Friday, March 27, 2009

Anonymous Blog?

I'm considering an anonymous blog. I celebrate the mix of people who know about this blog but there are times when I would like to write openly, pensively about some subjects.

My fear is that I would offend someone, or that I would spend way too much time on disclaimers, trying in vain to ensure that I don't offend anyone. (In person, I like witty repartee and am fairly free-wheeling within defined boundaries, but about serious stuff, I am mortified at the thought of offending someone.)

An example topic is nationality and identity. Though it probably seems like I am always writing about that on here, the material only scratches the surface.

Naturally, I as get older, I can see my childhood in a new light, as we all do. I have had insights there as well, but I don't really want to get into all of the details.

Oh dear, I guess I need a diary blog.

I doubt if I will do it but if I do, I won't tell anyone, and I will never confirm nor deny on here. So I guess we'll never know!


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Prague's Franz Kafka International rated worst airport

This news piece (from the Onion) is pure genius... I wish I had written it.

Many thanks to JAK! A perfect description of Air Canada but also a wonderful play on Kafka.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Weird and Wonderful

In 2000, at a keynote address in San Jose, a mentor and I saw this man speak: Clifford Stoll.

He is, in some ways, my Platonic ideal as a speaker.

Although the clip below is not the same talk, and not as good, it has many of the same elements. He is theatrical, weird, clever, and immensely warm. I was delighted to stumble upon it tonight.

This guy is phenomenal. I only wish I could find the show from 2000. The ending part about the bell was done perfectly, with the rhythm of a great stage actor. (This one is only ok, but it will have to do.)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Bird Song

During my last summer on PEI, before I went off to grad school, I consciously tried to drink in a lot of PEI and appreciate it.

I remember walking in the woods and hearing one particular bird's song. I thought it was lovely. When I later heard it in Ontario, it really meant a lot to hear the familiar tune. Not being a ornithologist, I had no idea which kind of bird it might be.

And so the years went by... I heard the bird in Missouri as well. Now, I have a tremendous affinity for the tune, but really haven't thought much about it.

This week, I heard a podcast where a guy talks about using a sound feature on his digital camera to capture the song of birds while out watching. He played a sample song.

It was the same one.

Now, this may be pedestrian as far as bird-watching goes, but not for me: my bird is the white-throated sparrow. Click here to read about it and to hear its call. It will no doubt be familiar.

Interestingly, a mnemonic for the song is "Oh sweet, Canada, Canada, Canada". That is heart-warming given my station in life when I first took notice.


ps. Other favourite birds include the barn swallow, which are rampant around my apartment. Naturally, most Canadians love the loon: we heard its call all the time on TV growing up (in nature short-films with a hauntingly familiar and surprisingly creepy flute intro), even if not actually in the wild.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Silly Pics

For those who aren't on Twitter, here are some pics of mine. These are generally from the sillier side of my tech blog.

Some acquaintances of mine are speakers at various geek conferences. This week, they are in Las Vegas and chatting about it on Twitter. So I unleashed "part 2" of a series that I took in December.

There's really no easy explanation for most of those photos but write to me and I can tell the story of some if you are truly curious.


ps. Twitter is pretty neat. I am really coming around to it. Think of it as Facebook Lite: all the updates without that "another application is bugging me for contact info" aftertaste.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Baton Bob in his new habitat

St Louisans will recall the controversial figure known as Baton Bob.

For those away from StL, Baton Bob did his thing along Kingshighway, a major street in the Central West End. Generally heralded as a hero, his last years here were marred by some articles in a local paper where people debated if he was really a kind, quirky showman or an arrogant diva, of sorts. (I have no knowledge or option on the matter... He was fun to watch.)

Thanks to JAK for the heads-up !

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Air Canada Transcribed

Some people like details about retail horror so that they can learn. I am not one of these people, but it might help me vent a bit:

  • I purchased, online, a flight on Air Canada for late June for $660. An error code came back after submittal.
  • AC agent #1 tells me that some credit card companies in the US are charging a "foreign company transaction fee" and that I need to call my card company and agree to a 2% fee.
  • The Visa company says this is not true. Call back the airline and tell them "to run it through again".
  • AC agent #2 tells me that AC agent #1 is wrong. What happened was that the fare was removed during my transaction. The fare is now $800. I demand that the previous transaction be voided, that I receive the original fare plus $100 off for being on the phone for 30 minutes.
  • AC agent #2 tells me I am not a customer at this time. Nothing can be done. I tell agent that I have a frequent-flyer account and have bought many times before: I am indeed a customer. No dice.
  • I explain to AC supervisor that AC agents are telling me contradictory things. She agrees with AC agent #1, citing Bank of America. I tell her that BoA is not my credit card company and that my Visa company does not process such a fee. I want to know if I can get the same flight by "running it through again" as instructed. Confusion.
  • After several minutes, the AC supervisor offers me the same flight for $660, but cannot speak to which transaction will be used. I explain that I am frustrated that I might be charged twice and that everyone has a different story.
  • After an hour in total, I pull the switch and tell the AC supervisor:
I am not mad at you personally, but I pity you for being involved in an infrastructure that is so amazingly incompetent. I hereby announce my severance from Air Canada and though I am not sure how I am going to get home this summer, I can assure you that it will not be through your airline. I will monitor the open authorization on my credit card and sincerely hope that I need not speak with you again.
A final call to the credit card company revealed that I have an open authorization on my account that cannot be removed or disputed until a charge is actually posted. Most likely, it will not be posted. If it is, I can dispute it.

That is one busy lunch hour (or 90 minutes), let me tell you.

ps. I don't think I could ever do business travel. I hate the logistics of flying more than I can describe.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Air Canada, I have reservations (about your existence)

At Christmas, I vowed not to use Air Canada for trips home in the winter.

After being on the phone for 60+ minutes with 4 different people, and with a charge of $600 on my credit card and no airline reservation, I am now jettisoning Air Canada year-round.

I don't know how I'm coming home this summer, but it is not on AC.

Details and sternly-worded post to follow.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

The Saturday Night Downer

It has been a busy week. My client has me working with a small team in France which means I try to be at work for 7:30 am. Then at night, I was cramming for the tech talk on Thursday. Then, one of my beloved Java conferences this weekend. I have been in a conference centre for most of Friday and Saturday.

Today, I was really into the conference and received some kind comments on the tech talk. Some key people have vouched for me as being worthy of speaking at the conference, which has been a goal, of sorts.

I saw great presentations, laughed, made people laugh, dined with geeks, and took sticker photos. Everything was good. I quite liked my place in St Louis.

But here on Saturday night at 10 pm, I'm wondering where the heck I am and what I'm doing. This is not uncommon for Saturday nights. If one were to graph any loneliness during my tenure in the US (or even away from PEI), I'm sure Saturday night would be the most frequent.

Wow. I just wrote for 20 minutes but it became quite introspective and alarmingly "diary"-like. I'm glad I wrote it and it helped me think, but I don't think the world needs to see it.

I'll be fine tomorrow morning, and that's a problem: I'm always fine Sunday morning, because there is a new day to keep me distracted from dealing with the important things in life.

Thursday, March 05, 2009


I have this internal threshold when it comes to public speaking and presentations: if it was "very good" (or better) then I experience a euphoria that is unbelievable. If it is anything less, I brood for days if not weeks. I wonder if I'm manic-depressive in that regard?

Tonight, we took one on the chin.

The crowd was super friendly and the style stuff went pretty well. My joke slides worked. But I lost them in example #2 and got rattled in my own head. It wasn't "very good". It wasn't "wretched" either but it doesn't matter.

It wasn't "very good".

I'll spare you the profanity and general piss and vinegar. Schisse. Weeks of study for this one. At least I learned a lot.


ps. For those who have seen my endless prepartion for this, here is a photo of the audience. I didn't take it but was standing near the guy who did.

pps. I used some real-life props which went over well. Apparently this was a creative idea but for some reason that comes natural to my family.

ppps. I've since realized that I left my power supply for my new laptop at the venue, or that it was stolen. Perfect. Perfect.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Big Night Coming Up

Over Christmas, I read a technical paper on a subject I knew nothing about in an unfamiliar computer language. To be honest, I was fairly lost and rather challenged intellectually.

When I returned to StL, I signed up to give a talk on said topic: the ever-esoteric monads. (click here)

Most of my friends have suffered countless monad references and jokes lately. I have really restricted my social life so that I can prepare, much like I did when I was in school (which is unfortunate really).

I'm not afraid of public speaking but the bar is high here in terms of the people attending. Wish me luck!


Sunday, March 01, 2009

I Miss Hockey

I have a basic cable package and have little access to hockey. It is painful.

I especially miss Hockey Night in Canada, of course, and the constant abuse from one fan base to another.

As an example, check out this glorious goal from well outside the blue line. The Washington Capitals beat the Bruins in OT, but the best part is the music track, which is "Feeling Satisfied" by the band... wait for it: Boston. Spiteful and perfect.