Lives on random shuffle

“I didn’t upgrade to the latest cheats, and I was banned.” He was waiting at St. George Station, carrying a canvas and a hiker’s backpack, so he’s probably a university arts student. He got banned from playing the online game Counter-strike. No remorse or guilt in his voice; it’s a minor inconvenience. Ironic since in the online gaming world, where gaming skills can mean cash prizes in cyberathelete competitions, cheating brings out very strong emotions. He plays “Amplitude” on the PlayStation2 now.

Two rollerblading teenagers, cruising down Bloor Street Village, are regaling this curious story: “So then, this asteroid heads toward earth and then turns around, saying “F— that!” But he’s not talking about what he’s seen on television or on the movies. He’s talking about the Flash animation “WTF Mates?” (The End of the World).

Saw a man teaching a young girl sign language on the streetcar. Did you know there is a gesture for “Tim Horton’s”? I only caught it in the corner of my eye so I probably am not getting it right, but it looks like the index and middle fingers pointed outward as your right hand moves in a wide upwards arc from right to left. “McDonald’s” is signified with a gesture tracing the shape of the Golden Arches.

Duh, what’s the Internet, political parties say

One of my local candidates recently had left an automated message on our answering machine proclaiming his support of “safe neighbourhoods, good health care and the care of the elderly”. Just in case, you know, since all the other candidates are running for unsafe neighbourhoods and the mugging of senior citizens. With all this rhetoric and mother-truthing, three groups decided to ask the dominant Canadian parties what their plans were for privacy, copyrights, spam, and open source software. The Toronto Star also covered this topic.

Unsuprisingly, the political parties seemed to not have any clue what they were talking about. The Liberals, NDP, Bloc and Greens nebulously stated they were “looking at the issues”.

The Liberals were the first to respond, pointing out they created an anti-spam workforce, and also launched the infamous CDR tax levy.

The Greens probably responded the most lucidly, claiming they were for music sharing and open source, but didn’t get into many details.

The NDP and Bloc had no position on open source software, but agreed that spam = Bad!

The Bloc answered back in French, but that’s okay if you don’t understand la belle langue because every answer was the same: look up the Bulte Report, an interim government study done by my local Liberal candidate which basically approves Internet censorship.

Unsurprisingly, all four parties said that national IDs were bad.

The Conservatives didn’t bother to respond.

In any case, if you’re Canadian and haven’t voted yet, go vote. And remember, don’t eat your ballot, it’s illegal.

Mozilla’s Top 10 Extensions

mozillacontextmenu.gifProbably one of Mozilla’s most powerful and yet overlooked features is its extension support. By installing these tiny plugins, you can give Mozilla extraordinary new abilities. Extensions are written in XUL, Mozilla’s cross-platform rendering language, and given an “XPI” file extension (Nosy Programmer tip: they’re actually ZIP files – rename their extensions and see!).

There are dozens of extensions available on Mozdev, ranging from bookmark backup makers to blogging tools to parlour games.

Here are my Top Ten Mozilla Extensions. These are the extensions I personally consider indispensable, the ones that scratch my itches:

CuteMenus: Adds pretty colourful icons to your browser menus. Might as well surf in style.

TextLink: Lets you access URLs written in plain text with a double-click. One of the many extensions that are simply little hacks that brighten your day just a bit more.

Dictionary Search: Just select a word on a webpage, click open the context menu, and you can search for that word on or up to thre other search resources of your choice. I put Feedster and Wikipedia there too.

Web Developer: A set of tools that are invaluable to any web designer. Want to see what your page will look like in 800×600 resolution? Want to extract all the CSS data on a webpage, find broken images, or validate HTML in two clicks? It’s all there.

IEView: Every once in a while, you’ll run across a page that doesn’t work right in Mozilla. It ain’t the red dino’s fault – the webmaster obviously didn’t care enough to follow proper HTML standards. You can contact the webmaster about this faux pas, but in the meanwhile, you can use this workaround: click open the context menu, click “View This Page in IE” (if you have IE installed).

Diggler: It sits on the left hand side of the Location Bar, and provides a myriad of little options for surfing sites. For example, you can move up the directory tree, toggle popups and images on and off, and more.

QuickNote: Did you ever want a virtual scratchpad so you can quickly cut and paste an address or number off a website? You can load QuickNote in a tab or in a separate window, and it periodically saves everything automatically in plain text files. I’m proud to say I designed the icon for this extension. 😎

Multizilla: If you’re enjoying the power of tabbed browsing, this extension is worth a look. You can reopen closed tabs, make new windows open in tabs instead, and more.

Honourary Mention: Single Window Mode does roughly the same thing.

Tagzilla: Lets you automatically insert a random tagline into the bottom of email messages or website textareas. Taglines are basically pithy witticisms and quotations you store in a text file. If you’ve ever use BlueWave Offline Reader to read mail off a BBS, you know what I mean.

BugMeNot: You know those annoying news sites that make you register your name, email, and blood type just so you can see their fricken’ article? The next time you’re confronted with a registration screen, click open your context menu, click “BugMeNot”, and log in without having to type anything in.

Learning by the numbers

The Two Things

1. People love to play the Two Things game, but they rarely agree about what the Two Things are.

2. That goes double for anyone who works with computers.

The 25 most difficult questions an interviewer can throw at you. From 1983, yet still topical.

23. What do you feel this position should pay?

Don’t sell yourself short, but continue to stress the fact that the job itself is the most important thing in your mind. The interviewer may be trying to determine just how much you want the job. Don’t leave the impression that money is the only thing that is important to you.

Can you see the irony in this entry

“In politics, if you don’t toot your own horn, it usually stays untooted.”

– Former US President Bill Clinton in his memoirs My Life, Page 556. About his accomplishments, obstentationally.

“Stop listening to celebrities. They do what they do for money – that’s all. I don’t even know why you’re listening to me. I’ve done commercials for both Coke and Pepsi. Truth is, I can’t even taste the difference, but Pepsi paid me last, so there it is.”

– Comedian Dave Chapelle, to a rowdy Sacremento audience

The best independent studies money can buy

I hate Scoble
And I hate Microsoft too,
They patented the double click and kinetics
In hopes that they can someday sue

They sent Ken Brown after Linus
spreading uncertainty far and wide,
Standards they extend and extinguish,
while pretending to be on our side

“Linux is like a cancer!”
Say Redmond-backed “independent” shills,
It costs too much unless it costs too little
In case you’re the country of Brazil

Even the European Union
Thinks that Microsoft’s gone insane
“Their salesdroids are hindering competition,
“It must be the free Talking Rain!”

But maybe I’m being too hard on Scoble,
And unfair to Microsoft too.
I like my Internet Keyboard Pro
The FTEs are just human, true

They’re not all living rich on Mercer Island,
Although they’re smart and clever
No one can challenge their work ethic,
Plus they made Flight Simulator

They may suffer from Asperger’s, hubris,
or “Not Invented Here” for sure
But that’s easy to see when they get Windows XP for dollars 30
At the Microsoft Company Store

Just open your checkbook,
Just click “I accept”,
Let them control your music
Let your consumer choice be forfeit.

But I can tolerate the constant security exploits
I can take the lousy CSS support in IE
But there is one thing I cannot forgive nor forget…
And that’s the delay of Halo for the PC.

Of course I don’t hate Scoble. How can you hate someone you’ve never met? As for Microsoft, they do good things and bad things. However, I wish they did more good things.

Driving Miss Fits

Books and songs and Bollywood movies can be made about my quest to learn how to drive. I’ve driven good cars (a ’99 Lexus ES 300) and bad cars (’97 Pontiac Sunfire). I’ve gotten a license in 1997, became indisposed for two years, finally took a road test, and then had my license expire, forcing me to do the whole graduated licensing thing all over again. On a lark, I ducked into a DriveTest centre on New Year’s Eve 2002, and got another “G1” learner’s permit. But it took my pilgrimage back to TO to get a hold of a car and actually practice for the roadtest.

So I’m sitting in my Dad’s Buick, nervous as heck, waiting for the driver examiner for my G1 Exit exam. It’s stuffy and humid inside the car. I’m at Victoria Terrace, a slightly dilapidated plaza and home of the Metro-East DriveTest centre. During the day, it’s a virtual death trap for pedestrians and parked cars, with barely competent drivers weaving in and out of the lot and making cringe-worthy attempts at parking. I’ve noticed that cars in the surrounding neighbourhood have been parked with their rears close to driveways: the better to keep novice drivers from trying to parallel park with your car and hitting it.

We’ve been told to drive into the back, park forward against a fence, sign in with the dispatch and wait our turns. I take a look around at my fellow drivers. Many have inexplicably brought their entire families to the driver’s examination centre.

In my first test drive in Toronto, my entire family sat in the car with me. Never again. My sister would squeal every time I passed a parked car, claiming I was “too close”, while my mom would scream “You just failed! You are a failure!” at every mistake, real or imaginary, I made. It was there that I noticed that a backseat driver’s level of opinion is inversely proportional to actual driving experience; my mom couldn’t do a parallel park with a shopping cart.

When I booked June 21st as the date of my test, my mom asked, “So soon?” To be honest, I wanted it done and over.

My dad, bless him, is a better mentor, and we practiced for several months. The only problem is, he got obsessive as the exam date crept closer. I ended up driving through downtown during rush hour, and performing incessant back-in parkings for hours at a time. He devised stranger and stranger tests of skill. I once had to parallel park with an eighteen wheeler.

So back to the present. The examiner arrives, plops down in the leather passenger seat, and immediately goes for the automatic seat controls. I hope I get brownie points for not arriving in a rusting Toyota subcompact like everybody else did.

The road test started out as a test of my intestinal fortitude. I braved a minivan making a left turn on a red light, two yahoos cutting me off in opposite directions as I cross the intersection, and a garbage truck stopped dead not nine feet from the light. We continued on southbound, made a left into the residential area, navigated the tree-lined streets, performed a curb park and a three point turn, and then came back to Victoria Terrace.

He chewed me out on not heeding right of way to a car approaching from 100 yards away, and then chewed me out again for being too timid at the next intersection.

Anyway, I passed. Onward to G2.

Voting means picking who sucks less

08.jpg If you folks down south are feeling blue about your impending November presidential elections, feel free to commiserate with us. Studies have shown that voter participation in Canada has dwindled – and even a baboon can explain that it’s because all the candidates suck. “The trick is to pick the one who lies the least,” an octegenarian winked at us as we stood at the polling line.

Fortunately, the Canadian campaign period is only a month and a half – a sharp contrast to the year-long election jamboree in the US. I guess we just want to get it over with. Ballots list the names of our local candidates – not the leaders of their respective parties – in a bid to make voters choose the best local representative for the job. Yes, this does occasionally lead to awkward situations where a party may win the majority vote, but their leader loses in his/her own riding (In this case, someone who got voted in steps down, and they switch places).

Here are the dramatis personae:

Liberal Party
The “Grits” are currently the ones in the driver’s seat, having enjoyed two back-to-back majority governments for the past eleven years under Jean Chretien. However, they currently have egg on their face due to the recent “AdScam”, a sponsorship scandal that they are suspected of orchestrating.

Throw in a few unpopular decisions they’ve made throughout their tenure, add a general feeling that it’s time for some new blood, and you can see it’s an uphill battle for them. The recently elected Liberal provincial government in Ontario has also added healthcare premiums (a broken election promise), which hasn’t helped things.

Despite their name, they are only moderately left-wing. Well, by Canadian standards anyway.

Conservative Party of Canada (CPC)
The CPC was initially three parties: the Reform Party, Canadian Alliance, and the Progressive Conservatives. The Progressives, a moderately rightwing party, were the favourites in the late 1980’s, where they enjoyed two consecutive terms under Brian Mulroney. Mulroney is famous for creating the an 8% sales tax (the GST), and ratifying the NAFTA free trade agreement. Anyway, the PC Party or “Tories” was clobbered by the Liberals in the election afterwards. They only won two seats in the House of Commons.

Reform and Alliance were both extreme right parties, most famous for making statements that could be construed as racist or sexist.

Desperate times call for desperate measures I suppose, hence this Frankenstein of a political party. They seem to have trouble consolidating their position on several key issues, but their U.S. Republican-esque mandates to increase military spending, privatizing healthcare and tax cuts has disturbed more than a few voters.

New Democrat Party (NDP)
Many a book has been written about the Canadian quirk that is the NDP. Always trying to grapple for attention, and yet always in third place. Their platform is more left-wing than the Liberals, but strangely enough their target audience, unions, want no part with them. Their current leader is most famous for making outlandish accusations (i.e. that the Liberal leader is personally responsible for the murder of the homeless), which frankly just hurts their credibility. Some have also labelled their economic strategies as sheer lunacy.

Bloc Quebecois (BQ)
The Bloc was born in 1993 with one goal in mind: to annex Quebec from the rest of Canada. This position appeals to the francophone’s patriotic heart, but unfortunately it doesn’t appeal to the patriotic brain: For one thing, sovereignty would be financial and economic suicide, and they’ve never given a good answer as to how they’ll pull it off at all. A key moment in Bloc history is when their chief supporter, a former Quebec premier, appeared drunk as a sailor after the narrow 1995 referendum defeat.

Today’s Bloc is more moderate: a semi-conservative platform, but Quebec gets top priority. Not exactly a crowd pleaser with the other provinces, but their platform is actually milder than the CPC’s in comparison.

Then there are the one-trick pony parties: the Green Party, the Marijiuana Party, the Marxist-Leninists, and the Canadian Communist Party (yes, they’re different, and they hate it when they get confused). You can probably guess what their respective mandates are, and write then down in one sentence each to boot. Sadly, the Rhino Party and Natural Law Party (aka the yogic flyers – no, I am not joking) are missing this time around.

But yes, I did vote.

I focused on the local candidates in my riding of Parkdale-High Park. It’s the weirdest riding I’ve ever seen – one half is a well-to-do residential ‘burb, the other a poorer, urbanized ‘hood. Naturally all the candidates are in the rich part. Anyhoo, the Liberal candidate was no good, since she supported an anti-user Internet copyright law I disagreed with. I ended up picking the local candidate I felt was least likely to stab me in the back.

You can find more info on Canadian political parties at Freedictionary.

Had a dream last night, and it looked just like a dream

So I was sleeping and I had this strange dream last night. I had signed on to play a forensic investigator on the TV show, CSI. I also remember thinking this would look good on my resume. I had to explain to this little girl that I had to take away all her stuffed toys because they were evidence and that they may have “little tiny things you can’t see” that I could use to catch the bad guy. She kind of lost interest when I started talking about microscopes. One of the other investigators suggested I just spray Luminol on them.

Then I was on a snowy mountain, and I had to shimmy down a foxlift back to the main headquarters somewhere, where this Joe Pesci lookalike and two other men received me. The journey was exhausting, so I had to be wrapped in quilts and rehabilitated. However, I suspected that this was a trap and they would betray me (I mean, has Joe Pesci ever play an honest character?). Lo and behold, they were actually wheeling me to a trash compactor.

Fortunately, I was lucidly dreaming, so I jumped out and kicked two of them in the face, knocking them out. The third man, who looked like Jesse from “Full House” but Asian, was a more worthy adversary. I had to use all my martial arts skill to defeat him. I finished him off by grabbing his left wrist and spinning him upside down, and kicking him in the neck. This fight sequence was all in slow motion, like we were underwater, which is a typical dream sensation.

Later in the dream I was driving around the terrain in a MicroMachine SUV.

On an unrelated note, I had a big bowl of Rolo ice cream about an hour before I went to bed.

Studies show this blog is low in carbs and Y2K compliant

The official slogan of Quantified is “Fat-free and dolphin safe”, which is a lighthearted poke at sensational claims written on the packaging of the things we buy.

You see, we endure true tests of critical thinking everyday – junk science. “Science” makes everything sound authentic. Marketers know this, and that’s why you have packages screaming “33% better!” (better than what?) and “100% natural!” (as opposed to unnatural?).

Marketers know that tarting up products with pseudo-scientific claims automatically make them legitimate to most folks – even if the scientific studies behind it are a sham. “The hucksters know the superficial cues better than most people, and have long ago adopted all of the code-words and mannerisms that children are conditioned to perceive as ‘scientific’,” Joshua Allen wrote recently. “What we have is a wolf in sheep’s clothing; superstition masquerading as science. And adults are basically defenseless, because we have been taught only to fear things that look like wolves.”

For an eye-opener, a writer from Popular Science has chronicled “1O6 Science Claims and a Truckful of Baloney” he had encountered in a single day. Make the decision yourself.