Saturday, December 18, 2010

Dumb Is The New Smart

Quite a while ago I wrote a post called "Channelization" and predicted that carriers would attempt to slice-and-dice Internet access in a myriad of ways in an attempt to bilk customers for accessing web-based content and services available on the open Internet.  Carriers are chafing at being nothing more than "dumb pipes" which dutifully carry packets of information. Though they are paid to be the mail-carriers of the Internet, entrusted to deliver packets of information like the post office delivers any letter with a postage stamp, for some of these unscrupulous ISP's the temptation to discard or delay the packages they don't profit as much from, charge extra for receiving packages from your favourite senders (even though the postage has already been paid), and give preferential treatment to their own services is too much to resist.

This prediction is now getting a lot closer to reality, as outlined in the following article on Techdirt:
DPI Firms Trying to Turn Net Neutrality Satire Into Reality.

The basic idea is that your Internet and wireless providers would like to monitor everything you do online, and charge you extra every time you view a page on Facebook, watch a Youtube video, or stream a movie from Netflix.

This is a bad idea.  Most people realize this type of coercive monopoly, bundling and tying are  anti-competitive maneuvers that are sure to run afoul of competition law, provided the government hasn't completely sold out to Big Corp.

Indeed the FCC is set to vote on December 21st on guidelines to protect Net Neutrality (the notion that your Internet Service Provider shouldn't be able to block certain websites while giving preferential treatment to their own products and services).  Their proposal has drawn criticism from all sides, however, and comes with some caveats, particularly exemptions for mobile service providers. Even the UN is setting up a committee on Internet governance.  They've decided that only governments can have a seat on this committee, a decision that Google reasonably rejects.

So as this plays out, here's a new prediction:

"Dumb Is the New Smart".

Wireline and wireless carriers have a responsibility to deliver packets from a sender to a receiver in the same way that a mail carrier delivers letters.  The measure of a carrier, snail-mail, electronic, wireless or otherwise, should be how reliably, efficiently, impartially and cost-effectively they deliver the goods.

This type of discriminatory "channelization" is going to be a hard sell.  Carriers who choose to go down this path will find themselves at a competitive disadvantage to those who continue to offer unfettered Internet access.  In a competitive landscape defined by greedy nickle-and-dime service offerings and anti-competitive favoritism, the companies that come out waving a banner that says "We're A Dumb Pipe And Proud Of It!" are going to get the most customers.

The reason is that all the complaints carriers are making about the costs of carrying all that bandwidth is mostly BS.  There's lots of dark fiber in the ground - the bottleneck is the last mile.  The only reason they're getting up to these shenanigans is because its a money grab, and they think they're in a position to abuse their network monopoly.

In the next year or so watch for service providers to start offering net neutrality - unmonitored, unregulated open access -  as a competitive differentiator, regardless of whether or not their competitors have erected Internet toll booths.  See for example this page touting unlimited mobile browsing.  The bottom line is that once you've offered something to customers, it's very difficult to claw it back and try to slap a bunch of limitations on it.

The way forward for carriers is not through taking fair and open service and imposing restrictive, expensive policies on it.  I think the way forward will be to create value-added services that leverage their network infrastructure in ways that are independent of content delivery.  Its not about creating smarter pipes.  Its about creating better faucets.  Location, social awareness, convergence, and security hold potential in this area.

Update: Read Al Franken's post on The Most Important Free Speech Issue of Our Time.
It delves more into the spat between Comcast and Level 3 over Netflix traffic.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Cleaning out the bookmarks folder... random interesting stuff from around the Interwebs.
  • Cinder is a C++ library for doing some really cool graphical things.
  • Issuu - You Publish You can read different magazines online here.   Apple won't let them have their app on the iPhone.
  •  Pretty much anything you want to learn about, you can learn about in 10 minutes here.  Khan Academy rocks.
  • You can read all about the dirty secrets of Canadian conservatives at "Pushed to the Left".
  • Surprise, surprise, the US spies on their citizensA lot.  Moving along...
  • Sharebuilder from ING looks like a not bad way to get going with a stock portfolio for not a lot of cash up front.
  • Whoo hoo, an SSH port forwarding cheat sheet.  And here are 25 cool SSH tricks you can try at home!
  • Ever thought those cables at the electronics store are stupidly over priced?  They are.  Go here for cheap cables (in Canada).
  • If you haven't seen it yet, Arcade Fire has a cool HTML5 web video.
  • Aviary.  Cool online tools for creating art.
  • attempts to draw the connections between money and politics.  hmm...
  • Martin Bailey's photography podcast is great for photography buffs.
  • Stuck in your ways? A study finds people avoid views that contradict their existing ones.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

LynchMob 2.0

So, Amazon, Paypal, Visa and Mastercard cave in to pressure from the State Department and bypass due legal process altogether  by shutting down Wikileaks accounts.  No trial, judgement, no conviction, no nothing, they just get pressure from Lieberman and that's it.  Judge jury and hangman all in one.

Gizmodo just released a piece, "Why the reaction of governments to Wikileaks should scare the hell out of you".  It echoes my previous post, and it's nice to know there are other people who see things the same way.

Facebook and Twitter joined the lynch mob today by shutting down Anonymous, the decentralized hive mind who's Low Orbit Ion Canon has taken down Mastercard, just days after an unknown botnet targeted Wikileaks servers. Meanwhile a lot of people are wondering what's in the insurance.aes256 file, and when the key will drop.

(Picture of the "free speech zone" at the 2004 Democratic National Convention)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Secrets and Democracy

I've written at length about this before, but the furor over Wikileaks prompted me to write again.  I've been thinking over privacy, freedom, governance, responsibility, and transparency for a while and trying to come up with a nice model of how they work together.  That's still a work in progress, but it goes something like this:

As responsibility increases, so does the requirement for accountability and transparency.  For governments, who hold great responsibility, the need for accountability and transparency is high.  For individuals in a free democratic society, they are mainly responsible for themselves, and the need for accountability and transparency is minimal.   The more people you're responsible to, the more you need to be accountable and transparent to them.  In my mind, responsibility and privacy are on opposite sides of the spectrum.

Privacy belongs to individuals.  Your privacy is inseparable from your freedom in a democratic society.  On the other side of the spectrum, you have transparency, which is inseparable from accountability.  And responsibility for good governance in a democratic society needs accountability and transparency.

Governments should be transparent.  They shouldn't really have a whole lot of secrets to keep from the public.  Individuals, on the other hand, should have the right to privacy in order to exercise their democratic rights and freedoms.

This whole system has been turned upside down in the name of security.  The argument is that, in order to have security, you have to give up your privacy.  Now people are getting their phones tapped, their cards traced, and being sexually violated in airport security line ups.  And at the same time governments start screaming bloody murder over the Wikileaks pat-down they've received. They don't like it when people touch their junk.

Democracy isn't supposed to work that way.  When privacy is taken away from individuals and given to those in authority, the basis for democratic freedom is destroyed. This is what we're seeing in America today.

"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."  - Benjamin Franklin

Further reading:
Why Wikileaks is Good for America
Wikileaks and the Long Haul

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Local Artists in the Glebe

This weekend two of my favorite local artists are exhibiting in the Glebe.

Jaya Krishnan
Exhibiting a new series of paintings at Morala in the Glebe.  Visit Jaya's web site here:

Bhat Boy
Exhibiting at Snapdragon Gallery in the Glebe through mid-December.  Visit Bhat Boy's web site here:

Monday, November 29, 2010

Top 10 Music Picks of 2010

It's a bit early to post my top music picks of 2010 , but I've been adding to the list throughout this past year, and it's already grown to ten albums.  Compared to the last two years' Top 5 lists, that's a lot, so I'm going to post it now.

No surprise that the jazz pianists are well represented here.  Recently I got interested in the Hammond B3, which also shows up.  Several of the selections lean towards rich harmonic, evocative soundscapes.  Harmonic complexity is one way that musical ingenuity expresses itself, not always in fast bebop lines or modern polyrhythms.  This is some of the most beautiful music I have ever heard.

I should mention that a limited private edition CD by my musical mentor, the great Canadian jazz pianist Brian Browne, called the Erindale Sessions, is perhaps the album I treasure most from 2010. Although I don't believe this album is available for sale at this time, many of Brian's other albums are.

So here, without further ado, is my Top 10 list of albums for 2010.

Bill Evans - Consecration
The Consecration albums were recorded shortly before Bill Evans' death in 1980. He was ravaged by addiction and in failing health.  Joe LaBarbera said he could barely make it to the piano, but when he did, this incredible powerful energy just erupted out of him.  It's like he sensed that he was at the end, and he had to get it all out, to put down everything he had on that last recording. Bill Evans played like never before on these recordings.  They are very special.

Billy Childs - Lyric
Winning a Guggenheim Fellowship in music composition in 2009 is a testament to the talent and creativity of Billy Childs.  A mostly self-taught pianist and composer, Childs is one of those rare, gifted artists who seems destined to shape the future of jazz.  Blending classical, rock and jazz influences, this recording features a unique ensemble of instruments for which Childs scored compositions in a style he refers to as "orchestral jazz".  Its a brilliant recording.

Chick Corea - Solo Piano: Standards
One of the most versatile jazz pianists on the scene, Chick has recently been touring with Return to Forever, the jazz-rock group he rose to fame with in the 70's.  Chick really is one of the greatest.  His work with Return to Forever and the Electric Band often come to mind, but it's his reinterpretations of jazz standards on solo piano that I really enjoy.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Evented I/O web servers, explained using bunnies

This is probably the best, simplest explanation of evented IO web servers that I've seen. It explains how really really fast web servers work, and it has bunnies and a hyperactive squid! Awesome.
Evented I/O based web servers, explained using bunnies
PS. This is not to say that high-performance web servers like NGINX and Node.JS aren't threaded.  They are... they just use a thread pool.  So the hyperactive squid has a warren of bunnies at his beck and call.  How cool is that?  Very cool, because there's a squid AND bunnies.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

If you live in the US, which most of my readers do, I'd like you to know that up here in Canada, and in a lot of the rest of the world, we're looking at the unprecedented loss of civil liberties and freedoms evidenced by the unbelievable violations of personal privacy and basic human dignity propagated by the Transportation Security Administration, and we are thankful today that we live in free and democratic societies that still protect the rights and freedoms of their citizens.

There's a purple heart and a letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt in my home to commemorate the sacrifice made in defense of freedom when my uncle died as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division.  I know deep down that he and many others like him did not die so that innocent Americans could be strip searched, humiliated and assaulted in their own homeland by a government gone insane with security paranoia. That's not freedom. 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Gig

I'm lucky enough to be in a band of local musicians who get called together a couple of times a year to perform at some pretty good gigs.  This weekend's event is to be the band for Robin Mark for a sold-out crowd of around a thousand.  In preparing for the concert I came across an old journal entry I wrote after one of the first gigs I played with this particular band.  It was fun to reflect back on those early experiences.

It's the afternoon before the show.  We set up and do a sound-check.  Somebody comes by and asks me if I have enough water.   They put a couple of bottles next to the piano.  Someone comes by and gives me an all-access pass on a lanyard.  It says "music team".

There's a door and it says "no admittance".  I go in anyway. I guess that's what the lanyard is for.  Down the hall past a number of paintings of flowers in earth-tone colors is another door; this one says "Headquarters".  Behind the doors is a large room and a few men with laptops.  At one of the tables a bunch of guys are sitting around cracking jokes and eating Smarties.   It's the rest of the band. I sit down with them and everything goes back to normal... stories about 80's rock bands and stupid musician jokes... "what's the difference between a cello and a coffin?"

Some guy runs in and says "We're on the 5 minute countdown now!".  Mark, the front man, say "OK guys we're going on in 2 minutes, lose the lanyards for the stage".  We walk out in the dark and behind some black curtains out onto the stage.  There are spot lights sweeping through the smoke from a fog machine and two giant screens behind the stage with a computer-generated 3D countdown timer projected on them, and a soundtrack with drums and sound effects.  All of the sudden that cuts out and it goes black.  Mark says "Let's go" and I hit a big fat G-chord on my Triton that I dialed up with an awesome-sounding motion pad.  The sound sweeps out through the mains and rumbles out of the subs.  Its loud.  Lights come up on the stage and Dave comes in on the acoustic guitar.  We vamp for about 8 bars, everybody stands up, then we launch into the opening song and the sound of about 1000 people singing along comes back at us.  The energy is high.  We flow from one song to another and the energy level stays very high.  You can sense it between the band and the audience.  If the band loses it the audience will come down as well.  We stay on top of the wave and the set finishes.  It goes dark and we walk back to our room to eat more Smarties and have a debriefing.

Later we go back on stage for another set.  I'm going to open this one with some solo piano.  I'm waiting for a cue, and I can feel my pulse pounding.  It's irritating.  I start breathing really slow and deep.  The announcer is taking his time, so after a couple of minutes my pulse is no longer pounding.  The adrenaline rush usually only lasts a couple of minutes.  If you get the adrenaline rush over with before you actually start playing, then you're not in panic mode when you start to perform.  It really helps if you can play with the band first before you have to do any solo stuff.  The spotlight comes on and I start playing, feeling a lot more relaxed.  The spotlight is too bright and all the keys look brilliant blue/white.

At the end after everyone is gone, the crew starts tearing down.  We load up our instruments and all go to a 24-hour restaurant.  It's late when I finally get home and I'm suddenly very tired.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Iceberg Diving

My friend Graham runs a company that takes people into the Canadian Arctic to go scuba diving under the ice.  Yeah, under the arctic ice.  If you ever go on one of these diving trips under the ice, you can see polar bears, seals, narwhal, and walruses. One thing you will not find down there, however, is me swimming around.

Here is a video from one of his recent expeditions where they are actually scuba diving under and around an iceberg that is frozen into the sea ice and grounded.  Amazingly, Graham also ice-climbs these grounded icebergs.  Pretty c-c-cool.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Les Escalier de Mont-Martre

Les Escalier de Mont-Martre
© 2010 Darren DeRidder. Originally uploaded by soto voce

There's a famous photograph by Brassai with the same title. I've owned a print of it for many years. Of course when I got a chance to see the location in person, I had to take a photograph of it, too. This is actually a side alley from the main stairway. It was less crowded and I liked the building on the left, with the light in the windows.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Buffalo Jump 2

Buffalo Jump 2, originally uploaded by soto voce.
This is the second photograph I've posted of Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump in the Alberta foothills. The previous one was an obvious HDR stack of three exposures, which I shot hand-held! This is actually a single exposure, shot in RAW format and post-processed in the same software as the HDR image, rendering what it calls a "psuedo HDR" image. Because this is a single exposure, I feel the sharpness is better than on the composite photo. I'm still not completely happy with the kit lens, however. Most of my images don't meet my expectations for sharpness when viewed full screen. This includes images shot with a tripod and employing all the tricks for eliminating camera shake and getting the right focus.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Keynote Notes

Jobs is giving his keynote, introducing the next generation of iPods, iTunes and Apple TV.  One of the things I like, probably everybody likes, about Apple is their continual innovation.  One takeaway from the keynote is Jobs' description of the driving factor behind Apple's innovation and success:

We listened to what customers wanted...  This is what customers were telling us...  Our customers wanted this.

Apple delivers.  Cha-ching.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Rethink Alberta

According to a recent Angus Reid poll the following TV commercial is having a big impact on potential tourism in Alberta.

Monday, July 26, 2010

LO 300 Fever

©2010 Darren DeRidder
The LO 300 is a 300 nautical mile race around Lake Ontario.  Starting in Port Credit, Ontario, the course makes its way to Toronto islands and then heads east to Main Duck Island, carving ever so slightly southward to avoid the shoreline that juts out at Point Petre.  From there the course heads south across the lake to Oswego, west to Niagara, and finally back up to Port Credit.  The sailing is continuous, day-and-night sailing with no stops along the way.  Crew have to take watches and sail during the night.  It can take three days for the fastest boats, and generally four or five days for most competitors.

This was race held a lot of firsts for me.  The first LO 300, first time sailing overnight, first time sailing any significant distance out on Lake Ontario.  As it turns out it was also the first time to experience strong gale force winds, waves so high that the boat was literally falling down the surface of the wave, and sea sickness so bad that I thought I would turn myself inside out.

The race got off to a great start with winds close to 20 knots and a fast broad reach to Toronto.  We sailed wing on wing and lost some distance to the boats flying spinnakers, but it turned out to be a wise decision.  Just after Toronto Islands a squall hit us.  The winds picked up a bit, and we furled in the headsail as much as we could. It was so tightly wound on the furler it looked like a toothpick, and we still had a fair amount of canvas out in the wind.  When the squall hit, it brought rain and large hailstones that pelted the top of our heads and made me thankful for the bimini on the C&C 32 yacht "Boann".

As the winds settled to a more manageable 20 knots we unfurled the headsail again and were making good speed when a second squall line crept up behind us.  In the last few moments we realized it was moving surprisingly quickly, picking up spray off the surface of the water and thundering down on us like a black wall.  We barely had time to furl in the headsail (again, only as far as the furling line would go, so leaving about half the sail out) before we were engulfed in a maelstrom.  The winds were just unbelievable, and Liam sat in the cockpit shouting out the readings from the windspeed indicator.

"30 knots!  34!  37!  40!"

We were in a full gale, the water was black and the tops of the waves were blown flat, turning to horizontal spray, and the boat heeled violently over.  Steve shouted to ease the main and someone released the sheet, letting the mainsail flog.  Even so with the wheel hard over Steve fought to keep the boat from rounding up.  Just when it seemed we had lost control of the vessel Liam called out the windspeed again.

"39!  37!  33.... 20 knots!"

It was over almost as quickly as it had started.  We looked around and saw many boats with blown out sails streaming from the tops of their masts, genoas hopelessly wrapped around forstays, and high-teck kevlar sails worth thousands of dollars that simply exploded under the intense pressure of the wind.  Listening to the VHF we soon learned that one boat had lost its mast.  A trimaran had capsized and we followed the rescue procedures on the radio.  We passed the overturned boat and saw it's crew members sitting on the hull as a coast guard rescue boat prepared to bring them to safety.

For the remainder of the day the waves were heavy but the wind returned to reasonable 10 - 15 knots.  We sailed on a broad reach for Point Petre.  Late at night I took the wheel and logged about 25 nautical miles in lighter air.  A bright star in front of the mast served as a point of reference for steering, and fragments of a poem drifted through my mind.   We found ourselves well out in the middle of the shipping lanes, and freighters plied the waters, massive engines rumbling in the distance.  Lights like a city afloat approached and we hurriedly adjusted course to stay clear of a massive barge heading straight for us in the dark; it slipped past our stern about a half-mile away.  At last I gave over the helm to Paul and Steve who carried on mile after mile till the first light of dawn began to faintly illuminate the eastern sky ahead.

A spinnaker run the last several miles to the Ducks was fast and enjoyable sailing, but after rounding the islands we once again found strong winds and high, turbulent waves.  We didn't finish the race but we did 200 miles.  In the end we were all too sick to contemplate weathering another storm.  There had not been enough motion sickness medicine on board to go around (my herbal remedies didn't work at all!) and I was the worst of the bunch, lurching for the rail to chum the waters seven times in as many hours.  But it was a good learning experience, and with a bit of additional preparation, I hope to compete in the LO300 again soon.


I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

By John Masefield (1878-1967).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Brakey Bay

Brakey Bay in the Afternoon, Wolfe Island, Lake Ontario

© 2010 Darren DeRidder

Driving to Gananoque on a Friday evening, we arrived somewhat tired at the Trident Yacht Club well after dinner time.  The next hour or so was spent provisioning and settling in, and I retired early to the quarterberth.

The morning dawned bright and clear and passed with a leisurely pancake breakfast aboard thanks to our skipper and his two fancy compact nonstick skillets.  Then we set to work installing a new refrigeration unit. What followed for the next 4 hours could be described as furkelling. Furkelling is a time honored tradition amongst backpackers, sailors and other quirky folk.  In the middle of the night, when you are trying to sleep in a hostel, someone inevitably gets up and starts furkelling around in their backpack trying to find stuff that they don't need but can't remember what they did with it.  They can't sleep until they remember what they did with their sunscreen, so they furkel around in the bowels of their pack until they find it.  Then they put it right back where they found it, get back into bed, and within seconds are snoring loudly while you remain awake and disgruntled by the commotion.

Furkelling often takes place in the dark, or in cramped quarters, and is usually a solitary activity that demands someone's undivided attention, and produces no tangible results except possibly to annoy other people.  After some time, we were satisfied that our furkelling with the refrigeration unit was getting nowhere, so I poked my nose outside and announced it was perfect weather for sailing.

Promptly we stopped furkelling, assembled our scattered crew, and sailed out around the east end of Howe Island, across the 40 acres, and into Brakey Bay.  The evening was warm and grand, and we enjoyed a walk ashore with the dog, but after sundown the wind began to rise and the boat began to roll.  We started watching a video, but I got cramped and uncomfortable and said I needed to sleep, which obligated everyone else to clear the cabin.  The rolling motion of the boat was starting to get to me; only lying down flat and closing my eyes brought relief.

Around three in the morning I was awakened by skipper who announced we were now a lot closer to shore than before.  Could we be dragging our anchor?  The wind had shifted around from the North and we were now fully exposed to big waves piling into the bay.  If our anchor failed, we could be driven up on the rocks.  The GPS had been set with an anchor alarm and showed that we had swung in a circle, but it seemed our anchor was still well set.  We had at least 100 feet of anchor rode out.  For the remainder of the night I didn't sleep at all, and the boat lunged and rolled as the waves continued to beat us.  The rigging clanged up in the spreaders, the wind howled through the cowlings, the rain blew in through the gangway and wave after wave after wave jolted us.  On the VHF radio I tuned into the weather channel which brought warnings of storms and high winds from Kingston to Cornwall.

Morning came grey and cold, and I was the first to bolt for the hatch and collapse over the pushpit railing to feed the fishes.  Four times I heaved over the transom, and in between I sat with the wind and rain in my face, staring at the horizon and trying to gain equilibrium, or laying down flat in the quarterberth, eyes closed and dead to the world.  I became hypothermic and couldn't stop shivering.

Finally, at around 3:30pm, the strong wind warning ended, the whitecaps came fewer and farther between, and two of the crew set off to shore in the dinghy to take the dog for a walk.  This dangerous maneuver fortunately did not result in the calamity I had predicted, so with all aboard once again we weighed anchor and motor-sailed into the teeth of the wind, heading straight back to TYC.  The skipper was apologetic.  He hadn't anticipated such an ordeal.  Never mind, I said, I'm just glad to be getting out of that hell hole.

The sun came out just as we arrived back at the dock, and the evening turned clear with a gentle breeze.  Perfect weather for sailing.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Victoria Day

Victoria Day Fireworks over Dow's Lake, Ottawa, Canada

© 2010 Darren DeRidder

Policy Innovation Equation

I think a political rant is long overdue, so I'd like to comment on a remark by Matthew Mendelsohn, directory of the Mowat Centre for Policy Innovation at the University of Toronto.  I'm sure the Mowat Centre has put forward some very good work, and Mr. Mendelsohn has some thoughtful insights that you can read about elsewhere, and I already confess to taking his remark out of context.  But it's a line I hear repeated ad nauseam and frankly it doesn't wash.

Mr. Mendelsohn's remark went something like this.
The general public often expects the government to promote conflicting interests at the same time.  For example, the general public might want the government to provide a balanced budget, continue public services, and stop raising taxes all at the same time.
I know these things are complicated, and that lots of factors are involved, but the above statement totally ignores perhaps the most obvious variable in the equation, a variable that is paramount in private enterprise, but which seems to be almost non-existent in most parts of our government.  That variable is efficiency, and the government isn't very good at it.

Since moving to Ottawa, I've formed numerous friendships with great people who work in the federal government, and I've lost track of the times I've sat dumbfounded listening to stories of bureaucratic incompetence, waste and inefficiency on a huge scale.  Millions and millions wasted... the familiar sort of cavalier way in which these stories are tossed off, with an air of mixed incredulity, resignation, ambivalence and - dare I say - a hint of smugness.

Yeah, assuming efficiency is a constant (say, near zero), you really don't have much room for improvement towards a balanced budget, continued services, and limited taxation.  But all of those are proportional to efficiency, and if we had systems of accountability in place to measure, monitor and maintain efficiency in our government, it would go a huge distance towards improving all those other simultaneous expectations.

So, no, these aren't conflicting expectations.  They're quite reasonable, if you also consider that one of the expectations of the "general public" is that the government will operate on some scale of efficiency that is at least within an order of magnitude of the private sector's.

So why don't we have that kind of accountability?  I think basically because nobody in government wants it (witness the current mad scramble to cover up unaccounted-for MP expenses).  Measures of, and accountability for, efficiency might cut into perks, expense accounts, and the idea that one friend of mine puts this way... "See, I don't have a job, I have a position.  I really don't have to do anything, I just have to fill the position."

I can't blame him, really... many people would be delighted with such a position.  But it only exists as a result of a lack of accountability and measurability of efficiency.  I'd be very interested to know if there has been any actual work or research into practical systems of efficiency measurement and accountability for diverse operational objectives... I suspect it has been done, primarily in the study of business processes for private enterprises.  Applying some of that science in government policy... now that would be a welcome innovation.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Spring Colours on the Canal

Rideau Canal, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada 

©2010 Darren DeRidder

The Other Rudder

Last year I inherited a "new" rudder for my T22 sailboat.  Unlike the original swept-back rudder, which was designed more for aesthetics than handling, the new rudder is straight and moves the turning moment much closer to the axis of the tiller.  Instead of two hands on the tiller pulling hard in a stiff breeze, you can sail along with a finger.

The original owner of this rudder had a sneaking suspicion that it was waterlogged and a lot heaver than it ought to be.  Two years of sitting in a shed, it was dry for sure, but there were a number of hairline cracks around the edges that had me worried. 

I decided to refinish it, seal up any visible cracks, patch the gelcoat as much as possible, and paint the submersed areas with epoxy paint.  First I sanded off the old anti-fouling paint, using an orbital sander and of course a double respirator, as the paint dust is toxic.
With most of the old antifouling off I applied some gelcoat patches to the most dubious areas. These would have to be sanded flush afterwards.

Once the gelcoat patches were sanded smooth I went over the whole rudder with Captain Tolley's Creeping Crack Cure, letting the liquid seep into every tiny crack and crevice I could find on the surface of the rudder and especially around the edges where the two halves of the mold were joined together.

When the liquid stops seeping into the cracks, old Captain Tolley has done his job.  Next I painted below the waterline with several coats of Interprotect 2000 epoxy barrier paint.

Things are starting to look better now.  About six hours after the last coat of Interprotect 2000, I scored some leftover VC-17 from a friend and painted on the anti-fouling.  Nice an bright copper color, but it turns black within a couple of weeks once it's under water.

Turning my attention to the more visible part of the rudder I applied four coats of Brightside white deck paint to the top.  I polished the pintles and purchased new 3" bolts and nuts to mount them.  The new rudder is a little bit thicker than the old rudder so the old bolts wouldn't go all the way through.  The new bolts were a bit too long, though, so I cut off the ends with a dremel.  Broke about half a dozen disks in the process, but that's to be expected.  Of course I wore goggles to keep flying chunks of cutting wheel from hitting me in the eyes.

You can see the old rudder (curved, on the left) and the new rudder (straight, on the right).

The new rudder, refinished.

The rudder is ready to be mounted on the transom.  Here you can see the gudgeons and pintles, and the rudder after it's installed.

Finally the boat is ready to go in the water.  Aura looks good in her new mooring.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Jobs on Flash

In an article posted on Apple's website Steve Jobs outlines a number of reasons why Flash is not implemented on the iPhone or iPad.  Below is a quote of his "most important reason", and it echoes Jobs' sentiment on Java, which he called a "big, heavyweight ball and chain".
We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform. If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features. We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers.

This becomes even worse if the third party is supplying a cross platform development tool. The third party may not adopt enhancements from one platform unless they are available on all of their supported platforms. Hence developers only have access to the lowest common denominator set of features. Again, we cannot accept an outcome where developers are blocked from using our innovations and enhancements because they are not available on our competitor’s platforms.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Signs of Spring

Tulips make an early appearance along the Rideau Canal, Ottawa, Ontario.

© 2010 Darren DeRidder

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spring Preparation Begins

April arrived with some unseasonably warm weather, giving sailors no excuse not to get cracking on boat preparation.  No doubt the keeners already have a fresh coat of bottom paint and are busy polishing their brightwork.  Not to be left out, I hauled my new rudder out of the shed, spent about 20 minutes looking at it, and called it a day.  You've got to ease into it, then build momentum.

Last weekend Aura came out from her winter cover.  Looks like she kept pretty well. Through the winter.  Packed in behind literally hundreds of other boats, the wind didn't get up quite so brutally as it did at the BYC.

Yes, so Aura is over at Nepean Sailing Club now.  I've got to say, it's a relief to be over there.  Initially I was on a waiting list but last week the mooring assignments came in, and I'm happy to report that I've got a slip. Aura will be sailing out of NSC this season. 

NSC has really nice facilities - not the old world charm of BYC, but a modern, nautical, fresh kind of look that I think captures the essence of the sailing / cruising lifestyle.  It's always well maintained and has activities going year round.  There are a lot of racers and Tanzer owners, so this it the place to be if you race a Tanzer.  In addition its only about 10 minutes from work, making it a lot easier to make it to the weeknight races.

I took a few pictures of the boat while I was down there.

Hmm, the wax job still looks pretty good from last year.

I installed new deck organizers last summer.  They rock.  My deck is a little dirty though... time for some StarBrite deck cleaner!

One of the new swivel blocks I installed for the spinnaker uphaul and downhaul.  Wish I had gotten these the first time around.  I put the other blocks on the gunwhales for the spinnaker sheets but they don't ratchet or swivel.

The pièce de résistance!  The Spinlock XAS triple rope clutch.  This thing cost more than my bicycle!  It's nice though.  It makes us go faster.  In my imagination.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Winter Path

Gatineau Park, Quebec

©2010 Darren DeRidder

Herb Ellis

Herb Ellis, one of the jazz greats, passed away last month.  I'd just been listening to him playing How High the Moon with the Oscar Peterson Trio on their album Live at the Strattford Shakespearean Festival.  It's been a while since I posted anything, so here's to Herb Ellis.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Top 10 Photos of 2009

Inspired by Martin Bailey's excellent podcast, I went back over all my photos from 2009 and selected ten of my favorites.  It seems like a good way of seeing what kind of progress (or lack thereof) I've made when it comes to taking pictures. 

Serenity (January 2009)

Shot with my Fujifilm S1000fd compact ultra-zoom.  The original was over-exposed but the "enhance" feature in iPhoto did an amazing job in this case.  One limitation of the S1000fd, as with many compact cameras, was the difficulty in getting a nice background blur or "bokeh" effect.  I had to zoom in fairly close to get the effect.  One of my favorite shots with the S1000fd.

Old Couple - Growing Closer Over the Years (March 2009)

Also on the S1000fd.  Shot on a farm at a Canadian "sugarbush".  I like the composition in this shot, close-cropped to make a sort of abstract view.  I found the farm a difficult location to photograph because there was a lot of clutter, mud and general farmy decrepitude around the place.  The landscape and building shots weren't great, and it made more sense to find interesting objects and focus in on them.

Simply Messing Around in Boats (June 2009)


One of the last pictures on the Fujifilm S1000fd before I sold it to upgrade to a digital SLR.  It's hard to resist a nice sunset shot.  It's not the best sunset picture I've taken, but this might be my favorite shot from sailing last summer.  The island is a common sailing destination and makes the scene a bit nostalgic for me, another reason I chose it.  Unfortunately the passing sloop doesn't have her sail illuminated by the setting sun.  That would have been awesome.

Refreshing Ride (October 2009)


One of a series of shots after upgrading to the Canon EOS T1i, and one of the first pictures with it.  The rider is a little blurry because the shot was unplanned and I hadn't set up the shutter speed for a fast shot.  I still have some learning to do when it comes to quickly dialing in the right shutter and aperture settings.  I like how the rain made the colors on the road stand out.

The End of a Season (October 2009)

One of the reasons I wanted to upgrade to a DSLR was to experiment with HDR, which seems to be the big thing these days.  I understand it's a fad that can come across being really cheesy, but it was a fun process and I was particularly pleased with the result of this picture, my first HDR image. 

City and Colour (October 2009)


The cheesy HDR shot I was talking about!  Actually I tried to tone back the effect on this scene, but to no avail.  Shooting directly into the sun, I got three images: one almost all black, one with trees in silhouette, and one almost all white.  Only after combining them in Photomatix Pro did all the color appear... it was crazy!  So it was this, or nothing!  And a lot of people have ooh'ed and ah'ed over this shot, so who am I to disagree.  With this image I basically learned what could be done at the extreme end of HDR photography.

 The Eardsley Escarpment (October 2009)


October is a great time to photograph outdoors.  It was a really bright and hazy afternoon so the pictures from this day all looked a bit washed out.  A polarizing filter would have been very helpful here.  I might use this as justification to go out and buy a decent polarizer.

Wakefield Bridge (November 2009)

This bridge is such a picturesque spot... unfortunately there's been quite a bit of build-up around it now so there are only a few angles from which you can still get an unspoiled shot, and most of those are on private property.  I found this spot on the river bank, popular for swimming in the summer, where the rural character still cam through.  It was overcast and lighting was difficult.  I resorted to auto-exposure bracketing and HDR for this image.  I like the composition, but not 100 percent satisfied with the post-processing.  Also, I was hand-holding the camera for the three exposures... braced with my back against a boulder.  With a tripod, it would have been sharper.  I already have a tripod, so training myself to use it will be one of my goals for 2010.

Classic Modern (December 2009)

This was taken on a cold day with a clear blue sky.  This scene in downtown Ottawa gets photographed a lot, but I'd never noticed it before.  I took several shots here, but chose this one because the lines match up pretty closely with the golden rectangle proportions I've written about before.  The image isn't as sharp as I wish it was, but that might be because the focus was on the steel beams and not on the reflected stonework.  A smaller aperture (and a tripod!) would have helped.

Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump (December 2009)

One of the last shots of the year - another HDR image, shot right into the sun, three exposures, hand held.  What I like about this shot is the way the rays of light radiate from the sun and spread across the ground in patches of light and shadows over the snow and dry grass.  It's also a great name for a place.  Humorist Dave Barry wrote that when he first read about it, he couldn't believe it was real, so he called up the visitors center.  When they answered "Head-smashed-in, can I help you?" he said it was probably the highlight of his entire life.

All images © 2009-2010 Darren DeRidder

Productivity and Note-taking

I told a friend of mine that I wasn't really happy with the amount of time that gets taken up by Slack and "communication and sched...