Shame Mr. Harper and Ms. Ambrose

We’re officially an environmental “fossil” according to the Globe and Mail today. What is it going to take for Canada, land of vast expanse of beautiful wilderness and landscapes, of bountiful natural resources, quits squandering our heritage and our future and wakes up and takes some initiative?

Canada has the ultimate opportunity to vault into the future and be the next supplier of tomorrow’s energy capabilities as well. We currently export oil, gas, uranium, generated power and refined petroleum in large quantities. We are reaping a very healthy profit from current high energy prices. The world has started to shift towards more alternative energy. It is currently an emerging market, one that will ultimately in various forms displace the current energy systems. Not immediately, and possibly not in our lifetimes even, but it will happen. Our current systems are inefficient and damaging. There is no reason to preserve them if better alternatives present themselves.

Those alternatives are presenting themselves. Not just solar, geothermal, biofuels, wind and tidal power. Leaps in efficiency and distributed generation. Better ways to use current energy sources more efficiently and less polluting in operation. Those are being pioneered in many places, and deployed aggressively in many nations, while Canada sits idly by, resting on our profitable laurels rather than investing those profits to lead the way into the future.

I’ve written to the Alberta government as noted before in this blog, and I’ve written to our environment minister, Rona Ambrose, asking that we lead environmentally and technologically into a cleaner future. The idea that doing so in any way undermines our current resource industries, especially in Alberta, is naive in the extreme. The growth curve on these technologies, and the time to mature them, is far beyond any reasonable business outlook on our current corporations and industries. US demand for our energy products will not disappear in a decade, but there will be increasing demand, some of which will not be fuelled by our current energy systems. It is this new, emerging market of both conscience and efficiency that will be high margin and growing as we move forward, and right now that market will be served by companies in the US, Israel, China and other nations in the Europe and throughout the world.

Canada is not encouraging the deployment or creation of these companies in our borders, so we will be importing the technologies and expertise, and we will lose our lead in energy supply and technology.

I had thought companies like Shell and BP were leading the thoughts in having solar divisions (the largest in the world, in addition to Sharp) and biofuels, but now they have divested those companies into spin-offs and divestitures to better reflect a profitable business to wall street. Short term gain for long term sacrifice. If you’re a shareholder, congratulations, but remember to sell. Consumers are finally forcing the car companies to get efficient-minded rather than having 8000 pounds of material driven by in excess of 350 horsepower. To move a single individual to and from work. A bit of a waste. Europe is leading the way in forcing the efficiency. And low and behold, the car companies CAN indeed make an efficient car, far superior to the offerings most of us use for transportation today.

I resent being labelled a fossil of the environment in this wonderful country of Canada. Mr. Harper and our government (and that ALSO includes the Liberal government that likewise did nothing for Kyoto or alternative energy industries) must take some initiative and get their corporate supporters to realize that the government pushing the regulations in will create a global opportunity more than it will cause any real damage. The other nations of the world are moving to better products and more efficient systems, and we are left, here in the past, slowly turning into an archaeologic dig of the future.

Currently playing in iTunes: Summertime Blues (Live at Leeds) by The Who

THIS is what an “iPod killer” looks like?

It’s painfully obvious the bulk of the media has no clue how to deal with quality over features and performance. Which is why every single feature-ridden, cheaper-than-dirt, bling-bling outfitted competitor to the iPod has been labelled an iPod killer…. by everyone except the people buying them.

Witness the “try anything” approach of Microsoft in that they released the “Plays for Sure” moniker two years ago, which of course did basically nothing at all for the music players outside of the Apple brand, and ensured that they would seek to cannibalize each other as there was no flow-through revenue ecosystem like Apple has with iTMS, iTunes and the iPod. But hey, “Plays for Sure” should still stand for something if Microsoft really cares about the consumers.

Judging from this I would say that Microsoft is worried about DRM and lock-in, and very little else. The work-around Microsoft is offering to get songs from its own store to its own player is the same avenue you have to take tracks from the iTunes Music Store and put them on the Creative Zen, Microsoft Zune or any other, which is to say, burn it to an audio disc, and then re-rip it to a pure MP3 format. Of course, any pure MP3 format will automatically import into iTunes and play on your iPod, as will any AAC (MPEG-4) audio file and may other wondrous standard files. The lock-in is there, and it’s around the digitally purchased music.

And this is the point really. An “iPod Killer” isn’t just the gadget. As Apple is only too aware and far too ingrained in, it’s the experience. It just has to work. This kind of disconnect between the vendor’s first store, and the new gadget and ecosystem that’s locked in, is a serious rupture in the brand identity of Microsoft in the music arena. This hurts the reputation grievously because, in the eyes of the average consumer, Microsoft music doesn’t work with my new Microsoft player. End of experience. The technical details and work-around are all there, and you can get it sorted with a chunk of work, but the point is the experience that is remembered is “I had to fiddle with it.” or “It didn’t even work with the music I bought six months ago from Microsoft’s music store!”

Personally, I feel DRM is a great hindrance, but then I also know that there’s a chunk of people out there that feel they should be able to get it for free if they can figure out how. Dishonest people cause DRM, and the rest of us honest folk are the ones it inconveniences. That said, I’ve never had a single problem with Apple’s FairPlay system, and I’ve transited across two macs and two iPods over my history with it, without a hitch, enabling all the Macs in our house to play the purchased music shared locally and legally, all within the enabling model of iTunes.

If the customers mattered, they would be able to download the tracks again in the Zune format, or would be given credit for that number of tracks with the purchase of a Zune, or at least some sort of nod to say “Thanks” for the patronage and faith in the failed first Microsoft Music Initiative. But then, as I note, this isn’t an iPod killer, because it’s not about the user.

I’ve tried (not bought) a number of the early and mid-iteration MP3 players, and none of them just work and let me do what I want, which is find, sort and listen to my music. Easily and without a pile of other features I don’t use. My whole 250+ CD collection of purchased music (both real disc and iTunes) all in my pocket. That’s what the iPod is about, and until this sort of nonsense stops and the focus is on the consumer that is shelling out for the music and the player, there won’t be a challenger, let alone a killer in the midst.

Disclaimer: I’m a Mac and iPod owner (obviously), work on Windows, still have Linux on servers and occasionally deal with Solaris still.

Currently playing in iTunes: Surface to Air by The Chemical Brothers

Almost seamless

If you made it here to this post and the post previous, you’ve been successfully redirected to the new home of The DNS caches around the Internet are still flushing (basically, for the less technically inclined, it’s like getting your address updated in the phonebook — it takes a while for everyone to get the new phonebook). I’ve moved to now. I was on a very good server run by a long-time friend and past coworker, but I always felt guilty asking for new bits or a change in the config or what have you, as he wouldn’t accept payment for the hosting, so I finally eased my conscience and quit imposing on him. Thanks again Kor, it was a flawless… 7 years of hosting of! (I had to check the copyright notice on the page to know that :-S)

As such I’m doing some housecleaning and doing a few upgrades, such as this blog, which is now hosted on WordPress 2.x software. I’m liking it a lot. While bloged worked well for a long while, I wanted categories primarily, as well as some of the nice features MarsEdit has to offer, and the option to get the comments going. Plus I did not want to administer the server. I can, but I have 3 sons and a wonderful wife, and my spare time with my family is more valuable than $10/month.

I’m also gradually going to split the site, and put the technical aspects over at as well as a technical blog there (linked in the blogroll on the right). I’ll be doing more of the in-depth technical things on that site as I get it rolling, and this will be more my fun and hobbies, and my personal viewpoints. So depending on what you’re looking for, some adjustment might be required.

You might note that the rss address changed, as did the actual blog address. The home page is the same, so I expect everything will transfer, and now you can consume RSS 2.0 or Atom feeds for the blogs. Any other suggestions or comments, please let me know! Comments are enabled, although I’ve asked for verification and registration to stop the moron bots and such or at least slow them down. We’ll see how it works out. Or email me. Still at dallas (at) hockley (dot) ca and all that translation to an email address at this site.

Lightning2Aug092006.jpgAnd another lightning picture from last night, where it just crackled across the whole sky…..

Currently playing in iTunes: I Dreamt the World Had Ended by A Northern Chorus

NSLU2 and Openslug on Mac OS X

Ok, I’m NOT an embedded hacker (unless I have to be) but I do like fiddling with the linksys hardware both the wireless routers and the relatively new NSLU2 attached storage device. But the firmware is old and kind of crotchety, and of course those passionate folks of all things GPL and other goodness have been at it hacking the firmware of this toy. Mac OS X is not the platform of choice to partake of this goodness, but with Fink, you can still get there at some levels.

The trick is, get the latest Fink and grab the latest OpenSlug or other Unslung firmware for the NSLU2 if you’re so inclined. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this is NOT for the faint of heart, so read here and get acquainted or scared off as appropriate. With fink, get the *unstable* package for the libpcap (0.9.4 as of this writing) and then you’re set for some fun.

Now it’s time to do that wondrous compile thing. Problem is the configuration is all set up for the DarwinPorts which I’ve never felt is quite the level that Fink is at. So rather than pull all of DarwinPorts in, it’s actually a short trip to compile the upslug2 firmware updater software on your Fink-enabled Mac OS X system.

Grab the tar.gz for all platforms, unzip and untar it and then get into the directory. Using a mod of the “readme.macosx” your command line becomes:

CPPFLAGS=-I/sw/include LDFLAGS=-L/sw/lib ./configure –with-libpcap

That will get you the upslug2 executable, ready to rock and overwrite your firmware of the NSLU2 with all sorts of open source hackery. I find the fun the packages and customization more than the compile and tweak of the firmware itself. If you find yourself in a similar camp, these tips may be of some help to you.

Enjoy, and props to the Unslung and other NSLU hackers out there for getting these tools rocking and some seriously capable firmware going!

Currently playing in iTunes: The Power Of Love by Frankie Goes To Hollywood

What exactly DOES “Left-wing” stand FOR?

How tiresome. Followers of this blog know that I’m somewhat conservative in many social viewpoints, but also a believer in Canada’s social pact, health care system and much of our public policy. It’s also no secret that I support the Green Party openly, and am an energy efficiency enthusiast, but by no means an activist or radical. “Green Conservativism” might be applicable, but that label is kind of slippery, as I believe it is with any thinking voter in Canada.

Jack Layton has been in the press running down Harper on a number of notes while he rallies his radical-left caucus and faithful. He runs down taking action in Afghanistan. Why would he do that? Does he feel the Taliban should have been left openly repressing people and funding international terrorist organizations? It’s not like there’s a debate that there are other places also deserving of intervention, he’s not arguing that point. Claiming to stand for the poor, and for women’s rights, and for the rights of equality in so many dimensions, but only in Canada will he defend our belief in the charter or even the UN conventions? For that matter, he apparently believes that the Taliban is some legitimate, caring, rational government as he feels we should negotiate a peace with these radicals.

Let me be clear. I fear for our soldiers, and for the aid workers over there, and for the civilians caught in the middle. I wish they didn’t have to be there, but the UN was in favour of this action, and I believe this war has unfortunately some basis for legitimacy. I support our action, and I support our troops most of all, as they have a tough job in trying to stabilize and help that country that the US used as a stepping-off point to an invasion that has proven to have no legal basis whatsoever. [Update] I’d also like to state that those of us that believe in our Armed Forces as I do, be proud of our men and women serving our country, as they are doing so in the best military tradition. I also admire the fact that CBC gives a balanced viewpoint on this. It’s not all roses, but I would note that the “encirclement” tactic has a gap in it until it’s closed. (If the Taliban forces don’t get out, or if they aren’t trying to, which seems the case, they are making a grave tactical error in all likelihood.)

Layton and the NDP continues to be a party of idealists with no plan, no set attainable agenda, and no concept of the real world whatsoever. We’d all like better care for the elderly, lower cost for schooling, better medical care for everyone, but there is this small matter of money, and the NDP has shown eternally that they don’t care about balancing a budget. They would catapult us back to the deficits of Mulroney, Trudeau and countless other short-sighted fools we’ve had at the helm. Martin had a corrupt party, but either by luck, planning or some combination, we at least started to run a surplus, and pay down the debt we stand ready to hand to our children. Layton wants to live as best as he can today, and foist the load of that cost onto our kids. I’m willing to endure some hardship and pain to reduce that debt so our kids have more choices tomorrow.

The labour union in BC has also showed an appalling lack of intelligence recently as the view of Canadian Citenzenship applied to the migrant seasonal workers in the British Columbia agriculture industry. I’m sorry, but as I support our troops, I also believe that being Canadian means a great deal more than holding a job and living the good life. It has a commitment to ideas of fairness, of hard work, of continual improvement, and of not shirking the responsibility for things. If you want to fix the situation of those workers, and I believe that it sounds as though it does need fixing, fix the working regulations and labour laws to give those workers some rights and protection while working in Canada. They don’t need to be Canadian Citizens to do that. If they want to become Canadians, they can pursue that separately. Canadian Citizenship is not a Work Permit Mr. Sinclair, while you would reduce what it means to be Canadian to a question of where you work.

This has me too irritated to even listen to tunes at present. I’m so sick of this complete drivel and nonsense getting press time when the Green Party and other more legitimate viewpoints can be included in national debates or panels.

Apologies for so few links to background, but I’ve been working and thinking this through for a long while. It’s all a miasma of facts condensing to opinion.

Canada Still Doesn’t Get IP

I’ve disputed a number of our intellectual property laws and copyright initiatives in the past. It would appear that our “Education Ministers” are heading down a very, very foolish path. Rather than this nonsense, perhaps working to enable a funding model to get our kids more accessible levels of costs for post-secondary education would be a better use of their time and our money.

Michael Geist is a very effective critic and analyst on Canada’s IP law among other things, and raises a very large warning in his recent post of Education Ministers’ Copyright Proposal Needs a Rewrite. It would appear from his analysis that we’re heading down a blind alley that can really only work to make things worse. A bad law is worse than no law. That’s something I believe it would be very useful to teach a course in to new and old legislators.

I’d also encourage you to read Michael’s other posts on DRM. I’m not a total opponent to DRM due to the inability of far too many people to respect the needs and rights and efforts of the artist. I am fine with DRM that allows me to work with the media and material in a fair way in my own uses and environment, which includes ripping to my iPod (I bought the music, but I don’t always agree with the format for playing it) but will not allow me to redistribute it freely without some barrier.

Conversely, being neck-deep in technology for a living, I know what proprietary formats do to really muck up honest people, and it’s just painful. ANY DRM is by definition at this point proprietary, regardless of vendor claims to the contrary. It’s a balance that is very difficult to strike properly because the simple fact that far too many people believe that copying music is OK. This is really inexcusable when the cost for a track is very cheap by any standard. I’m a musician, and though I don’t make a living from it, I respect the time and effort and talent required to create something people really enjoy. Anyone who does should compensate the musician. If an artist chooses รข la the Grateful Dead to release recording for free (tape trees) in order to drive people to live performances, and thus to make a living off of performances, that is their choice, not the choice of the listener. Some artists cannot perform their works, or do not choose the lifestyle of the road, and it is not our right via theft to force them to do so or to give up their art. DRM is a pain in the neck to all those honest patrons because too may people lack the respect for the artist to compensate their efforts. I doubt most of those people would be willing to do their job for free in return.

Read up on this copyright issue, and please, get on to your provincial education minister and other government representatives and express the need to strike a fair balance, which the current copyright law does quite well for education, and to understand the environment we’re moving into and look for ways that people are compensated for their time, and fair use is guaranteed. Canada doesn’t need to make the same mistakes other Industrialized nations are with Intellectual Property.

Currently playing in iTunes: Ain’t No Mystery by Smash Mouth

Ring Nebula and M13

Well, the skies were reasonably clear for a while this evening, so I took my Celestron C6 out with the Rebel XT and tried to get a few shots using the Lumicon light pollution filter I ordered a long while back that finally arrived. Despite some tracking errors (I don’t have an off-axis guider) a couple of the shots turned out alright. I’ve tucked some small clips of the pics in the blog here. If you have a desire to see the full size, either email me or post a comment and I’ll get the pics up in their 8 megapixel glory.

The two targets were the Ring Nebula, a nice planetary nebula that’s fairly easy to spot in Lyra, and M13, the Hercules Globular Cluster, also easy to find down the leading side of the body of the warrior.

The Ring Nebula: cropped RingNebula.jpg

and M13: CroppedM13.jpg

Hope you enjoy!

Currently playing in iTunes: I Dreamt the World Had Ended by A Northern Chorus

Schneier on Security: Last Week’s Terrorism Arrests

Perhaps the airlines will have to start actually feeding us again as we can’t bring anything on board to counter the altitude-assisted dehydration. The problem is the security measure is a placebo as people who analyse this stuff for a living a quick to point out. Case in point, Bruce Schneier in Schneier on Security: Last Week’s Terrorism Arrests: “”

The UK security teams and all assisting them need the real kudos, and it’s the legwork and brainwork that needs the funding, not trying to detect these chemicals and compounds in all these areas. I think Bruce is right in the assessment of too many targets. Tom Clancy wrote about running planes into buildings in the book A Debt Of Honor long before 9/11. He also wrote about terrorists using a nuclear weapon to take out the Superbowl game in Sum of All Fears. The targets will always be there. To stop the madness, there’s two things we need to do.

One is outlined by Bruce. Don’t be terrorized. Easier said than done, but people living in Northern Ireland when the IRA was actively destroying things, in Quebec during the FLQ, and in so many other places in the world continue their lives in the face of these people wantonly destroying lives without communicating their point. It’s too bad that these terrorists feel that their point is better communicated by killing a number of innocent civilians than by writing a blog on the web explaining the issues and the desires of their cause. Alternative media such as Indymedia.orgare trying to show the other side of many of these stories, and a lot of people unconvinced by CNN, BBC, CBC and others are wisely trying to see both sides of the story.

The second task is facilitated by this communication. If rather than raising our defensiveness, our ire, our fear and our aggression they were to engage the western civilizations in understanding what has made them feel so wronged, and what needs to be done to correct these wrongs, then the second task which amounts to “Quit pissing them off if we can” falls into place. Right now, there’s a growing feeling that the foreign policies of the US and other countries in the West have brought about much of this hatred. If that’s correct, then just maybe we cut the dependency on the Middle East for energy by other approaches and get our noses out of their countries until they start behaving reasonably.

Don’t mistake me for some naive optimist on this. I’m slicing some big issues very coarsely, and I know full well that the histories in these issues and the political environments aren’t going to turn on a dime and come up peace lilies tomorrow, but we need to start understanding rather than escalating.

We can’t continue to surrender our freedoms and our way of life so easily. We need to search for a better, more fundamental solution, and to do that we need to dig for the more fundamental causal problem.

Currently playing in iTunes: Simple Gifts by Paul Schwartz


Lightning1Aug092006.jpgWell, I think I’ve found something striking and challenging to pursue with my Canon Rebel XT. We’ve been having a lot of lightning in and around Calgary, and I’ve pulled off a few shots before, but last night I got some very good shots of some very interesting lightning. A really good one that looks like it’s hitting the house behind us, but was about 2 km away is on the left in this post.


  • 30 second exposure
  • Canon 17-85 IS USM III lens at f/18
  • iso 100 equiv
  • 17 mm focal length (1.8x with Rebel)

Sharpeness and contrast set to max in iPhoto

Currently playing in iTunes: Always Gets Her Way by Smash Mouth