Mahogany Mail is an interesting-looking new email client. Two advantages for me: it properly supports IMAP4, and it is cross platform (so I can run it under either Win32 or Linux).

I’m currently using exmh on top of NMH, because that is a highly flexible and configurable environment for me as a programmer. I think I’ll try Mahogany out on one of my other e-mail addresses for a little while, and see whether it fits my ideals for usability and speed…

Update:While it’s only version 0.64, it’s not yet up to snuff. It’s just plain clunky in a lot of ways. It has the looks of many techno-geek projects; lots of technology without the required thought spent on UI issues. I had trouble with modal dialogs that should be simple windows. I could not figure out how to get it to recognize IMAP subfolders, even though it showed them to me once. I found the preferences screens confusing. And, they got SSL with SMTP wrong; nobody uses the smtps port, since STARTTLS inside SMTP works so well.

It has promise, but I couldn’t find anything to signifcantly distinguish it from the rest of the pack. If I had free time, I might volunteer to help. (free time? bwa ha ha!)

posted at 4:45 pm on Tuesday, October 22, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Mahogany

The Furnace

So this year, my father in law (the gas furnace expert) tells me that he refuses to do the annual inspection/cleaning on our furnace, because he thinks it is dead. If it is dead, he is required (by law) to turn off the gas, so that we don’t foolishly kill ourselves.

So fine, we decided it’s time to replace the furnace. We do the research, find a contractor, and pick a furnace. We decided on a mid-efficiency furnace, because dad-in-law said that (because of drafts in our house and the ductwork) we wouldn’t gain a significant advantage from a high-efficiency furnace. A high-efficiency furnace needs to be vented and exhausted through ABS piping instead of a conventional chimney, increasing the cost.

The installers showed up today…

In 1994, our house was renovated to add a new second floor on top of the front of the house, above what was previously a flat roof. As part of the addition, they had to extend the chimney to clear the new (peaked) roof on the front of the house. (Man, roofs are a pain :-).

Building code at the time required a metal chimney liner, to improve draft, reduce the amount of cruft in the exhaust path, and prevent exhaust fumes from leaking from the chimney into the house. Now this house already had a chimney liner, probably from an older furnace upgrade.

Did they remove the old chimney liner? Of course not. Instead, they removed its cap and built an unlined extension on top of the old chimney. This means the existing liner cannot be removed (removing it requires removing the extension). However, our new furnace cannot be installed without bringing the chimney up to code, which requires a continuous liner in the chimney; installing one means first removing the remains of the old one.

Because the new chimney extension wasn’t properly capped (until the raccoon guy added a mesh screen in spring 2001). So the old liner was half blocked with two dead birds and a whole bunch of sand from the new chimney extension. At least we’ve got that stuff cleared out, so the existing furnace should work a bit better while we ponder our options.

The two options are: 1) high-efficiency (condensing) furnace. 2) repair the chimney. Both options, I guess, require at least another $1000, which (naturally) I don’t have.

Home ownership is fun. Ask me about the whole raccoon story sometime…

posted at 6:28 pm on Monday, October 21, 2002 in General | Comments (1)
  1. jok says:

    ABS pipe is cheap. It takes maybe 15 minutes to drill a hole for the thing. I don’t see how it increases the cost very much…

Home Ownership

Owning a home is so much fun…

When we moved in to our current house two years ago, we were warned by our home inspector that our flat roof would probably leak, and our furnace was on its last legs.

Our flat roof had been “repaired” in 1998, so we weren’t too worried about getting to it right away; it was October (almost winter), and so not a good time to be doing roof repairs.

Four months later (in February), we had a brutal snowstorm that turned to rain. the snow blocked all of the downspouts, trapping the rain on the flat roof. There was a dormer sticking out of the flat roof, protecting the stairs to the newly added second floor. The water level rose until it could get under the over the roof lip around the dormer, and then poured into the house, filling the ceiling underneath. WE discovered this when the door-frame nearby started dripping water; by this point the ceiling was full and water was pouring down the insides of the walls. Shortly thereafter the ceiling one floor down started dripping.

We went up on the roof (still in the rain), and shoveled all the snow and ice off to stop the overflow. Then we poked a hole in the ceiling, and pulled out about 60 litres of water. (A wet ceiling sags, creating a significant volume of trapped water :). Alas, shoveling the roof turned out to be the last straw for the roof; it started seeping into the room next door.

This was about when we decided that flat roofs are evil, and needed to be exorcised. Now winter is a bad time to be doing roof work, so we waited until spring. By the time Spring 2001 had rolled around, the stock market had collapsed and my wife had been laid off; suddenly there was no money for major renovations.

So for the next many months, we had two uninhabitable rooms in our house, because every time it rained, the ceilings would drip. We finally scraped together a plan, enough money, a building permit, and a contractor in December 2001. They were wonderful; in 5 days they stripped the old flat roof and built a wonderful peaked roof in its place. As an added benefit, I now have a nice attic storage space where the flat roof used to be.

When stripping the flat roof, we discovered that the previous roof contractor had simply laid insulation and a new (1-ply) rubber membrane on top of the existing gravel, on top of the old flat roof. This meant that the new rubber membrane had no support, which is why it disintegrated in only three years. It also explained some of the strange behaviour we saw; the ceiling would leak a day or two after rain, because it took that long for water to percolate through both roofs and the gravel layer.

Up next? the furnace…

posted at 6:16 pm on Monday, October 21, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Home Ownership


So I setup my second XHTML + CSS website yesterday (the first one is this weblog). I had a simple set of pages that had been laid out in PowerPoint. When you say “Save as HTML…” from PowerPoint, it produces *something* that only incidentally resembles HTML, and only works properly in IE 5/6. What a mess!

So I mocked up an equivalent of the PowerPoint master slide using XHTML and CSS instead, and then used server-side includes to paste the slide content into the template. And it works.

It probably only displays properly in IE 5 or Netscape 6 and up, and I still have to add some accessibility features. Also, I had to use some ugly hacks; things like <div style=”height=48px”> to force two separate blocks to *actually* run together, instead of leaving a gap of background showing through.

Still, it’s a start, and I learned a little bit more about style sheets, the new box model, and browser bugs…

Has anyone written a good XHTML + CSS authoring tool yet?

posted at 10:45 am on Sunday, October 20, 2002 in General | Comments Off on XHTML and CSS

The Evil Internet, a Rant

Last week, an 11 year old girl was lured to a hotel in Toronto by someone she met in a chat-room. Now normally, sexual assaults barely make the news (sadly). But pay attention; include “Internet” and “chat-room” and suddenly it’s all over the place, and everyone has an opinion.

On CBC’s Metro Morning today, they had a pair of individuals arguing two sides of the controversy. This is a regular feature, and usually has me yelling at the radio, to the amusement of my family. I guess it’s often hard to find rational individuals to argue for or against a particular subject, and today was no exception.

On one side, we have a (rational) parent who is not particularly concerned about his teenagers using the Internet. On the other side, we have an individual raving about the evils of the Internet, and how any parent not monitoring their children constantly is irresponsible. Most of the things he said were untenable but not completely unreasonable, but then he closed his argument by equating Internet chat rooms with “spending 24 hours alone with a convicted pedophile”. He lost what little credibility remained with that one, in my opinion.

You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m with the first guy. The Internet is a complete red-herring in this discussion, as far as I’m concerned. Predators are out there, and they’re going to find victims wherever they can; the ‘net is only one vehicle for predatory activity. Kids get lured into bad situations all the time in the real world. I suspect, for example, that there are more in-school sexual assaults than there are Internet-linked sexual assaults.

It doesn’t help the fear-mongers case when a man comes off the street, pretends to be a lactation consultant, and assaults two new mothers in hospital. No Internet there, just a hospital employee abusing innocents…

On the other hand, Canada recently added new Internet-related charges to the criminal code, including “luring a child over the Internet”, and this is the first case (in Toronto) to use that law. Test cases like this always bring out the radicals.

I’m not going to completely shelter my children in order to protect them from the evils of the world; that’s just plain impossible. I’m going to try as hard as I can to give them their own survival skills, so that they can protect themselves. Spying on my children, or restricting their access, is just going to make them resent me, and push their lives far enough underground that I won’t be able to help them if they do get into any trouble.

I don’t believe it’s irresponsible to allow my children to access the Internet (or use libraries, or ride the buses, or…). I believe it’s irresponsible to raise children dumb (or naive) enough to get lured into a trap by a chat-room predator.

I’m not claiming this is going to be easy; molding self-sufficient people is going to be hard, because our lives have changed so much. For example, when I was seven, I was walking to school by myself. My children aren’t allowed to until they’re in grade 8; it’s school policy). On the other hand, when I was seven and walking to school by myself, all of the neighbourhood children knew who the dangerous people were, and which places to stay away from. Kids that young can be taught street-smart skills; we even used to teach them to each other.

I believe we’re up to the challenge. My kids are pretty smart, and they get to listen to me yelling at the radio. :-)

posted at 11:09 am on Thursday, October 17, 2002 in General | Comments Off on The Evil Internet, a Rant

Escher Lego

Even after reading the “how we did it” section, I’m still impressed by Escher’s “Ascending and Descending” in LEGO

posted at 10:34 am on Tuesday, October 15, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Escher Lego



I used to run, as a kid; I loved it. Some of my friends are (now) runners. I’d been thinking about taking it up again, when along comes this post…

Becoming a runner is actually not that difficult. Not surprisingly, it involves running. There’s other stuff, too, eventually, but running is the important part. If you can run a mile, run a mile. If you can only run around the block, run around the block. Tomorrow you’ll run around the block, and the next day you’ll find you can run around two blocks. And next week you’ll find you can run a mile. Then one day you’ll run a mile, then stop to catch your breath, then get invigorated and run another mile.

And then you’re a runner. That’s it, really.

There’s other stuff too, but it doesn’t really matter until you’re already a runner. […] Don’t worry about any of that now. Just run. Running is key. Otherwise you’re just another fat schmuck lying on the couch reading Runner’s World.

posted at 10:20 am on Friday, October 11, 2002 in General | Comments (2)
  1. Debbie says:

    Running is great! Just make sure you start slow and don’t push yourself.

  2. Reid says:

    Ya, and don’t stop (like me). It’s hard to get started again, especially when it’s cold and rainy outside. :-P

    It’s amazing though, you get to a point where you realize that if need be you *could* run indefinitely without stopping/walking. It’s a very cool feeling to have.

Put it in Writing

Put It in Writing

describes part of a contract between GE and General Magic Inc., in which there is a “Code Integrity Warranty” that strongly prohibits any “disabling procedures”, including bugs, errors, and defects.

Wow. This is certainly a long distance from the UCITA legislation

(Unfortunately, General Magic seems to have gone out of business…)

posted at 4:14 pm on Thursday, October 10, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Put it in Writing

Barney Not Found

Microsoft Knowledge Base Article Q72668: Barney Not Found:

Microsoft ActiMates Interactive Barney may conflict with a wide range of radio-operated electronic devices, including burglar alarms, resulting in the dreaded “Barney Not Found” error. To resolve this problem, Microsoft recommends turning off your burglar alarm.

Q131109: Earth Rotates in Wrong Direction

When you run Explorapedia and use the Exploratron to look at the Earth spinning, the Earth rotates in the wrong direction.

Those wacky Microsoft guys…

(Thanks to dive into mark/October 08, 2002 for the links).

posted at 4:41 pm on Wednesday, October 09, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Barney Not Found

Algorithmic Law Enforcement

An article humourously titled Stop, in the Name of ‘Bots starts with:

Nowadays, it seems as if more and more law enforcement is being done by machines. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to be up to the job. And the humans don’t want to take responsibility, either.

We now have traffic cameras and automatic face recognition in real life, and bots searching for copyrighted music and pornography on the ‘net.

Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever done spam filtering can tell you, getting the searches and filters right without introducing “false positives” is extremely difficult. Put another way, the data from these ‘bots is useless unless a human vettes it.

Of course, that’s boring, time consuming, expensive work, so why bother?

The lists have not even been culled to eliminate items that should never have been included in the first place. While most of the works identified in Exhibit 1 appear to be songs featuring George Harrison, the notice also demands removal of a file labeled, in part, “John Lennon, Yoko Ono And George Harrison Interview.mp3.” The notice further objects to a file entitled “Portrait of mrs. harrison Williams 1943.jpg.”

The brief also identifies a file entitled “harry potter book report.rtf” whose name and tiny size (1K) make obvious that it is not an illegal copy of the Harry Potter movie. Obvious to anyone who looks, anyway.

The problem gets even worse with ISPs who are afraid to object, and so will terminate an account based on one of these nebulous “copyright infringement” claims. There’s no incentive for RIAA and the FBI to filter their lists; who’s going to sue them?

(Thanks to Gerry Smit for the pointer!)

posted at 3:57 pm on Tuesday, October 08, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Algorithmic Law Enforcement

Open Source Rules!

According to an article in Forbes, Why Spy? by John Perry Barlow, co-founder of The Electronic Frontier Foundation:

For more than a year now, there has been a deluge of stories and op-ed pieces about the failure of the American intelligence community to detect or prevent the September 11, 2001, massacre.


the American intelligence system is broken beyond repair, self-protective beyond reform, and permanently fixated on a world that no longer exists.

The article is a good read, if long; lots of juicy tidbits about the politics surrounding American intelligence and security; it’s only as disfunctional as the rest of the American government :-).

But there’s an alternative! Invoke the techniques of the Open Source Software movement, and you get something that (for example) looks like the
Open Source Intelligence Initiative:

assembled from what is publicly available, in media, public documents, the Net, wherever. It’s a given that such materials — and the technological tools for analyzing them — are growing exponentially these days.

I’ve always wanted to be an intelligence operative; here’s my chance!

Thanks, as always, to Spin of the Day for the reference.

posted at 9:51 am on Monday, October 07, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Open Source Rules!

Amorous Ostriches

From my friend Greg Wilson; source unknown:

British poultry farmers trying to raise ostriches in the 1990s called in
scientists to find out why their birds were failing to breed. Careful
observations confirmed the birds were courting the farm workers rather
than each other, Norma Bubier of Pro-Natura UK and colleagues reported
in a seminal paper in British Poultry Science (vol 39, p 477), entitled
“Courtship behavior of ostriches toward humans under farming conditions
in Britain”.

The research was no laughing matter for the scientists or the farmers.
Ostriches are big. “You wouldn’t want to be in a pen with an amorous
ostrich, because if it tried to climb on top of you, you’d be in serious
trouble,” says Charles Paxton of the University of St. Andrews. Most of
the birds had been hand-raised by humans, and Paxton suspects they
identified with people when they went looking for mates. However, the
British ostrich industry collapsed before he could investigate further.

posted at 1:02 pm on Friday, October 04, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Amorous Ostriches

As ye sow…

Ok, I just have to laugh. It’s either that, or scream.

First the Americans created the Afghani terrorists and later put the Taliban in power, and now Records Show U.S. Sent Germs to Iraq.

When are we/they going to figure out that actions have consequences?

posted at 4:40 pm on Tuesday, October 01, 2002 in General | Comments Off on As ye sow…

Desktop Linux?

So RedHat 8.0 is out, and supposedly (according to the reviews) has a nicer desktop experience than in the past.

Windows is vexing me.

There are two versions of WINE floating around now; one that will run most OpenGL games, and the other that supports MS Office, and will run many multimedia browser plugins under Mozilla.

The only thing I really use Windows for (at home) these days is browsing, games, a couple of relatively innocuous utilities, and the enormous Excel spreadsheet that is my Rolemaster character.

Conclusion: it’s time to attempt, once again, the Linux-only laptop. First, I have to liberate some “copious spare time”….

posted at 3:09 pm on Tuesday, October 01, 2002 in General | Comments (1)
  1. Reid Ellis says:

    Hey, you should move that spreadsheet to Gnumeric!

IPv6 again

I discovered that I was actually using IPv6 (quite successfully) when I turned it off and a bunch of things broke :-)

So the state now is:

  • I’ve re-enabled IPv6 on the network.
  • I’ve disabled IPv6 on Windows, since that’s what was really bugging me.
  • I’m still running Apache 1.3.26; it supports PHP, and I haven’t rebuilt PHP for Apache 2.0.40 yet.
  • I’ve shot zebra dead as a doornail, and I’m back to using static routes. With my CIPE patch for detecting the liveliness of the network connection, this gives me relatively efficient routing even in the face of my ever mobile laptop.

The experiment continues…

posted at 3:05 pm on Tuesday, October 01, 2002 in General | Comments Off on IPv6 again

Network effects over-rated?

A new book by Stan Liebowitz, called “Re-Thinking the Network Economy“, has some interesting insights. This article discusses one, namely that the principle of “first to market” was completely bogus.

The “network effect” describes the condition that a product’s value increases with the popularity of the product to consumers. The typical example is the telephone; one is useless, and the more people have a telephone, the more useful one is.

First to market is the principle that, because of network effects, the first person to produce a product in a given space wins. Superior late-comers cannot gain market share, because “using what everyone else is using” is more important than a superior product.

In refuting this, Mr Liebowitz emphasises the distinction between two kinds of lock-in. The question of compatibility is central to both. One kind of lock-in arises simply because switching to a new product involves a cost beyond the purchase price: costs of learning how to use it, for instance, or the difficulty of using it alongside products you already own. Mr Liebowitz calls this self-incompatibility, or weak lock-in. But there is also strong lock-in. This arises if a new product is incompatible with the choices of other consumers – and if, because of network effects, this external incompatibility reduces the value of the product.

Liebowitz claims (and I agree) that real strong lock-in is nonexistant. Consumers are capricious beasts, and are perfectly willing to adopt a superior product even in the face of incompatability; witness the ongoing success of the Macintosh platform.

Long before the Internet, consumers had plenty of experience adopting better technologies despite network-effect obstacles: cars (you need petrol stations), telephones, fax machines and, most recently, generation upon rapidly succeeding generation of network-dependent consumer-electronics devices. If a new product offers a clear margin of improvement over a competing one, consumers not only want to take it up themselves, they expect others to do the same. In this way, even where network effects apply, a sufficient margin of improvement achieves the necessary co-ordination among consumers.

I’ve always believed that the “first to market” principle was false; it’s nice that someone agrees with me.

posted at 12:31 pm on Monday, September 30, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Network effects over-rated?

Transit Spin

Apparently the Toronto Transit System is getting flak from commuters. Seems that whenever someone is late for work, they blame it on a TTC delay. The TTC wants to reassure us that the transit system is running just fine…

Today I hear on the radio that (paraphrased): using data up to the end of August, the Bloor Danforth line is running on schedule 95% of the time, and the Yonge University Spadina line is running on time 90% of the time.

What is wrong with this statement, I wonder?

  • This means that the Yonge line is running off schedule 10% of the time. That’s about 15 minutes per *day*. Problems are more likely during the two rush hours, when the system is already at capacity and all of the older, more troublesome trains are operating. 90% uptime sucks, in my experience.
  • The data used in the commentary aren’t relevant. The data runs up to the end of August. Since then, a significant number of working commuters have returned from vacation, and the school year has started, adding a large number of students to the transit system.
  • This simple statistic also doesn’t measure other information. The Yonge line is over capacity during morning rush hour. If standing at Yonge & Bloor, for example, one must often wait for several trains to pass until one with space for passengers arrives. At a minute between trains, this can add up to a personal delay even when the system is “on time”.

PR people make me laugh, or cry. I’m never quite sure which.

posted at 10:58 am on Friday, September 27, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Transit Spin

Banned Books

In celebration of banned books week (September 21 – 28 2002), The American Library Association is encouraging a “Read-Out” – a continuous book reading of books banned and challenged.

They also have the usual lists: The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books and a list of frequently challenged classics.

People are crazy.

posted at 11:32 am on Tuesday, September 24, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Banned Books

Good week for Spin of the Day

Spin of the Day

I am loving this site. Last week was a particularly good one for stories:

  • Operation Successful, But the Patient Died – No, a prostratectomy won’t let you live longer.
  • Slick Ads Won’t Sell US to Arabs – well, duh.
  • Cattlemen Finally Stop Harassing Oprah – after way to much wasted time and money, a judge threw the whole thing out.
  • Pediatricians With a Corporate Logo – apparently it’s ok to put a Similac (formula) logo on a book about breast feeding. Huh?
  • The Big Lie Continues – more on the whole NEA fabricated scandal.
  • Show Me the Science I Agree With – Dubya is eliminating advisory committees that disagree with him, even when they’re right.
  • Coughing Up the Truth – more on the air around the WTC after the collapse. Yes, it really was contaminated, despite the EPA coverup.

And lots of Iraq news, too.

There’s a short summary; both the government and the media lie with impunity these days. What’s a boy to do?

posted at 10:03 am on Monday, September 23, 2002 in General | Comments Off on Good week for Spin of the Day

IPv6 revisited

Since I enabled IPv6 on, I’ve received no IPv6 traffic other than my own, and a couple of curious onlookers from the IPv6 webbug’s log site.

I’ve been having lots of trouble with zebra; several bugs in OSPF6D and RIPNGD continue to plague me, so I can’t keep dynamic routes up-to-date. Static routing is too much work, especially with my laptop which changes networks at least twice per day.

IPv6 on Windows 2000 works ok, but often when I apply an IE service pack, it updates wininet.dll, removing the IPv6 support in the browser. I can re-run the IPv6 installer to put it back, but I wonder what bug fixes I’m stomping on as a result.

PHP for Apache 2 is still experimental, due to the new Apache threading model.

I could have tolerated all of this as a natural side effect of running an experimental network, but the last straw is that the w2k ipv6 and VMware 3.1 are having a feud, causing a BSOD on my computer.

I’m tired of fighting with, and babysitting, IPv6. It’s about to die an ugly death on my network, and good riddance.

posted at 12:23 pm on Friday, September 20, 2002 in General | Comments (2)
  1. Reid says:

    Maybe it’s Windows you should be saying goodbye to? ;-)

  2. Harald says:

    Probably. Is it a mere coincidence that RedHat 8.0 was announced yesterday, and I just found two different versions of WINE that will allow me to run games and run MS Excel, and Windows multimedia browser plugins, under Linux?

    More in a blog entry.

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