Sunday, January 29, 2012

In Memory: Doris Saulnier

Doris enjoys a summer afternoon at her home.
Late last night/early this morning, my great grandmother, Doris, passed away of old age and complications with existing illnesses. Affectionately known as "Nanny", the grand old woman was 89 years old and in excellent mental and emotional health. She is survived by her children Bob, Carol, Joan, and Louise, as well as their families.

I remember Nanny very well, though I didn't really get to know her until I was 12 or so. Her stubborn wisdom was the guiding force of a very large and happy family, and her tales and mannerisms the stuff of legend. If you weren't a little shit, you weren't anybody, and if you were very, very good, she might only tell you your flaws once in an evening. Not that anybody minded. Nanny left quite a mark on everyone who met her. She is fondly remembered for all her idiosyncrasies.

She has gone on to join her husband, Bernardin, who passed away (if I recall correctly) six years ago next month. All of us are still a little surprised. She was so stubborn that we were fairly certain she would be giving the eulogy at our great-grandchildren's funerals.

Rest in peace, Nanny. We all miss you.

Friday, January 27, 2012

A U.S. First: Congressman Barney Frank to Marry Partner in spite of DOMA

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm socially left, economically right, and religiously somewhere in limbo. That's why I watch the Rachel Maddow Show (and used to watch Keith Olberman's show, before it got pulled). I like her take on american politics and I generally tend to agree with her on most matters, from her SOPA/PIPA stance to her expression of the correct method of preparing mixed drinks. Her show is a balance of serious-to-silly that I particularly enjoy, so when it's time to take a break from the print media, I turn my eyes to her.

I was watching yesterday's show (podcasts are always a day behind) just now, and she closed the show with the announcement that Barney Frank, congressman from Minnesota (if I recall correctly), is engaged to be married to his partner of five years, a man who (if I remember correctly) is named Jim Powers. This would make Barney Frank the first congressman to be married to a homosexual partner while in office. Of course, DOMA means that that marriage would have no legal weight, and theology says it holds no spiritual weight, but the way I figure it, in a world torn apart at the seams by how much everyone hates everyone else, I'm just glad to see someone getting married.

I'm sure the most of my readership base, having come from CAF originally, are probably going to take issue with that position. But, the way I see it, the men aren't catholic. I'm pretty sure they're not even Christian. I can't hold them to a moral law they feel has no force and effect.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Passwords and Encryption, in Light of Children

People who know me personally know that I am a bit of a cryptography buff. One of the first things I ever did with logic programs in Excel was to build a very stunted and useless One-Time Pad calculator. I routinely change passwords according to a set of predetermined rules. Hell, I even pre-encrypt backups and key files, many of which never leave the hard-drive on my computer. If my position statement on PIPA/SOPA and related legislation wasn't enough of a clue, I value privacy, and in a digital age, that means maintaining strict control of systems and files, never mind the much more complex issue of social networking.

Locking down data tables is so easy that a child could do it... and they often do. I usually had my account on the computer pass-locked and put passwords and sometimes even full encryption on files I wanted to keep private, going back to my first year in high school. If I wasn't such a homebody, my parents would have been hard-pressed to keep any sort of track of my activities... and now that's even more true than ever before.

The question, then, is how much privacy to allow children on the computer, and what you do about it when they circumvent your stated rules. When I used to tool around on CAF, I used to get any of a number of responses. Some parents said that they used software web blocking tools (such as those often used by schools and offices) to block websites with varying levels of strictness, up to and including one father who allowed only white-listed sites... those he specifically approved. Other parents installed keystroke recording software -- commonly called "Keyloggers" -- or even hardware, to record every input their child made to the computer. Keystroke logging, especially on the hardware side, really is the 'nuclear option' when it comes to keeping track of what your kids are doing. You'll have every URL typed, every line of text, every manually-typed password.

In the end, though, however you go about it, there's always flaws to any net-guardianship scheme. For one thing, children are often more computer-literate than parents, and if you were a real computer nut like I was, you took pride in getting around any obstacle placed between you and total computational freedom. Then, there's the human factor: nobody likes to think their parents don't trust them. Hard as it may seem to believe, kids don't like to feel like their parents are always watching them. That problem gets even worse when the child owns the computer in question. (ProTip: Your teen daughter might own her laptop, but you own the power and internet coming into the house.)

Me? Well, I don't have kids. If I did, though, I'd be honest. It's not them I don't trust. It's the internet. And if you want to use a computer connected to my network, you best believe I'm going to be sure your computer is safe... both in terms of net security, but also in terms of your life.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

This Isn't Over: The Cold War in the 21st Century

The Cold War was widely considered to have ended, by many historians, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 - within my life time, as a matter of fact. In the years of falling action since, the threat of nuclear war is considered to have fallen by the wayside in both the political and practical worlds. Perestroika and Glasnost have rendered the new Russian Federation and the United States of America friends. Tensions between the countries of the "nuclear club" are at a low unprecedented since the advent of the weapon.

But every now and then something happens and for a brief, glorious moment, I'm living in 1967. That's how I felt about the way everyone reacted to the news a few years back that Russia had claimed the seabed below the north pole as national territory, and planted a titanium flag. That's how I still feel every time someone mutters "Communist" under their breath when they hear about improving relations with China (or the use of the word "socialist" as a political slur).

Tensions in the world are, to some degree, on the rise. Canada builds up her Arctic fleet in anticipation of a need to police Arctic shipping channels at some ill-defined future point when oil drilling and shipping north of the Circle will be economically viable, while Russia and America both claim jurisdiction (without claiming jurisdiction, of course).

And then, late last week, a Canadian Naval Intelligence Officer was arrested and charged with espionage, including something to the affect of passing sensitive information to a "foreign entity". CBC, CTV, and Telegraph Journal all immediately jumped on speculation that the foreign entity was Russia, without saying it actually was.

I do believe we are still responding viscerally to Russia, our generational monster-under-the-bed. Whether that is merited or not is trivial... the Cold War still plays out in the minds of many, including those who are pushing harder and harder for bolstering military presence in the Arctic. Only one enemy could invade us from the North... and that would be Russia.

Is the USA Republican Establishment Imploding?

Full disclosure: I'm not an American, but I lean left.

It seems to me based on the first ten minutes or so of last night's Rachel Maddow Show that the Republican Party is sort of... suiciding. The two inside favourites for the presidential nomination are: One of the richest American taxpayers, and a man who is suspected of illegal lobbying, who was kicked out of his own party's speakership.

Republican voters: You should be pissed.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Sunday Night Faith Update: Just Living

A very smart poster commended on the last post I wrote about my personal adventures with faith, and though they preferred to remain anonymous, their comments were none the less rather enlightening. Good, sage advice for anyone who is just starting to consider that aspect of life.

This is the part where you'd almost expect some sort of revelation I had taking that advice... I hope that's not the case, because whoever is will be walking away from this post disappointed. I haven't had a revelation. I don't even have a convenient excuse. The closest thing to the truth that I can reach for would be that I've been busy, but so much of what makes me "busy" is well and truly outside the confines of anything that you could call important, or mandatory. Anyone who's correlated my posting schedule to the operating hours at the community college has probably already figured out that I do most of my writing during my school hours, so you can imagine that I don't have that much homework at the end of every night, either. I'm a full-time student without part-time employment, I can't even use that excuse. If you really want to know what's been filling up my time, it's been simple. Conversations with a special someone. Games of KOTOR, Minecraft, WoW, the latest Deus Ex. Stock analysis for my absolutely imaginary portfolio over at Investopedia (I'm up, thanks for asking). Research planning (not even the actual research) for a business plan. Writing in about fifteen or sixteen different fictional capacities, depending on mood and inclination.

I'm busy with make-work, you could say. It's what has my attention. And to a real extent, it helps. It keeps me entertained enough that I don't have to ask myself anything. This time of year, that can be very helpful. Someday soon, I'll have to sit down and listen to that advice I was given.

Mike Crawley and the Changing Direction of Canadian Politics

Anyone who's known me for very long knows that I've never been much for party loyalty. The design of our parliamentary democracy almost prohibits it. There are the three major parties (four, if you count the Bloc Quebecois), but then dozens of sub-parties and even independent candidates to sort through, and if you go through party line alone, you're often disappointed.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

In Praise of Polish

When I was an army cadet, there was a lot of importance placed on appearance, but, paradoxically, you never actually noticed what the other cadets uniforms looked like. I mean sure, you knew where to look for rank or qualifications, which was a fast way to settle arguments back then (even tangential ones), but you never really looked for the loose-threads or scuffed boots that the higher ranking cadets and adult officers seemed to care about. Now, that never stopped any of us from busting our asses for hours at a time trying to put a mirror polish on our boots, and believe me when I tell you that one of the only smells that brings back summer more than the tall grass is the smell of an open tin of Kiwi.

But then, I never placed much importance in clothes. "Whatever was on top" in the dresser seemed to get the job done, and the idea of planning an outfit seemed limited to the affairs of those mysterious women-folk I heard so much about.  But then, "gets the job done" was (and still often is) my default attitude about damn-near everything. No drafts for blog posts and low-value papers? Gets the job done. One pair of shoes? Gets the job done. Scarf and hat don't quite match? Gets the job done. Overdue for a haircut but don't look like trash yet? Gets the job done.

So what's this got to do with shoe polish? Nothing. It's about polish in the broader sense. Finishing touches. Sure, a high-school education "gets the job done". Being able to express any emotion without filling spaces with "um" or expletives takes polish. Clipping your nails gets the job done. Making sure the edge is smooth afterwards takes polish. Getting your cash-flow statement set up on excel is quite literally getting the job done, but documenting it with reference-comments and named ranges is a very user-friendly level of polish.

I have this blazer. It's a nice blazer, from my favourite local purveyor of such things. I wear it almost every day, and have since about October (before that, I hardly ever wore it at all). But I'm a bit abusive. It's been a while since the jacket (which is "mostly clean") has seen the dry-cleaner. It's showing its age. Four or five years might not be bad for a jacket, but the four or five years between leaving high school and actually starting to take an adult body-type can be quite destructive for even the best-made suit, and that jacket used to fit me "quite well", so now, the better part of two inches and ten or twenty pounds later, not so much.

So I retired the jacket, quietly, on Monday. I figured nobody would notice. Other than the jacket, I wore what I'd normally wear: jeans and a t-shirt. A knit sweater, because it tends to get cold in my classroom, which was converted from a computer lab and has very, very powerful air-conditioning. In January in the Maritimes. But I digress.

People noticed. I got lots of quiet "you're looking sharp/nice today"s from people you'd both expect and not expect it from. So I've retired the jacket. Sure, it was getting the job done. But until it gets a dry-cleaning and some repairs (maybe even let out a bit), it's lacking in polish.

I suppose, if I can't get it let out, I can always donate it to a Frenchy's or a ValueVillage or the Salvation Army or something. Come to think of it, I have quite a lot of "lacking polish" clothing floating around... I should do something about that.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Nuclear Problem

The climate debate is as hot as its been since I've been alive these days, and regardless of which side you come down on on the question of climate change itself, people are generally optimistic about opportunities to reduce carbon (as long as it doesn't cost them anything!). I've heard a lot of talk of Nuclear Power on both "sides" of the issue (those who support the idea of AGW and those who are opposed), both in favour of adopting further Nuclear Power and abolishing its use. Much of this talk happened after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan early last year and the subsequent meltdown of the Fukishima Dai-Ichi plant. There has been plenty of discussion of FDI since then, and an autopsy of the event isn't the focus of this little blog; I aim to discuss the larger issue.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

BOHICA: Christopher Jarvis

Well, it's happened again: a Church Official has been tried and convicted of sexual abuse of children, c.f. The New Civil Rights Movement; BBC.  The man, Christopher Jarvis, was actually in charge of a group interviewing adult victims of child abuse by priests and other church officials in the United Kingdom. He plead guilty to owning over 4,000 indecent images of pre-pubescent boys, of which several hundred contained scenes of rape, sadism, and torture, and all of which were stored on a church-owned computer. He was sentenced to 12 months in jail... of course, in the general population, I imagine his sentence will feel a lot longer. Strong language below the jump.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Personal Health and the Public Interest

A story ran on the CBC this morning about a high school in Saint Stephen, New Brunswick which has begun to issue medical "report cards" to students in the 10th grade. The report cards spell out the student's rankings against various indicators of physical health:  blood pressure, cholesterol levels, heart rate, blood sugar levels and body mass index (BMI). As usual, reactions are mixed.

I, personally, think the reports are a good idea, with a few caveats. First of all, I feel they should be issued by medical professionals... a retained Practical Nurse, for example. Second of all, the reports only work if they are  (a) plainly readable by 10th graders and their parents, and (b) if students are taught what the various indicators mean and why they are important to physical health. Perhaps more important, many fitness experts consider BMI to be an outdated indicator, and that a more important indicator would be to use Muscle Mass % vs. Fat Mass % as an indicator of corporal fitness.

That being said, the program, including the nurse, cost the high school $7000, which is a pittiance if it actually works. In general, the reports seem well-received by students, whereas the adult commentators on the CBC website seem more opposed. If it's not already clear, I fall into the category of being in-favour. Hell, I wish it was done for me in that grade!

Copyright Protections, Peer-to-Peer, and Government Overreach

There's a lot of talk lately about net neutrality, with the SOPA Bill in the United States passed or passing through their legislative system, similar overtures here at home, and other such activities abroad. There are those who feel that SOPA opens up all sorts of "fun" abuses of its authority to government, and I can't comment on that, not having read the bill myself. The stated goal, of course, is in the name: Stop On-line Piracy Act.

Piracy is nothing new: my dad used to tell me about recasting records back during the vinyl days, or recording songs from the radio to casette. People like me, who aren't old enough to remember much about the 90s besides the sudden emergence of anime onto North American cable TV, are more likely to think of software and media piracy through Peer-to-Peer protocols like Bittorrent and the ten or fifteen thousand different clients that run the protocol. I'll even go so far as to admit that I used to download videos and music when I was still in my teens, and probably more than my fair share of software as well. To be fair, and in the interest of full disclosure, I have a folder on my computer containing all of the 3.5 Edition Dungeons and Dragons books from Wizards of the Coast, which, to be fair, were no longer in print at the time a friend downloaded them. Go a little further back, and just about everyone can remember a time when stealing software was as easy as installing it from a friend's disk, or simply copying the disk.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Crisis and Cynicism: The Inn on the Cove

Last night, a business I used to work for suffered a large fire. Nobody was hurt, but from what I am hearing and reading in the local media, much of the inside of the recently-renovated building was damaged beyond simple repair, and the roof was effectively destroyed. The Saint John Fire Department classified the fire as a "major structural fire", and responded quickly enough that what was saved was, well, saved.

This is horrible news. The Inn on the Cove was the city's best-kept secret: fantastic rooms, excellent food (if I can say that much myself), and, from what I'm told, the best spa in town. The view was fantastic, the grounds were well-kept, and the co-workers were easily the best crowd I ever worked for. I can only hope it is repaired quickly, and that the fantastic owners of the place don't suffer too much hardship over this.

The reason I expect the owners to experience a bit of a rough time is that the fire wasn't even totally out yet when the CBC affiliate got a hold of it, and the building was likely still smouldering when people already started throwing accusations that the fire was lit on purpose. I'm not going to speculate on why, because that's just throwing fuel on the proverbial fire.

The thing is, I have a firm belief in jurisprudence and the maxim that people are innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law, rather than in the court of public opinion. This is the same reason I didn't get very uppity about the Casey Anthony verdict (though I admit an unfamiliarity with the matter). The Saint John Fire Department hasn't even said the fire was mysterious or suspicious... they haven't identified the source of the blaze.

Cynicism is contageous. The only cure is to elevate your mind over the inherent need to find guilt in others.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Steal My Idea: Save the New Brunswick Economy!

A few months ago, the Irving Shipyards at Halifax, Nova Scotia, won the lion's share of a shipbuilding contract for the Royal Canadian Navy, and in my hometown of Saint John, New Brunswick, there has been a sort of anticipatory glee. The contract is too large for a single shipyard at Halifax to produce in a timely fashion, and it is hoped that Saint John, which was formerly (well formerly) one of the ship-building capitals of the world, will pick up some of the slack. And that on its own is great news for the city, but I am not so sure that the ripple-effects will help the entire province.

We are currently spending an enormous sum of money to retrofit what I understand to be Atlantic Canada's only nuclear power reactor, the Point LePreau station. New Brunswick is in a small bit of an energy crunch, what's more. More generation is needed. I live sandwiched between the two dirties forms of commercial energy generation... the nuclear Lepreau site, and a coal-fired plant at Colson's Cove. You probably guessed from my failed blogging start-up Green Wonk that I'm a bit of a nut for energy efficiency and clean technologies.

Saint John, and much the rest of New Brunswick, is not directly on the Atlantic Ocean, but instead on the very large Bay of Fundy, a body of water which we claim to have the highest tides (in terms of variation from low to high tide) in the world, though I understand that distinction is somewhat disputed by parties in France and elsewhere. Evidence of the dramatic difference in tides can be seen at the famous Hopewell Rocks sight, perhaps the most iconic depiction of the flux, though I have always liked the Tidal Tower installation at the museum in the Market Square shopping centre... a little closer to home.

High tidal flux means high change in potential energy. Use of tidal power for electrical generation is not a new technology. Nova Scotia already has commercial installations. I propose we get in the game. Not by rights of the provincial government hiring out to companies abroad, but through local business, designing, constructing, and installing generation capacity by the sweat of Brunswicker brows and in New Brunswick's waters. Hell, other green technologies have since been realized on household-scale levels. People with off-the-grid campsites and cabins already use solar and wind to power their vacations. What's a cooler-sized turbine cast into the bay each weekend?

This could save us. Right here, right now, today. It's good for the economy, good for the globe, and good business sense. The reason New Brunswick has the economy it does is because most of the province still thinks like they are in 1973.