Merry Christmas

The best of the Christmas season to everyone out there who\’s reading this. And also to those of you who are not reading this.

Well, I got some cool stuff for Christmas, including the extended edition of The Two Towers. But I also got some less than cool stuff. I had a hard drive crash yesterday which I just got everything working properly again now. (That includes this blog.) And I seem to have picked up a cold from somewhere. Given the timing, probably during the Lord of the Rings Marathon last week. But man, it was so worth it.

Well, time to go back to relaxing and getting over this stupid cold. Merry Christmas!

Xmas Time

Well, I finallly got my Christmas cards off in the mail this morning. Now to actually do my Christmas shopping. Ugh.

What is it about this time of year that makes everyone go nuts? I mean, why is it any more special to spend money and buy into excessive consumerism around the winter solstice (northern hemisphere) than any other time of the year? Why do people rush around like mice in a maze going here, there, and everywhere looking for this, that, and the other thing? Why put themselves to all that stress simply because of the time of year?

I have this sneaking suspicion that the answer to all of those questions is, "Because everyone else is doing it." That seems to be the reason everyone does everything. Oh well, I suppose people will be people.

Guy Fawkes 2003

On Saturday, we had our annual Guy Fawkes bonfire northwest of Cochrane. It was an immense success as the weather mostly cooperated for a change.

I arrived at the farm some time later than I had intended but it seems that was the order of the day. Nothing seemed to occur quite on schedule. Of course, the massive amount of snow on the driveway preventing us from parking down closer to the cabin didn’t help much, what with all the truding up and down the hill. But we got everything going and eventually set off the fireworks (with no injuries) and lit the fire. Ordinarily the snow would have melted back from the fire but there was so much snow that it merely softened and didn’t disappear entirely.

This was the first time my dad was able to attend. That was kind of cool. Of course, we managed to pressgang him into helping with things.

The drive back to Calgary was somewhat inconvenient though, what with the fog that had arrived during the festivities. For about half the distance, I could barely see the road for all the fog. Not the most fun thing to do at night. But I made it safely back to civilization.

All in all, the evening was a success. And great fun. Check out Sharbean’s blog entry for some cool pics.

The Great Apartment Cleanup

I have recently decided I need to clean up the immense collection of junk I have in my apartment. I started about a month ago by cleaning up the room I store my computer gear in. While that might sound like a reasonable start, it’s not.

I found an astounding number of bits of nonfunctional computer gadgetry and so forth that I piled up in a "to be removed" pile. I still haven’t done anything with it but that’s on the agenda for tonight. On the bright side, the room itself has been tidied up and I decreased the number of computer systems on my network by two so I’m now down to my Windows box and my Linux box and one other system that’s doing some monitoring of some stuff.

Now, however, I have the living room, kitchen, and bathroom to clean up. And the bathroom is probably the least unpleasant part given the immense pile of junk I’ve managed to acquire over the past five years. I suppose you could say I suffer from a disease called "packratitis" for which the cure is apparently to throw things away. At least according to an old episode of The Smurfs.

The lesson in all of this for those of you who actually read my ramblings is this: Make <bleeping> sure you throw out stuff you no longer need or you have the same problem I do. Of course, it’s more likely you do have the same problem I do. In that case, get with the program and toss some junk! It doesn’t matter if you’ll have a use for it three days after you toss it. If you aren’t using it now and haven’t been for more than a year or so, you probably don’t need it.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled procrastination schedule.

Post Matrix Wrap-up

This morning, I announced that I was going to see the Matrix movie this evening. Immediately, one of my coworkers informs me that it sucks and is a waste of time. Thankfully, she had the presence of mind to avoid spoiling the film. Well, I went anyway. Here are my opinions about the film. These need not be your opinions. Use at your own risk. I take no responsibility for the consequences of you reading my opinions. Batteries not included.

I went to the movie with my buddy Ron. We arrived at the theatre and had no trouble obtaining tickets. After hanging about a bit and having some food, we made our way to the auditorium and occupied two seats in the front row. For those of you wondering, we did not get cricks in our necks; the seats were quite comfortable and allowed for a sufficient amount of slouching to make the film watchable without physical discomfort.Then we watched the inevitable commercials and the trailers for various films. Then, the feature presentation began.

I won’t bore you with a retelling of the story since, no doubt, you have watched the film and formed your own opinions or you are going to watch the film and don’t want spoilers (in which case you should stop reading now), or you don’t care and it really won’t matter to you one way or the other. Needless to say, Ron and I watched the movie for the next two hours and a bit. As the final scenes were showing just before the credits, I remember saying to Ron, “I get it!”.

From the start, I found the movie engaging. The characters had a level of realness that you often do not find on the big screen. Yet they were still larger than life and felt fictional. After all, it’s a work of fiction. And this work of fiction was following the exploits of larger than life heroes. Yet none of this detracted from the fact that the story itself was engaging. The story was masterfully told by the filmmakers.

Taken together with Reloaded, Revolutions tells the story of, excuse the term, an epic struggle. This struggle is not, however, between good and evil. It is simply the struggle between one group of people and another for domination of a planet. Yet the struggle itself has all the earmarks of an armageddon, which, I suppose, it is in a awy.

We come into the story in Reloaded and discover a struggle to save the free city of Zion, the home of the only humans outside of the Matrix itself. Yet we soon encounter complications that pile one ontop of another, at the same time leading us away from the underlying conflict between one man and his opposite. This is as close as it comes to good versus evil as neither participant in this struggle fits into either category. Neo is not a paragon of virtue. Smith is not really evil. Yet they are opposites in their motivations; Neo is motivated by love while Smith is motiviated by the absence of love, perhaps hate.

Between the two movies, we see the conflict between men and machines as the central point yet it is not truly so. Throughout, we are faced with more and more human seeming machines. They make choices, suffer, risk their very existence to support a cause they belive in, yet we know not what this cause truly is. Yet as the story devlops, we see the rivalry between Neo and Smith develop as Neo comes to understand his true power and its consequences. And we learn that everything is about choices and consequences. We are treated to comical scenes that could be right out of other moves by other directors and dire fight scenes where desperate defenders fight against impossible odds. The requisite heroic moments are present yet we are presented with a situation where only a sort of deus ex machina can save them. This is the backdrop against which our hero and antihero fight.

As the scene becomes more and more hopeless, Neo faces the loss of everything he loves yet somehow goes on. He experiences so many of the cliches that powerful heroes encounter; losing one sense to discover another, and so on. He loses his true love yet manages to go on. He fights to save all of humanity not by fighting but by the opposite. He sues for peace in exchange for solving the problem of Smith. And he goes on to do so, sacrificing himself in the process.

Yet it seems clear that this is not the moral of the story. For while Zion is saved and peace exists between machines and men, we are treated to an important scene. A young program (an outcast) we met earlier in a train station, has survived. We meet two old acquaintances who have an exchange which leaves little doubt that Neo and Smtih, as powerful as they were, were simply pawns in greater struggle. A struggle for change among the machines. Indeed, when the oracle says, “I believed” in answer to a question about whether she knew what would happen, we begin to understand the true depth of the machines’ characters.

Thus, instead of what appears to be a somewhat disjoint stroy about the saving of humanity by the noble sacrifice of a small number of heroes, what we have is a truly magnificent and masterfully told story about change, choices, and consequences. For, indeed, change is present every step of the way through the story from the beginning when Neo follows the white rabbit to learn about Trinity and Morpheus right to the end when the war ends and peace exists. And choices, from the red pill or blue to Neo’s comment in response to Smith’s “Why?”. And the consequences of those choices from the betrayal in the first episode to Neo’s choice to yield to Smith in the end, consequences reign supreme.

Yet even with this heavy subject matter, we are faced with wonderful bits of back references and foreshadowing. From the Merovingian’s request for the “Oracle’s Eyes” when Trinity bargains to free Neo and Neo’s loss of sight in the battle with the Smith clone in the real world. The black cat in the first episode when Neo says “deja vu” to the black cat at the end when the Matrix is restored to beauty. These tidbits make the movie enjoyable as well as subtle.

All in all, I have to say that the Matrix trilogy ranks among the best stories I have had the opportunity to experience.

Tales From a Road Trip

I recently set off on a road trip to get away from everything for a while. What follows is an account of the trip. All times are in 24 hour notation.

I set off westward from Calgary on the Trans Canada Highway (TCH) at about 1100 on Thursday after acquiring a few provisions. I picked up some light rain/snow as I entered Banff National Park but drove out of it by the time I reached Golden where I stopped for a snack and a rest room visit. I then set off again, westward on the TCH. I picked up some weather in the Roger’s Pass but again drove out of it as I descended toward Sicamous. Along the way, I had a minor misadventure with a passing lane. A rather large truck passed me along one of the passing lane instances along the TCH between Golden and Sicamous. This was not the problem. The problem was the three or four other cars that failed to allow me back onto the road when the passing lane ended, forcing me to basically stop on the highway and wait for the traffic to clear before getting underway again. People, when a passing lane is ending, DO NOT START TO PASS ANYONE. Think about how much it would piss you off if someone did the same to you. Especially if the person you are passing is already doing the posted speed limit!

After acquiring gasoline in Kamloops, I motored on westward on the TCH. I then switched onto highway 97 northbound and continued on to 100 Mile House where I stopped for the night. What a name for a town, eh?

The next day, I set out again, heading north on 97 at about 0900 pacific time. I didn’t bother stopping for food at that point. I continued to Prince George where I got turned around on the streets of the city when I cut off the main highway figuring I’d find a better price for gasoline. Eventually, I got unlost and acquired gasoline. I stopped in a cafe on the north side of the city. I felt like I had stepped into a timewarp. It wasn’t the decor, though. It was the fact that the waitress kept calling me "hon&qhot;. The food was excellent, however.

I was back on the road at about 1400 pacific time. I continued north on 97 as I crossed the continental divide again (I crossed it once on the TCH) and encountered some rather old road which has not yet been "improved". All told, the weather was good on this leg of the journey as were the roads for the most part. Eventually, I arrived in Dawson Creek where I had to deal the the cursed traffic circle. Fortunately I only had to go one exit around to pick up the highway that headed toward Grande Prairie. However, the traffic circle was only a minor irritation as I had to contend with road construction all the way to the BC-Alberta border. At one point, it was down to alternating traffic on one lane. And, on top of it, I was behind an oversize load. Quite entertaining, really.

Along the way, I had an interesting encounter with a deer. I saw the deer on the left side of the road and was braking to avoid a collision in case it darted out onto the road. And sure enough, it did, angling for my front bumper as I drew even. I put the bakes on much harder and it spooked and dashed for the ditch again. I also ended it hitting a crow as it took off straight at my car as I came upon it on the road. I had no time to dodge it but no damage was done, except to the bird. This was maginally entertaining. I believe both of these incidents happened north of Prince George but I’m not certain exactly where.

Eventually, I arrived in Grande Prairie. I missed the turn for the bypass because it wasn’t marked far enough in advance and I was in the wrong lane to make the left turn. Then I nearly missed the turn in the city centre. However, eventually, I came out on the north side of Grande Prairie where I again acquired gasoline. It was about 2030 when I again hit the road.

I decided at that point to push all the way through to Calgary overnight since I didn’t really want to see the relatively flat landscape of Alberta. I motored along at 90 km/h the whole way even though the speed limit ranged from 90 km/h to 110 km/h. I ended up pulling off at a "Roadside Turnout" to empty my bladder at one point along this stretch of road. I managed not to miss any turns in Edmonton on the way past and was amazed by the light footprint of some of Edmonton’s suburbs (such as Nisku). I arrived at Gasoline Alley in Red Deer at about 0345 where I stopped for a break and some food. I then headed on to Calgary where I arrived at about 0600.

I ran some errands on the Saturday after catching some sleep. I generally relaxed the rest of the day. Then on Sunday, I headed to Olds for a very good turkey dinner and a family visit. I returned to Calgary that night.

On Monday, I decided a nice drive along the Alberta Rockies on the Forestry Trunk Road would be nice so I acquired some gasoline and set off west on highway 1A and took the turnoff for highway 40. Now this road is gravel for most of it and is not maintained in the winter. It is still passable at this tiem of year, however. I ended up stopping at a camground to use the outhouse relatively quickly since I had stared out after lunch at about 1300. The ride was quite enjoyable, even given the wet snow I drove through for about the first half of the ride. I thought about cutting off at 752 and heading out that way but then figured I would press on to Nordegg and highway 11. The road is a bit more challenging between 752 and 11 but the sights are beautiful. At about the halfway point on that leg, I encounted a stranded motorist.

The poor soul had managed to get one of his rear (drive) wheels stuck in a hole on the side of the road. Apparently, he had been reversing to pick up a cellular signal and hadn’t been paying close enough attention. I stopped and he rigged up a rope so that I could help tow him out of his predicament. Now I drive a Ford Taurus – a midsize sedan. This fellow was driving a pickup truck. Cute, eh? We got him back on the road, however. It turned out that I was the first traveller he had seen in over an hour and a half when I stopped. Now, when you’re out on a relatively untravelled road in the middle of nowhere, you stop to offer assistance no matter whether you think you can help or not. It’s the only reasonable thing to do. I had doubts, but I figured I could always give the fellow a ride on to Nordegg if necessary. I continued on my way after he was out of his predicament. I know he was back on the road without trouble as he passed me about twenty minutes later. This was the most excitement I had all weekend.

It was relatively uneventful as I took the paved roads back to Calgary from Nordegg, first highway 11 then highway 22 to Cochrane and back into Calgary on 1A, arriving back at about 2230. I did stop at Nordegg to clean some of the mud off my license plate – obscured plates are illegal after all.

All told, I put about 2500 or so kilometres on my car but I succeeded in relaxing which was the whole purpose of the expedition.

Pioneering Adventures

I watched a documentary called Horatio’s Drive on KSPS TV this evening. It is a very well composed description of the conditions and events surrounding Horatio Nelson Jackson’s automobile trip from San Francisco to New York in 1903. I highly recommend it.

It is interesting that two underprovisioned and inexperienced men (and a dog) managed to drive an early automobile through mountains, mud, and dismal roads nearly six thousand miles across a continent with no preplanned supply depots along the route. Indeed, it is somewhat reminiscent of a fictional journey around the world made by Phileas Fogg and his assistant.

I wonder what it is about this type of story that so captivates the imagination. Perhaps it is the pioneering spirit, or the undaunted enthusiasm in the fact of great obstacles. Or, maybe, it is the sheer audacity of doing something that is thought to be impossible. Or perhaps it is something else all together. Whatever it is, it is likely a reflection of the human drive to push ever further down the road of progress.

Building Gnome

Does nobody actually ever try to use the published instructions to install gnome from source code on a clean system? I mean, how hard would it be to verify that it can be built in the order specified!

I have spent the past several weeks attempting to build Gnome 2.4.0 and have run into road block after road block in the form of dependencies that are out of order in the gnome build instructions. While this is not an issue with most of them because it is clear what package is missing, the latest one that slowed me down was the dependencies for gnome-media. It lookes for gstreamer-libs which is NOT a package anywhere and it is not clear where to obtain it. It turns out that this package is really “gst-plugins” although how the <bleep> a person is supposed to figure this out is a mystery.

The moral, people, is that if you provide an order to install the packages that are part of a larger project, MAKE <BLEEPING> SURE THAT THE ORDER IS CORRECT!

Stupid Verisign Tricks Redux Redux

I first commented on the Verisign nonsense on September 16, and then later on September 19. In the mean time, wheels have been turning consequences appear to be materializing. Today, ICANN insisted that Verisign cease the wildcard in .com and .net immediately.

I must admit that I had fully expected ICANN to do absolutely nothing. I applaud this action as far as it goes and hope they manage to enforce their decision. This is a critical test of their reason for existence. I will be watching with great interest to see how this all turns out.

Update at 15:00: Verisign has apparently capitulated. Note that an invasive registration procedure may be required for that link. Apparently Verisign is the victim. Yeah, right.