Archive for » 2006 «

Modifying the default (pre-login) Windows wallpaper

As detailed previously on this blog, I have a half-dozen PCs networked at home, and four of them share a single LCD display, mouse and keyboard via a KVM switch.  The problem I run into is that it can be difficult, at times, to figure out which PC I am looking at.  The problem is especially evident when I am not logged in to any of them and they present identical Windows login screens.

Sure, I could crane my neck over to the KVM and see which of the four indicator lights is illuminated.  But the easy way is to change the default wallpaper of the login screen to display the computer’s name and other identifying attributes.  That way there is no neck-craning to see the KVM, nor having to hit Ctrl-Alt-Del to view the login properties — the computer’s name, role and IP address appear immediately, like so:

w2003_login_screen

Note that whatever wallpaper (or lack thereof) existing users have selected will still display normally when they log in — this change is just for the pre-login screen.  You could also choose to display something more aesthetically pleasing, like a picture of puppies, kittens or Jessica Biel.

I have blurred my IP address and Active Directory domain name for security purposes.  And speaking of security, do not put things like passwords on your corporate servers’ default wallpaper.  IT Risk Management types tend to freak out about that.

Here’s how to change your default (pre-login) wallpaper:

  1. Open the Registry Editor (regedt32.exe) and navigate to key HKEY_USERS\.DEFAULT\Control Panel\Desktop.
  2. Look for the string value Wallpaper under that key.
  3. Change the Wallpaper string value to be any bitmap file (.bmp) and include the full path — i.e. drive letter, folder and bitmap filename — like c:\windows\backgnd.bmp.  The wallpaper graphic must be a bitmap file, not a JPEG or other graphic format.
  4. Look for a second string value under HKEY_USERS\.DEFAULT\Control Panel\Desktop called WallpaperStyle.  Create it if necessary.
  5. Set the WallpaperStyle string value to be o to display the wallpaper bitmap centred, as-is.  To tile the wallpaper, set the value to 1.  To stretch the wallpaper to the edges of the screen resolution, set the value to 2.
  6. Exit the Registry Editor and restart your computer for the changes to take effect.

Amazingly this stupid Windows trick has been on the books since 1993, when Windows NT 4 was first released.  Of course, I just discovered it this past weekend.

If you don’t feel like messing with all of that yourself, and custom-crafting a default wallpaper, consider using a software tool to do it for you.   BGInfo can collect your system stats (hostname, username, CPU, OS, IP address, DNS server, boot time, etc) and display them on the background wallpaper automatically.  BGInfo’s screen data can be automated and highly customised, and it also has the ability to modify the default user login screen.  You may find it useful in your multi-PC environment!

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Not In My Progressive Beach

This is simultaneously one of the saddest and funniest news stories I have read this year.  A do-gooding Anglican church in the city’s east end has decided to feed and shelter homeless folks for one night a week, but is being impeded by local busybodies represented by one N. Peter Silverberg, of the firm Beard Winter LLP.

A Toronto church’s plan to feed and house 12 homeless people one night a week during the worst of the winter has been put on hold after residents of a tony Beach enclave threatened it with a legal injunction.

As part of the Out of the Cold program, which is run in churches and synagogues across Toronto, the temporary shelter was to have opened Jan. 8 at St. Aidan’s Anglican Church on Silver Birch Ave., at Queen St. E.

But the three-month program has been delayed until at least Jan. 16, when a community meeting will be held to discuss details and other potential sites.

— Joseph Hall, “Affluent freeze out homeless.”  Toronto Star, 28 December 2006.

Twelve homeless guys.  One night a week.  For three months.  This is, incredibly, more than some members of the community can bear without lengthy discussion.

Toronto lawyer Peter Silverberg, who has acted for the objecting Beach residents, denies they were motivated by NIMBYism in threatening the church with legal action.

He said they were concerned about having been given scant opportunity for consultation and whether the program provided the best use of limited shelter resources.

“The program itself is very praiseworthy, although it might be questioned on the level of whether or not this is the best way to use … very limited resources to look after this type of thing.”

Silverberg, who would not say how many residents objected, said there might be better sites in the Beach for the shelter but he believes they were never examined.

— Joseph Hall, “Affluent freeze out homeless.”  Toronto Star, 28 December 2006.

It has nothing to do with importing homeless people into one’s cosy neighbourhood, of course.  They want the money spent in the best possible way, of course.  Because the folks who run Out of the Cold, bless their hearts, are apparently not fit to judge whether this church — St. Aidan’s Anglican — can be an efficient and effective site within the program.  Obviously the very best way to ensure that this site is effective and the money is being well-spent is to go out and hire an expensive lawyer to prevent the church from taking any action until these anonymous concerned residents somehow work up enough courage to unmask themselves and voice their concerns.  Presumably they will do so in a meeting between the parties on January 16th.  And never mind that the church has already held two public meetings to discuss the details and ramifications of the one-night-a-week shelter.

Twenty-three percent of the households in Ward 32, by the way, have incomes of CDN $100,000 or over.  The citywide average for that income range is just eighteen percent.  Check the data for yourself, here.  And remember, all of this fuss is over twelve homeless guys, one night a week, for a mere three months.  Assuming that those twelve homeless guys like the neighbourhood so much that they actually take up permanent, non-fixed-addresses there, their inclusion in the census data would not alter the figure for their income bracket ($0-10,000) by more than four-hundredths of one percent.

I will say one thing for Mr. N. Peter Silverberg — he’s a brave man.  I wouldn’t want my name appearing in Toronto’s highest-circulation daily as the guy representing the nay-sayers.  Kudos to Rev. Stephen Kirkegaard and his congregation for opening their hearts and place of worship to the less fortunate.  And also to Ward 32 Councillor Sandra Bussin for attempting to mediate this mess.

Read more about the Out of the Cold program here.  And if you feel like donating or volunteering (details here), I’m sure they’d be happy to hear from you.

Category: Fidei Defensor, What Really Grinds My Gears  Tags:  Comments off

All I Want for Christmas

christmas_tree
This beautiful Christmas tree is Wanda’s handiwork.  My contribution consisted of lugging the lights and decorations up from out-of-season storage.

Hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas!  I got tagged by Ben the Tiger for a little blog meme, wherein one lists three things you want (and three things that you don’t want) for Christmas.  Problem is, I only noticed it after Christmas had gone by, so I’m a day late and a buck short right now.  Consider these things on my list for the New Year, then.

THREE THINGS I WANT

1.  Inspiration. I started blogging two years ago because, at the time, I thought I had a lot to say.  I still have thoughts to share, but as time goes by I am less and less inclined to share them.  The idea of sitting in front of the computer and slaving away so someone else can waste a few minutes of their day is not too attractive to me.  It would be nice to rediscover my enthusiasm for this medium.  I’ve met a lot of great people through blogging, but along the way I’ve forgotten why I started on this journey in the first place.

2.  An End to Web 2.0 Hype. The moniker “Web 2.0”, of course, means different things to different people.  The best summary I have run across is one by Dennis D. McDonald, which I will reproduce here:

  • To the programmer, it’s a set of tools and techniques that have the potential for fundamentally altering how network based applications and data are managed and delivered.
  • For start-ups and venture capitalists, it’s an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of another bubble.
  • For the corporate CIO or IT manager, it’s another set of technologies and architectures to be adopted and supported in an era of continued I.T. department budget strains.
  • For newer or smaller companies, it’s an opportunity to acquire technical and business process infrastructure at a fraction of the investment made by older and legacy companies.
  • For the marketing manager it’s an opportunity to “end-run” a traditionally unresponsive I.T. department.
  • For the CEO of an established legacy industry, it’s a threat of loss of control over customer relations.
  • For the customer it’s an opportunity to establish and maintain relationships that are both personally fulfilling and empowering in the face of the traditional power of larger institutions.

As an IT guy, I think the programming tools and techniques have the most utility.  At the same time, I don’t think they are going to change the world any more drastically than say, Netscape Collabra or Novell GroupWise ever did.  Web 2.0 tech will change the way we do business incrementally, not exponentially.  There are plenty of banks and insurance companies out there running their core business processes on 30-year-old mainframe technology, and — despite being slow-moving industrial dinosaurs — are still raking in record profits.  They have little incentive to change and it’s going to be a while before they (and plenty of other businesses) do.

I understand the natural enthusiasm the technical folks have for these new tools and techniques.  In order to succeed in the enterprise environment, they need to demonstrate three key strengths:

  • Proven benefits
  • Increased reliability
  • Lower costs

So far Web 2.0 isn’t making the grade — yet.  Doesn’t mean it’s time to abandon ship, but be realistic — at this point only nerds (of the IT or VC variety) are really excited about it.  Everyone else thinks it’s all about blogs and MySpace, or just plain doesn’t care.

3.  Contemporary Canadian fiction that doesn’t focus on isolated and alienated 1) spouses in a disintegrating relationship, 2) immigrants, 3) children in small towns, 4) underdogs fighting for their rights / survival / societal acceptance.
I want to like Canadian literature, I really do.  I have embarked upon a mission to find good CanLit (or more specifically, TorLit) based on a regular Joe’s urban lifestyle which manages to avoid all of the usual tropes for both major and minor characters.  I have a feeling this is also an impossible mission.  If you have any book / author  suggestions, please leave them in the comments or e-mail me directly.  Per Alan’s suggestion in these comments, I did read Acting the Giddy Goat by Mike Tanner.  I liked it right up until the final chapter where it crashed due to pilot error (specifically, nosediving into the yawn-inducing CanLit terrain of disintegrating relationships and immigrant isolation).  Somewhere out there, there is a book for the urban neo-fuddy-duddy like me.

THINGS I DON’T WANT

1.  Any video game that’s 1) an FPS, 2) an RTS, or 3) set in the Second World War. All of these genres have been done to death.  There are several thousand years of recorded human history to draw upon; please, for the love of all that is good and holy, put aside FPSes, RTSes, and that whole 1939 through 1945 period, and move on to something else.  Some of the best computer games of all time (like F-19 Stealth Fighter) were cranked out for lousy EGA displays with 16 colours.   Buzz Aldrin’s Race Into Space was also pretty challenging and unusual.  Since then we’ve gained a lot in graphics and computing capabilities, but creativity has gone by the wayside.

2.  Other (non-resident) Canadians bitching about Toronto. The East, West and everyone else are disenchanted with the way Torontonians seem to get in the way of all your big dreams.  Seek professional help for these grand conspiracy theories, okay?  People out here have better things to do than screw with other provinces for kicks.  Most of us have to work for a living.  Maybe it looks easy and effortless to you, but it takes a lot of effort and many talented people to run the Center of the Universe.  You should try it sometime.

3.  A Sony PlayStation 3 or Nintendo Wii.
I’m so far behind on my console gaming, there are still plenty of GameCube and PlayStation 2 games I own but have never played (or have started but never finished).  I don’t really have any set plans to finish them all up, but I figure it’s a waste of money to buy a new toy when your cost-per-use on the old toy is not far off the sticker price.

I’m going to violate the rules of the meme slightly and not tag anyone else since it is, after all, well past Christmas.  I just couldn’t fail to honour my commitments; even if someone else made them.  =)

Category: Miscellania  Tags: ,  3 Comments

The Other Woman was a Laptop

Portable computers causing decline of Western Civilization; film at 11

I never thought I would see this day, but the impossible is finally upon us.  The Globe and Mail‘s own Leah McLaren is finally ascending the heights of CanLit and writing about one of its timeless, well-trodden themes—middle-aged couples too alienated to have sex, but too lame to do anything about it.  Get your Governor General’s Award nominations handy as Ms. McLaren goes on a tear complaining about laptops in the bedroom.  Or more accurately, men who habitually bring their laptops to bed and ignore their girlfriend’s plaintive telepathic yearnings for cuddle time and serious talk about the relationship.  Why do men do such evil things?  Because we can’t stand talking about relationships, of course.

Men—whether they admit it or not—avoid pillow talk. The reason is simple: While snuggling and giggling and chatting in bed often leads to sex, more often than not, it also leads to more in-depth talk. And more in-depth talk leads to serious talk, which quickly gets converted into serious plans, which leads to making choices, which leads to not choosing other things, which leads to a feeling of vague, unshakable entrapment, which leads to misery, which leads to death.

— Leah McLaren, “Why online should be off-limits in the bedroom.”  Globe and Mail, 09 December 2006.

Here’s the thing.  Men are not adverse to Serious Talk, which leads to Serious Plans, which leads to Making Choices and Sacrifices.  But we do object to feeling entrapped.  And here’s a hint: if contemplating a future with someone leads one to feel Entrapped and Miserable, then that feeling might be a hint that one is, perhaps, with the Wrong Person.  And whether or not we like to drag the laptop to bed then becomes secondary or even tertiary to the rest of the equation.  But that’s not the best part of the whole piece:

Wherever you find a household with wireless technology, you will more than likely find a man who is trying to bring a laptop into bed and a woman who is trying to prevent him from doing it. One girlfriend of mine confided that she got wireless so her boyfriend wouldn’t retreat to his study all night. Now, the computer in bed is threatening their sex life.

This passage merely demonstrates how little Ms. McLaren knows about the male brain.  How many men would rather geek out than have sex?  Show of hands?  Right then.  How many men would like to 1) geek from bed, 2) geek from the kitchen or 3) geek in front of the TV.  Bingo.  Home wireless networking allows us to take a half-hearted stab at being productive while doing something far more interesting.  That is its real purpose.  If one’s spouse would rather check baseball box scores from bed, one could infer that perhaps you’re not that interesting.  The cause and effect are a little more obvious than a technological boogeyman like laptops or wireless networking.

The real secrets to preserving the sanctity of the bedroom are:

  1. Good time/task management; only you can decide how much of your down-time gets eaten up by other tasks.
  2. Make it more attractive, convenient and efficient to work somewhere other than the bedroom.

You need to control your interaction with technological toys, whether it is the telephone, TV, computer or BlackBerry.  These things have no ability to set boundaries or prioritize their communication with you, so you’re the one that has to make all of the tough calls.  This is pretty easy for me because I am the kind of guy who likes to tackle things on my own terms.  For instance I don’t answer my cell phone unless I am expecting a specific call from a specific individual or company on that particular day.  I will bounce the call to voicemail, finish whatever I am doing, and check the message later on.  I don’t like to go to meetings where people jaw for hours; tell me the agenda, what my 15-minute time block is, and I will be there for that time and leave once I am finished.  If your meeting is running late then call me and tell me what the new time block is.  I don’t check company e-mail or fire up the Firm’s laptop after I’ve left the office, either.  If there is an emergency, or I am on-call for a specific after-hours event, then this may vary, but otherwise it’s ironclad.  I guard my time pretty carefully.  You have to, otherwise it’s easy to get distracted by the urgent (versus the important).

I have two laptops, one for personal use and one provided by the Firm.  The Firm-provided laptop I cart to the office every day, but rarely if ever fire up while at home.  I like to get my work done at the office, and my rule is that work stays at the office unless a bona-fide, all-hands-on-deck emergency occurs.  I drag the laptop home every night simply because I was once a Boy Scout, and one must Be Prepared.  If there is a transit strike or some awful downtown calamity the following morning, I do not want to be the only team member who cannot plug in from a remote location because I was dumb and left my laptop at the office.  The personal laptop suffered an AC port failure last year and I simply have not bothered to get it repaired.  It’s not as speedy or convenient to use as the new desktops, so it sits packed away and unloved.

There was a time, though, when I used to drag the dreaded laptop to bed.  Miraculously, something ended the habit — about $4,000 in new office furniture and computer hardware.  Making the home office much more comfortable and efficient had the unforeseen side effect of making it less desirable to do computer work from anywhere else.  54Mbps wireless networking is convenient, but it is dead slow compared to wired gigabit to the desktop.  There’s enough space on the desk to work with the laptop and the desktops.  There’s also a spare gigabit port to plug in the laptop, so that it too can benefit from the newer, speedier network.  Likewise, a 15″ laptop screen is not nearly as convenient or easy on the eyes as a 22″ LCD.

The moral of the story is not that one has to blow wads of money to stay up-to-date and preserve intimacy in the bedroom.  One just has to make the home workspace is a more attractive, convenient and efficient place to work than the bedroom.  And you have to decide how much of your relaxation time you’re going to allow to get eaten up by other tasks.  It’s not rocket science.

Category: Web/Tech  2 Comments

No rest for ye merry gentlemen

dundas_square_treeWanda put up our tree last night (that isn’t it, by the way—that tree is at Dundas Square), but managed to SNAFU the lighting.  The plug for the lights humourously ended up at the top of the tree, not the bottom.  She wanted to get an extension cord and fire it up as-is.  I said this is no time to cut corners; make it right.   So it takes an extra day to put up the tree; if you’re going to do something right, do it right the first time — that’s what Mike Holmes would say.  There’s no pride in your craft when you wire up a tree the wrong way but camouflage it with an extension cord.  Next thing you know, kids are going to be building substandard snowmen without building-code-mandated corn-cob pipes, button noses and eyes made out of coal.  Pride in craftmanship is dying a rapid death in this country, I tell ya.

Category: Miscellania  Comments off

Work / Life Balance

And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it.  And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:   But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.

— Genesis II:15-18

Last week in the Change Management Board meeting, I found out that we were going to begin restricting access to internet dating sites, like Lavalife.  The attendees were all uniformly shocked, as it was generally assumed that these sites were blocked to begin with.  Many companies do not even like you to read personal e-mail on company time, let alone look for a new mate.  Companies tend to fret about liability and so on should anything unpleasant arise from you using the company’s infrastructure and time to do something so clearly unrelated to actual work.

But partners of The Firm, in their infinite wisdom, had looked down from on high and worried about all us urbanite tower dwellers having appropriate work/life balance.  And they decided, way back when, not to block dating sites as this might negatively affect our ability to keep equilibrium in our professional and social spheres.  Until, presumably, some poor lovelorn sods started surfing the dating sites a little too often and the bandwidth usage crept up enough to be detected and analysed by our monitoring tools.

What really makes this comedic gold is that access to dating sites is blocked only during business hours.  Yes, that’s right — there is a specific, intentional filtering exemption for after hours use.  I guess the logic is that if you’re here after hours and surfing for a date, your social life needs more help than hindrance from us.   The sad part is that I.T. departments are generally so conditioned to overreaction and zero-tolerance, the proportionate response of permitting non-business network use after business hours seems like sheer lunacy or high comedy.  I find it funny as hell, but then I have spent ten years in environments where, generally, people get fired (or at least an HR notation in their file) for the infraction of inappropriate network use.  It is downright hard to fathom this sort of thing being condoned.

In the abstract it is kind of entertaining to ponder a global corporation intentionally letting its employees surf dating sites, only reluctantly rescinding that capability — but only during business hours.  The real tragedy is that most IT professionals (and I include myself here) look at this example and shake their heads, laughing — instead of asking "Why aren’t more companies doing things this way — sensibly, proportionately?"

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The Hon. Gordon O’Connor, P.C., at the Albany Club

Many thanks to Lt. (N) Paul Hong, who graciously invited me to breakfast at the Albany Club, hosted by the St. Paul’s and Toronto Centre Conservative associations.  The Minister of National Defense, Brigadier-General (Ret.) Gordon O’Connor, PC, OMM, CD was the guest speaker.  Although my host was a little late, I saw another familiar face in the room — Vincent Veerasuntharam, Tory candidate (previously reviewed here) for my former neighborhood of Scarborough Southwest.  I was also able to get in a few questions to the Minister before he spoke to the assembled guests.  I didn’t realise who he was, at first.  Gen. O’Connor is about my height and most general officers I have met fall into the Dilbert Executive Profile: tall, good hair, good looking.  The Minister has good hair and is good-looking in a craggy, distinguished way, but he was shorter than I expected.  But then that comes in handy when you have to fold yourself into a main battle tank every day for a couple of decades.

As usual I had to drag out my strat-lift hobbyhorse and see how things were going on that front.  Boeing has made a lot of noise in the past few months about the production line coming to a close in the absence of further orders from the U.S. Air Force, and I asked the Minister if the impending line closure could affect our delivery dates at all.  There are no worries there at all.  Apparently the USAF has graciously agreed to swap production slots with us and we will take delivery of our first C-17 in May or June of next year.  He actually recalled, off-the-cuff, the production tail numbers we would be assigned, although my memory is not good enough to cite them here.

My second question involved an issue raised by friend Mr. Damian Brooks, founder of The Torch.  Lately, it seems as if the CF is getting behind the 8-ball in the PR and information war.  I cited the example of CTV reporter David Akin asking the CF at 0900 for a knowledgeable source to appear on-air in a piece about the Excalibur precision-guided 155mm shells.  Dawn Black, NDP defence critic, and Stephen Staples from the Polaris Institute made themselves available for interviews, but the CF took all day (until 1600) to let Akin know that no official source was available for the piece.

The Minister’s take was that 1) he is appearing all across the country as the schwerpunkt of an information blitz, and 2) they get hundreds of requests from the media for on-air (or on-record) sources, and they can’t possibly accommodate them all.  So some requests are, unfortunately, going to fall by the wayside.  That is undoubtedly the truth of the matter, but it’s regrettable when it happens to reporters like Mr. Akin — someone who has shown a willingness to really do his homework and seek reasonable, knowledgeable sources for military stories.

The actual prepared speech was a bit of a mixed bag.  First off the Hon. Mr. O’Connor is not the world’s best speaker when reading prepared material.  He was very comfortable and at ease during the question-and-answer session afterward, but he was a wee bit awkward during the prepared material and I felt a little sorry on his behalf.

The material featured some standard "Canada’s New Government" boilerplate highlighting recent accomplishments.  Recognising accomplishments is good and necessary, but since we’re in the fourth quarter of the "new" government’s first year, can we drop the whole "new" business now?  It’s unseemly to run around calling yourself "the new guy" when it’s been twelve months since the election and eleven months after swearing-in.

The bulk of the speech covered CF funding restoration and progress in Afghanistan.  No specific figures for CF funding were elaborated, unfortunately, except the usual business of the CF being under-budgeted since the Mulroney era and requiring multiple years of consistent restorative funding.  No argument there.  He did unload some interesting factlets about Afghanistan, such as the increase in female representatives within provincial and federal legislatures (from zero to one-quarter, I believe), and the dramatic increase in postgraduate students (from 400-500,000 males to 3 million persons, a quarter of which are women).  Minister O’Connor also took pains to note that the CF has seen so much recent fighting because they are defending all reconstruction teams in a heavily Taliban-influenced Pashtun area.  Not just the CF’s own PRTs, but reconstruction teams from the UN, NATO, and other countries.

The Q&A afterwards was largely unremarkable (same old, same old questions from the crowd) but I did enjoy the minister’s response to one remark.  The questioner pondered whether we might be in Afstan for a lengthy period, given how long our forces remained in Europe following the Second World War.  Minister O’Connor’s reply was that Canada remained committed to Afghanistan for the long term, but that committment did not necessarily entail military forces for the duration.  As far as the Conservative government is concerned, the CF will be engaged in the mission until 2009 (as voted by the House), and no plans (affirmative or negative) have been made beyond that.

On the whole it was reasonable starting effort from the Minister, and I hope DND’s information offensive eventually includes a fast, responsive PAO that can help provide an accurate, appropriate warfighter’s perspective to the media’s military stories.

Cross-posted to The Torch .

Category: National Defence  Tags: , ,  Comments off

Neo-Pelagic Gothic Revival

A wad of food-themed architecture has sprung up in the lobbies of some of the TD Centre towers.  I am not sure what exactly they are supposed to represent, but rest assured that somewhere in the city, self-righteous souls are harrumphing over this horrendous waste of non-perishable food.

There are many displays such as a house, a space shuttle, and a large worm taking a bite out of an apple.  The structure below (which I dub “Albacore Abbey”) is constructed out of canned tuna and granola bars; and emulates the soaring arches and flying buttresses of a traditional Gothic cathedral.

photo_111606_001

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Lady Black at Holy Blossom Temple

Wanda and I attended a lecture by Lady Black of Crossharbour (Mrs. Barbara Amiel Black) last night at Holy Blossom Temple, which later turned out to be something of a mistake.  The temple had a capacity crowd, and we were fortunate to gain seats in the sanctuary by virtue of being a member / friend.  Also in the crowd was husband Lord Black, sponsor Mrs. Heather Reisman, and two rows ahead of me, someone who looked an awful lot like the Hon. Hilary M. Weston, CM, OOnt, former Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario.

Lady Black was introduced by producer Mr. Robert Lantos, who gave a touching account of her admirable qualities — quite contradictory to the scheming "Cruella de Vil" treatment in a recent biography.  Mr. Lantos did not seem to enjoy public speaking in front of so large a crowd and his manner was occasionally awkward, but there was no mistaking the sincerity of his esteem for the keynote speaker.  She had defended the producer and some of his controversial movies in her journalistic endeavours, and I think this was his way of defending her from the latest attacks by her detractors.

Lady Black herself defies description.  Although sixty-six years old, she looks decades younger.  She has an excellent speaking voice, precise diction and a delightful English accent — highly reminiscent of Dame Julie Andrews.  One half-expects that at any moment she will break out into a rousing rendition of My Favourite Things with the von Trapp children.

Unfortunately I did not pay as close attention to her lecture as I would have liked.  The dehydration caught up with me halfway through the evening and I had to depart the sanctuary lest I suffer the indignity of passing out or tossing my cookies 1) in a house of worship; 2) in front of life peers Lord and Lady Black; and 3) in front of a former representative of the Sovereign.  I am grateful to usher Jeff and doctor Abe of Holy Blossom for responding so quickly.

What I do recall of the lecture was that Lady Black spoke at length about the survival of Israel and its rationale — a topic largely reprised from her own Daily Telegraph column which I can only find reproduced on the net here.  It is worth the read if you can get by the awkward centre-aligned formatting.

As a fellow who grew up surrounded by Jews, went to high school that closed on Jewish holy days, and whose adolescent friends were predominantly Jews, I am not exactly an impartial judge.  Quite a few of my high school contemporaries had served a portion of their compulsory military service, or were in Canada because their parents could no longer tolerate the risks of such service.  I spent a lot of time at friends’ households, learning about shabbat customs through example and participation.  I have a great deal of affection for adherents of the Jewish faith because they have often been, quietly and inconspicuously, the best exemplars of Judæo-Christian charity and selflessness.

This is not, I realise, an adequate argument for a secular Jewish state ensconced in its ancestral Middle Eastern geography.  I do, however, think that there is something to Lady Black’s argument that without the possibility of Israel, certain elements of the Jewish faith become reduced to an empty shell.

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