June 2007 - Posts
This is my favourite bar fight movie, courtesy of Videosift.
Enjoy this Boston Legal clip, which should be forever known as the best lawyer show ever.
Driving around tonight I met up with a friend who was traveling by bike. It being very late, I offered to toss the bike the back of my hatchback so we could cruise around the city a bit. Yes, it's not especially environmentally friendly, but the bike had no lights, so it was the safe and legal thing to do.
While figuring out the ideal way to slide the bike into my 3, a GMC Yukon finally engulfed its driver, and he started to drive off. But not before he had to obnoxiously - and rather ignorantly - cry, "you don't have a chance".
Excuse me? I've successfully transported bikes in that car before - without even taking the front wheel off. This would hardly be a challenge.
And, it wasn't!
The bike fit neatly and we drove home safely, stopping for delicious pizza on the way. And overhearing the hipster drama of Queen Street West. West Queen West, if you want to be exact. The distinction is critical when considering the breed of hipster you'll find in the area: especially crazy hipsters.
In the span of less than ten minutes, several case studies in modern youth subculture manifested themselves in front of us
We had fun - nothing like spending six hours out all night after a full work day - and didn't need to flee from the police RIDE (who knew the "E" originally stood for Etobicoke?) spotcheck, unlike a certain SUV we spotted on Richmond.
That's right - flee my downtown core, you arrogant SUV-driving troglodyte. Come back to Clubland after studying on how to behave. The Clublife blog, incidentally, is hilarious - I highly recommend it for regular doses of mocking Guidos (a.k.a. Yankee Ginos).
The conversation at the spotcheck, incidentally, amused me greatly. After being waved up to the first of three cops - and being told the first one was just an actor playing a cop's role, the interrogation began.
Cop: Did you have any liquor tonight?
Me: Oh lord no.
(Although I have a litre of liquor sitting right behind my seat).
Cop: Have a good night.
And I drove away. Don't get the wrong idea, though. The beverage in question is a birthday present for offering in a little over a dozen hours from now.
It turns out some medics rushing to treat someone at a nightclub noticed a car filling with smoke, Time reports.
Savvy bomb-makers know to use cars with tinted windows, I suppose.
Seriously - I've seen one photo of the car so far, and you can clearly see from the rear passenger window through the rear window. No tint.
It'd be a stretch to think that this stroke of luck would lead government officials to ban all tinted windows in a vain hope for a repeat of this luck. But then again, they banned nail clippers from airplanes.
At least there's a new argument to use on co-workers who believe coming to work in the downtown core is somehow dangerous: some recently arrested plotters were recorded saying that they were justifying their attacks on nightclubs by arguing that they're dens of vice and immorality, therefore they 'deserve it', according to their twisted logic.
So clubbing is more dangerous now, terrorism-wise, then going to work. How oddly reassuring.
It'll be interesting, though, to see whether London's ubiquitous network of CCTV cameras will help the cops capture their suspects.
Michael Moore's new movie Sicko deals with the complete disaster known as the USA's health care.
Giving your money to companies with a vested interest in keeping it and then hoping they'll pay you back when you need it to pay for a condition that they reserve the right to diagnose is, at best, an exercise in optimism - that is, being so optimistic that you believe that corporations will do what's Right rather than what's Super Profitable.
With that brief summary of Moore's entire opus in mind - it's a Really Good Film - I wondered what the immediate effect would be. After all, the movie's a call to arms, to go ahead and do something to make things better for the United States.
Some of the film's most powerful scenes came from his trips abroad. He crossed the river to see how we do things in Canada, jumped the pond to check out England and France, and paid a very moving visit to Cuba.
And that's what it's going to come to, it seems.
Go and Google it. 21 million hits. A million if you put the term in quotation marks. That's still huge.
And who cares about digging deep - the proof of how big this is - not going to be, is - comes from the fact that you see tons
of Google ads. Three pages of ads, actually, if you hit the "more ads" button.
Aside: talk about genius marketing - a "more ads" button. Instead of shoving commercial messages down users' throats, give them the option of grabbing a handful whenever they feel like it.
It's not a new practice. Citizens of countries like Canada have
considered med-tourism to skip line-ups that can occur in our public
The interesting twist, of course, is that Americans would be doing it to save money instead of time. Medical tourism is big already. Time covered it last year.
With the sensational media attention a movie like Moore's will generate, is it set to explode?
And is health care like other commodities or services, where increased demand causes prices to rise? Is this phenomenon going to screw over other countries? I mean, wouldn't that be a clever tactic: instead of blockading Cuba, perhaps the US should just let all its sick citizens go and visit, overwhelming Cuba's health care system.
That's a facetious thought, of course, but the economic question remains. Will American medical tourism dollars end up subsidizing public systems, or will they instead leech resources away from them?
As the price of hotels and airfare continues to be exceeded by the horrendous cost of treatment in the States this'll continue to be an interesting phenomenon to watch.
I saw a stream of fresh-faced kids wandering through the office today. They were too young to be summer interns - to highlight that fact, one of my intern friends was actually leading the group along with a manager - I knew what it was, because I was one of them not too long ago.
It was a bunch of university students taking summer tours of accounting firms. I only went on two tours in university. Ironically, my firm was one of those two. I never thought I would end up working here at the time - in fact, I didn't even know that my department existed back then.
You learn a lot in university. And even more after graduating, really.
Anyway, I was bemused to see that group wandering through our offices. They were even younger than I would have been, since I'm a product of Ontario's 5-year high school system, which ended shortly after I graduated. All these kids had 4-year high school programs, so they looked even younger than hardened 20-something veterans like myself.
Oh, and don't worry, I'm fully aware of the irony of using the phrase "hardened 20-something veterans" outside of a military context. But heck, I've learned and experienced a great deal in the past few years!
Speaking of drawing on experience, a now Washingtonian friend pointed me towards a post by a Microsoft veteran who worked for Google and then returned, talking about the differences between the two corporate cultures. Some have apparently called the article a fake or whatever, but it makes enough interesting albeit biased points to feel valid enough to comment on.
It's an interesting comparison between the two. One a superficial level, the article says that Google gives you free food and lots of other goodies that make its generally younger staff feel like they're still in college, just getting paid to do their geek thing, while Microsoft is an older more conservative culture with better benefits and better corporate organization.
There are other details, but that's what jumped out at me - it seems like most Big Four firms skew more towards the "rigid" Microsoft culture of rules and hierarchies than the relative 'flatness' of Google.
The writer clearly appreciates the better definition of roles and career paths at Microsoft, and I would argue that it's one of the Good Things about the Big 4 - if you enjoy your career, you have a clear path up to management ranks with the possibilty of becoming a partner if you're really keen and holding at least a bit of luck. At Google, the career path for most people is apparently a progression of pay raises and increasingly "senior-sounding" job titles.
If you're really driven by getting new responsibilities and power, then Google may be the wrong place for you - but some people may enjoy nothing more than being able to live in their own little niche.
That is, among many others, a reason some people leave Big Four firms. Actually, that's a funny thing. Some people leave because they don't want to have more managerial responsibility - or they can't handle it well. Others leave because they're not getting enough such responsibilities fast enough. A shame things don't work out immediately for people.
Work is another big deal - the writer talks about how people "live" their jobs at Google - they're online and working when they're home and when they're in the office too. It sounds like they have no lives - work is their life. The goodies - free food, free clothes and other sundry items - motivate the staff. The young bucks straight out of school, anyway.
It's an extreme version of what Big Four 'kids' would consider busy season. Wake up in the morning, go to work, come home and sleep - rinse, and repeat. But at worst, it'll last two or three months, and most people have no more than a few weeks a year of such insanity.
Despite the dissimilarities between the software industry and the Big Four, there are some other parallels. Consider the hotelling system. Any business where you have staff coming and going is going to find it economical to have less desks than employees. If you have a hundred workers, and fifty of them are always in the field, putting a hundred desks in an office means half of them will be empty all the time - except for those days when the fieldworkers come back.
Although it has obvious drawbacks, the system works rather well. Unless you demand your own office - this is listed as a fundamental drawback of Google Life, that devalues its employees or something like that.
If you're used to having a private office, that's understandable - but for younger staff is it really that big a deal? It seems like the little personal-fort office mentality got spawned at some point in time. But that's a story for another day.
Finally, technical support. You can't generalize internal tech support to an entire industry. Microsoft staff apparently have trouble getting all the toys they need, whereas at Google the "Tech Stops" are located on every floor and quickly react to users' needs.
I'm happy to say that, although we don't have technical support on every floor, I work with an awesome technical support team that goes out of its way to make things work - to actually support us. I've heard various stories from other firms where things aren't so peachy.
The "grass is greener" effect continues unabated.
On one level, I'm grateful for Microsoft for being so culturally sensitive: tell Windows Vista that you're in Canada and it'll give you a couple of extra keyboard options. If you hit Alt+Shift, or so I'm told, the keyboard language will switch. This of course will drive you batty, though, if you don't expect it, and you keep getting an "ѐ" when all you really wanted was a "/".
Poor Firefox is most susceptible to this nasty little issue - some people believe it happens whether or not you hit Alt+Shift, or the other option, Ctrl+Shift. I think that was happening to me too. Fortunately. I noticed that others are suffering from this minor headache and I followed the advice that was given to them: uninstall the extra keyboards.
To do that, just go to Control Panel, and find your keyboard settings page. In Vista you need to open a second page by another button that says "Change Keyboards."
In true, "you're already annoyed so I'm going to mess with you some more fashion", the screen took 5 to 10 seconds to appear, with no notice that it's loading or anything. Just a mysterious pause. It was almost as annoying as the rattle coming from my case - it turns out I don't think I mounted the side door of my case very well last time I closed it. Oops.
Anyway, once I deleted the extra keyboards - and in a "die, damned zombies" action, also disabled the keyboard shortcuts to change to the now non-existence 'other' keyboards - my problem was still there.
My cell phone was screwing with me in a similar fashion: you think everything's okay - it should be! - but it's not.
Well let's try turning everything off and turning it back on.
It worked for my cell phone, and it worked for Firefox.
Upon closing and reopening the program, the language settings were back to standard English. Phew.
The best problems are the ones you can fix and then write about for the benefit of others within 20 minutes or less.
This'll be the inaugural "Learning from Mistakes" post - in this case, of course, we're learning from some combination of Mozilla and Microsoft's mistakes. Although judging from the comments I found in my Google search, it looks like this might really be Microsoft's fault for being a little too culturally sensitive.
Don't get me started on how they caved to the Communists in China.
Trackpads are nice and all - I can get a surprisingly large number of things done with them - but without a proper mouse I feel like I'm missing a vital appendage. Everything feels more sluggish.
And Microsoft Excel's erratic Alt+tab behaviour doesn't help matters at all.
Windows Vista has a new WindowsKey+tab function which is one of the main reasons some people would even consider getting the system. But I still haven't gotten completely used to it.
Perhaps that's because I was already satisfied with the PowerToy Alt+Tab replacement.
I knew it existed for ages, then noticed a client using it. Somehow I thought, I must have that too, and so I do now.
I've been lazy when it comes to sharing interesting links. I set up a nice little tag for just this sort of post but have not used it at all since January.
To make up for that, here is a quick little link to a post by Francine who does a really good job of presenting a detailed look into how performance reviews take place at one big 4 firm, PwC.
In addition to explaining the process - and sharing her assessment of its weak points - she also explains the typical career path which applies to all big 4 firms.
If you're still in school or no one ever bothered to explain how the system works to you, it's a worthwhile read. You'll also get some commentary on some of the Bush Administration's hijinks in that whole "let's fire all the lawyers and replace them with our political appointees" fiasco.
In other news, the list of blogs on the sidebar is going to have to go through an overhaul. Some sites - like AhyesMedSchool - have either been nuked or gone inactive, and some new ones should really get tacked on.
No time like the present, I guess. The picture, incidentally, is just being added to make things look prettier around here. I could come up with some shaky reason for the photo to connect with this post, but today I won't - it's just there because it looks cool.
I'm not sure if the right word is "lie" or "gut-wrenching joke". Courtesy the Genuine Advantage Site:
"Validation is also a feature of both Windows XP and Windows Vista."
I suppose I should shut up if you agree with this bland definition, "A notable property of a device or software application."
It sure is a notable PITA.
I prefer the august Wiktionary's definition: "A beneficial capability of a piece of software."
What, exactly, is the benefit of having to call India every time I swap out the motherboard in my computer? Decreasing my life expectancy through stress so I won't consume as many of the planet's resources?
Damn those ultra-conservationist extremists at Microsoft who are trying to kill me bit by bit. To counteract all the negativity I must find something positive in all this.
Despite the fact I just learned my soundcard has just been rendered useless too by Vista.
At least my copy of Vista is now activated.
This charming piece of
spam legal correspondence just arrived in my inbox. I believe the fine legal minds on Opinionistas or Anonymous Lawyer would no doubt agree that this must be legit.
I am sorry to intrude into
your private and peaceful life, all the same My name is Mr. Steven
Donald, I work as an accountant in a bank; I contacted you to work
together with me in claiming my late client's estate. Unfortunately he
died without a registered next of kin and as such the funds now have an
open beneficiary status.
You could be made the beneficiary
since you share the same last name with him. This has officially
transferred the right to you, as no other person from his family knows
anything about this fund with our bank.If you are interested in working
with me, please get back to me as quickly as possible, so that I give
you the details of what we are to do.
I wait for your prompt response so that I can give you more briefing of what you need to and how to do it.
Thanks for your co-operation.
Over at Zach's site
, he shared a joke which is an American version of a similar joke I know in its Soviet incarnation.
A man dies and goes to heaven, and gets the grand tour from St. Peter.
A small bell rings, some angels kneel and pray, and the soul asks what happened. St. Peter explains that a child told her first lie, and the angels will pray for the child to be more honest.
A louder bell rings - more angels kneel - and St. peter explains that an adult told a lie.
A few minutes later the heavens erupt with a huge, loud cacophony of bells - every bell imaginable goes off. The sound is deafening.
The new arrival in heaven immediately collapses to his knees and starts praying.
Nobody else, however, reacts. St. Peter says, "don't worry, that's just the latest issue of Pravda being printed."
If you're familiar with the cold war and some basic Russian words, consider the joke complete.
If you're not up on your Soviet History, and you're sitting there saying "I don't get it", let's pretend that it's still funny if I explain it: Pravda was the official propaganda newspaper of Soviet Russia. That should make things clear enough.
But to make this a doubly delicious gag, Pravda is also the Russian word for "truth". "Izvestia" was another newspaper, and its name was the Russian word for news.
The saying was, 'there's no truth in Pravda, and no news in Izvestia'.
Consider yourself enlightened.
I think I just told my entire story in the title to this post.
I had to go to the "secondary inspection area" at Pearson Airport in the afternoon. It's a Bad Place to go to get a visa on a Sunday afternoon, because that's when all the business travellers are getting their professional visas - also known as the TN designation.
It probably wouldn't have been such a trying experience had it not been for the surly attitude of the Yankee border guards.
For anyone unfamiliar with how things work at Pearson International Airport, it's a Canadian airport in Toronto. The volume of travellers to the United States means that it's efficient to have people get processed at the Canadian airport for entry into the States. Your plane lands in the U.S. in the domestic arrivals area, speeding along the arrival process rather nicely.
With that explanation out of the way, back to the surly guards: I've experienced mean-spirited attitudes at border crossings before, but you'd think I had just pulled down their pants and posted nude pictures of their families online by the way I was treated (for the record, I haven't done either).
No hello from guard number one. "Your first time applying?"
Stamp. Stamp. Stamp. Go to that area over there.
Secondary inspection, right, I was told to expect that, but not the cold stare.
Walk into secondary, see a large waiting lounge, and officers in the middle of the room.
Like the dozens of people I would later see, I stood there, sort of confused. A sign would've helped.
Instead I hear a curt, "Walk Up To This Desk."
Ah, I see.
Field some perfunctory questions. Get my finger prints scanned by the Department of Homeland Security (that part I really hated - but then again, people are getting their eyes scanned these days, so whatever). I leave my prints everywhere, so if they really want them, it's not that hard to find them.
Note to self: don't commit felonies in the U.S.
The scanning process doesn't go well. My body seems to react with revulsion to the whole concept. I think my right index finger almost broke the machine. Four or five scans later DHS has finished scanning me. I feel so violated. Oh well, that's the price you pay for being an aspiring CA, I suppose. At least my body didn't give up without giving some sort of bizarre fight. Must be related to that incident two weeks ago where I was threatened with arrest - I really should share that story sometime.
Anyway, the officer told me to have a seat, saying it would be a while.
Hours, I'm told. I ask whether I will have enough time to make my flight?
And here's the kicker of the day: "I don't care about your flight."
Well excuse me for asking!
I'm not exactly shaken, just disturbed. It's so easy to get spoiled by the 'customer service' environment present in most parts of society, that you can easily forget about things like American Government Bureaucracy. They still exist, and they're complete bitches.
To make the wait more entertaining, at least twenty people show up after me, sit down, and leave ahead of me. Two other professionals are sitting next to me, also waiting for the TN visas. We share our confusion with each other - what's going on?
It seems like the others may just be there to have their luggage searched. Apparently 90% of the staff are involved with luggage searches, and a couple of other overworked officers deal with poor TN suckers like myself.
After a two hour wait - which included some additional comedy, my favourite being the University of Windsor student who was threatened with arrest for answering his cell phone - I was finally called up. I thought I was going to be taken to a little room for an interview. Nope - our support team did an excellent job of preparing my application cover letter. They just asked me if I was who I said i was - yup! - and took a look at my university degree. I had to actually bring my diploma to the airport with me. Who ever touches that big fancy piece of paper after putting it in a frame? Well, TN visa seekers are one group!
After a little more waiting - I carefully hid my book on nuclear terrorism (seriously, it's vaguely job-related) once I knew they were about to process me, it might look a bit sketchy - I was charged $50 and I was free to go to the security checkpoint.
I cheered myself up after that whole ordeal by finding out how easy it is to compromise security at Pearson. But that's another story I should probably hold onto until I'm safely back home - or just share among friends. The Net has more than enough revelations about the poor security awareness standards around the world.
Sit down with laptop, check mail. Let friends back home know you're not dead.
Realize the battery on the laptop is getting low.
Ask yourself - where's the power cord?
Fish in laptop bag's big pocket. Grasp at nothing.
Uh oh - a week on the road, and no power cord. This can be quite bad.
This, fortunately, is the peak of the freak-out.
Think a little more and realize that there's another pocket in the laptop bag. The other pocket contains the power cord.
A thought occurred moments after posting my last comment: could I just right-click the recycle bin, go to properties, and disable the deletion confirmation box?
Oh score - it works! At least something's going my way today.
Of course, karma smacks me down moments later: no good thing can go unmatched with something annoying: I noticed I have a comment on my site - ah, "trackback." This means someone found my writings so interesting they wanted to link back to me. Of course that feeling of "yay me" quickly turned to, "release the hounds" when I realized someone was putting together some kind of spam-bucket site to make money - perhaps by boosting some other person's "rank" through a series of links - and their link to my site was the internet-equivalent of standing in someone's personal space. And they seem to be the kind of person that doesn't like to bathe regularly either, so I want them gone, immediately.
Whereas in the Real World you may have to wait until the Smelly Guy gets off the streetcar - and what a relief it is when he finally goes back to Queen and Ossington - computer land allows you to blacklist and erase at will. Thank goodness it's possible to exercise control in some aspect of the universe.
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This week I went through the tech-rollercoaster of dealing with a dying hard drive. Fortunately, I managed to evacuate my old Western Digital drive's files onto a new drive the company sent me under warranty.
After making sure I had not lost a bunch of important files - recent documents I had not had a chance to back up - I tried to unwind with some games. And as part of that exercise, I wanted to take some saved games I also rescued and load them up.
My game of choice in this case is Medieval II: Total War. I knew from experience where to find the saved game files in Windows XP... but despite setting my new Vista system to show all hidden files, I couldn't find the saved game anywhere.
As usual, Google came to the rescue, directing me to some wonderfully off-topic comments which revealed the solution to my problem: click the "compatibility" button. Everything you thought lost suddenly appears.
The fact that there is a secondary level of hidden files doesn't particularly surprise me - but it's incredibly irritating to find something so important with no documentation whatsoever! Hopefully I won't find myself in too many such situations where I'm fumbling around, eventually resorting to Googling for answers.
I will find it ironic, though, that Google gets free publicity while I lambast the documentation error in Vista.
Another strange occurence was a fall in Vista's assessment of my crappy old GF7300 graphics card - from a "3" to a "2.8" in its rating system, after I installed new drivers! The intelligent thing to do would probably be to revert to the original Vista drivers, but for some reason I won't. Perhaps I really want to get an 8600 or 8800 card.
But there's only one other issue which really eats at me right now about the new operating system: something that Apple has already poked fun at in its snarky series of ads. It's the idiotically high level of confirmations that pop up whenever you want to do anything remotely interesting, like delete files or something.
I had my old XP system set-up to actually delete without asking questions - I know what I'm doing, thank you very much, and I know how to undo it if I'm not paying attention. Seems Vista doesn't appreciate that sort of attitude. I desperately hope someone will code a "fix" to reduce the level of nagging I get hit with!
Although I've heard many horror stories, so far aside from those three issues I've had a good experience with Vista. Even the install process was completed in under an hour - sweet. Hopefully they can patch up the confirmation dialog - it's really too much.