Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sneaky bastards, eh?

[Update] This may be a false alarm.

Remember when it was discovered that Sony was sneakily installing rootkit software on peoples' computers and the big fuss it created? I think we're about to witness round 2: Key loggers installed on new Samsung laptops. Part one of the story here. Part two here.

Thanks to Ernest for the tip.

Google gets you to your bus on time

I have heard a few people who own iPhones say to me "I wish I had access to the transit schedule so I knew how to get home from here." Little did they know that they already have everything they need to get home by transit right on their iPhone.

Just open the Maps app and tap Directions. If a route is already there, tap Edit and Clear. If location services are enabled on the phone, the Start field probably already says Current Location. If that's where you're travelling from, just plug your destination into the End field. If you're planning to begin your journey from a particular address (not where you are now), tap in the Start field and tap the X at the right to delete the 'current location', then type in your intended start point.

Once you have your intended start and end point plugged in, tap Route. The map app defaults to the mode of transportation you chose last time, so it's very likely to be via vehicle (the car icon at the top). For transit mode, tap the bus icon. The summary map will show you the next departure time for the bus / LRT route it has chosen for you and let's you know what time you should arrive at your destination. The map itself has drawn the route on the map with a green start pin and a red end pin. You can zoom in to see the route in all of its glory, then tap Start to get stepped through all of the waypoints of the trip, including walking parts and what buses / LRT numbers to take. If you arrive too late, you only have to tap the clock icon to see upcoming times for the same bus. This will give you an opportunity to stop in at the coffee shop while waiting for the next bus, for example. The last step will usually show you the walking part to your exact destination. If the location services is enabled on your phone, you should see a blue dot on the map showing your progress along the way. If the dot isn't being shown on the map where you are, tap the location services arrow at the bottom left corner of the app to have it show you where you are and track your movement.

Once you've mastered this app, you'll be able to bus around town like a pro. I have often found that Google Maps does a better job than the transit company's own resources at managing travel by transit.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Does piracy affect music sales? We'll see...

A study concludes that since Limewire the music sharing site was shut down, the amount of music piracy in the US has dropped 43%.

Well, if the music industry doesn't see a corresponding increase in retail music sales, that means their assertion that low sales is linked to piracy is..... umm........ WRONG!

Coffee withdrawal

Where I work, we have a Flavia coffee system. It's basically like a Tassimo or Keurig, but it's scaled up for a large office and uses (of course) a proprietary pouch for the content.

Today everyone came to work to discover that the machine was gone for repairs. The looks on peoples' faces was priceless. Wandering around like lost zombies.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Recycling can be fun

Did you know that you can reuse those silica gel packs that come in many packages to keep the contents dry?

It's true. Here's what you can use them for and here's how to recycle (dry) them.

Facebook flu

Almost everyone I know has encountered malware of some sort on Facebook. Some have had close encounters, infecting their profile and some of them don't even know it. The situation motivates me to offer some security related advice for Facebook users.

In the same way that getting an unexpected email with an attachment is a temptation too good to resist sometimes, Facebook makes it extremely easy to entice users with links to videos and pictures and web sites that are in fact infected with malware or are designed to hijack your Facebook profile.

The rules here are simple. Do not open any link that you would not normally associate with that Facebook user. Some would suggest that opening any links in Facebook is risky, but the fact is that many users do share links to their known interests in their feed. Common sense rules the day. If you see a sexually suggestive link suggested by your prim and proper friend..... don't click it. If you see the same link being displayed on multiple (unrelated) users' profiles, this could be a danger sign. If the text promoting the link is misspelled, uses bad grammar, or uses a short URL (to hide the real link address), this may also be a warning. Don't allow third party applications to install themselves in Facebook (or elsewhere) unless you have done your research and have determined that it can be trusted.

Sometimes, curiosity gets the best of us and sometimes we click things we realize that we shouldn't have. Some things to do to fix Facebook include:

Check and see if the link you clicked on is now in your own feed (viewed in your profile). If it is, click the 'X' and choose the option 'unlike and remove'. This will stop the link from spreading to your friends from your own profile. Go into your settings and see what applications are currently set up in Facebook. Get rid of any that aren't completely trustworthy, but especially any that you didn't install on purpose. Go to your list of 'likes' and do the same for the contents of that list. This is done in your profile as well, under 'activities and interests', then 'show other pages'.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


Me: Hey! Don't pinch my ass when I have both hands full!
Darlene: That's the perfect time to do it...

Universal wrapping paper

It's the most efficient wrapping paper you could buy, because it has 20 different occasion greetings on it in various places a-la 'word find'. Too cool.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Keep your filthy hands off my internet

This is why I would never get my internet from Rogers if that were an option.

Thanks to Ernest for the tip.

Things my grand-daughter (who will be 3 in May) likes to do.

  • Help Karl fly a plane in my flight simulator program.
  • Draw Dora on her chalkboard (not well, but there's definitely a face in there).
  • Sing.
  • Tell stories.
  • Role play with her doll house and figures.
  • Do puzzles (seriously - 24 piece puzzles - by herself).
  • Identify letters, numbers and fruits and vegetables.
  • Hammer her play nails with her play hammer.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Firefox 4 is out

And this site shows the live download statistics. They were at almost 28,000,000 as of 10:24pm MST.

Radioactive propaganda

I'm very disappointed and frustrated that the current situation in Japan is feeding the fire of the anti-nuclear lobby. This group is now shouting loud and clear about how this is just another example of how dangerous nuclear energy is and why (in particular) Americans should not build any more plants to produce electricity with a lower carbon footprint.

Anyone who has done their homework would know that the reactor design employed in Japan's power plants is circa 1960 -1970 is by far one of the least safe designs available. Interestingly, most American power plants use this same older design. But it is a known fact that the newest designs cool the reactor very differently from the old ones that have malfunctioned and do not rely on power to supply water to the reactor core.

So the irony is in the fact that any new reactor built today would be exponentially safer than most reactors in production at the moment (Europe excluded, as they have built many modern, safe reactors), but nobody has the will to do it based on disasters resulting from old, obsolete and unsafe design.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Crap makes them more money

Confessions of a Staples employee made for a good read, but the part I'll show a sample from here I already knew. What you're about to read is most likely true for all big box electronics stores by the way, not just Staples.

"Staples makes almost nothing, and sometimes loses money, on PCs, especially laptops. As a result, Staples focuses very strongly on selling you a bunch of crap they make a lot more money on. If you try to dash in, buy a laptop and dash out you won't be dashing anywhere. They have a system to eat up 20+ minutes of your time, in an attempt to sell you extended service plans, tech services, accessories, anything. If a sales associate is letting laptops fly out the door without attaching any other sales to it he won't be there long. A sales associate would far rather you not buy at all than buy just a laptop, so expect roadblocks to be thrown up if you make your intentions obvious."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My musical journey continues

So as you may know from previous posts, I indulged in a new wireless audio system for my home that allows me to share my digital music collection and play it all over the house, either using a fixed player or a portable one (perfect for the patio or just setting beside your chair). When I discovered that my new system supports the FLAC audio file format, I decided to investigate. First a little background.

When you 'rip' a song from an audio CD, you're basically taking an audio file that is encoded in the native CDA format and storing it on the computer as a WAV file. This file is an exact replica (at least as far as the audio information is concerned) of the original music from the CD. A WAV file is uncompressed, meaning that it's going to use up a lot of space per minute of music (typically around 12MB/min).

FLAC is a relatively new file format that basically takes the uncompressed WAV file and compresses it to remove any redundant information, but (unlike with converting to an MP3) does not discard any audio information at all, preserving the original audio quality while shrinking the file size a little bit. In other words, FLAC is a lossless compression method because none of the original music detail is lost. This is good and makes a song encoded in FLAC format indistinguishable from the raw audio ripped from a CD. I figured that if my new system supports this lossless format, it was time to re-rip my CD collection into FLAC files. This way I could listen to my music in the best quality possible with at least some space saved.

That took care of converting my CD collection to high quality audio files, but what about all of the MP3 files I had collected from other sources over the years? It was time to go in search of FLAC versions of those songs. FLAC is fairly new, so not many people are sharing their music in this format, but some are. I wasn't able to find FLAC versions of every song I have, but the search is never over and ultimately, I can always buy more CDs of the music I really must have in the best quality possible. Even though I get a significant amount of my new music online (sometimes free), I'm not totally abstaining from buying music on CD. I just won't buy a whole album for one good song and 12 pieces of filler.

So with most of my collection converted to the much better sounding FLAC format, my music system is playing my music collection in high quality mode. But I can't play FLAC files on my car stereo, as it only supports MP3 and WMA. Fortunately, once you have a collection of music in FLAC format, you can obtain converter programs that will do batch conversion of your lossless audio to MP3 files of any quality you choose. So, this time I decided that, since space is not an issue on my USB memory stick, I will encode the music in the highest MP3 bit rate (quality) possible. MP3 is a lossy method of compressing an audio file, but the higher of a bit rate you choose for the conversion, the better the sound quality (and as a result - the bigger the file).

Here's the thing. When I started collecting MP3s many years ago, there was definitely a space issue. Hard drive sizes were not what they are today. Most people did not encode their MP3s in a bit rate higher than 128kb/s. This is like taping a song off the radio - the music you get is not of the highest quality. So my original music collection in MP3 format was always an inferior representation of that music. When I converted all of my FLAC files to MP3 this time around, I chose the highest variable bit rate possible (up to 320kb/s), which I knew would make a huge difference in the sound. It's still a lossy form of compression, but there's very little compression being done in the first place. I guess you could say that if on a scale of quality, 0 (zero) being unusable and 10 being as good as the source material, the audio from a CD ripped to WAV would be a 10; a FLAC file would be a 9.99999; a 320kb/s MP3 would be about an 8.5; and a 128kb/s MP3 file would be about a 4 (yes, it's that bad).

So with my collection recreated using the highest quality possible (for MP3), I loaded up a spanking new USB memory stick with the entire collection and tried it out in the car. Wow. If you've ever wondered what your car stereo can produce for sound, this is one way to do it. Amazing quality. I was hearing subtle guitar fret noise that I didn't hear at all with the lower quality files I had been listening to before. So I've breathed new life into my music collection. On the way to work this morning I was grinning from ear to ear.

Addendum: Remember that memory stick I mentioned? It's a big one - 64GB capacity. I needed that much because my bigger, higher quality music collection is now 42GB in size (5900 songs). I loaded the new stick up with the music files and plugged it into my car's USB port. All I got on the stereo's display was "Unsupported". DOH! What the heck? Honda was of no help, but I'm not surprised - this turned out to be a purely IT technical issue. A little research and I discovered that I was not the only person having problems getting a memory stick larger than 32GB to work in the stereo's USB port. Time for some experimentation. A friend lent me their 250GB portable hard drive and it worked no problem. So what was the difference between it and my new memory stick? As it turns out - the file system. The stereo only supports FAT32, a file system from the Windows 95 days (but still in use today). My new memory stick indicated that it was formatted as FAT, but it turns out it was exFAT, a new Microsoft (proprietary) file format that works in Vista and Windows 7 (but not car stereos). I tried reformatting the stick, but Windows 7 will only let me choose exFAT, FAT32 is not an offered option. A little more research and I discovered that Microsoft will not format anything larger than 32GB in the FAT32 file system, even though it is possible to do so. So, I cheated. I downloaded a third party formatting utility, formatted the stick as pure FAT32, loaded up the music and presto! All works as it should.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Mouse trail

This is so true, eh?


All we want is to get through it unscathed. Maybe have some good times along the way. But you know how it goes. Pitfall here. Crisis there. What's a sentient being to do?

I've always been fascinated by discussion about life, the universe and everything and this article puts some interesting spins on some basic life concepts. Sampling:

"Your passing emotional states can’t be trusted for measuring your self-worth or your position in life, but they are great at teaching you what it is you can’t let go of. The trouble is that emotions make us both more biased and more forceful at the same time. Another survival mechanism with nasty side-effects."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hangin' out on the sidewalk

Forced perspective photography.

It's the new black.

How bureaucracy can trump common sense

A Canadian Tire store in Calgary next to an open field and close to a landfill site has had a mouse problem. Various "approved" methods to get rid of the rodents failed, so the store owner brought in a few farm cats. Problem solved. Unfortunately, a customer didn't like cats wandering around the store and reported it to Alberta Health Services. The owner was told he wasn't allowed to have the cats in the store because they're not a recognized form of pest control.

Within three weeks, 3,000 customers signed a petition demanding the cats be allowed. AHS offered a compromise - the cats can roam the store at night.

At right is a random cat with Canadian Tire money. No word on whether the cats get paid in said currency.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Cat conundrum

It's like watching that scene from 2001 A Space Odyssey, except instead of apes in front of the monolith, it's a cat and a Blu-ray player.

This would be the last video posted by this YouTube user, as the cat beat them to a pulp......

Nenshi under the gun for a common sense move

In the Calgary Sun today, the pundits are criticizing Mayor Nenshi's plan to use a surprise tax break from the Province to pay down debt and fix things like leaking swimming pool roofs.

I don't understand the logic of those critiquing his plan. I use any extra windfalls I get to pay off debt and get things done that we couldn't afford to do right away. So I see nothing wrong with this approach. You could get the money back, or we can fix things that need fixing. I choose the latter.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

That's just plane Jesus scary [sorry]

The third in a series of forced perspective shots.

Google your way through a museum

One of the coolest things I've seen online recently is the Google Art Project. It's an online compilation of high-resolution pictures of artworks from galleries around the world. It also includes a virtual tour of the galleries where the art is housed a-la Streetview. The project launched 1 February 2011 and includes works from the Tate Gallery in London; the MMoA in New York; and the Uffizi in Florence.

Article and instructions here and here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Poll for men who wear jeans

Here's a poll for any man who might read this blog post who has ever worn a pair of jeans. Have you ever noticed a hole wearing through your jeans just above a corner of your back pocket?

If you said yes, I'd like to know (in the comments).

Great free software

Here is a fantastic list of some of the best Windows software out there. I make use of 17 of those programs on a regular basis, so I can vouch for this list - it's good.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Combing the sky

The first in a series of forced perspective shots.

I heart Wordnik

Wordnik is my new favourite online dictionary / thesaurus. I've been using it for months and planned to announce its goodness to the world, but I lost track of time. Better late than never, eh?

Oh, why is Wordnik good? It has great examples. It will pronounce the words for you. It accumulates definitions from various sources.

It shows etymology and statistics. Pictures of the word too.

Come on.... it's one stop word shopping for crying out loud......

The breadth of river systems

I absolutely love what this guy has done with his representation of various American river systems, drawn in subway map style.

Even more impressive are the things I learned from studying these maps, including that a river passing through Great Falls Montana (a mere 512 km away from us) ends up in the Mississippi River; and that the Columbia river is fed by waterways as far north and east as Canal Flats in British Columbia (only 325 km away from us) and as far east as Wyoming.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Practical Lexicon Episode 3

Episode 3 is in the can and posted online for your listening pleasure. For our third episode, Bernie and I talk about online job resources.

Karl is now officially a PRT advocate

I'm on a mission. I'm attempting to create an advocacy group of people who all share the same interest - getting a PRT network built in Calgary. If you don't know what PRT is, check out my numerous posts about it here or here go to wikipedia. I figured it was time to stop just blabbing about PRT and do something with the idea.

But I need your help. If you are involved in urban planning, public transportation, sustainable development and preferably live in or near Calgary, I'd like to meet you. I would like to earn your support, listen to your views or just discuss the idea of PRT with you. If you know anyone who is in any way related to the above mentioned roles, please contact me.

You can leave a comment or email me directly using the email you see above right.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Our perilous relationship with nature

Some incredible photos of the earthquake in Japan.

There are no words.

Growing is forever

Do you know when I realize that internet entertainment value has surpassed television entertainment value? When I see beauty like this video.

It gave me chills and put a smile on my face at the same time.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What do these things have in common?

A certain boy wizard; a certain Texas ranger; the over-acting investigator; the evil doll; a certain prop comic; a certain late night host; a fast food clown and a certain 80's brat girl.

Don't just make yourself lovely....

A real sign outside of a clothing store in South Korea.

Not just plain lovely, oh no.

Found on boingboing.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Liquifaction of the soil

Pretty amazing video showing the liquifaction of the soil in Christchurch New Zealand to demonstrate why there was so much damage from the recent earthquakes.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Bad timing for a winter coat fail

Doesn't it drive you nuts that summer clothing is already appearing on clothes racks at the department stores?

Tell me about it. My winter coat finally gave up the ghost over the weekend and do you think I could find a winter coat anywhere? Not bloody likely.

Monday, March 07, 2011

You call this snow?

When anyone in Calgary complains about all of the snow, I'm reminded of a major dump that hit Montreal in 1971 (from CBC archives):

Seventeen deaths were blamed on the city's worst recorded winter storm on March 4, 1971. Winds of up to 110 km/h created massive snowdrifts from the 47 cm of snow that fell.

In the end, about 500,000 truckloads of snow were hauled out of the city.

For you non-metrics out there, that's 18.5 inches of snow in one storm.

[Update] Quebec just got a dump of 75cm (30 inches) of snow in 24 hours yesterday.

Under the Milky Way

So it is my understanding that the most isolated places in Chile offer the most amazing views of the Milky Way, so it's no wonder that the ALMA Antenna Array is also featured in this time lapse video. I've read that the Milky Way is so bright there and that the sky is so dark that our galaxy actually casts a shadow on the ground.

That's just plain freaky. I would love to see that before I die. For reals.

Make sure you watch this at the highest resolution possible - and full screen.

Saturday, March 05, 2011


If Stonehenge was built using IKEA instructions.....

You can feel the funny already, can't ya?

Oh look! Another record box office year!

Hey MPAA - looks like your doom and gloom predictions continue to fail to come true dude. Do you have anything to say about that?

"...the continued theft of movies online will have a sustained adverse impact on movie attendance in the coming years.”

Yeah............. OK.

Friday, March 04, 2011

(Almost) Every #1 pop single

If you want to listen to an evolution in music, this would be the way to do it. 5 seconds of every #1 pop single in chronological order, from the late 1950s to 1993. It's like listening to a never-ending Time/Life ad, but it sure does tell a story.

Part one is here.

Part one: 8:00 is 1961, the year I was born; 12:32 has the first Beatles hits; by 15:27 (1965) rock and roll songs are definitely making a big impact on the charts; at the 20:00 mark is the first song I can honestly recollect hearing on the radio (my dad only listened to the easy listening station in Montreal [CJAD]) - This Guy's in Love with You by Herb Alpert. I was just turning 7; at 31:19 is the official start of disco; by 33:37 disco has taken over pop; at 40:00 is the precise moment I left home to join the military; 43:18 is when MTV launched; it ends at October 1981.

Part two is here.

At 8:51 is when I met Darlene - the song that charted #1 that week was At This Moment by Billy Vera and the Beaters; 13:16 is the original Rick-roll; 18:02 is when Darlene and I got married.

A cool place to work

A rare look inside the Pixar animation company.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

I came up with this out of the blue. No really.....

I have a new phrase to add to the urban dictionary.

It describes that atypical phenomenon when you've gone to the bathroom, and properly wiped, but after an indeterminate amount of time you realize that a subsequent visit to the bathroom for additional hygiene maintenance will be required.

"Cleanup in aisle two."

Jonathan B, that was for you.

Where are they now?

Ever wonder what Jon Cryer is up to now that Two and a Half Men is suspended for the time being?

Wonder no more.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

You'll have to come over to see anything embarrassing at my house

This video is essentially the reason why all video capture devices in our house have been purposely hidden away from Darlene. The world really doesn't need to see stuff like this. And I've been known to do some crazy-assed stuff in my house that prompted Darlene to say, "I'm putting that on YouTube...."

Not if I can help it....

Cat laser bowling

So here’s how it works.

Stack plastic cups into a pyramid. Take your laser pointer and tease your cat until (s)he chases the dot right into the stacked cups. If you knock over all of cups, that’s a strike kids.

Disclaimer: I realize that teasing cats for human enjoyment is not fair. Having said that, this video really made me laugh.

Cats with thumbs

Funny UK milk ad about cats evolving opposable thumbs.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011