Archive for » 2007 «

Andy Rooney time

atm_queue I went to the ATM to withdraw some money today.  Two ladies, a little older than me, had occupied the automatic tellers with positively archaic tasks.  One was busy paying bills.  The other was getting her bank book updated.  Suddenly I had the suspicion that I had been transported back in time thousands of years, and a Tyrannosaurus Rex was likely to come crashing out of the verdant Cretaceous rainforest.  Paying bills at an ATM?  Bank books?

I can’t even remember the last time I wandered out to an ATM with a sheaf of bills in my hand.  You can deal with this crap online or by phone, without the people in line behind you being able to see that you’re 90 days overdue.

And those itty-bitty bank books—Great Caesar’s ghost.  I haven’t touched one of those since my second year of high school.  It’s wonderful that there are people still using bank books, meticulously keeping them up-to-date and carefully balancing their checkbooks against them on the back of a brown paper bag.  That’s much simpler and more reliable than learning how to click the mouse two or three times so your bank statements get downloaded into Quicken.

Reminds me of my grandparents’ generation, who would cheerfully waste an hour at the bank, conducting all transactions in person,  receiving a little bank-stamped piece of paper for everything.  Didn’t trust ATMs, of course, because people—unlike machines—are never prone to human error.

Wake up fellas.  Plug in the effin’ abacus and get online.  We’ve long since passed the point where electronic fund transfers are not only routine, but essential to ordinary, everyday operation in many (most?) sectors of industry.  Put it this way—if by horrible catastrophe the banks lose all ability to transfer and track funds electronically, little stamped pieces of paper aren’t going to resurrect our financial security.

Category: Finance, What Really Grinds My Gears  Comments off

True Story

The home network is running out of space to back up essential files, so I am going to utilise my router’s capability to attach external storage.  A hard drive and enclosure I ordered for this purpose just showed up at the Firm’s mail room.

The thing arrives in a bright pink box with all sorts of cancer-fighting messages all over it.  When I carry it back to my desk, the pink box attracts a lot of attention.  My colleagues are clustered around asking me what’s in the box.

Me:  “It’s just a hard drive and enclosure I ordered for the home network.”

Colleague 1:  “Why did you have it delivered here?”

Me: “Because I’m not home right now.”

Colleague 2: <laughs>

Category: Industria, Web/Tech  Tags:  Comments off

Residents’ Associations, oh how I love thee

Several months ago I was travelling through the Moore Park area and it was blanketed by little white signs pleading “Save Our Green Space”.  The locals were up in arms about the impending felling of trees and development of a visitation centre at nearby Mount Pleasant Cemetery.  They appear to have lost that battle.

Members of the Moore Park Residents’ Association appear to have lost a 2½-year battle yesterday to prevent the construction of a 1,115-square-metre visitation centre at Mount Pleasant Cemetery.

Several outraged neighbours watched a crew remove dozens of trees from land that will be used for the new centre.

Central to the dispute has been whether the cemetery is owned by the province.

— Dakshana Bascaramurty, “Neighbours outraged as cemetery clears trees“. Globe and Mail, December 19th, 2007.

Yes, heaven forbid that construction—and an eventual increase in mourners—should interfere with the vital neighbourhood business of rollerblading and having one’s dogs defecate on the final resting places of the dearly departed.

Readers who recall my election coverage on the old blog will know that I have no patience for the little cliques of neighbourhood busybodies who band together under the guise of residents’ associations.  But in this case, I believe the annoying little bastards have the correct interpretation.

“It’s not a public trust,” said Rick Cowan, assistant vice-president of marketing and communications for Mount Pleasant Group of Cemeteries.

“There’s a misconception that the cemetery is a public park space. It’s a privately operated cemetery.”

Margot Boyd, a member of the Moore Park Residents’ Association, vigorously contests that point.

She found a document at a University of Toronto law library that she says confirms that her great-great-great-grandfather, Sir John Beverley Robinson, had passed a bill in the provincial legislature (then the government of Upper Canada) to create the cemetery as a public trust in 1826.

“He was a man who did not set up multimillion-dollar corporations,” she said with a wry laugh.

“He was committed to public service.”

It would have been nice if the Globe had thought to reprint the relevant sections of said bill, so the readers could decide for themselves.   At least the Moore Park Residents’ Association, however, takes the time to quote the relevant bits (again, without identifying the specific bill or document) on their website:

The original governing statutes of the Mount Pleasant Cemetery created a Trust that was accountable to the householders of Toronto.  The householders of Toronto had the right to choose who could serve as a Trustee – and thus govern the affairs of the Cemetery.  The governance of the Cemetery was “open” to the public’s involvement.

At the time of the creation of the Mount Pleasant Cemetery the Trustees released a public announcement that said, among other things:

The purchase of the land and its improvements have been effected by the Trustees of the Toronto Generally Burying Grounds [former name of the MPGC] for the general use of the inhabitants of the city and the surrounding country; being under no denominational or sectarian restriction whatever.

MOUNT PLEASANT CEMETERY is therefore the property of the citizens and its affairs are managed by a Board of Trustees, chosen according to law…

With this language the Trustees’ indicated their belief that they were administering this cemetery for the greater good of the citizens of Toronto.

Seems clear to me.  Just try not to read too far into the site or you’ll run across curmudgeonly rants against leaf-blowers and so on.  My understanding is that lawn care outfits generally work during the daylight hours.  I don’t hear High Park’s leaf-blowers from the towers at King and Bay.  Perhaps if I were retired, or an underemployed scion of the Family Compact, I might be home during the hours that commercial leaf-blowing activity traditionally occurs.  I can’t say it’s a major irritant right now, though.

Speaking of the Family Compact, I don’t think Ms. Boyd is overly familiar with the activities of her Old Tory ancestor, Sir John Beverly Robinson.  He may not have been in the habit of setting up million-dollar corporations, but then he didn’t need to.   The man led a rather extraordinary and priviledged life.

Upon the death of his father, young Robinson’s guardian was the Right Reverend John Strachan, future Bishop of Toronto.  When Strachan moved to another parish, JBR studied law under the Attorney-General, Col. MacDonnell.  The Colonel was subsequently killed, along with General Isaac Brock, at the Battle of Queenston Heights.   Who replaced MacDonnell as Acting Attorney-General?  Twenty-one-year-old law student John Beverly Robinson.  Who went on to prosecute several notable capital trials, including the Bloody Assize.  Ask yourself if you or your kin would like to die as the result of prosecution by an acting AG who is, at that time, a mere law student.

But that’s not all.  JBR was also elected to the province’s Legislative Assembly several times.  And after attaining his legal credentials in England, JBR would return to be appointed Solicitor-General and actual, no-longer-acting Attorney-General.  In fact he would be appointed Chief Justice, and serve concurrently as Chief Justice, President of the Executive Council, and Speaker of the Legislative Council—until British parliamentary reforms forbade sitting judges from concurrently serving in the executive branch.  Robinson also prosecuted reformers and opponents like Robert Gourlay, earning no small enmity while doing so.

Considering Robinson’s own example, it is nothing short of hilarious that one of his descendants is freaking out when a senior government agency magisterially overrides the prerogatives of the local burghers.

In September, 2006, Toronto City Council voted 41-2 against the cemetery owners’ plans for the visitation centre, but power to approve the site plans was turned over to the Ontario Municipal Board, which gave owners the green light.

Ms. Boyd and her Residents’ Association are going about it the wrong way.  Think of your dignity, man.  The Family Compact whines not, and suffers no defeat.  It simply does.  Your ancestors crushed a rebellion and kept Catholics under their boot for decades, for heaven’s sake.  Call out the colonial militia, read the Riot Act, and order the developers to disperse on point of bayonet.  The stragglers can be charged with sedition and prosecuted by whatever 21-year-old law-student scion is waiting in the wings.  You still have some of those handy, don’t you?

UPDATE 021823Z JAN 2008: The aforementioned Ms. Boyd wrote me a good-natured email indicating that she was, in fact, quite well-acquainted with the exploits of her ancestor, Sir John Beverly Robinson.  Let me assure everyone that his legacy is quite storied and with good reason; I had left out most of the admirable do-gooding parts.

One of JBR’s most endearing traits was his steadfast adherence to the principles of English Common Law and the supermacy of Parliament.  Would that our present Supreme Court justices be so punctilious in their interpretation of the law.  Patrick Brode’s Sir John Beverly Robinson: Bone and Sinew of the Compact is a particularly detailed read focusing on JBR’s legal career and decisions.  I had referenced this work while writing the post, but the entire book is far more well-rounded a picture than I have painted here.

I am also delighted to note that JBR was, like John Graves Simcoe, an abolitionist.  In an 1819 pronouncement, he ruled residence in Canada made blacks free, and they were to enjoy the protection of British law.

JBR was also a defender of religious minorities.  As Ms. Boyd writes:

As early in his career as the 1820s, when JBR was an elected official of the legislature of Upper Canada, he was viewed as a “defender of religious minorities.” (Patrick Bode, p. 119)  The ‘reformers’ leading representative, one John Rolph of Middlesex (who was supported by William Lyon Mackenzie) spoke out against a bill to permit religious societies to hold land. “Rolph denounced the measure as vague and claimed that it was dangerous to permit some denominations, notably the Roman Catholics, to hold land.” (Patrick Bode, p. 119) JBR’s response denouncing Rolph’s bigotry and defending the Catholic Church was quoted in the Colonial Advocate on January 27, 1825. He called the Catholic Church “a learned body, and no more to be dreaded than any other sect.”

I am sure you will deduce by this time that JBR was not the cardboard cutout Family Compact villain that kids are presented with in schools.  He had a rather distinguished, moral career.

Although, if you look at Toronto’s inflationary housing prices today, maybe allowing Catholics to own land wasn’t such a great idea after all.

Category: Aut disce aut discede, Historica  Tags:  Comments off

Nerd Wars of Religion

nerd_phone_wars

Reading some of the BlackBerry addict sites today, I was not surprised to see that the Faithful were up in arms over the heretical teaching of Consumer Reports.  The American magazine came under fire for having the gall to rate the iPhone and several other smartphones above the BlackBerry.  Yes, I know CR has been involved in several lawsuits and controversies regarding their reporting.  But I simply can’t stand nerd religious wars (i.e. Mac vs. PC [vs. Linux], PS3 vs. Xbox 360, boxers vs. briefs, fish vs. cut bait), and this is a prime example.

A particularly ludicrous rant comes from Alexander Wolfe, “advanced technology” blogger for Information Week.

Even more mystifying is that fact that, on Consumer Reports‘ full list of smartphone ratings, a BlackBerry doesn’t appear until No. 7. That’s after the iPhone, Palm Treo 755P, Samsung BlackJack, Motorola Q, and Treo 680. How can a BlackBerry be below a couple of Windows Mobile devices like the BlackJack and the Q?

As an former owner/operator of two Treos and three BlackBerries, let me break it down for you.

Things BlackBerries Do Really Well (Compared to Treos):

  • Provide wireless push messaging and PIM sync services.
  • Run a small number of third-party applications from device RAM.
  • Run applications that pull data from wireless connections rather than an onboard database.
  • Task switch/multitask, especially with an active data connection.

Things Treos (Palm OS or Windows Mobile) Do, but BlackBerries Can’t:

  • Keep applications on the SD card, only loading them into RAM at application launch.
  • Read data and execute applications from the SD card.
  • Employ a touch-screen and stylus, thereby avoiding endless scrolling and clicking.

How do these examples play out in the real world?

Example 1: Navigation

Let’s say you have a fancy new BlackBerry with onboard GPS receiver.  You’re in the middle of nowhere—Baffin Island—and want to find out where the nearest town is.  Get out your BlackBerry, turn on the GPS receiver and voila, you are shown a spot on a blank map.  I said a blank map—the BlackBerry doesn’t keep its maps in device RAM (nor on the micro-SD card).  It downloads maps on an as-needed basis using your cell phone connection.  Not so useful any more, is it?

Your Treo, on the other hand, stores all of its third-party maps on the SD card.  It doesn’t even have a built-in GPS, so you have to use a GPS puck connected via Bluetooth.  But you have the advantage of being able to utilise GPS in the absence of a cellular connection.  Which is more useful to you?  Kind of depends on where you travel, doesn’t it?

Example 2: Inefficient Use of Device Memory

Want to read an e-book or access a large-ish local database on your BlackBerry?  Those need to be stored in device RAM, which is somewhere between 64-72 MB (minus a dozen MB or so for device firmware and OS).  Device RAM is also where all of your call logs, tasks, calendar entries and emails live, so you can’t eat up too much of that space.  Want to store applications on the micro-SD card and load them into RAM when required?  Sorry, can’t do it.

Your Treo, on the other hand, can store applications on its SD card, loading them into device memory when launched.  Your Treo is also smart enough to be able to read e-books, databases and data of most types directly from the SD card, so you are not eating up precious device memory just storing your currently-dormant applications.

Conclusion

I happen to like both device types for different reasons.  Users will have a variety of viewpoints on the utility of these devices.

BlackBerries are unbeatable in a corporate environment because they provide the connectivity and messaging that corporate users crave, while simultaneously providing the security that corporate IT groups crave.  BlackBerries are terrific in situations where you have wireless data coverage, the information you need is easily accessible via wireless connection, and your IT department concurrently needs the ability to make your BlackBerry drop dead when (not if) you are an idiot and misplace it.

Treos (and iPhones, and others) are great in the prosumer realm because they provide a broader feature set and can sacrifice some security and control for a different user experience.  They are also good in situations where a wireless connection is not guaranteed (like the subway, or Baffin Island), because you can carry the bulk of your data with you on the SD card.  On the downside, their integration with corporate messaging is usually handled through third-party applications, and they have no integral remote-kill, which makes them more risky for corporate environments.

Different situations call for different tools.

As if more ammunition were required

Statutory release works its magic upon another fine specimen of the Convict-Canadian community, who has, no doubt, been fully rehabilitated and represents no foreseeable danger to the general public.

A man who choked a young Korean student into permanent severe disability is getting out of prison early, to the horror of the victim’s family.

Robert Gary Wallin is slated for release Jan. 18 after serving two-thirds of his sentence, in accordance with federal law.

… The parole board found Wallin, who plans to live with his parents in
the Lower Mainland, is still willing to use violence or aggression to
achieve his goals. He has watched a television special about Park and
her life following the attack.

— Ethan Baron, “Attacker paroled, family fearful“.  Victoria Times-Colonist, December 16th, 2007.

[emphasis mine]

This guy choked a random Vancouver girl into a coma.  Before the attack, she spoke four languages, and played the piano and flute.  Today she’s in a wheelchair, unable to speak.

The victim’s family were not notified of the con’s impending release.  Why?  Because you have to register with a specific Corrections Canada program in order to get those notices.  And according to the victim’s brother, nobody bothered to tell them that this program was available.  Nice.

The best part is the excerpts of the parole board’s decision that the CanWest reporter elects to highlight.  In the story, the board appears to have a case of schizophrenia, because the statements they make are at odds.  Here’s The Bad Wallin:

Wallin has a history of psychiatric problems, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and oppositional defiant disorder, and quit taking medications because he believes he requires “no medication or any other form of treatment,” according to parole-board documents.

“You have a pattern of violent outbursts,” the parole board wrote in a decision on Wallin’s release conditions, “making demands, reporting unsubstantiated claims about your personal safety and drawing sexually inappropriate graffiti images.”

Doesn’t sound so good, does it?  Now read about The Good Wallin:

The parole board noted Wallin has supportive parents and has made positive changes.

“You are keenly aware of what led to your crime and its impact, and have taken steps to reduce your risk of repeating this behaviour,” the board wrote.

The board imposed conditions for Wallin’s release, including a prohibition on contacting Park or her family without permission from his parole supervisor. Wallin must also attend psychiatric treatment and counselling.

Well, which is it?  Is he a violent nutbag refusing to take medications and “any other form of treatment”?  Or is he conscientious con who is “keenly aware of what led to his crime” and anxious to prevent another one?  Context, anyone?

Category: Culpae Poenae Par Esto  Tags: ,  Comments off

They can have my willy when they pry it from my cold, dead hands

Swedish armed forces castrated the heraldic lion of the EU’s Nordic Battlegroup.

NBG FörbandsmärkeThe armed forces agreed to emasculate the lion after a group of women from the rapid reaction force lodged a complaint to the European Court of Justice, Göteborgs-Posten reports.

Funnily enough I don’t think Roman legionaries were given to complaining about the Lupa Capitolina—with exposed teats—appearing on their banners, buildings and coins.  But then they probably didn’t think there was anything inherently sexist about a female wolf representing the city and people of Rome.

These days our symbology has to be one hundred percent representative of everyone and everything, or bland enough to avoid offending anyone (except aesthetes).  That reminds me, I need to petition the OHRC to amend the City of Toronto’s coat of arms.  The eagle, bear, beaver and green grass are not representative enough of my Asian ancestry and that has to change.  The grass should be a rice paddy and one of the shield supporters should be a nice multi-ethnic symbol like an Asian dragon.  And there should be samurai and ninjas somewhere.

Swedes—how about a little less time spent gawking at stylized animal willies, and a little more time spent on operational readiness and mission capability.  No?

“The army lacks knowledge about heraldry. Once upon a time coats of arms containing lions without genitalia were given to those who betrayed the Crown,” said [emblem designer Vladimir A] Sagerlund.

I must reconsider.  In that light, a castrated lion is the perfect emblem for the EU’s Nordic Battlegroup.

Sure, that would help

Ottawa urged to scrap statutory release of cons—in favour of earned parole.

Maybe they could think about some kind of aptitude test for judges, too.  Nice and easy multiple-choice questions, like:

"You have convicted a defendant of aggravated assault and sexual assault against a minor.  When considering sentencing, you will:

a) Deliver a firebrand rebuke from the bench, then hand down a sentence exactly one-half the maximum that the statute permits.  After time credited for pre-trial custody, this will work out to about 3-4 years.

b) Hand down a lighter sentence because what this individual needs is rehabilitation, not retribution.  Just don’t think about any kids that might get assaulted while he/she’s out on statutory release, rehabilitating themselves.

c) Hand down a sentence of death by breaking wheel (multiple offences) or 72 lashes, Branding and fifteen years’ Transportation to the Hans Island penal colony (first offence)."