I guess this is our annual taste of winter:

Greater Victoria
3:19 PM PST Saturday 25 November 2006
Snowfall warning for
Greater Victoria continued

10 cm of snow expected for the Queen Charlottes and 20 to 30 cm of snow expected for the other regions by Sunday evening.

A strengthening Arctic ridge over the British Columbia interior is pushing cold Arctic air up against the east slopes of the north and central coast mountains. Strong outflow winds have developed through the valleys and inlets as the Arctic air rushes through the gaps towards the coast. As the high continues to strengthen winds will increase and temperatures will continue to fall resulting in windchills in the minus 20 to minus 30 range. These conditions are expected to persist for several days.

The Arctic air is making its way through the valleys of the south coast and will arrive in the Lower Mainland by Sunday morning. An intensifying low over the pacific will approach Washington state Sunday morning. The moisture associated with the low will interact with the Arctic air giving significant snowfall for much of the south coast beginning tonight. 10 cm of snow is expected for the Queen Charlottes and 20 to 30 cm of snow is expected for the other regions by Sunday evening.

The snow has changed to rain in the West Vancouver Island region and as a result the warning has been ended.

Awesome. Thank god tomorrow is Sunday and therefore it will be OK for everyone to stay home. Which people actually do in this town without any actual advice from the Authoritahs — unlike back in Alberta, where the RCMP would say “travel not recommended,” and people would immediately pile into their cars solely to show that they didn’t listen to the RCMP advisories. They were, for the most part, right — except when they weren’t, and one ended up in the middle of a farmer’s field on the other side of an unbroken fence. I’m just saying, is all.

On an equally not funny note: Nooooooooooooooo!

Frick on a stick

Following up on my post below– it turns out that indeed my warranty has lapsed, and I am therefore SOL. (Duuh-oy! I bet you didn’t see that one coming!) Dell doesn’t seem to think the existence of parallel problems in 5150 models with exactly the same power adapter is grounds to look after me and my problem, and they’re not convinced that the problem is in the power adapter anyway, so that’ll be $249 to ship the out-of-warranty machine back, and, if it turns out the power connector is shot, it’s another $499 for a new mainboard as well. I know I said this last post, but, YAY. So I guess now the trick is finding someone who has a multimeter I can borrow and test the adapter to see if it’s putting out the requisite power, since (a) I’m not willing to spend $90 on spec on the off-chance it’s the adapter and (b) I’m really not willing to spend $249 on spec if it’s not the adapter.

On the other hand: a Hmm Moment. If it’s not the adapter, the math starts to look a lot like $249+$499+$PITAT*=new machine. It’s not that I don’t like what the results of this math imply — I always like the idea of a new machine — it’s that I don’t want to spend the money on a new machine. Nor do I think I should have to — it’s not like there’s anything wrong with the existing one, save for the fact that the power adapter doesn’t want to work, it’s kinda heavy, and it might not be ready for Vista (oh no; I’m only half-kidding since I really want to play Halo 2 and suck hard at FPS on the Xbox or any other console).

Aggh. If it’s not one damn thing, it’s something else.

* PITAT: “Pain In The Ass Tax.” This is the amount, sometimes trivial and sometimes not, that you could, in theory, save if you were willing to put in the effort in a given situation. Sometimes it requires a lot of effort to save not-a-lot of money, and so this rhetorical device allows you to quantify the premium you’re willing to place on your time and effort. The PITAT in this case consists of the efford I have to put in to get the box to the shipping company and ensure I’m around to receive it, as well as the time I will be laptopless, as well as the inevitable frustration that will come with dealing with a technical support operation on this issue. To be sure, the PITAT in this case is a non-trivial amount of money, but we’re already into non-trivial amounts here anyway. One could easily argue the PITAT value of replacing is less than the PITAT value of fixing (though one could easily argue the reverse, too).

Put another way — the brutally honest way, I mean — it is in some cases a way of measuring how lazy you are, and how much more you’re willing to pay in order to support your laziness. I don’t think of it in those terms, of course; I think of it in terms of “how much of a premium am I willing to pay in order to not put up with whatever is likely to piss me off if I pay less.” Hence the Pain In The Ass Tax, not the Lazy Tax. (We already have one of those.)

This is my new favorite shopping argument “tool.” It effectively kills any discussion with your significant other over whether you’re a chump for paying more for something. “$8 for cheesecloth? We’ve got to be able to find that more cheaply.” “Lookit, I’m tired, I’m hungry, and I need to make the frakking coulis tonight, so I’m buying the damn cheesecloth and we’re going home. PITAT.” Bah-dum-dum.

Note to self: Stop posting after your nights and go to bed instead, idiot.

Something dark is coming

Allors, there is a problem with hallie the notebook. It complains that it does not recognize the AC power adapter type and petulantly refuses to acknowledge that it is plugged in — thus leaving me running on battery power. Needless to say, I didn’t recognize this until I went to plug the machine in because, of course, the battery was getting low. So now I have a machine with no power and no easy way to get my files off it so I can at least work on them on elissa or some other machine.

Naturally, this happened on a long weekend.
Naturally, this happened after EST-based tech support reps have gone home anyway.
Naturally, I own an obscure type of laptop that cannot be powered by the usual Kensington or Belkin universal notebook power adapters.
Naturally, the power adapter I need isn’t easily acquired locally; I have to order it over the net. (See previous “naturally” clauses for emotions that flow logically from this last position.)

The worst part is that I don’t even know if it’s the power adapter. I’d love to be able to find something that could provide at least some power to the machine so I could figure out whether I need a new power adapter or whether I need a new power jack on the back of the machine. I want to believe it’s the power adapter, since (a) that’s easy enough to replace and doesn’t involve sending the machine away and (b) the cord is awfully twisted and the plastic reinforcing against the brick is torn and ripped.

Now. Studies of Google suggest that this is a Known Problem with the Inspiron 5150/5160 line, and that the fault may lie in either the adapter or the mainboard, so YAY, that’s great, and it really narrows things down a lot. On the (bright? other? flip?) side, someone apparently launched a class action lawsuit against Dell for this precise problem and Dell settled, though only in the United States. Not, mind you, that this should make a difference from a corporate perspective — Dell is Dell, the problem is the problem, and one would hope that they’d have the good sense to replace my power adapter for free if they’re doing it across the border, too. But what do I know? I’m just a guy with no access to his files.

Note to self: This might be a good time to look into finding some kind of temporary enclosure for notebook hard drives, so I can at least do a rescue and get the useful stuff off the damn disk before I have to send it back and/or spend multiple days with a dark laptop. Grr.

You guys are in big trouble

is going through a discovery of the absolute total brilliance of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. I’m having the same experience. It’s awesome. Part of me wishes I could forget I know about the show so I can experience it again from scratch, it’s so good. Battlestar Galactica is like.. dramatic crack. Better than Babylon 5. Way better than Star Trek. Vastly better than the original Battlestar Galactica which, let’s face it, was kinda cheesy like all TV from that era. It’s a modern parable in ways that B5 never could be, mostly because — while I love jms — it isn’t being written by J. Michael Straczynski.

All of you who knew about its brilliance but failed to tell me about it are in a big, big trouble, assuming I can figure out who you are.

Coming up next: Massive BT traffic spike on the dochazmat home network as I aggressively download all of Season 3 to get caught up. Woo!

(PS: Does anyone know of a decent command-line BT client that doesn’t require 8,518 packages? Or maybe just a god BT client for *nix in general that won’t require me to install 8.518 other packages? PPS: I hate python.)

This must be some new concept of manliness

From a list of nerdy gift ideas:

Garmin Street Pilot C340
(Real men use real he-man navigational systems)
Available from Amazon

To hell with that. Real men use sextants.

I used to get into this argument a lot with people — sailors and pilots, mostly — who seemed to think that traditional navigation methods, like maps and compasses and dead reckoning, were obsolete in the world of the Global Positioning System. My argument was always that while GPS might be nice, in theory, it is still a technology that may fail, and, the way most human luck runs, it probably will fail at precisely the moment when you need it to work.

The news that the United States Naval Academy stopped teaching celestial navigation a few years back nearly brought tears to my eyes. There’s something elemental about celestial fixes that is good for the soul — yeah, ok, the DGPS was more accurate than I ever was with a sextant, but in the middle of the Pacific, what difference does a nautical mile make? I always felt like I was communing with the intellectual spirits of generations of mariners. Granted, I have a romantic streak in me about a mile wide, but still, there are practical reasons why these skills are important. It worked for Columbus; it can work for you, too.

(Also, I have absolutely no patience for people who use in-car GPS navigation. Jesus, get a frakking map! Learn how to read it! The damn GPS doesn’t know anything about local road conditions anyway, which is why your brain is an infinitely more useful tool than a $440 GPS unit.)

This just in: UK census identifies 390,000 fanboys as demographic group

Daily Mail: Jedi Knights demand Britain’s fourth largest ‘religion’ receives recognition:

With their vast intergalactic knowledge and ability to harness the Force, the task of convincing UN officials to recognise their cause should be a walkover for a pair of Jedi Knights.

But self-proclaimed Jedis Umada and Yunyun, better known as John Wilkinson and Charlotte Law, have adopted a more conventional approach in their pursuit of recognition – delivering a protest letter.

The unconventional pair are calling for the UN to acknowlegde what has become Britain’s fourth largest ‘religion’ with 390,000 followers.

The UN International Day of Tolerance, which takes place annually on November 16, is aimed at emphasising the dangers of intolerance and promoting integration and cohesion across the globe.

Part of me wants to ascribe Britain’s national ills to this phenomenon, but I can’t. It seems far too difficult to think that almost 400,000 people are weird enough to (a) believe that pretending to be a Jedi leads to a better life and (b) actually put that on their census forms. It’d be like finding out that a million Americans listed Oprahism as their faith — you want to make a joke, but can’t quite bring yourself to pick on them because you suspect they have other, uh, problems.

I wonder when the Star Wars Trek will begin in earnest?

Nexus 6

My eyes suck. They’ve sucked for a long time, and not just in terms of vision, though that is the most serious problem I have with them. Most people who know me casually don’t realize I’m as blind as I am (I very nearly meet the standard for legal blindness in my right eye); I wear contacts most of the time, and rarely go out with my glasses on. The first encounter with me and glasses usually provokes odd looks — even with the ultra-expensive high-index plastic lenses, my glasses still manage to deform my face, and the lenses themselves are 7 or 8 mm thick at the outer edges anyway.

To make matters worse, my right eye is dramatically weaker than my left. Corrected, this isn’t such a big deal, but uncorrected there’s enough difference in input that I get dizzy sometimes if I don’t close one eye or the other. As I say, when I’m wearing glasses or have my contacts in, my vision’s usually OK. My contacts have been problematic for a few years — as a function of my allergies (which are also getting worse as time goes on, which is why I’m starting immunotherapy soon-ish), as a function of the lenses themselves. I managed to develop a truly shocking case of giant papillary conjunctivitis a few years ago — it’s never a positive sign when your optometrist comes along, everts your eyelids, and then calls the other members of his practice group over to look at you. I went through a period where I had a serious problem with floaters around the same time, which continue to bug me under some circumstances to this day.

Two positives in all of this: One is that I don’t have an astigmatism (yet), which frankly to my mind is nothing short of a miracle. The other saving grace was that my prescription had seemingly finally stabilized — I’d had the same pair of glasses for almost four years, which was unheard of up to this point. But in the past month or so I’ve noticed that my right eye has been a little blurry, a little less sharp; I blamed it on my contacts and didn’t think anything else of it. (I’ve been fighting with the right kind of contact for a couple of years now — the ones that don’t induce GPC in me dry my eyes out or sting; the ones that keep my eyes moist induce GPC; the ones that do neither are uncomfortable as hell.) I’d been thinking semi-seriously about refractive surgery, and it’s intriguing as hell (the cost balances within a couple of years by my math), but.. I still can’t shake that nagging feeling that maybe something would go wrong. Sure, I knew a bunch of people who had it done, who swore by it, who said it was the best thing they’ve ever done.. and yet, my data-driven soul says, “The plural of anecdote is not data.” Anyway, now that my prescription has apparently changed — one would hope, anyway, that this does not signal the beginning of the dreaded astigmatism — that option’s off the table for a while again, allowing me to defer the decision once more.

So I’d sort of planned to see my optometrist in the next little while and ask about my right eye when I went and did something much worse on Monday: I tore my corneas off.

Okay, that’s overstating it. I actually tore a couple small patches of my cornea off (think of the top of a salt shaker) and irritated the living fuck out of the other parts. Officially it’s called “punctate keratitis” and it’s officially not a big deal (though I do need topical analgesia and I’m now on opthalmic antibiotics), but holy hopping hell did it ever hurt! It might well have been the most painful thing I’ve ever felt, and I’m including the time I tried to sneeze after my neck surgery. What happened was that somehow, the cornea-contact lens interface had dried out, leading the cornea to become hypoxic and irritated. When I finally pulled the lens out, it took chunks of the cornea with it; what was left of the cornea decided that it was going to just sit there and be pissed.

Monday night was brutal — an addict’s dream combination of anti-inflammatories and high-test systemic analgesics knocked me out but did little to dull the pain. I woke up every hour or so, saw the doc on Tuesday morning, then went home and went back to bed after dumping a load of diclofenac into my eyes. (The man who invented opthalmic diclofenac deserves to be kissed several times over.) I woke up in the afternoon feeling marginally better, but with a new problem: everything was just slightly blurry.

And that’s how things have remained since then. I went to work this morning and managed to function fine, though I had a tough time reading the computer screens and I found myself squinting hard at ECGs and printed paper. My recently slacking right eye decided that now would be an excellent time to be even lazier and my left eye wasn’t doing much better either, so there was a lot of close focusing and turning up the font sizes where I could. It’s a little tricky — I can get around fine and I’m OK to drive, but fine discrimination is elusive. This will, I am told, improve as the swelling and irritation goes down, and frankly I can’t wait for it. Meanwhile, it’s annoying as all fuck because things are just slightly out of focus and it takes me a couple of seconds to find the hyperfocal point where everything sort of snaps into place.

(Another interesting thing I noticed today: I am noticably stupider than I usually am. I tried to do some teaching on Monday night and found myself almost incapable of forming a complete sentence, unfairly punishing my students for my own idiocy. Fortunately my Trusted Lackey helped pick up the slack and so I doubt anyone was in a position to complain. But today I was trying to explain ischemic heart disease to a patient and I couldn’t find the words. Thank god no one died today; I can’t imagine how that conversation would have gone with all the ums and ahs and ers and duhs..)

Anyway, at the moment, I have the font size in Mozilla jacked up by +3. Which is.. interesting. It’s kind of surprising how many Wobsites out there depend on fixed-width layouts so that relatively increasing the size of the text manages to seriously screw up the design. Unsurprisingly, the one site that looks exactly the way it does with a “normal” font size is Joe Clark’s, which leads me to think that perhaps I need to put a little more effort at designing for people who need to bump the text size up a few notches..

How is this news?! Part II

From page A02 of today’s Victoria Times Colonist..

Postal worker taken to hospital after being attacked by squirrel:

OIL CITY, Pa. (AP) — Letter carriers occasionally have to deal with angry dogs or maybe even a spider’s nest in a mailbox, but a mean squirrel?

Barb Dougherty, 30, a U.S. Postal Service employee, said she was attacked and bitten Monday by a squirrel while delivering mail in Oil City, about 121 kilometres north of Pittsburgh.

“I saw it there on the porch, put the mail in the box and turned to walk away and it jumped on me,” Dougherty told the Derrick newspaper, who said the animal then ran up her leg and onto her back.”I eventually got a hold of the tail and pulled it off me. No one was home at the house where I was delivering the mail, but the neighbour lady heard me screaming and came over.”

An ambulance took Dougherty to a hospital, where she was treated for cuts and scratches. The squirrel was killed.

’cause god knows we couldn’t think of anything else to put on the second page of the paper…