It’s been a few days since the first Bush/Kerry debate in the States. I didn’t see it, but did read the transcript. Neither guy seemed to be very strong or very weak, though I gather Kerry displayed better showmanship. The airwaves were abuzz with speculation and analysis the moment the show ended. Oooh aah, this guy scored points; that guy’d hair looked funny, this guy made faces, that guy pounded the table.

So what?! I know television debating has become a sport back in the 1960s, but why are the voting citizen units led to putting so much emphasis on those few hours? Sure, their attention spans are shorter Britney Spears’ marriages, so they need a quick little digestable tidbit to help make up their minds. But why in this form?

I suspect what they want to see is a real-life version of a courtroom drama, with opposing lawyers arguing their little suit-and-tie-dressed hearts out. Maybe the audience has an egotism explosion and imagines that they can play the role of a judge, who with intelligence and integrity makes decisions. But their own intelligence and integrity are rarely in play when citizen units contemplate whom to vote for. Or perhaps they imagine the lit studio as ancient Rome, witnessing a gladitorial match to the death, and in a hazy brain fart reinvent themselves powerful as an emperor deciding whether the wounded warrior lives or dies.

Half the time, it’s standard class warfare stuff. Another half the time, it’s a random choice made at the last moment. Another half the time, it’s simply an obedient parroting of someone in authority (parent, socialist teacher, environmentalist girlfriend, druggie rock star). And a final half of the time it’s a miracle that people get out of bed at all, are able to find the polling stations, and their brains don’t explode at the awesome complexity of modern ballots. Half of the people should just stay at home and shut up-no, wait, they do that already.

Maybe that bit of New Math helps explain what’s going on, and why I resolve to regard future debates as pure entertainment. I won’t promise to vote for who makes me laugh more though.

UPDATE: Something Awful has a good idea. See also an article by Burt Prelutsky on Mens’ News Daily.

Posted Sat Oct 2 21:07:00 2004 Tags:

This afternoon, on an airplane-shaped lark, we flew to Haliburton/Stanhope for their annual “fall colour” fly-in.

While the colour was not as eye-popping as it is bound to be in a few weeks, it did have some eye-widening spots. Some nice red is starting to mingle with the green, for a spectral experiment within the darker earth tones.

The ride was bumpy all the way. It was amusing to fly over a region of ground between Muskoka and Peterborough, where as student pilots we nervously flew our official cross-country training flights, all alone. That funny-shaped Balsam Lake and its friends were still familiar after two years, although we travelled in the perpendicular directions this time.

On the way there, we tuned in to the radio frequency used by the airport, and heard traffic coming and going. One airplane we didn’t hear had departed the area and was coming southwest, directly toward Toronto, and more importantly directly toward us at our altitude. We didn’t hear from him, but we saw his transponder echoes on our traffic sensor display. These expensive devices are proving their worth every few flights as they help turn midair near-misses into not-that-near passes. Little airplanes are hard to see during daytime, especially when they are on an approximate collision course. We didn’t see this particular airplane directly until about ten seconds before our closest approach.

The little runway at Stanhope was ample for GXRP, with the helpful headwind cancelling out some sloppy technique on my part. There were again a dozen or two airplanes, and a little food shack, and lots of people. There was a good mix of old gray-heads and little kid-heads, and some townsfolks came by just to gawk at the airplanes. A little food shack served yummy food & coffee, the latter of which by the way woke me up early the next morning to finish writing this article.

Several times we saw a new-to-us technique for letting multiple aircraft depart off of a sole runway: four of them rolled onto the runway, taxied all the way to the far end favoured by wind, turned around, and took off one after another in the opposite order. It saved lots of time as compared with each hogging the runway for a few minutes. It was still nothing compared to the intensity of runway management at a huge event like Oshkosh.

Juimiin and I met several nice folks, without actively trying to mingle. I overheard some folks talk about Piper Aztecs (which is GXRP’s make/model), so of course I had to bud in. We met a student pilot lady who happened to be a friend of a great instructor we know back in Toronto, adding further anecdotal evidence that the world of aviation is small indeed. Mostly, we enjoyed just sitting on a bench, looking over the apron, and soaking in the peace, quiet, and handsome looks of this region of Ontario. Come to think of it, in our circle of shooting acquaintances (somewhat neglected of late), most people are just as warm and friendly to strangers. Most of them don’t live in a big city – I think that has something to do with it.

Just one more picture here. It is of Toronto, as seen from afar on our way home. The sun was at a fortunate angle to illuminate the western corner of Lake Ontario in such a way as to render Toronto’s downtown in a pretty silhouette.

Posted Sun Oct 3 22:06:00 2004 Tags:

Actually, this should have been the third flight, but Hope Air administrative delays and other factors blocked its last-minute arrangement. Our second completed flight was to Elliot Lake, again co-piloted by Nathan Myers.

The weather forecasters predicted an uncomfortable ride, and they were right. Up at our cruising altitude, we encountered continuous turbulence, and for the first time in the season, serious airframe icing. The airplane handled it as well as can be expected, but less well than I hoped. All the deice equipment appeared to work; we were rewarded by the sight of ice chunks flying backward, or their sound bouncing off the fuselage when flung off by the props. With so much supercooled water in the tall clouds and sticking to the wings, plus having to rob the engine of some of its power (using “alternate induction air” to prevent blockage of air filters with ice), GXRP could not quite climb to my desired altitude (10000 ft) and maintain a comfortable speed. On the bright side, the on-board weather radar pointed out the bad weather before we got there-if only I had taken its advice and steered around!

The Elliot Lake airport is located in the middle of wilderness. with no obvious signs of civilization nearby. I’m sure the town is there somewhere, but we didn’t see it. Maybe that was because the sea of rolling hills everywhere, covered with the nicest colours I’ve seen this year. I apologize to my breathlessly anticipating photography addicts for not taking my camera along on this trip: you will just have to imagine. We found a talkative lady waiting for a ride to Toronto. After rigorous endless security checks, including intimidating conversation like “Hello! You’re the only person in the terminal, so you must be Jane Doe waiting to go to Toronto.”, and thorough scanning of the outside of her baggage (some pockets suffered from zipper malfunction), we got under way.

The return trip was relatively calm, and not just because we chose to cruise well below and away from the same problematic clouds we ran into on the way North. (We could still see a big mass of them towering, now to the east of the Bruce Peninsula.) The ride was also calmed by the absence of cabin heat (a piece of airplane equipment unhappily died on the way up), and not counteracted with sufficiently exothermic simulated tapdancing or the invigorating and seemingly endless discourse. We could see city lights from 100km away – a sliver at first, but soon covering the huge tract of land that is the greater Toronto area.

Our landing was an appropriately sloppy end to the trip. We had strong gusty crosswinds relative to the only lit runway at the island airport, and it was a successful but uncomfortable approach. My hat (were I to wear one) would be off to that loony student pilot who at the same time was practicing takeoffs & landings in an even lighter airplane. Still, a few minutes later, our happy passenger was at her hotel, and I drove home in a comfortably warm car.

Posted Mon Oct 4 13:00:00 2004 Tags:

My interest piqued by an article over at the Powerline blog, Juimiin and I attended most of Brian Wilson’s concert in Toronto. I suppose the word “most” gives away a hint of my disappointment. The problems were severe enough that we ducked out at intermission, 70 minutes into the show.

Among the problems:

  • The sound engineer seemed catatonic. He barely touched his control board, even though Wilson’s voice was barely audible. A lot of the sound was dominated by a single 300-600Hz tone accompanyment of some guitar or synthesizer. The sounds were smeared together, lyrics could just not be understood. Often the backup singing turned into shouting.
  • Bizarrely for a professional performance, the music drifted off key all the time. It was as if some electronic pitch correction or autotuner machine was constantly malfunctioning. No, it wasn’t just Wilson’s usual semitone magic.
  • Wilson seemed tired, and his physical performance seemed very forced. He barely touched his keyboard, and instead often gestured oddly with his arms, sort of like a sleepy seal moves his flippers. OK, he’s an aging star on a busy schedule, but this must be a little embarrassing.
  • The base cost ($65) was too high, considering a likely overall duration; Ticketmaster’s added $12 commission (18%) was absurd; Massey Hall’s upper seats were as cramped as the cattle rows on commercial jets.

On the bright side:

  • When the band stuck to songs where there was minimal or no instrumental accompaniment, it sounded sweet.
  • The performers made an effort to bring the audience into the show, though not much beyond the “clapping above my head” trick
  • Several of the newer songs have a nice rich arrangement (though hearing that tonight took determined listening effort).
  • We still got a good view from those way-high-up seats.
  • We got to see a music legend in real life.

The show could have been so much better.

Posted Wed Oct 6 21:33:00 2004 Tags:

Tonight we saw a “sneak preview” of the new movie from the screwball guys behind South Park. They have an bravely heartless sense of absurd humour, and their political leanings are sensible (”[they] hate conservatives, but [they] really fucking hate liberals”). They did not disappoint.

I saw the South Park movie at least ten times in a movie theater, and wish I saw Starship Troopers as many times, a similarly military flavoured satire. I fear I may have to do the same with this new one. What’s there not to love?. It too has rousing musical breaks, amply offensive sexual humour, brutal satire of current politics, plus a whole bunch of references to old movies. Something for everyone, or at least everyone who is not asleep, too young, too easily offended, and not ashamed to holler her head off laughing as puppets do gross, disgusting, horrible, stupid, ridiculous things.

Amongst the many highlights:

  • the “America, Fuck Yeah!” theme song, blaring as our heroes spring into action
  • the divinely obscene puppet sex scene, which might be the one that the US MPAA wanted removed in order to give the film a mere “R” rating; it goes on and on, and includes some new, er, “positions”
  • a wonderful self-referential self-deprecation scene, where puppets are made to walk poorly, reminding one of the Eric Cartman’s observation about T&P that “the animation is all crappy and stuff”.
  • great references to James Bond, Star Wars, Matrix, Kill Bill, kung fu films
  • the pool of vomit

But focusing on the plot and politics does not do the work justice. Technically it is amazing. The puppets are expressive. The cinematography in more normal scenes is very pretty: intelligent framing and dramatic lighting. The model sets are intricate and pretty, and camera movements are complex. It’s way beyond what one would expect.

Another review is found at Ain’t It Cool News. Spoilers are at The Movie Spoiler .

Posted Sat Oct 9 20:33:00 2004 Tags:

As the days before parenthood are ticking away, received advice changes
from trickle to torrent. An experienced male cow-orker made this astute
but insensitive suggestion about being present at delivery:

Don’t put your head down there. If you do, you won’t want to go back.

Posted Tue Oct 12 20:27:00 2004 Tags:

Almost exactly four years ago, I bought myself a new pair of Danner boots at LeBaron’s, a sporting goods store where we also bought some of our firearms and many other goodies. The boots cost me $240, the most I’ve ever paid for footwear, but I hoped the sturdy-looking bad boys would last a long time. And they did. After wearing them for nearly a thousand days over the next four years, dreaming constantly of stomping out the proletariat and their champagne-sipping shills, the boots hung in there. Now the soles are worn flat, and there is a crack or two in the leather that cost them their waterproofness. But still they are the most comfortable shoes I possess. They are heavy, warm, soft, and built to last.

Today I bought a new pair of the exact same model. I regret that the price increased slightly, but if the new pair also gives me four more years of service, it will have been a better deal than you find in an ordinary shoe store. Besides, the old pair is still fine for dry days.

Posted Sun Oct 17 20:46:00 2004 Tags:
The office building housing Red Hat's Toronto office has been undergoing a minor renovation to the internal fire warning systems. Basically a whole new electrical side (switches, bells, conduits, panels) has been installed over the last two months.

It looks pretty sweet - sturdy conductors enclosed in sturdier conduits, obviously designed to operate even with a fire raging nearby. However, one little installation quirk caught my eye. This is an unretouched photograph of the top of a wall in the basement. The sprinkler head and the electrical junction box behind the bell are about one foot apart. The electrical box is not sealed or waterproof (I saw it before the bell was mounted). Er ... will the sprinkler avoid bathing its live electrical circuit neighbour out of sheer politeness?
Posted Mon Oct 18 21:11:00 2004 Tags:

Two movies I’ve seen in the last few years have stood out as good material to keep away from depressed teenagers. They are Don McKellar’s Last Night and Hirokazu Koreeda’s After Life. Both deal with death, and intelligent peoples’ response to it. They both do it with a haunting character-focused style, without the Hollywood flash, and with that unity of vision particular to solo writer/director efforts. And man, the catharsis resulting from taking in one of these films takes days to leave.

Note to self. Find a way of investing in Rhombus Media, a local company that produced Last Night, The Red Violin, Slings and Arrows, and other wonderful films.

Posted Thu Oct 21 20:24:00 2004 Tags:

Our home has had a dust problem for quite some time. It’s an old place with radiator heating (producing little airflow), two dirty animals roving around (and that excludes the two dirty people also roving around), lots of tables and shelves to breed dust bunnies, and a lack of 1950s-style slave woman to dust daily. Persistent sneezing and stale pet smells just get old over time.

After a few days’ reading of various web reviews and product data, caused by an urgent desire to avoid following salesdudes’ droning advice, I came across enough convincing material to grab an IQAir HealthPro Plus unit for our house.

Yes, the product name is goofy, but at least it doesn’t say SuperHealth Invincible UltraExtreme TurboClean DoublePlus, and it is expensive, and it seems to have no Canadian mail-order retailers, but those were all only minor obstacles. I got my paws on one at a Chinese clientele-oriented retailer Home Comfort Centre, whose other main product area appears to be water filtration. It was expensive (about 20% more than a US mail order might have been), and both HCC locations I visited played unfortunate games with a “discount” from an inflated price, plus a last-minute 2% credit card surcharge.

Does it work? Yes, it seems to be pretty good. Dust-triggered sneezing near an activated unit basically went away. On a low fan setting, it’s quiet enough that one can sleep close to the widget. Over a 24-hour high-power blow session, it cleaned out most of the dingy basement air down below. Visitors claim that the house’s dog smell has gone away.

Problems? Yes, one big one: the air flow generated by a single fan is not manly enough to maneuver all the way around a two-story little house with little rooms and little hallways. We carted the filter up and down our main stairs a few times during the first week to let it focus on one or the other half of the house, but that 35lb borg-like mass is not well suited to such travel.

So we bought another one. Cognitive dissonance or astute value judgement? We’ll report as soon as possible.

Posted Mon Oct 25 21:27:00 2004 Tags:

An odd set of advertisement posters have popped up in Toronto lately. Mattel apparently decided to let someone else take a turn at whacking the money pinata as that are families of Barbie brand product addicts.

The new ads, some of which are pictured below, intend to coerce the next higher age group of girls to nag their parents for clothes for them instead of their dolls

While they might think this achieves an attractive or even sultry look, in reality it is vaguely counterfeit and disturbing. I wonder what the technical term is in the under-oxygenated mountain-tops of marketing intelligentsia for this type of effort.

Posted Wed Oct 27 13:41:00 2004 Tags: