepted by the keyboard controller, and used in combination with other keys to generate scancodes for keys that don’t physically exist, like the numeric keypad). _Some_ Compaqs have a BIOS switch to swap the keys; mine doesn’t. So I can’t even swap them back…

For now I’ve found a Windows keyboard remapping utility, “KeyTweak”: and I’m using it to change the Caps Lock key to another Ctrl key (thus putting the Ctrl key back where it was a decade ago). I’ve done the same thing on all of my Linux boxes at home. It’s not an optimal solution, because I still have to use other machines with the Ctrl key in the bottom left…


(Everything else about this laptop is spiffy, btw; the keyboard is my only complaint :-)

posted at 6:15 pm on Tuesday, December 09, 2003 in Rants | Comments (5)
  1. Mike says:

    Hi Harald
    I’ve started to look at your blog on the odd occasion – initially found it through a Kites link I think.
    Is spiffy a Canadian word? or are you a Jeeves & Wooster fan?

  2. Harald says:

    I’m pretty sure it’s a British term, which is almost certainly where I got it from; several people around me come from British stock (including me :), so I probably picked it up that way.

  3. taridzo says:

    you can say that again! i’m not of the old school, but i’ve found the presario laptop layout surprisingly annoying.

  4. Ryan says:


    I’m with you.

    In my opinion, Dell has the best keyboard layout for laptops; Dell even has the 6 navigation keys layed out correctly (insert, delete, home, end, pg up, pg down).

    IBM would have the perfect keyboard layout if they could fix the Ctrl/Fn key switch.

    Toshiba has the worst keyboard layout (even though Ctrl key is correct); navigation keys all over, tilda key next to space bar, windows key in upper right hand corner..stupid.

  5. Peter says:

    I found this thread because my company standardized on Compaqs and I am SO FRUSTRATED with the damn flip of Ctrl and Fn. Previously we could use Dell or Compaq and I always went with Compaq. For my home laptop I’ve had Toshiba and HP without this problem. Now I’m constantly hitting the wrong key, etc. What sort of rock do the compaq designers live under?

    I appreciate any help on this matter. tomorrow I’ll check the bios you mentioned as well as KeyTweak.



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