Thing: colour widget

Montréal, 16 Jan 2004

A colour thing for your edification, particularly if you're in COMS 256 at Concordia.

Thing: floppydiscs

Montréal, 14 Jan 2004

A thing for your amusement, created at Daïmõn in Hull late last year for Monument du Vide.

Be sure to mouse around, click, drag, and turn the sound on.

Thanks to Andrée, MC, and the other far-flung participants in the Monument for some of the source images!

Don’t vote for me!

Montréal, 21 Nov 2003

To avoid bad stuff like vote-splitting and a Slater vote on council, I have stepped aside from the CSU Council race. This won't be my last meddling in Concordia politics, though… keep your eyes peeled!

If you like my platform, may I suggest Laberge and Rosenshein as better-than-average replacements?

Vote for me!

Montréal, 16 Nov 2003

Studying at Concordia in the Arts and Science faculty? Not amused by the prospect of being represented by Adam Slater? Want a representative who won't get too settled in the CSU?

I'm the candidate for you!

Voting is on the 25th to the 27th of November, at both campuses. I'll be at a debate on the 18th, 2PM at Loyola in the Hive (the refular staffing of which I will push for, alongside supporters of art and quality of life at Loyola). A meet-the-candidates thing will be happening at SGW, location and time to be determined. I will be missing the election extravaganza on the 24th in H-110 from 1:30 to 3:30, but by all means go and check out the other candidates.

Whether you want quality representation or you just want to know it's safe to be busy with other things with less worries about what hairbrained scheme Council is cooking up, I can meet your needs.


Montréal, 27 Aug 2003

A while back, I wrote of how much more interesting diversity is in magazines that have really tough crosswords. Essentially, it's nice to have a checkered relationship with your reading material, to want to throw things at some of the columnists while knowing that there are friendlies writing in there as well. The magazine can’t represent everyone, but it is comforting to feel that the window the magazine provides on the world lets one see both trenches in some battles.

With the reactions to a really bad month of virus infections (including the first time I've had to deal with a non-hoax virus since 1992 ... on a pair of Windows 2000 machines nailed by the Blaster worm), my first reaction (true to expected form) was along the lines of “Macs rock”. Well, they do, but in addition to all the usual stuff, Macs’ relative rarity rocks. That rarity has saved all us Mac users from a lot of virus-related stupidity, I would expect.

Back in 1992, I purged the aging family Mac Plus of nVir A and B virii using the venerable freeware Disinfectant. At that point (and not for much longer), each OS was more or less its own community. Mac users swapped floppies and even sometimes binaries on pitifully small Mac sections in BBSes, and users of DOS and the occasional brave Windows user had their own, somewhat larger circle of data movement. Mac and PC users interfaced in person, by teletype and on the printed page. Reading a DOS disk was still an ordeal for Mac users and your average DOS machine knew nothing about Mac. So, if a floppy was travelling from point A to point B, it was likely A and B were running the same OS. If A were infected with something nasty and put bits of it on B (and many Mac floppies were full boot disks at that point in time, to reduce the interminable disk swapping one had to deal with on single-drive, hard-disk-free machines), then B could become infected.

Now, something like 80% of my correspondents are PC users (less than in the general population because a Mac user tends to draw or convert other Mac users, and because I'm in the education and arts sectors), if they get a virus and send me infected files, I don't become infected because Windows virii don't run on Macs. If I open a macro-virus-infected Word document using conversion, the macros usually get mangled or stripped, so no worries there. If I get a Mac virus and send it to my Windows compadres, something similar happens and I turn out to be not much of a vector. Some 20% of my correspondents are at risk. Some of them are probably running Classic Mac OS, and if it does bad things to OS X, it may not “work” for them. Because I'm usually sending straight text, HTML or PDF-from LaTeX, it's unlikely I will be sending anything executable at all. I have the built-in OS X firewall up and running, but otherwise I live in blissful peace, virus-wise. Not entirely because OS X is built on a pretty bombproof framework and is lovingly updated in Cupertino at regular intervals, but just because it can be a few jumps in some directions before I hit another potential carrier of the largely hypothetical Mac virus.

Lumping all of Windows together for a second… my Windows friends are in a different situation. They likely have a Windows-use rate over 80% among the people in their address book, and an MS Office saturation of close to that if not more They’re fantastic vectors for infection, unless they’ve taken the time to install firewalls and virus detection software. Windows may be built to allow some pretty disturbing things (“seamless execution of remotely-requested processes” is not a capacity I’d want. I want logins, warnings and dialog boxes before someone messes with my computer from afar), but its ubiquity is its real weakness. The overcrowding is reducing the distance the fleas need to jump.

Blaster is interesting in this respect: it is happiest on recent, high-tech versions of windows. The older cousins (95, 98) and the dumber cousin (ME) were blissfully under-powered and didn't have the “feature” of an RPC server-thingy, complete with gaping holes. Blaster could've been much worse, I imagine, if it had exploited a feature common to all Windows implementations. So a bewildering diversity of Windows-this and Windows-that was good for Windows users: not just the lucky low-powered ones, but the ones who got infected a little slower or got hammered by somewhat less garbage traffic due to the lack of epidemic among the peasants. Further Babelization, with each security hole appearing in smaller portions of the population, would slow a virus further, I would imagine.

But… what about compatibility? I want to communicate with the other computers out there, my Mac already has to learn weird things like Windows File Sharing and CDs that eat long filenames. What if it had to learn the obnoxiousnesses of the descendents of BeOS, NeXTStep, Amiga, Commodore and OS/2 Warp, in addition to some upstart every few years? The answer is simple, if you ask me: standards. XML, Java, LaTeX... whatever. Hopefully, although the formats will be consistent and exploits will be written out of the standards, the bugs on each platform will be different. The conditions to Blast a Commodore would differ from those required to disable Steve Jobs’ Next Insanely Great Idea (be it Mac or NeXT). And so a virus-writer would get less bang for their effort, not just in terms of how many targets are available of a given OS, but also the distance a virus has to travel across uncooperative computers would be increased, and the number of easy targets visible from each infected computer would be reduced.

I won't pretend to expect an eradication of virii under this scenario: large organizations standardized on one OS would still be juicy targets, and someone would probably work out a virus of such infernal beauty that it could hit some significant fraction of the computing world... but virus successful writing would be much harder, and when the real show-stopper arrived, it would be an interesting piece of computer science, I imagine, to dissect the virus once CS departments recovered from the damage, so there would be some redeeming social value.

So, to everyone running a minority OS, take heart, ignore those arguments over performance and feature lists (you know you should win them, but arguing them is like beating your head against a brick wall). Rest contented, instead, with the one feature of your OS Microsoft will never engineer, buy or copy: eccentricity.

Killing time

Montréal, 21 Aug 2003

I imagine many people will be able to confirm: the skin under a watch strap after a long, sweaty Montreal day (sweat, grime from smog, maybe some sunblock mixed in for good measure, maybe bits of peeling skin otherwise) is not a pretty sight. Some study will probably indicate soon that it’s a breeding ground for something that’ll get you stopped before air travel and require scrubbing with iodine before entering a hospital, nursing home or preschool.

In anticipation of this news, and because something, be it grease from between links or oxidized strap bits, stains my wrist black, I take off my watch from time to time, and sometimes forget to put it back on before venturing out into the world. If I’ve forgotten or purposely mislaid my cell phone, I am at the mercy of the world when it comes to telling time.

In a big city with shops opening and closing on a rigid schedule, public transit adhering to an exact timetable (at least when riders are a bit late and hoping the bus is too) and not much in the way of common times for things to happen to people, the exact time is a useful bit of information to have. Things run smoothly when everyone knows what time it is... hence the idea of the widely visible clock, on a clock tower or in the window. Bars can entice people in for last call or happy hour, theatres can give viewers an idea of what is playing right then, government offices can help service-getters avoid turning up outside of opening hours or inside of lunch. Every business can get people to look in the display window if their clock is easier to see than the squint-inducing display of the cell phone or the watch under the sleeve of the arm holding the briefcase.

Yet, aside from the occasional storefront (less than before, now that the cigarette-ad clocks in dépanneur windows are disappearing) and better payphones (I imagine those awful spawn of privatization, the pay-for-everything-phones [pay-411, a timer on local calls, what's next?] will be charging for the time soon), the time has almost completely disappeared from the streets. I have wandered for blocks and blocks looking for the time, stubbornly refusing to ask anyone because I should be able to find it displayed somewhere in a city where it matters. If I am wearing a watch, I could be off by half an hour and not know it, as checking it would require a reference time which I cannot find.

My phone and computer both pull down the time from some far-off electronic source. Semi-miraculously, they agree. If they have access to the outside world, they have the time. If, watchless, I glance around, even scan the surroundings for a couple of blocks down Ste. Catherine, I have only the sun, the traffic and asking strangers to go on. I'm stuck hustling along and hoping I’m on time… or accepting I'll be there when I get there.

Once used to my inexact state, allowing a little extra travel time between clocks or people with watches, this is actually kind of nice. Every hop’s arrival, of unknown earliness, is an opportunity to sit and watch people go by, to read or to think. Actually, watch-bearing types can get the same effect by agreeing to meet a non-watch-bearer (or someone for whom a watch makes no difference). It’s rather pleasant, really.

Brands don’t kill people…

Ormstown, 9 Aug 2003

After a long vacation in the repair shop and an infusion of parts, the metawidget production laptop is back.

The time with an empty patch of desk where the laptop usually is has given me many chances to read, be outdoors, and socialize with people I figured had drifted off on their separate ways... and hadn’t, really. It's given me time to be up to all sorts of mischief, but for the most part, I've been good.

But that’s not what this is about.

The city has been a-tizzy with word that us Montréalers may be deprived of the 2004 Grand Prix. Peripheral comments aside (about it not being cancelled, or the possibility that it may have been due to the bankruptcy-protected status of the big sponsor, Air Canada), it seems to be boiling down to cigarette company sponsorship.

If cigarettes are bad for us (duh), then the government's war shouldn't be fought reducing brand recognition (at least when the efforts to establish it hinge on sponsoring good things, or even the overblown but economically useful spectacle of the Grand Prix). Although hearing some smokers insist on their favourtie brands suggests otherwise, smokers are generally addicted to cigarettes, not Benson & Hedges.

This is not to suggest a blanket war on tobacco — putting lots of tobacco smokers in jail or setting up byzantine medical-tobacco laws is a bad idea (before anyone suggests such a crazy idea...). It should be about keeping the waft of smoke in people's own homes (actual festival and itinerant practice aside, one can only legally drink in drinking establishments and at home... why not make smoking equally inconvenient? Sure this doesn’t make my pub experience any better, but there is always Ottawa.) The campaign to control tobacco damage should include regulating the production process: spiking one's alcoholic beverage past certain limits is illegal, why is there seeming free rein in how much and nicotine and what absorption-accelerating additives are put in cigarettes? Of course, there should also be education for the young masses — even if Florida's Truth campaign didn't change a single fourteen-year-old's mind, it's still government funding of fun visual culture (don’t let any Republicans know that something fun or clever is competing with their tax cuts, faith subsidies, jail openings and war machine).

Enforcing laws on carding the younguns wouldn't hurt either.

So these measures wouldn't wipe smoking out. Well, people of legal age should be entitled to whatever self-destructive habits they desire, as long as they have a product that conforms to their expectations (including consistency of active ingredients across lots and brands), and the rest of the world isn't overly inconvenienced by their use of it (including wading through masses of smoke and smokers at the entrance to all these smoke-free buildings). If someone invented cigarettes tomorrow and they needed Health Canada approval, it might be another story, but cigarettes are here, they’re paying their way, people will find noxious stuff to do with or without them. Whether they do it with Benson and Hedges or Gitanes or DIY tobacco sticks is secondary.

Burberrians update

Ormstown, 30 March

A freshly updated, MX-ified and custom-cursorized burberrians 1.0.2.

Important instructions

Ormstown, 25 March

Put away your duct tape. No use for that here.

The two-cheek kiss

Common to Greek and Montréal culture (and dozens more, I'm sure), the two cheek kiss can be a little confusing for some (it was to me). Like the ever-useful “bonjour” and “salut”, means “hello” or “goodbye”. Fine for both in one meeting, really. This is a social kiss and is approved for all audiences. You can, in civilized places, kiss someone else’s significant other in front of them without aggrieving anyone.

Typically, one participant will offer a cheek. The other participant smiles, clasps them somehow, kisses that one. That participant moves back (your shoulders should move, your waist and feet should stay put), somewhere between faces not touching and fleeting eye contact, then plant a peck squarely on the other.

The participants in a two-cheek kiss are different, but equal. They probably were without the kiss, too! One person (usually the initiator) will wind up kissing the air, whereas the other person actually kisses cheek. This is OK. Try, with a really understanding friend sometime, a simultaneous, reciprocal cheek kiss. Good luck. Now try rolling from I-kiss-your-cheek to you-kiss-my-cheek. Realize that your article-writing servant is not the one to perform surgery or even pin things to you, but also that it’s simpler to have two cheeks of one person get kissed.

The flour-free chocolate cake

Properly called a torte according to some.

Preheat oven to 425°F; have a buttered and lightly floured springform pan at the ready.
Combine in double boiler:
½ pound butter
8 oz. unsweetened baking chocolate
Pour into a good-sized mixing bowl and mix in:
8 egg yolks
1¼ cups white sugar
Mix until homogeneous. Mix some more to be sure.
Make sure the oven is fully preheated by now. Wait until it is if it isn't quite: delay = fallen or dried-out cake = failure! Beat until they form slightly floppy peaks when beater is removed:
5 egg whites
Save the other three whites for that healthy yolk-free omelette you'll be craving... or see if the cat will eat them. From now until popping the cake in the oven, work fairly quickly or your leavening agent goes flat.
Beat into the chocolate mixture:
half the egg whites
Fold gently into the chocolate mixture:
remaining egg whites
Pour two thirds of the resulting batter into the prepared pan, bake 60-75 minutes (until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean). The rest of the batter (henceforth referred to as icing) is bound for the fridge. Before the fridge, though, you might consider adding:
1 tablespoon instant coffee (which you shall not use ever to actually make coffee)
1-2 tablespoons liqueur of some sort (almond, orange and coffee liqueurs work well)
When the cake comes out and is done, cool briefly in the pan, pop off the pan (a sharp knife can help here), cool completely on a wire rack.
Apply icing (aka rest of batter) followed by a dusting of:
1 tablespoon cocoa (Dutch if you must, but the darker, richer French stuff is better)
1 tablespoon icing sugar
Serves 8-12, even if some of them take seconds. Serve with good vanilla ice cream and strong black coffee.

metawidget goes physical

Montréal, 22 Mar 2003

This week, see some classic content in a gallery setting!

The burberrians Flash gadget is showing at the VAV gallery, 1495 boulevard Réné-Levesque ouest, Montréal, from Monday the 24th to Saturday the 29th, as part of the Print Media Students' Digital Exhibition. It's a juried show of virtual, paper and other work by Concordia print students. The vernissage is on Tuesday the 25th at 7 PM, with art, artists, fans and refreshments.

This just went on

Montréal, 9 Mar 2003

As promised, permalinks and a reduced front page size. Except no permalinks for meta-articles like this. They'll just float off into the ether.

Direct democracy?

Montréal, 5 Mar 2003

Our representatives at the CSU held another of their general assemblies today. The point of this assembly was to examine and vote on two resolutions: one concerning the establishment of an inquiry into racism at Concordia and one opposing war in Iraq. These goals are supposedly achieved by packing some number of students into an auditorium arguing for a while, usually amending the resolution a few times on the spot, and then settling things (i.e. passing the amended resolution) by a show of hands.

The assembly was announced in tempera paint on cartridge paper near the entrances of selected Concordia buildings. Don't bother with the CSU's website, it hasn't been updated since last year.

When we hear claims of direct democracy anywhere else, it generally means a referendum or plebescite wherein the entire constituency gets to approve or disapprove of various projects. When the CSU says direct democracy, we mean an assembly of people with a few properties getting together to craft and approve a resolution. These people:

Most people disqualified by these conditions (evening students who work, co-op students, many serious students and students from the West Island burbs) are, I suspect, somewhat more conservative than those who can turn up.

Anyone who reads the question and has no opinion may be in for a surprise after all the amendments get pushed through. Last assembly, a resolution calling for the support of a specific UN resolution morphed into one calling for a Palestinian state. I wasn't at this assembly (academics interfered), but whenever the CSU releases the results of this one, (on their next website update... way to go on the transparency front) I'm assuming the resolution passed won't be the resolution advertised.

Secret ballots and knowing the question ahead of time were controversial at the beginning of last century. Today, even third-rate dictatorships generally do their best to have these trimmings on their toy referenda and elections (they tend to be even more organized than us crazy advanced democracies, having carefully considered standards for the results.) Calling the CSU's exercise in unrepresentative democracy direct is an exercise in definitional creativity.

The CSU line on why the general assembly even happens is that resolutions should have a chance to be modified by the constituents. Fine. But when the CSU wants to claim legitimacy for one of these resolutions, it should either clearly be a Council or Executive decision based on these low-budget Royal Commissions, or should face the full heat and fury (not to mention reflection time and serious debate) of a referendum in which all CSU members (that's us students) get to participate.


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