Friday, July 23, 2010

Oh, Grow Up.

Two posts in one day, I know, unheard of. But I just couldn't not share this.

I used to be into woodworking, when I lived in Waterloo and had a lot of space. There is a store in Cambridge called A&M Wood Specialty. For some reason, they thought it would be a good idea to register the domain It used to be the banner on the website. They've since replaced that with pictures of hardwoods. I had a moment once where I was looking at mahogany and came across an item whose detailed description was "African Crotch Swirl". Doesn't anyone proofread these things? Maybe I'm just less mature than your average woodworker.

I'm in kind of a pissy mood this morning because our eaves trough is blocked and it rained pretty hard last night and the water poured in a heavy stream right down onto the air conditioner in our bedroom window. We were awakened at 4AM by what sounded like WW III occurring in our bedroom window.

So I was looking for an extension ladder on a tool rental price list today when I came across another doozy: "Concrete Vibrator 1.5'' with 10ft shaft". Which makes sense, when you think about it: I can see wanting to stand at least 10ft away from anyone who was willing to use a concrete vibrator.

The Choice of Tyranny

For those of you not following, presumably because you live in some other country than Canada, our government has done something supremely stupid.

Statistics Canada, or statscan, is a world renouned stats collecting body. One of the reasons for this reputation is the mandatory cenus – all Canadians are required by law to fill out the census. As well, one quarter of Canadians are required by law to answer a long-form (53 questions instead of the usual 8) questionnaire. This mandatory thing is important, it is ostensibly the crux of the matter.

You see, the current government has exercised its droight de seigneur and made it no longer mandatory to answer all 53 questions in the event that you draw the short straw, so to speak. Statisticians are, rightly, pissed.

The reason the government claims for doing this is that it is an invasion of privacy. Of course, they also claimed that they were doing this with the consent of the head of statscan who promptly resigned to prove that they were lying.

As someone who has used statscan census data in the past, I can tell you that the privacy argument is ridiculous. As much of the data as possible is released, but there are certain products for certain census tracts which are held back because the small number of responses might allow someone diligent enough to use the data to identify individuals. The statscan website FAQ also points out that not even contractors are allowed to see the data.

So, what is really going on here? In Canada we have a government system which is set up to limit the power of any individual. (This is in stark contrast with our neighbours to the south who elect a new king ever 4 years.) For 4 years now Harper has been stuck with a lousy minority government, which means constantly having to consult with the opposition parties instead of just riding roughshod over the country's laws and ideals. I have been led to believe that the entire cabinet is completely under the thumb of the PM, which means this census decision came directly from Harper himself. And I think it has nothing to do with logic or reason, privacy or the census, even. I think this is entirely a case of Harper doing something because he can do it and the opposition parties can't do a damned thing about it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

You Learn Something New Every Day

This is the best frequently asked question (and response) I have ever come upon (from the groupon FAQ):

One of your write-ups stated that "hummingbirds come from cocoons"... I'm not sure that's correct.

Thank you for your suggestion, but it is correct.

And if you don't know, Groupon is a neat service which uses "collective buying power" to get rippin' good deals. The trick is that they offer businesses a minimum number of customers to secure the deal, so if not enough people show interest (by buying the deal), no deal. Definitely worth looking into if you haven't already. Plus, really, what's one more piece of spam in your inbox each day?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Everything is Connected

Our desks in the lab have hutches whose tops are just the right height that they are good storage space for anything which doesn't get accessed frequently. A project I was doing last year required me to collect pop cans for a few months, so I kept them there. The projecte ended up being a no-go, but the pop cans stayed – perhaps two-dozen in all. Eventually I was compelled to throw them out before a lab open house. I have since restarted my collection, but it is a paltry 3 or 4 cans at the moment. Since I'm not actually collecting them for any reason right now, I haven't asked anybody to help by adding their own cans. This is something I had done last year, but I made sure that every can was rinsed before going up there. This will become important.

So while I use the top of my hutch to hold decorative pop cans, many other students use the tops of their desks to hold manuals and catalogues which are never used. Why students don't simply recycle them is one of the great mysteries of science. Today in the mail, one fellow student got just such a pile of literature. Since we had recently participated in Spring Cleanup, these were to be the first new catalogues on his pristine hutch-top. I offered some of my pop cans to make them less lonely up there. Somehow it came up about how fastidious I was about the rinsing of my cans.

This, I explained, was due to a particular high-school incident. I used to spend a lot of time in my bedroom as a teenager. Brooding, mainly. Reading and watching TV. And drinking pop. And I would never bring the cans out to recycle them. They would just sit in my room. And sit. And I would add to the pile. One day I was reading and drinking pop and not really looking as I put down and then picked up again my can of pop. I put the can to my lips and took a big swig. The sensation was somehow different from the normal CO2 bubble tingle. It felt almost like thousands of tiny legs running around on my tongue. I had accidentally picked up one of my old cans which had become filled with -- ants! I spit the mouthful of live ants across the room and, after rinsing my mouth out in the bathroom sink, hauled every last can out of my room and into the recycling outside.

Everyone in the lab was pretty grossed out by my story, but I pointed out that there are places in the world where people eat ants on purpose. And somewhere down the lefthand side of that wikipedia page you will find a bowl of mealworms.*

This immediately reminded me of an old episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation which I remember seeing once. And only once. This is remarkable because I watched a lot of TNG as a broody, pop-drinking teenager and saw most episodes significantly more than once. I googled "star trek tng mealworms" and came up with a list of the worst episodes of all time. Bingo! The episode was called Conspiracy. If you remember the episode at all, and even if you don't, I highly recommend this youtube clip of the episode in brief. Which I never would have found if those useless catalogues hadn't come in the mail today.

*Somewhere else on the wikipedia page for Entomophagy you will find a link to the page for Casu Marzu, which is worth a read if you're feeling particularly adventurous.