ScrimismsPresently suffering a dearth of witticisms


News11 Sep 2011

Ten years ago this morning I sat down in Ethics class next to an American friend and asked, “What happens now?”

“Bush goes ape,” he said.

I remember that’s what I was afraid of that morning. Not the attacks themselves, but what the attacks might make us do. Sitting far away in a small Canadian town gave me the luxury of this less immediate fear, and I know that it was a luxury many people didn’t have. But it was on my mind that day, and I think that ten years on, “What did the attacks make us do?” is the most useful question to be asking, because it’s the only thing we have any control over. We can’t change what happened, we can’t prevent extremists from plotting against us, but we can control our response.

Bush turned out to be more calculating than reactionary, and we have come through better than I feared we might that morning, but much of what was done in response to terrorism in the last decade was not graceful or just. And as I read that our government is going to re-introduce the PATRIOT act-style police powers that we rolled back in 2007, I am reminded that September 11th is still making us do things that aren’t graceful or just, ten years later.

Our Prime-Minister-non-elect Michael Ignatieff had a pretty good take on the last decade in the Globe and Mail the other day.

News and Photos04 Jul 2010

Remember those bean plants that we’ve been growing? And how I wasn’t sure if they’d actually produce anything? It turns out reproduction was the least of our worries.

Indoor Bean Fecundity

Not long after my previous bean post, we noticed that the bean leaves were suffering. It appears that the bean plants attracted what google informed us are are spider mites. I started spraying the leaves regularly with a mixture of soap and water, and that seemed to slow the invaders down. I figured that the beans plants would survive until harvest time, and then we’d pull the plants out.

What Spider Mites Will Do To a Leaf

Unfortunately, the mites spread to the rest of our little indoor garden. They annihilated our thai basil before it really got started, killed the thyme and mowed down the oregano. Our sweet basil and parsley are also affected, but seem to be soldiering on.

Today we picked the beans and turfed out the troublesome bean plants. Unfortunately, the rest of the garden is looking a little thin. While I’m happy that my crazy bean idea actually produced some edibles, I don’t think it was worth the cost in other plant lives. I should probably have responded more aggressively at the first sign of mite trouble. Oh well. The neophyte gardener learns a lesson.

A Snack

The Survivors

News and Photos29 May 2010

This summer we decided to grow some herbs in our apartment. Sweet and Thai basil, oregano, parsley, mint, and… beans?

Guess which one isn’t a herb

I chose bean seeds on a lark. I wanted to try to grow a few bean plants, even though beans are not too space-efficient when it comes to indoor gardening. Realistically, the best I can hope for is that my harvest will provide a fresh side-dish for one meal later this summer. People tend to laugh when the see our little bean patch, but I am undaunted.

From past experience we have found it is better to grow the plants entirely indoors, rather than putting them on the balcony periodically where they can be exposed to wind, hungry birds, and punishing afternoon sun. For herbs, this is fine, but urban apartment-dwelling vegetables face certain challenges that their rural cousins don’t have to worry about. I mean that delicate issue which might be metaphorically referred to as “the birds and the bees”, or, in this case, literally referred to as “the bees.” In other words, sex. Vegetables grow from flowers, and flowers require pollination, i.e., the male flowers have to send their magic dust to the female flowers. Outdoor veggies enlist friendly insects to help with this vital transfer, but there are no insects where my beans live.

When flowers started appearing, I realized that I’d have to midwife my little beans into existence. I googled for “manual pollination” and started reading up on how to play floral match-maker. However, it turns out that I needn’t have worried, because indoor beans are randy little creatures capable of pollinating without extra help from q-tips or delicate paint-brushes. All I need to do is stand by and wait.

And lo: the bean patch has produced its first bean.

I’m following “Junior’s” progress with great interest

If that bean is the only one I manage to get, I’ll still be happy with the indoor bean experiment, ridiculous as it may be. Growing things is fun.

News15 Feb 2010

The elevator door closed. Then it popped open half an inch and made a crunching sound. Then nothing. There were six of us and a dog in the elevator, and we weren’t going anywhere. I’d never been trapped in an elevator before, and found that my reaction was to chuckle and roll my eyes. A couple of our fellow passengers became a bit panicky. At least the dog was calm.

Fortunately for us, there fire department was already on the scene. There had been half a dozen burly firemen standing in the lobby of our building when we’d stepped in to that elevator, and they quickly went to work on freeing us.

We had just spent ten minutes standing on the street with the fire alarm blaring, until those same firefighters had determined that the alarm had been triggered by “a malfunction in the garage sprinkler system” and let us back inside.

About 15 minutes before that elevator door gave up the ghost, I had just sat back down to our fancy Valentine’s Day dinner after fending off a telemarketer. I was just saying to myself, “that was our interruption for the evening,” when the fire alarm started to ring. Now, here we were, going nowhere at all in a small metal box, while our dinner rapidly cooled on the table, a dozen stories above our heads.

To the great credit of the Ottawa Fire Department, the firefighters managed to get the door unstuck after about five minutes of fiddling with it. We thanked them and took the stairs, laughing all the way back up to our apartment, and to our dinner.

Happy Valentine’s day, everyone.

Musings and News and Photos and Travel27 Jul 2009

Roy “Doc” Halladay, the best pitcher the Toronto Bluejays ever had, is very probably going to be traded before the end of the week. I’d never seen him pitch except on TV, and, with a little bit of panic, realized that his Friday night start in Toronto might be my last chance. So I did what any die-hard Jays fan would do in my position: took the day off work and booked a flight. Shengrong said I was “feng feng dian dian de” for my impulsiveness, but gamely came along.

Halladay is incredible. Because he plays in Canada, and not say New York, he isn’t as widely known as he could be, and he seems to like it that way. Whenever he talks to the media he’s thoughtful and well-spoken, even a little shy. One the field, he’s incredibly intense. He rarely smiles or even looks up at the crowd. He glowers down at every batter like an ace pitcher should. Occasionally, steam comes out of his ears.

And what a pitcher he is: “dominant” is a word often used to describe him. He’s an incredible athlete: all of his pitches from the 94 mph fastball with deadly movement, to his pinpoint curveball, to his devastating 92 mph cut-fastball (Marino Rivera, the Yankee’s legendary closer, throws only cutters), to the sinker and the change-up, are “plus” pitches, meaning better than the average for the league. He has great command of all of them: he can throw any pitch for a strike on the corner of the plate when he wants to, and the hitters can never guess what might be coming next.

But there are many pitches with great “stuff”, as the pitch-arsenal is called. Great pitches alone don’t make a great pitcher, and his “stuff” is just the beginning of greatness of Roy Halladay. Some pitchers with wicked pitches try to strike everyone out. They spend five or six pitches per batter and are worn out after five or six innings. They’re happy when they manage to finish the seventh. Halladay can “pitch to contact”, he throws pitches that look appetizing enough for the batters to swing at, but they don’t connect solidly with the bat, and turn into easy outs. He saves the strikeout for when he really needs it, and thus saves his arm. He usually leads the league in innings pitched and throws more complete games in a season than most other teams. He once threw a 10-inning complete game and won it 1 to 0. Incredible.

And then there’s his work-ethic. Starting pitchers throw every 5th game, and Halladay is known to make the most of the time in between, both in terms of physical conditioning and in his analysis of the opposing hitters, learning their weaknesses, formulating a plan. I don’t know if Malcolm Gladwell mentioned Halladay in his book on how “genius” is often a product of a huge amount of work, but if he didn’t, he should have. When Halladay first arrived in the major leagues, he dazzled everyone by nearly throwing a no-hitter in his second big-league game. Then he ran intro difficulties and seemed to fizzle out. He was sent down all the way to A-ball and most people thought that was the last they’d hear of him; he’d be the baseball equivalent of a one-hit-wonder. But Doc worked is butt off in the minors, retooled the mechanics of how he throws the ball, and came back. He’s been to six all-star games, he’s thrown 44 complete games, he’s won the Cy Young award for best pitcher in the league.

But Roy Halladay, the arch-competitor, has never been to the post-season. He’s on a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 1993, and that’s not good enough for the Doc. He’s current contract ends after 2010, and he’s said that, while he’d prefer to win in Toronto, time is running out for him (he’s 32) and he might look to other teams where he’d have a better shot. Right now, his trade value is as high as it has ever been, and so the Jays, fearing that he’d leave in 2010 and they’d get nothing back, have put him on the market. It’s unclear whether the Jays will get the kind of deal they want for him, but there’s a very real chance he could be going.

Whether he’s traded or not, I’m glad I got to see him on Friday. If it was his last game in Toronto, it was in some ways a fitting conclusion to his Bluejays tenure. He was brilliant, throwing 9 innings, giving up only 2 runs (1 earned) (giving up fewer than 4 earned runs in 9 innings is considered “good”), allowing only 4 hits, walking only 3, and striking out 10. The crowd, although not as big as it ought to have been for Doc’s final game, was certainly aware of what they might be about to lose. They gave him a standing ovation when he walked off the field after his warmup, they gave him a standing ovation after almost every inning, they stood and cheered whenever he got two strikes on a batter.

But for all of Doc’s superman effort, his team couldn’t get him the win. His opposing starter, Tampa Bay’s Matt Garza, kept right up with him, allowing only two runs to the Jays and baffling their hitters over nine innings. In the tenth inning, the Jay’s bullpen coughed up two more runs, and then the Jay’s hitters went quietly. As much as he tries to carry the team, Halladay couldn’t carry them enough to win the game.

News and Software30 Jun 2009

Flow, the software I’ve been working on for the last 18 months, has shipped!

There are videos of it in action and a trial version to download, if you follow the link. After all the hard work it’s gratifying to see it available to the world!

News and Photos21 Jun 2009

At the Dragon Boat Festival this weekend there were three or four crocodiles like this fellow on display in cages. Each croc seemed oblivious to the attention of the passing crowds, content to lie in the shady grass in one corner or another of his cage. While I was snapping pictures I saw a man walk up to one of the cages to see what the fuss was about. He read the sign posted on the side, which said something along the lines of “Man-eating nile crocodile” and then peered in. The crocodile was lying against the wall nearest him, and he couldn’t really see it from the angle he was looking down into the cage. His eyes went wide when realization dawned that he was looking at an empty crocodile cage… uh oh!

Then he found the little fellow hiding in the shade and looked relieved.

News26 Feb 2009

(First, here’s your soundtrack.)

As I’ve probably mentioned once or twice before, I ride the bus to work every day. I ride the bus to the grocery store. I ride the bus downtown to the market for shortbread cookies because I don’t have a presidential motorcade and 50 secret service agents.

This was all well and fine until December, when the Ottawa bus drivers went on strike, and stayed on strike until February. Lucky for me I could car pool to the office and walk to the grocery store, and so I survived, but the whole experience left me with a few unpleasant conclusions. For starters, I think that all the talk of boosting public transit in this country and all the talk of “green alternatives” to cars might be just that: talk. When we get right down to it, nobody really takes transit all that seriously. Sure, there are people who depend on transit. I can’t really count myself among them – I could probably afford a car if I wanted one, or at least a taxi now and then. Those people who can’t afford that are going to ride the bus regardless of whether anyone takes transit seriously, and those are the people most hurt when the busses disappear for two months. A related lesson: nobody takes people who take transit seriously, either. Both sides in the labour dispute seemed quite indifferent to the people whose lives were turned upside down. “Well, anybody who matters can just drive his car,” you could almost hear them say.

Cities like Ottawa often say that they want to boost transit ridership. “It’s good for the environment. It’ll cut down rush-hour gridlock”, etc. I wish they’d put their money where their mouth is. The experience of the strike has made me realize what’s really preventing widespread adoption of transit-as-primary-means-of-travel by those who can afford other options: people don’t see transit as reliable enough. Even when the strike isn’t on, riding the bus can be a little unpredictable. I leave the house within the same 5 minute period most mornings, but depending on my luck, I can get to work as early as 8:55 or as late as 9:40. If I had the kind of job where one has to show up at a fixed time every day, taking transit would be massively inconvenient. Because the bus can be so unpredictable, people who have alternatives are unwilling to rely on it. The people who can’t afford cars are going to ride the bus no matter what, and because they put up with the unpredictability and show up on the side of the road every morning, they get taken for granted. And because “anyone who matters” isn’t taking the bus, there’s little incentive to improve the reliability. After all, if the bus is late, who are we inconveniencing? Poor people and students. And they hardly pay property tax, so who cares about them, right? But oh, we wish more people would leave their cars at home and ride the bus. Wouldn’t life be grand if we all took public transit?

Keep dreaming.

Forget price – the bus is already cheaper than owning a car – I really think predictability is the key to a successful transit system. People who can afford cars aren’t going to start riding the bus if they can’t rely on it. And as long as they’re not riding, transit won’t be taken seriously. And as long as it isn’t taken seriously, it isn’t going to improve.

News and Photos31 Dec 2008

In lieu of something substantial, here’s a quick semi-illustrated smattering of my last twelve months’ activities.

What I look like these days
(Christmas 2008)

Favorite Blog Entries of 2008

Most Phallic Photograph
(Atlas rocket at the Museum of Science and Technology)

Best trip taken in 2008: China.

Favorite books read this year

  • Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading
    I first became aware of Alberto Manguel when he gave his fantastic Massey Lectures in 2007. This book is a book about books, and a joy for any book-worm like me.

  • Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
    I’ve been on a bit of a Hemingway kick of late. I think this is my favorite. John McCain’s favorite novel is “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, which is also pretty good.

  • Ian M. Banks, The Aglebriast
    I like Science Fiction best when it makes my eyes go wide.

  • Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
    I didn’t get this book at first, but about half way through something clicked and I couldn’t put it down. It’s a strange history a fictitious town called Macondo, where the whole of human history seems to play out.

  • Neal Stephenson, Anathem (even if the end was a bit lame)
    This is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed but hesitate to recommend. It seemed to have been crafted precisely for me, and I know my tastes skew a little eccentric. It’s 900 pages long, has monasteries full of mathematicians, and the entire thing is one big game of hide and seek with the history of western philosophy.

Nerdiest Photo of 2008

Video Game Created: The Trials of Soscarides
(Windows and Mac; have you played it yet?)

Most Dramatic Ottawa Sunset

That’s all for 2008. Happy New Year!

News and Photos13 Dec 2008

On my flight to China in June I happened to see two pretty mountains from the window of the plane. I snapped some pictures, and figured I’d probably never know what I was looking at. After all, I was only moderately sure that we were over Russia at the time…

Well, tonight, after about an hour of playing with Google Earth, I managed to track them down. Both are volcanoes on the Kamchatka peninsula, which is the pointy bit of Russia that divides the Bering Sea from the Sea of Okhostka (if you ever played “Risk”, Kamchatka was where you massed your armies before invading Alaska). Here are my original photos:

Mount Kronotsky

Krasheninnikov Volcano

And here’s the NASA image that proved I was looking at the right thing:

North is at bottom right. You can see the tall peak, the triangular lake, the double crater, and the nearby ocean, which is basically what I had to go on. Here’s the link to see it on google maps, and here are the wikipedia entries. I’m quite pleased with myself for managing to turn this information up.

Judging by the photos I looked at while conducting my search, Kamchatka is a very beautiful bit of country.

Next Page »