Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Glimmer of Hope

Jim Prentice has delayed introducing his copyright reform bill.  Hopefully it's a permanent delay.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

No Rights for You

I've been converting my CDs to MP3s and Oggs for years. I recently also started converting my DVDs to Xvids to watch on MythTV so the kids won't scratch them up. I own my CDs and DVDs. I paid for them. I have a right to convert them to other formats... for now. A new bill will soon be tabled that will make converting protected digital media for personal use illegal. I won't stand for it. I wrote the following letter to my MP, Jason Kenney, and sent it via Canada Post; this website helped me write it.

Dear Sir,

I am a Computer Network Administrator currently working in the Geomatics industry in Calgary. I've been a constituent of Calgary Southeast for the past five years, and I am writing to you out of grave concerns for the future of Canada's cultural policy, particularly in regard to legislative proposals for "copyright reform." I hope that you will work to ensure that any new legislation improves upon — rather than regresses from — the sensible policies set out in last Parliament's Bill C-60.

In particular, I do not believe that "digital rights management" (DRM) technologies should stop the public from making lawful uses of their legitimately acquired media. Publishers using DRM push aside the delicate balance between copyright and the rights of the public - a balance set according to an assessment of the public interest by legislators - and replace it with one-sided rules that reflect publishers' private interests. Any new copyright reform legislation, as in Bill C-60, should not make it illegal to circumvent DRM for lawful purposes.

I am also concerned about the implications of DRM on Canadian research, particularly the censorship of computer security research and of the implications of genetic research. As a Network Administrator, I know that all computer systems have vulnerabilities. DRM laws have been used to silence security researchers like Princeton computer science professor Edward Felten; when the only people looking for vulnerabilities are a few company employees and a vast network of hackers, the odds are in favour of the hackers. It is also not hard to imagine litigious corporations involved in the genetic manipulation of food using DRM laws to silence findings of any adverse effects of their products.

Finally, I am concerned that the use of DRM can threaten consumer security and privacy, as in the recent Sony-BMG "Rootkit" fiasco. When content companies routinely use technological measures to control how people enjoy entertainment in the privacy of their own homes, I think we need protection from DRM more than we need protection for it.

These concerns are shared by a substantial and growing number of informed Canadian citizens. I hope that you will take them into account when considering any changes to Canadian copyright law. Thanks very much for your time.


Jan Kat

Monday, November 26, 2007

Raising the Dead

Donnie and I practiced a little electronic necromancy this weekend, which reminds me of lessons I learned many years ago.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Remembrance Day

Let me tell you how my life was directly influenced by events near the end of World War II.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Shakers and Pumpkins

There was some pumpkin carving and birthday partying going on last week...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Future of Music

About 25 cents of every 15 dollar CD you buy from a major record label goes to the artist. The RIAA claims they sue people in the States who download music to protect the artists; really it's to protect their fat profit margins. A few years ago, the CRIA — the Canadian equivalent of the RIAA — got the Canadian government to impose a levy on all blank CDs, arguing that the major purpose of blank CDs was not to back up data but to copy music. Ironically, they were too blinded by short term profits to foresee that the levy now makes it legal for Canadians to copy music as long as they burn the music to blank CDs.

I love Radiohead. I first heard them on the soundtrack of Romeo+Juliet. I found out who they were, downloaded a couple of their songs from Napster, and based on that bought a couple of their CDs. And unlike Metallica, who made obnoxious fools of themselves by joining the recording industry's fight against Napster, Radiohead always supported music downloads.

Not long ago, Radiohead completed their contract with their record company. Instead of signing a new contract, they decided to reject the established music distribution system and distribute their new album In Rainbows themselves via the Internet. Besides being possibly the first major band to try this, they are also offering the music with no copy protection and the album has no set price: pay as much as you like.

I paid a lot less than 15 dollars. But they just made substantially more than 25 cents. This is the future of music.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


Well, I got MythTV mostly installed and working last weekend, but today I moved the box from the lab to the front room and hooked it up to the TV. It still needs some tweaking and I want to add a Colecovision emulator so the kids and I can play the old games I played in highschool, but it works.

We don't have cable (we don't watch much TV) so we'll mostly use the PVR function to digitize old videotapes. I can also use it like a jukebox to play all the music I ripped to OGGs last summer, but the thing I like about it most is that the kids can watch movies and there'll be no more scratched up DVDs lying all over ther place.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Basement Window

We spent a good part of this weekend and last putting in a new window in the basement.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Harper's War on Drugs

Prime Minister Harper announced this week that his government is going to crack down on the trafficking and use of illegal drugs, adding that current enforcement policies have sent a confusing message on the danger of drugs. I guess this is why Alberta's Conservatives privatized liquor sales: to make it clear that the government is not in the business of selling dangerous drugs.

Maybe PM Stevie should get some advice from George W. We have this huge surplus of federal cash; why not just throw it all into a Civil War on Drugs like the Americans have?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Island

Time for our annual trip out to the Island to visit my folks and their pets.

This is not one of their pets, though.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Tried a new beer this week: San Miguel Lager. It's quite good. I think this batch was originally intended for export to Australia, though.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Osama bin Laden makeover

Recent footage on Al Jazeera television shows operations conducted by Al Quaeda, Marketing Division, including a makeover for head speleologist Osama bin Laden.

It seems the "khaki clad guy in the cave" image is getting a little old and they're looking at some ways to spice it up.

And if the whole "wipe out the godless Westerners" thing doesn't work out, he's got an open invitation to play a super-villain in one of the upcoming Spider-Man sequels.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Geek noir

I started to write a new geek entry but got way carried away.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Embracing my inner geek

OK, I tried to hide it, but I can't keep living this lie. It's not that I haven't done anything for the past couple of months. It's that I didn't do anything I wanted to write about in this blog.

I've been working on terrible, geeky things. Like converting my entire CD collection to Ogg Vorbis files so I can listen to music from any room in my house or in the back yard. And planning how I'm going to do the same with my vinyl record collection... and my cassettes... oh, and what about my DVDs or the videos of our kids growing up? Almost forgot about those.

Anyway, I wanted to write about my geeky stuff. So I've started to. Right here.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Bowness Park

A park, a 'cache, a tasty burger.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Calgary drivers

I saw a billboard beside the road on my way home today.

It said: one in five people who read this will develop a mental illness.

My first thought was that thousands of Calgary drivers must have read it already.

But no, it's new... it couldn't have affected anybody...


Fortunately, many Calgary drivers are illiterate.

Many more are just plain blind.

But come Friday, the rest will have driven by and read that billboard five times.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


These guys make me giggle.

A Million Ways

Here it Goes Again

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Pork: it's not just for dinner

We had just sat down for dinner this evening when I heard a thud at the front door. When I looked over, it opened and a black pig walked in. I hate it when that happens.

"Hey," I said, "there's a pig coming into our house." While everyone just sat there looking at me, waiting for the punchline, I got up and tried to politely convince it to go back out the door. It wasn't taking the hint though... boorish swine. Instead it just grunted and walked around me, stepping on my foot as it headed over to the TV. Ouch. Not to be rude, but this wasn't exactly what you'd call a thin pig.

the wife's long dormant farming instincts finally kicked in and she jumped up, grabbed the pig, and unceremoniously ushered it out the door, squealing in protest (the pig, I mean). Seeing the neighbours' daughter by the street, she headed down the walk, the pig trotting along behind her. Apparently the pig — the daughter's pet — wasn't used to the neighbourhood yet and had just walked into the wrong house.

Pretty strange to see a pig wandering around Calgary, invading people's homes. I'd expect cows.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The War on Drugs

Someone's come up with a new way to classify how bad drugs are based on how much physical damage they cause, how dependent you can become on them, and how much harm they cause society (through accidents while under the influence, health care costs, etc.). They had a couple of groups of people (including psychiatrists and police officers) assess various drugs according to these criteria, and they came up with similar results:

If red wine and beer are good for you, then cannabis, LSD, and Ecstasy are practically vitamins. I suppose the pot-heads have been saying that for years, but I really wonder if whoever arbitrarily decided alcohol is OK but marijuana is bad wasn't drunk at the time.

It's also really confusing that some doctors who recommend LSD go to jail but the ones who prescribe methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamine (Adderall) for Calvin are still freely practicing medicine.

What really worries me, though, is what would happen if drugs were legalized. The end of Prohibition resulted in the loss of a major source of income for criminal organizations. If the same thing happened with drugs there would suddenly be a whole lot of cops with a whole lot of money and free time, just looking to make up their quotas with parking and jaywalking tickets. And we certainly don't want that.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Building a Computer Lab / Evil Lair

Donnie Darko wanted his own bedroom, mostly to have a place to keep his own stuff. So I was evicted from my nice upstairs office. There was one corner of the basement where I'd been storing my computer equipment, and I decided it was time to turn it into a proper lab.

My main workstation would stay in a corner of the den upstairs so I could still pretend to be a part of the family.

(original posts)

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

New, creative solutions to global warming

It seems some people have been threatening to kill scientists who dare to claim that global warming may not be the result of human activity. As a bonus, this would cut down on CO2 emissions.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Do I look like a sandwich artist?

Maybe I'm too used to fast food places being convenient, but I find Subway annoying. When I walk up to the counter and tell the "sandwich artist" I want a foot-long Teriyaki Chicken sub on whole-wheat, they take out a bun, cut it open, and say, "what would you like on that?"

Didn't I just say I want a Teriyaki Chicken sub? I want Teriyaki Chicken stuff on it, wise guy. All you've given me so far is a bun. There's nothing particularly Teriyaki-Chickenish about that, is there? Unless this is one of those Zen things and the bun already has Teriyaki Chicken nature.

What if I said I don't want anything on it, I just want a regular Teriyaki Chicken sub? Would you sell me just the bun? Six bucks for a chunk of bread? "What are you eating, Jan, a chunk of bread?" "No, it's a Subway Teriyaki Chicken sub; I just didn't get any of the extras."

I can see being asked if I want salt or pepper, but if I tell you anything more am I not then doing your job? Don't you know how to make a Teriyaki Chicken sub?

What if I ask for Texas hot sauce? Now it's not a Teriyaki Chicken sub anymore, is it? Now it's like a Teriyaki Buffalo Wing sub. So why did you bother asking? In fact, why spend all that money keeping your menu up to date when you only really sell one thing: a bun. "What would you like on it?"

You know what... motor oil. Put motor oil on it. Isn't that how they make Teriyaki Chicken subs? No? Well I didn't know that, did I? If I knew how to make one wouldn't I have my own Subway franchise? Wouldn't I be standing on that side of the counter, harassing hungry people?

You don't see McDonald's asking what you want on your Big Mac. "Yeah, I'll have a hamburger pattie, some lettuce, tomatoes, onions, industrial waste, pond scum..." or whatever it is that gives Big Macs that special flavour.

I'm thinking next time I go to Subway I'll order the cheapest sub they have advertised — the Veggie sub — and when they ask me what I would like on it I'll say, "I'll have a piece of chicken cooked in Teriyaki sauce, please."

Hey, you asked.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Global Warming

There are more and more electric and hybrid vehicles on the roads, lately. When we had to get a new van last summer we considered getting one ourselves. Still too expensive, though.

Everyone's been talking about Global Warming. Global Warming of Earth, that is. But guess what? Some of the many probes and automated robotic vehicles scientists have sent to Mars have been sending back temperature data, and after looking at global temperature records for the past few years scientist found that Mars is warming too.

What's the connection between Mars and Earth? Must be all those electric vehicles. Talk about irony.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Mexican vacation pt. 2 (Jan. 19 - 26 '07)

We had an extremely enjoyable and relaxing time our first week in Mexico.

Our second week in Mexico was at the Gran Flamenco Xcaret. We had a busier time there but it was an absolute blast.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Windows for Warships

Apparently the British Royal Navy will have all their warships running Windows at some point. I can see it now. Rebooting your destroyer while under enemy fire... re-registering with Microsoft after launching a cruise missile... DRM licensing issues when eavesdropping on foreign communiques...

Maybe that's what the Japanese run their whaling fleet on, too.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Crashing airplane computer systems

I just read a story about a guy who crashed the entertainment system on an airplane.

He was playing the game Tetris on the seatback screen. Tetris is a game in which you line up shapes falling from the top of the screen so they form complete lines at the bottom. There was an option in the game to preview the next shapes to fall. He pressed the + sign on the screen to increase the preview to 4, which was the maximum. He noticed that the seat phone keypad also controlled the screen (for changing channels, for example), and he used this to enter 5 for the preview. A bug in the game!

He then pressed + again and it went to 6. Another bug. He kept on pressing + until it got to 127, the largest signed number that will fit in a byte. He pressed + one more time and all the passengers' screens went blank as the entire entertainment system crashed.

I just hope the flight control system wasn't written by the same programmers.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Everyone hates Calgary Transit

I took an earlier train yesterday and today, since with the snow and cold the trains have been running late. I've been getting downtown earlier than I expected though, and there seem to be fewer riders. Looks like a lot of people weren't happy to be standing in the cold and the snow the last few days and have given up on riding the C-Train.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Happy Valentine's Day!

Hedgehogs for everyone! The wife's been pining for Mexico so I got her a pair of sunglasses with photos of Mexico stuck to the insides. It's just like being there.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Caught between Iraq and a hard place

US officials are claiming that Iran is supplying weapons to the "insurgents" in Iraq. Seems obvious, but it's a pretty bold claim considering the scant evidence. A prelude to war, perhaps? Didn't they learn their lesson with the whole "weapons of mass destruction" thing as a case for war with Iraq?

Strange that the cause of death for Anna Nicole Smith would also seem obvious, but no one is saying anything about that. People are a bit more cautious about saying why she died and seem to be waiting for the cold hard facts. Well, let me be the first to say what everyone is thinking. The truth must be known:

They took out Anna Nicole Smith for supplying weapons to the insurgents in Iraq.

Monday, February 12, 2007

It's like the white sands of Mexico here

... except the sand is cold and falls out of the sky. A technicality.

Just got my PDA working again so I can work on my blog while commuting. And it was a nice long commute today, with major delays on all C-Train lines due to the snow. You'd think when they designed Calgary's commuter rail system they might have taken cold weather into account.

"But the Saudis had a really good deal on trains! We're passing those savings on to all the commuters frozen to the platforms right now."

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Mexican vacation (Jan. 12 - 18 '07)

I was up with the sun at 6:30AM. Well, "up" in the sense that I had moved from my bed to the hammock outside. It was 26C, humid, and peaceful, even with the crash of the ocean waves on the Caribbean shore a few metres away. Was this a dream? It feels like it now, except for where I'm still getting chafed by the beach sand.

(original posts)

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